1. Splitting the Sea. [The Rebbe Rayatz here quotes an intricate Kabbalistic teaching that the Tzemach Tzedek once delivered on Shvi’i shel Pesach.1 That date recalls the Splitting of the Sea, when the dry seabed became visible because the water that normally obscures it was removed. Kerias Yam Suf thus serves to signify Divine revelation, and the teaching of the Tzemach Tzedek traces the repercussions of that revelation on the whole of Creation, from the sublime levels of the spiritual cosmos down to this physical world.]

2. Telling the Whole Truth. In the year 5524 (1764), when the Alter Rebbe lived in Vitebsk and was being supported, according to custom, as a fulltime scholar by his father-in-law,2 he set out to visit the Maggid of Mezritch for the first time. (Two of his brothers, R. Moshe and R. Mordechai, felt connected to Vilna, and his other brother, R. Yehudah Leib, better known by his acronym as Maharil, was living in Yanovitch, though he had not yet been appointed as the rav of that town.)

Early in the Alter Rebbe’s visit to Mezritch, he once repeated a teaching of the Maggid. It was an interpretation of the verse, “The people who walked in the dark saw a great light, and over those who sat in the shadow of death, a light shone.”3 He said: When a person sits, his head is lowered from its usual height; when he stands, he is at his full stature; and when he walks, his legs give mobility to the head which, in return, provides the legs with light. “Darkness” signifies the worldliness that obscures spirituality and hampers Divine service. “Those who sat in the shadow of death” alludes to those who are aware of that obscurity, but do not break their way through it. In that state, [only a mere] light shines upon them. By contrast, “The people who walked in the dark” signifies those who break through that obscurity and shatter its obstacles to their avodah. Such people have more than a mere light shining upon them; they see a great light.

Having cited the above teaching in the name of the Maggid, the Alter Rebbe went on to spell it out as follows: “Those who sit in the shadow of death” alludes to those scholars who devote themselves exclusively to Torah study, whereas “those who walk in the dark” alludes to those scholars who in addition to their Torah study, also devote themselves to the avodah of tefillah. With Torah alone, one merely has a light shining upon him; through avodas hatefillah, one “sees a great light.”

In those days the Alter Rebbe used to be mekarev young married Torah scholars to Chassidus. He had to do so briefly, and would tell them the whole truth squarely, straight to their face.

In the good old days people would tell the whole truth, and it had the desired effect.4

3. Asher-yatzar Chassidim. Chassidim used to have a label for every kind of chassid. For example, certain noted chassidim were known as “asher-yatzar chassidim.” How did this label originate?

My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, once gave a detailed interpretation of the following words [from the Sheva Berachos5 ]: asher yatzar es ha’adam betzalmo…, vehiskin lo mimenu binyan adei-ad. Ordinarily these words bless G‑d, “Who created man in His image…, and prepared for him from his own self an everlasting edifice.” As the Rebbe Maharash explained, “He prepared for him from his own self an everlasting edifice” is a mystical allusion to the revelation of the infinite Ein-Sof light that shines within created beings. This revelation occurs in successive stages. For a start, there is ad (lit., ‘until’), and within that stage there is an ad that includes the goal that it seeks to reach6 and there is an ad that does not include the goal that it seeks to reach.7 Beyond those [finite] levels, there is a stage of revelation that is alluded to by the phrase adei-ad, which alludes to the infinite revelation of the Ein-Sof light. And chassidim whose avodah testified to the presence of this light were fondly nicknamed “asher-yatzar chassidim.”8

[Two versions are extant of the summary that the Rebbe Rayatz gave here of an erudite discussion by the Mitteler Rebbe. Its theme is the extent to which Chochmah Ilaah, the supernal wisdom of the Creator, can be apprehended by the neshamah at its various levels, ranging from its pristine, transcendental source Above to its reflection as vested in a mortal body.]

4. Fingernails. When R. Zalman of Yanovitch, who was a regular householder,9 moved to Moscow, he took along with him a chassid called R. Nosson of Polotzk, the scholar whom he maintained as his Torah teacher. R. Nosson once visited Lubavitch, and at yechidus with the Rebbe Maharash, he praised the wonderful character traits of his student.

In response, the Rebbe Maharash said: “True, he’s a student, but not yours. You should learn from him. The netilas yadayim10 of Chassidus is – paring one’s fingernails….”

And from that time on, R. Nosson pared his fingernails…. [That is, he became particularly vigilant that no one’s feelings should ever be scratched by any abrasive words of his.]

5. The Fruits of Study. Once, at a time when the students at Tomchei Temimim studied a great deal of nigleh and Chassidus and also engaged in the personal avodah demanded by Chassidus, I accompanied my father for a stroll.

On the way, my father remarked: “Why is it that in earlier times the students studied less and knew less, and nevertheless their studies impacted them, whereas today that impact is not so evident?” To this I offered no answer.

My father then elaborated by analogy: “The Torah speaks of ‘bread from Heaven’11 and ‘bread from the earth.’12 The ‘bread from Heaven’ – the manna in the wilderness – left no waste matter: the food was all absorbed in the body.13 True, ‘bread from the earth’ is superior in that it is earned by avodah, by mortal endeavor, but it does leave a residue of waste matter. If one’s bread is made of soless, meal that has not been sifted and refined, it gives rise to psoless, waste matter, in the person who eats it.” [And in the analog:] Scholars used to sift a concept and focus on the Elokus that was embedded within it; today they absorb only the concept.”14

On another occasion my father expressed himself in these terms: “In former times, Chassidus was a remedy. Today, it’s regarded as food – and in that way it is also possible for it to be consumed grossly.”15

[In conclusion, the Rebbe Rayatz added:] That entire discussion dates from an earlier era; today, people are far removed from such matters. Nevertheless, one must not be downhearted. One should be active in avodah – in fact, with intensified vigor.”

6. Don’t Faint. Do Something! In former times, people used to state the truth outspokenly, and those words were effective.16 To illustrate:

The Rebbe Maharash was once visited by one of his chassidim – a businessman who always carried with him a copy of Shaarei Orah and of Shaarei HaEmunah,17 both of which he had mastered.

At yechidus the Rebbe Maharash asked him: “What time do you get up in the morning? How do you spend your day? And what do you do before davenen?”

In response to the last question, the chassid answered that before davenen he studied Chassidus, and on this he meditated both before and after davenen.

The Rebbe Maharash asked further: “And what about Kerias Shema before retiring at night?”

At that time, too, the chassid answered, he meditated on the Chassidus he had studied.

“In all of that,” said the Rebbe Maharash, “you’re thinking about Elokus – but when do you think about yourself?”

Hearing this, the chassid almost fainted, so the Rebbe Maharash told him: “One shouldn’t faint; one should take action!”

With that he called for his attendant, R. Pinye Leib the Meshares, who helped the chassid out of the Rebbe’s room and helped him regain his composure. And while the chassid was being helped out of the room, the Rebbe Maharash sang to himself the niggun that accompanies the words, Mashcheini, acharecha narutzah – “Draw me along, and we shall run toward you.”18

When my father was a child, R. Pinye Leib used to show him friendship. So it was that at the time of the above incident, when my father was either before his bar-mitzvah or soon after it, R. Pinye Leib called him so that he could watch his father singing alone in his study.

Many years later my father gave an explanation of why his father, the Rebbe Maharash, had sung that niggun at that time.

7. A Cheerful Beggar. Chassidishe wealth means being happy with one’s lot, by reason of one’s faith and trust. If things aren’t good now, they’ll be good later. After all, you’re still alive.

In particular, this faith and trust are accessible in light of what the Alter Rebbe points out with regard to hidden goodness.19 It would certainly be preferable if that goodness had come down in the kind of good that is visible and revealed – but after all, it’s good. A slap from one’s father is a slap, but it’s from his father – though even from him, a kiss would have been preferred.

With such a mindset, a man can be a beggar, but a cheerful beggar. In some circles out there you can find sulking magnates; among chassidim you can find cheerful beggars.

This ability, to be happy with one’s lot by reason of one’s faith and trust, is present among all chassidim, whether Torah scholars or businessmen, and in each individual it finds practical expression according to his situation – in his intellectual activity, in the refinement of his middos, or in doing a fellow Jew a favor.

The Alter Rebbe once said that chassidim live with the light “that outshines all others.”20 By way of analogy: in the word ברוך (baruch), for example, its meaning (“blessed”) shines forth in each of its four letters only when they appear in the above combination, which produces that meaning. [So, the pnimiyus within chassidim shines forth when their mochin and middos are ordered as above.]

8. A Little Candle. When the air is clear, even a little candle can light up its surroundings. If the air is gross, and certainly if it is foul, a little candle will not be effective: it must be replaced by a big flame, which must be protected against the wind by a lantern.

In the good old days the atmosphere was clear, so that even a little candle could light up its surroundings. Nowadays, when the atmosphere is gross, we need a lantern and a flame – and Divine compassion as well, so that it should light up its surroundings and remain alight. That is the ultimate reason for this bitter exile – to light up the gross and foul atmosphere.

9. Counting Words. In times past, chassidim did not toss words freely. Every word was measured, and every word had an effect on its hearer.

A soldier always has his weapons with him: he and his lance are one and the same. And his uniform must always be kept clean, even if he’s exhausted after working hard. If a soldier uses his weapons apart from wartime, he is a murderer guilty of bloodshed. He uses them only against the enemy, and if he disobeys that command he gets a slap, whose punishment is not the pain but the humiliation.21

In times past, words were not tossed about freely. There was no such thing as saying a word for no particular reason – such as just repeating a quotable teaching or a pious teaching. Rather, a word [of admonishment] was used in order to transform the [listener’s internal] “enemy” to good. When such a word has the desired effect, the speaker knows that it was properly utilized.

10. Mortal Initiative. Just as it goes without saying that on erev Yom Kippur and on Yom Kippur one should experience an arousal22 from within, the same is true of Shvi’i shel Pesach. Every moment should be precious. True, the spiritual dynamic [of Pesach] is an unsolicited arousal from Above23 that is not sparked by an arousal initiated by mortal effort from below.24 Nevertheless, an inner arousal from below affects it by expanding the capacity of one’s receptive vessels.

[The Rebbe added:] I am a funnel: I transmit what I heard from….25 Perhaps that will produce results.

Besides, as is well known, lofty levels [such as those described above] are nowadays easier to attain than far lower levels, fifty or seventy years ago.