1. During Pesach, 5652 (1892), my father related that on the second evening of Pesach, 5632 (1872), the Rebbe Maharash related that on the Seventh Day of Pesach, 5607 (1847), his father the Tzemach Tzedek related that the renowned chassid R. Pinchas Reizes relayed something which he in turn had heard from the elder chassidim of Shklov, who had seen the Alter Rebbe as he passed through Shklov after his first stay with the Maggid.

This is what they reported: At that time the Alter Rebbe already knew the task that he had been given when his soul descended to This World. He also knew with what intense, inner spiritual powers1 he had been endowed from Above. They would enable him to diffuse the light of Chabad teachings in this lowly world, in order to infuse inner vitality in all levels of Jews, from those most advanced in Torah study and in avodah to the very ordinary Jews who served G‑d out of simple faith. And on that occasion he publicly delivered the following teaching:

2. Concerning the Splitting of the Sea, it is written: “And Israel saw the mighty hand that G‑d had wielded against the Egyptians, and the people feared G‑d, and they believed in G‑d and in Moshe, His servant.”2 During their bondage in Egypt, the Jews had been overburdened by the straits and bounds of their slavery in exile. They thus had neither mind nor heart to listen to what the Tribe of Levi as a whole, and Moshe and Aharon in particular, had to tell them about understanding and explaining Elokus. Instead, they held fast to their simple faith. That simple faith evoked in them such an utter devotion to Elokus, that despite the torment of their grinding toil, they kept themselves distinct from the Egyptians. With steadfast self-sacrifice, they clung to their Jewish names, their Jewish language, and Jewish garb. That was why they were privileged to behold G‑d’s mighty hand. At that time they all saw the Infinite Essence of G‑d, Atzmus Ein-Sof, and were suffused with G‑dliness.

Moshe Rabbeinu, though he lived in a physical body down here, personified the light of Atzilus Above, Chochmah of the World of Atzilus. This Chochmah is a capacious vessel [that can contain a revelation of the infinite Divine light, such as at the Splitting of the Sea, without showing any sign of exuberance], for Chochmah is a cold kind of exuberance, a cold blaze that consumes soundlessly. Likewise, Moshe arrived at a point at which his [spiritual, though not his physical] existence was consumed – by fusing with the eternal life of Atzmus, the Essence, of the Infinite One.

3. At certain fixed times, the intellectually gifted elder chassidim of the Alter Rebbe used to meet and orally review the early fiery teachings that he had delivered when the path of Chabad was being newly revealed.

4. With his approach in the teachings and avodah of Chabad, the Alter Rebbe opened a window on the Divine intent underlying the descent of a particular soul to This World. Through that window, the light of the infinite Essence of G‑d3 shines into one’s physical life. And when that life is lived in the spirit of the avodah of Chabad, its physicality is elevated infinitely.

5. Through that revelation of the Infinite One, which the Alter Rebbe invested in the Chabad approach to avodah, a person can actually see Elokus in the course of his avodah in davenen.The lamp of G‑d which is in the soul lights up everyone. The manner of this revelation among the Alter Rebbe’s chassidim varied, of course, but it also lit up ordinary businessmen, as well as village peddlers, craftsmen, and stall keepers in the marketplace.That said, individuals vary with regard to the extent to which the lamp of G‑d is revealed in the body, and with regard to the manner in which its light is diffused.

By means of the path of Chabad, the Alter Rebberevealed within chassidim the light of their souls. This was true of the chassidim whose scholarly grasp and spiritual sensitivity were outstanding, and also of the quite ordinary Jews. They were all animated by this spiritual light in all their endeavors.

6. It’s Pesach, 5676 (1916), and the eminent chassid, R. Michoel Dvorkin, is singing the well-known niggun that the tzaddik, R. Michl Zlotchover, sang in the presence of the Baal Shem Tov.4 My father is in an elated frame of mind and his holy face is luminous. He appears to be distant. His memory has obviously been lit up by the recollection of an event that is linked to that niggun.

When it came to an end, my father said that it was sung on the second night of Pesach in the year 5638 (1878), in two versions, and the Rebbe Maharash chose the version that we had just heard.

“This niggun,” my father went on to say, “opens up the heart. The reverent awe of a chassid, his yearning, and his hope – this is the threefold avodah which our respective Rebbeim implanted in chassidim at farbrengens, and which surfaces when they join in a dance of chassidishe brotherly love.”

7. My mentor the Rashbatz was a close disciple5 of one of the Alter Rebbe’s chassidim, R. Michl Opotzker. His father was R. Meir Zalman, one of the hidden tzaddikim who preceded the revelation of the Baal Shem Tov, who then blessed that extremely old man with long life.

8. R. Michl Opotzker related that when his father turned ninety, the Baal Shem Tov said: “Mazel-Tov, R. Meir Zalman!” [At this point the Baal Shem Tov cited a phrase of the Sages,6 בֶּן תִּשְׁעִים לָשׁוּחַ, whose plain meaning is, “Ninety is the age at which a man is stooped.” For the purpose of his message, however, the Baal Shem Tov read the last word not as lashu’ach but as lasu’ach. The phrase then means:] “Ninety is the age at which a man should talk!” [The Baal Shem Tov continued:] “Though you know what ought to be said, you maintain silence. However, your son Michl will speak enough for you, too. After all, doesn’t he carry the name Michl...?7 He will study under my disciple’s disciple,8 who will reveal a path in the service of the Creator, a path that will show how the avodah of davenen prepares a man to understand and know the Torah. My disciple’s disciple will also reveal how everyone, even an ordinary, unlettered person, can serve G‑d with love and awe.”

9. R. Michl Opotzker was one of the most outstanding scholars of his time. He had mastered and memorized the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi, as well as the classic works of the poskim, the halachic decisors, together with their sources in Rambam and Rashba, and in addition the classic works of the Kabbalah. When he first visited the Alter Rebbe in the year (…9 ), he was thirty-five years old. My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, once said: “Michl Opotzker toiled hard, but his spiritual personality was chaotic.10 The guidance and blessing of my grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, made him orderly.”11

When the Mitteler Rebbe settled in Lubavitch,12 R. Meir Zalman visited him and stayed there for five years. During that time, he studied with the Tzemach Tzedek for five hours every day, apart from erev Shabbos and erev Yom-Tov. Only then did he learn to relish the sweet savor of knowing the Torah.

10. R. Meir Zalman once remarked to my mentor, the Rashbatz: “It’s hard to eat physical food before the blessing recited over it permeates its physicality, and transforms it into the kind of physical entity that matches the Divine intention underlying all physical things. At that time, not only are they elevated, but they also elevate all the worlds to the Infinite One, the Ein-Sof. Thus, by means of the blessing that was recited over the food, one transforms this lowly world into a vessel that will contain the essential light of Atzmus.”

11. After the passing of the Mitteler Rebbe, R. Michl returned home to Opotzk, in bitter anguish and in extreme solitude. As he expressed it, his spiritual Beis HaMikdash was destroyed.

R. Michl used to say: “The eldest early chassidim used to speak of the great love that the-Rebbe-the-father (i.e., the Alter Rebbe) had for the-Rebbe-the-grandson (i.e., the Tzemach Tzedek). That’s why I’m so fond of anyone who takes the road to Lubavitch.” He used to farewell such chassidim with this blessing: “May G‑d prosper your efforts to receive inwardly the teachings of Chassidus and the avodah of davenen, with deep-seated sensitivity and refinement of character!”

12. R. Meir Zalman urged my mentor, the Rashbatz, to visit the Tzemach Tzedek in Lubavitch. In his words: “A chassid must have a Rebbe. A Rebbe not only gives ordered directives on how to get out of the exile of one’s animal soul; he also opens a window into one’s natural character attributes, and through that window, the light of the G‑dly soul shines.13 To this day the light of the Torah shines within me. I still feel the pleasant sweetness that I experienced when the Tzemach Tzedek taught me – and via you I’d like to write him a note.”14

13. “It was the Thursday of Parshas Mishpatim, erev Rosh Chodesh Adar I in the year 5608 (1848),” my mentor the Rashbatz recalled, “that I arrived on foot in Lubavitch.

“I spent the night in a wayside inn, ten viorsts away, and set out before daybreak, went into ‘Binyomin’s Shtibl’ and put down my knapsack, went off to the mikveh, and made my way to the Rebbe’s zal15 to daven. That was the shul in the Tzemach Tzedek’s courtyard.

“As I entered and prepared myself for davenen, I heard people saying that the Rebbe had told the chassidim to locate the visitor who had brought a note from R. Michl Opotzker – and that was when I was privileged to behold the Rebbe’s holy face for the first time.”

14. From the first time thatmy mentor the Rashbatz came to Lubavitch to teach me – that was on the Thursday of Parshas Mishpatim in the year 5654 (1894) – until the year of his passing, every year on the night preceding Thursday of Parshas Mishpatim he would stay awake and spend the night in the hekdesh-shul at the Ohel. There he would daven Maariv, Shacharis and Minchah, and would visit the Ohel [of the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash]. After Minchah he would return to the township and there would be a chassidisher farbrengen.

15. There are various kinds and levels ofchassidisher farbrengens. Customarily, one of the participants would review a maamar of the Rebbe which they had heard and which he had memorized, and each of them would try to explain its theme to himself. They had now heard the Rebbe’s words, and if one of them grasped them well and spoke about related subjects in avodah in the very words used by the Rebbe, both the maskilim and the ovdim among them were more than happy to hear that review of the maamar.

The most revered chassidim, whether maskilim or ovdim, had regular times for farbrengens, at which they would discuss avodah – what is meant by a chassidisher davenen and what is meant by a chassidisher farbrengen. They would sing soul-stirring niggunim that aroused a yearning to invest effort in avodas hatefillah, and to relish a chapter of Tehillim. A davenen with chassidishe arousal lit up their homes. It charged them with vitality, regardless of where they were and regardless of how they earned their livelihood.

16. My father, who on that occasion16 was in an elated frame of mind, said: “When our forefathers left Egypt andarrived at the Sea, Nachshon leapt into the water, followed by the other Jews, and only then did the Sea split. Moshe Rabbeinu, who personifies Chochmah of the World of Atzilus, envied them for their self-sacrifice which sprang from simple faith. Now, Chochmah of the World of Atzilus understands everything in a light that is completely different [to the common perception], yet Chochmah of the World of Atzilus envied the faith of those plain, ordinary Jews.

17. Supposing a person studies a maamar of Chassidus profoundly, and works hard to understand it, and G‑d compassionately prospers his efforts so that he is able to explain it. Nevertheless, if after all of that he does not translate his intellectual grasp into a feeling in his heart that blossoms into the actual avodah of refining his middos and being sensitive to others, his whole avodah is tainted with the kelipah of Amalek.17

Chassidus uncovers all failings in avodah and moreover advises how one can remedy them and actualize his positive qualities and attributes. Here, too, Chassidus offers sound advice on how to rid oneself of the kelipah of Amalek: it can be remedied only by being shattered.18

18. In everyday material life, if a man is brokenhearted it means that he is without bread, that he and his family live in a cottage that is half sunk in a muddy alley, its windows without glass and its roof damaged, and his children are starving. So his spirit is crushed and he bewails his days and his years, his Shabbos and his Yom-Tov.

That is bodily, material poverty, which everyone knows and feels. But there also exists spiritual poverty, which not everyone feels. A person can even remain unruffled when someone addresses him bluntly, as can happen at a farbrengen of chassidim: “Fool! Look at what kinds of petty nonsense you’re engrossed in! G‑d in His kindness has enabled you to do something with your money for the benefit of your spiritual life. You should be reminding yourself: ‘Has not a man a fixed time on earth, like the days of a hireling?’19 Your mind needs to relocate! Ask yourself: What have I achieved at this lifetime market day? Have I bought up genuine merchandise?”

There are people who don’t want to talk – or even think – about the soul’s return trip at the end of its mission in this physical world. They avert their mental eyes so that they won’t see what ultimately happens in a mortal’s life. They imagine that there exists a certain fellowship of people who are into dying,20 and they don’t want to think or say that they themselves are also members of that fellowship.

Mussar reveals the truth; Chassidus lights up every little corner of a man’s life with the light of the Torah and the mitzvos.

19. My father once told me that on Yud Kislev,21 5635 (1874), the Rebbe Maharash spoke of the guidance which his father, the Alter Rebbe, had directed him to give to the zitzers of Liozna. At that time the Mitteler Rebbe told them: “Whoever doesn’t invest heartfelt involvement in his efforts in avodah, and instead fools himself as to his real spiritual level, is fooling no one, only himself. And how foolish it is to fool a fool!”

20. That educative teaching opened up a window in those young men, through which the sunlight of Chassidus-inspired avodah, which the Alter Rebbe had revealed, shone into them.

21. With those students, it was plainly axiomatic that a genuine chassid is only one who engages in the study of Chassidus as it relates to the refinement of character. When a person has then become a pure vessel by washing himself with tears during davenen, he becomes a vessel that is capable of containing the haskalah, the intellectual dimension, of the teachings of Chassidus.

22. In every generation, Chabad chassidim knew the avodah-teaching which the earlier elder chassidim repeated. It was one of the first brief maamarim22 that the Alter Rebbe delivered when he first returned from Mezritch:

“If one swallowed the maror, he has not discharged his obligation.”23 Eating the bitter herb on Pesach night is an obligation over which one pronounces the blessing that includes the words, ‘Who sanctified us with His commandments [and commanded us]’ to speak [and think] about ‘the eating of the bitter herb.’ The obligation is not to swallow it, but to eat it – to chew one’s bitter negative aspects by engaging in profound meditation until one weeps, out of his embittered soul, over his spiritual standing.24

People with sensitivity can readily understand and visualize how that teaching impacted his chassidim, and the light and inner vitality that it granted them.

23. Chassidim nowadays are content with surviving on minimal rations. A fellow davens a few minutes longer than the minyan, after davenen he engages in idle conversation, and the Chassidus [that he had been thinking about] is swallowed up, so that all that’s left is that he’s called a chassid. He lives in the chassidishe world only by virtue of the merit of his forebears.25 As to himself, he is whatever he is. It’s only that his father and his grandfather, or his uncle and his great-uncle, took their avodah seriously.

24. (A niggun was sung, and the Rebbe then said:) “Whoever quotes a teaching in the name of the one who first said it should picture that sage before him.”26 When one sings a niggun, one connects with the machshavah, the faculty of thought, of the tzaddik who composed it. When one repeats a Torah teaching, one connects with the dibbur, the faculty of speech, of that tzaddik. And when one relates a story, one connects with the maaseh, the faculty of action, of that tzaddik.

25. From my earliest years, my father brought me up on narratives from the Chumash, the Prophets, and Ein Yaakov. When I was a little older he told me stories of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, and the Alter Rebbe, often linking them to some lesson in avodah and in the refinement of character.

26. At the Second Seder of Pesach, 5651 (1891),27 my father and his brother the Raza repeated various concepts and narratives that they had heard from my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, on the evenings of Pesach. Some of them are retained in my memory, and one of them I am now passing on to you:

The Baal Shem Tov’s orders were obeyed by even “the not-good guys.” (That phrase is a euphemism for evil spirits.28 ) They told the following story about how everything in the world can be utilized to draw a Jew – especially a Torah scholar – to the path of Chassidus:

In a little township in Podolia there lived two chassidim of the Baal Shem Tov, a rav and a water-carrier. They both belonged to the circle of the hidden tzaddikim, but since they never visited the Baal Shem Tov at the same time, they never knew that they shared the same ideology and spiritual lifestyle.

One day the Baal Shem Tov said to the water-carrier: “You and I both need a great sum of money. I need it to pay ransom and to support the hidden tzaddikim, and you need it so that you can marry off your daughter and get yourself a scholarly son-in-law and support him, so that he’ll be free to devote himself to Torah and avodah. Now, go to such-and-such a place, where you’ll find a treasure. Bring it to me and we’ll share it, and we’ll both have what we need.”

His disciple did as he was told. He found the treasure of gold and precious gems and brought it all to the Baal Shem Tov, who divided it as planned. He then told the hidden tzaddik, the gaon R. Shimon, that he should travel to a town in the Vilna region called Zelodnik, and arrange that his daughter should marry a son of the gaon, R. Eliyahu Bunem.R. Shimon then… (The manuscript record of this farbrengen ends here.)