1. Today we began to read the first words of the Torah – “In the beginning, G‑d created heaven and earth.” Now, the word for “In the beginning” is בְּרֵאשִׁית (Bereishis), whose first letter is beis, with a numerical value of two, while the rest of the word, reishis, means “the first.” Hence Rashi perceives a subtext: Heaven and earth were created for the sake of two entities that are called “the first” – the people of Israel, and the Torah.1 [Likewise, the whole of Creation took place within the parameters of] time and space, both of which were newly-created entities,2 for this was the Will of the Creator.

Every mitzvah has its time and place. Thus, a Jew’s day begins with an expression of thanksgiving: Modeh ani lefanecha… – “I thankfully acknowledge You...,” and this is said as soon as one wakes up, even before washing the hands for netilas yadayim, because all the sources of defilement in the world cannot defile a Jew’s Modeh ani.

Even though American Jews (poor fellows!) are deeply immersed in the turmoil of “making a living,” as they call it, their Modeh ani remains intact, because they brought its Old World flavor with them from Poland, Russia, Galicia, Latvia, and the like. True, American Jews have their failings, such as prioritizing Form, the claims of materialism, over Matter, their spiritual needs. People are active in pursuing a livelihood from childhood through old age. In all of them, nevertheless, the familiar Modeh ani survives intact.

The current Arctic frigidity in the practice of Yiddishkeit was introduced by the freethinking melamdim, who aim their venom especially to the institutions that provide kosher education. They are an affliction that affects the Chosen People, and one must keep a distance from them.

2. Simchas Torah is the time of joy; its mitzvah is to be happy. Pesach is the time for eating matzah; the mitzvah of Rosh HaShanah is sounding the shofar; the mitzvah of Yom Kippur is fasting (as it is written, “you shall afflict your souls”3). The festivals in general are called “the season of our rejoicing,”4 though the degree of joy [on Sukkos] varies, depending on one’s preceding avodah on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Nevertheless, there is a difference between these two kinds of avodah. The avodah of Rosh HaShanah aims to bring about a paradigm shift in one’s soul,5 and that is very difficult. Even after one’s spiritual stocktaking during Elul, and after the spiritual arousal experienced during the days of Selichos, bringing about a paradigm shift in one’s soul remains an arduous challenge. In contrast, rejoicing on Simchas Torah is the same in all Jews, great and small, Torah scholars and unlettered folk alike. As my father used to say, the happy and wholehearted dancing of Simchas Torah fuels [all] Jews with vitality in their Torah study and their observance of mitzvos throughout the entire year.

[In contrast,] it pains my heart to see the frigidity of the American Jews who observe the Torah and the mitzvos. As it is written, “You have grown fat, and coarse, and gross.”6 In the Old Country, too, there were people who grew fat – but the coarseness and grossness weren’t like they are here.

When I visited here thirteen years ago, I came to a certain conclusion about the local Jews. I observed the positive qualities and the failings, but nevertheless thought that perhaps I had been mistaken. However, these two-and-a-half years since my arrival here have reinforced my conclusion. True, the local Jews have positive qualities, such as their simple, artless faith – but that’s as far as it goes. That faith doesn’t extend any further. It does not relate to tefillin or Shabbos. This is the above-mentioned coarseness and grossness. This is the mud that has besmirched the rose. There is a rose, but it grows in a dusty spot. The wind whips up the dust, and then the rain turns it into mud.

The Torah scholars must clear away that mud. Their Torah study should be such that not only the ground [on which they stand] should feel their presence. They should open up windows – not in order to admit light, but in order to light up the world outside. It is the responsibility of the mashpi’im, educators and administrators of their various institutions to equip them for this mission. It reverberates as high as the very Name of G‑d. It provides an opportunity to sanctify the Name of Heaven.

3. Torah scholars in general, and yeshivah students in particular, should be keenly aware of [the above-mentioned interpretation of] Bereishis bara Elokim7 – that events, reasons and wars all take place for the sake of the people of Israel, and the Torah.

The treife8 Talmud Torah schools are the bomb-throwers. If someone were to throw a bomb in the middle of a street, people would tear him apart – and the treife Talmud Torah schools throw bombs. Their aim (May it never materialize!) is to uproot belief in G‑d and in the sanctity of the Torah.Those pupils who are obligated [by the law of the land] to engage in secular studies should do so after their Torah studies.9 The day of a Jew, and especially of a child, should begin with Modeh ani and with the morning prayers – and then he may be called a healthy Jew.

Fellow Jews! Parents whom G‑d has blessed with children, and who entrust those children to treife teachers, whether male or female, are throwing a bomb that will (G‑d forbid!) uproot belief in Creation – that “In the beginning, G‑d created…”

I am addressing a heartfelt request to the rabbis, shochtim and heads of the various congregations – to publicize the above words, and may blessings light upon them and upon their families.

4. The Baal Shem Tov showed closeness to ordinary, unlettered folk, and thereby set them up in a sunlit spot. The Alter Rebbe implanted in his chassidim an urge to help a fellow Jew materially. His chassidim toiled hard to earn a living. Many of them were craftsmen in the towns, while others were farmers or millers, or vegetable gardeners who peddled their wares in the villages that were located in the estates of the local squires. For all of them, earning a livelihood was a heavy burden.

And when one of those chassidim had a profitable week, he was certain that when he came home he would either find a letter from the Alter Rebbe appealing for funds, or an emissary who was collecting for the poor people in Eretz Yisrael. So richly had the Alter Rebbe endowed and nurtured his chassidim with brotherly love and with a sense of mutual responsibility, that those who did business with the wealthy squires in particular were in fact eager to encounter such a letter or such an emissary. This openhanded generosity, which was aroused by the Alter Rebbe’s pastoral letters,10 gave birth to the expression that was common among his chassidim and their families: “The earnings that G‑d has granted us include your share, too.”

5. Once, at a farbrengen of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, my father relayed something that his father, the Rebbe Maharash, had heard from his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, namely: the Alter Rebbe had devoted self-sacrificing effort to investing his chassidim with a deeply-felt love of every fellow Jew, and with a desire to relate to ordinary, unscholarly Jews with brotherly closeness.

My father added that tzedakah is sometimes given in such a way that the recipient is made to feel that what he is receiving is tzedakah. True, tzedakah is given out of one’s pained sensitivity to what the other fellow is lacking. However, the donor’s smug satisfaction that this need was filled by him smacks of the vulgar odor of self-worth: after all, it was he who helped that fellow. Basking expansively in the thought that it was he whom Heaven made a donor, his self-estimation becomes so bloated that his girth, so to speak, exceeds his height…

In addition, his pride runs counter to the truth because, as the Alter Rebbe teaches, the avodah of giving tzedakah ought to bring the opposite result – that “his mind and heart become refined elef pe’amim kachah, a thousandfold.”11

This teaching was expounded by my father, also at a farbrengen of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, in 5657 (1896), [summarized and paraphrased] as follows:

The number 1000 is associated with the level of Elokus called Keser, and specifically to its highest level, Atik, which in the Kabbalah is known as “the lower aspect of the Maatzil (i.e., the Divine Emanator).” Within Atik, the highest of its three levels is the intellective triad whose acronym is Chabad, comprising Chochmah, Binah and Daas. When a person gives tzedakah, “his mind and heart are refined elef pe’amim kachah, a thousandfold:” the intellective (Chabad) aspect of Atik surfaces within his soul, and by impacting his mind and heart, his soul is elevated.

At that stage, one’s avodah in davenen is unrecognizably upgraded: his davenen wells forth spontaneously,12 and lights up the whole day’s avodah of each individual according to his particular spiritual situation.

6. At the Bolivke country resort in 5655 (1895), my father remarked to me that popular folk expressions in Yiddish express an inner source and should be treasured. A chassidisher individual who takes his avodah seriously, a chassidisher davener, relishes them. For example: People commonly say that gelt iz blotte (“Money is mud”), and indeed, the Sages teach that gold was created only for the sake of the Sanctuary.13 (Moreover, silver and gold have a separate…14) However, one needs to know how each such expression should be understood. If money is spent for material ends, it is mud; if it is invested in building Torah schools and for kosher education, it is used appropriately.

All of us – men and women, youths and young women – who have been brought to America are obligated to transform this country into a home for Torah. We must erase the [self-excusing] response, “This is America…” That shameful phrase will be eradicated when G‑d grants us immigrants success in our endeavors to disseminate Torah and avodah.

7. On the second night of Sukkos after Maariv, my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, would begin to celebrate Simchas Beis HaShoeivah with singing and dancing. He used to dance so energetically that even the young men were unable to keep up to his pace. At the farbrengens on those occasions he usually used to say: “My grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, who drew down and defined the Chochmah of the teachings of Chassidus, used to explain the above subject15 in a certain way.16 And my uncle and father-in-law, [the Mitteler Rebbe,] who revealed and drew down the Binah of the teachings of Chassidus, uncovered a multitude of detailed corollaries from that seminal point.” And in the course of amplifying those stages [in the intellective process], my grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, himself revealed the power [given to a person] by the Daas of the teachings of Chabad Chassidus.

After celebrating such a farbrengen of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah, my grandfather would study a halachah in Choshen Mishpat with intense concentration, in order to allow the perspiration exuded by the exertions of a mitzvah17 to dry, and thus no unholy forces would be able to derive nurture from it.18

On Simchas Torah, 5576 (1815), my grandfather danced so vigorously that some of the husky young men, in their efforts to keep up with him, even fell to the floor. While he was dancing he announced: “Dance, fellow Jews, dance! Rejoice in the Torah’s joy, and by virtue of that you will be blessed with life, children and a plentiful livelihood!”

In fact Rebbitzin Chayah Moussia went in to complain to her father, the Mitteler Rebbe, that her husband, the Tzemach Tzedek, was exhausting the chassidim with his dancing: “You should have seen with your own eyes how he is beyond himself! My grandfather [i.e., the Alter Rebbe] told me that he has capacious gifts, and his mental capacity, too, is extensive.”19

The Mitteler Rebbe responded: “He is now being lighted up by a revelation of the light of Simchas Torah as it radiated in the Beis HaMikdash, which is alluded to by the name Levanon. In the Holy Tongue, the word לְבָנוֹן comprises two clusters of letters: ל"ב – נו"ן. The numerical value of the letters ל"ב totals 32, in reference to the Thirty-Two Paths of Chochmah; the value of the letter nun is 50, in reference to the Fifty Gates of Binah. The word לְבָנוֹן (Levanon) thus signifies the connection between the Thirty-Two Paths of Chochmah and the Fifty Gates of Binah. It was at the celebration of Simchas Beis HaShoeivah [in the Beis HaMikdash] that Yonah ben Amitai was granted the revelation of prophecy. And he [i.e., the Tzemach Tzedek], by means of his Simchas Torah, is being granted a revelation of the atzmus, the very essence, of his soul, in the state in which it exists in the World of Atzilus, and even higher. Indeed, the Torah itself is elevated to the Atzmus, the very Essence, of Elokus – as a result of his rejoicing on Simchas Torah!”

After Maariv at the close of Simchas Torah, my grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, used to change his silk coat,20 because by that time the one he had worn was soaked and torn to shreds. And after he had retired to his private study, the Mitteler Rebbe’s elder chassidim used to receive pieces of that torn garment, which they kept as a segulah for success in their Torah study and their avodah.

Today, then, is that day of rejoicing, Simchas Torah. On this day, in the World Above, the power of the Evil Eye21 is taken away. Throughout the year, the kelipos and sitra achara can (G‑d forbid) arouse an Evil Eye, but on Simchas Torah, G‑d’s blessings for the Jewish people radiate undimmed. [Since at that time the Evil Eye is disarmed,] it is only on Simchas Torah that a father and his sons ascend to the Reading of the Torah together. And by dancing joyfully on that day one can elicit abundant blessings for Jews in general, and for those who engage in Torah and avodah in particular.

* * *

My father passed on to me the potential bequeathed by our holy forebears to act in the spirit of the verse, “Your right hand, O G‑d, shatters the enemy.”22 (Thus, as is well known, the innermost realm of kedushah includes a mode of conduct whereby one of the Sages gazed upon a certain individual and he became a pile of bones.23) However, I induced my father to see to it that I should be blessed instead with a mode of conduct inspired by the verse that speaks in praise of the Torah, “whose ways are pleasant ways and all its paths are peace.”24

* * *

The Alter Rebbe’s learned father, the tzaddik R. Baruch, used to relate to ordinary folk with cordial closeness. In those days, as is well known, the prominent Torah scholars and rabbanim and learned householders kept their distance from the unlettered craftsmen, who in the bigger communities even had separate houses of prayer.

The Baal Shem Tov was the first to teach his disciples to relate cordially to a Jew25 simply because he is a fellow Jew. As he pointed out, there are two possible reasons to love a fellow Jew: (a) because he is a Jew, which is an intrinsic quality26 that is found in every Jew, and (b) because he is a Torah scholar, which is an acquired or supplementary quality. His guidance on how to relate to ordinary fellow Jews was conscientiously followed by his disciples, sometimes at personal cost.

In the estate of the above-mentioned R. Baruch, he set up a shul and a hospitality hostel for wayfarers.27 Some of them stayed there for weeks, but since they preferred to be supported by the toil of their hands, he used to find odd jobs for them, and after working hours they would find a seat in the beis midrash. There they would study Torah, discuss teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, and share chassidic stories. And thus was born the tradition of chassidim to gather together from time to time for a brotherly farbrengen.28

* * *

The following tradition has been handed down by elder chassidim. When the Alter Rebbe came home from Mezritch, he cited a phrase from the Mishnah:29 דַּע מַה לְמַעְלָה מִמָּךְ – “Know what is above you,” and expounded it [on the non-literal level of interpretation known as derush] as if there were a dash between the third and fourth words in the Holy Tongue. The phrase then says: “Know that what is Above comes מִמָּךְ – from you; it all depends on you.”

[This means that] Atik of Atzilus30 is waiting eagerly to hear a Jew speaking words of Torah; the angels On High are waiting to hear him respond Barchu, Kedushah, or Amen. The soil on which people tread has been waiting since the Six Days of Creation for a Jew to walk on it while repeating a passage of Tehillim, or for two Jews to exchange Torah teachings as they walk.