1. Every movement of my revered father, [the Rebbe Rashab,] and every aspect of his conduct, was based on an inbuilt orderliness and on a particular rationale according to the revealed levels of the Torah. In this, to borrow the well-known phrase used by chassidim, he exemplified “a Shulchan-Aruch Jew,” a person whose every word, even on weekday matters, and whose every physical move, is part of his Shulchan-Aruch conduct.

The customs practiced by our Rebbes were handed down as a tradition from the Alter Rebbe. When he was still a child, the Alter Rebbe spent the whole of the first twenty-four hours of Rosh HaShanah, from the end of Minchah on erev Rosh HaShanah until Maariv on the Second Night of Rosh HaShanah, reading Tehillim.1 He had observed his father, R. Baruch, practicing this custom, and as an adult he followed it likewise.

2. When the Alter Rebbe was studying at the feet of his mentor, the Maggid of Mezritch, he had observed how the Maggid davened Minchah on erev Rosh HaShanah at great length, in a voice that expressed an arousal of the soul, and with the intense weeping of someone who is about to be parted from a dear friend.The Maggid, deeply bestirred, had already begun to read Tehillimby day, and had continued until Maariv.

After davening Maariv in that manner on the First Night of Rosh HaShanah, the Maggid would partake of the Yom-Tov meal. At that time he did not utter a single word, not even a Torah teaching. The wine that remained in the goblet over which he recited the Grace after Meals, he shared with his disciples, and then replenished it so that it would reach the quantity that required the recitation of the concluding blessing.

After the Prayer before Retiring at Night, which was also a time of deep arousal and which lasted several hours, the Maggid spent the night reciting Tehillim.

3. This was the course of conduct which the Alter Rebbe taught his children and grandchildren, and which was followed by our forebears, the Rebbes, over the generations. They did not publicly deliver maamarim of Chassidus until after Maariv on the Second Night of Rosh HaShanah. Later, at the table, they would relate stories and describe the spiritual lifestyle and customs of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples, and of the Rebbes, and of revered elder chassidim. They would also describe the way in which ordinary, unlettered market folk and village peddlers lived their lives.

4. On Yud-Tes Kislev, 5649 (1888), my father said: “The lifestyle of chassidim traditionally included the group study of Chassidus, and earnest and prolonged attention to their davenen. It was accompanied by a Chabad niggun, and was followed by a favor to help a fellow Jew earn his livelihood. These people became chassidishe daveners. By living such a lifestyle, even unscholarly village peddlers and owners of market stalls became baalei madreigah, men of spiritual stature in whom the light of the soul glowed visibly.”

5. On the Second Night of Rosh HaShanah, 5651 (1890), my father related that on the Second Night of Rosh HaShanah, 5633 (1872), his father, the Rebbe Maharash, related something that he had heard from his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, who had heard it from the Alter Rebbe on the Second Night of Rosh HaShanah, 5559 (1798), together with his uncle and father-in-law, the Mitteler Rebbe. During the Alter Rebbe’s first stay in Mezritch, the Maggid had relayed this teaching, which he had once heard from the Baal Shem Tov on the Second Night of Rosh HaShanah.

These were the words of the Baal Shem Tov: “Our Father in Heaven wants to hear His mortal children speak of His lofty attributes. By recounting His real praises, they bring Him intense pleasure.2 True, the understanding of the angels is in a separate category above and beyond mortal understanding;3 so, too, even the Sefiros of the lofty World of Atzilus.4 However, [since]the angels and the Sefiros are linked to the intellectual perception5 of the [lower] Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah, they cannot appreciate or understand the extent of the pleasure that is generated Above [by the praises sung by G‑d’s mortal children].”

6. The hidden tzaddikim,6 the colleagues and disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, used to wander on foot from town to town and from village to village. Wherever they went they would relate in warm friendship to the unlettered townsmen, and would highlight the positive qualities of the ordinary market folk and the craftsmen.

One of those hidden tzaddikim was R. Kehos, a close disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. Encountering a group of horse and cattle dealers in a market place on the day of the weekly fair, he once heard one of them tell his fellow Jew: “In Tehillim7 it is written, ‘Don’t be like a horse or a mule, that doesn’t understand why its mouth has to be held back by a bit and a bridle...’8 A horse thinks that the bit is placed in its mouth in order that it shouldn’t forget how to chew. It doesn’t understand – but don’t you be like a horse. You should understand!”9

When R. Kehos met his Rebbe and shared this piece of horse dealers’ conversation, the Baal Shem Tov’s intense elation found expression in a soulful melody.

7. The above episode is the source and history of the dveikus-niggun, the melody that expresses a soul’s yearning to cleave to its Source, which accompanied the davenen of the Alter Rebbe, and later of all his successors as Rebbe, on the First Night of Rosh HaShanah. It was sung with a cleaving of utter devotion, and with the heartrending tears of one who laments the departure of a dearly-loved friend.

8. My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, once related that on the First Night of Rosh HaShanah, after his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, returned home from Mezritch, he davened Maariv at great length – and that year was indeed a blessed year.

The abundant spiritual blessing that was felt in the avodah of chassidim during that year aroused Satan’s accusatory voice [in the Heavenly Court] against the Alter Rebbe’s style of avodah, which sprang from the innermost nucleus of his soul.10 However, the Alter Rebbe was a new soul11 that had been devoted to the point of self-sacrifice to disseminating the ideal of loving every fellow Jew; he had promoted the principle of serving G‑d through the avodah of davenen; he had extended a welcoming hand to plain, unlettered Jews; and he had publicly pointed out the admirable value of their artless simplicity. And it was these endeavors that silenced the voice of the Accuser.

9. The Alter Rebbe adopted the above-described mode of avodah when he returned from Mezritch. He explained that he had learned it from the Maggid, who in turn had received it from the Baal Shem Tov. They had taught that when plain, ordinary Jews exclaim Shema Yisrael! and [the response in Kaddish], “Blessed be He and blessed be His Name,”12 their exuberance brings spiritual pleasure to the very Essence of the Supernal Emanator.13

10. On the Second Night of Sukkos, 5652 (1891), my father recalled a celebration of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah in 5638 (1877), when his father, the Rebbe Maharash, had commented in farbrengen style on the statement in the Gemara that the Jews in the days of Chizkiyahu14 were great scholars. At that time, “[The Sages] searched from Dan to Be’er-Sheva15 and did not find one boy or girl […] who was not familiar with the [complex] laws of ritual impurity and purity.”16

[On this, the Rebbe Maharash commented:] “In the days of Rashbi,17 mere children were thoroughly familiar with the pnimiyus, [the innermost mystical dimension,] of the Torah. And in the days of the Baal Shem Tov, there were people who appeared to be plain and unscholarly, such as market dealers, village peddlers and wagon drivers, who were serious scholars, expert in the revealed levels of the Torah18 and in Kabbalah – people in whom the light of the soul shone in a revealed manner, just as it shone in its pristine state, in the World of Atzilus.”

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11. There is an extensive halachic discussion as to whether the blessing of boreh pri ha’etz which is said over the apple dipped in honey on the First Night of Rosh HaShanah includes fruit, such as apple compote, that is eaten at the end of the meal as dessert. I am now going to say that blessing over the dessert, because from the outset I made a point of not intending to cover it with the earlier blessing.