1. The obligation to constantly ask “Why?” that was spoken of yesterday1 is really not a standard and universal course of avodah. It applies only to those who are at the lowest of the lower levels of avodah or at the highest of the higher levels of avodah.

To use a mundane analogy: If A asks a favor of B, the question may arise: Does the fact that B has, and A needs, obligate B to give? In such a case, asking “Why?” is relevant. At that initial stage of avodah, this question is needed,2 because it serves as a gimlet.3 The same applies to people at the highest levels.4 As to people at the levels in between, the question doesn’t arise, because they simply do what needs to be done.5

2. A certain chassid, who was not one of the highest kinds of ovdim, once heard a maamar that focused on avodah from my grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash. Later, at yechidus, he asked: “What is the gateway? What is the easiest way to start avodah?” The answer was, “Setting oneself aside.”

When he left the Rebbe’s study he shared this exchange with a chassid called R. Zavl, who asked him, “Why didn’t you ask the Rebbe what should be done with that guy?” – alluding to the Evil Inclination.

R. Leivik the attendant overheard this conversation – he was not overly good-natured, as is well known – and told the Rebbe Maharash what R. Zavl had said. Later, when R. Zavl was at yechidus, the Rebbe Maharash reprimanded him6 and said: “The solution for that guy is to ‘remind him [of the day of death].’ “7

Some time later, R Zavl reported that ever since he heard those words from the Rebbe Maharash, there was no single day on which he had not reminded himself of them and wept in remorse. Even though in his later years there were many areas in which he no longer needed that solution, nevertheless, until the end of his days, it brought him to tears.

3. Yesterday we spoke about the lofty value of actual, practical avodah.

In the times of the Tzemach Tzedek, a child called Elazar Moshe was conscripted at the age of seven or eight as a Cantonist.8 Though he had learned very little, and despite all the acute suffering to which he was subjected, he remained faithful in his observance of Yiddishkeit. His birthplace was Babinovitch, so when he was old enough to be a soldier, he was stationed in Homil, and there he would often drop into the local beis midrash and would listen in as the townsmen learned Chumash, Tanach or Mishnayos, and occasionally teachings of Chassidus as well.

He was later dispatched to guard a gunpowder depot. While he stood guard there, unlearned and unsophisticated as he was, he would say the words, Shechinta begalusa: Vai! – “The Divine Presence is in exile: Woe is us!” Sensing this in nearby Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek commented: “When the Shpoler Zeide used to help [the toddler who grew up to be] the holy tzaddik9 of Rhuzin put on his gartl as he took him to cheder in the morning, he would say that he was girdling a sefer Torah. In the same way, whoever comes close to R. Elazar Moshe is touching a sefer Torah!” And, indeed, the Tzemach Tzedek used to rise in deference as he approached. (My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, didn’t know him.)

From this episode we can appreciate the lofty value of actual, practical avodah.

4. Among the chassidim of bygone days, those individuals who engaged in actual avodah were regarded more highly than those who were known to be expert in the academic teachings of Chassidus. It was plain to see that the baalei avodah succeeded in their endeavors beyond what might be expected simply as a result of orderly progress.

In the course of R. Yekusiel Liepler’s first visit to see the Alter Rebbe, he clambered up to the attic, and through the window saw the Rebbe there in his private study, wearing his tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam. He pleaded: “Rebbe! Chop off my Left Side!10 I can’t manage to deal with that guy!”11

By way of response, the Alter Rebbe addressed his Maker: “Master of the Universe! Is it not written, ‘And You give life to them all’? So grant him life!”

And those words of the Alter Rebbe impacted the chassid with the intensity of makkif that impacts pnimi.12

[At this point, one of the chassidim present at the farbrengen asked: “Was this response given because R. Yekusiel found favor in the eyes of the Alter Rebbe?” The Rebbe Rayatz answered:] In the case of a pnimi and mashpia who is an atzmi,13 finding favor in the regular sense is not relevant; it is relevant only when it accords with the Torah. By way of analogy: Some of the requests we make are formulated as part of the standard wording14 of the prayers; some other requests are informal and spontaneous. At first glance it might appear that the requests made as part of the fixed nussach are loftier. On the other hand, it could well be that the additional, informal prayers spring from the very essence of the nefesh, which is linked to the very essence of the neshamah, and the neshamah in turn is part of Atzmus, the very Essence of Elokus – and that is what the Alter Rebbe sensed in R. Yekusiel’s request.

5. The Alter Rebbe wanted to bless R. Yekusiel [Liepler]’s honest business dealings with wealth. The chassid declined the offer,15 so the Alter Rebbe gave that blessing to his son and grandson (who in due course became wealthy), and him he blessed with long life. R. Yekusiel, however, stipulated: “But not peasant years! Not years of those ‘who have eyes, but do not see; who have ears, but do not hear.’ “16 He wanted to see Elokus.

Now, it is natural that a person wants to live, especially a person who observes Torah and mitzvos. Nevertheless, here we see someone who was willing to forego thirty or forty years of life – because he had no desire for peasant years.

As is well known, he lived a long life.

6. During the last half-year of his life the Tzemach Tzedek had difficulty in speaking, but glimpses [of his inner life] were revealed.17 In that period he avoided receiving at yechidus those chassidim who sought to ask questions about their material concerns. He explained that he was unable to answer such questions because he did not see the body, but only the light of the soul.

7. The chassidim did not inform R. Yekusiel of the passing of the Tzemach Tzedek for half a year. When he found out, he screamed at them in his usual unpolished style: “Scoundrels! Why did you let the Rebbe pass away? Go and bury the sifrei Torah! Go and bury yourselves alive!” With that, he broke all the windowpanes and set out on foot to Lubavitch. Arriving there he declared: “I’m doing nothing – davenen or whatever – until I first hear what the Rebbe tells me!”

With that he set out immediately to the Ohel. He lay down on the burial place and stayed all day, until he was taken from there, utterly exhausted. When he woke up he said: “Time for a little dance!”

He then said to the sons of the Tzemach Tzedek, except for […], my Ovrutcher grandfather,18 and Maharil:19 “Children!20 Come and hear a maamar of Chassidus that your father delivered!”

During his stay in Lubavitch he chose one of the sons of the Tzemach Tzedek as his Rebbe – and gave them plenty to put up with…

Eventually he told the Rebbe Maharash:21 “Until now, whenever I used the word ‘you’ when speaking to you, I used the familiar form of address, du.22 But from now on, you are my Rebbe. So put on your hat and let’s hear a maamar!”23

8. The Mitteler Rebbe toiled with the goal that when any two chassidim met, their conversation should revolve around Memaleh and Sovev, Yichuda Ilaah and Yichuda Tataah.24

In fact, these concepts can be understood by everyone. If someone does not understand them, something is lacking in his mashpia, his mentor, just as when a child has not mastered his lessons, something is lacking in hismelamed, his teacher.

In the Introduction to his Imrei Binah, the Mitteler Rebbe cites [the teaching of the Sages25 ] that if someone (G‑d forbid) does not put on tefillin, he is referred to as a Jew who sins with his body. To this the Mitteler Rebbe adds: If someone does not meditate every day upon Yichuda Ilaah and Yichuda Tataah, he is a Jew who sins with his soul.

9. Every individual should realize that if, due to the workings of Divine Providence, he finds himself in some particular location, he should conduct himself as he ought to do. The argument26 that in the Old Country things were utterly different is utterly invalid, because altogether we haven’t got a home, ever since we were exiled from our Land. [Here, too,] the actions of every individual affect the entirety, and what he chooses to do is decisive. One should recognize the responsibility that this involves, and the punishment that it entails.

If a soldier is stationed in a particular location in order to guard it, he is obviously capable of doing so, and if he flees, he is called a deserter. Likewise, if the One Above has stationed us in this point in time, we must realize that His intention is not (G‑d forbid) to destroy anyone; it means that we have certainly been endowed with the required strength to carry out what needs to be done in this particular place.

And of that we may be proud.