1. R. Hillel of Paritch, as the revered mentor of a group of younger chassidim, once told them of a yechidus of his with the Tzemach Tzedek. He had asked: “What is the difference between a Shabbos davenen and a weekday davenen?” The Rebbe had answered: “After a weekday davenen one feels as if in the World of Yetzirah; after a Shabbos davenen, one feels as if in the World of Beriah.”

That yechidus was the subject of R. Hillel’s toil with those younger chassidim for two whole years.

2. I heard the above episode from three elder chassidim – R. Gershon Ber,1 R. Shalom-R. Hillel’s,2 and R. Bere Wolff.3 All three were zitzers4 under the tutelage of R. Hillel, and each of them recounted the episode in the spirit of his own personality.

R. Gershon Ber was a profound scholar of Chassidus, but sparing in words. He used to translate everything into Yiddish. I once heard him counting Sefiras HaOmer. On the first day, for example, for Hayom yom echad laomer,” he would say, translating every Hebrew word: “HaYom – today. Today is one day of the Omer.” So, too, with the later days, when “it is a mitzvah to count the days and a mitzvah to count the weeks,”5 he would repeat each Hebrew word in Yiddish. He once asked R. Peretz [Chein], the rav of Nevl and later of Chernigov, if it was permissible to translate the words of the davenen even in those passages in which any additional words are considered an interruption.6

R. Peretz asked him, “But why should you need to do that?”

“My animal soul,” R. Gershon Ber explained, “understands Yiddish better…”

In practice, he used to translate every word into Yiddish while saying those passages in which it is permissible to make a verbal interruption – and sometimes also in those passages in which it is not permissible to make a verbal interruption.7

R. Shalom-R. Hillel’s was all heart, heart alone, so he was utterly unable to transmit things exactly as they happened.

R. Bere Wolff was a completely different kind of chassid, and from him I heard the episode at length.

3. Once at a farbrengen, R. Dov Ze’ev discussed at length what is meant by a Jewish davenen – what transpires when a Yid davens. Speaking of the phrase, “Know before Whom you stand,”8 he described how the G‑dly soul understands it, how the intellective soul understands it, and how the animal soul digests it.9 Though he spoke at length, no one noticed the passing time. I saw his subject as if visually. He portrayed the G‑dly soul, the intellective soul and the animal soul, just as an adult teaches a child.

4. The fact that people aren’t davening at length10 means that G‑dly light is being mightily obscured.11 True, the lack of this kind of davening means that the resultant practical avodah of refining some particular character attribute will also be lacking. However, quite apart from that, the mere absence of davening at meditative length means that G‑dly light is being obscured. The animal soul, Satan, doesn’t begrudge a person the enjoyment of G‑dliness, the yearning for G‑dliness, which such davenen generates. As is well known, yearning for something is experienced more intensely than its fulfillment. The desire of a son to see his long-absent father is more intense while he is still yearning for that moment, than it is after he finally meets him. At that time, his heart and head become as unresponsive as a dumb stone. The same applies to the intense pleasure of davenen, of yearning for G‑dliness.

People try to shirk the obligation to daven at meditative length, but shirking doesn’t work – just as the laws in Choshen Mishpat, the fiscal section of the Shulchan Aruch, deal outspokenly with an evasive debtor...

5. There can’t be a davenen worthy of the name unless it followed a prologue worthy of the name,12 and there can’t be a prologue worthy of the name unless it followed a Jewish sleep that was worthy of the name, and there can’t be a Jewish sleep that is worthy of the name unless it followed a proper Kerias Shema before Retiring. As it is written, “[First] it was evening, and [only then] it was morning.”13

6. R. Aizik Homiler once relayed something that he had heard from the early chassidim of the Alter Rebbe.

In his early years as Rebbe, he had negated the value of atzvus, sadness. His chassidim, who did not exactly catch his meaning, mistakenly also included merirus, remorse, under that heading, so they negated remorse, too. Their avodah was constantly joyful. It was then that the Alter Rebbe explained in Tanya14 that “in every sadness [i.e., proceeding from every sadness, which here signifies active remorse] there will be profit.”15 From that time his chassidim understood that remorse has a rightful place in avodah.

7. R. Hillel once told a young chassid at a farbrengen: “Forget about embarrassment and have a good cry. There is what to cry about.” This was addressed to a chassid who was both a maskil and an oved.

(One of the chassidim who heard this from the Rebbe Rayatz remarked that by crying, one forgets about embarrassment. To this the Rebbe replied:) Yes, but it is still very hard to arrive at the truth. Even when one recognizes the truth [about one’s spiritual failings], it’s hard to admit to the truth: self-love covers over all transgressions16 in one’s avodah.

The same applies in the intellectual sphere. A person can understand another’s spiritual state very well, but when it comes to his own spiritual state, his mind makes him justify himself. This is particularly true when that self-justification stems from his animal soul; how much more so, when it stems from his Evil Inclination.

8. My father once told a young chassid at yechidus: “For four years I searched here and there in every corner in search of the truth – until I perceived it.”

That expression calls for a penetrating explanation. “Searching here and there in every corner” refers to his avodah during Kerias Shema before retiring at night and during his meditation in preparation for davenen. (This avodah is analogous to the avodah of terumas hadeshen in the Beis HaMikdash.)17 His above statement means that for four years, as he progressed from stage to stage, he thought each time he had finally arrived at the truth – until he finally appreciated that he had not yet reached the ultimate truth,18 and reworked himself.

We see, then, that it is very difficult to arrive at a recognition of the truth, and then, it is very difficult to admit to the truth.

9. As R. Hillel traveled around, he would arouse people earnestly to daven at meditative length. A word spoken by R. Hillel made an impact. People started davening– chassidim, shopkeepers, craftsmen – and their local beis midrash would become luminous.

One day, when he returned to one such place after a two-year absence, one of the townsmen whom he had impacted confronted him with a query: Nu, so I daven at length – but afterwards it leaves no effect!”

“Not so,” answered R. Hillel, “it does leave an effect. Now, at least, you’ve got someone19 before whom to be ashamed…”

10. Davenen, as described, means that when a person says Baruch she’amar vehayah ha’olam – “Blessed be He Who spoke, and the world came into being,” he meditates on the concept that with one utterance, all the worlds were created. When he later says, Lecha HaShem hagedulah – “Greatness is Yours,” he fully appreciates it. So, too, when in the blessings preceding Kerias Shema, he reads how the angels exclaim, with a great clamor, Baruch kevod HaShem… – “Blessed be the glory of G‑d…!” This of course impacts his animal soul, whose spiritual root is shemarei haOfanim – “the dregs of the angels,” and shakes it up. This in turn deals a blow to the yetzer hara, the Evil Inclination, which is lower than the animal soul, for the animal soul has an intellectual component, whereas the Evil Inclination has no connection with intellect: it is the very picture, the very essence, of evil. It is gross gall personified.

At farbrengens long ago, chassidim used to have a code-word for the above scenario: “Hulye the Beggar.” That was the nickname of a coarse, hypothetical outcast who goes upstairs to the home of an upstanding and charitable gentleman, gives him a mouthful of insults, and is promptly dispatched downstairs. Hulye isn’t fazed by this, but the fact remains that he was thrown downstairs. That is exactly what happens to the Evil Inclination. The animal soul, whose spiritual root is “the dregs of the angels,” stops to consider how those angels clamorously proclaim “Holy” and “Blessed be He!” This dislodges it from its former stance, and that in turn unnerves the Evil Inclination and shoves it into shape. The result is that when that individual has finished davenen, it will be out of the question for him to filch a bagel from a passing wagon.

11. What is needed is a davenen worthy of the name and a prologue worthy of the name, but that has to be preceded by a Jewish sleep that was worthy of the name.20 Sleeping as a Jew ought to sleep means that one doesn’t fall asleep straight after saying the blessing of HaMapil. Sure one has to say it, but after saying it, one should drift off to sleep while thinking a Torah thought – a chapter of Tanya, a mishnah, a verse of Tehillim, or a verse of Chumash.

By the way: I heard from men of stature that every Jew should know the Song of Haazinu21 by heart.22 If businessmen only knew what blessings of prosperity could be secured by this, they would take it much more seriously.

One should fall asleep in the midst of thoughts on Torah teachings, and then one’s sleep can be called a Jewish sleep.

12. In the year 5602 (1842) there was already talk of the forthcoming Rabbinical Conference,23 which in fact took place in the summer of 5603 (1843).24 As early as the beginning of winter of that year, hundreds of fearful chassidim converged on Lubavitch to farewell the Tzemach Tzedek before his departure for Petersburg. By the time [my mentor] R. Hendel came to Lubavitch for the first time in the month of Menachem Av of that year, the Tzemach Tzedek had already left home. In the course of that Conference, he was repeatedly arrested by the Minister [of Culture!], who challenged him: “Doesn’t your refusal to submit constitute a rebellion against the czar?!” The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “A person who rebels against a king becomes liable for physical death, whereas one who rebels against the Kingdom of Heaven becomes liable for the death of his soul. Which is more serious?”

The gaon Reb Itzele of Volozhin protested to the Tzemach Tzedek: “But you’re losing your [share in] Olam HaBa, in the World-to-Come!”

The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “If there won’t be a Jewish Olam HaZeh, a Jewish This-World, what use do I have for G‑d’s World-to-Come?”

At home in Lubavitch his children, my great-uncles, recited the Book of Tehillim every day with a minyan and fasted. At that time many communities ordained public fasts.

13. R. Hendel told me that when the Tzemach Tzedek came home in Elul, the chassidim were exuberant. In fact, R. Hendel himself was so overjoyed that throughout Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur he didn’t shed a single tear.

(One of those present remarked: “For R. Hendel, that was a huge mesirus nefesh…!” To this the Rebbe Rayatz responded:) True. Just saying Mah tovu on an ordinary Wednesday morning was enough to make his tears gush…

14. Early in MarCheshvan, informers created problems for the Tzemach Tzedek with the authorities, so he asked his chassidim not to travel to visit him, and throughout that winter he delivered maamarim of Chassidus only six times – on Yud Kislev, Yud-Tes Kislev, Shabbos Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah, Chaf-Daled Teves,25 Shabbos Shirah, and Purim. On Shabbos Parshas Tzav he resumed his custom of delivering maamarim of Chassidus publicly, whereas on the above six occasions the audience was restricted to his sons and several of the zitzers including, occasionally, R. Hendel.

In his maamar that Shabbos, which was based on the verse, Zos Toras ha’olah, he cited the midrash that describes how Yaakov Avinu watched all the patron angels of the various nations ascending and descending – except for the patron angel of Eisav, who ascended but did not descend. When Yaakov asked G‑d for an explanation of this disturbing vision, G‑d reassured him first with the verse, “Have no fear, [My servant Yaakov],”26 and then with the prophetic verse that is addressed to Edom, Eisav’s descendants: “Even if you soar aloft like the eagle…, from there I will bring you down.”27

That maamar revived the spirits of his chassidim.

Some chassidim already began to arrive in Lubavitch for the first days of Pesach, and many rabbanim and chassidim arrived for the last days. In that generation the seudah of Lag BaOmer was still customarily held out in the fields.28 (Two chassidim, whom the Rebbe Rayatz named on this occasion, maintained their traditional prerogative of providing for that festive meal.)29

A large gathering of chassidim arrived for Lag BaOmer, including four prominent rabbanim – R. Hillel, R. Aizik Homiler, R. Aizik Vitebsker30 and R. Nechemiah Dubrovner.31 In accordance with the traditional schedule, on the eve of Lag BaOmer the chassidim would farbreng at a festive meal until late at night, and after an early Shacharis they would farbreng again until about two o’clock, when the Tzemach Tzedek would join them.

That year, the eve of Lag BaOmer fell on the second Monday in the Behab series of fasts.32 The question thus arose as to whether on this particular occasion the rabbanim should deem it permissible to wash hands after Minchah, [i.e., before the fast day was fully over,] in preparation for the festive meal. R. Aizik Homiler, R. Aizik Vitebsker and R. Nechemiah Dubrovner concluded that it was in fact permissible, and R. Hillel agreed with them. The chassidim, including R. Aizik Homiler and R. Aizik Vitebsker, duly washed their hands; R. Hillel joined in the celebration, but did not wash his hands. When R. Aizel Homiler asked him why, R. Hillel gave him two answers:

Firstly: He had accustomed his body to be simply unable to do anything that was not essential.33 He was therefore afraid that that bite would not be swallowed, and he would thus have recited the preceding blessing in vain.

Secondly, he explained, when he arrived at the World of Truth there would no doubt begin a whole halachic debate as to whether or not he had done the right thing by taking that bite. What a waste of time! If in This World every single moment of time is precious, how much more so is it precious in the Other World. So it would be a pity to cause that time to be wasted on a debate!

15. On that occasion R. Hillel related how he had been a chassid of R. Mottele (Mordechai) Chernobyler and how he had become a chassid of the Mitteler Rebbe. He had never seen the Alter Rebbe: he had only heard his voice and had heard a maamar from his mouth. R. Hendel, [who reported this whole farbrengen,] wasn’t able to repeat the content of that maamar.

16. [In later years] R. Abba Tchashniker told [me] that once, when the Alter Rebbe was passing through the region where R. Hillel lived, he lodged at a local inn. R. Hillel went to see him, but the room was so crowded that he couldn’t wedge his way into a spot where he could stand and listen. So he lay down under a table, and mentally prepared a scholarly and problematic query on a halachic subject34 in Tractate Arachin that he planned to pose to the Alter Rebbe. At that moment he heard the Alter Rebbe’s voice: “If a chassid prepares a kashe in nigleh just in order to pose it, that is called ‘Torah which is not studied for its own good sake!’ ”35 Hearing this, R. Hillel fainted on the spot.

By the time he came to, the Alter Rebbe had left town and R. Hillel never saw him.

The following36 is the Torah teaching that he heard from the Alter Rebbe.

* * *

The Sages teach: “A person should always incite his Good Inclination against his Evil Inclination,37 as it is written,38 ‘Incite, and sin not!’ If it goes away,39 well and good. If not, one should engage in Torah study, as the verse goes on to say, ‘Speak in your heart!’ If it goes away, well and good. If not, one should read Kerias Shema, as it is written, ‘on your bed.’ If it goes away, well and good. If not, one should remind oneself of the [eventual] day of death, as it is written, ‘and fall silent. Selah.’ ”

The Sages teach that “there are four character types among men.”40 This statement refers to their innate modes of conduct, [and at this point the Alter Rebbe perceives an allusion to four modes and levels of avodah].

One mode of avodah is that which is alluded to by the words of an individual who says, “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours.” In his case, the Divine soul [i.e., “me”] does not involve itself in the animal soul [i.e., “you”] in order to refine and elevate it. Rather, it doesn’t allow the animal soul to have any say in the conduct of “the little city”:41 it insists that the right to have a say about conduct is only “mine.” This is a median mode of conduct, the avodah of beinonim.

Another mode of avodah is that which is alluded to by the words of an individual who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.” In his case, the Divine soul [i.e., “me”] actively involves itself in the animal soul [i.e., “you”] in order to refine and elevate it, and moreover harnesses the animal soul’s positive strength and insistence – in the spirit of the verse that says, “There is an abundance of harvests in the strength of an ox.”42 Such an individual is indeed worthy of being counted among am haaretz – “the people of the earth,” that is, the people who elevate earthly things, the people who refine materiality.43

A third mode of avodah is that which is alluded to by the words of an individual who says, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours.” By refining and elevating his animal soul, this individual’s Divine soul itself is elevated. In his case, “What is mine is yours” means that these labors of the Divine soul – in refining the individual’s traits – benefits the animal soul; and “What is yours is mine” [as in the previous paragraph, describing the level of the am haaretz] refers to what the Divine soul gains through this avodah. The level of a chassid,44 however, is superior. In the words of the Zohar:45 “Who is a chassid? He who is benevolent (mis’chassed) towards his Creator, towards his Nest.”46 Such an individual has no thought of the benefit [and even the spiritual benefit] that his avodah will bring him. For him, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours [i.e., for You]”: his only intent is that his Creator’s intent should be fulfilled.

A fourth mode of avodah is that which is alluded to by the words of an individual who says, “What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine.” If a person engages in avodah only for the sake of what his Divine soul will gain from it, then even if he secures mighty ascents and salvations within his soul, the materiality of the world remains just as physical as it was. Indeed, the letters of the word רש"ע (rasha, lit., “a wicked person”), signify that [in such a person] the רַע (ra, “the evil”) is [paradoxically] animated and sustained by the letter ש (shin, “the letter of truth”), as is known from various sources.47

The above discussion deals with avodah that relates only to the middos, with the emotive attributes of a person’s character. Higher than this there is a mode of avodah that relates to the middos of the intellect, and a [yet higher] mode of avodah that relates to the intellect itself. (This means that there are two kinds of Divine service that relate to the middos of the intellect, and to the intellect itself, which is higher than the middos.) To be sure, the middos of the intellect are higher than the middos of the heart. The middos of the heart become palpably excited: the heart physically experiences the emotive attribute of Chessed or Gevurah or boastfulness, or love or hatred as expressed in actual bodily trembling. Yet though the middos of the intellect also experience excitation, their excitation is intellectual. Nevertheless, the middos of the intellect are incomparably inferior to the intellect itself, which knows and becomes bonded with [Divine] concepts.

In light of the above we can understand the above-quoted teaching, “A man should always incite his Good Inclination against his Evil Inclination.”

Among those who serve G‑d there are likewise [as with the above-quoted “four character types”] four kinds of approaches. There are ovdei Havayah, servants of G‑d. These are the tzaddikim who are connected with Divinity and who study the Torah. There are baalei Torah, who are at the level of beinonim. Then there are baalei middos, who serve G‑d with love. Finally, there are yirei Elokim, those who fear Him on account of future judgment, with its possible punishment by Gehinnom or by the withholding of the wondrous rewards of the World to Come.

By nature, people often misjudge their actual spiritual standing. Hence the Sages warn: “An adam – a term which denotes an intellectual48 – “should always incite his Good Inclination against his Evil Inclination.” Such a man should be aware that even a person who is at the level of a tzaddik needs to be constantly vigilant that the Evil Inclination should not suddenly ensnare him. For this reason he must always incite his Good Inclination against it, and keep watch over it. Beinonim need to study Torah constantly49 and remain free of the Evil Inclination. The baalei middos who serve G‑d with love and awe should engage in the avodah of Kerias Shema, meditating on Havayah echad (“G‑d is one”). And yirei Elokim50 should serve G‑d by keeping in mind the day of death, when teshuvah is no longer of any avail; there is only hayom laasosam51“this day, to do them.”52

17. Above, every act of avodah that Jews do, even in trifling matters, is cherished. To use a mortal analogy: If a bypasser observes parents lowering themselves and playing with childish trifles with their little children, he doesn’t laugh at them. He understands that for those parents, this is their greatest joy, their favorite pleasure.

In the analog: Greater pleasure is aroused Above by the ordinary, unlettered Jews who read Tehillim than by the most intellectual scholars.