1. Various [Pesach] customs were observed in Lubavitch, especially regarding shemurah-matzah.1 The usual custom was to grind the wheat with millstones that were actually made of stone.2 In 5680 (1920), when we were in Rostov-on-the-River-Don, such millstones were very hard to find. The late Mr. Schreiber promised to secure such stones, but despite all his efforts he brought us millstones of iron. This caused my father considerable distress. And when he urged the tamim, R. Yaakov Landau,3 to see what he could do, he cited the teaching of the Sages4 that the word tzav (“Command!”) always indicates an ongoing call to vigorous action – currently, and also throughout the coming generations.

2. In earlier times, it was not customary on the Last Day of Pesach to eat shemurah-matzah only. Only after millstones of stone were replaced by metal rollers did this practice change. From that time on, a point was made that no ordinary matzah should be present in the house, even for the consumption of the household staff,5 and there was no thought of the added expense. The only difference was that on the Last Day of Pesach, matzah was eaten even when wet.6 In fact, my father used to make a point of eating such matzah on that day. Throughout Pesach, he made a point of not eating matzah together with anything else, except for wine, or milk that had been carefully guarded [against any contact with chametz]. On the Last Day of Pesach, however, even though he found it difficult to eat “soaked matzah,” he ate it with the fish soupand with the meat course – demonstratively.7

[The editors of the Yiddish original added here that the Rebbe Rayatz followed the same custom.]

The exclusive consumption of shemurah-matzah used to be [not widespread, as it is today, but] only a hiddur, [an optional embellishment of the mitzvah,] because it was so difficult to procure. Indeed, the Tzemach Tzedek once said that the best kind of [matzah] shemurah [i.e., “vigilance-matzah”] is the kind that was spoken of by the holy tzaddik of Rhuzin,8 who used to say: “What should be eaten is matzah. As for shemurah [‘vigilance’], that’s needed in a different area” – in guarding the purity of the Covenant [of circumcision].

3. The Alter Rebbe saw the tzaddik of Rhuzin for the first time at the assembly of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov and of the Maggid of Mezritch [after the latter’s passing], when those disciples appointed the Alter Rebbe as head of their brotherhood. Before that time, he used to travel from region to region in order to lend strength to his colleagues;9 at that assembly, moreover, he was appointed as their leader vis-à-vis the Jewish world at large. (This took place before he became a nasi, a Rebbe, of a particular community of chassidim.) It was at that time that he alluded to the tzaddik of Rhuzin by quoting the phrase, אִמְרוּ צַדִּיק כִּי טוֹב – “Say concerning a tzaddik, ‘He has done good’ “10 – because the tzaddik of Rhuzin was 17 years old at the time,11 as well as for other reasons. That was in the year […].12

There was very heavy rain on the third of Cheshvan, 5611 (1850), the day that he passed away [in Ruzhin]. At about three in the afternoon, the Tzemach Tzedek, who was in Lubavitch at the time, told his attendant to rend his garment and to bring him his tefillin. In those days there was no telegraphic communication available. When his rebbitizin asked him what had happened, he told her that the tzaddik of Rhuzin had passed away, and that he regarded himself as an onen.13

4. The misnagdim had complaints about the Alter Rebbe: Why did he travel in a carriage with three horses? Why did he eat chickens? And why did he wear an overcoat made of […]?14 His answers were simple:15 Such a carriage is faster; chickens are tastier; and such a coat is lighter and warmer.

5.Simchah, the Alter Rebbe’s wagon-driver, used to say to R. Moshe Vilenker and to other chassidim: “What do you guys know? My whip is smarter than you all…”16

The Mitteler Rebbe used to say: “Exuberance from the heart can be learned from Simchah, the Alter Rebbe’s wagon-driver…”17

During the lifetime of the Alter Rebbe, the chassidim asked his wagon-driver whether his journeys with the Alter Rebbe resembled the journeys of the Baal Shem Tov, that is, with the road speeding back miraculously under his wheels as he drove ahead.18 At the time, Simchah remained silent. Only after the Alter Rebbe’s passing did he answer them: “Fools! What kind of a question is that?” In his eyes, the answer was obvious; it was only that he didn’t want to talk about it while the Alter Rebbe was alive.

This R. Simchah, by the way, had already been the wagon-driver of R. Baruch, the Alter Rebbe’s father, because R. Simchah’s father had been a partner in the hide business of R. Avraham, R. Baruch's father-in-law.

The Mitteler Rebbe’s wagon-driver was Paltiel, better known as Foleh, the common nickname of people called Paltiel or Raphael. With him in mind, the Mitteler Rebbe used to say that he derived pleasure from hearing a blessing uttered [in simple faith, straight from the heart,] by an artless chunk of unadorned wood…

6. “For He pays a man according to his actions.”19 One day, a chassid came to see my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek. He hailed from Vitebsk, a town whose tightfisted townsmen were reputed to be prepared to feed a poor man, but not to contribute money for charitable purposes except under duress. At any rate, this chassid reported that his only son had been summoned to appear at the local conscription office. That was a particularly tough year, when even only sons were drafted to the czarist army, and the chassid asked the Rebbe to give him a blessing that this fate should not befall his son.

However, the Tzemach Tzedek answered: “I can’t help you at all.” No matter how earnestly the chassid pleaded, the response was the same. So the chassid went off and reported this to the Rebbe Maharash, with whom he felt a certain closeness. The Rebbe Maharash duly repeated this request to the Tzemach Tzedek on behalf of the chassid, but the response was still the same:“I can’t help at all.”

Two days before the due date, the father dispatched a messenger to the Rebbe Maharash. He again relayed the chassid’s request to the Tzemach Tzedek, who said: “What do you want? I can’t help at all.”

He then asked the Rebbe Maharash to bring him a copy of Midrash Tanchuma, and opened it up at a teaching in Parshas Mishpatim20 on the verse that says: “If you lend money to My people, [to the pauper in your midst,]…”21 The Midrash there teaches: “It is written, ‘He who has compassion on the pauper makes a loan to G‑d, [and He will repay him his due].’22 This verse is expounded by R. Pinchas HaKohen as follows: ‘[…] The Holy One, blessed be He, says: When the soul of this pauper was writhing and expiring from starvation, you provided him with food and gave him life. I swear that I will recompense you, a life for a life. If on some future day your son or your daughter will be ailing and on the brink of death, I will recall for their sake the mitzvah that you performed […], and will recompense you, a life for a life.’

The Rebbe Maharash did not understand at the time what was intended here.

Some time later the news arrived that this chassid’s son had been discharged, for no apparent reason. The Tzemach Tzedek was overjoyed.

The Rebbe Maharash, however, was eager to know what had transpired. Soon after, when he had to travel to Vitebsk to see Dr. Heibenthal, he told the wagon-driver to take him to the home of that chassid, and asked him what had happened on the day of his son’s summons. The chassid had no answer, so the Rebbe Maharash suggested that he ask his wife. At first she remembered nothing in particular, but then recalled that on that day, a pauper came to the door and asked for something to eat. Her first response was that they were in a hurry to leave in order to make their urgent requests at holy gravesites.23 However, when he entreated her desperately – he had not eaten for a long time, and how could anyone refuse to feed a hungry fellow Jew – she recalled that she had plenty of cooked food. It had been left uneaten because they were in such anguish about their son, so she served the pauper a solid meal.

Hearing this, the Rebbe Maharash interrupted her: “Thank-you. That will be quite enough…”

From this episode we see that every positive action produces a great outcome – an outcome that highlights the true stature of practical good deeds.

7. My father once met the Gaon of Rogatchov, R. Yosef [Rosen],24 and they discussed the halachic status of “the air ofEretz Yisrael,”25 the air of the lands of the [other] nations, and the air on the border between Eretz Yisrael and the lands of the [other] nations. They also discussed the Talmudic debate as to whether the initial sanctification of Eretz Yisrael [at the time of Yehoshua] was temporary or ongoing.26 My father asked the Rogatchover Gaon to clarify certain apparent anomalies in these areas as understood at the level of nigleh, the revealed level of Torah scholarship. This request the Gaon found challenging. When my father then proceeded to explain all of those subjects as they are understood at the level of Chassidus, the Gaon felt rather crestfallen, because he found these explanations difficult to comprehend. (Perhaps these concepts were unfamiliar to him?)27

He excused himself by explaining that the Tzemach Tzedek had given him his blessing28 for success in lomdus, the overt level of Talmudic scholarship, but not in the realm of Chassidus. (As is known, the Maharil,29 son of the Tzemach Tzedek, once rested his hands on the head of the young Gaon, and the Tzemach Tzedek blessed him with success in lomdus.)

In the course of that conversation between my father and the Gaon, you could sense the air of Gan Eden.

8. In this current era, the air needs to be purified – by memorizing mishnayos and reviewing them while walking about in the street and the like.

Considering these times, it would be appropriate to study the Order of Taharos,30 but one can study other mishnayos, too, memorizing at least two new mishnayos every week. They should first be studied together with their commentaries, but later, what should be recalled mentally at all times are the actual letters that constitute the words of those mishnayos. This directive cannot be imposed; I am giving it as a piece of good advice. I cannot act to make it happen, but it is something that affects the public and also serves as a protection for the individual.

(The Rebbe concluded with these words:) To say the above was a personal obligation.31

9. The Alter Rebbe once quoted a statement of the Sages: “Ever since the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the only place that the Holy One, blessed be He, has in His world is the four cubits of halachah.”32 The Alter Rebbe proceeded to cite a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov on this statement: it refers to the kind of study that transforms a [formerly static] student into a mehalech, someone who is dynamic.33

While discussing this subject, the Alter Rebbe contrasted the phenomena that took place in the Beis HaMikdash with what was seen in the presence of the Baal Shem Tov, and said that in one respect the latter phenomena were superior to the former. Regarding the Beis HaMikdash, the Sages teach that “from there they used to draw ruach hakodesh.”34 This phrase signifies a spirit of purity, which endowed with [further] purity those who were already pure; hence, when a person returned home from the Beis HaMikdash, he could not transmit that purity to others. When people were in the presence of the Baal Shem Tov, they used to draw ruach hakodesh, but here that phrase signifies a spirit of teshuvah: while they were there, those people were aroused to a spirit of repentance. Hence, when they returned to home, merely observing their conduct motivated those around them to become baalei teshuvah.

The Alter Rebbe concluded by saying that the Baal Shem Tov bequeathed this power to all those who walk in his paths – so that by participating in a tish, or by being present in the immediate surroundings35 of the disciples of his disciples, people absorb teshuvah.

10. It has become characteristic of chassidic conduct, that in order to fulfill the wish of the Sages, “If only a person would daven all day long,”36 people sing a melody with which one can daven, and this is as if he actually davened. So let us now sing a melody with which people daven.

(The Rebbe directed that the niggun which is known as “The Beinoni should now be sung.37 )

(Until this point, throughout Pesach and likewise during the preceding Purim, the Rebbe did not initiate any singing at the festive seudos.)