1. [When the chassidim and yeshivah students1 began to enter the sukkah, R. Shmuel Levitin remarked to the Rebbe: “Chassidim have a fine sense of smell: they sensed that the Rebbe Shlita had gone out for the seudah in the sukkah.” To this the Rebbe responded:]

Chassidim have qualities beyond that. After all, the sense of smell is [merely] a natural phenomenon; it means only that one senses the [spiritual] smell of someone else. A chassid should aim to become sensitive to his own [spiritual] smell.

The chassidim of earlier days had completely refined their minds and characters, and only then were they considered to have arrived at the level of “chassid.” Nowadays, if someone merely davens three times a day, recites the Ketores2 before Minchah, and doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, he is already called a chassid…

2. Once, in my father’s early years as Rebbe,3 one of the niggunim that found their way from Eretz Yisrael to Lubavitch was a niggun that was sung by R. Shneur Slonim4 on the words, Al mi natashta me’at hatzon? – “In whose hands have you forsaken those few sheep?”5

[Now, the word me’at (מְעַט), translated above as “few,” appears in the verse,”…G‑d chose you] because you are the least (me’at) of all the nations.”6 [In these words the Sages hear G‑d saying: “I love you because even when I shower greatness upon you, you nevertheless humble yourselves (memaatim atzmechem) before Me.”7 Hence, on the non-literal level of interpretation known as derush,] my father perceived a mystical subtext in the above question, “In whose hands have you forsaken those few sheep?” The question is thus addressed to G‑d: “On whom are You relying that Your ‘sheep’ should retain their me’at, their characteristic humility?”8

Misnagdim used to say that they were characterized by Torah study, and they later added that they were also characterized by davenen, the avodah of prayer. That statement relates only to Torah and tefillah. However, it is among chassidim that one can find the above characteristic of me’at – both in personal humility, and in the attitude that whatever endeavors one has made in avodah, they never suffice.

3. This Chol HaMoed I received a letter from R. D[avid] M[eir],9 in which he relays something that he heard from R. Peretz [Chein], who was a zitzer in the court of the Mitteler Rebbe. At a farbrengen of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah in the big study hall, the Mitteler Rebbe had said: “If, once in seventy years, the One Above grants the soul of a Jew the merit of rejoicing at Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, then it was all worthwhile.” He added: “Sometimes that can happen with an ordinary drop of mashke, without any preparation.”

I once heard the following explanation of that statement from my father: “The phrase ‘seventy years’ echoes the verse, ‘The years of our lives amount to seventy,’10 and thus alludes to the task of a lifetime, which is the avodah of beirurim. A soul waits thousands of years until it is lowered into a body, and later comes the time for it to return and leave the body. If that soul is then able to prove that it rejoiced at Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, that suffices.”

4. There is a classic debate as to whether, in the case of a penitent who forces his way inside11 to secure forgiveness, teshuvah is applicable only at the level of pnimi, or even at the level of makkif.12 The Alter Rebbe states, as a halachic decision, thatforcing one’s way inside13 can be effective even at the level of makkif, by means of teshuvah in the course of Kerias Shema she’al HaMitah, the prayers before retiring at night – and then the result is far beyond the ordinary.

5. Shemini Atzeres is the time of kelitah (lit., absorption and integration).14 At this time, [the downward flow of] positive spiritual energy[from higher levels of Elokus] is absorbed and integrated15 in Knesses Yisrael, the Supernal “Mother” of the souls of the Jewish people,16 in both the material realm and the spiritual realm. This integration of spiritual energy derives from all the levels of Elokus, even from as far “up” as the ultimate, innermost Will of the Essence of the Ein-Sof17 – the pristine level of Elokus from which G‑d’s choice of the souls of the Jewish people [at Sinai] derives.18 And it is the avodah of the month of Elul,through the days of Selichos, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, that generates this process of integration.

The abundant growth of plants depends on how a seed is integrated19 in the ground. G‑d endowed the earth, not the heavens, with the power to promote growth. True, the sun and the moon also have a meaningful influence on the harvests of the earth, as it is written, “with the sweetness of the sun’s harvests, and the sweetness of the harvests that the moon brings forth,”20 and it was in the heavens that G‑d suspended them. However, their function is “to give light upon the earth,”21 the sun by day and the moon by night – but both for the benefit of the earth, because it is the earth that was endowed with the power to promote the growth of all kinds of vegetation. Nevertheless, in order for that potential to materialize in an orderly manner, a seed must first be sown. That seed decomposes in the soil and stimulates its power to promote growth, which is furthered by rain from heaven or by irrigation.

Apropos the way in which crops and harvests grow: The Sages raise a question as to whether hair grows at the end that is nearest its source or at the further end (Nazir 39a).22 True to their scholarly tradition, the Sages of the Gemara, and later the Geonim, debated this subject in great detail, like all the subjects that arise in the revealed levels of the Torah. However, now is not the time to engage in an intricate exposition of nezirus, the status of a nazir. Our purpose now is to arouse people to invest effort in the avodah of refining middos, the attributes of one’s character, and to practice the mitzvah to love every fellow Jew – in the spirit of the teachings of Chabad Chassidus, in which middos are generated by the mind.

6. The goal of Simchas Torah is not only that we should be happy with the Torah, but also that the Torah should be happy with us. This means that not only should the Torah be studied, but that one should be actively involved23 in it,24 so that it should not appear to be “forlorn, with no one involved in it.”25 Being involved in the Torah means resigning one’s personal will, so that throughout the year one will conduct his life according to the Torah.

It is written,26 Zos haTorah Adam. [In its context, the verse first states that “This is the law: If a man were to die in a tent…,” and then proceeds to detail the relevant laws concerning ritual impurity. For the purposes of the present derush, however, the first three words in the Holy Tongue are regarded as if constituting a self-contained phrase, which implies:] This Torah is a man. Moreover, it is structured like a man, who comprises head, torso and legs, and whose highest faculties are located in the head.

A man’s body must be kept clean, and in particular his head, so that his hair will not attract the nauseating annoyance of lice. By way of analogy, a Torah student needs to vigilantly monitor himself and keep himself clean, and in particular the intellectual faculties27 in his head, so that they will not host nauseating characteristics, such as pride.

7. [The Rebbe now turned to address the teachers and administrators of the junior yeshivos in the provincial towns:]

All of us, I and you, are utterly dedicating our lives to guiding students in the spirit of kosher education, in the institutions that are called Achei Temimim and Achayos Temimim.28 It is written, Hazor’im bedim’ah… – “Those who sow in tears...”29 You, alumni of Tomchei Temimim, are those who sow; the tears are mine. If you were only to know how many tears I have shed for the surviving yeshivos on the other side of the ocean and for the few yeshivos here... There would be enough to fill a mikveh for their students to immerse in!

My revered father taught me that one should exert oneself in the cause of Torah study, and in the cause of the spiritual lifestyle of Chassidus, with utter dedication, setting oneself aside until the task at hand has been fulfilled. [At this point the Rebbe pointed at his own eyes and added:] May G‑d grant that these eyes of flesh will be privileged to behold flocks upon flocks of G‑d-fearing students.

8. The erudite chassid,30 R. Aizik of Homil, was cheerful by nature. Being an assiduous and unusually gifted young man, he was cherished by his father and father-in-law, and his townsmen loved to hear whatever he said or narrated. The heavyweight scholars among them valued the scholarly expositions of Gemara that he regularly delivered for them, and an eager group of the less learned folk enjoyed the teachings of the Sages that he shared with them, as together they read Ein Yaakov.31 Thus, not only were his parents and parents-in-law proud of him, but even the local men and women used to wish his gifts upon themselves.

One of the veteran villagers was a blacksmith whose smithy stood next to his little old cottage, and everyone, including R. Aizik, knew that this Shimon Tzadok was a chassid. [Everyone also knew that he was a scholar of stature.] R. Aizik recounted: “He himself didn’t have a full grasp of what it means to be a chassid, but as for the people around him, simply knowing that Shimon Tzadok was one of the chassidim was enough to enable them to gather what scholars of stature chassidim are.”

The Alter Rebbe once passed through that village and rested there for a few hours. He then addressed those present, as follows:

Jews are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and our Father in Heaven calls the Children of Israel goy echad baaretz – “the one nation on earth.”32 Now, even before Avraham there were tzaddikim. The superiority of Avraham is alluded to by the three letters that spell the word echad (אֶחָד). The alef represents Alufo shel Olam, “the Master of the Universe”;33 the letter ches represents the seven heavens and the earth;34 the letter daled represents the four directions.35 And the Jew is at the vortex of it all.

An awareness of this echad, [which expresses G‑d’s omnipresence,] ought to be experienced not only within oneself: it should also impact others.36, 37

9. Chassidim knew my father only at the level of his Netzach-Hod-Yesod, not at the level of his Chessed-Gevurah-Tiferes, and certainly not at the level of his Chochmah-Binah-Daas.38

My father once told me: “By the time I was twelve my body was drilled,39 as in the military, so that every organ did what it was meant to do. My father, [the Rebbe Maharash], was very punctilious about the times during which my brother, R. Zalman Aharon, and I studied nigleh.40 I thus had a fixed time during which I studied Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, and it was then that my body was drilled to obey the orders of the Shulchan Aruch.”

[The Rebbe Rayatz added:] In the case of my father, this took place at the age of twelve. Today, in our generation, if only we would accomplish this by the age of seventy…!

Drilling the body can be observed in any Jew who walks into shul, hears people responding, Kadosh…!41 and springs to attention. He may be full of alien thoughts, but when he hears that word, his heels spontaneously rise from the floor. Likewise, when he hears Modim, he bows forward.42 True, he is one of those who bow down at Modim, but he does so [only by instinct,] like a creature – just as when a person is asleep, he is not (G‑d forbid) dead. So, too, with our subject: this person’s response is only like that of a creature. The difference is that a creature can be either pure or impure, whereas in our subject, everyone is pure. If he is not pure right now, he will be pure tomorrow or the day after. That said, he still resembles a mere creature. Every endeavor ought to be infused with vitality – and this comes about via the avodah of davenen.

10. A chassid by the name of R. Zalman Yitzchak, the great-grandfather of the chassidic brothers, R. Zalman Yitzchak and R. Avigdor Volshanek, lived in Kalisk and had a soul-connection with the tzaddik, R. Avraham of Kalisk. Nevertheless, with his expansive intellect and his profound scholarship in the teachings of Chassidus, this chassid did not find satisfaction in the expositions with which R. Avraham conveyed the teachings that he had heard from the Maggid of Mezritch.

When the Alter Rebbe returned from his stay in Mezritch and began to disseminate the teachings of the Maggid as expounded in the Chabad school of thought which he had founded, R. Zalman Yitzchak grew close to him and became a chassid of his. He was a remarkable maskil43 who davened with fiery ardor,44 and would repeat and explain the Alter Rebbe’s teachings in clear terms. Thus it was that within a short time, the number of Chabad chassidim increased significantly, because in addition to his erudition in Chassidus, R. Zalman Yitzchak was a man of refined character who loved his fellowmen. He brought them close to Chassidus by explaining its concepts in terms that they could understand, and by encouraging their efforts in upright conduct. Little wonder that he was universally liked.

In his youth, R. Zalman Yitzchak had studied under R. David Leib of Beshenkovitz, who sixty years earlier had arrived there to study under the learned R. Yaakov Shimshon, and eventually settled there as a highly-focused, fulltime Torah scholar. R. Zalman Yitzchak now told his former mentor, R. David Leib, that he had become a chassid. He told him all about the Chabad approach to Chassidus as taught by the Alter Rebbe, and also about the Baal Shem Tov’s ahavas Yisrael for unlettered folk, whom he brought close to the observance of mitzvos. He added that in the eyes of G‑d, their artless faith and their unquestioning acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven are valued Above more highly than the contrived debates of sophisticated Torah scholars.

R. Zalman Yitzchak went on to describe the chassidic avodah of the tzaddikim who were the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. He told him of how the learned R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev used to arouse G‑d’s compassion on His people, and how he personified the approach of ahavas Yisrael. In particular, when speaking to his former mentor, R. Zalman Yitzchak explained the Alter Rebbe’s teachings on the love and awe of G‑d, and on how one’s avodah towards attaining some conception of Elokus can be fuelled by employing one’s Chochmah, Binah and Daas.

In response to what he had now heard from his former disciple, R. David Leib asked that he should make of him a chassid, but R. Zalman Yitzchak explained: “At this point you can never be a chassid. A chassid is a fiery bundle of joy, whereas you’ve been fed on frigid melancholy.”

When R. David Leib later visited the Alter Rebbe with the same request, the Alter Rebbe shared with him such profound scholarly insights that his visitor was delighted. As to his request, however, the Alter Rebbe replied that he could not make a chassid of him, and added: “The ice-bound ocean will be warmed up only by Mashiach!”

11. The laws governing the observance of minhagim vary between customary practice in a traveler’s hometown and customary practice at his destination.45 In the case of customs that relate to chassidic avodah, one is obligated to observe both the stringencies of his starting point and the stringencies of the place at which he has now arrived.46

It was customary in the Old Country that even though the boundaries of a newly-bought property were documented, the purchaser would nevertheless erect a fence around it. That ensured that people would not enter from three directions, because the fence made it clear that this was someone’s private property.

Likewise, Jews must realize that we are in the Diaspora. A fence is needed to ensure that neighbors should not trespass, because when one lives among neighbors, either he is an influencer or he becomes complacently influenced. We are not obligated to seek out ways of correcting the neighbors, but we do need a fence – and that fence is the Shulchan Aruch, without compromises.

People nowadays are frozen, and feel nothing. We see this palpably: when someone is expiring (G‑d forbid) from sheer cold, he feels nothing. One should warm himself up, and also warm up others. That kind of warmth is to be found in chassidim who are involved with the spiritual lifestyle of Chassidus in general, and who in particular engage in the avodah of tefillah.47

12. My father is the kos shel berachah, the cup of blessing,48 of all the Rebbes – the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, my grandfather the Rebbe Maharash, and the seventh generation49 of the chassidic school of thought.50

My father once said that wherever a chassid invests effort in disseminating Torah study and in fortifying the practice of Yiddishkeit, he will succeed.

13. The Alter Rebbe once wrote the following: “[As to what I am about to say,] ‘those who seek G‑d will understand all.’51 It commonly happens that at a time of goodwill52 Above…, G‑d initiates an illumination that arouses a person to love Him… However, it is not at all common that an awe and dread of Him is similarly aroused by a unsolicited illumination… Rather, it follows from these words of truth that every earnest man whose heart is touched by the awe of G‑d [must toil to arouse that awe and dread of G‑d].”53

Some people, my father explains, are known as “those who serve G‑d with their souls”;54 some people are known as “those who serve G‑d with their bodies.”55 Both of these terms relate to their varying approaches to avodah. In contrast,56 a soldier is utterly devoted to his service to the point of self-sacrifice. A soldier knows nothing of the reasons: he knows only the orders he has been given – for example, to guard the spot at which he has been positioned. And this is how one should relate to the Torah, utterly surrendering one’s will. This is called mesirus nefesh (literally, “handing over one’s soul), which really means “handing over one’s will.”57