1. Tanya, Stage by Stage. Among1 chassidim,Tanya is considered as Torah shebich’sav, the Written Torah.2 Tanya was not revealed all at once. First there was only the first part with its 53 chapters, then the second part, Shaar HaYichud, and then the third part, Iggeres HaTeshuvah. The letters that follow were revealed only later: they were published within a year after the Mitteler Rebbe assumed the leadership of the chassidic community.

The letters that comprise Tanya – Iggeres HaKodesh are not organized according to the date of writing, but according to their subject matter, and they constitute only a very small proportion of the Alter Rebbe’s letters that were then extant. The following, final section is not set out in chapters, and from the manner of their presentation alone one can learn numerous laws and teachings. On this the Tzemach Tzedek stated that it is confirmed both in the Yeshivah On High (which is the Yeshivah of the Holy One, blessed be He) and in the Yeshivah Below (which is the Lower Gan Eden).

The first letter in Iggeres HaKodesh opens with the words, Pos’chin biverachah – “We begin with a blessing.”

2. Paving the Way for Mashiach. The revelation of the teachings of Chassidus parallels the stages in the revelation of the Beis HaMikdash. First there was the Mishkan, the Sanctuary, in the wilderness, and after it, until the permanent Beis HaMikdash was built, there were temporary sanctuaries in Shiloh, Nov and Giv’on. Likewise, before the Coming of Mashiach, there must be a revelation of the teachings of Chassidus3 – the Baal Shem Tov, then his disciples, then their disciples, and their chassidim. But we shall speak about what is nearest to us – Chabad Chassidus.

Chassidim must be aware of their responsibility. In former times, everyone was more earnest and knew what his responsibility was. The husband knew his responsibility, the wife knew her responsibility – that she was the mainstay of the home, the melamed felt his responsibility toward his pupils, and the higher a man stood, the more was he aware of his responsibility. And so it was with everyone.

We must be aware of our responsibility.

3. In Practical Terms. Every aspect of Torah comprises the four levels of interpretation known by their acronym as Pardespshat, remez, derush and sod.4 This applies, too, to every topic in Chassidus. In terms of gashmiyus, in the material realm, the pshat of the above opening line, Pos’chin biverachah, is that one should start by reciting a berachah. [And with that, the Rebbe began to say the blessing Shehakol over a glass of mashke.]

4. A Covenant at the Ohel. In the summer of 5655 (1895), while my father was staying at a nearby resting place, he would visit Lubavitch every Monday. This was the case, too, on the Monday before Yud-Beis Tammuz, which that year fell on a Thursday.5

On Wednesday, the 11th of Tammuz,6 my father called for me and told me that the next day, Yud-Beis Tammuz, I should rise very early. I did not know why. At 4:00 a.m. he immersed himself, then told me to immerse myself likewise in the river, and informed me that we were now setting out for Lubavitch.

We arrived there at about 8:30. On the way I said to my father, “Since we’re arriving so early, when you were just here on Monday, my grandmother – Rebbitzin Rivkah – will be afraid that something is amiss.”

My father assured me, “She won’t be afraid: she knows.”

When we arrived, my father stepped into an inner room with my grandmother while I waited, and when they came out he told me that we were now going to the Ohel. My grandmother, in high spirits, saw us off with heartfelt blessings.

As we entered the beis midrash at the edge of the Ohel,7 my father opened the Aron Kodesh and said: “Today I am bringing my son to the Akeidah.8 In the Akeidah there is one who binds and one who is bound. Avraham Avinu bound his son Yitzchak in order that nothing should invalidate his offering, G‑d forbid. In the same way, I want this Akeidah to be perfectly acceptable Above.”

My father wept profusely and I, who still knew nothing of what was transpiring, wept with him. Then, still standing in front of the open Aron Kodesh, he learned aloud the first half of the Alter Rebbe’s letter in Iggeres HaKodesh that includes an interpretation of the phrase, Chagrah be’oz mosneha [lit., “She girds her loins with strength”].9 Finally, he turned to me with these words: “In the presence of our holy forebears, I want to enter into a covenant with you.”

With that, he stood me opposite him, placed his holy hands on my head, and said: “As of this day, I transmit to you the holy charge of working for the public good, in matters both material and spiritual.”

Then, relating to the metaphors explained in the above teaching, he added: Avodah begins with the loins, and after that comes avodah with the mind and the middos. Loins require a belt, which is oz, fortitude. Fortitude means mesirus nefesh, and mesirus nefesh means that in matters of principle one stands firm: ‘Only thus and not otherwise!’ ”

This concept he proceeded to explain at length.

5. Fifty Years Later. When we returned from Lubavitch to the resort, my father recounted to me twelve episodes. The next day, Friday, he told me to request permission from my melamed, Rashbatz: he was not to teach me that day’s lesson, so that I would have time to record in writing all the events of the previous day, as well as the twelve episodes. (When my father first entrusted me to the hands of Rashbatz, he said: “I’m handing him over to you” That was why I had now to request his permission.)

Yesterday – Shabbos, Yud-Beis Tammuz – marks exactly fifty years since I heard my father repeat that teaching, Chagrah be’oz mosneha.

6. Tears that Launder. Two states of mind are spoken of in Chassidus – being in high spirits and feeling contrite. One should feel contrite about oneself and happy about someone else, because one ought to notice the other’s positive qualities and one’s own faults. Today, somehow, things are upside down: people are pleased with themselves instead of with others: they see only their own qualities and the other’s faults – and this is what should shatter one’s heart.

The Mitteler Rebbe is not too shy to say outright that if a person sees a fault in another, that fault is his own. From Above he is being shown his own faults, so that he can correct them. Conversely, if he observes someone else’s qualities, that is in order that he should realize how high he can grow.

What makes people nowadays notice another’s faults and their own qualities is the Yetzer HaRa, the Evil Inclination. One must knock the breath out of it. This is the comprehensive body-blow that in Chassidus is called the basic, external chiseling.

The remedy for seeing things as described above is the “tears that launder”10 which accompany one’s plea to the Master of the Universe: “Why should I see evil in a fellow Jew?”

While davenen one should plead: “Our Father, our King! Have pity! Why should one Jew hate his fellow? Why should I see evil in him? He is, after all, a fellow Jew, so what should make me happy is seeing his qualities!”

7. Davenen Worthy of the Name. Years ago, not a hundred years ago but just a few decades ago, avodas hatefillah did not extend over a few hours. It took only fifteen or twenty minutes – but that davenen could honestly be called davenen. Before davenen a person would learn something – not a lot, just four or five lines, but he harnessed those lines for his personal toil. When he was about to put on his tallis and it was still on his shoulder, he meditated upon those lines, and when he was davenen, he really davened. But today…!

8. “I am Certain!” The battle against Amalek11 is not yet over. Every individual should dedicate himself utterly to disseminate Torah that is taught together with the awe of Heaven. These endeavors should be carried out only in a spirit of ahavas Yisrael, out of a brotherly love for one’s fellow Jew, in order to bring him close to Yiddishkeit. This calls for mesirus nefesh – not potential, but actual.

Every individual – whether he is a rav, a shochet, a teacher, a rosh yeshivah, a regular householder, or a storekeeper – must take action and should take action, but most of all, yeshivah students. We’re all in the same boat – as it is written, “And take their sureties.”12

All of this activity should be carried out in a spirit of kiruv, bringing people near. One should not distance anyone who desecrates Shabbos or does not observe the laws of kashrus and the like, but should embrace him with loving nearness, and thereby to create an environment. I am certain that from this there will sprout entire congregations of Jewish leaders, men who will establish shuls and Talmud Torah schools and yeshivos.13

9. A Prisoner’s Thoughts. Those who study Chassidus appreciate what a great thing it is to close one’s eyes and block one’s ears14 and shut one’s mouth.15 Whether a person does this as a result of avodah or out of habit, it elevates him.

The nineteen days that I was in prison – a place that automatically closes one’s eyes, blocks one’s ears and shuts one’s mouth – relieved me of taking pleasure from anything material, not only temporarily but permanently.

In this spirit, Reishis Chochmah (Shaar HaAhavah, chapter 4) tells of a certain empty-headed sinner who had invested all his faculties and thoughts in satisfying his lusts, but then debarred himself of all worldly matters until he eventually became a pious wonderworker.

During those nineteen days in prison I didn’t think of myself at all. What reason is there to think of oneself when one hears people pleading, “What have you got against me?” – and ten minutes later they are shot. At that time my thoughts were a hope that after this decay, something would sprout forth. I knew that I was not alone: I have a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather – but I didn’t think about myself at all.

What I did think about was that teaching, Chagrah be’oz mosneha, which I had heard from my revered father in 5655 (1895).

10. Become a Builder. That’s an episode from the past. In ruchniyus, in spiritual matters, there’s no such thing as past: everything is in the present. That episode involved an individual, but similarly, everyone should exercise mesirus nefesh – not potential, but actual – for the sake of disseminating Torah that is taught together with the awe of Heaven. We are G‑d’s servants; we must be builders.

11. Advice to Temimim. Now I’d like to address the temimim, the yeshivah students.

The real meaning of growing older is – toiling in one’s personal avodah, and growing accordingly. If a person doesn’t toil, only his body grows older, and he remains a grown-up child. There are temimim who study Chassidus and want to understand it, so I’m telling you: if you want to understand Chassidus, then daven.

To daven doesn’t mean to sing, and to daven doesn’t mean to cry, though it’s certainly in order to sing a niggun to oneself while davenen, or to cry while davenen.

[The words of the prayers are meant to be verbalized audibly,] and concerning this it is said, הקול מעורר הכוונה – “One’s voice arouses his concentration.”16 While that remains the plain meaning of the teaching, people used to suggest (albeit not very seriously) an alternative interpretation – that it is one’s concentration that arouses his voice, meaning that the kind of kavanah that the individual musters will determine what kind of niggun will come to mind.

We are not talking about davenen for hours on end, but that one’s davenen should be worthy of the name.

As a rule, one should vigilantly observe the timetable of study sessions both in nigleh and in Chassidus, so that his times for davenen will not conflict with the yeshivah’s schedule. And we’re not talking about davenen baavodah every day, but only from time to time, and especially on Shabbos, which is its ideal time. As to taking note of the meanings of the words that one verbalizes, that of course is obligatory always, in all the prayers, and happy is he who reads them all from a Siddur.17 What we’ve been talking about is [the chassidisher tradition of] avodas hatefillah.

This requires a preparation at the time of the bedtime Shema and ofTikkun Chatzos. This preparation resembles the nightly avodah of terumas hadeshen, the clearing of the ashes in the Beis HaMikdash that served as a preparation for the daytime avodah that was to follow it.

One should keep himself far removed from chitzoniyus,18 any conspicuous manifestation of one’s avodah, and from blitos,19 all kinds of pious conduct that attract attention by being prominent. In fact, when I was the executive director of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah in Lubavitch, I once received a letter from my father: “When the young boys who wear short jackets have their tzitzis sticking out from under them, this is not what is desired.”20

Before one even begins to toil in avodah, one must first distance chitzoniyus and blitos. They should be as repulsive as an unclean reptile. If a dead reptile was found in the Beis HaMikdash,21 they would cover it with a vessel. These behaviors, however, cannot simply be covered over: they must be utterly cast out.

12. With Both Hands. The Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya – Iggeres HaKodesh22 that he will “send spies secretly to all congregations, to find out and to notify about anyone who has the ability and the time to daven at length and to meditate while at prayer, but is slothful. He shall be punished by estrangement, being distanced by both hands [when he comes here to hear Chassidus].”

In spiritual matters, there is no past tense; the Torah is eternal. And the Alter Rebbe writes that such a person will be “distanced by both hands” – not merely left at a distance, but actively distanced, which means that he will be rolled out. However, “from the negative statement, you may infer a positive statement:”23 those who make the necessary effort will be brought close – with both hands.

13. A Maamar. [At this point the Rebbe delivered the maamar that begins with the verse, Meshoch chasd’cha leyod’echa, vetzidkas’cha leyishrei lev.24 ]

14. A Soldier is On Call. A soldier is always ready to be on call, even when he is asleep. Every soldier, whether of the lowest rank or of the highest, operates only according to orders. They all do what they are commanded to do, without asking, “Why?” A soldier knows he must win. That is his only thought, and that very thought helps him win.

It’s the soldiers who do the work; it’s the generals who get the medals.

15. A Dance. [The Rebbe “bought” a dance25 and said:] You can bank on me. [The Rebbe then indicated that the chassidim present should dance around the table at which he sat.]

16. The Alter Rebbe’s Niggun. [The chassidim then sang the Alter Rebbe’s Niggun of Four Themes, and its last theme was sung three times.]

17. Wanted: Shluchim! [The Rebbe requested all those present to rise and to say:] (a) May the One on High provide the few dozen chassidim who are needed in order to open yeshivos, and may they be G‑d-fearing men! (b) There are many interpretations of the verse, “Many are the thoughts in the heart of man, but the counsel of G‑d will prevail.”26 May the counsel of G‑d prevail over the many thoughts in the heart of man, in a way that is overtly good.

18. Vacation Homework. May the One on High grant everyone a healthy summer. As to those who have to go away to take break, may they travel in good health – with the intention of increasing their endeavors for the dissemination of Torah together with the awe of Heaven. And when that is present, material blessings will also be present.