1. There are differences of opinion as to which year the Yom-Tov of Yud Kislev came into being.1 According to Beis Rebbe,2 the release of the Mitteler Rebbe was celebrated [immediately], in the year 5586 (late 1825). According to another opinion, the Yom-Tov was celebrated only after his passing [on 9 Kislev, 5588, late 1827]. According to yet another opinion, the informers began to denounce him [to the czarist authorities] in 5586 and continued to do so until 5587, and the Yom-Tov was first celebrated in 5588.3

2. [One of those present asked: “Why do chassidim celebrate the Yom-Tov of Yud-Tes Kislev more prominently than the Yom-Tov of Yud Kislev? Would that possibly be because [in the following year] the Mitteler Rebbe passed away [the day] before the first celebration of Yud Kislev?”

[To this the Rebbe responded:]

My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, [in fact] used to farbreng a great deal on Yud Kislev. After all, he was a grandson [of the Mitteler Rebbe]. The Yom-Tov was celebrated in the evening in the home of my grandmother, Rebbitzin Rivkah,4 and by day in the large farbrengen-room of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash.

3. The arrest that ended on 10 Kislev resulted from two libelous charges:5 againstthe Mitteler Rebbe and his chassidim,6 and for an alleged act of rebellion against the [czarist] monarchy.7 In fact, the Mitteler Rebbe’s imprisonment was not harsh. For example, twice a week some fifty chassidim were admitted to the prison to hear Chassidus from his mouth. This permission was granted, thanks to the intervention of a qualified medical authority, the renowned Dr. Heibenthal, who explained to the authorities that for this prisoner, teaching Chassidus was his therapy and his nutrition. Just as an ordinary person needs food, he explained, this prisoner was sustained and vitalized by teaching Chassidus.

4. The Mitteler Rebbe was highly regarded by the ministers of state. When he left Kremenchug in 5574 (1814), an order was issued to the government officials in all the towns through which he would pass that they should welcome him appropriately and give his carriages a fresh team of horses. This all came as a result of the influence that had been exerted [by the Alter Rebbe] during the well-known war.8

Likewise, when Czar Alexander [I] once passed through Babinovitch, a town near Lubavitch, he said to the Mitteler Rebbe, “Farewell, rabbi!”9 On this the Mitteler Rebbe later commented: “[Be wary of those in power, for] they befriend a person only for their own benefit.”10 To this he added: “Just as Above, in the Kingdom On High, there is no forgetting, so too down here below, in the earthly kingdom, there is no remembering…”11

5. At the time of the Mitteler Rebbe’s arrest, three prominent chassidim were also arrested: R. Aharon Strashelyer, R. Shlomo Freides,12 and R. Zalman Reizes.13 R. Aharon was the first to be arrested and the first to be released; the other two chassidim remained in prison until Teves.

6. The year 5640 (1880-1881) was a harsh year, a time of severe anti-Semitic decrees. My grandfather the Rebbe Maharash was then in Petersburg, where he succeeded in having some of them alleviated or even annulled. On 9 Kislev he was in Vitebsk, where he marked the yahrzeit of [his grandfather] the Mitteler Rebbe by saying Kaddish. After Minchah he set out for home in Lubavitch in time for that evening’s Yud Kislev celebration, which my grandmother, Rebbitzin Rivkah, used to host. As mentioned above, he used to preside over the next day’s Yud Kislev celebration.

7. In 5667 (1906-1907) my father was in Wurzburg, where many visitors joined him for Yud-Tes Kislev. One of them, R. Elimelech of Stolberg, related that he had spent the above Yud Kislev, in 5640 (1879), with the Rebbe Maharash, who at the evening farbrengen had said: “For the Alter Rebbe’s chassidim, Chassidus was an actual question of life. Whenever they grasped a teaching in Chassidus that they had studied, they were alive and overjoyed. If (G‑d forbid) they did not grasp it, they were pained and downhearted. The Mitteler Rebbe’s chassidim had to be aroused, but once they had been aroused, you could see how intimately they and the subject under discussion were bound to each other. Every move and every word of theirs was precious.”

8. [In this section and in sections 9 and 10 below, R. Elimelech of Stolberg continues to recall what the Rebbe Maharash had said at the farbrengen on the eve of Yud Kislev:] “The Mitteler Rebbe was not willing to settle for compromises. His desire was that when any two chassidim meet, they should discuss Chassidus.

“He once said: ‘I undertake responsibility to solve all of their unresolved questions. Wherever I may be, I will see to it that they are granted the understanding to grasp a problematic concept.’ Now, when the Mitteler Rebbe said ‘wherever I may be,’ he was alluding to the phrase, ‘They will yet praise you forever.’14 That verse speaks of tzaddikim who, after their physical passing, ‘proceed from strength to strength’15 in endless degrees of ascent from the Lower Garden of Eden to the Higher Garden of Eden.”

9. “The Tzemach Tzedek once said that the love of his uncle-and-father-in-law16 for his fellow Jew and for chassidim was remarkable. The sigh of a fellow Jew he turned into a veritable tempest On High. He felt the sigh of a chassid, however distant, and worked on it until that chassid arrived at the point of which it is said,17 ‘He shall return [the stolen object].’ [Chassidus relates this phrase to the verse,18 ‘You save… the pauper and the destitute from him who would rob him’ – a metaphor for the rescue of the Divine soul from the hands of its robber, the animal soul or the Evil Inclination.]

“And all of that was made possible only by the utter devotion [of his chassidim].”

10. “At the daytime farbrengen of the above-mentioned Yud Kislev, which was held in the room of the Rebbe Maharash, he added to what he had said the previous evening: ‘Utter devotion does not mean that one ought to throw away his business and all his affairs and to be utterly devoted twenty-four hours a day to the avodah demanded by Chassidus. It means that this devotion should be (so to speak) deep inside one’s neck19 – deeply rooted in one’s soul.’ ”

11. People are afraid of committing themselves to the paths of Chassidus and of chassidim. They are afraid of the amount of time that will be needed. In fact, however, one doesn’t need a great deal of time. One can invest a short time, too – a switch of direction20 – and the study of Chassidus can bring a person to transform his spiritual personality from one tziyur to another (or, as is sometimes expressed, from one mahus to another).

12. I am no young man, and from what I recall of earlier days, there were never any chassidim – not men of impressive stature but ordinary chassidishe householders – who allowed two weeks to pass without studying a teaching of Chassidus, or without meditating during davenen in order to internalize the insight that that teaching offered. In any earlier generation this would have been unthinkable!

13. Chassidishe householders used to look completely different on Shabbos. Their spirits were tranquil, placid, unhurried. Before davenen they would listen to a teaching of Chassidus, and after joining in the congregational responses to Kedushah and Barchu, each one would meditate and daven at the leisurely pace that his personal standing called for. Some did so for a longer time, some for less, but no one rushed off home to his kugel. True, it is a mitzvah to express one’s enjoyment of Shabbos through food and drink and clean clothes, and on that day those people did in fact eat white bread and other things as well – but that wasn’t what counted. That was as far as it went. A man’s mind was occupied with higher things. His concern over how to upgrade his spoken words and conscious thoughts, and how to put his life in order, could sometimes bring him to tears. And it was that earnest concern that gave him his tranquil spirit. He would drop in to see the local rav or shochet or melamed, in order to hear from him an avodah-vort, a pithy teaching that would fuel his efforts at self-refinement.

But nowadays? Nowadays a person is satisfied to be called a shomer Shabbos, a Sabbath observer, which means only that for him, that day is not a weekday. But where is the shmiras Shabbos, the obligation to guard the Shabbos, to sanctify the Shabbos? The current confusion between these concepts is unbearable.

People do have time for things which one can either do without, and even for things that one should actually not be engaged in, yet they don’t have time for things that one really ought to do. That is a real confusion of concepts.

14. We have fallen sharply.21 The local Chabad chassidim are fast asleep. People get used to listening to admonition; that’s what they feel obligated to come and hear. One is starting to sound like a discontented and complaining mother. If, instead, people took these words to heart and gave them due consideration, things would look quite different.