1. (Since there were barely enough complete matzos for all the chassidim at the table, they began to scrupulously check that all of the matzos before them were shleimos, that is, matzos that were absolutely unblemished. Observing this, the Rebbe remarked:)1 In truth, shleimus is to be found specifically in shevuros...2 A word to the wise will suffice.

2. It is related in the Gemara and in the Midrash3 that once R. Akiva did not want to ascend to read the Torah in public,4 because he had not previously prepared that passage two or three times. Now this would appear to be problematic. After all, it is written, “Where is one who could count? Where is one who could weigh?”5 – and the Sages say6 that this refers to their predecessors, who are called sofrim (lit., “scribes”) because they used to carefully count (sofer) all the letters in the Torah. If so, why did R. Akiva not want to read the Torah in public? The answer given is that this particular passage was not on his mind at that moment. The question, though, remains: If those sages had such a mastery of the entire text, how is it possible that this passage was not on his mind?

From this we see that when one has to read or say something publicly, one should prepare oneself thoroughly so as not to make a mistake, especially with regard to numbers of generations or numbers of years. I am saying this now in connection with what was said last night at the seudah, when the date on which the Alter Rebbe first saw the tzaddik of Rhuzin was given incorrectly.7 This was in fact a year before the passing of the tzaddik of Berditchev, in 5568-5569 (1808-1809). Accordingly, the tzaddik of Rhuzin was born in 5552-5553 (1792-1793).

3. The Baal Shem Tov named the [third] meal of the Last Day of Pesach, Mashiach’s seudah,” just as the various meals of Shabbos and Yom-Tov have their respective names – the seudah of Atika Kaddisha, the seudah of Z’eir Anpin, and the like. The custom at that seudah was that the door was open to all comers, and whoever was in the Baal Shem Tov’s home at that time tasted something of the seudah of the Last Day of Pesach.

There’s a long story related to that. And by the way, already in the time of the Baal Shem Tov there were opponents – as people [express the paradox], “The sand near the sea is dry.”

By way of introduction to the story: The custom in the household of the Baal Shem Tov was that with the approach of Pesach, many new vessels were bought, including cups, which were duly immersed8 in a mikveh. The cups were given Torah-related names, such as “a revi’is-cup.”9 The Baal Shem Tov would look inside the new vessels and would say, “This one should be placed on the table; that one, not.” He gave no reasons.

It once happened that during Mashiach’s seudah on the Last Day of Pesach, the Baal Shem Tov told someone to remove a certain cup from the table, because it had not been immersed. Now, the many people who joined in for such occasions were always given a taste of something. On the above-mentioned occasion, when one such visitor dropped in and asked, “Let me have a drop of something, too,” the others at the table told him that there was no cup left. Then, catching sight of the one that had been set aside, the newcomer said, “Here’s an empty cup!” And when he was told that this one had not been immersed, he said, “It doesn’t matter.”

Overhearing this remark, the Baal Shem Tov said, “He just revealed something about himself…”

That man later became an earnest penitent. And in due course it transpired that those of his children who had been born before that time had been born without purity.10

There’s much more to that story: I told it in brief.

* * *

The [additional festive] meal on the Last Day of Pesach is “the seudah of Mashiach,” for on the Last Day of Pesach, the radiance of our Righteous Mashiach is openly revealed.”

4. In the times of the Alter Rebbe, there was once (Heaven forfend) a harsh year.

(There is a difference of opinion in the Mishnah, in Taanis 3:4, as to what constitutes dever, “a plague.” According to one opinion, it means that three people die within one day. How much more so now, when thousands are perishing.11 – That comment was parenthetical.)

At that time, the Alter Rebbe noted that the initial letters of the [Kabbalistically significant] words12 of the blessing that ends הַנּוֹתֵן לַיָּעֵף כֹּחַ – “[Blessed are You, G‑d…], Who grants strength to the weary”13 – are the same as the initial letters of the first three words of the verse, הוֹדוּ לַה' כִּי [טוֹב, כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ], which means, “Thankfully acknowledge G‑d, for [He is good, for His kindness is everlasting].”14 [The word לְעוֹלָם, which here means “everlasting,” can also mean “to the world.”] Accordingly, the Alter Rebbe expounded:15 “What brings about לְעוֹלָם טוֹב, so that טוֹב (‘goodness’) will be drawn down לְעוֹלָם (‘into the material world’), is chasdo ha’atzmi, G‑d’s pristine kindness.”16 The Alter Rebbe then proceeded to deliver a maamar on that verse.

[The Rebbe Rayatz continues:] Nowadays, we also need to draw down blessings from G‑d’s pristine kindness – that He should “grant strength to the weary” and thus enable us to tide over the current period; that he should ease the birth pangs of the approach of Mashiach; and that we should soon be privileged to behold the Complete Redemption through our Righteous Mashiach, speedily and in our own days, Amen.

5. The pogroms in Russia in 5666 (late 1905) were the response of that wicked regime to the Revolution of 5665 (early 1905).17

That year, the government demanded that the Rabbinical Conference in Vilna confirm that all rabbis, and all teachers of Torah studies,18 must be obligated to attain a specified standard of secular education. It was at that time that my revered father declared: “Whatever the outcome, this is not going to happen!”

R. Tevele Katzenelenbogen presided over that Conference, and the other learned participants included R. David Karliner. In the course of the proceedings, my father was asked if he wanted to say something, and he answered, “Not yet.” R. Chaim Brisker was then asked, and he gave the same answer. My father then asked of R. Chaim Brisker that the elder rabbanim, when writing documents of ordination for prospective rabbanim, should confirm that they are truly G‑d-fearing. Accordingly, R. Chaim Brisker wrote to R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, urging him to see to it that this requirement be given more attention.

Before the close of the Conference my father was again asked to speak, but declined as before. R. Chaim Brisker was then asked again to speak, but once again he too declined. (By the way: Although in all other respects R. Chaim Brisker was orderly, he simply disregarded the conventional formalities according to which the discussions were conducted. Whenever he had something to say, he said it.)

At this point, seeing that R. Chaim, too, did not intend to speak, my father announced: “Since the rav of Brisk does not want to speak, I shall speak.”

These were his words:19 “Not by our will did we leave the Land of Israel and not by our will shall we return to that Holy Land. Our Father, our King, exiled us from there, and it is He Who will bring us back there. Nevertheless,20 this must be stated for everyone to hear: Our bodies are in exile, but not our neshamos and nefashos!”21

These stern words of my father made a powerful impact on those present. They included two government representatives: one was an apostate, and the other was a professor of Oriental Languages at the Academy, so both of them understood Yiddish. They wrote down every word of his, and he was arrested and imprisoned soon after [...].22 And those who suffered most were the observant Jews.

Later, in the year 5670 (1910), the Russian government wanted to renew the decree and therefore were prepared to dispense with the services of the kazyonne rabiner, the governmentally-recognized rabbis, but they still insisted that the rabbanim, the bona fide rabbis, must have secular education. All the rabbanim were almost ready to agree to this, arguing in despair, “What can be done?” My father, however, declared: “This is not going to happen!” Even though some of the kazyonne rabbanim were Talmudic scholars, and some of them were G‑d-fearing, my father held that matters such as lobbying or birth certificates should be in their province, but for questions relating to the Shulchan Aruch one should consult a rav. True, he argued, there is a [printed] Shulchan Aruch, but beyond that one needs a live Shulchan Aruch, which means – a rav.

The minister in charge at that time was a particularly evil individual called Stolipin. When visited by a delegation of rabbanim, he made a point of not looking at them. Nevertheless, he did less harm to the Jewish community than might have been expected of him. At that time, when a committee of seven rabbanim was chosen, he asked the provincial governor to see to it that my father and R. Chaim Brisker should not be elected. The governor replied that he could not oblige, and both were in fact included in that committee. In addition, there was also a much broader committee of rabbanim.

All seven representatives were men with stalwart hearts and strong minds, and whenever the need arose, they stood up for their principles unflinchingly. While they were [performing even a seemingly ordinary mitzvah such as] washing their hands before a meal they were as humble and contrite as the greatest tzaddik is at Minchah time on Yom Kippur – but when the occasion demanded it, they were utterly resolute.

My father commented at that time that even though Haman is no longer alive, his evil designs have survived. Some time later, the governmental authorities threatened that if the rabbanim did not concede, pogroms that had already been prepared would erupt in 102 towns.

My father’s response: “We are not afraid of that, because there has not been a decree from Above.”

[Here the Rebbe Rayatz added parenthetically:23 ] Now, there is a decree from Above...

At that time committees were set up in many Jewish towns – to be vigilant, to do whatever could be done, and to notify people where necessary of the situation. In order that no suspicion should be aroused in official circles, these committees were known as “fire brigades.”

6. There is a painful phrase in today’s haftarah.24 After listing Assyria, Egypt, Patros and other lands [from which the banished exiles of Israel will need to be redeemed by Mashiach], the prophet adds “the islands in the sea.” Until now, all the calamities that have befallen our people – such as the Spanish Inquisition and likewise throughout Europe – have taken place in mainland countries, but not on the islands. And now they have reached even there. There’s hardly a corner in Europe that has not been soaked with Jewish blood. And this has reached even the islands in the sea.

The situation is grave indeed. True, this is a time at which “My salvation is soon to come,”25 but in the meantime – it is very hard to speak, but one must speak truthfully – at the present moment, calamity is soon to come. And this depends on us, to transform צָרָה (“calamity”) to צֹהַר (“a source of light”),26 so that there will be an abundance of light.

The frigid streets need to be warmed; the darkness needs to be lit up. To wake up someone who is fast asleep at night in a house on fire is not a kindly act: it’s an obligation, which is even a natural instinct.

Today a fire is raging, and the slumberers must be woken up. One ought to go out in the street, from door to door, and urge people to enroll their children in chadarim, in kosher Talmud-Torahs – schools in which children are taught the practice of Yiddishkeit, such as how to say a berachah. The same applies to yeshivos; not necessarily Tomchei Temimim, but yeshivos in general. Just as in the time of the Beis HaMikdash Divine service was centered on the avodah there, and after its destruction avodah was centered on synagogues and batei midrash, the avodah specifically required today is going out in the street and arousing people to fortify the observance of Yiddishkeit in general, and in particular, the observance of those mitzvos on which the very lives of people depend.

7. There is a certain expression in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch:27 “[any] G‑d-fearing person, any man of valor whose heart G‑d has touched.” This would appear to be repetitious. However, there is a difference between a yerei Shamayim, a G‑d-fearing person, and an ish chayil, “a man of valor.” A person can be G‑d-fearing – he studies Torah and he davens – but out in the street he does nothing. A man of valor is someone who is active in this field – and that is because his yiras Shamayim, his fear of G‑d, touches his innermost heart. The gematria of חַיִל (chayil) is מ"ח (48). This implies that he is active with regard to the last 48 permutations (tzeirufim) of the Divine Name Elokim,28 “in the land of the sons of Ham” (ח"ם).29

There exists an organization called Machne Israel.30 We have no need for idlers. Chassidim should be proactive, going out in the street and pleading with their fellow Jews: “Do teshuvah! Have pity on yourselves! The situation is dire and grim, and better things aren’t visible."

In earlier times, the first priority was the individual, and thereafter the public. Now the reverse is true. People have no conception of the value of a Jew’s prayer, of a single response of Amen, yehei Shmeih rabbah… Millions of angels are waiting for the prayer of one Jew, for one response of Amen, yehei Shmeih rabbah…, so that they can bring it to the Master of the Universe.

8. “One is obligated to cite a teaching in the very words of his mentor,”31 so let me quote something that my father used to say: “The time is short; the work is abundant.”

More than 19 months have passed since Rosh HaShanah, 5701 (1940) when, with G‑d’s help, the Machne Israel society was founded. Ever since then it has labored to buttress Yiddishkeit and to disseminate Torah and ahavas Yisrael, the love of a fellow Jew. Its earliest members undertook the rule that in all their activities they should remain incognito, even with regard to their nearest friends and immediate family. Each member’s planned and past activities are reported confidentially only to the organizers.

In the course of time, the Society has developed a program of activity. It welcomes all members equally, without exception, irrespective of age or status – scholars and others, old and young, rich and not rich – so long as they are dedicated workers in the program of Machne Israel. The Society needs neither idlers nor publicity, but only positive activity for the strengthening of Yiddishkeit, with regard to tefillin, the observance of Shabbos and of the laws of family purity (taharas hamishpachah), Torah schooling, and cultivating a love of fellow Jews.

The Jewish people at large, and in this country, too, are in a grievous situation. Anti-Semites are increasing from day to day, and as time goes on they are becoming more overt and more dangerous. In this country, thank G‑d, there are upright people and righteous gentiles whose help – garbed in natural, mundane processes – will see to the salvation of the Jewish people. This, however, requires that the goodwill of the Creator ensure that those natural forces will remain unscathed, and will have the strength to protect “the scattered flock of Israel”32 against their bloodthirsty enemies.

The meaning of this painful predicament must be made clear in the minds of all Jews. The current predicament is the “tough king” and the “severe decrees” of which the tanna R. Eliezer33 and Rambam34 speak. They teach that in the era at the end of the exile, the suffering and the pangs of exile will motivate Jews to do teshuvah – and when they do teshuvah, G‑d will redeem His people through the Righteous Mashiach.

The task of the members of Machne Israel is to tell this to themselves and to others – not only in the beis midrash or the shul, but also out in the street and in the park.

We and our families are all standing on the threshold between life and (G‑d forbid) its opposite. The birth pangs leading to the coming of Mashiach are intense. There is one course of rescue – teshuvah. We cannot coerce anyone to be more pious and to observe the practical mitzvos, nor can we stretch out supportive hands to protect anyone from (G‑d forbid) forthcoming woes. The only thing we can do is to warn people, to plead in a brotherly voice that they feel compassion: “Fellow Jews! Have pity on yourselves, on your families, on the entire House of Israel – and do teshuvah!”

Committees of prominent laymen must be established for the following purposes: (a) to go out and visit Jewish homes in order to persuade parents to enroll their children in yeshivos, and in kosher Talmud-Torah schools whose male and female teachers are fully observant;(b) to make people aware of the laws of taharas hamishpachah, family purity, explaining that children who are born without prior immersion in a kosher mikveh are halachically disadvantaged,35 and that such a child is left with a permanent mark and is a shameful Kaddish;36 (c) to speak in the streets and in the parks about observing the holy Shabbos, and to say explicitly: “Fellow Jews! Guard Shabbos, and Shabbos will guard you!” and (d) to exert the most strenuous efforts to bolster Yiddishkeit in general and particularly the observance of all the practical mitzvos.

Every Jew and Jewess ought to recognize the seriousness of the present period. The Creator is breaking the chains of galus and the world will be brightened by the Complete Redemption – but this must come only by means of teshuvah.

The frigid Jewish streets and the dark Jewish homes must be warmed up and made luminous – by the warmth radiated by those who are loyal to the Torah and the mitzvos. This outreach work must be undertaken as fast as possible and cannot be delayed. A fool postpones; a wise man acts at once. The demand of the hour is that the air must be cleansed and refined. A person’s life and the quality of that life depend on the air he breathes. If a person lives in an atmosphere of Torah and mitzvos, he lives a healthy life; if he lives in a G‑d-less atmosphere, his life is unhealthy and he is constantly prone to contract contagious ailments. The first universal remedy is thus – cleansing the air.

This is accomplished by the very letters that constitute the words of Torah. When a person is standing in his store or in the subway and utters letters of the Torah, he is cleansing the air. This obligation lies upon every Torah scholar, each of whom should memorize passages – of Chumash, Tehillim, Mishnayos, Tanya – so that at any time and in any place he can think upon the holy Torah words, and articulate them.

It is essential that Jews should commit mishnayos to memory, at a rate of two or three a week, “and he who gathers little by little increases it.”37 Such a commitment is easy for anyone, and reviewing those mishnayos at all times and in all places will not only refine the air in general but will also refresh one’s own air. And the Society for Memorizing Mishnayos should be spearheaded by yeshivah students and Torah scholars.

Fellow Jews! Whatever has been said about the work of Machne Israel and about refining the air by memorizing mishnayos does not relate to a particular party or a particular ideological group, such as chassidim or whomever. It relates universally to Jews at large, and also serves to safeguard the individual.

Fellow Jews! Listen to what you are being told!

It is painfully difficult to say things that are not good, and how much more so, to say (G‑d forbid) bad things. I don’t want to scare anyone, but the present warning does not articulate even a part of what can (May G‑d have mercy and protect us!) happen. Heavy, dark clouds are looming. The Jew-haters are sharpening their teeth; the tormentors of our people are disseminating terrible incitement. And the only remedy to this perilous situation is the teshuvah movement, which must be activated by all Jewish men and women, regardless of whether they are old or young, poor or rich. This is not simply a question of loving one’s fellow Jews, but of saving one’s fellow Jews.

What is called for is complete teshuvah, ridding oneself of negative desires, and of unmonitored thoughts and words and actions. All those things vanish when a person is threatened by something fearful. It shakes him up, and makes him constantly aware of his dire predicament. In such a case, every soul-searching individual can find a reason to explain why his current misfortune has befallen him. This is not the case with the Jewish people at large. People do not realize what urgent advocacy is now being presented to the Heavenly Court on behalf of a Jew who sins, highlighting his merits and his mitigating circumstances.38 However, the sinner should preferably not find out how his current conduct is being defended – in positive language which in former times was not used even when describing consummate tzaddikim

We are obligated to arouse our fellow Jews to respond to the call, Shuvah Yisrael – “Return, O Israel!”39 This obligation takes precedence over discovering innovative insights in the course of one’s Torah study.40 I am not denying the value of chiddushim, G‑d forbid – but today, the urgent need is teshuvah, [as it was in Stalinist Russia]. Over there, people literally risked their lives to set up clandestine chadarim at a time when that was illegal, and some of them were in fact exiled to Siberia – whereas over here, one can study [and disseminate] Torah freely, thank G‑d, without any difficulty.

9. Once, during a very harsh year, the Baal Shem Tov cited the phrase, “The decree is due to be annulled.”41 He then raised the question with the Holy Brotherhood:42 How much time is granted for people to do teshuvah? In the story of Nineveh, we find a period of forty days.43 This, however, relates to non-Jews, who even after their teshuvah retain the status of gentiles, sons of Noah. In the case of Jews, we find that the period allowed for teshuvah is a year, as in the days of Mordechai and Esther.44

[That said,] a fool postpones; a wise man acts immediately.

10. [The Rebbe directed that the Alter Rebbe’s Niggun of Four Themes be sung, and that the closing theme be sung three times. He then said:]

Among the Alter Rebbe’s chassidim, that niggun was known as Tekiah Gedolah,” alluding to the verse, וּתְקַעְתִּיו יָתֵד בְּמָקוֹם נֶאֱמָן – “I shall wedge him in like a tent peg, in a firm place.”45 This can either mean that when meditating on a spiritual concept, one firmly fixes it within oneself, or that one firmly fixes oneself within that spiritual concept.

11. The year 5640 (1879-1880) in Russia was a harsh year of anti-Semitic decrees. The leading figure among the many public-spirited lobbyists was R. Yeshayahu Berlin. Once, when one such delegation returned to Lubavitch from Petersburg with unpromising tidings, my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash told them to prepare punch on which to say LeChaim. In fact they had already prepared it – in the spirit of the phrase46 that considers the possibility that one may discharge one’s obligation to relate the story of the Haggadah even before Pesach begins…

At the farbrengen that followed, they asked the Rebbe Maharash, “When will we see daylight?” And he answered: “The day after tomorrow.”

[The Rebbe Rayatz concluded:] That “day after tomorrow” is today. Nevertheless, there must be teshuvah, complete teshuvah – teshuvah over one’s intellectual activity, over one’s character traits, and over one’s thoughts, words and actions.47 And may G‑d grant that those who are present today in This World will be privileged, together with their families, to welcome our Righteous Mashiach in the immediate future. May G‑d grant that the birth pangs heralding the approach of Mashiach will be eased, and that daylight will soon appear.