1. When R. Yitzchak Aizik of Homil first visited Liozna, the Alter Rebbe admitted that erudite chassid to cheder beis, the second of the study circles in the academy for advanced scholars that he had established. R. Moshe Maizlish, likewise an erudite chassid, studied in cheder alef, upon whose scholars the Alter Rebbe made less stringent demands – though its admittance requirements included an expert mastery of the Shas, together with the writings of Tosafos, the Rosh and Rambam.

When R. Yitzchak Aizik applied for acceptance, it goes without saying that for him those areas of nigleh presented no obstacle. The Alter Rebbe was given the results of the entrance examination by his brother, Maharil,1 but then asked: “And what about the Ikkarim, Kuzari and Moreh Nevuchim?”2 The Alter Rebbe thereupon gave R. Yitzchak Aizik five months in which to master them, and advised that he should “direct any questions to Berl” – his son R. Dov Ber, later the Mitteler Rebbe.

2. R. Yitzchak Aizik was both a maskil and an oved, and by nature an analytical thinker,3 so that when he heard teachings of Chassidus from the Alter Rebbe, he absorbed them in the terminology of chakirah with which he was familiar.

[In this spirit:] Elder chassidim, who recalled the era in which the Alter Rebbe first returned from Mezritch, used to relate that at that time he repeated a teaching that he had heard there – including the concept that Elokus, Divinity, comprises a variety of levels.4 The elder chassidim of the time considered this concept problematic. After all, they argued, successive levels of quality are appropriate only in a context that includes the possibility that something may be lacking, as in gashmiyus and ruchniyus5 – but how, they asked, can one speak of successive levels of quality in Elokus?

On Motzaei Shabbos, while his chassidim were together reconstructing from memory the teaching that they had heard [that day], and were deeply involved in their personal avodah, the Alter Rebbe joined them and said: “My grandfather” – referring to the Baal Shem Tov6 – “revealed the lofty qualities possessed by souls. A well-known example is the incident in which, while at the Shabbos table with his disciples, he showed them how a certain rav, who was an outstanding scholar and a tzaddik,7 was partaking of his Shabbos meal leshem Shamayim, eating for the sake of Heaven. And the Rebbe” – referring to the Maggid – “revealed the lofty qualities within Elokus, explaining this concept by analogy with the six levels of the Heavenly Throne.”

3. When Mashiach is revealed, the heart of the holy Baal Shem Tov will be revealed – that is, the blazing fire of ahavas Yisrael in his physical heart, a love that he attained by means of his avodah, and not as a revelation granted from Above.

4. It has been said of the Baal Shem Tov that his avodah recalls what is written about the architect of the Mishkan: “Betzalel knew how to combine the letters by which heaven and earth were created.”8 This is no doubt an elevated attainment – but heaven and earth already existed before his time, whereas the Baal Shem Tov knew how to combine those letters in order to make a Jew and then to love him.

A Jew does not attain shleimus, his ultimate perfection, by merely knowing the Torah. Shleimus lies mainly in [appreciating the holiness of] the letters of the Torah, and the Baal Shem Tov knew the letters by means of which one can bring a fellow Jew close,9 and love him.

5. [Rashag10 asked whether a niggun should now be sung. The Rebbe replied:] The present time is not appropriate. In principle, Rosh HaShanah is a time for saying Tehillim. That was what every melamed used to know and that was what he taught his pupils. Nowadays people are coming up with new-fangled notions, such as farbrengens and tishn.11

6. The Torah’s letters are so precious. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a Jew memorized the Five Books of the Chumash, and thought about them constantly – if he would fall asleep with a verse in mind and then, with some help from Above, wake up with a verse in mind! That day would be luminous. In all his affairs, that verse would serve as a pillar of light – throughout that day, and indeed for generations ahead, and not only in This World but also in the World to Come.

The same applies to the letters of Mishnayos, or of Tanya. This practice would serve us well – and I’m not speaking only of chassidim, but of this entire generation12 that has been privileged to receive this revelation. For the letters that spell תַּנְיָא (Tanya) also spell the word אֵיתָן (eisan), signifying the fortitude that will empower us to survive the dire period until Mashiach comes. How good would it be if this practice were to be actually applied!

The letter alef sets the tone for the entire alef-beis. Now, the script of the Torah includes small letters, regular letters and large letters, and after the alef that comes first, the other letters follow likewise, just as all the organs follow the pattern set by the head. So since Rosh HaShanah is the head of the whole year, one should start the new year with a big alef – and in spiritual terms, “a big alef” means an alef that is complete with its vowel signs and its crowns.13

Wise people don’t postpone things for tomorrow. The Jewish people are addressed by the phrase, adam atem14 – “you are termed adam,”15 [which implies wisdom,]and hence shouldn’t postpone things.

The above applies in particular to yeshivah students. One’s Torah studies should be firmly fixed in one’s soul,16 each individual student striving for a profound knowledge of the Torah, in a way that is appropriate to his spiritual personality. By virtue of this, the One Above will grant a sweet year, both materially and spiritually.17 When this is the case, the materiality too is good. Partaking of gashmiyus alone, when it is bereft of ruchniyus, is like eating spoiled food: not only is it not beneficial, but it is harmful. (The above is related to the distinction between gashmiyus, [a neutral term that simply means] materiality, and chumriyus, [a grosser term that means] crass corporeality.)

May G‑d grant a year that is good and sweet, both materially and spiritually.