1. Childhood Memories. This week I received a letter from someone in Canada who learned together with me in our childhood years, in the cheder in Lubavitch. This reminded me of Shavuos in the year 5645 (1885).1

On erev Shavuos, our melamed told us that the Torah says that “Moshe led the people out toward G‑d2 – to matan Torah, to the Giving of the Torah. He then said: “Kinderlach! Come with me and I will take you to matan Torah.” He took all thirty or thirty-five of us to R. Binyamin’s beis midrash and told us that the next morning, the first day of Shavuos, we should wake up an hour earlier than usual and come to this beis midrash for kabbalas haTorah.

On Shavuos morning I awoke at seven o’clock and prepared to go there. My revered mother (Rebbitzin Shterna Sarah) wanted me – her precious only son – to eat something before leaving, but I insisted that I wouldn’t eat before matan Torah. I set out to the beis midrash, where I found all of my classmates, and after davenen our melamed took us all on a walk down Chachloiker Road.

2. Sweet and Saintly Simplicity. Education once upon a time was utterly different. Everything was done with innocent, childlike temimus – both by the children and by the teachers, and it was apparent both in the teachers and in the parents. Basically, temimus is unsophisticated simplicity. People used to relate to teachers with respect. Today people say, “What’s he teaching there – outdated stuff?”

In those days, the simplicity – the pshitus – was palpable. There is a well-known teaching on the verse, “You shall be tamim with the L‑rd your G‑d.”3 On this verse the Mitteler Rebbe said: “Through your temimus you can reach G‑d’s own temimus – which is pshitus haAtzmus, the simple Essence of G‑d Himself.”

3. Tears of Joy. R. Peretz Beshenkovitzer was a chassid who served as a melamed,4 who would visit Lubavitch every Shavuos. He was very poor and far removed from self-importance. My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, showed him marks of closeness by virtue of his lineage: his grandfather belonged to the inner circle of the chassidim of the Tzemach Tzedek.

As R. Peretz was arriving in Lubavitch for one of his Shavuos visits, the Rebbe Maharash noticed him while taking a walk out of town. That year so many visitors came for Shavuos and wanted to be admitted to yechidus that the gabbai, R. Levik, never dreamt of admitting this visitor. In fact R. Peretz himself never imagined that this would happen – until suddenly R. Leivik called for him and told him that the Rebbe would like to see him at yechidus.

Once inside, R. Peretz bemoaned the fact that he was a disgraceful empty vessel.

The Rebbe said: “One has to know how to truly feel that lack. Tell me, do you shed tears as you say Tehillim?”

R. Peretz responded that he did. The Rebbe then instructed him to say two kapitlach in this manner every day for the rest of his life, and concluded, “But for kabbalas haTorah, when you are now going to receive the Torah, you must do so with simchah.”

In later years R. Peretz related that every Shavuos, recalling that yechidus, he would contemplate how the Rebbe had lowered himself from the Higher Gan Eden all the way down, in order to address him in This World.

On the first night of Shavuos in the year 5647 (1887),5 I quietly left via the back door of our home to visit the beis midrash. Amongst the large crowd, I noticed two Yidn whose tears flowed down their cheeks as they read from their “siddurim.” (At that age I didn’t know that they were reading from copies of Tikkun Leil Shavuos.) One of them was a tall man with a long beard. It was R. Peretz Beshenkovitzer.

And that was his “kabbalas haTorah with simchah.”

4. A Deep Desire. One erev Shavuos, my father entered the study of his father, the Rebbe Maharash, for yechidus, and asked him: “With what kind of avodah should one prepare himself for the night of Shavuos?”

The Rebbe Maharash replied: “At the time of the Giving of the Torah, three things were given – galia deTorah, the Torah’s revealed dimension; sisrei Torah, the secrets of the Torah; and an empowerment to do one’s avodah. The revealed dimension of the Torah everyone has, and the secrets of the Torah have been known to many. By contrast, the empowerment to do one’s avodah is granted only to a person who desires it – and that means yearning for it from the innermost essence of one’s soul.”6

The Rebbe Maharash continued: “The Sages teach that the secrets of the Torah ‘may not be relayed except to a person whose heart trembles within him.’7 The Alter Rebbe notes that the Sages do not say ‘may not be revealed,’ but ‘may not be relayed,’ meaning that it is Atzmus Ein-Sof, G‑d’s infinite Essence, that is relaying these secrets to the atzmus, the innermost essence, of the soul. These are the secrets that are called razin derazin, the most secret mysteries. And when one hears a Torah teaching from a tzaddik who is in the higher Gan Eden, one can come to know such secrets.”

In response, my father said, “Father, bless me!”

The Rebbe Maharash then gave him a blessing for the empowerment of the atzmus, the innermost essence, of his soul. That blessing he gave him by virtue of the power of his father, the Tzemach Tzedek; by virtue of the power of his great-grandfather, the Alter Rebbe; and by virtue of the power of our mentor, the Baal Shem Tov.

When my father related this to me, he concluded: “That Shavuos night I had no inclination to sleep.”

The above episode took place when my father was seventeen years old.

5. Fruitful Meditation. Hisbonenus, meditation, does not relate to comprehension alone. It should relate to all levels – thought, speech, action and conduct. Hisbonenus means weighing one’s thoughts and rearranging them.

In this activity lies the difference between a person who is deliberate and a person who is impulsive. If the impulsive person is a scholar, his scholarship is impulsive; if he is a fool, his foolishness is impulsive. So, too, both his good middos and his bad middos will be impulsive. In the case of the deliberate individual, everything is as it ought to be: his scholarship is scholarly, his foolishness is foolish, and his middos, too, are as they ought to be.

There are three kinds of hisbonenus: meditation that focuses on the person himself;8 lengthy meditation; and profound intellectual analysis. The last kind is not appropriate for everyone, nor is lengthy meditation appropriate for everyone – but meditation that focuses on the thinker himself is everyone’s task. Every individual should ask himself how he is and what state he is in.

Tonight, the eve of Shavuos, everyone ought to ask himself how he is, how he should be, and how he can be. Shavuos night is the time to prepare oneself to gather the energy to do his avodah. How does one get that energy? By studying the letters of the Torah, for “the entire Torah comprises the Names of the Holy One, blessed be He,”9 and that transcends even the level of perception called shlilah atzmius.10

6. Treife Schools. Mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice, has been required by the Torah ever since it was given on Mount Sinai, and needs no further command or arousal. All the Supernal partzufim and all the angels intercede on behalf of Jews who act with mesirus nefesh for the sake of the Torah.

This mesirus nefesh, however, must be directed specifically for Torah that is taught together with yiras Shamayim, the awe of Heaven, and not as it is taught in the treife Talmud Torah schools and in the treife yeshivos. It must be stated explicitly that this distinction affects every individual child and all his succeeding generations. It must be talked about, for if not....

Not only must one see to it that the kosher Talmud Torah schools and the kosher yeshivos should be provided with whatever they are lacking, materially and spiritually; in addition, people must act with mesirus nefesh to eradicate the treife Talmud Torah schools and the treife yeshivos. The law of the Torah rules that “a sefer Torah written by a heretic must be burnt.”11 Not one of its letters is disqualified by a hair’s-breadth crack, and nowhere is there the slightest contact between two adjoining letters,12 and the scribal script throughout is impeccable – nevertheless, if it was written by a heretic it must be burnt. In line with this principle, the current prevalence of treife teachers and treife chadarim calls for mesirus nefesh for the sake of Torah that is taught together with yiras Shamayim, the awe of Heaven.

7. Looking Ahead. Tonight we have to say to the Master of the Universe: “What has been has been, but from today onward, may all Jews be blessed with happy occasions.”

And may the One Above grant that we receive the Torah happily and with a sincere heart.

8. Today’s Baalei Simchah. [When the yeshivah teachers entered toward the beginning of the meal, the Rebbe said]: Today’s true celebrants are the yeshivah teachers.

[Since fewer than ten people had eaten bread, the guests who drank a revi’is of wine in order to make up a minyan for benschen were asked to join the others at the table. After benschen, the Rebbe personally poured a little of the wine from the kos shel berachah for all those present.]