The Eve of Yud-Tes Kislev 5692 (1931)1 [Riga]

1. In the black wagon

A chassid by the name of Reb Zalman Yitzchak remarked that people generally celebrate Yud-Tes Kislev in the daytime after Minchah and on the eve of the twentieth of Kislev.

The Rebbe replied as follows:

Those people are right. The liberation was in fact on the day of the nineteenth. It is reported that when the news came through at Minchah time, Petersburg was in a tumult of joy.

In addition to a number of prominent chassidim such as R. Mordechai of Liepli, many of the Alter Rebbe’s chassidim, including some from Volhynia and Bukovina, had converged on Petersburg. Some of them had disguised themselves as their opponents, the misnagdim, in order to gain admission to certain places in Vilna and Shklov, as well as in Petersburg, where the highly-organized camp of the antagonists constantly intimidated chassidim.

The chassidim at large had felt crushed: the newly-created situation had seemed unthinkable. Opposition had been rampant for over 27 years, since 5532 (1772),2 and the Alter Rebbe had been Nasi for over 20 years, with many tens of thousands of chassidim, including famous scholars. But that he should now be arrested?!

On two occasions the chassidim had been made anxious. On Rosh HaShanah they had noticed that the Alter Rebbe’s avodah was clouded by an embittered spirit. This spirit carried over to Simchas Torah — during the Hakkafos, during his public Reading of the Torah, and in the content of his chassidic teaching that day. On the non-literal level of derush, he had interpreted the verse beginning Atah har’eisa,3 which is read on Simchas Torah, as follows:

אַתָּה: “You, the infinite divine Essence —

הָרְאֵתָ: “have shown —

לָדַעַת: “how one should break himself4

כִּי: “for the sake of [the principle that] —

הֲוָיָ-ה הוּא הָאֱלֹקִים: Havayah is Elokim; so that all shall see that —

אֵין עוֹד מִלְּבַדּוֹ: “nothing exists apart from Him.”

Late in the night of Isru Chag5 it became known that an armed officer had arrived to arrest the Alter Rebbe, but since he left the house, the officer retreated empty-handed and returned two days later. According to the narrative that has been handed down, the night before the arrest the renowned chassid Reb Shmuel Munkes visited the Alter Rebbe, who decided after a brief discussion that if the officer returned he would allow himself to be arrested.

When the time came the Alter Rebbe knew full well that the officer returned, but he had firmly decided to hide no longer. A few hours later he was already locked in the black wagon6 and guarded by gendarmes, on his way to Petersburg.

2. The Peter-Paul Fortress

During the entire time that he was incarcerated7 in the grim top-security cells of the Peter-Paul Fortress,8 special commissions deliberated over the accumulated files of false accusations leveled by informers against himself and a few of his chassidim. The actual hearing before the judicial elders of the Senate lasted three days.

A prosecuting committee was amply supplied by sources in Vilna and Shklov with suspicious-looking information against the Alter Rebbe, and this they duly passed on to the Senate commissions.

This was all conducted with the greatest secrecy so that his chassidim should not be able to keep abreast of developments. In fact, however, the chassidim knew everything, including the fact that the Alter Rebbe was being held under the severest of conditions. For the first three of his over seven weeks in prison he was confined in one of the scant, harsh cells reserved for traitors; he was later transferred to a somewhat better cell.

In the summer of 5671 (1911), by the way, a certain circumstance gave me the opportunity to enter that wing of the Peter-Paul Fortress and see those old secret chambers.

3. More painful than incarceration

During the day of 19 Kislev the Alter Rebbe was freed from the Fortress and then, due to a mistake, he found himself in the home of one of the misnagdim for several anguished hours. He was reported to have said that those hours, during which he was forced to listen to his host’s abuse of the Baal Shem Tov, of the Maggid, of himself, and of chassidim in general, were more painful than his incarceration in the Fortress.

Setting aside the outright prohibitions that were transgressed in this episode such as the slanderous accusations spawned by evil informers, this dissension, as everyone knows, had a root in the spiritual realm.

The Alter Rebbe was imprisoned as a result of mortal deeds, and it was also as a result of mortal deeds that he was freed and that he then found himself suffering further in the home of an antagonist.

All mortal deeds take place by Divine Providence, but they are open to man’s free choice. G‑d’s foreknowledge does not preordain: any individual can choose to obey his Good Inclination with the same fiery zeal that he obeys his Evil Inclination.

Moreover, when choosing to heed the Good Inclination one is actually helped from Above. There is a verse that says, “Behold I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil.”9 Another verse says, “Life and death have I set before you...;10 choose life!” The Gemara teaches: “If a person seeks to become defiled, the way is left open for him”; that is, the path of his choice is not obstructed. On the other hand, “if he seeks to become pure, he is helped.”11

People have free will to act as they choose.

4. Lighting up workaday lives

Divine Providence chose that the Alter Rebbe should be the general in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. In establishing the foundations of Chabad, the Alter Rebbe set up a lamp in the public domain in order to light up even people’s workaday lives.

The Midrash states:12 “Until Avraham the world ran its course in darkness; when Avraham came he began to radiate light.”

Consider. Twenty generations had elapsed since the time of Adam, who was “fashioned by G‑d’s own Hand”13 and who was “a great chassid.”14 Chanoch (Enoch), righteous and wise, was a mentor in divine service for over 260 years. Mesushelach (Methuselah) was a consummate tzaddik who studied 900 Orders of the Mishnah,15 deferred16 by seven days. As to Noach, the Torah itself testifies that he was “a perfect tzaddik.”17 His son Shem presided over a court of law.18 Eiver, the son of Shelach, headed a yeshivah in which Avraham studied for 39 years.

Yet all of that together does not suffice, and “until Avraham the world ran its course in darkness”! By then the world has existed for 2000 years; there have been great tzaddikim and mentors, pietists and true servants of G‑d, heads of courts of law and heads of yeshivos; — yet “the world ran its course in darkness, until Avraham came and began to radiate light”!

What kind of a life did he have?

He begins to learn out of a fearsome dread; he is exiled; he has to hide; he is pursued by a powerful ruler and by sorcerers and stargazers and men of influence; he is imprisoned; he is thrown into a fire. Yet he goes ahead with his own agenda: he awakens the world to serve the Creator.

Armed with self-sacrifice, he bursts his way through the severest of trials and illuminates the world with Torah-light and with the service of G‑d. Divine Providence chooses him to be the luminary, and Avraham begins to radiate light. He awakens the world to divine service by revealing light — by letting people know that G‑d is the world’s Creator, by explaining His Unity and the meaning of Divine Providence.

5. Let’s not speak of those deeds

Basically, Chassidus was revealed by the Alter Rebbe. He was chosen by Divine Providence to be the one to make its essential light manifest.

All of his harsh experiences — the libels and persecutions, and whatever trouble was suffered by other disciples of the Maggid as a result of slanderers — all followed a certain order, as is the case with any revelation of light. When the sun has to rise, its light is obstructed by light clouds, quite apart from the sun’s protective sheath without which there would be no light.19

In order to enable the luminary of Chassidus revealed through the Alter Rebbe to make its light manifest, there likewise had to be a screening shield — and this was created by the deeds of mortal men.

About these deeds of mortal men one must not talk. It is true that the subject should be clearly known in order that one should be able to grasp what a prodigious kindness G‑d granted to a great part of the Jewish people, in fact a kindness that affects the eternal survival of the entire Jewish people as well as of the Torah and its commandments. Nevertheless, we must not speak about these lowly deeds of mortal men.

People suffer as a result of the poverty of words to express a concept in its clean and pristine clarity. Everyone observes that after a few words on any concept, a speaker will feel the need to avert misunderstanding by adding corrective phrases. So when the subject at hand is triggered by the feelings of the heart, and the key words spring from a heated and fiery mind, how much more vigilant must one be with every single word!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a concept could be transmitted by thought! The pristine light of the concept would then be seen, untarnished, clean and clear, shining through its own essential thought-letters.

But when it comes to speech-letters, and when the topic at hand is mortal activity that entails prohibitions stated in the Torah, such as the libels of informers, one’s every word must be scrupulously monitored.

6. Light earned by suffering

Before the Giving of the Torah, in order that the light of the Torah should be able to light up the world, the Egyptian exile and bondage and liberation had to take place. And before the essential light of Chassidus was to be revealed, there was the Alter Rebbe’s extreme distress, which came about by the deeds of mortal men.

Mortal deeds, however bitter they may be, sometimes produce a great result, such as a revelation of light; sometimes, however, they are bitter but also unproductive. Deeds that produce results resemble a seed that decomposes after being sown in the ground, but then sprouts. Deeds that do not produce results resemble a seed that is left to decompose on a table or floor in a damp house; they are nothing other than distress and anguish.

The Alter Rebbe’s anguish and persecution and harsh incarceration were set in motion by the grim doings of man — but they brought about a revelation of light. The profane abuse of the Baal Shem Tov and so on, that he was forced to hear during his few hours in the home of the misnaged was, in contrast, an unproductive mortal activity.

We chassidim should rejoice at the manifestation of light which we have been privileged to enjoy. True, it was earned through suffering, through self-sacrifice — but it happened.

7. How the Alter Rebbe planted his vineyard

Why did this manifestation of light have to come about in this way? The answer belongs to the realm of “the wondrous works of Him Who is perfect in knowledge.”20 This, however, we can see — that Divine Providence guided events in such a way that the Alter Rebbe’s toughest times followed some twenty years of exertion in sharing this light with others.

For twenty years the Alter Rebbe planted his vineyard of chassidim. He invested his innermost powers in the young men who became his disciples; he undertook arduous journeys; wherever he went, he met with leading scholars and delivered public discourses; and by revealing light he roused the world to the service of G‑d.

Let me recount a story that will illustrate “the inscrutable workings of Him Who is perfect in knowledge.”

Somewhere between Pesach and Shavuos in the year 1889, two eminent chassidim spent a few weeks in Lubavitch together — R. Dov Ze’ev [Kozevnikov],21 the rav of Yekaterinoslav, and R. Chaim Ber Vilenski from Kremenchug. They used to discuss Chassidus, and would also exchange stories and historical narratives. (It was around this time that my revered father, the Rebbe [Rashab], delivered the well-known maamar concerning the Worlds of Tohu and Tikkun, on Shabbos Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim, 5649 (1889).)

One day R. Dov Ze’ev recalled that when he was in Staratov there were two elderly chassidim who were so hard of hearing that when he repeated chassidic discourses from memory he had to do so at the top of his voice. In appreciation, one of these old folk would tell him a story in exchange for each maamar. This had taken place twenty years earlier, in 5629 (1869), when R. Dov Ze’ev had served as an emissary of my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash. On many, many occasions this old chassid had visited the Alter Rebbe,22 the Mitteler Rebbe, and my great-grandfather [the Tzemach Tzedek]. Here is one of his narratives.

Near Staratov there lived a paritz whose father, who had been squire there before him, was the official in charge of the boat which often carried the Alter Rebbe [for interrogation] from the Peter-Paul Fortress to the Tainy Soviet on the other side of the River Neva [in Petersburg].

One night the Alter Rebbe asked this official to briefly stop the boat so that he could recite Kiddush Levanah, the blessing recited over the New Moon.23 When the official refused, the Alter Rebbe told him that if so desired he could stop it himself. When the official once more refused, the boat stopped of itself. The Alter Rebbe thereupon recited the introductory verses, though not the actual blessing, and the boat continued on its way.

When the Alter Rebbe now made his request once more, the official asked, “And what will I get for that?” The Alter Rebbe wrote him out a note carrying his blessing, the gentile stopped the boat, and the Alter Rebbe recited the prayers on the sanctification of the New Moon.

The official’s son treasured that manuscript, and kept it under glass in a frame of silver or gold. In fact, R. Dov Ze’ev saw it with his own eyes, and told me what was written there. (The exact text is recorded among my notes, together with accounts of other episodes.)

When I heard this as a child of [almost] nine, the thought occurred to me: Once the Alter Rebbe already stopped the boat, why didn’t he go ahead and recite the blessing? Why did he have to resort to asking the official for favors?

As time goes on, though, and with G‑d’s help you grow a little older and you study some Chassidus, you come to understand that this episode encapsulates a major and necessary principle in divine service — that a mitzvah must be fulfilled in the garb of the laws of nature.

Quite apart from that, the fact that a holy manuscript of the Alter Rebbe remained in the hands of the gentile is another instance of the inscrutable workings of Him Who is perfect in knowledge [cf. Iyov 36:4].

8. The service of the heart

The teachings of [Chabad] Chassidus demand that one should understand the essential root of everything. Chassidus points out the ways and paths to discover the truth in everything, which constitutes its essential and innermost vitality.

The entire subject of the Alter Rebbe’s avodah and of the innovation introduced by [his] Chassidus, both in the intellectual sphere and in the sphere of the “service of the heart” as expressed in character refinement — this in itself needs to be understood in the light of Chassidus.

Everyone understands in general terms that the innovation of Chassidus in the intellectual sphere and in the sphere of the “service of the heart” as expressed in prayer and in character refinement constitutes the revelation of a new light. What this means, however, must be understood in tangible intellectual terms.24

Granted, comprehension is at its highest in abstraction.25 The delight that characterizes comprehension is more lustrous in negation than in positivity; this means that a conception that negates is more spiritual than a positive conception; accordingly, the delight experienced as the result of abstract comprehension is superior to the delight experienced as the result of comprehension in tangible terms.

However, this superior delight comes about only after one has grasped a concept in tangible (i.e., positive) terms. This done, one can then proceed higher to the nucleus of the concept, and grasp it with all the delight afforded by abstraction.

Halbashah, then, relates to a concept which is garbed in tangible terms. Just as someone might point at something and say, “This is it,” so must we understand the Alter Rebbe’s lifework and the innovation which Chassidus introduced in the “service of the heart.”

9. To kasher one’s vessel

In order to understand this subject truly and in tangible terms, let us first state: The above innovation focuses on one’s inner avodah in “kashering the vessel”26 [i.e., oneself]. This follows certain ordered stages.

As everyone knows, a vessel is rendered kosher by means of immersion in a mikveh containing at least 40 se’ah of water. Beforehand, the vessel must be scoured clean (in ways detailed in the law); otherwise the immersion is ineffective. The immersion, too, is governed by detailed laws. Is this a vessel of glass, metal or wood? Were its contents cold, hot or boiling?

Thus, for example, for a vessel whose contents were hot, scouring and rinsing and immersion will not suffice; it must be purged in boiling water in ways which vary with its composition and past use. For a vessel which requires purging, peeling off its surface (even with craftsmen’s tools) will not suffice.

For a vessel which contained certain sour or forbidden substances, even purging will not suffice; it can be rendered kosher only by being put through fire. And, in turn, the intensity of the fire is also defined. Not only must it be apparent that the fire has affected the vessel through and through, but there are two additional signs: does a straw held in the air nearby catch fire, and do sparks fly off?

A vessel which needed to be put through fire but was merely purged in boiling water may not be used even for cold foods.

10. States of purity

A vessel is kashered in order to bring about any one of four changes of state: (a) from impurity to purity;27 (b) from the leavened state to that which may be used on Pesach;28 (c) from the forbidden to the permitted;29 (d) from the undedicated to the holy.30

In all four cases, the aim of the process is negative — to extract from the vessel the state of being impure, or chametz, or forbidden, or non-holy. To restate this more explicitly: these four states must be removed, and replaced respectively by four other states, so that the vessel will now be pure, or fit for Pesach use, or permissible, or holy.

It is now clear to anyone that kashering a vessel entails two stages, one negative and one positive — driving out and bringing in: driving out the impurity and bringing in the purity; driving out the chametz and bringing in the matzah; driving out that which is forbidden and bringing in that which is permissible; driving out the non-holy and bringing in the holy.

Now all these eight states are in fact entities.31 Proof is the fact that each of them occupies space: none of them can be present when its opposite number is still present. There can be no purity when impurity is still present; there can be no matzah when chametz is still present; there can be no permissibility when forbiddenness is still present; there can be no holiness when non-holiness is still present. All eight states, then, are various kinds of actual entities which occupy physical space in the length and breadth and thickness of the vessel.

Nevertheless, they are entities of different kinds. Four of them — chametz and matzah, the non-kosher and the kosher — are physical entities. The other four — impurity and impurity, unholiness and holiness — are spiritual entities.

Plain reason dictates as follows: We tangibly observe that a spiritual state is an existent entity32 which occupies space, even though our eye does not perceive this; it must follow that a physically existent entity is in truth a spiritual entity, except that our eye does not manage to see the truth within everything.

11. Various means of purifying

All the detailed laws regarding the negating processes of kashering a vessel, and all the various means of purification, derive from a source in the Torah: “Whatever was used over fire must be passed over fire and be purged, and then purified with the sprinkling water; whatever was not used over fire shall be immersed in [a mikveh of] water.”33

The opening phrase of the verse literally means, “Every thing (davar) that passes through fire...” On this the Sages comment, “Even speech (dibbur) shall pass through fire…”34 For speech, too, is a thing, an existent entity, and it must be kashered — through fire.

The entity called speech comprises two components — breath and voice. Though these components are more spiritual than speech in totality, they are nevertheless entities with finite parameters, such that their mode of combination determines the resultant mode of speech.

This entity called speech includes all eight of the above-mentioned entities, except that in the context of speech their different descriptions reflect their different connotations: impurity and purity — argumentativeness and artlessness; chametz and matzah — arrogance and humility; non-kosher and kosher — sin and necessity; non-holy and holy — that which is permissible and that which is a mitzvah.

Every entity has its own finite definition, which provides the frames that contain its essence; conversely, the essence of every entity has its own frames. Thus, the frames of two opposing essences must also be opposites.

We mentioned earlier that though all the above eight states are in fact entities, some of them are physical and others are spiritual. Hence the manner in which each of them is kashered varies to match its intrinsic nature. Thus, though this takes place by means of immersion (tevilah) or by means of purging with boiling water (hag’alah) or by means of purging with fire (libun), in some cases these processes are carried out at a spiritual level.

12. Cauterizing vs. diffusing light

As we have said, the unique light of Chassidus was revealed through the Alter Rebbe’s mortally-engendered suffering — and his imprisonment in the Peter-Paul Fortress served his mission as an encumbering shield.35 His noteworthy feat in this revelation is that [by the study and practice of Chassidus], the purging [of a man’s character traits] which is normally accomplished by means of fire is accomplished by means of light.

Though fire and light are related, they derive from distinct sources. Accordingly, their respective manners of kashering also differ, both with regard to their external appearance, and with regard to the above-mentioned signs involving straw and flying sparks. The sparks of light that fly off during purging by means of light are superior to the sparks of fire that fly off during purging by means of fire.

[To revert to our analog:] Hoary chassidim used to say that the Alter Rebbe’s teachings and discourses delivered before Petersburg used to burn and cauterize; his teachings after Petersburg diffused light and drew people near.

In other words, before experiencing the encumbering shield of Petersburg he purged [men’s character traits] by means of fire; thereafter, he purged [men’s character traits] by means of light.

Purging by fire can damage the vessel; purging by light strengthens the vessel.

[Likewise,] the avodah of beirurim, the spiritual labor of sifting reality and elevating its hidden Divine sparks, can be approached in either of two ways — separating the dross from the silver, or raising up the silver out of the dross. (These two approaches are discussed at length in the maamar beginning VeChol HaAm Ro’im, first delivered on Shavuos, 5655 (1895).)

Purging by means of light takes care of even the tiniest particles of good [within a man], giving them the strength and the light to grow into capacious vessels.

That the Alter Rebbe underwent self-sacrifice for the sake of Chassidus, everyone knows, even the outside world, but only after studying Chassidus can one perceive the self- sacrifice he underwent for the sake of chassidim.

13. The price for refinement is avodah

At this point one of those present addressed the Rebbe Rayatz and said: LeChaim! May G‑d grant that [the Alter Rebbe’s] merit protect us!”

To this the Rebbe responded:

Whenever people mention a tzaddik or a Divinely-appointed Nasi, it is customary to add, Zechuso yagen aleinu“May his merit protect us!” This is especially appropriate on the anniversary of his passing,36 and even more so on a day commemorating his salvation,37 when the mention is of superior value.

Anyone who utters a word should listen to its meaning. How much more does this apply to chassidim, who should not only listen, but should cultivate a sensitive appreciation of what their words mean.

The noun that was just used, zechus, implies unsoiled purity;38 zechuso means his purity. We are thus asking that the Alter Rebbe’s endeavors in refining and purifying stand us in good stead. But whoever seeks to draw on his zechus, on his luminous merit, has to undertake the spiritual labors of self-refinement called avodah.

Among the elder chassidim there are those who well remember the rich flavor of immersing oneself in the study of Chassidus, or in the meditative approach to prayer, “the service of the heart.” Among the younger chassidim, too, there are those who are in quite good shape. Together, they should do whatever they can to buttress the study of Chassidus and to gather together for frequent farbrengens. With G‑d’s help, this will provide the very youngest chassidim with positive guidance in their studies and in their avodah.

May the zechus of the Alter Rebbe protect us and all of Yisrael wherever they may be, both materially and spiritually. In every country Jews need to be vigilantly watched over. A time like this, calls for a manifest fulfillment of the promise, “Behold, the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”39

May G‑d reveal a true light that will make things luminous for our people, materially and spiritually.

14. “Chop off my left side!”

With his holy, lustrous eyes, the Alter Rebbe was able to see the good in every Jew. And he found it everywhere. In this he resembled the One Above, of Whom it is said, “He does not look at wrongdoing in Jacob.”40

The Alter Rebbe made thousands of people chassidim, and many thousands of people baalei teshuvah.

His study was an attic. One day a young chassid, battling with [the evil which lodges in] the left side of the heart,41 clambered up the outside wall, climbed in through the window, and appealed to him: “Rebbe, chop off my left side!”

The Alter Rebbe leaned his head on his hand and, cleaving to his Maker, became lost in the rapture of dveikus. The young man stood by, his heart sobbing its silent outcry.

Raising his head, the Alter Rebbe said, “Master of the Universe! Is it not written, And You give life to them all?!”42

From that utterance there grew a great chassid,43 a remarkable servant of his Maker. (We have spoken about this in the past.) And with the same approach — And You give life to them all! — the Alter Rebbe created chassidim and penitents.

15. A strange dream

The Mitteler Rebbe once came to see the Alter Rebbe, alarmed and distraught. Weeping, he told his father that his heart was troubled by a strange dream.

Whenever he requested it, his father would deliver maamarim especially for him, in order to fortify his weak constitution. What nourished him was Chassidus.

In his dream he had seen a broad river. Its clear waters flowed vigorously, and though they were constantly replenished, there were no waves. As it flowed afar it filled little ponds on all sides, but continued flowing with quiet energy.

Two men wearing long garments were seen approaching; the taller man had one leg thicker than the other. At a little distance there were seen, though vaguely, two other men, and then the Alter Rebbe was seen to appear.

On the river lay a board. The shorter man instructed his taller colleague to step onto it, but as he did so it began to sink, and the water quickly rose to cover part of his body. The board rose again, but then so did the water. Thus they alternated several times, until the shorter man finally instructed him to step off the board.

As this was happening, the two other figures had a few times approached from the distance and had receded. Throughout they had remained indistinct, and from this point on they were no longer observed.

The remaining three then walked away, their arms in firm embrace, the shorter man in the middle, the taller man to his left and the Alter Rebbe to his right.

They continued until they came upon a great river. Its many-colored waters flowed rapidly; on all sides its waves rose and fell like the waves of the sea.

In the river, far away, he saw a wave rise up and fall. Within a moment other waves also made vigorous endeavors to rise up high, but they too fell upon the nearby banks. In no time, the little pool that each one formed was swallowed up in the ground and vanished, and fruit-bearing trees appeared there.

While this was happening, he heard the authoritative voice of the shorter man. He was pointing at the Alter Rebbe and ordering him to walk along the board. The Alter Rebbe walked straight along it until he reached the end, and then wanted to move it further along. However, the shorter man beckoned him to return, and said: “With the power of these waves of water one can pass intact even through waves of fire.”

And at this point the Mitteler Rebbe woke up.

16. Interpreted by the Alter Rebbe

Having heard the dream described, the Alter Rebbe told him that he should first daven, and then come to see him. That day’s davenen was stern and tearful, quite unlike the Mitteler Rebbe’s usual joyful mode of inwardly-contained delight.

The Alter Rebbe then told him that the shorter personage was the Baal Shem Tov; the other was the Maggid of Mezritch, who suffered pain in his leg. And by instructing the Maggid to walk along the board, the Baal Shem Tov sought to indicate that within the teachings of the Maggid’s disciples it was still possible to sink.

[We listeners did not quite grasp the latter verb, tzolel-zain, nor did we hear it well, so the Rebbe repeated it clearly. Someone asked: “Is it from the same root [meaning ‘to sink’] as tzalalu?” The Rebbe replied: “This root has a number of meanings,44 and those who so desire can look them up in works of etymology. Be that as it may, ‘One should quote his mentor verbatim.’45 These were the words that were transmitted to me, and please don’t ask me now for any interpretations. We are all chassidim: we need to know the plain meaning of words, and (as was said above) we need to apprehend them sensitively.”]

The Alter Rebbe continued interpreting the dream to the Mitteler Rebbe: “The second river is filled with the tears of penitents. Twenty-five years ago,46 I heard from the Rebbe [i.e., the Maggid] the parable which likens tzaddikim and penitents to two sons of one king. (It is cited in Rimzei Torah, under the heading Gedolah Teshuvah.) Hearing that parable, it became engraved in my mind that one should endeavor to bring every single Jew near [to Yiddishkeit]. Accordingly, I spent five years traveling from place to place, with my identity sometimes known and sometimes not, to rouse people in this direction.”

When the Mitteler Rebbe recounted this episode to my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, he added: “My father [the Alter Rebbe] began his work with fellow Jews by working with penitents. When he later became Rebbe, do you know how he motivated people to become baalei teshuvah? Whoever saw him once could not go to sleep without waking up a new man. And that power he handed on to whomever he handed it on.”

My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, passed on this episode in turn to my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash. Finally, having quoted the concluding comment (“And that power he handed on to whomever he handed it on”), he added: “It lies in the self-sacrificing simple faith of chassidim, and it is transmitted as an inheritance.”

And when my grandfather [the Rebbe Maharash] handed down the episode to my father [the Rebbe Rashab], he added: “With the self-sacrificing simple faith even of a born chassid, a chassid can even resurrect the dead.”

17. Toiling to become a chassid

When my father recounted the above episode [to me] stage by stage, complete with the additions of my great-grandfather and grandfather, he stressed the words even of a born chassid, and amplified as follows: “Being born a chassid is a far cry from what is attained by means of one’s own avodah; that which is granted from above in response to one’s own spiritual toil is priceless. Nevertheless, even a mere born chassid can also resurrect the dead.

“When a person puts on tefillin, his head is healthy and his heart is healthy, and so too is his whole body. When a person does not put on tefillin, he has an ailing head and an ailing hand, and his body ails to the point of collapse until he can become (G‑d forbid) a primary source of ritual impurity.”47

Those were the words of the Rebbe [Rashab]. We disciples should study every one of those words, understand their plain meaning, and absorb them sensitively.

One man becomes a chassid by toil;48 another becomes a chassid by birth.49 Everyone knows what is meant by the first kind of chassid. [As to the second kind,] my great-grandfather says that the Alter Rebbe’s power lies in the self-sacrificing simple faith of chassidim, and it is transmitted as an inheritance.

This tells us that every chassidic offshoot carries within himself chassidic marrow and blood.

If so we must remind ourselves, “Do not take note of his appearance.”50 Do not look at his coarsened visage: that results from his negative environment, from life’s tempestuous desires. However, deep down in that vulgar gloom, his veins pulsate and his head resounds with his father’s warm heart, his grandfather’s fiery ardor, and his great-grandfather’s self-sacrifice.

The hundreds and thousands of viorsts which his forebears trudged, on their visits to the Rebbeim, inject an unseen sap of life into this emaciated twig of a later generation. Spontaneously, somehow, there opens up within him a wellspring of memories.

He recalls his father’s conduct at home; his grandfather’s fiery davenen; the flaming ethical exhortations of the teacher in his childhood cheder; and he grows homesick for the old familiar chassidic minyan. He yearns to listen once again to chassidim as they daven, sing a niggun and farbreng.

In their exertions in study and prayer and teshuvah, his forebears filled hundreds of buckets with sweat and tears, which now soak and soften his frigid heart and wash away the grime of his environment. His inherited treasure comes to light!

This, too, is an instance of purging by means of light — the purging that takes place in a son or grandson by means of the light which the Alter Rebbe implanted in their great-grandfather.

The intense light diffused by the luminary of Chassidus permeates even the leathern sheath of those who have “grown fat and thick and gross.”51

The light of the sun penetrates a glass partition though not a leathern one; the heat of the sun penetrates even a leathern partition. In contrast, the intense light diffused by the luminary of Chassidus permeates even a leathern sheath, for chassidic warmth bears with it chassidic light.

With the principle that You give life to them all, the Alter Rebbe attained the lofty level at which — by means of light — one can illuminate the thickest darkness and indeed transform it into light.

It is written, “Nor is it good to punish a righteous man.”52 In this spirit, the attitude by which “he gazed upon him53 and he became a pile of bones” signifies that the vessel is shattered, which certainly means that sparks of light are lost. And this is certainly not the Divine intent.

What G‑d wants is that sparks should be gathered in and refined and elevated — and this can be accomplished only by means of avodah with light, by an attitude of kiruv, by bringing one’s fellows near.

Another verse states, “And he turned many away from iniquity.”54 This noun (עָוֹן) derives from a root meaning “to deviate”: at first the individual veers from his path under duress, pressured by his environment and friends; later, he willingly succumbs to the wiles of the Evil Inclination. The [Alter] Rebbe turns him away from iniquity, showing him where he went off track and advising him how to rediscover his bearings.

May the Almighty grant the whole chassidic brotherhood, as part of all our brethren of the House of Israel, both material and spiritual abundance. May everyone fortify his efforts in the dissemination of Torah and the awe of Heaven, not merely discharging his formal obligation by studying personally, but by seeing to it that others study, too.

18. A question of life

If people regularly attend group study sessions in shul, and set aside times for the study of Chassidus, the pervading atmosphere will become cleaner, people’s heads and hearts will become stronger, and people will become aware of the truth — that there must be set up devoutly-run chadarim in which children will be inculcated with the awe of Heaven, junior yeshivos in which Gemara is studied together with the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafos, and advanced yeshivos in which Torah study is approached through the awe of Heaven.

You young adults should have dedicated yourselves to the task of disseminating Torah study. This does not mean simply enrolling youths and establishing a yeshivah and then considering yourselves free of further obligation once you have made a commitment of money or work. Disseminating Torah study also means studying personally, and exerting oneself to the utmost that householders should study. Storeowners, businessmen, wealthy folk, the old and the young — all are obligated to study Torah; everyone should participate in the regular group study sessions that are held in his local beis midrash.

All the existing regular shiurim in Torah, Mishnah, Gemara, Aggadah, Midrash and Chassidus should be bolstered, and new ones should be initiated.

You young adults, listen attentively and deeply to what you are being told. For you this is a question of life. It has already been spoken of several times: children must study in devout schools. From day to day and from month to month it can be seen that this is a life-preserving issue. It is superfluous to point out and painful to speak about the serious illnesses that the irreligious chadarim bring about. May G‑d have mercy upon them and upon all our people, and grant a complete recovery, “and the sons will return to their border.”55

Young people, look with open eyes and observe the bitter results of this unfortunate kind of education. Don’t delude yourselves, imagining that you will be smart enough to avoid its undesirable fruits. Look the truth squarely in the eye, and don’t allow yourselves to be soothed by a false veil. Guard your children from this life-threatening danger. Have pity on your children and on yourselves, and enroll your children in devout chadarim.

Fellow Jews: By so doing you will save your ever-prospering capital, and with G‑d’s help you will be blessed with sons and daughters who will follow the good path and fulfill the Torah and its commandments.

19. A Colel Chabad charity box

On a number of occasions we have spoken of the prodigious energy that our holy forebears, the Rebbeim of their respective generations, invested in the Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess/Colel Chabad Charities, founded by the Alter Rebbe. Yet in recent years its fundraising for Eretz Yisrael has been somewhat neglected. The World War and the subsequent upheavals in various countries have undermined the support formerly given to Colel Chabad, as well as to other such funds and other Torah institutions.

Colel Chabad is a cup of blessing, for the Rebbeim have offered infinite blessings for all those who maintain a Colel Chabad charity box in their home, and thereby support our brethren in Eretz Yisrael who engage in Torah and avodah.

It is difficult to point this out, but the truth cannot be hidden away: it sprouts forth from every corner.

Fellow Jews! I would like to speak about the everlasting blessings for the supporters of Colel Chabad which were promised by our holy Rebbeim, and likewise by the world-ranking geonim and tzaddikim who head other similar institutions and other Torah funds and charitable organizations.

I am speaking of those promises as if expressed by the phrase, “Blessed is the man who will fulfill”56 their holy words — but from that positive statement one must deduce what the negative alternative entails. Those who promised their blessings to the supporters of the various institutions also warned sternly that in no circumstances was this support to be neglected or (G‑d forbid) diverted to other charitable causes. In many places, for various reasons, this warning has become weakened and even ignored, to the ruin of many holy institutions in the Holy Land.

World Jewry, it is true, is in an unfortunate predicament, in which the means by which many people used to make their livelihood have been destroyed. (May G‑d show compassion to His people, to His community!) It is true that many factors have weakened the support formerly extended to Colel Chabad and similar causes. At the same time, however, people must keep it clearly in mind that by neglecting their contributions they are spurning the blessings offered by the tzaddikim.

It is painful for me to say this; I would far prefer to share with you kindly and consoling words. However, despite the preferences of my heart, I must emphasize that in the harsh situation that prevails I perceive the Left Side of the promised blessings; I perceive what is entailed by their negative alternative.

Being closely familiar with the dire material straits of our people (May G‑d bless them all with good health and a livelihood!), the earnest warnings of our Rebbeim about the consequences of negative choices press heavily on my heart. They compel me to speak up about what I feel.

I earnestly trust to G‑d that as the means for making a livelihood are strengthened, the Rebbeim and other tzaddikim will intercede so that every needy individual will be granted the blessings of children, health, and an ample livelihood, and so that things should improve spiritually as well.

My dear friends of the chassidic brotherhood! Help yourselves to the blessings of our holy forebears: every one of you should possess a Colel Chabad charity box. For the sake of your children, your health and your livelihood, I feel obligated to tell you — as an entreaty, as a request, as a directive, and as a warning — that every chassidic family and every self-sufficient individual must possess a charity box of the Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess Colel Chabad Charities. Moreover, everyone should seek to upgrade his support.

Likewise, out of a sense of ahavas Yisrael, I would like to request that those who have a connection with similar funds should reinforce their respective endeavors, as directed by the tzaddikim and scholars who head them.

From the depths of my heart I offer my blessings to the entire chassidic brotherhood — together with their households57 and their children and their grandchildren, as part of the brotherhood of the entire House of Israel — for every kind of spiritual and material good. In the merit of the Alter Rebbe, the protagonist of today’s festivities,58 and in the merit of all our holy forebears, may G‑d prosper the fortunes of all our people both materially and spiritually. May He elevate the standing of Torah study and of the practice of avodah. And may He hasten the redemption of our souls by sending us the Righteous Redeemer, who will gather in all our dispersed exiles from the four corners of the world and bring us to our serene inheritance, so that we may serve Him with all our hearts.