Everyone sharing a connection with the Rebbe at that time remembers that special night. In 5731 (1971), Yud-Alef Nissan — the date of the Rebbe’s birthday — was yet to be established by the Rebbe as a time when he would hold a farbrengen with chassidim.1

On the eleventh of Nissan, the Rebbe went to the Ohel. After he returned, he davenned Minchah together with the chassidim. Later, the Rebbe gave notice that he would hold a farbrengen that night. At the farbrengen, after an opening niggun, he indicated that the shluchim who had returned to New York from Australia and guests who had come from Eretz Yisrael should say LeChaim. The Rebbe then asked that the niggun traditionally preceding a maamar be sung, and delivered the maamar translated here.

In that maamar, he cited a teaching of the Midrash2 that focuses on the Aramaic phrase, Ana nasiv malka — “I will choose the king.” In doing so, he put into words a fundamental approach with which he had been nurturing his chassidim for the more than two decades of his leadership.

The Choice of the Clever Person

The Midrash begins with an analogy:

A king entered a country accompanied by a duke, a prefect, and a commander…. One person said, “I will choose the duke as my patron.” Another said, “I will choose the prefect as my patron.” And still another said, “I will choose the commander as my patron.” There was a clever person [among them] who said: “I will choose the king, because the others are all subject to replacement, whereas the king is not subject to replacement.”

The Midrash explains the analogue:

There are gentile nations that serve the sun and others that serve the moon…. Israel, by contrast, serves only the Holy One, blessed be He. This is the intent of the verse, G‑d is my portion,’ says my soul.”

Although the Midrash speaks of the worship of the sun and the moon, its lesson still relates to our lives today. For the pagans worshiped the sun and the moon because they saw them as intermediaries that convey G‑d’s influence to the earth. The worship — at least in a figurative sense — of other such intermediaries is unfortunately still widely prevalent in our times. True, we don’t bow down to images or offer them animal sacrifices, but we bow our heads and make many sacrifices of time and effort to appease the powers that we see as controlling our lives and our fortunes.

The proper approach is that of the clever person: “I will choose the king” — to focus on a relationship with G‑d alone.3

Why Cleverness Is Not Enough

The maamar asks: Why must a person be “clever” to come to such a realization? Even a child understands that a king is greater than his officers, or in the analogy, that G‑d is greater than the intermediaries through which He dispenses His influence.

In resolution, it is explained4 that if a person is to receive spiritual influence from the King, from the realm of holiness, there are two prerequisites: he must first have (a) bittul, self-nullification and self-transcendence, and (b) avodah, working to transform his self-concern. When, however, one receives his spiritual energy via the intermediaries, there is no necessity for bittul. Influence is given, in the words of the Zohar,5 “at no cost.”

A second consideration that could make a person prefer to be nurtured by the intermediaries is that the influence they dispense is quantitatively greater. The influence granted “from the King” is measured, meted out in a manner commensurate with the Divine service performed. Influence granted through the intermediaries, by contrast, is given without any calculations. Hence, it is granted in abundance.

The “clever person” is not concerned with his individual benefit. He is willing to forego the additional benefit and invest hard work to attain bittul — so long as he receives influence from the King’s hand, directly.

Looking Beyond Even the Big Picture

Despite its seeming advantages, all influence received from the intermediaries is temporary. In the Ultimate Future, those who receive their spiritual nurture from the King will receive abundantly more. This realization, however, is not the reason for the Jew’s choice of G‑d. After all, such a choice would be no more than enlightened self-interest. Instead of serving the intermediaries for short-term gain, he sees the larger picture and serves G‑d, confident that “if this [worldly pleasure] is what those who transgress [G‑d’s] desires will receive, then certainly those who fulfill His desires will be even more richly rewarded.6

Nevertheless, this calculation is not the reason for his choice of the King. Rather, the King is chosen because He is the King. The “clever person” realizes Who the King is and seeks to bond with Him. That itself is his rationale.

Stepping Above Self

The original question still remains: The King’s eminence can be appreciated by all. Why, then, is the choice of Him not embraced by all mankind?

The core of the resolution is that mortal reasoning alone compels a person to desire his own personal benefit. True, others can appreciate the King’s eminence, but they will still choose the intermediaries. Since their fundamental nature is characterized by yeshus, self-concern, they do not want to enter into a relationship with the King at the expense of having to forego the benefit they will receive from the intermediaries.

In this lies the uniqueness of the “clever person”: he is willing to rise above his self-concern and choose the King because He is King, and for no other reason.

Nothing But You Alone

The Midrash is speaking of crass paganism, but the above pattern also applies to those who give credence to intermediaries at other levels. Indeed, its lesson is relevant — albeit in a subtle manner — even to individuals of lofty stature. In that vein, the maamar cites a statement the Alter Rebbe was wont to make at times when he would enter a state of dveikus:7 “I desire nothing. I don’t want Your Gan Eden;8 I don’t want Your Olam Haba [World to Come];9 …. I want nothing but You alone.”

True, there is a drastic difference between the pagan’s worship of intermediaries and the worship of a holy person who yearns to delight in the revelations of G‑d in the spiritual realms. There is, however, one shared factor: self-interest. The pagan’s self-interest is focused on plain material satisfaction. The person seeking the revelations of Gan Eden seeks to luxuriate in the radiance of the Divine Presence. Both are concerned with their personal wants and desires.

The “clever person,” by contrast, “want[s] nothing but You alone.” He chooses the King, even though that choice requires bittul and avodah.

This approach is what the Rebbe cultivated within his chassidim and this is why the maamar hit home so powerfully. Throughout his leadership, he exemplified and sought to inculcate in others a willingness to commit oneself to G‑d without a reason, to commit oneself to service without any thought of self-interest.

Permeating Through and Through

The Midrash describes the Jews with the analogy of a clever person. Nevertheless, when speaking of the analogue, it states:

Israel, by contrast, serves only the Holy One, blessed be He. This is the intent of the verse, “ ‘G‑d is my portion,’ says my soul.”

There is a seeming conflict between the analogy and the analogue. The analogy attributes the choice of G‑d to a logical decision, while the analogue speaks of an essential bond, an inherent, spiritual response.

The maamar explains the interrelationship of these two aspects of our makeup. Why does the clever person make a logical decision to choose G‑d? Because of the inner bond with Him that his soul shares. As explained above, a person’s self-interest by nature would motivate him to rely on intermediaries. Nevertheless, he chooses the King — because the inner soul-connection he shares with Him compels him to. The functioning of his mind is shaped by the spiritual bond that transcends reason.

One might then ask: Since the choice of the King is a reflection of the soul’s essential, inherent connection to G‑d, why is it necessary for this choice to be filtered through “cleverness”? Let it shine forth with its own essential power, rising above reason.

The resolution of this question lies in the understanding that a person’s bond with G‑d is not an appendage to his personality, but the essence of his being — who he is. And since it is his essence, it will permeate every element of his being, including his intellect. If one’s bond with G‑d had to remain supra-rational, it would imply that there is an element of his personality that it cannot penetrate and thus, it could not be his essence. For if something is essential, nothing can block its expression. It pervades every aspect of a person’s make-up, beginning with the mind and filtering through all of his various faculties.

With these explanations as well, the maamar touched a responsive chord in chassidim worldwide. For the above pattern of development is a fundamental ideal in the Chabad school of thought — that every Jew’s essential soul-connection with G‑d, as highlighted and inspired by the Baal Shem Tov, should permeate our intellect, which in turn will motivate selfless service that utilizes every one of our soul’s faculties.

Not Just a Slogan

Upon hearing the maamar, chassidim understood ana nasiv malka — “I will choose the king” — as a message of hiskashrus, which means the cultivation of one’s individual bond with the Rebbe. This is no mere exuberant reverence; it is connected with the core themes of the maamar.

The maamar explains the desire to receive spiritual influence from intermediaries and the desire to receive it from G‑d’s encompassing light as parallel motifs. For in both instances, the influence is received without bittul and without avodah. Conversely, the choice of the King depends on one’s efforts to internalize one’s essential connection with him — for, as explained above, since the connection is an essential part of the person’s being, it must permeate every dimension of his personality.

That, however, presents an almost insurmountable challenge: the essential connection with G‑d is transcendent, whereas we are limited mortals, whose minds cannot comprehend the infinite.

Chassidic thought10 explains that the challenge can be overcome because a person’s individual strivings toward this goal are facilitated by the efforts of “the shepherds of faith” whom G‑d has apportioned to the Jewish people. Just as in a simple sense, a shepherd enables his sheep to find the nourishment appropriate for them, so too, “a shepherd of faith” enables faith to be internalized by providing nourishment for the conscious development of his flock until their minds are aligned with their G‑dly essence.

In that vein, the maamar cites the Midrash on the verse, “For the chief musician, by David, a prayer of remembrance.”11 The Midrash offers the analogy of a king who one day grew angry with his sheep. He drove them away, broke open the corral, and dismissed the shepherd. After time passed, he gathered together the sheep, rebuilt the corral, but made no mention of the shepherd. The shepherd protested: “The sheep are gathered together; the corral is rebuilt. Why am I not mentioned?”

This is what chassidim meant when they identified the call, “I will choose the king,” with their bond with the Rebbe. They understood that for them to carry out the avodah called for by the maamar, the influence of a shepherd is needed. They did not want merely to be carried away with the intense spiritual energy that the maamar generated. They wanted to make it their own. And the role of the shepherd is to make that happen.

The Ultimate Shepherd

The Midrash cited directly above is describing the era of Mashiach. In that time, “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed,”12 an all-encompassing revelation of G‑dliness. It is possible that a person will be overwhelmed by the abundance of goodness — material and spiritual — that will characterize that era and thus be lulled into passivity. Those who “choose the King” will not be content with the mere appreciation of those revelations, but instead will endeavor to internalize them and have them permeate their beings entirely.

* * *

This Yud-Alef Nissan will mark 40 years from the day that the Rebbe delivered this maamar.13 For years — and especially now — the Jewish people are echoing King David’s plea that the shepherd be remembered. Then all mankind will, in the words of the Midrash, “choose the King,” ushering in the era when those who repose in the dust will arise and sing,14 and “sovereignty will be G‑d’s,”15 in a manner that is manifest to all.

Sichos In English

Yud-Alef Nissan, 5771 (2011)