1. From every farbrengen, a Jew should derive a new lesson, which will aid him in his service of Hashem. Hence, from the Yud Shvat farbrengens of the previous years, a lesson was to have been derived. Bearing in mind that one must not allow himself to be complacent with his present (spiritual) position, but must constantly strive to elevate himself, he should derive a new lesson from this Yud Shvat farbrengen.
This new lesson will not only elevate the Jew through its application, but it will also enhance the spirit of, and add life to, the lessons already derived in previous years.
2. We find this in Torah study as well. A new idea in one area of Torah will aid in the study of the other areas of the Torah as well. Although the Torah contains numerous concepts (and in fact, Torah is infinite since it is the wisdom of the Infinite G-d), nevertheless, it is referred to as the “One Torah”, i.e., all concepts in Torah are interrelated.
Hence, the acquisition of a new concept in one area of Torah wherever it may be, gives new insights, and adds deeper meaning, not only in that specific area, but in all other areas of Torah that one has previously studied, as well.
Similarly, the lesson (relating to Torah matters) derived from this Yud Shvat, will add new dimensions and spirit to the lessons of the previous farbrengens.
It is self-understood, that these lessons are not to remain mere intellectual concepts, they are to be utilized in a Jew’s everyday life, to aid him in his thought, his speech, and most importantly in his action.
3. The reason for this farbrengen is the Yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe of blessed memory, the successor of the chain of Chabad Rebbes before him. The Hebrew word for successor is “Mamaalei Makom”, literally, “one who fills the place of.” This term as all terms used in Torah, is exact. It infers the “filling” of a place left vacant, in its entirety. In other words, all the undertakings of the earlier Rebbes were continued by the Previous Rebbe of blessed memory, in their fullest measure. In addition to this, however, each Rebbe — in response to the directive to constantly strive to greater heights — undertook and initiated additional tasks to fulfill the needs of his generation.
The order of succession of the Rebbes is referred to as a “chain.” As with a chain, where one link is connected with the other, so, too, (the activities of) one Rebbe is connected with (the activities of) the other Rebbes. Hence, the new undertakings of a succeeding Rebbe were actually engaged in before by his predecessors. However, whereas the previous Rebbes put their major emphasis in other areas (although they certainly emphasized the importance of all areas of Torah and its fulfillment) their successor put greater efforts and emphasis on this area.
This can be clarified by relating a story from the Talmud. The Talmud (1) recounts one sage asking another: “In which Mitzvah was your father most careful?” The Alter Rebbe explains(2) this question: It is obvious that our sages fulfilled every mitzvah in its entirety. However, there was always a specific mitzvah that each sage was most careful in, and upon which he placed greater emphasis. Hence the question, “Which mitzvah did you father perform most carefully?”
The Previous Rebbe further expounds upon this (3): The Hebrew word for careful is “Zahir”, etymologically related to the word “Zohar”, meaning “shining — illumination”.
Through the fulfillment of this mitzvah in which he was most careful and the subsequent revelation of his soul, all Torah and Mitzvos fulfilled by this person were consequently illuminated and elevated. (This is so, because this Mitzvah was connected more directly to the natural expression of his soul.) That is why he placed greater stress on this mitzvah.
One of the basic doctrines of the Baal Shem Tov is, that everything that occurs in the world does not happen by coincidence, but rather, as a result of Divine Providence. (4) Anything a Jew sees or hears, was shown to him by G-d for a purpose — that he should derive a lesson from it to apply to his service of G-d. Similarly, in the activities of the Previous Rebbe, there was an underlying theme which permeated his activities, that was clearly observable to all. Hence, every Jew and Jewess must derive a lesson from it.
4. The salient characteristic of the Previous Rebbe was, that he always applied, even the most abstract and theoretical portions of the Torah, to practice. Although “Chabad” (the Lubavitch philosophy — ‘Chabad’ is an acronym for “Chochmah” — wisdom, “Binah” — understanding, and “Daas” — knowledge) emphasizes (the development of) the intellectual powers, as evident from the deep content of the Chabad discourses and talks, nevertheless, the Rebbe placed great emphasis upon the practical deed. Even in Torah learning (the “intellectual” aspect of Torah as opposed to the actual practice of Mitzvos), he applied himself to its practical aspect — the act of teaching it to others.
This is quite evident from his tremendous efforts in the publication and dissemination of the teachings of the earlier Rebbes, as well as his own teachings (which expound on the teachings of the earlier Rebbes). He went to great lengths to ensure that this “Torah should reach even unto ‘others,”, i.e., that it should be explained by any means possible even to those, whose approach and opinions (of the world, and of Torah) were not only different but also contrary to his own. Hence, even in the intellectual part of Torah, he stressed its practical aspect — teaching it to others. However, his greatest emphasis was on action per se. Immediately after assuming leadership (in 1920), he set up Chedarim (yeshivas for younger students), and built mikvehs (ritual baths), in even the most remote corners of Russia.
He also devoted much time and effort to aid Jews in financial straits, by creating jobs for them. He set up cooperatives allowing people to work in their homes, thereby enabling them to observe the Shabbos, with much greater ease even while under communist rule. Although this as well as all other work involving the dissemination of Torah endangered his life, he nevertheless risked his personal well-being to ensure the physical as well as the spiritual welfare of the Jews.
Hence, the lesson to be derived from the lifework of the Previous Rebbe (and from this farbrengen) is the emphasis on action. Beginning with the dissemination of Torah — its teachings should reach even those who are in the category of “others” (as explained earlier). Suitable jobs should be found for people, to facilitate their observance of the Shabbos. However, Shabbos observance should not be a prerequisite for hiring the person, rather, after he has already obtained the job, he should be approached, and it should be explained to him, that maintaining a job and remaining a religious Jew do not conflict with each other, on the contrary, they complement each other.
5. There is an additional aspect of his activities from which we must derive a lesson: Many of the activities which he had personally accomplished could have been accomplished through others. However, in conformance with the Talmudic dictum (6): “It is greater that the mitzvah be fulfilled by the person himself, than it be fulfilled through his employment of a messenger”, the Rebbe placed emphasis on directing and fulfilling as much as he could, personally. He was personally involved in the establishment of the cooperatives, and he wrote his discourses in such a style that they would be easily translatable. He traveled around the country disseminating Yiddishkeit, although this endangered his life. And all this — in opposition to the government which, at that time, even employed aggressive means to curb ‘subversion’. He did all that was in his capacity, completely disregarding personal safety, and personal pleasures, in order to ensure the fulfillment of these projects in their entirety.
6. This concept of personal involvement (i.e., not to rely on others) is derivable from an incident in the Gemara. The Talmud relates (7) the greatness of Rav Chiyah and says, “Great are the deeds of (Rav) Chiyah”. His greatness was expressed in his deeds. To ensure the continuation of the study of Torah in the coming generations, he went out into the fields, trapped a deer, skinned it, prepared the skin for parchment, and wrote upon the parchment the five books of Chumash and the six orders of the Mishnah. He then taught each child a particular book of Chumash, or order of Mishnah, and had the children teach each others, that portion with which they were familiar.
The question arises: Did Rav Chiyah have to go catch the deer himself and prepare it? Could he not have sent his students, or for that matter, any person to do it; especially since he had to leave his own students behind in the Beis HaMidrash (the study hall) in order to go out and catch a deer?!
Nevertheless, Rav Chiyah did not rely on any messenger, he did it all himself. The Talmud says that this constituted the greatness of Rav Chiyah! Although he was one of the giants of learning in his time, (and in fact, he organized the “Beraisos” supplementary laws, not included in the Mishnah), nevertheless, in scholastic achievements there were others who compared with him. His outstanding greatness was, that he himself taught the children Chumash and Mishnah, and not only did he teach them, he also infused in them the ability to teach other students as well.
With this deed, Rav Chiyah surpassed all the other sages of his time. He even surpassed Rav Chaninah, who said, “If Torah would be forgotten (G-d forbid), I would restore it with my Talmudic dissertations and methods of derivation”. Rav Chaninah’s method would only serve to restore the Torah if, G-d forbid, it would have been forgotten. Rav Chiyah’s method, however, which ensured the continuation of Torah study by the Jewish people, prevented the Torah from being forgotten.
7. The Rogatchover Gaon says that the stories related to us in the Torah, are not merely to inform us of Jewish history, but rather, they are lessons to aid us in our service of Hashem in everyday life. Furthermore: A lesson, or a law, derived from a story in the Talmud, has greater validity than a Halachah (law) stated in the Talmud. The Talmud says (8): One may not base a legal decision on a halachic statement, unless that statement was applied to an actual incident. Hence, a lesson derived from a story where a principle was applied has greater substantiality than a direct statement of the principle.
The aforementioned story (about Rav Chiyah) also contains a lesson for every single Jew. If one possesses the ability to fulfill a certain deed, he should not rely on a messenger, he should fulfill it personally.
8. The reason for this is obvious: The messenger may be faithful, and fulfill his mission in its entirety. He may catch the deer, skin it and fulfill all the other jobs as well. However, since the messenger lacks Rav Chiyah’s understanding and appreciation of the greatness of the Torah (and therefore, he cannot fully evaluate the tragedy and loss of its being forgotten, G-d forbid) his fulfillment of the mission would consequently lack the vitality and the perfection that would be applied, if it were done by Rav Chiyah himself. It was this reason that compelled Rav Chiyah to leave his students, and the confines of the Beis HaMidrash, and catch the deer himself.
As mentioned earlier, we find a similar mode of conduct by the Previous Rebbe. He did not rely upon others. However, the lesson to be derived from the Previous Rebbe, is far greater than the lesson derived from Rav Chiyah. The Previous Rebbe personally fulfilled his mission, and not only disregarded the fulfillment of personal wishes, and the loss of his time for Torah study, but also, he constantly endangered his very life! Nevertheless, overlooking all obstacles, and disregarding his personal safety, he involved himself personally, to ensure the complete and unblemished success of his mission.
9. This is the lesson that we must learn from this farbrengen.
When one becomes aware of the need for the initiation of a given project that would further the cause of Yiddishkeit, he should not rely on other people to carry out the project for him. He should rather take responsibility for it himself, even though he may think that he can be involved with more important things at the time.
10. This lesson is particularly relevant in our times, when there are so many Jewish sons and daughters being lost, every day. We must act resolutely to counter this great threat. There is no need to elaborate on why this is the task of the hour.
Yet a person may say to himself, that he acknowledges the importance of the work, but he does not have any time — he is busy doing other important things.
Such a person ought to consult a competent Rabbi, for the Rabbi is certain to have a sensitive appreciation of that individual’s problem, and the problems of Jews today, in general, and will be able to advise him accordingly — but we cannot stand by idly, when we are faced with a growing spiritual danger to the Jewish people (9).
11. We mentioned earlier (sect. 2) that when we discover a new idea in Torah, it adds dimension and depth to all areas of Torah. So, too, when one increases the depth of his understanding of Torah, he effects the spreading of Torah to other people as well!
So, too, when one studies Torah with another, and brings a Jewish soul back to its source, he effects the deepening of understanding in the Torah itself; for it is all one Torah the laws between man and G-d, and the laws between man and man, and what happens in one area affects the whole Torah.
12. The Alter Rebbe explains in the beginning of Torah Or (10) regarding the verse “Charity uplifts the nation” (11), that by doing an act of charity, “one’s mind and heart are purified a thousand fold”. The Tzemach Tzedek (the grandson and later, the second successor to the Alter Rebbe) added, that when the Alter Rebbe said ‘a thousand fold’, he was not making a rhetorical exaggeration (12). (He brings another example where the thousand to one ratio is used where it is clearly not an exaggeration “A thousand people enter to study Chumash, and one of them becomes a Rabbi” (13).)
So, too, regarding the verse “Charity uplifts the nation”, charity refers to spiritual charity as well as the actual giving of money to the poor, particularly in this time and age, when the need for charity is much more in the realm of spirit.
Regarding the person’s asking when will he have time to study Torah for himself, we refer him to the above-mentioned commentary of the Alter Rebbe, who said: that what he would have been able to study in a thousand hours (without giving his time to charity) he will now be able to accomplish in one hour.
13. May it be His will, that this instruction be understood and appreciated by all, and most important, that the instruction bring forth positive accomplishments in one’s immediate environment, and in the world at large.
May it bring the fulfillment of the verse “And you shall be gathered one by one, oh children of Israel” (14), G-d shall take each and every Jew by the hand and lead him out of this final exile.
He will bring us all to our Holy Land, “The land upon which the eyes of G-d rest, from the beginning of the year, to its end” (15), with the true and complete redemption, through our Righteous Mashiach, very soon.
14. There are some people who are of the opinion that we ought to withhold assistance until approached for help, or until we have confirmed the seeker’s desire to come closer to Yiddishkeit. This would clearly be contrary to the commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself (16)” and “You should surely rebuke your fellow (17)”. It would equally contradict the implications of the Talmudic saying, “How goodly were the deeds of Chiyah”, for certainly, no one would have been so impertinent as to approach Rav Chiyah to run into the fields, hunt a deer, work its hide, write on it the five books of the Torah, etc., and distribute the books to five children, etc... Rav Chiyah did not have to be approached. He alone took the initiative. And this episode was recorded. in the Talmud as a lesson for everyone.
Rav Chiyah’s conduct may also be applied to people, old in years but “young” in their knowledge of Yiddishkeit. We must not wait for these “children in knowledge” to approach us, rather we must take the initiative ourselves in bringing them closer to Yiddishkeit.
This indeed was the approach of the Previous Rebbe (whose passing we commemorate tonight). He did not wait for a request that an emissary be sent to open a Cheder or construct a Mikveh. Rather, he acted in accordance with the aforementioned teaching, and took the initiative himself.
As a result of this approach, many people, young and old, have emigrated from that country of religious oppression as observant Jews who perform the mitzvos meticulously.
15. As has often been stated, there is greater danger in the case of a person who does not in any way ask to be brought closer to Yiddishkeit than in the case of an individual, who at least seeks such help. A person, who, because of ignorance and assimilation, does not seek help, or is even opposed to Yiddishkeit, is compared to one in mortal danger. In a case of mortal danger, the High priest on the holiest day of the year (Yom Kippur) must leave the “Holy of Holies”, the innermost sanctuary in the Temple, to save a Jewish life, even if there is uncertainty as to the danger of the situation or the usefulness of his aid (18) .
It is therefore understood that upon discovering a Jew who is ignorant of Yiddishkeit, one should not wait, G-d forbid, for him to ask whether it is worthwhile to begin studying Yiddishkeit, Rather, he should take the initiative and help his less knowledgeable friend. The need to seek out and help another Jew is all the more important in a case where the other person knows absolutely nothing about, or worse, is against Yiddishkeit. In such a case the spiritual danger is, without the slightest doubt, very grave, and in such circumstances, one must run to save him.
16. We have mentioned many times, in this connection, the Midrash, which says, “The Sanhedrin (High Court) should have donned special durable garments and toured Eretz Yisrael...to teach the Jewish people...” (19,20).
The law is (21), that in order for the Sanhedrin to have the authority to decide a matter passed on to them by a lower, local Rabbinical court (Beis Din), they had to be all together in their chambers in the courtyard of the Temple.
On the other hand, the Midrash obviously intends that they should go away for some time. It is equally obvious that the intention is not for all 71 elders of the Sanhedrin to tour the country together. On the contrary, the most effective and fastest way to teach the nation would be for each one to go alone to a different section. They could then go to 71 places at one.
In spite of what would be involved, including the need for the elders to leave their place in the Temple and lose their authority as a Sanhedrin, the Midrash maintains that the job of the Sanhedrin was to “Put on chains and tour the land ...and teach the Jewish people.” They were to tour every city to ensure that the people would not stray from Yiddishkeit.
From this Midrash it is clear that we may not, Heaven forbid, sit back and wait for a Jew to come and ask to be taught Yiddishkeit. Even the great Sanhedrin, was required to leave its chambers to seek out Jews lacking in Torah knowledge.
17. We find further reinforcement of the above in a clear ruling of the Code of Jewish Law (22). A demeaning term is used to describe a Rabbi who is asked whether or not it is permissible to violate the Shabbos to save someone in mortal danger. The reason given (23) is, that the Rabbi should have taught publicly, that it is permitted even for the greatest Jewish leader to override the Shabbos restrictions in such a case.
As stated above, the most severe case of mortal danger (in a spiritual sense) is where the person involved does not come and ask to be taught. How much more so in such a case, must the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling be applied.
1. Shabbos 118b.
2. Iggeres Hakodesh, chap. 7.
3. Sefer HaMaamarim 5708, p.240.
4. HaYom Yom, p. 52.
5. See Sukkah 49b.
6. Kiddushin 41a.
7. Kesubos 103b.
8. Baba Basra 130b.
9. For a more complete treatment of this, see the farbrengen of the 15th of Shvat.
10. Torah Or, p. lb.
11. Proverbs 34.
12. Or HaTorah Bereishis, p.2052.
13. Vayikra Rabba, chap. 2.
14. Yeshayahu 27:12.
15. Devarim 11:12.
16. Vayikra 19:18.
17. Ibid., 19:17.
18. Compare Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 4, pp. 1255-56.
19. See also Likkutei Sichos — Purim, 5737, sec. 8.
20. Tanna Dvei Eliyahu Rabbah, chap. 11.
21. Tractate Avodah Zora, end of 8b.
22. Chap. 328, Sec. 2.
23. Yuma 84b. Rambam, Laws of Shabbos, chap. 2, Ruling 3.