11. My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, used to farbreng with his chassidim twice on Yud Kislev. His celebration at the evening farbrengen was linked to the fact that his mother, Rebbitzin Moussia, was a daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe, whereas his daytime farbrengen was prepared by my grandmother, [i.e., his wife, Rebbitzin Rivkah,] whose mother [too] was a daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe. At this farbrengen my grandfather would usually repeat the maamar that he had delivered the previous evening, though with added explanations.

Yud Kislev was one of the dates on which my father used to meet his father at yechidus every year.

2. Throughout his life, my great-uncle R. Baruch Shalom was a man of broken spirit: he could find no consolation for the passing of [his great-grandfather],2 the Alter Rebbe.3 The Alter Rebbe had taught him how to intone the Reading of the Torah4 and had told him how he had become a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, who had relayed to him certain traditions concerning the Baal Shem Tov.

3. The Mitteler Rebbe expected his chassidim to comprehend the meaning of Keser5 as thoroughly as they were familiar with their five fingers.They were expected to comprehend not only Chochmah and Binah, which can be sensed and experienced, but also even the two higher levels, Ratzon and Oneg. Even though in their physical analogy one does not know which finger is superior to which, one does know that Ratzon corresponds to Arich and that Oneg corresponds to Atik, [and that Atik is higher than Arich, and generates it]. And if the chassidim of the Mitteler Rebbe were to comprehend the meaning of [the component levels of] Keser as thoroughly as they were familiar with their five fingers, [even if they did not know their order of precedence,] he would be happy.

4. The Alter Rebbe used to praise the avodah of heartfelt exuberance6 that is generated by intellectual avodah.7

We once discussed at length the various levels and modes of avodah, together with examples. That discussion was based on the maamar that begins BeChaf-Hei BeKislev. There, the Alter Rebbedispraised exuberance of the heart and pointed out that the path of Chabad demands exuberance of the mind,8which leads one to invest effort in his Torah studies, whereas a person experiencing exuberance of the heart can imagine that he has discharged his obligations, and may focus less on the need to study.

Our forebears, the Rebbes, were not only utterly devoted lovers of their fellow Jews and true and expert mentors; in addition they were selfless and self-sacrificing physicians of the soul. They beamed their single-minded dedication to every individual, no matter how unrefined he may have been, to see to it that he too should become an oved HaShem, a Jew who serves G‑d. The result was that the words of Tehillim and the Amen of a plain Chabad-chassidic wagon-driver were pronounced with a distinctively warm and devoted relish.

Whether publicly at a farbrengen or privately to me, my father often described the Mitteler Rebbe’s avodah shebalev in general, and the specific levels of his davenen at the Shacharis, Minchah and Arvis of weekdays, Shabbos, Yom-Tov, and the Days of Awe.

For example: Between Minchah and Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur, wearing his shtreiml, he would stand with folded arms, deep in concentration – with intellectual toil9 so intense that perspiration dripped from the tip of his shtreiml. While highlighting the Mitteler Rebbe’s cerebral capacity and its intense labors, my father would add that one cannot assess what the Mitteler Rebbe accomplished at that time.

5. [One of those present said: “May G‑d grant all of the Jewish People salvations and consolations!” To this the Rebbe responded:] May G‑d grant all of us Jews one salvation – but a complete one!10 May our Righteous Mashiach come soon, and then all Jews will diffuse light. There will be celebration throughout all the Worlds of Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyahand G‑d’s Essence, which is revealed in the [higher, infinite] Ein-Sof Worlds, will also irradiate the lower Worlds. Ah! That will be such a happy time!

Let G‑d give all of His People a generous abundance of life, livelihood and nachas from their children as He alone can give, and the Jews will invest effort in studying Torah and performing mitzvos in generous measure.

6. Mitzvos are metaphorically called “fruit.”11 Fruit sprouts by virtue of the growth potential12 that the Holy One, blessed be He, has vested in the ground, not in the sky, and only by virtue of that potential can rain produce growth. True, fruit is enhanced thanks to the sky, via rain, and in addition, there is a verse that speaks of “the sweetness of the yield of the sun” and “the sweetness of the crop of the moon.”13 However, unless a seed is sown in soil, the soil’s growth potential achieves nothing.

The seed that has been sown in the ground sprouts only after the growth potential has absorbed moisture and the seed decays. If no seed is planted, all that will grow is wild and barren vegetation. Only after the sown seed has decayed does the desired growth take place, and then it is time to prune away the wild grass. Although that grass does not directly spoil the desired fruit, if it is not removed other things will grow, and this could produce kilayim, a forbidden mixture of species. To separate the wild and unwanted weeds from the desired yield and uproot them would be a laborious task. And even after that, there remains the problem of worms that attack roots, or twigs, or the fruit itself.

The Gemara asks:11 “What does ‘fruit’ signify [in the context cited there]?” The answer is: “Mitzvos.” To explain now all the details of what this metaphor signifies in the analog would be difficult, but in brief:

Mitzvos can be performed only “in the earth,” [that is, in the physical here and now], in the spirit of the verse, “You shall observe… the laws that I command you today, to observe them.”14 In the last two words of this verse, hayom laasosam, the Sages perceive a lesson: The opportunity to observe the laws is specifically today.

To continue with the metaphor: If one observes mitzvos, even with an awe of Heaven, but dreams them up himself,15 such mitzvos are wild weeds.

Also: After a seed has been sown, it must have moisture. People know that in the context of avodah, “moisture”16 signifies life-giving sap. An example of its absence would be a person’s [unmonitored] conversation that includes slanderous talk and gossip, even though he has just davened. True, he davened – but what is his davenen worth if it leaves room for an admixture of wild weeds?

If a person needs to arrange an interest-free loan or to do some other favor for the benefit of a fellow Jew, that must be done, for sure – but if for that purpose he shortens the time that he should have devoted to davenen, that is a worm attacking the root.

If people studying Chassidus focus mainly on its haskalah, its [unapplied] theoretical and philosophical dimension, and merely delight in propounding original expositions, that is a worm that attacks the very fruit itself. The haskalah that appears in Chassidus, and all the explanatory analogies that have been handed down from Rebbe to Rebbe, have one purpose, and that is – avodah.17 [Merely] thinking up original expositions and analogies is – worms.

7. People ought to study Chassidus and engage in the avodah of tefillah. Those who have come from overseas think that they came here in order to earn a better livelihood. To think that way is to deny the principle of Divine Providence, hashgachah peratis. People who think that way (G‑d forbid), even though they do so innocently, are disbelievers. It is G‑d Who gives bread to all flesh – and anyway, a piece of bread overseas is superior to a solid [American] breakfast.

In this country, wearing a beard and peyos is considered mesirus nefesh, an act of self-sacrifice – and in fact it is. But that is not the end of the story. In this country, if a person davens in the morning and then reads a few chapters of Tehillim, he is considered a yereh-Shamayim, a truly G‑d-fearing individual. If he also studies Torah for half-an-hour a day, he is a tzaddik, no less. And if he can join in a learned discussion, he is a considered a veritable gaon, a scholarly luminary. On the other side of the ocean an ordinary tailor – and far be it from me to belittle work! – and likewise a butcher would get up at 2:00 a.m., and go off to the local beis midrash to read Tehillim and to daven with an early minyan. He would then hoist his bundle on to his shoulders, and as he made his way to work, he would mull over what he recalled from Pirkei Avos or from Tehillim.

Every chassid who has migrated here ought to know why Divine Providence dispatched him here. If he is a rav, he needs to fulfill his mission, his particular shlichus, and if he is a shammes in a shul, he needs to know what he needs to accomplish, such as setting up a cheder, and so forth.

In the Old Country, people were in a more refined state. True, the spiritual condition of local Jewry is very weak, and it is essential that a chassid exert effort in strengthening it, but he must not forget the most crucial need – that he himself should study Chassidus. Some chassidim can allow weeks to pass without studying a single word of Chassidus. Even if they charitably offer their left ear to listen to a brief teaching, it soon makes an exit through the other ear. The role of a chassid is mesirus nefesh.18 People should recognize that what defines the “I” of a chassid is – avodah.

8. The famed tzaddik and chassid, R. Hillel [of Paritch], used to travel around the agricultural settlements of Kherson to raise funds for the ransom of captives,19 and would also provide kosher food for people who were imprisoned or hospitalized in Bobruisk. Most of the settlers were unsophisticated Jews with little learning. They tilled the soil and raised animals and poultry, and in the local Yiddish jargon they were nicknamed burlakess. And those burlakess outshone today’s geonim.

In this connection my father once quoted the verse, “And the man Moshe was very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth,”20 and commented: “When Moshe Rabbeinu was prophetically shown the generations that would hear the approaching footsteps of Mashiach,21 he saw not only their great lack of comprehension of Elokus, but also even a lack of avodah in general. Now, the soul of Moshe Rabbeinu sprang from Chochmah of the World of Atzilus. Nevertheless, by virtue of his humility, he was overawed by the mesirus nefesh of those generations!”

Once, in a field in Kherson, R. Hillel observed a plain and ordinary farmer, who was known by the name of his hometown as R. Shimon Beshnikovitzer, mowing his hay, meanwhile singing a chassidisher niggun. And elder chassidim had passed down the tradition that it was with this very niggun that the Mitteler Rebbe used to ardently accompany his davenen. R. Hillel then remarked to the minyan of chassidim who used to travel with him: “Just see and hear what that niggun has accomplished in that ordinary fellow Jew!”

[The Rebbe concluded:] What R. Hillel perceived was that R. Shimon’s Nehi mowed hay, while his Chabad and Chagas were where they were meant to be...”22

9. The celebrated gaon and chassid, R. Aizik of Homil, was punctilious about keeping his clothes clean. (By the way, he sometimes wore white clothes on weekdays, and not only on Shabbos.)

Once, while out in the steppes, he saw a farmer standing between two wagons, which served him as a partition,23 and davened Minchah. R. Aizik commented: “If only when I daven I should sense what his soul is sensing – even though he’s not aware of it!”24

[The Rebbe Rayatz concluded:] That farmer’s “I” was what it ought to be. The “I” of a chassid is steeped in avodah.