1. The Baal Shem Tov once taught: “In the Academy on High,1 a soul learns Torah from the Mouth of the Holy One, Blessed be He, Who sends it down to This World not only to study Torah, but also to transform his ‘I’ into nothing. [In the Holy Tongue, the same three letters are simply transposed: the word for ‘I’ is אֲנִי (ani), and the word for “nothing” is אָיִן (ayin).] And even if a person’s ‘I’ is in fact constituted of Torah and mitzvos, he must still transform that ‘I’ into nothing. He must come to recognize that in truth he is nothing, in comparison to the artless, unsophisticated simplicity of an ordinary fellow Jew.”2

2. The Baal Haflaah3 did not address the Maggid of Mezritch as “Rebbe,” though the other disciples, including [his brother] R. Shmelke [of Nikolsburg] did.

3. The Alter Rebbe once said: “On seven occasions my heart overruled my mind. That time was one of them – when we were engaged in lively scholarly debate on chiddushei Torah, and R. Zusya of Hanipoli approached them, and so on.”4

From this episode we see how intensely concerned they were with the subject [of the mind ruling the heart].

4. Today, 14 Menachem Av, marks 50 years since my revered father told me to start writing down all the oral traditions that I heard.5

In those days, from time to time my father would teach me6 [selected passages on] a particular subject, such as from the commentary of Ramban on the Torah; Chumash with the commentary of R. Avraham Ibn Ezra; Mishnah; Tanya; and so on. On one occasion he taught me Zohar Admoni or Yefeh Einayim from Shaar HaTefillin in the [Alter Rebbe’s] Siddur.7 I never knew why any particular subject had been chosen.

My teacher at that time was R. Nissan [Skobla], who was the son-in-law of R. Leib Melamed, a chassid of the Mitteler Rebbe. R. Leib’s father-in-law was R. Binyamin Melamed, a chassid of the Alter Rebbe. R. Nissan once left for Dubrovna for his son’s wedding, so I had more free time.

My father then taught me the mishnah:8 “Appoint a teacher for yourself and acquire yourself a friend.” When he was about to teach me an interpretation of that mishnah that was taught “by the baalei masorah,” I asked him: “Does that mean the scholars who knew what had been transmitted orally over the generations?”

My father said, “Yes, so it seems,” and proceeded: “The transmitters of the oral tradition say that fulfilling the directive to ‘appoint a teacher for yourself’ attains its full value when one fulfills the directive to ‘acquire yourself a friend.’ ” [Now, in the mishnah, the words meaning “acquire yourself a friend” are וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר – (ukneh lecha chaver). However, by varying the vowel signs to read וְקָנֶה לְךָ חָבֵר (vekaneh lecha chaver), the directive now means “and let a quill be your friend!”] My father continued: “This [latter advice] is what the Alter Rebbe gave his eight-year-old grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, who at that age began to author writings on nigleh and Chassidus. At nine he was already composing hanachos – written versions of the maamarim that he heard from his grandfather, and my father once commented that the handwriting of that period was like that of a seasoned veteran.

Once, when we heard the Alter Rebbe’s advice about the quill from my father, he added a non-literal interpretation – that everything one learns should be inscribed by the quill of the heart. It should be experienced.

5. My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, was fond of linking every subject to numbers. Once for example, he calculated the total number of times a person beats his chest while saying the confessional passage beginning Al chet, and from that number it became evident that this should also be done as one says the phrases, Slach lanu, mechal lanu, and so on.

He also said that if one were to calculate the number of pages that his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, had filled with his handwriting in the course of his lifetime, he would have had to fill three-and-a-half enormous sheets of paper every day, from age eight to the date of his passing. And that would be without deducting Shabbos and Yom-Tov!

6. The Tzemach Tzedek’s son-in-law, R. Levi Yitzchak, used to say that his unusual speed with figures could not compare to the speed of his father-in-law. To prove this he recalled the following incident.

R. Yossele, the son of [R. Yissachar Ber,] the Maggid [of Lubavitch], was a collector of maamad.9 According to the custom of those days, such emissaries would bring the Rebbe the actual currency, after deducting only their traveling expenses. This R. Yossele, too, had a box in which he kept the banknotes and the silver and copper coins, together with a list of how much each contributor had given.

When he arrived in Lubavitch on one such occasion, the Tzemach Tzedek gave the lists to his son-in-law, R. Levi Yitzchak, to calculate the total. R. Levi Yitzchak wanted to show his father-in-law how R. Yossele conducted his accounts, so he walked into the Rebbe’s study and began to read out the list: “So-and-so gave a piatak,10 so-and-so gave half a piatak,” and so on. At that moment, while the Tzemach Tzedek was drying his hands and saying the blessing Asher yatzar, he motioned to the young man that he should continue. By the time he had completed the berachah and had finished with the towel, and his son-in-law had read out some five pages of figures, the Tzemach Tzedek said: “And the total is such-and-such.”

7. The father of the holy R. Aharon of Karlin11 was R. Yaakov Shamash, a chassid of the Baal Shem Tov and a member of the brotherhood of hidden tzaddikim. One of his characteristic mitzvos was to light up stoves in the homes of poverty-stricken women after childbirth and to feed their children.

The Alter Rebbe writes in Torah Or12 that in the Holy Tongue, the name אַהֲרֹן (Aharon) has the same letters as נִרְאֶה (nireh – “can be seen”). This teaching the Baal Shem Tov addressed to R. Yaakov Shamash, of whom he once said: “He actually sees Elokus, and from such a ‘nireh’ there sprouts Aharon.” That was said long before the birth of R. Aharon of Karlin.