1. Once, during a visit to Lubavitch, R. Gershon Dov [of Pahar] told me that when he was a child he accompanied some elder chassidim to a bris, and from them he heard the following saying: “One Yid should make another Yid, and one chassid should make another chassid.”

2. When I repeated that vort to my father he was very pleased with it, and added to it, as follows:

* * *

Concerning the Torah it is written, “Its ways are pleasant ways.”1 On the first verse of Bereishis, Rashi cites the Midrash: “R. Yitzchak said: The Torah should not have started with Bereishis, but with the verse which says, ‘This month shall be for you [the first of the months],’ and which proceeds to state the first commandment [that the Jewish people were given, namely, the institution of a calendar]. Why, then, [does the Torah start with Bereishis]? For the reason provided by the verse, ‘He told His people of His great works, [in order to give them the inheritance of nations].’ ”2

Now this calls for explanation. Why does Rashi choose the mitzvah concerning the calendar, and not some other positive mitzvah? To explain: The key question is, Why does the Torah open with its account of the Creation rather than with a mitzvah? His choice of the calendar as his example is not specific and exclusive. After all, the first mitzvah in the Torah is to “be fruitful and multiply.”3

In other words, the first mitzvah in the Torah is that “one Yid should make another Yid…”

3. On the same occasion, while discussing the subject of Rebbe and chassid, my father said that “a chassid [contains] a part of his Rebbe.”4 Now, Rambam writes in chapter 7[:1] of Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah that “one of the foundations of our faith is to know that G‑d grants prophecy to [mere finite] mortals.” Similarly, by virtue of his connection with his Rebbe, a chassid can be elevated to a point at which he can share the Rebbe’s ability to influence a fellow Jew to be a chassid.

4. The Torah is ordered in successive stages. The very sequence of its parshiyos follows a certain order, and likewise, the sequence of subjects in the Oral Torah follows an intended order.

Rambam opens his Yad5 with Sefer HaMada, literally, “The Book of Knowledge.” Now, since, the Yad is a book of laws, one would have expected that it should begin with laws, such as the laws concerning two litigants who are grasping a found garment, or the laws determining guilt and innocence, or the laws defining impurity and purity. Yet Rambam begins with The Book of Knowledge. That Book in turn comprises five bodies of law – Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (“The Laws of the Basic Principles of the Torah”), Hilchos Deos (“The Laws Relating to Individual Dispositions”), Hilchos Talmud Torah (“The Laws Relating to the Study of the Torah”), Hilchos Avodas Kochavim U’Mazalos (“The Laws Relating to Idolatry”), and Hilchos Teshuvah (“The Laws Relating to Repentance”). Now surely one would expect The Book of Knowledge to begin with the laws relating to repentance, which is relevant to everyone, for “there is no man in the world so righteous that… he does not sin.”6

The Book of Knowledge opens as follows: “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdoms is to know that there exists a Prime Being, and it is He Who brings into existence whatever exists. All the entities that exist in heaven and on earth and between them exist only by virtue of His true [i.e., self-sufficient] existence.”

But what is meant by “the foundation of [all] foundations and the pillar of [all] wisdoms?” If the foundations are in fact foundations, why do they in turn need a foundation? And instead of “the pillar of all wisdoms,” we should surely have expected to read “the profundity of all wisdoms.”

It transpires, however, that some foundations are weak, and hence need a foundation. Likewise, there are various kinds of wisdom that need a support. One needs to approach [any kind of wisdom] with a certain foundation,7 and that is “the pillar of all wisdoms.”

The realm of Torah includes chiddushim (“novellae”). [These are the original insights or innovative rulings which a scholar derives from the classical sources.] Such chiddushim are not actually new statements, because they are based on foundations – in the Gemara, or the Mishnah, or a verse. But the scholar’s use of even those foundations for his arguments is still weak, unless he also has “the foundation of [all] foundations.” This means that he must dig deep and connect with the Giver of the Torah.

This raises a question: How can one dig deep and connect with the Giver of the Torah?

In his above opening statement, that there exists a Prime Being” (לֵידַע שֶׁיַּשׁ שָׁם אֱלֹקִים), Rambam uses the word שֵׁם. The commentators toiled to work out the meaning of this word, but concluded that it means “concept.” Similarly, in the Laws of Teshuvah, he uses the phrase shem nevuah or shem mada to mean “the concept of prophecy,” or “the concept of knowledge.” Here, then, shem matzui rishon means “the concept of a Prime Being,” referring to a knowledge and grasp of Elokus, “and it is He Who brings into existence whatever exists, and all the existent entities… exist only by virtue of His true [i.e., self-sufficient] existence.”

This teaching underlies the concept that “He is everything and everything is Him.”8

5. Only a Jew can understand this concept – that “He is everything and everything is Him” – and only a Jew can tell the difference between “He is everything” and “everything is Him.” The nations of the world can have no grasp of Elokus. True, they also have great sages, and some of them, such as Plato, have understood Elokus – but only with an understanding that is vested [in rational or other terms,9 and is not utterly abstract]. Among their sages, too, there are of course differences between those whose understanding is more abstract than in others. Nevertheless, their understanding too is vested [in rational or other terms]. Only a Jew can grasp a G‑dly concept in the abstract, because a Jew himself is a G‑dly being.

Moreover, in this regard, all Jews are equal. Every Jew, from Moshe Rabbeinu to the plainest, most ordinary Jew, can attain the loftiest conceptions of Elokus, because “we all have one Father,”10 and [every Jew is obligated to yearn,] “When will my deeds equal the deeds of my forefathers?”11 Every Jew can attain the highest levels in the service of the Creator, just like Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu, because every Jew is “an actual part of G‑d above.”12

6. In his Laws of Repentance (ch. 3, halachah 8), Rambam writes: “Three kinds of people are termed apikorsin,13 heretics. The first kind includes a person who says that there is no such thing as prophecy, and that no knowledge from the Creator reaches the heart of mortals.” This means that if a Jew says that any grasp of Elokus is unbridgeably beyond the reach of mortals, because mortals are in an incomparably separate frame of reference, such a Jew belongs (G‑d forbid) to the category of apikorsin. After this, Rambam lists further criteria that can place a person in that category.

(By the way: The Gemara lists many other categories that Rambam does not mention, and conversely, Rambam includes other categories that do not appear in the Gemara.)

Rambam concludes halachah [14] as follows: “If any of those who are termed wicked (resha’im) or atheists (mumarim) or the like repent, whether overtly or secretly, they are to be received – in the spirit of the verse, ‘Return, O wayward sons!’14 This form of address implies that even though they are still wayward […], they are to be received as penitents.”

In contrast, “if a person says that no knowledge from the Creator reaches the heart of mortals,” his teshuvah is not effective.15 Thus Rambam writes in the Laws of Idolatry16 that apikorsim are never to be received as penitents, and specifies that apikorsim17 are those who stray after the foolish thoughts of their hearts […], willfully, brazenly and outspokenly, claiming that their path is not sinful…”

Hence, [as above,] if a Jew says that any grasp of Elokus is unbridgeably beyond the reach of mortals, because mortals are in an incomparably separate frame of reference, such a Jew belongs (G‑d forbid) to the category of apikorsim, whose teshuvah is not effective.

Who is to blame for this state of affairs I don’t know. (Those people themselves don’t know how things should be…) There are many factors involved, but this is the present state of affairs. The truth, however, is that every Jew is able to – and ought to – understand Elokus, because a Jew himself is a G‑dly being. That is what enables him to understand Elokus.

An allusion to this concept – so I once heard – may be found in the statement of the mishnah, that “tongs are made with tongs.”18 In the same way, a Jew [specifically], since he himself is a G‑dly being, “a part of G‑d Above,” can attain a grasp of Elokus.

7. [At this point, on the Rebbe’s initiative, the chassidim present sang a mellow, soulful Chabad niggun. The Rebbe then said:]

The first time I heard that niggun was in 5661 (1901), at a wedding in the family of R. Moshe Hornstein, my relative-by-marriage.19 I had been dispatched at the time on a mission for the public welfare by my father, who also instructed me to visit the resting place of [R. Levi Yitzchak,] the rav of Berditchev, and from there I proceeded to the wedding.

Among those present was the musically talented R. Asher of Nikolayev.20 After having heard only the opening themes of that niggun as played by the instrumentalists, he picked it up immediately, and sang it in the presence of my father during his next visit to Lubavitch. My father was so fond of the way it captured the yearning of the soul in its alternating waves of ratzo and shov that he said: “With this niggun one can daven as one ought to daven. One can wash the [bodily] vessel well with hot tears, and this helps one open his heart.”

8. The difference between Torah study and prayer is that once a person is commanded to study Torah, he goes and does it. Prayer, by contrast, is something that should itself seek expression, spontaneously. That said, one needs to habituate oneself to enable this. Prayer is an outpouring of the soul, as in the phrase, “I poured out my soul [before G‑d].”21 One ought to habituate himself to pour out his soul. Once any concept that one has grasped has been filtered through the conduit of prayer, the result is vastly superior.

9. The revered elder chassid R. Hendel was very lowly in his own eyes and was always in a state of spiritual arousal. His kindness was exceptional. He would go to self-sacrificing lengths for any fellow Jew, but especially for the fulltime adult scholars, the yoshvim, in Lubavitch. If one of them wasn’t well, he would personally hurry off to bring him milk, in order to be sure that it had been freshly milked.

His tearful davenen sprang from the passionate arousal of his heart, and continued in this manner from the beginning to the end.22 His davenen wasn’t loud, but the bypassers from the marketplace were able to hear it through the open windows of the beis midrash (which was known as “the minyan) that faced the courtyard.

One day, as my uncle the Raza walked past, he heard R. Hendel’s davenen and took a seat in the adjoining room so that he could listen to it. He was followed by Chaim Meir the Butcher, who washed his hands and also took a seat. Another townsman soon joined them, and as they sat together and relished the sweetness of R. Hendel’s davenen, one of them remarked, “Ah! That’s what’s called davenen!”

Just then Berl the Storekeeper walked in. Berl was a lamdan, a scholar. He had composed a learned commentary on the Book of Yeshayahu, and held it in the highest esteem. The person who had just spoken now addressed him: “Reb Ber, what do you say about such a davenen?”

Berl the Storekeeper’s response was: Nu… Yeah. Sure. Nevertheless…”

That “nevertheless” was intended to imply that with all due respect for a soulful davenen, that mere accomplishment was far from being in the same league as a learned commentary on the Book of Yeshayahu, no less!

And later, as they went outside, Chaim Meir the Butcher exclaimed: “Aay! What a davenen! For a davenen like that I would give away a whole side of beef!”

10. My uncle’s description to my father of what he had then heard and seen led to a long discussion of the avodah of davenen in general. My father then commented: “Here we see the true meaning of the phrase, mezakeh es harabim – ‘bringing merit on the public.’23 When ordinary, unlearned Jews later daven, or read Tehillim, and recall R. Hendel’s davenen, the sigh that says, ‘Aay! What a davenen!’ is an outpouring of the heart that cannot be verbalized. Words cannot express it! That sigh that says, ‘Aay! What a davenen!’ is more cherished Above than the avodah of some intellectuals!”

11. In the little townships of bygone years, people weren’t in a hurry. If they walked past the local beis midrash in the middle of the day, they would step inside and listen to a chassid davenen. One individual davened, and in the fifteen others who heard him, this awakened thoughts of teshuvah. But today, people who were born in the noise and tumult of the big cities are always busy and rushed. Never in their lives have they seen light.

12. There was once a chassid called R. Yosef Levitan – a man with a mellow mind, a mastery of Chassidus,24 and a cheerless nature. He was constantly deep in thought, and could meditate on a concept in Chassidus for hours on end.

One day after davenen he asked his cheerful townsman, R. Avraham the Melamed, “Why are you so happy?”

R. Avraham answered: “You’ve been meditating now for hours on end, and you still haven’t got there. But ‘the whole universe is filled with His glory!’25 So you should be happy!”

[To this the Rebbe added:] In order to be sensitively aware of26 “the whole universe [being] filled with His glory,” in the course of one’s “service of the heart,” one’s davenen,27 one must concretize his intellectual conceptions of Chassidus, so that they will tangibly impact his middos, his spiritual emotions. When that happens, one’s awareness that “the whole universe is filled with His glory” can make him happy.