1. The Baal Shem Tov says that the place in which a person’s will is located, that is where the person is, entirely. This has a number of advantages: (a) it dislocates him from his present [lowly] state; (b) there are numerous [spiritual] levels that a person can attain – even the loftiest of levels – by dint of this will. That means that [at the time he wills] he is present at the place [and level] at which his will is located. However, when the will wanes, he takes home nothing with him.

To the above teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, the Alter Rebbe added something novel: [even after one departed from that spiritually superior location and now finds himself in a lower spiritual state,] he can still be at that other [spiritually loftier] location. In other words, one can take something home with him.1

2. The question has been asked: How was it possible for the Jews who left Egypt, where they had been enmeshed in the 49 Gates of Impurity,2 in such a short time to be worthy of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai? The answer: Moshe Rabbeinu counted Sefiras HaOmer with them, and that was what made it possible. However, that did not suffice to make them worthy of the atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael,3 for [to be found worthy of living in] Eretz Yisrael one requires a desire4 to cleave to G‑d alone – and that can be attained only through one’s personal avodah.

Basically, that requirement also lies at the difference between Chabad chassidim and other chassidim. In other circles, a chassid relies on the spiritual leader, the nasi,5 who will do whatever needs to be done, whereas the approach in Chabad is that everyone must do his own work. Of course there must be general directives and specific directives, but mainly, every individual must do his own work.

3. Regular chassidishe Yidn of once upon a timewould live their chassidisher life on the strength of a chassidisher vort or a chassidisher story.

In a township called Cholopenitz, in the province of Minsk, there lived a chassidisher storekeeper called R. Gedaliah Shmuel. He was of distinguished lineage: his great-grandfather was the celebrated chassid known as R. Gedaliah HaTzaddik, who was extraordinarily gifted. While still a child, his diligence earned him the nickname, “the masmid,” and by the time he was thirty, the geonim of Shklov referred to him reverently as “the gaon and tzaddik.”

Then, for several years, no-one in town heard from him or knew anything about him. They only knew that he and his family – his wife and two children – had relocated to a little township near the Muscovite border.

On one of his visits to the Baal Shem Tov, R. Gedaliah HaTzaddik encountered the gaon and tzaddik from Vitebsk called R. Yosef Yitzchak, and the latter’s brother-in-law, a gaon and tzaddik called R. Baruch, who owned a settlement6 near Liozna, and became a close friend of them both. He often visited the home of R. Baruch, [because] he had secretly heard what the Baal Shem Tov had told his above two disciples about the child whom R. Baruch’s wife and her aunt had brought to the Baal Shem Tov, requesting his blessing for the child. And it was from that time on that R. Gedaliah paid frequent visits to the home of R. Baruch to converse on Torah subjects with that child.7

When the Alter Rebbe returned home after his first visit to Mezritch and publicized the teachings of the Maggid together with his own explanations in the light of the Chabad school of thought, R. Gedaliah became his devoted chassid. (By the way: When the law made family names compulsory,8 R. Gedaliah chose the name Bonder, which echoed the fact that he earned his livelihood as a bookbinder, and after his passing his heirs preserved the memory of their illustrious forbear by composing the name Regev (רֶגֶב) from the Hebrew initials of his name, R. Gedaliah Bonder.)

It was R. Pinchas Reizes of Shklov who dedicated himself in the extreme to collate the teachings that the Alter Rebbe shared when he came home from his first visit to Mezritch. R. Pinchas Reizes also recorded whatever had been relayed by the early chassidim who had seen the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid.

4. In years gone by, a mere word or phrase [spoken by a Rebbe], even in passing, produced significant results – as in the following exchange:

A certain R. Menachem Mendel, who was the rav of a farming colony in Dobrinke, once arrived in Lubavitch and gave a fine vocal rendition of a niggun whose words began with the phrase [from the Mussaf of Yom-Tov], Umipnei chata’einu, which means, “Because of our sins [we were exiled from our land].” Observing that my father liked the niggun, and eager that my father should know that he himself had composed it, he said, “That’s my own Umipnei chata’einu!”

To this my father responded: “A person’s own Umipnei-chata’einu niggun – his own ‘because-of-our-sins niggun’ – doesn’t allow itself to be sung. One’s own ‘because-of-our-sins niggun’ should emerge from one’s tears.”

At a later visit of his to Lubavitch in the 1900s,9 he told me that all the sessions of yechidus that he had experienced [with my father] over the years had left a less effective impact on him than that passing comment.

Everyone appreciates the full weight of what a yechidus signifies.10 It comes after [the Rebbe concerned has undergone] a comprehensive preparation and a particular preparation, as indicated in Etz Chayim, and also after the self-preparation of the chassid receiving the yechidus. Yet even after all of that, my father’s passing comment left an impact that was even more powerful.

5. It is not the function of Chassidus to cultivate positive middos. Positive middos are explicitly mandated by the Torah itself. Positive chassidishe middos are also expected [of a chassid]. The main focus of Chassidus is – davenen. One needs to teach how to daven, just as one has to teach Torah. When a rosh yeshivah is teaching a student, he needs to know that receptor’s limits, so that he will be able to modulate his message accordingly. [Moreover, he should impart this knowledge in such a manner that] once he has taught him the conceptual kernel of a subject, the student will be able to apply it in other scholarly contexts. If the mentor conveys a concept that merely matches the student’s [present] intellectual level, he will make him lazy. If, on the other hand, the mentor teaches at a level that is beyond his student’s grasp, he will cause him to live in error. What he should aim to do is to teach a concept that is indeed beyond the student’s present intellectual limits, while at the same time leaving windows that will eventually enable that concept to shine into those limits.

All of the above relates to studying nigleh, the revealed levels of the Torah that are linked to materiality, such as [the intricate laws governing the kashrus of a questionable] lung. That is a subject that a student can readily visualize, [yet even that is a subject that one needs to learn how to teach]. How much greater is the need to teach how to daven – a subject that belongs to the spiritual realm.

6. Today’s maamar regarding Shavuos expounds the phrase, “and there was evening and there was morning.”11 Thus, in the worldly calendar, “the day follows the night” that precedes it.12 In the sanctified realm of the Beis HaMikdash, the opposite is the case – “the night follows the day” that precedes it.13

In terms of avodah, this distinction echoes the difference between those who dwell in the tents [of Torah study]14 and those who engage in lay occupations.15 Among the latter, “the day follows the night”: their avodah during Shacharis, and likewise their daylong conduct, match the effort they invested in their Kerias Shema before retiring at night. Among fulltime Torah scholars, “the night follows the day”: the quality of their nighttime Kerias Shema matches their avodah in the course of the preceding Shacharis.