The eighteenth of Elul marks the birthday of both the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidus in general, and the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad Chassidus. While Chabad Chassidus is part of Chassidus in general, it added a new dimension: By allowing a Jew to comprehend Chassidic concepts with his own intellect, it provides him with the ability to infuse life and vitality into every aspect of his service to G‑d.

The eighteenth day of the month of Elul marks the birthday of the “two great luminaries”1 : the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidus in general, and the Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad branch of Chassidus. Chabad Chassidus is a continuation of Chassidus in general, conveying its concepts in an intellectual framework, enabling them to be understood by man’s chochmah (wisdom), binah (understanding) and daas (knowledge) — Chabad. Yet there is a crucial difference between the two, with Chabad introducing an entirely new element. What is that difference?

The Previous Rebbe said that the Baal Shem Tov showed how we should serve G‑d, and the Alter Rebbe showed how we can serve G‑d.2 This obviously does not mean that the Baal Shem Tov did not teach how to actually serve G‑d.3 Many of his disciples served G‑d according to the Chassidic way before Chabad Chassidus came into being; and also in the following generations, many did so who did not follow Chabad. What then does it mean that it was the Alter Rebbe who taught how one can serve G‑d?

Chassidus may be compared to Torah in general. Just as Chassidus was first revealed in a general manner and then was conveyed in a detailed intellectual framework (Chabad), so, too, Torah in general. When G‑d gave the Torah to Moshe, He did not teach him every one of the countless details and laws which comprise the Torah.4 He gave the Written Torah, the Oral Torah,5 and the rules wherewith the Torah is expounded. Afterwards, each Jew, with these rules and using his intellect, can derive new concepts.

This resolves a paradox in our Sages’ statement that “All new concepts which a seasoned disciple will in the future derive, all were given to Moshe at Sinai.”6 If “all were given to Moshe at Sinai,” then no future ideas can be considered new. What then is the meaning of “All new concepts”?7

The paradox is resolved by the above explanation. Moshe received the Torah with all the rules necessary to elucidate further particulars in the plain, the allegorical, the homiletic, and the esoteric interpretations. Moshe, however, did not actually learn all these details. He only received the rules teaching how to deduce them.8 When future disciples derive concepts based on the general rules, these concepts are considered as new. Simultaneously, because all new ideas must be built on the rules gives to Moshe, it follows that “All were given to Moshe at Sinai” — everything is encompassed (albeit in concealed fashion) in the Torah as it was given to Moshe.

So, too, with Chassidus Chabad: Although it is part of Chassidus in general (just as new, future concepts are part of the Torah given to Moshe), it effected a new dimension by placing the doctrines of Chassidus in an intellectual framework, and thereby making them comprehensible to all Jews.

We can go further: It is difficult to describe the concepts deduced by future disciples as truly “new,” for although Moshe did not actually learn every particular law in every conceivable aspect, they still existed in potentia, encompassed in the Torah that Moshe did learn.

Newness of an idea, however, is not so much in regard to the actual knowledge — that it never before existed — but in regard to the person who thinks of the idea. The Torah given to Moshe, we have said, encompassed every law and particular that would be deduced in the future. But this was in an extremely concealed fashion. Even Moshe, who was thoroughly versed in all the rules necessary to expound new concepts, could not grasp the “heaps and heaps of laws” which Rabbi Akiva expounded on each of the crowns of the Torah’s letters.

The credit for revealing a law that formerly existed only in potential belongs entirely to the one who reveals it — the “future disciple.” Because he has propounded the law using his own intellect, it is considered, in regards to him, as a new law.

This parallels the difference between Torah as it was given to the Jews, and how it is afterwards studied by them. G‑d gave the Torah to Jews from above, as written,9 “I have given you a good doctrine.” But receiving the Torah as a gift is not enough. A Jew must then study it and comprehend it to properly grasp its concepts.

When a teacher, for example, presents an idea to a student, he does not teach the subject with the breadth and depth that he understands, but delivers only a simplified, version, the basic idea shorn of its details. The details are encompassed in the basic idea, but they are not explicitly stated. After the teacher’s presentation, the student, to grasp the idea properly, must work to understand each detail, for only by having a knowledge of each component of the overall subject will the student grasp the idea fully.10 An example of this is Mishnah. A mishnah, which is written in terse and concise language,11 can be understood in its entire depth only after learning all its ramifications as elaborated on in the Talmud, the commentaries, etc.

The difference between Chassidus in general and Chassidus Chabad may be viewed in similar fashion. The revelation of Chassidus comes from above — from G‑d and the righteous “who are similar to their Creator.”12 One of the principal tenets of Chassidus, therefore, is faith, as written,13 “the tzaddik (truly righteous person) shall live by his faith.” Belief in G‑d does not stem from man’s efforts; it is bestowed from above, as our Sages have said, Jews are “believers the sons of believers.”14

The Alter Rebbe, through Chassidus Chabad, allowed Chassidic doctrines to be comprehended by the intellect. The ideas propounded by Chassidus would now be accepted not on faith alone, but also because they could be understood by the person, through his efforts.15

What does this achieve? Chassidus, the “soul of Torah,”16 infuses life into a Jew’s observance of Torah and mitzvos. Life is not a separate entity for itself, adding anything substantial to the thing it animates. A live body, for example, has no more limbs than a dead body. Instead, life is the soul of the body giving vitality to every limb.

So, too, with Chassidus in general. When a Jew studies Torah and performs mitzvos without putting his entire self into it — his essence and soul — he, and Torah and mitzvos, are two separate things. Chassidus teaches how every Jew can reveal his essence and thereby infuse life into his Torah and mitzvos. And from the perspective of his essence, a Jew is one with Torah and mitzvos.

Chassidus Chabad adds an extra dimension to the above. The Baal Shem Tov revealed the general vitality which a Jew possesses in Torah and mitzvos, expressed, as noted above, in the idea of faith. Faith permeates all of a person’s soul-powers, infusing all his actions with life — “The tzaddik lives by his faith.” However, the vitality generated by faith affects each soul-power only in a general fashion and does not address the soul-power according to its individual function.17 In other words, each soul-power possesses two aspects: that it is a soul-power, in which respect it is the same as all the other soul-powers; and its individual character (e.g. an intellect-power, an emotion-power, etc.), in which each is unique. Faith can affect the soul-powers only in their general, not particular aspect.

The Alter Rebbe infused vitality also in each soul-power’s individual aspect. It is the proper, thorough understanding of a subject in Chassidus which molds a person’s character. Thus, by presenting Chassidus in a manner comprehensible to all Jews, the vitality Chassidus infuses into a person’s service to G‑d would come from a person’s own efforts and therefore permeate every part of him.

This is what the Previous Rebbe meant when he said the Baal Shem Tov taught how one should serve G‑d and the Alter Rebbe taught how one can serve G‑d. “How one should serve G‑d” emphasizes that the service is required by G‑d and that it comes from above. “How one can serve G‑d” stresses man’s ability to serve — that which he can achieve by his own efforts.

Of course, through Chassidus in general people actually serve G‑d according to Chassidic ways. Every aspect of service — prayer, Torah study, performance of mitzvos — are all done with the vitality provided by Chassidus. But because it comes from above, from faith, it is a general vitality which encompasses all aspects of a person equally. The unique property of a particular aspect of service is missing.

The Alter Rebbe showed how a Jew can provide vitality in service to G‑d through his own efforts by understanding the concepts of Chassidus with his intellect (and not just accepting them on faith). As a result, each aspect of service has a new vitality commensurate with the profundity provided by the understanding he has in that particular service.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIX, pp. 250-257