In His Sleep, He Asked the Alter Rebbe “What is a Neshama?”

One night, the Alter Rebbe came with a candle to see how the chassidim slept. R. Moshe Vilenker woke up bewildered and asked the Alter Rebbe, “What is a neshama? What is Elokus?” The Alter Rebbe told him to go back to sleep, but later said a maamar on the topic.

Reb Moshe Vilenker, a great chossid of the Alter Rebbe, was unique in his ability to grasp and discover depths in Chasidus. The Rebbeim spoke extremely highly of him, describing Reb Moshe as having attained very lofty levels in avodas Hashem. Eventually, he also became a chossid of the Mitteler Rebbe.


The Rebbe writes in Hayom Yom: For three years, Reb Moshe Vilenker prepared himself for his first yechidus with the Alter Rebbe. Then he remained an additional seven years in Liozna to apply what he had discussed in yechidus into actual avodah.

Reb Aharon Strasheler told the Tzemach Tzeddek:

“After his first yechidus with the Alter Rebbe, Reb Moshe was so engrossed in thinking about the Rebbe’s words, that he asked two young chassidim, Sholom Yanovitsher and Chaim Droier, to make sure he does not miss any words in Maariv or Krias Shma Sheal Hamita due to his great ecstasy. For two weeks, he went around on such a high, until he returned to his regular self…”


The Frierdiker Rebbe shared this saying from Reb Moshe Vilenker:

One of the achievements of the Alter Rebbe was the takana of mikvah, which was widely accepted by all chassidim.

He then explained its application in the daily avoda of a chossid: The walls of a mikvah are essential to it, unlike a sukkah whose walls are only there to serve the s’chach (which is why it is not obligatory to have four complete walls). The walls of a mikvah must be complete; one crack creates a shaala. Similarly, every chossid must have ‘walls’, limiting how much he can express himself, and whom he can let in to his world.


The Alter Rebbe did his avoda with great fervor, exhilaration and excitement. While davening, he would sometimes unwittingly bang his hands on the wall until they bled (cushions were later affixed on the walls around his davening spot). When delivering a maamar of Chassidus, he would sometimes fall to the floor.

Reb Moshe Vilenker related:

“Once, I couldn’t find a place to stand near the Alter Rebbe’s table, so I sat under it, and I was passed food and drink there. When the Alter Rebbe began to say Chassidus, I neared his feet and heard him quite well. In the middle of the maamar, however, he slipped under the table and I heard him murmur, “I want the simple unity. I don’t desire your Gan Eden HaElyon, nor your Gan Eden HaTachton, just You Yourself! I would have passed on long ago; only your Torah and mitzvos kept me here”.


The Alter Rebbe once went at night with a candle to see how the yungeleit slept. When he neared the bed of Reb Moshe Vilenker, Reb Moshe woke up all confused. He asked the Alter Rebbe, “What is a neshama? And what is Elokus?” but the Alter Rebbe just told him to go back to sleep.

Later, the Alter Rebbe recited a maamar on that very topic – the difference between a neshama and Elokus.

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