1. My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, managed to meet many of the Alter Rebbe’s chassidim and heard their recollections.1

One of them, R. Tzadok of Kopust, had not been one of the veteran students of the chadarim,2 because at that time he was still a very young man, but he knew well what the Alter Rebbe expected his chassidim to be. He was later a chassid of the Mitteler Rebbe and a mekushar of the Tzemach Tzedek, and because he davened at meditative length, he was known as Tzadok the Davener. He chose to make his living by operating not a water mill but a windmill, because that would occupy him for only a few months of the year, leaving him ample time for Torah study and davenen. His mill stood near Lubavitch, so he spent the winter months, when it was idle, in the surroundings of the Mitteler Rebbe and later of the Tzemach Tzedek.

2. My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, once asked him why he davened at such great length.

His answer: “At that time I’m fulfilling a positive mitzvah that’s explicit in the Torah – lesaper biyetzias Mitzrayim, ‘to speak of the Exodus from Egypt,’ because when you’re davening, you’re getting out of the constrictions of your personal Egypt.”3

Now, lesaper (“to speak of”) shares a root with sefirus (“luminosity”).4 Accordingly, my grandfather derived from R. Tzadok’s response that for him, lesaper biyetzias Mitzrayim (“to speak of the Exodus from Egypt”) meant that his davenen actually lit up his entire twenty-four hours. His whole day was truly luminous.

My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, used to call R. Tzadok “the Baal Tefillah.”5 He argued punningly that R. Tzadok was a baal habayis (“master”) over tefillah, because the tefillah (that is, his davenen) was a baal habayis over him.

3. The holy R. Hillel [of Paritch] used to say: “Tzadok the Davener is what the Alter Rebbe had in mind; he is what the Mitteler Rebbe spelled out; and he is what the Tzemach Tzedek wishes for.”

[The Rebbe Rayatz now explains how those four personages were in fact referred to by Reb Hillel.]

For a start, R. Hillel spoke simply of “Tzadok the Davener,” because in earlier days, chassidim didn’t prefix the names of their fellow chassidim even by the informal title “Reb.” This follows the Talmudic tradition that in the case of a towering scholar, his name alone is more complimentary than any honorific title.6

R. Hillel used to refer to the Alter Rebbe as “the Rebbe,” and to the Mitteler Rebbe as “the Alter Rebbe” (i.e., the former Rebbe).

R. Aizil [of Homil] used to refer to the Alter Rebbe as “der avardiker Rebbe” (which means “the past Rebbe”); he used to refer to the Mitteler Rebbe as “the Rebbe”; and he used to refer to the Tzemach Tzedek as “unserer Rebbe” (which means “our Rebbe”). R. Hillel, however, argued that with regard to a Rebbe there is no past tense.

4. The Mitteler Rebbe’s son-in-law, R. Aharon, was the husband – in his second marriage – of Rebbitzin Sarah, mother of Rebbitzin Rivkah.7 He was an outstanding scholar, extremely humble, and a great davener. He lived in Kremenchug, but its leading chassidim, such as “the Beralach”8 and Baruch and Shmuel Tamar’s9 did not relate to him as humbly as they ought to have done.

One day, while R. Shmuel was deeply engrossed in a chassidic teaching that he was studying, he suddenly fell asleep and saw the Mitteler Rebbe telling him: “Distance yourself from my presence!”10

The next day he asked his brother, R. Baruch, if he had experienced anything unusual, and the answer was No. However, when R. Baruch later had the same dream, they understood the reason. They had not related to R. Aharon with due respect, so they decided to visit him and set matters right.

At first, being truly humble, he had no idea what they wanted of him. Later, however, when he saw how earnestly they begged that he should forgive them for their past attitude, he told them that the Alter Rebbe had appeared to him in a dream and had told him that he should be mekarev them, that he should bring them near to his heart and to earnest avodah. To this he had answered: Who was he to be mekarev them? He would be happy if they would be mekarev him…!

At that point they grasped what the Mitteler Rebbe had told them in their dreams.

In the course of their visit, R. Aharon told them what he had heard from his mother, Rebbitzin Freide, who in turn had heard it from her father, the Alter Rebbe: “Atzmus Or Ein-Sof, the infinite Ein-Sof light of the Essence of Elokus, can be encountered only in the course of davenen.” To this R. Aharon added, “And that’s why I daven at such length.”11

Thus, while davening, this chassid was waiting to encounter Or Ein-Sof, the infinite Ein-Sof light…

5. In the good old days, a shul12 was always built with a little adjoining room that was known as a chabadnitze.13 When the townsfolk of Makulyene, which was near Lubavitch, once built themselves a shul without a chabadnitze, the Mitteler Rebbe instructed his chassidim not to daven there. He added: “In a shul that hasn’t got a chabadnitze, one may not say Kedushah or Barchu. Whether or not one is davening at meditative length, there must be a chabadnitze.”

6. Today’s chassidim, who are the children and grandchildren of families of chassidishe fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers – blue-blooded scions of Chabad stock14 – think that avodas hatefillah means that one ought to daven for long hours. In fact, however, chassidishe davenen, whether of Chabad chassidim or of Chagas chassidim,15 demands not quantity but quality.

7. My father told me that once at yechidus, his father, the Rebbe Maharash said: “Davenen is the light of the soul. Intellectual comprehension alone, without the avodah of davenen, is valueless.” He added explicitly: “Moreover, intellectual comprehension that does not lead to the avodah of davenen dulls the sensitivity (G‑d forbid) of heart and mind.”16

My father (the Rebbe Rashab) once stood up and declared: “If you don’t daven as Chassidus tells you to do, and as elder chassidim teach you to do, it should be clear to you that the davenen doesn’t want you.”

It is painful to say this publicly, but it is even more painful to remain silent. How bitterly painful it is to have to proclaim in public, for the benefit of the public, that such davenen is being cast away!

8. Meditating on one’s Torah studies means thoroughly understanding the subject at hand; meditating during prayer means coming closer to the subject at hand. When one meditates on a subject in Torah, one is enlivening it, because it wasn’t alive so long as it was only in a book. By contrast, when a person meditates during prayer, the subject at hand enlivens him.

9. Chassidim in earlier days used to invest a lot of effort in the avodah of davenen. Today, even preparation for davenen is missing.

10. Following a tradition handed down by the Rebbeim, the chassidim of the earliest generations used to learn each day’s parshah17 of Chumash with the commentary of Rashi, and also a few lines of Keser Shem Tov18 at least once or twice in the course of the week.

The elder chassidim of every generation knew that a chassid ought to toil to understand every statement of his Rebbe.19 So they toiled to discover a link between learning the teachings of Rashi and learning the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, until they found it: just as Rashi was born in the merit of a trial20 with which his parents had been tested, so too was the Baal Shem Tov born in the merit of a trial.

The first story is well known. Rashi’s father owned a rare gem which the local gentiles wanted to buy for an idolatrous purpose. He promptly disposed of it, and in the merit of his decision he was granted a son – Rashi.

Everyone likewise knows that the Baal Shem Tov’s father was renowned for his hospitality. Very late one erev Shabbos afternoon a stranger came to his door. He was dressed in his workaday weekday clothes, in apparent disregard for the sanctity of the day. Unfazed, the Baal Shem Tov’s father served him food and drink, cordially and respectfully. Only after Shabbos did the unknown house guest disclose that he was the Prophet Eliyahu, and he had come in order to test his host. And the Baal Shem Tov’s father, in the merit of his response to the test, was blessed with a son – the Baal Shem Tov.

11. Whoever learned today the seventh parshah of this week’s sedra21 understands what a chassid ought to be. [When G‑d calls Avraham Avinu, he answers,] Hineini – “Here I am!” And Rashi comments, “This is the response of chassidim, of pious folk. it is a word that expresses humility and readiness.” A chassid is always ready.

[As to the other characteristic, humility,] there is a difference between an anav, someone who is humble, and a shafal, someone who is lowly. The shafal holds that he is lowlier than everyone else, whereas the anav is aware of his own personal standing, yet nevertheless he considers that his fellow is superior to himself – because he observes that person’s positive qualities. That fellow’s faults he simply doesn’t see at all.

12. When my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, was a little boy, he asked his father, the Tzemach Tzedek: “Why does Rashi make his commentonly when Avraham Avinu responds ‘Hineini!’ but not when Moshe Rabbeinu makes the same response?”22

The Tzemach Tzedek answered: “Moshe Rabbeinu was a maskil, the personification of Chochmah; Avraham Avinu was an oved. An oved [has reached a level that] can be explained; not so a maskil.”

13. A storekeeper from Polotzk, a chassid called R. Yisrael, once visited the Tzemach Tzedek in Lubavitch for Shabbos Parshas Vayeira. He was no scholar, but while there he listened to a maamar in which the Rebbe quoted the teaching that “Avraham Avinu was generous – with his body, his money and his soul.”23 In this connection the Tzemach Tzedek quoted a teaching of the Pardes24 in the name of Sefer HaBahir: “The Attribute of Kindness25 complained to the Holy One, blessed be He: [‘Master of the Universe! Ever since Avram has been on earth, I have not been required to perform my tasks, for Avram is there to function instead of me!’]”

To this the Tzemach Tzedek added that Avraham Avinu, down here on earth, by means of his acts of material kindness26 substituted the Sefirah27 of Chessed of the World of Atzilus! From this it is clear that Avraham Avinu was superior to the Attribute of Chessed of Atzilus, because if Chessed of Atzilus were to be down here, it would not be able to vest itself in materiality – whereas Avraham Avinu did draw it down into materiality. And this was enabled by the superiority of an [embodied] soul, in the spirit of the mystical principle of beirurim.28

The whole scholarly maamar was beyond the grasp of this good man, but those words permeated him so profoundly that he repeated them to himself until he had them memorized.

Now, in those days, whenever a chassid came home from Lubavitch, his friends would welcome him home with a comradely farbrengen at which they would ask him what he had heard and seen there.

Someone asked him, “Could you please repeat the maamar for us?”

“No,” he answered, “but I can repeat for you the few words that I memorized.”

This he did, and went off as usual to his stall at the marketplace. Once there, he decided to call on his friend, Nachman the Storekeeper, to ask for a gemilus chessed, a loan. Not that he needed the money: he just wanted to give Nachman the zechus, the meritorious opportunity, to fulfill the mitzvah of gemilus chassadim. He then did the same with Yosef the Storekeeper, and from then on, day after day, they would all borrow money from each other.

During R. Yisrael’s next visit to Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek stepped out of his study, entered the beis midrash, and asked one of the gabbaim to point out to him R. Yisrael the Storekeeper. That gabbai had no answer, because R. Yisrael was not one of the better-known chassidim. So the Tzemach Tzedek asked Chayim Ber, who said, “That’s R. Yisrael the Storekeeper from Polotzk,” and the Tzemach Tzedek asked that R. Yisrael be invited to enter his study.

When the Tzemach Tzedek asked him there about his daily doings, he said that he rose at five, read Tehillim, drank tea, chopped the day’s firewood, went off to the local beis midrash to daven, learned a chapter of Mishnayos, went home, had a bite of breakfast, and went to the marketplace. Late in the afternoon he returned to the beis midrash for Minchah, listened in to the daily shiur in Ein Yaakov, davened Maariv, and then went home.

The Tzemach Tzedek had another question: Nu, and what about tzedakah?”

R. Yisrael answered that he was a poor man and had nothing to give – until the Tzemach Tzedek steered the conversation in the direction of his daily custom with regard to gemilus chassadim.

The Rebbe Maharash, who was particularly close to his father and lived in the same house, later took the liberty of asking his father, “What did you see on him?”

The Tzemach Tzedek replied, “Over Yisrael the Storekeeper I saw a pillar of light – from the Divine Attribute of Chessed of the World of Atzilus...”