1. A Wordless Melody can Speak Volumes. The singing of niggunim occupies such a prominent place in chassidic life that the Mitteler Rebbe maintained a choir.

A niggun is speech;1 a niggun speaks from within. The difference between (a) speaking and (b) singing a niggun corresponds to the difference between (a) written letters of the alphabet and (b) a picture. Written letters can be understood only by someone who knows and understands them; if he doesn’t understand them, he gains nothing. A picture, by contrast, can be seen by anyone. Another difference: even if letters are written out of order, they can possibly have meaning as initials, or via other combinations, just as “the Torah has seventy facets.”2 A picture, by contrast, is meaningless if it is turned back to front.

A niggun is like a picture, provided that a person is permeated and captivated by it. True, not every niggun observes the formal rules of chazzanus, but if a niggun embraces one’s soul, that’s fine.

2. A Formidable Descent. What matters is that one should have a deep-seated spiritual sensitivity.3 The Alter Rebbe pointed out that “[if the Torah] abides within all [of your 248 limbs, it will be preserved].”4 He also explained5 the inner meaning of the passage that begins, “My G‑d, the soul that You have placed within me is pure….”6

“You have placed (shenasata)” means that G‑d designates the neshamah [for its forthcoming mission on earth] while it is still in its pristine state in the treasury of souls7 on high. This resembles the description in the Mishnah of the farmer setting out to fulfill the mitzvah of bikkurim, the First Fruits: “He sights a fig that has begun to ripen… and ties a reed around it.”8 [By doing so, he already designates it as bikkurim].

“…within me (bi)” relates to the neshamah when it is yet to undertake its imminent descent.9

“…is pure (tehorah hi)”relates to the neshamah when it is in the World of Atzilus.

[The above-quoted passage from the Morning Blessings goes on to say:

“You created it (Atah verasah),” which relates to its descent to the World of Beriah.

“You formed it (Atah yetzartah),” which refers to its further descent through the World of Yetzirah. It then says:]

“You have breathed it into me (Atah nefachtah bi)…”The difference between “exhaling” and “giving” is well known.10

“…and You preserve it within me (veAtah meshamrah bekirbi). This alludes to the loftiest level to which the neshamah can aspire – a deep-seated spiritual sensitivity.334

3. I Can’t?! Wanting to do something isn’t the same as being able to do something. Being able to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that one wants to do it. On the other hand, if one wants to do something, this means that he is definitely able to do it.

If a person says “I can’t,” that’s not true. He doesn’t want to. A person who really wants to do something is able to do it.

4. An Elderly Toddler. In today’s reading from Tanya – Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 2311 – the Alter Rebbe writes: “Therefore, evil in my eyes is ‘the conduct that takes place under the sun’12 in general, especially among my brethren and friends who draw near to G‑d – and ‘drawing near means prayer.’ ”13

The phrase “in general” (bichlal) refers to people who know nothing of avodas hatefillah.14 True, they are G‑d-fearing men who duly regard davenen as a mitzvah, whether of Scriptural or of Rabbinic authority15 – but they have no connection with avodas hatefillah. The next phrase, “especially among [those] who draw near to G‑d – and ‘drawing near means prayer,’ ” refers to those who do know about avodas hatefillah, and even make the necessary preparations for it,16 but they don’t advance beyond the stage of preparation.

In fact, however, avodas hatefillah is of critical importance in the life of a chassid. Without avodas hatefillah, one gradually slips lower and lower from his spiritual level, until he does such things – in the realm of thought and speech and action – that make him wonder how they ever became part of him. (In fact, the Gemara17 even speaks of a certain scholar who was able to muster 150 arguments to support his claim that an unclean reptile was ritually pure! True, such a person is nominally a scholar, and he has 150 proofs for his claim, yet he declares that a reptile is pure….) Slipping from one level to the next, ultimately one can grow old and be left empty-handed, an elderly toddler.

5. Excuses, Excuses. An end to excusing oneself! “True, the other guy doesn’t do whatever, but I’m different…”

6. The Sharp Edge. My mentor, the Rashbatz, [regretfully] observed that “chassidim are quick to forgive themselves.” [Hence] he also used to say, “Chassidim must be sharp – except that the sharp edge shouldn’t face the other guy; it should face oneself.”

7. Precious Moments. Actually, this is not the appropriate time18 to speak of such things, but we’re going to speak of them nevertheless, because this is a time at which one can shake oneself up.19

It is written,20 “On the eighth day (bayom hashemini), you shall have a day of assembly (atzeres).” [That last word also suggests that] this is a time for klitah, a time for gathering together and internalizing [all the fruits of one’s spiritual labors during the previous seven days]. The avodah that is called for on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah is to set oneself up in a positive stance that should be resolutely maintained throughout the year ahead, for at this time all the gates are open. The present time of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah is precious; every moment must be treasured.

8. Oy, Rebbe! The well-known chassid R. Monye Monessohn once told me that he heard from his melamed that every year R. Pinchas Reizes21 used to make the journey to spend four months with the Alter Rebbe – Elul, Tishrei, Nissan and Sivan. (R. Monye told me that his melamed was a son of R. Pinchas Reizes, but in fact he was childless, Heaven forfend.) At any rate, one year R. Pinchas took ill and could not make the journey for Tishrei. Later he felt better, but since that year winter set in early, he remained in Shklov.

On Shemini Atzeres, while he was at the table in his sukkah, he suddenly cried out, “Oy, Rebbe!”

He explained to his companions, “Right now the Rebbe had me in mind.”

At that time, in the midst of the seudah in the sukkah, the Alter Rebbe said, “Pinchas Reizes needs to be healed physically. That which I cannot give him, I am not giving him, but a physical recovery I am giving him.”

The chassidishe yungeleit at his table wondered why the Rebbe had mentioned that revered chassid in the middle of the seudah of Shemini Atzeres. Soon after, when some of them traveled home to Shklov after Yom-Tov, they visited R. Pinchas and asked him to pour them a drop of mashke. As the conversation progressed, they learned that at the same time that the Alter Rebbe had mentioned him, R. Pinchas – here in Shklov – had cried out, “Oy, Rebbe!”

Suspecting that as a mere chassid he had had the presumption to dabble in ruach hakodesh, they protested: “How come a man like you knows such stuff?” Then, invoking a time-honored chassidic custom, they laid him out on his table and prepared to give him a husky, comradely spanking!

In response to their complaint he explained: “It’s not me! At my first yechidus with the Rebbe, I gave him my nefesh. At my second yechidus, I gave him my ruach. And at my third yechidus I gave him my neshamah. I surrendered my entire Naran22 to the Rebbe. So it wasn’t me that knew!”

[Having completed his narrative, the Rebbe Rayatz concluded:] Now, that’s what is called hergesh pnimi!23