1. Love and Awe. In years gone by, a chassid would wish his friend that he become G‑d-fearing (“a yerei-Shamayim”) and a chassid, because that was the blessing that the Tzemach Tzedek used to give a bar-mitzvah boy.

A group of elder chassidim were once debating the meaning of that blessing, because at first glance the two terms appear to repeat each other. Their conclusion was that since that blessing speaks of becoming ayerei-Shamayim and also a chassid, this must mean that these are two ideals: one cannot become a chassid without first being a yerei-Shamayim; indeed, a yerei-Shamayim in full flower is a chassid.

Generally, as is explicit in the term yirah, a yerei-Shamayim is someone who serves G‑d out of yirah, an awe or fear of G‑d, whereas a chassid serves G‑d out of ahavah, because he is a lover of Shamayim.1

2. A Foretaste of Mashiach. The daily study sessions – the chapters of Tehillim, the daily parshah of Chumash with Rashi, and the daily reading in Tanya2 – are vital to the very soul of every individual. I do not know to what extent these study sessions are being observed, but it should be known that they are vital importance to every individual’s soul.

Chassidim in earlier days used to have their daily shiurim, each according to his capacity. Apart from their otherregular shiurim, they would study each day’s parshah of Chumash with Rashi, as well as a passage of the Nevi’im and the Kesuvim. The misnagdim used to claim that chassidim aren’t familiar with the Tanach, and if they do happen to know a pasuk, that’s only because it is cited in Likkutei Torah.... But that claim is not true. Most chassidim used to be familiar with the Tanach, some better than others. Every day they would learn a passage from Nevi’im while folding their tallis after davenen, or at some other time in the day, and in the course of a year or half a year they would read through the Tanach.

In bygone years, chassidim would have regular shiurim before davenen,3 after davenen, between Minchah and Maariv – and again before the bedtime Shema, for that is when one makes a thoughtful accounting of how the entire day was spent.

This is done at various levels. For some people it used to take a few hours, for the bedtime Shema is the time for the court case between the nefesh Elokis, the G‑dly soul, and the nefesh habahamis, the animal soul. At that time the animal soul seeks to exonerate itself by highlighting the positive things done by the individual of whom it is a part. For example, he did someone a favor, and even if someone had hurt him he did not respond with evil by taking revenge or nursing a grudge, but did him favors. Indeed, the animal soul seeks to prove that in fact that individual was willing to waive to the opposite party. In fact, however, when it is time for the bedtime Shema, that person comes to acknowledge that the source of all those arguments is – the animal soul.

For some people, the bedtime Shema takes a few minutes – but with a sigh. “Sleep is a sixtieth part [of death],”4 so the Shema Yisrael… echad that such a person says before retiring for the night is a sixtieth part of the Shema Yisrael that is said before the body is finally laid to rest. True, it is only a sixtieth part, but the echad in it rings true.5

On weekdays, the bedtime Shema relates [as above] to mundane matters and interpersonal relations; on Shabbos and Yom-Tov, the bedtime Shema relates to the soul and to one’s nearness or distance from Elokus.

We said above that the study of each day’s parshah of Chumash with Rashi is of critical importance. One day, while speaking to the Tzemach Tzedek, a certain individual bewailed the fact that from time to time he slipped up. The Tzemach Tzedek told him: “Study Chumash with Rashi, and you won’t have any such slip-ups.”

In the daily reading of Tanya, the focus is not so much on comprehension as on reciting and learning the letters of which it is comprised. From each day’s reading one should also pluck a couple of words that will accompany him as he makes his way through that day. This applies equally to a businessman and to a scholar who abides in the tent of Torah study.

For example, from yesterday’s reading6 one should derive a lesson in habituation – that everyone should habituate himself to meditating upon ahavah rabbah, “a great love for G‑d alone,” for this can enable him to experience it in some measure. And from today’s reading7 one should derive a lesson in mesirus nefesh that one should be prepared to surrender his soul in every area of Torah and mitzvos.

Listen, fellow Jews! Studying a parshah of Chumash with Rashi every day ignites the light of the soul, and [in turn,] the revelation of the light of the soul is an irradiation of the revelation of Mashiach.

3. As if Faultless. There are good middos, chassidic middos, and pleasant middos.8 “Good middos” (middos tovos) are character traits that conform to the laws of the Torah – and, as Ramban writes, it is possible to be “a scoundrel with the formal sanction of the Torah.”9 That possibility does not relate to a person’s intellect, to his mochin, because that kind of thinking is apikorsus, the heresy of a freethinker. (In the words of the Sages, “If a person is not found worthy, [the Torah] becomes for him [a lethal potion].”10 ) The above possibility of being “a scoundrel with the formal sanction of the Torah” relates only to a person’s middos – and specifically, to mere middos tovos.

If, beyond that, a person has chassidishe middos, he doesn’t slide into becoming a scoundrel.11 If he conducts himself in ways that are no more than technically middos tovos, he can (for example) speak out the whole truth as it is, and thereby lapse into speech that smacks of slander or of negative gossip.12 If instead he has chassidishe middos, he can perceive another’s positive qualities. He can love him with his faults, and then his speech will bear no trace of slander or of negative gossip.

If a person lives at the third level, his “pleasant middos” make that other person sweet. He doesn’t even perceive the other’s faults. It’s as if they didn’t exist.

[By way of illustration:] My uncle, R. Zalman Aharon,13 had mastered the classic [medieval philosophical texts known as] sifrei Chakirah. He once asked my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash: “What is the difference between ahavah rabbah (lit., ‘a great love’) and ahavah betaanugim (lit., ‘a love that experiences delight’)?”14

My grandfather answered: “Visualize it in terms of chassidim. Ahavah rabbah is like the ahavas Yisrael that chassidim feel toward each other; ahavah betaanugim is like the love that a Rebbe feels toward chassidim.”

4. Level by Level. In order to further understand the difference between two of the above-described levels of character traits – “chassidic middos” and “pleasant middos…”15 [No record is extant of what was said at this point.]

The Sages teach that he who prays and requests something for his friend is answered first.16 This is true even when he does not even know what his friend lacks.

Let us consider how each of the above three levels of middos finds expression in the realm of tzedakah. A person with “good middos” gives tzedakah according to his capacity. A person with “chassidic middos” gives more tzedakah than his means allow. Beyond this level, the Sages speak in praise of the individual whose empathy raises the spirits of the recipient.17 He knows that there must be givers and receivers,18 and feels that his help is for his own benefit.

Beyond such a giver, a person with “pleasant middos” is pained by the very fact that there is someone who has to be a recipient, because a person with such middos sweetens things for the recipient without his knowledge. This is not the same as giving anonymously, because in such a case, it can even happen that the donor will peep through a crack to see who is watching…. The person with “pleasant middos” raises the spirits of the downtrodden individual, but without letting him feel like the recipient of empathy.

Each of the above three levels of middos has a parallel in the various kinds of korbanos – the sin-offering, the burnt-offering, and the peace-offering.19

With regard to the study of Chassidus – some people study Chassidus, but it does not affect them; and if it does, it affects only their mind, but not their heart; and even if it does affect their heart, that effect is not relayed and distributed throughout all the organs of the body,20 whereas a person’s study ought to be distilled into practical expression in all areas of his life.

By way of analogy: if an injection is directed into a vein, it can heal, whereas if it is randomly poked into the flesh, it can be not only useless but also harmful. A needle must be focused on a vein.21

5. Create an Environment! What’s lacking here in America is an environment. If people were in the little shtetl, everything would be different. Here, when a person steps out into the street, the turbulent tumult disrupts everything.22 True, as we all say, “Indeed, G‑d, I am Your servant.”23 That is to say, a soldier asks his commander for his marching orders to the place where he has to fight the enemy; likewise, every individual has his mission to accomplish in this particular place, and this mission is the reason for his soul’s descent into his body. That said, a person has to create an environment for himself that will enable him to do everything he has to do.24

6. Contemporary Promises. The year 5541 (1781) was a tough year for chassidim. In Minsk, Vilna and Shklov, the misnagdim issued an excommunication25 [against the chassidic community and the Alter Rebbe]. At that time the Alter Rebbe issued a circular letter to his chassidim, a few words of which I will mention here. It began: “Listen to me, and may G‑d listen to you!... Let every one of you love his brother and let each of you seek the welfare of his fellow. If you do so, the light of Divine love will shine forth and you will create a protective wall… to obstruct… from arrows and catapult stones….”

And it worked. In the year 5541 (1781) the [misnagdim] issued their excommunication, and the years 5541-42 (1781-82) were years of blessing for the chassidim.

It is very difficult to speak of the present era. One’s heart aches, and one does not know what tomorrow will bring. Jews are being misled with promises that never happened and will not happen, and they do not believe in Him in Whom one should place one’s trust. People are relying on things that are insubstantial. They cannot help and they will not help.

This situation recalls the words in Yeshayahu, chapter 9:26 “They devoured Israel with open mouth… Yet the people did not turn to Him Who smote them.” As Rashi explains, the people did not turn to the One Who brought these trials upon them. It’s like pleading with the Cossack wielding his pike that he should not stab and beat, whereas in fact people should be turning to the Holy One, blessed be He. Since He is a kind and merciful Father, He would help within a moment, if only people turned to Him truthfully. We’re not talking about repentance by means of fasting and self-mortification; we’re talking of simply making a change of direction.

7. Relishing the Toil of Avodah. Today’s maamar of Chassidus, which begins with the words, Taamah ki tov sachrah, lo yichbeh balaylah nerah,27 speaks of experiencing vitality in one’s avodah and relishing its flavor.28 This also relates to the verse, “To me, Your Torah is superior to thousands of gold and silver.”29 [No record is extant of the lengthy discussion that was given at this point.] The focus of the maamar is the soul’s descent into the body.

8. Two Prophecies. In the tenth chapter of Yeshayahu, we really should have been up to the message of verse 20, but we are still only up to verse 6....

Verse 20 says, “On that day, the remnant of Israel… will no longer rely on [the enemy] that smote them, but will rely on G‑d, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.” This is the orientation that leads to the promise in the following chapter:30 “And a shoot shall sprout forth from the stem of Yishai….”

Verse 6 says: “I shall send them [i.e., Assyria] against an ungodly nation, and shall give them a charge against a people that angers Me….”

9. Light that is Visible. LeChaim! May G‑d grant that all the revealed blessings of this Yom-Tov, and the light revealed on today’s date, the Last Day of Pesach – which is the revelation of Mashiach31 – come down in a manifest manner, with Divine kindness and compassion.

[The Rebbe gave the signal for those assembled to sing the Alter Rebbe’s Niggun of Four Themes, and its last theme was sung three times.]