1. A Gift of Life. The blessing of Shehecheyanu that we say today relates not only to the Yom-Tov but also to the Torah. In that blessing we thank G‑d: shehecheyanu – “Who has granted us life”; vekiymanu – “Who has maintained us in existence”; vehigianu – “and has enabled us to reach [this occasion].”

The first two Hebrew verbs are not identical. The concept of chayus (“vitality”), as in the first verb, relates to the life within the body, whereas the concept of kiyum (“existence”), as in the second verb, includes the continued existence of the body even the soul departs from it after a lifespan of, say, seventy years,1 for even then it remains intact for a certain time. The term kiyum (“existence”) does not necessarily imply eternity, as some people think; it also includes temporary existence.

The plain meaning of the third term, vehigianu, as above, is “Who has enabled us to reach [this occasion].”2 Or, as chassidim used to interpret it, we thank G‑d “Who has brought us along the path of toil and avodah [that has led us to this occasion].”3

Now, the Torah by definition is [constantly] a Torah of life, so how is it appropriate to recite over it the blessing of Shehecheyanu [which always relates to a novel or renewed experience]?My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, posed that query to the Alter Rebbe, who answered: “For 150 years, souls in the Lower Gan Eden and in the Heavenly Academy of the Higher Gan Eden asked that question” – and the answer is as is explained in the maamar beginning LeHavin Inyan Simchas Torah.4

[At this point the Rebbe Rayatz explained the subjects that appear in that maamar, and concluded: “In order to understand this properly, one needs to take a good drop of mashke.”]

2. Lifelong Tasks. [The Rebbe Rayatz next discussed the content of the maamarim that had been delivered on Motzaei Yom Kippur, on the first days of Sukkos and on Shabbos Chol HaMoed Sukkos, as well as the maamar beginning BaYom HaShemini Atzeres. He then said:] Today’s maamar is LeHavin Inyan Simchas Torah, which discusses the avodah of beirurim, and also the avodah of teshuvah that it must include, in order to be carried out properly.

3. Is the Torah Happy with Me? A year ago, people raised a finger to indicate that they undertook to be counted among those who committed to devote themselves with mesirus nefesh to disseminating the study of Torah.5 Some of those people accomplished things in the course of the year, but much more can be achieved. I give them my blessing, and ask them to continue their work and to increase it.

Everyone ought to undertake to work in the cause of Torah and of kosher education, with actual – and not only potential – mesirus nefesh. Every individual must set his shoulder to the task at hand. America must become a haven for Torah, so that when people walk down the street they will discuss Chassidus, exactly as in Lubavitch.

Nowadays, when you mention Torah schooling, you have to specify “Torah schooling with yiras Shamayim.” (In the old days there were kosher chadarim, kosher melamdim, and – though it is hard to say – kosher fathers and mothers, whose children were born without spiritual blemish.6 In those days, the word “Torah” alone was enough, but nowadays, since the Torah as it is taught can have an unpleasant flavor, one has to specify “Torah schooling with yiras Shamayim.”)Every individual here should undertake to work with mesirus nefesh to disseminate Torah schooling with yiras Shamayim, kosher education for boys and girls. And what is the meaning of mesirus nefesh…?

Those who are afraid to make this undertaking in the form of a neder, a formal vow, should realize that even without any action on their part they are already considered as people to whom an oath has been administered – and the Sages teach that “it is permitted to take an oath [to compel oneself] to observe a mitzvah.”7

During [tonight’s] Hakkafos with the sifrei Torah, let every individual undertake to work, with actual mesirus nefesh, in the cause of Torah education. Under the mantle of each sefer Torah are its letters, inscribed on the pristine parchment. This is Atzmus, the very Essence of Elokus. The Torah and neshamos8 are both rooted in Atzmus.

Hence, when a person takes hold of a sefer Torah, we can literally say, “It is Me Whom you are taking!”9

Not everyone has a head and a heart, but everyone has legs. On Simchas Torah all Jews are the same; there are no differences. So during Hakkafos, let everyone keep in mind the concept of actual mesirus nefesh in the cause of Torah. That is the real meaning of Simchas Torah, the Rejoicing of the Torah – that the Torah should be happy with us.

4. Cash and Credit. At Hakkafos on Simchas Torah, 5648 (1887), when my father was given the honor of holding the first sefer Torah for the first hakkafah, he said, “I’m not yet ready.”

He then called for R. Yaakov Shneur, a relative of the Mitteler Rebbe’s family, who was a middleman, a wholesale agent. My father asked him what that work entailed, and the chassid explained that he brought merchandise from the big city and sold it to the local retailers, on credit. When they eventually paid up in cash, he supplied them with fresh merchandise.

[Now, hakkafah means not only one of the lively circuits of the Hakkafos on Simchas Torah; it also means “on credit.”]

My father then declared: “After the cash payments of everyone’s avodah during the month of Elul, the days of Selichos, both days of Rosh HaShanah, the Ten Days of Teshuvah, Yom Kippur, the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, and Shemini Atzeres, – after all of that we can now go ahead and do our Hakkafos. We can ask for ‘merchandise’ on credit.”

5. Deep Inside. My father once asked his father, “What is the inner meaning of Hakkafos?”

The Rebbe Maharash replied: “Hakkafos means that we ask our father – our Father in Heaven – with tears of blood (‘My tears have been my bread’10 ): ‘Have pity, and break off the yoke of the gentile nations (goyim) from our necks.’11 Goyim here means the body and the animal soul. True, we dance happily with the sefer Torah in hand, with a clear head and a clear heart, but deep inside there are tears of blood.”

6. No Longer a Child. On Chaf-Daled Teves, 5663 (1912),12 my father gave three reasons to explain why chassidim take mashke: “(a) It is a mitzvah to bring [fire to the altar] from a mundane source;13 (b) an animal is given water to drink before being sacrificed;14 and the true reason is that (c) a drink should be given only where appropriate.

On that occasion my father said: “We must be vigilant with regard to taking mashke – and I say we,15 as one who is occupying a place on a chair on which others have sat.”

It was my father who taught me how to take mashke. At my bar-mitzvah he gave me a glass of arak on which to say LeChaim. Some of the chassidim at the table said, “But he’s still a child!”

“I’m giving him mashke,” said my father, “so that he’ll no longer be a child.”

He then explained the meaning of the well-known chassidisher niggun that begins, ‘Nye zhuritche, khloptze.’ ”16

7. Chassidic Draftees. Before Hakkafos on the eve of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, it was customary for the prizivnikess, the young draftees,to enter my father’s study to request a berachah. (Here in America, not everyone knows what priziv [in Russian] means.) Anyway, today I must proclaim a draft.

I am hereby drafting every one of you to work with self-sacrifice to disseminate Torah and the awe of Heaven. We’ll speak about this in due course; now is not the time to discuss it at length. In the meantime, immediately after Yom-Tov, let every one of you submit a note setting out what he undertakes to do and what he is able to accomplish.