1 1. (Shacharis, followed by the reading of Tehillim as apportioned for the days of the month, and then the study of Mishnayos, together took a few hours, because the Rebbe himself served as sheliach tzibbur throughout the davenen.2 He then rested on a chair that had been prepared next to the amud, and those present began to leave the room. The Rebbe beckoned to them and, with a cheerful expression, began as follows.)

As is well known, 5663 (1903) was a happy year for me. On Rosh Chodesh Nissan we were in Vienna. There was a really fine farbrengen, at which my father took a little mashke and spoke at length. The next day, beis Nissan, my father was in a happy frame of mind. He said that he was unable to eat any physical food, even with a berachah. He added: “The baker who prepares all the pastries for us with all the possible stringencies3 can’t manage to bake a cake that I would be able to eat today. And that’s not at all surprising: after a farbrengen like that, one can go without physical food for three days.”

There were times when my father left room for the question, “Why is this time different?”4 Often, however, when I asked that question, he would answer, “If you’d know everything, you’d quickly grow old…” This time, when I asked that question, he suggested that we go for a walk, and while we were strolling he said: “Today the Alter Rebbe visited me, and I heard from his holy mouth the well-known maamar that he had once delivered publicly.”

[The Alter Rebbe’s maamar consists of a phrase-by-phrase interpretation, on the non-literal level of exposition known as derush, of the following mishnah,5 which describes the stages by which the kohen on duty brought the blood of a sin-offering to the altar: “He would ascend via the ramp and turn to the surrounding walkway, and would approach the southeastern corner, then the northeastern corner, then the northwestern corner…” The Alter Rebbe’s maamar follows:]

People think that avodah6 has to be tumultuous. In fact it’s quite simple:

He would ascend via the ramp (alah bakevesh) – When a person becomes a little higher,…

and turn to the surrounding walkway (ufanah lasovev) – and observes what is going on around him,…

and would approach the southeastern corner (uva lo lekeren dromis7 mizrachis8 )– he becomes a little warmer, and hence more [spiritually] luminous,…

then the northeastern corner (mizrachis tzfonis) – so that it lights up even his animal soul, his Evil Inclination.9 And when the Evil Inclination is refined and elevated,…

then the northwestern corner (tzfonis maaravis) – this hidden challenge generates sweet pleasure10 Above.

Having quoted the Alter Rebbe’s maamar, my father remarked: “So if one personally hears that from the holy mouth of the Alter Rebbe, how can one go and eat physical food?”

2. That year, 5663 (1903), my father traveled to Vienna to consult the medical specialists there. After the greatest experts had conferred, my father decided on a certain course of treatment in one of Vienna’s clinics for electrical therapy. The prescribed treatment was to take over two months, and the doctors recommended in particular that he take rest and distract his thoughts.

My father arrived there on Tuesday of Parshas Vayechi, 7 Teves, and remained for a full three months, until Sunday of Parshas Tzav, 8 Nissan. After ten days in a hotel, he rented a private apartment. Since he took me with him, I enjoyed the privilege and the spiritual pleasure of his company for over three months. He spent several hours with me every day in study, and shared with me narratives and observations – the kind of which the Sages say that “close and reverential contact with Torah sages is superior even to the study of the Torah.”11

3. The Torah has two sides – its study (limud), and its shimush. There are no words or expressions that can clearly and precisely delineate the lofty value of the study of Torah, yet even loftier is its shimush – the narratives of the Torah and of Torah scholars, of tzaddikim and geonim.

In brief words, the study of Torah is body; the shimush of the Torah is soul. A body has to have a soul: without a soul, it is (G‑d forbid) dead. A soul has to have a body: a soul without a body can’t be called alive. To be really alive, there has to be a soul in a body. In the world of Torah, study without shimush is a body without a soul, and shimush without study is a soul without a body. Being truly alive requires both its study and its avodah.

Here lies the difference between the chadarim12 and the melamdim13 of once upon a time, and the chadarim and the melamdim of today. It goes without saying that the above comment applies to those schools that don’t teach toddlers to read the syllables of the Holy Tongue by the traditional method, that is, first naming the vowel sign, then naming the letter, and only then putting the two together, thus: kommetz-alef – oh; kommetz-beis – boh. Instead, in those schools they teach children to read directly oh, boh, and so on, exactly as is taught (and let us keep in mind the distinction between the holy and the secular!) in other languages. Those chadarim and the melamdim are profaning the glory of that which is holy. They are despoiling the innocent hearts of pure-born children, as well as the sanctity of the letters and the vowel signs.14

Not only such chadarim, but even some chadarim that teach reading as it ought to be taught provide only the limud of the Torah, while the shimush is utterly lacking. It goes without saying that limud without shimush is like a body with its organs all intact – except that is lacking a soul.

A limud-Jew can be a G‑d-fearing scholar of upright character. He rises very early and goes straight off to shul to daven with the congregation; he then has a study session of halachah; he participates in group study sessions; actively supports Torah institutions, and works for the public good – yet it’s all without a soul.

A shimush-Jew is perhaps less of a scholar, but whatever he does is done with vitality, with relish. He personally is lively, and everything he does is done with zest and with feeling.

4. On one of the visits of my grandfather [the Rebbe Maharash] in Marienbad, he was asked a question that recalls the above distinction between a limud-Jew and a shimush-Jew. This is what he explained:

Among the terms by which the Torah describes a person’s appearance are yefeh to’ar (“handsome”), which means that the various organs are formed in their proper proportions, and yefeh mar’eh (“of beautiful appearance”), which refers to their coloring. Having both qualities is a particular gift from G‑d; most people have either one of those qualities or the other, or else they have other shortcomings. A portrait artist can endow a person with both of the above qualities. The only trouble is that it’s only a portrait, not a living person. It can well be that a living person is imperfect with regard to his build or his complexion – but he’s alive.

5. A shimush-Jew is a living person. It is quite possible that he has shortcomings, but he possesses the most positive quality of all – that he is alive. Everything he does is done with vitality, and everything around him is alive with inbuilt liveliness.

May blessings light upon the heads of the fathers and mothers who are shimush-Jews and Jewesses, and especially on the heads of the shimush-melamdim, for the proper education that they are giving. They have given us many tens of thousands of artless individuals (May their number increase!15 ) with a warm sensitivity to Torah and to mitzvos and to the love of every fellow Jew.

Parents who want their children to be left with a warm and untarnished feeling in their hearts towards Yiddishkeit and towards their fellow Jews should make the greatest efforts to ensure that their children are taught only by teachers who themselves were educated in a warm environment that cherishes the beauty of holiness. Such melamdim will focus their attention on endowing boys and girls with that ardent love of Torah, mitzvos, and ahavas Yisrael.

6. As my father’s routine got underway, he would take a long walk a few times a week, as prescribed by his doctors. In order to give his thoughts a break, he was fond of dropping into a shul or an informal little kloiz in the evening for an hour or more, to observe how people sat and studied, or spent time together around a table exchanging stories about tzaddikim. He was interested to know what manner of people these townsmen were, and was heartened by the artlessness of their narrations.

In the neighboring region my father was better known, so he would more often visit the shuls, and especially the chassidishe kloizn, in other regions.

7. One day, it was 22 Shvat, we traveled to one of those regions and my father entered a cute little kloiz that was packed with Premishlaner chassidim. It was really quite late. They davened Minchah, without saying Tachanun, and went straight on to Maariv.

The person leading the davenen at Maariv was someone observing a yahrzeit. He davened very fast, but with fire, as indeed they all did, aloud. The positive impression that it made was powerful. The air of that little kloiz was filled with a beautiful spirit of kedushah.

After Maariv I noticed that my father was talking with an old man at the southwestern corner. The old man was recounting something and my father was listening very attentively. I was in doubt as to whether or not I should join them and decided in favor. After a few steps, however, I wondered again whether I would be disturbing them. My father evidently noticed my hesitation and motioned me to join them.

The old man was in the middle of a narration, and when he finished, he began another. My father and he both sat down on a bench. I stood nearby, and from time to time jotted down brief notes of what he was recounting. The stories continued for a long time.

I noticed that meanwhile, my father looked closely in two directions – towards an elderly chassid who was deeply engrossed in whatever he was studying, and towards a group of chassidim who were exchanging stories of tzaddikim.

Eventually, my father took a seat near them for quite some time, and then took a seat next to the elderly chassid who was studying alone so earnestly. My father’s face disclosed wonderment and he motioned to me that I should approach them and see what this person was studying. I was surprised to discover that he was simply reading a Chumash with Yiddish translation, whereas from a distance he had given the impression of a scholarly sage of dignified appearance who was no doubt studying some abstruse subject.

It was Parshas Mishpatim, and the old man was reading the verses about the four levels of responsibility for another’s property in one’s possession. My father began to speak about the various laws involved, and was pleased to hear the old man’s responses. When my father asked him why he was reading Chumash with Yiddish translation, he said that it was his custom for over fifty years to read the weekly parshah in this way. Since this individual seemed to be a scholar,16 or at least someone who was at home in the learned literature,17 my father was interested to know the reason for this custom, but the old man was not interested in sharing it.

My father was touched by what he had seen in that cozy Premishlaner kloiz. As we traveled back to our lodgings, he spoke at length about how the folkways of Chassidus fortify a faith in G‑d, and implant a love of Torah and mitzvos in children’s hearts. As he expressed it, one story that a certain chassid there told about the Rebbe-Reb-Meir of Premishlan, and which was listened to by bachurim and little boys, was more vital for their Yiddishkeit than the finest pilpul, the most impressive erudite discourse.