1. Our engagement1 was celebrated at the Bolivka health resort, near the Krasnoyerailway station, in 5656 (1896). The farbrengen on that occasion went on and on, though not planned that way, for a week. It got off the ground spontaneously.2 At every session my revered father expounded teachings of Chassidus, offered chassidic interpretations of classical texts, and recounted significant episodes from the past.

2. At one of those sessions, my father related something that my mentor, the Rashbatz,3 had told him in 5637 (1877) while they were studying Chassidus, as follows: When he first came to Lubavitch4 to see my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, he met R. Hillel [of Paritch]. At that time, after repeating from memory the maamar of Chassidus that the Tzemach Tzedek had recently delivered, R. Hillel commented: “The big misfortune is – perceiving darkness as light. When a person gets used to darkness, he thinks that darkness is light!”

Having relayed this encounter, my father began to portray a chassid who sweats over his intensive study of Chassidus for six hours, then davens – and is left confused. It’s all in the dark. At that point he needs to teach his body a lesson5 and beat it up by mental effort.

3. Hearing such words, all those who were present at that farbrengen shed tears that flowed without any preparation – as in the parable at the beginning of Derech Chayim. There, the Mitteler Rebbe describes a pauper whose spirits are crushed. He does not have to pause to evaluate his predicament. As soon as it comes to mind, his heart is so sore that he immediately bursts into bitter tears.

Now, the above response to that farbrengen took place 47 years ago. Recalling it, what have we got to say for ourselves?6

4. In the old days, people used to be serious, each according to his level. People used to admonish each other, and said what needed to be said – but every man loved the other with all his soul. Today, people can exchange kisses when they meet, while they actually hate each other.

5. When I was imprisoned in Spalerke,7 in 1927, my tefillin were taken from me. When I was then taken for an interrogation, I stated firmly that I would answer no questions until they returned my tefillinand they brought them to me. It was then about 11:00 PM. In that place, as I have already related,8 you couldn’t tell whether it was day or night, so I was in doubt as to whether this was a time at which I could still put on tefillin.

Not only at that time, but throughout, I took a firm stand, and that took its toll of my health.

When I first faced the interrogators, I told them that this was the first time I had ever entered a room and those present did not show their respect by rising from their seats.

They asked: “Do you know where you are?”

I answered: “Of course I know. I’m in a place in which there is no obligation to affix a mezuzah. Certain places are exempt from that obligation, such as a stable and a toilet.”

By the way, I addressed those judges only in Yiddish. Some of them I recognized. They were the same young men – Jews – who had arrested me in my home. Two of them were gentiles, as I gathered while speaking to them.

6.I began by saying that I wanted to tell them a story. The look they gave me was like the jab of a sword. With his hand on his weapon on the table, one of them said: “Answer what you are asked. Say nothing else.”

I answered them calmly: “If I were to tell a story even to misnagdim, they too would listen.”

And I went ahead and told my story:

A maskil,9 a freethinking apikores, once came to visit my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek.

(At this point one of the interrogators, by the name of Nachmanson, interrupted me: ‘He was no doubt an apikores like me!’ I replied: “That apikores was well read; you’re just an illiterate goy” – and resumed my story:)

That maskil asked the Tzemach Tzedek: “In the Megillah,10 when Mordechai informs Esther, via Hasach, of Haman’s decree, [the plural suffix of] the word בַּיְּהוּדִיים is spelled – exceptionally – with a double letter yud, whereas later, in the verse11 that says that ‘the Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honor,’ [the plural suffix of] the wordלַיְּהוּדִים is spelled with a single letter yud. Why?”

The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “The two yuds represent the Good Inclination and the Evil Inclination,12 and each of them comprises ten soul-faculties.13 There are two yudn14 – a yud of the Good Inclination and a yud of the Evil Inclination. Haman’s decree threatened not only the G‑d-fearing Jews, the Yidn of the Good Inclination; it also threatened the free-thinking Yidn who conduct their lives according to the Evil Inclination. Haman’s decree sought to annihilate them, too.”15

Now, that maskil knew his Hebrew grammar, and he didn’t let go: “In that case, in the later verse16 that says that ‘the Jews who were in Shushan gathered themselves together [to fight off their tormentors],’ why is [the plural suffix of] the word הַיְּהוּדִיים spelled with a double letter yud?”

The Tzemach Tzedek answered him: “The Jews of Shushan saw and palpably felt what was taking place before their eyes – both their suffering as threatened by that dire decree, and by their salvation. This awareness left its mark on the freethinking Jews, too, spurring them to mend their ways.”

In conclusion, the Tzemach Tzedek addressed his questioner: “The same applies to you. In the same way, if you will suffer paroxysms of high fever, you too will change!” And that was what that person then suffered for three months, after which he became a G‑d-fearing Jew.

Having now finished telling the interrogators my story about the Tzemach Tzedek, I warned them: “When you have undergone suffering, you too will change!”

That story came to mind this year during the Reading of the Megillah.

7. [One of the chassidim present remarked: “A person can see and know all that, and there are even people who have undergone this – yet they have not internalized it!”17]

[In response, the Rebbe said:]

If (G‑d forbid) they suffer more, it will register with them. People play blind man’s buff like little children. They close their eyes even though they can see, and pretend that they can’t see.

8. [Another chassid asked: “But isn’t joy [also] a recognized approach to avodah?”]

[To this the Rebbe responded:] How can a person experience joy if it was not preceded by tears of teshuvah over his spiritual standing? Otherwise, he is echoing the anomaly of a person who immerses in a mikveh – to no avail – while clutching a dead creature that defiles him!18

[The same person said further that he had heard from a man of stature that if a person tackles his avodah with joy, he has at least reached some kind of rung, whereas if a person tackles his avodah with mud, he lies in mud. The Rebbe replied:]

It all depends on who this man of stature is, and what kind of mud it is. Sometimes, even mud can be of some value. For example, the numerical equivalent of געלט is בלאטע,19 and with money something useful can be done. Other mud is just mud.

9. Everyone has to make an account of the state he’s in, whether he wants to or not, because there’s a Master of Accounts. One must crush his body and refine it to the state that it was in before Adam sinned. Only then can a person become a receptor to Elokus. [Nowadays,] a person can read through a chapter of Tanya about once a week, and with that he counts himself as a member of the Chabad fellowship...

10. My father once asked my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash: “What about the various explanations20 of Tanya,21 such as the explanations by Radatz?”22

The Rebbe Maharash answered: “If one studies them for the sake of haskalah,23 the result can easily be that that person knows nothing about Tanya, and Tanya knows nothing about him. However, if through this he comes to talk about avodah, then even if what he says is not what Tanya here specifically intended, but his intention was to cite a teaching in order to arouse someone to engage in avodah, let him talk even throughout his seventy years. As the Sages have said, ‘All talk is bad, though Torah talk is good.’ “24

11. [Someone remarked that the Rebbe Rashab was not at all fond of “the Ashkenazi...”25]

[The Rebbe Rayatz responded:] He was even less fond of anyone who was not an oved, and still less fond of anyone who was a maskil.26 Chassidim used to describe such a person as an unbaked potato – hard, cold, and lifeless…

12. The timehas come to stop lying.27 The elder chassid, R. Gershon Dov [Pahar], used to say: “So long as a man is alive, he lies.” When another chassid, R. Aharon Beshenkovitzer, was ninety years old, he used to say: “Master of the Universe! For ninety years I’ve been lying. Give me at least one day without lying!”

13. In days gone by, when people heard a word from the Rebbe they took it seriously and acted on it immediately. It once happened that the Alter Rebbe needed a very large sum of money for a matter of public need, and that was a period of severe poverty.

He told his chassidim: “I need a gabbai tzedakah, someone to take responsibility for raising the charitable funds,” and appointed each of three chassidim as a gabbai. Tens of thousands of rubles were collected, out of all proportion to what could be expected at that time.

Nowadays, from the date of one earnest tear during Kerias Shema before retiring for the night or during davenen, until the next, months (I don’t want to say “years”) can elapse.

14. It’s time to start toiling in avodah from the beginning, from alef-beis. Swing the axe on the tree!28

15. Avodah must include merirus, remorse, and that can be attained by studying Derech Chayim by the Mitteler Rebbe. That I heard at yechidus with my father – but it wasn’t a personal yechidus: it is relevant to everyone.

16. [Noticing that a certain individual was trying to edge his way into the room, the Rebbe told someone to tell him:] Better to obey than to hear!

17. R. Nachman Mariashin,29 the meshares,30 hadbeen a zitzer under the wing of R. Hillel [of Paritch], and when R. Hillel was in his hometown, R. Nachman served as his kohen.31 Whenever R. Hillel traveled out of town, he would usually take along his disciple, R Shalom Humener (better known as R. Shalom-R. Hillel’s) to serve that function, but once he took along R. Nachman as well. By the time they arrived at an inn in Malorusia it was evening, so R. Shalom addressed himself to davening Maariv. By daybreak he had finished – but how can a person allow himself to lie down and sleep at such a time? So R. Shalom immediately began to ready himself, for an hour or so, to daven Shacharis. By the time he managed to reach Kerias Shema, [with its prolonged, disciplined meditation on the concepts of Havayah and Elokeinu and so on,] it was time to daven Minchah.

When the innkeeper, a simple villager, came on the scene to daven Minchah, he found R. Shalom in the middle of Shacharis!

“What’s with this guy?” he later exclaimed. “Yesterday he davened Maariv all through the night, until morning, and now he’s davening all day! I’m not like that! I can say Shema Yisrael straight through – yet him it takes so long! Why? Because he’s slow in the head...”

By the time he said these words, R. Shalom had already finished davenen, and he heard them.

R. Hillel later remarked that the three years during which R. Shalom had studied Chassidus under him had less positive effect on him than the [humbling] words of that simple villager.

18. Having heard that episode from R. Nachman, I passed it on to my father, who asked him to repeat it to him. Though R. Nachman was highly charged emotionally, he braced himself to repeat it, word by word, to my father, who commented: “After all that, one still has to personally draw out whatever is unclean within himself – and that is accomplished by means of avodah.”

19. May blessings light upon the heads ofthose who givetzedakahbeyond their means! However, if they think that just by donating money they have discharged their obligations, they’re making a big mistake.

20. One shouldn’t be embarrassed to shed tears [over one’s spiritual failings], even when davening with others, because when a person’s very life is at stake, embarrassment isn’t a consideration. One needs to be more devout and wiser, and not delude oneself.

21. What was said in disguised terms last year32 can now be seen overtly – and that which is now being said in disguised terms is even more serious.

22. A time will come when people’s sense of shame over their present lack of avodah will be intense.

There are two times at which teshuvah does not apply: (a) when the soul ascends from the body,33 and (b) when Mashiach comes.34 The works that detail retribution in Gehinnom state that the severest punishment is the sense of shame. The same is true of the period of the arrival of Mashiach, when people will feel shame over their present lack of avodah. At that time, too, there will be avodah, but no possibility of correcting the past.

23. Our classical sources teach that after the Exodus, the wicked people who had died during the Three Days of Darkness were brought back to life, and they watched their fellow Jews leaving Egypt, while they were left behind. The same will happen when Mashiach comes – some people will be granted eternal life, while others will suffer shame and eternal disgrace. People ought to pray that they not be left (G‑d forbid) in the darkness – and we are now in the thick of the Three Days of Darkness. The Gemara says that “sleep is a sixtieth part of death.”35 There are several modes of sleep, and one of them is [the deep slumber called] tardemah.36

24. Today’s specific obligation is to go out into the street and to ask a fellow Jew to put on tefillin, or to observe the laws of Family Purity. A chassid should be engrossed in devising ways and means of fulfilling this obligation as if it concerned the innermost point of his soul – at least as intensely as if he himself was at the vortex of this encounter. In fact, it should matter to him even more. As was discussed at length some time ago, the Alter Rebbe once stated,37 in answer to a question, that loving a fellow Jew is superior to loving G‑d, for it is written,38 “ ‘I have loved you,’ says G‑d.”39

My great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, once said that from his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, he learned a great deal, even to the point of beholding Elokus. Nevertheless, he said, all of that did not utterly captivate his soul until he once saw the Alter Rebbe writing a pidyon which sought to invoke his own deepest plea to G‑d40 for the welfare of all Jews everywhere.41

25. My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, had a handwritten copy of that pidyon. Whenever my father traveled on matters of public concern, he would take it with him, and on several occasions I did the same.

26. One should invest self-sacrificing effort to see to it that a fellow Jew should start putting on tefillin. Authoring a learned work, to be sure, is also of value – though its scholarly validity may remain doubtful. In contrast, when one convinces a fellow Jew to put on tefillin, one actually brings a soul closer to Elokus, and connects the Holy One, blessed be He, with a soul.