1. Chai Elul. As is well known, the Alter Rebbe was born on Chai Elul, and the Baal Shem Tov went to great lengths1 to hide himself from him, so to speak.

2. Lockable Books. The Tzemach Tzedek had a number of books whose pages were bound on one side, and whose other side was lockable. Those books included – in chronological order – his notes of the maamarim that he had heard from the Alter Rebbe, who in turn had heard them from the Maggid of Mezritch. They also included episodes that he had heard from his great-grandmother, Rebbitzin Rivkah, the Alter Rebbe’s mother.2

3. Great-Grandmother’s Stories. When the Tzemach Tzedekwas ten years old, the Alter Rebbe had told him, “You’re not a child,” and had instructed him to put on tefillin privately. At that time he also instructed him to spend two or three hours a day listening to the episodes recounted by his grandmother, Rebbitzin Rivkah, and asked her to pass on whatever she knew.

4. A Spiritual Pregnancy. The Alter Rebbe told the Tzemach Tzedek that a twelve-month spiritual pregnancy Above, before the mother’s pregnancy, suffices to enable a soul to carry out its mission easily after it descends to This World. However, a new soul that derives from Ma”h3 in the World of Atzilus needs a preparation of thirteen months. This explains why the Alter Rebbe was born a month late, because the marital union took place on Yud-Tes Kislev,4 and that year, 5505 (1744-45), was a leap year.5

5. Rise and Shine. My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, was told by his great-grandmother, Rebbitzin Rivkah, that her husband R. Baruch6 had set the date of their wedding for Chai Elul,7 but since that year it fell on Shabbos, he advanced it to erev Shabbos, the 17th of Elul. She added that by Divine Providence the haftarah of that day was the passage that begins with the words, Kumi ori – “Rise and shine!”8

6. Born in a Leap Year. The Tzemach Tzedek once said that the soul of the Alter Rebbe could have come down to This World a year earlier,9 but he was destined to be born in a leap year.

7. A Pure Environment. After a year during which Rebbitzin Rivkah had not yet been blessed with a child, R. Baruch traveled to visit the Baal Shem Tov and asked him whether he should move to another location.10 The Baal Shem Tov advised him to remain in his village, because it would be better that the soul that was due to come down to them in This World should come to a place with few inhabitants, that is, with few sinners.

8. Chabadnikess and Chagasnikess. The Baal Shem Tov went to great lengths11 to hide himself, so to speak, from the Alter Rebbe. It was his mother’s wish that the Baal Shem Tov should bless him, but the Baal Shem Tov hid himself.12 On this she commented that if her son, the Alter Rebbe, had in fact visited the Baal Shem Tov, his chassidim would not have been Chabadnikess,13 but Chagasnikess.14

9. Visiting the Baal Shem Tov. [One of the chassidim present asked:] Did Rebbitzin Rivkah ever visit the Baal Shem Tov?

[The Rebbe replied:] She visited him twice.

10. Keeping a Secret. Both R. Baruch and his brother-in-law used to travel to visit the Baal Shem Tov, but they kept this as a secret from each other – until once, in the year 5507 (1747) they met each other there. The brother-in-law was amazed that R. Baruch, who was considered an emotional person, had been able to keep this secret to himself for so long.

11. The Focus of Love. Until the time of the Baal Shem Tov, the focus of ahavas Yisrael was the Torah, meaning that people loved a Torah scholar. The novel approach of the Baal Shem Tov was that a Jew should be loved simply because he is a Jew – that is, ahavas Yisrael whose focus was the neshamah. To this the Alter Rebbe added ahavas hatzaddikim, loving a tzaddik, which is relevant to every Jew.

12. At All Times. The Alter Rebbe once said to the Tzemach Tzedek: “I undertake mesirus nefesh for ahavas Yisrael until the Coming of Mashiach. One mode of mesirus nefesh relates to the Reading of Shema, and is experienced only then; I have it at all times.”

[One of the chassidim present asked:] Did the Alter Rebbe say that about himself?

[The Rebbe replied:] Yes. That was the neshamah speaking, and in such words there is no room for self-aggrandizement.

13. Calming Indignation. The Alter Rebbe was afraid that the episode of his imprisonment should not lead to any Jew being harmed. During the first few months after his release he wrote letters directed at calming his chassidim.15

14. Night and Day. With the Alter Rebbe, “night radiated light like the day.”16 The Tzemach Tzedek once remarked, “If only our day were like his night!”

15. Hard to Rejoice. One’s heart is embittered and we cannot rejoice as we ought to,17 over the revelation of the Alter Rebbe on Chai Elul, with all his innovative accomplishments.

16. Goal-Oriented. The Alter Rebbe showed the path in life whereby a soul is enclothed in a body, and harnesses it to attain the goal desired by the One Above.

17. Gut Yom-Tov! [Someone entered and said, “Gut Shabbos!”The Rebbe responded with Gut Yom-Tov18 and then led the benschen, though not over a cup of wine.]