1 1. Every Rosh HaShanah, comprehensive vitality for the entire year is drawn down2 afresh.3 It provides both for matters related to the body and for matters related to the soul. Both for whatever concerns one’s fleshly life and for whatever concerns one’s spiritual life, it is on Rosh HaShanah that this comprehensive vitality is drawn down.

Hence the name Rosh HaShanah – literally, “the head of the year.”4 The head of every creature is its most vital organ, as in man, whose head is the source of the vitality both of the particular faculties that animate his various limbs, and of his spiritual faculties. The name Rosh HaShanah thus indicates that on that day, the comprehensive vitality for both spiritual and material matters is drawn down for the entire year. That includes the coming year’s comprehensive vitality for one’s spiritual life in the areas of Torah study and avodah. Hence the need for self-preparation during the month of Elul and the days of Selichos, so that this downward flow of vitality should be real.

The comprehensive vitality is first drawn down during Maariv on the first evening of Rosh HaShanah.

2. Just as the vitality of the head is of two kinds, a comprehensive kind that relates to all the organs of the body and a specific kind that relates only to the head, so too, the head of the year comprises two kinds of vitality – a comprehensive kind that is drawn down on Rosh HaShanah for the whole year, and a specific kind of vitality that relates only to the specific day of Rosh HaShanah. The difference between the two kinds of vitality – the comprehensive and the specific – is that the comprehensive kind is obscured whereas the specific kind is revealed.

Even though both these two kinds of vitality – the comprehensive and the specific – are specific kinds of vitality, insofar as they relate specifically to each individual person, they are nevertheless intrinsically distinct.

With the above broad introduction, we will be able to understand the maamar that the Alter Rebbe delivered on erev Rosh HaShanah, 5528 (1767).5

3. After the Alter Rebbe returned home from Mezritch,6 he began to plot the path of Chabad Chassidus. In the course of the following several years he defined its framework further, setting fixed times for his public delivery of Chassidus – on Shabbos throughout the year, on Yom-Tov, and on certain other special occasions.

The maamarim that he used to deliver in those days were short, and they were delivered with passion.7 The elder chassidim who recalled that era, in which Chabad Chassidus was first being revealed and crystallized, used to say that the Alter Rebbe set the world on fire with his exuberance and his service of the heart,8 and that he gladdened the hearts of Jews with his love of every fellow Jew.9

4. A great number of chassidim converged on Liozna to spend Rosh HaShanah, 5529 (1768), with the Alter Rebbe, who used to daven together with the chassidim and was also the baal keriah. Since his shul was too small to accommodate them all,a “courtyard shul” was set up.

5. On erev Rosh HaShanah he delivered the following maamar:

“This is the day which is the beginning of your work, a remembrance of the first day.”10 Every Rosh HaShanah, a new, comprehensive illumination11 from the first day of Creation is drawn down, and Rosh HaShanah is the day on which judgment is made for the revelation of Elokus12 in all the worlds, from the highest of all the levels in the Worlds of Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, in response to the avodah of the Jewish people – with an earnest arousal, with teshuvah from the depths of the heart that is voiced with an inner cry.

It is written,13 “For G‑d has listened to the voice of the boy, where he is.” On this the Sages comment (Rosh HaShanah 16b): “R. Yitzchak said, ‘A man is judged only according to his deeds at that time.’ ” The day of Rosh HaShanah is a year, “a long day.”14 Throughout the two days of Rosh HaShanah one should be occupied with davenen and with words of Torah. The task of one’s avodah during the 48 hours of Rosh HaShanah is to annul the kelipah of חָ"ם15 and to transform the heat (חוֹם) of kelipah, and likewise one’s innate, natural heat,16 to a G‑dly ardor – which will fire one’s Torah study, one’s davenen, and the positive attributes of one’s character.17

Elder chassidim used to relate that by delivering that maamar, the Alter Rebbe uncovered in his chassidim the light of the soul. Within all of them, even within the most ordinary chassidim, their souls stood revealed.