1. Among our guests in Lubavitch for Shavuos, 5672 (1912), were two of our relatives from Eretz Yisrael, and the question discussed at the table was whether a chassid can be a relative and whether a relative can be a chassid. My father said: “A chassid is certainly a relative [a karov, lit., ‘one who is close’], for who is closer than a chassid? And so indeed it is written, ‘G‑d is close (karov) to all those who call upon Him.’1 As to a relative being a chassid, that is possible, though at a variety of levels.”

(One of those present asked whether the Alter Rebbe’s brothers were all chassidim. To this the Rebbe [Rayatz] answered:)

Not necessarily. His brother, R. Moshe, was not a chassid. He was a gaon, a towering sage, with a sharp mind, particularly with regard to Choshen Mishpat,2 which he had studied under his father, R. Baruch, whose particular field of expertise was the three bavos3 and Choshen Mishpat.

In the time of the Alter Rebbe, the halachic responsa were worded by his brother, Maharil,4 and the Alter Rebbe would then pass them on to R. Moshe to check. It happened on occasion that R. Moshe would comment on a particular responsum, “But that’s obvious!” And the Alter Rebbe would answer, “That shows that you haven’t delved into it deeply enough. If you do that, you’ll find new halachic insights.”5

Once, while looking through a variety of books in my father’s study, I came across a finely-bound copy of the Kopust edition of the [Alter] Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch. My father came in and asked, “What are you looking at there?” So I showed him that the title page6 gives the year of publication as the total numerical value of the letters that spell the words, יְהִי מְקוֹרְךָ בָּרוּךְ – “May your source be blessed!”7 My father explained that [since the third Hebrew word means “blessed,”] by choosing this phrase, the Alter Rebbe was alluding to the fact that the source of his mastery of Choshen Mishpat was his father, R. Baruch.

2. In Liozna there lived a chassid of the Baal Shem Tov called R. Nissan the Melamed.

American-born adults and bochurim and children need to be told explicitly what the term melamed means in general, and specifically among chassidim. That word signifies a Jew who appreciated the true worth of the letters of the Torah. In the eyes of a melamed in earlier times, the letters of the Torah were holy. They blazed in his heart, and while he was teaching children alef-beis, the alef too was ablaze. When he taught kamatz-alef, the kamatz too caught fire, and with the fire in his heart he ignited his pupils. The same happened when he taught Chumash.

One of the toddlers whom R. Nissan the Melamed taught grew up to be R. Shmuel Eliezer, a chassid of stature and a businessman. When, in the wake of the slanders of informers, the Alter Rebbe was taken off to Petersburg, R. Shmuel Eliezer was one of those who worked for his release. He was a man with a generous heart and a cheerful nature. When the Alter Rebbe was released, R. Shmuel Eliezer gave away all of his property for tzedakah, to be disbursed according to the discretion of the Alter Rebbe, and explained: “If I’ve got a Rebbe who’s alive and well, I don’t need any money. Money without a Rebbe is dangerous: a person can stray and fall into the abyss of saying that ‘my strength and the power of my hand have amassed all this wealth for me.’8 But if you have a Rebbe, who needs money?”

3. On the second day of Shavuos, it was the custom of my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, to invite the chassidim who had come to town for Yom-Tov for the midday seudah, at which he would deliver a maamar. At the seudah of Shavuos of the year 5616 (1856), he told two stories.

The first story:

In earlier times, the local rav was responsible for providing the needs of the yeshivah in his town, so he would travel around the province to raise funds. It once happened that quite late one erev Shabbos, a certain rav found himself in a village without a single Jewish inhabitant, let alone a sefer Torah. Sunset was fast approaching, so he had to stay there. His heart was sore. Here he was, one Jew alone in a village, spending Shabbos without a minyan, without hearing the Reading of the Torah or Kedushah or Barchu. Feeling crushed, he davened Minchah with bitter tears.

As he was preparing to light candles, a Jewish traveler drew up in a fine carriage and stopped to rest a while. When he told the rav that he was about to resume his journey, the rav asked him, “Where are you heading so late?” The bypasser answered coolly that he’d be at home in time for Shabbos. Knowing that this was impossible, the rav saw what kind of a Jew this was. Engaging him in conversation, he explained the retribution for the desecration of Shabbos and the beauty of observing Shabbos. It transpired that this visitor also owned neither tallis nor tefillin. Anyway, instead of resuming his homeward journey, he decided to spend Shabbos with the rav in that village.

He was so affected by the inspiring words of the rav in the course of that Shabbos that he became a complete baal teshuvah. And the rav, for his part, was so struck by his guest’s ardent response to his words, that he in turn was inspired to intensify his own endeavors in the realm of Torah study and avodah.

The second story:

The rav of a certain town had it announced that at 10:00 AM on the first Monday of the upcoming Behab fasts,9 all the storekeepers and craftsmen in town were to close their stores and stop work. The melamdim, too, were to come to the big, cold beis midrash, together with their classes – to hear the rav delivering a sermon which would arouse his townsmen to do teshuvah.

An out-of-town villager who had missed his early minyan passed by, and seeing the crowd gathering around the big, cold beis midrash, he stepped in with his tallis and tefillin and began to daven. At this point the rav made his appearance. He stepped up to the bimah, and waxed wailingly eloquent. The villager, meanwhile, in the course of his davenen, reached the words, ve’atah mechayeh es kulam – “and You give life to them all.” He was so struck by the rav’s drastic call to teshuvah that those words, ve’atah mechayeh es kulam, escaped his throat in an earnest and piercing cry from the heart. The rav, ruffled, called out: “What’s that guy yelling about?”

The sermon came to an end. The bypassing villager made no request of anyone. He just tied his knapsack together, but as he prepared to go his way, a young man called out, “Throw out that tramp!”

[The Tzemach Tzedek concluded:] When the rav in each story arrived in the World of Truth, the rav who had to spend his Shabbos in the village faced the Heavenly Court with a humble spirit. And as the rav who had delivered his dour teshuvah-sermon stood before the Heavenly Court, he glowed with self-satisfaction. In fact, both situations indicate avodah-ailments,10 and both call for avodah-remedies. And there is a tried and tested remedy – the avodah of davenen that follows due preparation by the previous night’s earnest Kerias Shema before going to sleep.

* * *

[The Rebbe Rayatz now commented:] Rabbanim ought to study a great deal of nigleh, and of course one must also study Chassidus. Chassidus comprises both haskalah and avodah. Study avodah and become upright Jews!

4. What a heartrending pity! There are young chassidim who have little children, but don’t have true melamdim to teach them! There are teachers who are good at their craft, but their external appearance is not at all as it ought to be. True, the pupils of such teachers will know how to study [Torah], but they will also know how to permit that which is forbidden. They will know how to pronounce an unclean reptile ritually clean, and support their argument not “with 150 reasons,”11 but with 800 reasons.

The truth must be said. When speaking on the above subject, the fear of transgressing by shaming someone is not an issue, because this is an issue of life. [In the Holy Tongue, the classic idiom for shaming someone is halbanas panim – literally, “making his face blanch.”] True, there’s even a facetious folk expression among chassidim that one can be guilty of blanching a person’s face only if he first has a face… However, that’s only a chassidisher witticism. In fact, where the subject at hand is a life-threatening question, the fear of shaming someone is not an issue.

The above strong words had to be spoken, even if they only touched on the subject, but there had to be straight talk. The current situation makes one’s heart ache.

5. Years ago, people knew that frigidity in the realm of Torah and avodah was the kelipah of Amalek.12 Nowadays it is regarded as the conventional way of life. People don’t even feel the cold. Physicians are able to freeze a patient by means of anesthesia until he is able to survive his medication and gradually regain his strength. However, this procedure demands extreme caution, lest it cause the patient to sleep the sleep of death.

The current conventional frigidity is so called, even though it is not a mere social convention, but a modern Amalek-frost that freezes one’s ardor. The habitual assumption absorbed from childhood, that one has to “make a living,” and that living is money, has deadened the genuine chassidisher sensitivity to Yiddishkeit.

People used to care about this situation and seek ways to correct it. Now, because of the prevalent frigidity, it’s not even a cause for concern. People aren’t aware that they are in the process of dying spiritually, and there’s no time to spare it a thought. At best a person learns a chapter of Tanya or some Likkutei Torah, and that’s as far as it goes. Perhaps an occasional sigh as well, but that’s it. There’s no time.

6. In former times, when two chassidim – businessmen or market dealers – met, they would talk about how things have changed from those days to today, how the standard lifestyle of Jews in general and of chassidim in particular has changed. The community of American chassidim is to be pitied from the depths of a pained heart. They are being coarsened by the bold and turbulent current of the American business world.

May G‑d show them mercy. May He compassionately open the eyes of American Jewry in general and of the Chabad chassidic community in particular, so that they will recall and remember who they are, and for what purpose they were born. When that happens, every Jewish home will glow with spiritual light and will be blessed in every way.

7. On Shavuos, 5536 (1776), the Alter Rebbe delivered a maamar of Chassidus. The earliest maamarim in which he began to reveal the teachings of Chabad were pithy Torah-and-avodah teachings,13 which he delivered with passion and which were accompanied by a niggun of soulful yearning. This is what he said:14

Tze’enah u’re’enah [lit., ‘Go out and see’].”15 When a person gets out of his “I”, the mortal and bodily “I”, by engaging in the avodah of davenen and linking himself to Elokus, he sees the G‑dly light. This is the inner meaning of [the teaching of the Sages16 that the name Shlomo alludes to G‑d, Who is] “the King to whom peace (shalom) belongs.” [Chassidus explains that Divine influence on a person’s Torah and avodah that flows without obstruction is called “peace.” And the above statement that “he sees the G‑dly light” means that] one senses the G‑dly light in one’s Torah study and in one’s avodas hatefillah.

This brief maamar shook up the chassidic community, and aroused a self-sacrificing outpouring of the soul in the avodah of the members of the chadarim.17 At that time, the hearts of even those highly cerebral scholars were ablaze in their avodas hatefillah.

8. The elder chassidim who knew the hoary chassidim who had studied in the Alter Rebbe’s chadarim, and had heard from them chassidishe teachings and oral traditions, used to meet regularly to discuss those teachings and repeat those anecdotes. From time to time, when the Mitteler Rebbe was still a very young man, he would hear his father’s elder chassidim repeating those teachings. On one such occasion he remarked: “When an atzmi speaks of Atzmus, Atzmus radiates a dazzling light within that atzmi.”18

The maskilim19 among them were overwrought by this intense and pnimiyusdik haskalah-teaching and embellished it with learned explanations.

9. A chassid is warm. Frigidity is a fatal potion. Thus, here in this country, we observe cool complacency regarding things that are forbidden. And when frigidity joins forces with ignorance, a person can unwittingly come to eat treifos.

In a certain town there was a wealthy butcher whose store had one room for kosher meat and one room for treifah meat. Not knowing this, a woman walked in one day, pointed to the fat chunk of meat that she wanted, and went home. There she dutifully soaked and salted her treifah meat, and “koshered” it. While it was being cooked, she told a visiting neighbor that when her family came home from work, they would have a first class meal waiting for them, all soaked and salted.

That is what grows out of ignorance and frigidity: a person wants to eat kosher, and soaks and salts, but the meat is treifah. The conclusions to be drawn from this story are obvious and should be taken to heart.20

10. One ought to become warm – spiritually aroused – with a warmth born of the awe of Heaven. True, we are being warmed up [from Above]: one’s heart is sharply stirred by the woes of our people at large and by the woes of individuals – but that is a warmth, or even a blaze, that is born of an alien fire.21 What Jews desire, and deserve to receive, is the warmth granted by Fatherly nearness.