8. LeChaim! Today is Simchas Torah, the Rejoicing of the Torah. May G‑d grant that the Torah’s rejoicing extend throughout the coming year – that we should rejoice with the Torah, and that the Torah should rejoice with us. However, our rejoicing with the Torah varies from one person to another, whereas the Torah rejoices with the entire Jewish people.

9. The Alter Rebbe once related that the first time the Baal Shem Tov spoke with his disciples about Simchas Torah, he told them: “On Simchas Torah, Jews usually sleep in. On any Shabbos and Yom-Tov, the davenen starts later than on weekdays,1 but on Simchas Torah in particular people commonly sleep in for a while, because of the [previous night’s] Hakkafos and the festive evening meal. Angels, by contrast, don’t have those tasks in avodah, so on Simchas Torah they wake up early, just as on any other day. They want to sing G‑d’s praises, but they can’t do it alone, without the souls down here, as in the teaching of the Sages2 on the words, ‘when the morning stars sing together.’3 So one Simchas Torah morning, being left idle, they decided to go off and tidy up the Garden of Eden. There they suddenly found objects that were utterly unknown to them – slippers. This left them bemused. In Gan Eden they were used to finding tzitzis, or tefillin – but slippers?!

“So they went off to ask the Angel Michael, who answered, ‘Ah! This is my merchandise!’ He explained that all those worn-out slippers had been left on the previous evening by the Jews who had been dancing exuberantly with the Torah. ‘These,’ he said, ‘are from Kaminka, those are from Mezritch,’ and so on.”

The Baal Shem Tov concluded: “And with that the Angel Michael prided himself on being superior to the Angel Matat, who crafts crowns for his Maker out of the prayers of the Jewish people,4 whereas the Angel Michael himself will make a superior crown – out of the torn slippers that were worn out by the dancing of Simchas Torah!”

10. The Baal Shem Tov expressed his ahavas Yisrael,his love for his fellow Jew, to an exceptional degree, by revealing how elevated that individual really was. Until the year 5515 (1755), he used to address his disciples in his letters as “my beloved ones,” “my friends,” “my beloved band,” or “my band of friends.” (It was the misnagdim who gave the name “chassidim.”) That period lasted about twenty-one years.5 The Alter Rebbe once remarked that certain original interpreters of Biblical verses6 found an allusion to that number in the phrase, אַךְ טוֹב לְיִשְׂרָאֵל.7

Referring to the period when the Baal Shem Tov worked as a teacher’s assistant,8 before he revealed himself, the Maggid of Mezritch once said: “If only people would kiss the sefer Torah with the same love that the Baal Shem Tov kissed the children whom he took to the cheder!”

11. On Simchas Torah, 5663 (1902), my father said that someone had once asked him, “What was the novel contribution of Chassidus?”

This was his answer: “People are mistaken when they say that Chassidus transforms a person’s mahus, his essential personality.9 The true answer is that Chassidus transforms a person’s metzius, the nature of his existence, and reveals his mahus, his essential personality.

“The lofty virtue of a Jew’s mahus cannot be fathomed, because it is part of the etzem, the very Essence of Elokus. What characterizes an etzem is the principle that ‘when one grasps part of it, it is as if he has grasped it in its entirety.’10 And just as the etzem – G‑d’s Essence – is without limits, so too is any ‘part’ of it without limits. (This principle parallels the teaching of Chassidus [on the intrinsic link between the transcendent and indwelling modes of Divine influence in the universe].11 ) It is only that Atzmus, the very Essence of Elokus, created a soul that was to become a created being. And Chassidus reveals the innermost mahus of the essential, lofty quality of the soul.”

12. The soul’s essential lofty quality is the quality with regard to which all Jewish souls are equal, as the Alter Rebbe teaches.12 And it is this essential lofty quality of the soul that the Baal Shem Tov uncovered.

13. The Baal Shem Tov not only disseminated the concept that this essential lofty quality is innate in the souls of all Jews, but also pointed out that this quality is more evident in ordinary, unlettered Jews than in erudite scholars.

14. R. Pinchas Reizes13 once relayed to the Mitteler Rebbe a teaching that he had heard from the venerable chassid, R. Baruch Shimshon, who in turn had heard it from his father, who was one of the hidden tzaddikim, as follows: After being revealed [as a tzaddik], the Baal Shem Tov revealed every entity’s inner vitality, that is, its mahus.14

15. The Baal Shem Tov spoke a great deal about loving a fellow Jew, loving the Torah, and loving G‑d, and also revealed [how sublime is] the mahus of every Jew. Now, according to the outer and overt levels of the Torah, this assertion would appear to be problematic. After all, the law disqualifies a gambler from giving testimony. Likewise, [to take another example,] the law states that when certain people recite a berachah, one should not respond Amen. By contrast, according to pnimiyus, the inner dimension of the Torah, this person is basically good.15

However, there’s a fly in the ointment,16 [and this creates a problem] because “all Jews are responsible17 for each other.” Hence no one can say, “I’m a scholar, or I’m a chassid,’ or I wear three pairs of tefillin – so what do I care about some other fellow?” In business, one partner says to the other, “This question affects us both: what concerns you concerns me,” and they don’t argue. That attitude should apply to all Jews, in all areas. Besides, since “it is by G‑d that a man’s steps are made firm,”18 every individual in every situation is granted the strength to carry out his intended mission. The same applies to trials and challenges: a person is given the strength to cope with them.

16. When the Siddur Torah Or was reprinted in 5649 (1889),19 my father called me into his study and instructed me to daven from it in his presence. He tested the precision of my reading and comprehension but was not satisfied, especially with regard to fine grammatical points, such as the accentuation of certain syllables, and differentiation between letters that did or did not have a dagesh.20 He therefore hired the services of R. Yitzchak Gershon, who was to teach me translation and dikduk two evenings a week. Within two weeks I duly mastered the translation of the entire davenen. The dikduk lessons, however, especially those about accenting certain syllables and articulating every dagesh, vanished by morning.

17. One day, R. Yitzchak Gershon was very pleased with my dikduk, but I knew that my grasp of it was only superficial. So I went in to see my father. I told him the whole story, broke into tears, and readied myself to hear stern words. My father, however, saw it all differently, and proceeded to offer the following interpretation:21

Mil’eil22 and mil’ra23 represent (respectively) Heaven and earth. Mil’eil (lit., “above”) stands for Torah and the positive and prohibitive mitzvos, whereasmil’ra (lit., “below”) stands for the permissible physical things which are optional.24 The [spiritual] things which are mil’eil call for a dagesh, for emphasis, just as every dagesh implies that its consonant should have been doubled, making it more intense. The [physical] things which are mil’ra, by contrast, should be de-emphasized. True, they are permitted, but they are not compulsory. They should be approached in moderation, to the extent that is needed and not more.

Ah! When a child hears this from his father, it serves as a deeply-rooted educational directive for many generations.

18. In the case of a nasi in Israel, it becomes a directive for everyone.

19. The esteemed chassid, R. Zalman Zezmer, was a disciple of the Mitteler Rebbe, after having been one of the younger chassidim of the Alter Rebbe. By nature he was a maskil,25 and an intellectual through and through. Whenever my father mentioned the concept of someone who was by definition a cerebral chacham, he would add, “like R. Zalman Zezmer.”

20. Whenever R. Zalman Zezmer wanted to arouse his own heart, he would tell the following story:

In his town there lived an advanced scholar who was really outstanding in his middos, his praiseworthy character traits, but he knew nothing of Chassidus. One day this lamdan asked R. Zalman Zezmer: “What was the novel contribution of Chassidus?” The answer he was given: “Chassidus elevated mochin, intellectual endeavor, above middos.”

21. After some time the lamdan set out to visit the Alter Rebbe. He asked the same question, and was told: “Creatures, too, have middos, except that the middos of creatures – such as the cruelty of the raven or the compassion of the eagle – are a natural instinct.In human beings, by contrast, the middos are generated by the mind. Now, surely a human being’s intellectually-generated middos should likewise have been natural and instinctive. The answer recalls the teaching of the Sages,26 that ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to make the Jewish people meritorious; therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvos in abundant measure.’ In the same way, the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to make the Jewish people meritorious with regard to avodah. That is why the middos of the Jewish people are generated by the mind, and are not instinctive. That, however, requires exertion in avodah.”

22. Digesting what he had just heard, the lamdan realized that with all his lifetime of avodah he had attained no more than an animal’s level of middos – and fainted on the spot.

When he came to, he asked further: Nu, so what is Chassidus?” – because until that point he had only heard about its absence.

The Alter Rebbe answered:

Chassidus is Shema Yisrael. The word Shema (שְׁמַע) comprises the initials of the words, שְׂאוּ מָרוֹם עֵינֵיכֶם – “Raise your eyes aloft.”27 The verse does not use the word Shamayim (“Heaven”), but marom (“aloft”) which, as R. Avraham Ibn Ezra points out, means higher and yet higher. This means that one ought to access a spiritual level that is higher than one’s mortal mind, but at the same time one ought to grasp that spiritual level with one’s mortal mind. This is seen in the continuation of the same verse: “Raise your eyes aloft – and see Who created these.”

By retelling that story, R. Zalman Zezmer used to awaken his own heart.

23. [At this point, the Rebbe Rayatz told the chassidim at length that he earnestly expected them to invest their minds for a number of hours in a concept in Chassidus – that their physical brain should be immersed in Chassidus. He illustrated his point by contrasting a former magnate and a beggar.]

The beggar has no notion whatever of the meaning of wealth or of how it affects a person. Someone who was once rich does know what a magnate is. He is familiar with the extravagance of his former status and its disregard of mere paupers, and even though he is currently a pauper, he still carries himself like a magnate. By contrast, when a pauper becomes wealthy, he still retains a pauper’s wide-eyed awe of wealth.28

24. Living a chassidisher lifestyle and studying Chassidus are absolutely essential, as we have said many times. There are two modes of hisbonenus, i.e., structured meditation – hisbonenus undertaken while studying29 and hisbonenus while davening.30

The two common excuses for not undertaking these tasks seriously – that they require too much time, and that my request is really being addressed to someone else – are both mistaken. In fact, linking one’s mind and heart for half an hour to a G‑dly concept would accomplish a great deal, and my request is being addressed to every chassid personally, not to someone else.

People are content to be sated by a meager helping. That is fine when relating to mil’ra,31 but when relating to mil’eil, one should not be sated so soon, for in mil’eil there is no upper limit.

25. For ninety years,32 the township of Lubavitch had been transforming people’s metzius and revealing their mahus.33

The illustrious rav of Tzarei once took the train to Lubavitch. Alighting at the nearby station of Rudnia, he caught sight of Pesach, the unsophisticated wagon driver, who was waiting there. Now, Pesach was accustomed to his regular clientele of [unpretentious] chassidim and others who would come to see and hear my father, the Rebbe.34

So he called out to the rav: “Hey there, Rab! Grab your bundle and climb up into the wagon!”

That greeting transformed the visitor’s metzius. After that, inside Lubavitch, the Rebbe would reveal a person’s mahus.

There wasn’t a square inch in Lubavitch that wasn’t saturated with Chassidus.

26. On one of the evenings of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah35 in 5648 (1887), my father was farbrenging in the sukkah of his mother, the Rebbitzin [Rivkah], together with R. Hendel and R. Abba [Tchashnik].36 He spoke of the spiritual standing of the elder chassidim of earlier generations and how they used to conduct themselves during the joyful days of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah.

Over the generations, when the Rebbeim explained the content of these days, they would focus on the teaching of the Sages, that Yonah ben Amitai37 was inspired with his prophecy at Simchas Beis HaShoeivah. At those festivities [in the Beis HaMikdash], people used to draw Divine inspiration,38 [just as one draws water,] with buckets, with pots, with flasks and with bottles, with cups and with little goblets, each according to his measure.

There were three rules: (1) everyone drew those living waters; (2) everyone did his utmost to ensure that his vessel was clean; (3) they all cherished every single drop – and tasted it, too, because doing so whets not only one’s own appetite, but also the appetite of any onlookers. It makes them lick their lips in anticipation.

27. Homil was one of the first towns after Liozna to become a town of Chabad Chassidus. From the greatest scholars to the unlettered craftsmen and peddlers who frequented the surrounding villages, all were Chabad chassidim.

28. In earlier generations, the weighty implication39 of the adjective “chassidish” was fully felt among chassidim in general, and among Chabad chassidim in particular. This related to their observance both of the positive and the prohibitive commandments.40 Chassidim and their wives would often use expressions such as, “This is how a chassidisher home should be run!” Or, “This is exactly how chassidishe children should behave!”

29. An aged chassid called R. Yekusiel from Dokshytz once related that as a little boy of cheder age he knew a local melamed called R. Eliezer Belitzer, whose father, R. Shimshon Ber, reached an extremely old age. And when his father, R. Shimon Baruch the rosh yeshivah, grew old, he retired from his rabbinic post. He explained that a person ought to prepare himself for the journey, so that it should be undertaken with a settled mind and not in sudden haste.

From this story we can learn that a chassidisher avodah-vort was valued so dearly that every detail of its transmission from generation to generation was carefully noted.

30. A chassidisher anecdote gives chassidim real pleasure. The upbringing given by generations of chassidishe fathers and mothers, and grandfathers and grandmothers, breathed a spirit of life and yearning for the customs practiced by chassidim.

31. Chassidim are very respectful.41 People who were nurtured by chassidim are fond of Torah scholars and cherish them, and this they express in a chassidisher manner, with inner liveliness.

32. Reb Yitzchak Shaul the Water-Carrier, a dedicated chassid through and through, lived in Homil. There he davened three times a day in the beis midrash of Reb Aizik42 and participated in all of its study sessions. On Shabbos he would recite that day’s Tehillim reading and would study Mishnayos, and was one of those who eagerly listened to – and understood – the profound maamarim of Chassidus that Reb Aizik used to deliver.

One Simchas Torah he said to Reb Aizik: “Rebbe, this month you’ve filled up lots of barrels, and I’ve filled a little cup. May G‑d grant that you make the most of your barrels, and that I make the most of my little cup!”

33. [The laws of Shabbos speak of three distinct domains:43 ] a private domain (reshus hayachid), a public domain (reshus harabim), and an intermediate domain (karmelis). [In spiritual terms,] the “private domain” is a metaphor for the World of Atzilus;44 the “public domain” is a metaphor for the kelipos [lit., “the mountains of separation”];45 and the “intermediate domain” is a metaphor for the permitted material things whose use is optional.

This means that one should highly value the “private domain,” G‑dly matters, and one should downplay the role of mil’ra,46 the optional materiality represented by the term “intermediate domain.” When G‑d grants someone a plentiful livelihood, that’s fine; that’s his business. The recipient, for his part, should not make much of it.

34. Simchas Torah is eternal. G‑d and the Torah and the Jewish people are eternal. This year, too, G‑d will no doubt grant us a year that is good both materially and spiritually. May He grant that people will utilize it by setting aside fixed periods for Torah study, and that the fulltime Torah scholars should start thinking about the awe of Heaven.47

35. Yeshivah students! And I’m addressing not only my brethren, the temimim, but all yeshivah students and Torah scholars in general. One must know that the time of the Redemption is near. It’s already erev Yom-Tov, and everyone should get himself ready in honor of Yom-Tov. In honor of the approaching Yom-Tov, everyone must wash and cleanse himself.

“Wash yourselves, purify yourselves!”48

Everyone ought to become more refined, both in thought and in speech. Regarding one’s actions, there’s a Shulchan Aruch, but when it comes to thought and speech… True, the Shulchan Aruch also deals with speech; nevertheless speech, too, needs a reminder.

This is an era in which even the kinds of people who for hundreds of years were engrossed only in the things of This World, and neither knew nor wanted to know about Elokus, now experience Divine Providence.49

Nevertheless, that nasty, crafty guy – the Evil Inclination – doesn’t let go. He deploys all kinds of deceit and falsehood to trap a person in his sinful net.

There is an expression in the Zohar:50 “Woe to those whose ears are blocked and whose eyes are closed, who neither know nor feel that Spirit from Above.”

A strong wind51 can sometimes move even a stone. There’s a strong wind blowing from Above, and it ought to touch even a heart of stone. It’s time to start getting involved in Torah and the awe of Heaven.52 The ice of America must be melted by the fiery flame of Torah and the awe of Heaven.

Yeshivah students! This is your responsibility – to publicize and take action in order to increase the number of students attending yeshivos, regardless of which yeshivos, and without giving preference to one yeshivah over another. So long as it is a place in which Moshe’s Torah is being studied, make every effort to fill it with students! This applies both to senior yeshivos and junior yeshivos. In addition, open up new yeshivos in cities and townships throughout the length and breadth of this country!

36. I would suggest that yeshivah students unite under the name, Igud Talmidei HaYeshivos (“Association of Yeshivah Students”), a title whose initials in the Holy Tongue spell the word אַתָּה (“You”), as in the phrase,53 Atah bechartanu – “You (i.e., G‑d) have chosen us.” Its aim should be to increase enrollments in the yeshivos, though without interfering in matters involving their study programs. That is the province of the rashei yeshivos. Indeed, you should accept their authority. The Association should simply increase enrollments and persuade parents in that direction.

To avert any misunderstanding, I repeat: the Association should not meddle at all in the administration of the yeshivos, but should just fill them with students.

And by virtue of this, may G‑d redeem us soon, and send us our Righteous Mashiach speedily, in our own days, Amen.