(To celebrate the liberation of the Rebbe on Gimmel Tammuz, 5687 (1927) from Russia’s notorious Spalerno Prison,1 a festive seudah was held in the Rebbe’s home. In the course of the seudah, one of the honored guests entered the room and was invited to wash hands and take his place at the table. He explained that he had already had his Shabbos meal, and in response to this the Rebbe said:)

1. A custom practiced by chassidim is based on Torah foundations and has the fragrance of avodah. Thus the Sages teach,2 “If you go to a town, observe its customs.” Thus, when the angels visited Avraham Avinu, they “feigned eating,”3 and when Moshe Rabbeinu ascended On High to receive the Torah, he “did not eat bread and did not drink water.”4 Moshe Rabbeinu had no reason to be embarrassed about the fact of his physical eating, neither with regard to the angels, nor with regard to the Sefiros or the spiritual beings that emanate from the supernal World of Atzilus. [Why, then, did he not eat or drink?] Only because wherever one finds himself, he should conduct himself according to what is conventional in that place, as determined by Divine Providence.

When a person does a mitzvah, he thinks that it is being performed only at the level of action, whereas in fact he ought to experience it at all the levels of his soul.5

The Mitteler Rebbe was bashful about having an aliyah6 for the Reading of the Torah, because of his sensitive awareness of all the levels to which the person receiving the aliyah ascends. In the World of Asiyah, the soul-level called nefesh ascends to the Torah; in the World of Yetzirah, the soul-level called ruach ascends to the Torah; in the World of Beriah, the soul-level called neshamah ascends to the Torah; in the World of Atzilus, the soul-levels called chayah and yechidah ascend to the Torah.

2. Today, Gimmel Tammuz, marks fourteen years since the day on which I was freed, in the merit of my holy forefathers, from the Spalerno Prison in Petersburg, in the year 5687 (1927). Fourteen (י"ד) is the numerical equivalent of the word יָד (“hand”), as in “the mighty Hand” [of salvation from Above7 ], and now it’s time for “the great Hand” [that was revealed at the Splitting of the Sea8 ] to be revealed.

Concerning the Splitting of the Sea it is written that “Israel saw the great Hand that G‑d had wielded against the Egyptians…, and they believed in G‑d.” While they were still in Egypt, too, there were miracles, [as in the various Plagues]. Nevertheless, they did not perceive the Name Havayah;9 they ascribed it all to nature.

The same was true of Avimelech. Although the Kabbalah links him to lofty spiritual levels, he knew only of the Name Elokim.10 As to Egypt, its very name, Mitzrayim (מִצְרַיִם), is made up of the words מֵיצַר יָם (meitzar yam), lit., “the straits of the sea,” which [in the Kabbalah] suggests strength [and the self-concealment of the name Elokim]. While in Egypt, some of the Jews, too, did not perceive the Name Havayah. (That is why, during the three days of darkness, many of them died:11 their belief was sporadic.12 ) Only after leaving Egypt, “the obscenity of the world,”13 did they realize that in Egypt, too, the Name Havayah had been revealed.

True, even after leaving Egypt “they encamped before [the idolatrous site called] Baal Tzfon,”14 and also spent further time in the wilderness before they received the Torah. Nevertheless, with the change of air that they gained by leaving Egypt, “the obscenity of the world,” they now perceived the Name Havayah.

As to the above mention of an idolatrous site: Although this is normally prohibited, lest its mention draw Divine light into an unworthy recipient (G‑d forbid), the Torah of Truth does speak of that site, thereby weakening its impurity and boosting the holiness that is exiled within it.

3. The self-sacrifice of Russian Jews at the time [of the events of 1927] is remarkable. With them it was straightforward: they set themselves aside utterly. They didn’t think of themselves at all. A melamed didn’t stop to think whether or not he would be arrested.15 Not teaching was an option that was never spared a thought. They only thought of their families. What would come of them? Would they have bread and water?

In those days, a meeting was once held with the older yeshivah-bachurim, to discuss the situation of those melamdim. The melamdim who wanted to continue would continue. But since the danger of exile and other serious punishments was intensifying, what of the married melamdim who wanted to withdraw from their holy work because of the danger to their families? Should they be forced to continue? In response to this option, seventy bachurim immediately signed up to replace them.

Thanks to the informers of the Yevsektsia,16 the virulently anti-religious “Jewish Section” of the Communist Party (May their name be erased!), those volunteering bachurim were eventually subjected to severe torture. Despite that, they never divulged the names of the administrators and teachers of their network. Even the very young pupils, boys of ten or twelve, showed an amazing sense of self-sacrifice. A hundred locals could never accomplish what one hand of one of those children accomplished.

It would be worthwhile hiring one of them as a teacher, in order to teach the local bachurim the meaning of mesirus nefesh. Here in America, the young people whose eyes have not yet opened to see light have no idea of what it’s all about. For them, the height of mesirus nefesh is the self-denial of abstaining from juice in the morning and instead drinking milk. Even those who have seen light are also lacking any sense of mesirus nefesh. And even more painfully, some of those who themselves came here from Russia, where they stood staunchly on the battlefront, lost their clear sense of direction.

4. We must do teshuvah. For those in the stricken countries, a general kind of teshuvah will suffice. We here should do real teshuvah. People mistakenly think that teshuvah means shedding tears. In truth, one can be in a happy mood and glad at heart – and do teshuvah. It goes without saying that one should be glad at heart at all times, because its opposite is melancholy. What we are saying, beyond that, is that one can actually be happy, and yet do teshuvah as one ought to do.

5. For a simple instance of teshuvah, suppose someone is wearing tefillin that are (G‑d forbid) invalid. Apart from the fact that he has uttered berachos in vain, his head at that point is “a head that has not put on tefillin.”17 A person should have his tefillin checked. In addition, he should master all of its detailed laws, instead of relying on the assumption that a high price is a sure sign that they are kosher.

The same applies to the teshuvah that is required in matters of speech, including idle talk, scoffing, slander and gossip, and also to untruths. One might think that they are of no account, when they may in fact involve outright falsehood. A person does not stop to consider these issues only because he has cast off the Yoke of Heaven.

6. There was once a chassid whose name was R. Yosef Yozik Horovitz, though people used to call him Yizhe Dokshytzer (“Yizhe from Dokshytz”), or Yizhe Varshaver (“Yizhe from Warsaw”), or Yizhe Moskver (“Yizhe from Moscow”). One day in 5667 (1907), he came to spend a Shabbos in the company of my father who was then in Wurzburg, the German health resort. He was accompanied by his son-in-law, a tamim by the name of R. Feivl Zalmanov. Another chassid who was visiting my father at that time was R. Elimelech Stoptzer.

Shabbos came, and my father, true to his custom, davened at considerable length. The visitors meanwhile said Kiddush and partook of quite a drop of mashke. When they all finally took their seats for the seudah of Shabbos, R. Yosef Yozik Horovitz asked my father, “Rebbe, what is a chassid?”

My father answered: “A chassid is a lamplighter who walks the streets at night, with fire at the top of his long staff. He knows that the fire is not his own, and he goes about, lighting lanterns.”

The visitor asked: “What if the lantern is out in a wilderness?”

“That lantern, too, must be lit,” said my father. “Let people see that it is a wilderness. And let the wilderness feel ashamed in the presence of the lantern.”

The visitor asked further: “And what if the lantern is out in the sea?”

My father answered: “So he must throw off his clothes, jump into the water, and light it out there.”

The visitor asked again: “So is that a chassid?”

After thinking for a while, my father said: “Yes. That is a chassid.”

The visitor: “Rebbe, I don’t see any lanterns!”

My father: “That’s because you’re not a lamplighter!”

The visitor: “How does one become a lamplighter?”

My father: “One must ‘turn away from evil.’18 One must start by working on oneself – washing oneself clean and becoming more refined. That done, one can perceive the lantern within a fellow Jew. If a person is (G‑d forbid!) coarse, he sees coarseness, whereas if he himself is refined, he perceives the refinement in that other person.”

The visitor: “Can one take him by the throat?”

My father: “By the throat, no; by the lapel, yes.”

7. The Alter Rebbe was still a young man when he came to Liozna. A spiritualist19 lived there, and so did R. Reuven, who was known as the Baal Shem of Liozna. At that time a certain incident took place in town, and the Alter Rebbe performed a feat that was supernatural.20 In those days Liozna had great numbers of misnagdim. The town was in uproar, and they forced him to appear before the beis din in Vitebsk in order to explain himself.

In response, the Alter Rebbe said that he had nothing to say, but he would tell them something that he heard from his Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch, who had heard it from the Baal Shem Tov.

Once, when the Baal Shem Tov performed a supernatural feat in Brod,21 the townsmen wanted to excommunicate him. So he told them that he didn’t act alone, but in partnership with Abbaye. He added that the four letters that spell the name of that Talmudic sage (אַבַּיֵּי) are the initial letters of the phrase, וְאִם בְּרִיאָה יִבְרָא ה' – “And if G‑d creates something that is entirely new.”22 The Baal Shem Tov went on to cite the Gemara (with the comment of Rashi) in Tractate Nedarim23 which asks, “Is it not written that ‘there is nothing new under the sun?’ ” The Gemara answers its own question: this earthquake was “the mouth of the earth” that had been created at dusk on the eve of Shabbos [at the conclusion of the Six Days of Creation],24 and it was brought to this point in time.

His listeners then pointed out that the first of the above four words (וְאִם – “And if”) begins [not with an alef but] with the letter vav. The Baal Shem Tov answered that even Abbaye could do nothing without the addition of the letter vav, because that letter hints at the drawing of the Torah downward.25 And indeed, Abbaye was the source of the Oral Law,26 as is known from the Gemara. The Sages note27 that both Abbaye and Rava28 were descendants of the House of Eli [and would thus be expected to die in their early youth.29 Nevertheless, in the merit of their exemplary Torah study, they lived to 60 and 40 years respectively]. Abbaye engaged [not only] in the study of Torah [but also in kindly deeds, and was therefore granted a longer life than his colleague. Why the difference?] Because by studying Torah one can draw down the mouth of Gan Eden – and also the mouth of Gehinnom...30

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The basic sin of Korach and his camp was that “they banded together against Havayah”31 – they objected to that which transcends nature. This underlies the fact that the parshah named for Korach appears so close to the parshah called Chukas, which focuses on the transcendence of nature.32 Thus the Sages teach: “What made Korach rebel?33 – He saw the Red Heifer.”

The Sages also teach that “the sons of Korach did not die.”34 In fact they are present in every generation…

8. When I was (Baruch Hashem!) in the Spalerno prison…35 Yes, I said that Baruch Hashem intentionally, despite the deathly torment there. Nevertheless, after the event, I say “Baruch Hashem,” because that experience inflicted torture on every last little bone. I can’t say “on every hair,” because hair feels no pain, but every little bone was tortured through and through, both from one’s own deathly suffering and from the sight of others being shot.

I treasure that time. I was imprisoned in a cell so dark that there was no difference between day and night – except that from the regular waking time one could know when one could already daven Shacharis, and at another fixed time they brought warm water.

One morning, which I calculated was at about eleven, a band of policemen entered my cell and ordered me to stand up. Now, I had already decided not to be affected in the slightest by the sitra achra, the forces of evil; I would relate to them as if they simply did not exist. So I answered – in Yiddish – that I would not stand up. They threatened to beat me, so I answered, Nu…,” which means “Go right ahead!” So they did, and then left.

They soon returned, accompanied this time by Lulav.36 Lulav asked: “Rebbe, why don’t you obey orders? They want to tell you that your conditions will be alleviated. Why are you so tough with them? They’ll just beat you up again, and you’ll get that punishment again!”

That punishment consisted of being stood in a muddy cellar that swarmed with mice and various vermin.

I answered nothing.

When on their third visit they again ordered me to stand and again I answered nothing, one of them gave me such a punch under the chin that remained painful for long after. He too was a Jew, by the name of Kovalov. His parting words to me, in Russian, in a murderous shriek, were: “We’ll teach you a lesson!”

I answered, in Yiddish: “I’m not sure who’ll teach whom…”

A little while later I was summoned to the office, and for the first time [since my arrival there] I saw Chaim Lieberman.37 Other prisoners were there, too, and I found out that we were about to be sent somewhere, though we were not told where.

When I was called to the desk, I saw the sheet with my name. A number of decisions had been written there, and had been successively crossed out.38 One of those lines sentenced me to ten years’ exile in Slovokai,39 in Siberia, but that line had been crossed out, with the addition of the Russian word, Nyet – “No.” The last line sentenced me to three years’ exile in Kostrama, a remote town in northern Russia. That was Thursday, the first day of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, 5687 (1927).

They asked me how I would like to travel there, so I answered, “In the first-class international train carriage!”

“Do you have enough money for such a ticket?” they asked.

I answered that if I did not have enough money with me, I could have it brought to me from home.

“No,” they said. “You are permitted to travel second class only.”

I was told that I would be allowed to see my family for six hours, and that at midnight I was to take the train to Kostrama. In answer to my question, they told me that we would arrive on Shabbos, so I stated that on no account would I travel on Shabbos.

That day I had a “meeting” with my son-in-law, the Rashag Shlita, and with my grandson, Shalom DovBer, and others. I mean that from a distance, through a barred window, I called out to them that they should see to it that I should not have to travel on Shabbos. And in fact, thank G‑d, I remained in the Spalerno Prison until Sunday, when I was permitted to visit my home. I left in the evening and on Monday arrived in Kostrama.

Though the prison routine remained unchanged during those few days from Thursday through Sunday, I felt completely different. When I arrived in Kostrama, I found that R. Michoel Dvorkin was already there. In the course of those few days he had located a few young Jewish boys and had set up a cheder for them, and had also repaired the damaged mikveh.

9. The self-sacrifice of the Jews in Russia defies description. It’s time to become lamplighters and not to wander about in the dark.

Once, in the course of a farbrengen with R. Hillel of Paritch, a reliable young chassid was sent downstairs to bring up wine from the cellar.40 On his way down he called out, “But it’s so dark down here!” One of his friends at the table called back: “It’s like that only at the beginning. Later, when you get used to it, it’s light.”

On this R. Hillel remarked, “You’re right. Later, a person thinks that darkness is light…”

[The Rebbe Rayatz now took up this theme:] That time is now. People think that darkness is light. The really guilty parties are those who have seen light41 – yet they make peace with darkness, and their families live their lives along a path of darkness. Their homes ought to have been chassidish. Their children ought to have been truly G‑d-fearing – not merely davening three times a day and bensching, but by really being truly G‑d-fearing. Those who have seen light ought to be studying Chassidus, and not only studying it, but also conducting their lives in the spirit of Chassidus.

There’s very little time left, but in this short time one ought to do whatever one can.

10. In 5659 (1899), a relative of ours – a grandson of our Uncle Zalman – arrived in Lubavitch, hoping to be admitted to the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah. He knew a few sedarim42 of Mishnayos by heart.

My father told me: “Even if he reviews Mishnayos orally, and from memory, all the days of his life, I won’t accept him in Tomchei Temimim, because what characterizes a tamim is that he is ‘moist enough to moisten.’ ”43

I still have my father’s notes on that subject.

11. Divine service includes bothavodah of the body and avodah of the soul. Avodah of the soul involves studying Chassidus, meditating on Chassidus, remaining engrossed in Chassidus. These days one finds oneself speaking about subjects that should never have needed to be spoken about,44 and there’s simply no strength left.

However, [even though such talk is called for,] one must not retreat from where one stands: one ought to share a maamar of Chassidus.

(At this point, the Rebbe delivered the maamar that begins, Ki imcha mekor chayim.)

12. The Tzemach Tzedek said that for twenty-eight years, the object of the Alter Rebbe toil was chassidim, and not Chassidus. The result was fiery Chassidus and cold chassidim. He toiled to the point of self-sacrifice to blend the two, in the spirit of the teaching that “[G‑d] took fire and water and mixed them with each other, and the result was the sky –שָׁמַיִם (Shamayim), whose spelling hints at the words שָׂא מַיִם (sa mayim), lit., “it bears water.”45

In the above context, the term “cold chassidim” is not intended negatively, but positively: it describes the characteristic quality of a pnimi,46 who [holds fire until he] is in fact living at the level of avodah about which he has studied. A chitzon, by contrast, does not wait for that to happen. In truth, however, that too is a mode of avodah, and is sometimes appropriate,47 as in the case of doing netilas yadayim by pouring water on each hand three times, and holding the vessel with a towel in order not to touch the vessel.48

The Alter Rebbe’s self-sacrificing endeavors for the sake of his chassidim has impacted them over the generations. It has given chassidim the attribute of ahavas Yisrael, loving a fellow Jew, and its absence calls for hard work and avodah to reveal it.

Ahavas Yisrael should not be used only for a mere candy – for gashmiyus, for materiality; it should be used for ruchniyus, for spiritual purposes. For example, when one person advises another to mend his ways, and his words spring from ahavas Yisrael, they are heeded.

13. The Mitteler Rebbe prized the town Nevl. R. Michoel der Alter used to say punningly, Halleluhu beNevl…49 – “Praise him in Nevl...” Likewise, the Tzemach Tzedek thought highly of Schedrin, on account of the chassidim of stature who lived there.

My [great-]uncle Maharil50 was the mentor and teacher of two disciples, one from Denenburg and one from Minsk, whom he held in high esteem.

His avodah followed the path of the Mitteler Rebbe, who would sometimes deliver a maamar of Chassidus for him personally. In those days, the Tzemach Tzedek was writing his works on Chakirah. So one day, without his knowledge, my [great-]uncle Maharil borrowed those works and taught those two chassidim the maamar that begins, Se’u marom eineichem. He added that each of its words was one of the ministering angels. (Actually, this is a condensed version of a maamar of the Alter Rebbe.) Whenever one of those two disciples had a question, my great-uncle would tell them that in fact he could give the answer himself. However, it would be only at the level of intellect, whereas if it was to have an effect on the learner, the answer would have to come from a Rebbe.

Once, when he entered the study of the Tzemach Tzedek in order to relay one of their questions, the Tzemach Tzedek said: “An ordinary Jew from Schedrin would outshine 16 Denenburgers and 16 Minskers. When an ordinary Schedriner, after having plowed, says Tehillim, he is sowing Tehillim andTehillim sprouts throughout the entire region.”

By the way, the Tzemach Tzedek’s mention of 16 and 16 is a learned allusion to the 32 Paths of Chochmah that are discussed in the works of Chakirah.

14. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people went around with a Tehillim or a Mishnayos in their pocket instead of a newspaper! True, those who are in the yeshivos are taking their studies quite seriously, but there is still time for idle conversation, and that leads to slanderous talk, untruths and gossip. So it would be really good if people walked around with a Tehillim or a Mishnayos, so that in their spare time they could read Tehillim or memorize Mishnayos.

15. Among those at my father’s table one day in 5672 (1912) was R. Yaakov Mordechai [Bespalov] of Poltava, and in the course of the farbrengen a certain niggun was sung with warm feeling.

My father then asked R. Yaakov Mordechai, “Do you remember?”

The elder chassid answered, “Yes, I remember” – and we others at the table understood neither the question nor the answer.

At that point R. Yaakov Mordechai stood up and recounted that on Simchas Torah, 5637 (1876), the Rebbe Maharash came out to the chassidim in order to farbreng. (If he stayed at a farbrengen for half an hour, that was considered a long time.) On that occasion he said: “On no account will I forego a tradition that we have received as an inheritance from our forebears. I cannot do so and I do not want to do so. The tradition: When a niggun is sung at a gathering of chassidim, it is an arousal to do teshuvah, and in our immediate vicinity51 it actually brings about teshuvah.”

R. Yaakov Mordechai concluded by relating that with those words, my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash began to sing a niggun, and all those present joined him. And having recalled that niggun from that Simchas Torah many years earlier, R. Yaakov Mordechai now sang it, his eyes streaming with tears.52

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It would be advisable to set up a fence so that the above-mentioned area of daled amos will remain intact.

(The Rebbe then asked the chassidim to sing a warm niggun that speaks to the heart.)