Traditionally, G-d-fearing chassidim were reluctant to sit down before Maariv
to refreshments that included pastries, and would agonize over their endeavors to establish whether it was in fact permissible to do so. Among the points that R. Hillel of Paritch made on the subject: (a) before Maariv
this is permitted;* (b) it is a beneficial activity: one davens
better thereafter -- especially before the Counting of the Omer.
One is generally not eager to count: it's difficult. But saying LeChaim
over a drop of mashke
at a farbrengen
of chassidim raises a man's spirits and makes it pleasanter to count.
Our Sages teach that a recipient makes a covenant only with someone who makes a vessel of him. In my own upbringing this took place at three periods: in the year 5651 , in 5654 , and in 5655 . (The Gemara
** refers to a woman; here we are speaking of recipients in general.)
There are three aspects to a vessel: its exterior aspect, its interior aspect, and its capacity. These aspects correspond to the three arks made by Betzalel: the inner and outer ones were of gold, and the middle one was of wood. As Chassidus explains in detail, the inner ark of gold alludes to the higher level of awe, the outer one of gold alludes to the lower level of awe, while the wooden ark alludes to the vegetative kingdom -- to the joining of the two levels of awe, so that the lower level should ascend and grow into the higher level, and the higher level should be drawn into the lower.
By "the higher level of awe" we do not here mean an awareness of G-d's ultimate and wondrous separateness, nor by "the lower level of awe" are we referring here to punishment, to the birch. Even when there is (G-d forbid) punishment and suffering, what is intended is not their material aspect, their gashmiyus,
but the hidden good that they contain, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya -- Iggeres HaKodesh,
Being at the lower level of awe means that one knows that he is lowly. Being at the higher level of awe means that one should want to be higher. In all areas, the required measure of the fear of heaven varies according to the spiritual standing of every individual. Thus, speaking of netilas yadayim before meals, my revered father, the Rebbe [Rashab], once told a certain individual that doing so while holding a towel [with which to hold the handles of the dipper] was not in keeping with his current standing. Even the custom of pouring water three times over each hand at netilas yadayim before meals -- whereas the law in fact requires only twice -- is observed only because this is the established chassidic practice,** but before undertaking the additional precaution of using a towel as described one should be of a certain standing.
My own training to become a vessel capable of receiving -- and, as we have mentioned, there are three aspects to a vessel -- took place in the years 5651, 5654, and 5655. In the year 5654  my father revealed himself to me. He taught me to observe every detail. His conduct included many items that went unnoticed; people did not even notice that a particular behavior was significant. But at that time he made me take note of everything I saw.
My revered father was accustomed to reciting blessings frequently: he made a point of reciting a blessing every hour or at least once every two hours. Blessings are of varying levels: some mention G-d's Name and the attribute of His Majesty, and others do not. If a person omits this mention where it does appear, he has not discharged his obligation; if he does mention this where it does not appear, he has transgressed. My revered father used to often recite the verse,* baruch atah Hashem, lamdeini chukecha
-- "Blessed are You, G-d; teach me Your statutes."
Letters can be inscribed at any of four general levels:** imprinting (reshimah),
and engraving (chakikah).
Beyond the first level of merely leaving an impression, writing involves inked letters on parchment, though no more than an indication of letters; the next level makes a vessel; the last level (chakikah)
is yet higher. The above-quoted word chukecha
[translated "Your statutes" but also connected with the root chakek
-- "to engrave"] hints at this world, [at the laws by which this world was carved out]. Furthermore, the above-quoted phrase lamdeini chukecha ["teach
me Your statutes"]
urges one to become wise from [a contemplation of] these laws, so that one comes to know what they signify, what they require of a man.
My first Lag BaOmer spent in the company of my revered father was fifty years ago, in the year 5654 . On that day we went out to the fields.
Each of the Rebbeim, including the Alter Rebbe, liked fields; they each liked to be ish sadeh -- "a man of the fields." The Baal Shem Tov was a man of the fields, and this the Tzemach Tzedek explained as follows: The Baal Shem Tov undertook -- and accomplished -- the task of correcting and restituting the beirurim and elevating the hidden sparks of the "man of the fields." Everyone knows who is called "the man of the fields":* in the Heavenly Court he serves as the Accuser of the Jewish people, and is thus the initiator of all harsh verdicts against them.
True, the simplest of the Children of Yaakov have been challenged [for not being consumed by their sheer love of G-d, as in the chassidic interpretation of the verse], v'atem bni Yaakov lo chilisem -- "but you, the Children of Yaakov, have not expired!" Nevertheless, the Baal Shem Tov revealed that not only Jews of lofty spiritual stature such as Rashbi, but even simple Jews, too, are all G-d's children.
The Alter Rebbe was born in the hutte
(Ukrainian for an estate) of his father, R. Baruch, who received it as a dowry from his father-in-law, R. Avraham.*
As a child of seven or eight, my greatgrandfather the Tzemach Tzedek heard many narratives from his greatgrandmother Rivkah, the Alter Rebbe's mother. (The other listener together with him was the Alter Rebbe's youngest son, R. Moshe.) Despite his age, he recorded everything he heard in such a way that a reader could mistake it for the writing of a man of twenty or thirty.
One of these stories: When the Alter Rebbe was a child of four or five, his father R. Baruch was visited at the estate by his
grandfather, R. Moshe. Observing his greatgrandson's study program, how his teacher taught him in the garden and how he then remained there to review everything alone, R. Moshe asked the child: "What do you like?"
The future Alter Rebbe replied: "I like the blue, the air that can't be soiled."
Once, after explaining a certain concept to his brother, R. Mordechai, the Alter Rebbe told him that if he put his ear to a certain stone, he would hear a wellspring under it. Some time later the spring was discovered. It became known as Bieli Rutchei
("White Brook"), and those who drank of its waters were healed of an epidemic brought on by a local malevolent gentile with supernatural powers.**
We once traveled there to see the estate, but there was no sign left except for stones.
The Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek,
the Rebbe Maharash, and my revered father, the Rebbe [Rashab], all used to travel out to the fields on Lag BaOmer.
In the year 5654 , when Lag BaOmer fell on the same day of the week as it does this year, I accompanied my father. He completed his morning prayers by ten and delivered a maamar, and after 11:30 we set out, without anyone's knowing of it, to the fields of R. Zalman Cherbiner.* On that day my father revealed glimpses of his hidden self. That year he delivered the maamar which begins with the declaration [of Rashbi in the Zohar], b'chad k'tira iskatarna -- "In one bond am I bound [with You]." Twenty-four years later, in 5678 , he again delivered the same maamar [on Lag BaOmer], but introduced it with the phrase, l'havin inyan hillula d'Rashbi -- "In order to understand the significance of the hillula of R. Shimon bar Yochai...."
As that maamar
discusses, it is well known** that on the day of a man's passing, the entire avodah
of his lifetime in this world undergoes hamshachah
-- [its various aspects are] drawn downward and elevated. In general terms, avodah
involves the drawing down of one's intellectual activity (mochin)
into one's character traits (middos),
and elevating one's middos
so that they become fused with the mochin.
This explains why the passing of Rashbi
took place on the day whose dominant Sefirah
is Hod shebeHod
[i.e., the fifth aspect of the fifth Sefirah
], for basically, there are five middos.
*** writes: "They are five; they are six and seven." The middos
proper are five, but since the Divine intent is that there should be a downward flow, this accounts for the sixth middah;
moreover, since there has to be a recipient for this downward flow, there is a seventh Sefirah.
The Counting of the Omer seeks to draw down mochin into middos, to refine and elevate the middos of the World of Tohu. In the world-order of Tohu each Sefirah stands alone, intolerant of the existence of any other Sefirah. For example, the middah of Gedulah [lit., "Greatness"; i.e., Chessed] is boundless, seeking to bestow its spiritual energy both upon those who are worthy and upon those who are not so worthy. (Thus Avraham Avinu was distressed when he was deprived of an opportunity to bestow Chessed.) The second middah is Gevurah [lit., "Severity"], which is a boundless thrust to restrain and withhold any bestowal of spiritual energy. From its perspective, "even the heavens are not clean in His sight," and "even His angels He charges with folly." What is required, however, is hiskalelus -- that the middos should incorporate each other. This correction and restitution is the task of the world-order of Tikkun, whereby each Sefirah tolerates the existence of each other Sefirah. Even when considered individually, each tenfold Sefirah in fact incorporates within itself each of the other Sefiros, and in itself is thus in a state of hiskalelus.
As we have mentioned, the histalkus of Rashbi took place on the day whose dominant Sefirah is Hod shebeHod.
There is a verse that says, yodei'a Hashem y'mei s'mimim, v'nachlasam l'olam tih'yeh -- "G-d knows the days of the perfect ones, and their inheritance shall be forever." Ibn Ezra likens this verse to another: es mispar yomecha amalei -- "I shall fill the number of your days." The Midrash comments: "Just as they are perfectly complete, so are their years perfectly complete." As to the second part of the verse -- "and their inheritance shall be leolam," lit., "for the world" -- this may be interpreted as follows: [The work of "the perfect ones" is carried out for the sake of the world; i.e.:] Through their avodah in causing the middos to moderate each other, they draw down revelations of Divine light into this world, thereby transforming the world into a vessel fit to receive this light.
This state will become manifest only in the Time to Come; as it is written, v'niglah ch'vod Hashem, ur'u chol basar -- "And the glory of G-d shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see." The physical flesh will see; one will then be able to appreciate the true worth of the physical world, a world that could be created by G-d alone.
[R. Sh[imon] L[eib] G[rinberg] sang a niggun,
and the Rebbe [Rayatz] then commented:] Among the chassidim who visited Lubavitch there were those who would always bring fresh niggunim.
In earlier days it would be R. Issar Yanovski; in later years it was R. Mendel Yanovski; and R. Aharon and R. Moshe Charitonov would compose original niggunim.
My revered father once remarked: "Generally speaking, singing a niggun aims at drawing down mochin into middos, and elevating the middos into the mochin."
The concept of height has both a physical and a spiritual meaning. In physical terms, it simply means that if you stand on something a yard high you are a yard higher than you were. A niggun, too, can have either physical height or spiritual height, and this difference distinguishes niggunim at large from the niggunim of Chabad. In niggunim at large, "height" signifies pitch, as measured in eighths, or fourths, -- I'm no expert in musical theory, -- but this height is physical. In a chassidisher niggun, increased "height" signifies greater depth, breadth, or profundity, rather than a strained intensity of pitch or volume.
There is a broad question that everyone asks himself: What is the difference between once upon a time and today?
True, every individual should know his own positive qualities and his own shortcomings; just as one is obliged to recognize his own shortcomings he is obliged to recognize his own positive qualities. In bygone days, [however,] when a person thought about himself he became a chassidisher Yid, whereas today this thinking accomplishes nothing.
For every Jew, in bygone days, the ultimate purpose for which his soul descended into his body was a simple and self-evident axiom. Even a regular simple Jew would get up in the morning, recite the Morning Blessings, and go off to shul to read his morning prayers. Before leaving he would tell his wife that if anyone should drop by, she should know that he was now going to be in the beis midrash. It is true that the [Yiddish] verb opdavenen has a distressing sound to it [since it implies getting a job done and out of the way], but the simple Jew used the word innocently, just as he might describe paying a debt.
In those days a small-town Jew was glad when he repaid a loan of three rubles or five. And with exactly the same sweetly pleasant sensation of being able to repay a debt, he would say his morning prayers. Artless and innocent as he was, no one could suspect him of entertaining the alien thought that he was opdavenen -- in the sense that he was getting a chore done and crossed off the list.
Simple Jewish women conducted themselves likewise. The daily life of every good woman who could not even read the Holy Tongue visibly demonstrated the directive to dedicate to G-d "the first of your dough" -- not only by the separation of challah, but by the dedication of all her labors in preparation for Shabbos and by her other mitzvos.
Let me tell you a story in brief; in fact, a well-known story.*
My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, was once studying in his outdoor sukkah, surrounded by his books, while my father, my uncle and my aunt, all little children at the time, played in the garden and discussed the difference between a Jew and a gentile. The only gentile they knew was the local watchman who looked after the grounds, and he spoke Yiddish.
The Rebbe Maharash called them over: "Come," he said, "let me show you the difference."
He then called for his attendant, Ben-Zion, a simple fellow, and asked: "Ben-Zion, have you eaten?"
"Thank G-d," answered the meshares.
"Are you satisfied?"
Again: "Thank G-d."
"And why did you eat?"
"Well, I'm a Jew, aren't I? So I ate so that I'd have the strength to daven, and to read a little chapter of Tehillim, and support my family."
My grandfather next called for Ivan, the outdoor odd-jobman, and asked him: "Have you eaten?"
"Yes," answered Ivan.
"Are you satisfied?"
"And why did you eat?"
"So I can live."
"And for what do you live?"
"So that I can eat...."
The story is simple but deep: a Jew lives so that he can daven and read Tehillim and the like. In days gone by, this was the most elementary axiom.
It is true that the Torah says, "Six days shall you work." In those days, however, people knew that it is G-d Who "provides nourishment and sustenance"; people knew that it is "the L-rd Your G-d [Who] will bless you in whatever you do."
In those days every individual knew that he had to be a Jew; nowadays he knows that he has to be a mensch, a person who commands respect. But there are all kinds of people, even wooden ones. When a tailor fits a suit on a wooden dummy, isn't that a person? His suit does fit nicely.... But after all, he's wooden.
In bygone days a person knew that he ought to be a Jew, he ought to be G-d-fearing, he ought to be a chassid. Nowadays a person has to know -- he has to know how to study, he has to know chassidic teachings. The person and the subject have become two separate entities. He has to know how to study; he is something apart. In those days what mattered was being; today what matters is knowing. And being something is very different from knowing something.
What is the reason for this change?
People used to think about themselves; today people think about others. And all this is caused by the avir, the prevailing atmosphere. This word (avir) is composed of the letters ohr yud ("the light of G-d"): i.e., the yud [signifying G-d] should illuminate. In other words, a Jew's soul should be manifest: he should respond Amen, yehei shmei rabbah mevorach "with all his might," meaning with all the strength of his devout concentration. The atmosphere (avir) alone, without any additional factor, can cause even iron to rust and perish. The letters of this word must be transposed so that they spell ohr yud ("the light of G-d"): the yud should diffuse light, and thereby remove the worldly assumptions that underlie one's life.
A chassid who came to speak to the Rebbe Maharash at yechidus
once lamented the fact that he was devious in every matter that came his way. The Rebbe Maharash thereupon advised him to undertake 600 fasts.
Seeing that he was left astonished, the Rebbe Maharash added: "Do you think that fasting means not eating from sunrise to sunset?! That's called dieting! Fasting is an avodah. Spend fifteen minutes every day thinking about yourself earnestly. Guard your tongue from talking. We're not speaking of meditating on Chassidus: we're speaking of simply thinking about yourself." And within two years this chassid had undergone a complete change.
When my revered father, the Rebbe [Rashab], told me of this he added: "He changed not only in the faculties of his soul: he changed in essence. If you had seen him, that change would have overwhelmed you."
The Gemara often uses the phrase, zos omeres -- "That is to say,...." In the above story, then, one can find oneself a lesson: everyone should spend fifteen minutes every day thinking about himself.
Among the fulltime married students in the beis midrash
of the Rebbe Maharash there was a young chassid of mellow understanding. Though he was not an outstanding scholar, he was at home in the world of scholarship. He was thoroughly familiar with Likkutei Torah
and the chassidic works of the Tzemach Tzedek,
and used to study the maamarim
of the Rebbe Maharash.
When the time came for him to leave the halls of learning for the business world he entered the study of the Rebbe Maharash and asked: "With what does one leave?"
"Make this your guiding rule," replied the Rebbe Maharash. "Whenever you observe failings in others, know that they exist within yourself. Whenever you observe positive qualities in others, implant them within yourself."
As the Baal Shem Tov teaches, Divine Providence means that if G-d arranges that one should encounter a particular person at a particular time, there is a reason for it. Everyone should thus be a teacher* from whom one can learn something. One who does not believe in this principle is a disbeliever, G-d forbid.
When this young man visited Lubavitch in later years (I knew him), he said that the advice of the Rebbe Maharash saved him: it set him up on his feet. And when he visited the resting place of the Rebbe Maharash, he kissed the soil.
In everything one should perceive a teacher. Moreover, the individual himself should be a teacher from whom others can learn. When he goes out into the street people should be able to learn from him. Not that he should have to make people take notice, nor that he should arouse irritation -- but people should be able to learn from his conduct alone.
If a person were to picture that as he walks down the street people are sniggering because some repulsive object is trailing from his clothes, it would make more sense for him to remove it himself before he goes out.
This principle of learning from others should be known by the mentors who guide people in their avodah, and who may thereby be called mezakei harabim, those who make the public meritorious. If they do not know this principle, then (G-d forbid) the opposite may be the case.
A variety of phrases are used when mentioning the departed: (a) alav hashalom
-- "peace upon him"; (b) nishmaso Eden
-- "his soul is in the Garden of Eden"; (c) nishmaso beginzei meromim
-- "his soul is in the hidden realms on high"; (d) zechuso yagen aleinu beruchniyus uvegashmiyus
-- "may his merit protect us spiritually and materially." And each of these phrases has a plain meaning and an inner meaning.
The first three phrases allude to the particular reward of the departed. The fourth has a wider meaning. It relates the noun zechus to the verb zechach -- "to refine and purify." In this sense, this fourth phrase (zechuso yagen aleinu) is a request and a blessing -- that the lifelong endeavors of the departed in refining, i.e., in separating physicality and uplifting materiality, protect us and strengthen us, so that we, too, shall distance physicality and transform materiality into a vessel that is fit to receive the Divine light.
We have a complaint against R. Shimon bar Yochai. He undertook [to exempt the world from harsh heavenly verdicts] until the coming of Mashiach.
* Moreover, he has had the help of the tannaim
the Rebbeim of Chabad
and other Rebbeim, the various luminaries of the Torah, -- a fine army.
May G-d grant that we recognize the truth and be truthful.
We should sing a niggun
that will serve as a prelude to Shavuos.
Lag BaOmer and Shavuos are related: Lag BaOmer is the time when the pnimiyus of the Torah was revealed, and Shavuos is the time of the Giving of the Torah in its revealed dimension.
The blessing we recite over the Torah reads: asher nosan lanu Toras emes
-- "[Blessed are You...,] Who has given us the Torah of truth...."
Truth goes all the way through. In fact its very letters (alef-mem-taf) are the first, middle and last letters of the alphabet, together comprising a straight and consistent line in avodah. First of all the mochin, one's intellectual endeavors, have to be brought down into the middos, one's character attributes and spiritual emotions. They next have to be translated into concrete reality at the level of the soul's means of actual expression -- its levushim (lit., "garments") -- viz., thought, speech and deed.
A person must be truthful through and through, in the street as at home and at home as in the street. He must be consistently truthful all the way through -- and over this we recite the above blessing, so that we shall recognize the truth and be truthful.