The Alter Rebbe writes that the Shechinah rests on any assembly of ten Jews regardless of the activities in which they are involved, even if they are not studying Torah. The intensity of that revelation transcends the powers of understanding possessed by the angels and other creations of the spiritual realms.
From that statement it can be implied that the intensity of the Shechinah’s revelation is enhanced by the presence of many times more than ten Jews and their involvement in the study of concepts from Torah she b’Ksav, Torah shebaal Peh, and Chassidus.
However, despite the intensity of those divine energies, the most essential matter is the deed, i.e., the purpose of an assembly must be to provide practical directives for a Jew’s behavior. However great the spiritual energies generated, the result of the farbrengen should be seen in deed and action.
There are a wide variety of positive Torah activities. Therefore, it is possible that a doubt or disagreement could arise concerning what actions should be stressed as a result of this farbrengen. Logically, the most desired results would be those intrinsically connected with the farbrengen’s cause.
A farbrengen itself is multifaceted, involving many different motivating factors; yet each farbrengen is motivated by one primary cause and reason.400 Tonight’s farbrengen commemorates the anniversary of the death of a Tzaddik who sacrificed his life to spread Torah and Mitzvos. His activities were carried out under the most difficult conditions and resulted in his imprisonment, exile,401 and premature death.
Meditation on his activities clarifies the nature of the deed and action which should result from this farbrengen. Each individual must dedicate himself to the spreading of Torah and Mitzvos regardless of the difficulties involved. His activities should be further extended to include teaching non-Jews the principles of justice and righteousness a6 they are emphasized in the seven mitzvos commanded to the non-Jews.402
Even if those activities create genuine difficulties, difficulties comparable to those faced by Rav Levi Yitzchok (the Rebbe’s father, whose Yahrzeit is celebrated on the 20th of Av, and the tzaddik to whom this farbrengen is dedicated), still the firm decision to proceed will produce positive results. An example of this principle can be seen from the behavior of Rav Levi Yitzchok himself, whose activities were successful in stimulating observance of Torah and Mitzvos despite the difficulties he faced. The success of those activities grows from year to year. Each farbrengen dedicated towards these goals is a further sign of Rav Levi Yitzchak’s success.
This farbrengen should cause every individual to meditate on the nature of the individual who passed away,403 on his activities, and the principles for which he sacrificed his life. This meditation should evoke powerful and positive action, and cause the spreading of Torah and Mitzvos until those activities “light up the world” with the light of Torah and hasten the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.
2. The Yahrzeit of Rav Levi Yitzchok is connected with another concept which is generally not given adequate attention: the eternality of the soul. It is impossible to consider that nothing remains from an individual after he has passed away. On the contrary, the soul is eternal404 and its influence everlasting.
The explanation of the soul’s eternality becomes simple when prefaced by the awareness of the spiritual nature of the soul. Once anyone becomes conscious of the soul as a spiritual entity, he easily realizes that the body’s lack of health, the fact that it has stopped eating and drinking, cannot affect the soul. These factors can affect the body and even the connection of the body to the soul, but not the soul itself.
The descent of the soul into a body does not detract from the soul. In fact, Kabbalah explains how the experience within a corporeal body enhances the light of the soul. Each year, on the anniversary of a person’s death, his Yahrzeit, his soul attains new and higher levels of holiness. For that reason, it is customary to learn additional sections of Torah, give more Tzedakah, and perform other activities for the sake of the departed on their Yahrzeits.
The passing of an individual does not mean an end to his existence. Rather, he begins an eternal process of growth and progress to higher rungs of spirituality. Likewise, the influence of the soul becomes enhanced as emphasized by the popular saying, “More than they (the dead) need us (the living), we need them.”
3. Every aspect of the narrative of a Tzaddik’s imprisonment contains within it manifold and far-reaching implications. Based on that concept, it is interesting to note that in their writings, Rav Levi Yitzchok (and also the Previous Rebbe) describe interactions with their fellow prisoners, among them non-Jews, at the time of their imprisonment.
During the time Of the imprisonment of the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, and the Tzemach Tzedek, they were either held in solitary confinement or held together with a party of Jews. Unlike Rav Levi Yitzchok, they did not share contact with non-Jews. The peculiarity of the phenomenon increases after consideration of the cause for the arrest of Rav Levi Yitzchok (and the Previous Rebbe) namely, their activities to spread Torah and Mitzvos among the Jewish people. After being imprisoned for these activities, they were put in the same room and engaged in conversation with non-Jews.405
The practical lesson resulting from the above narrative is the necessity not to remain content with spreading Torah and Mitzvos among Jews, but to also attempt to influence one’s non-Jewish surrounding environment towards justice and righteousness.
The Jews are a unique people, separate and apart from their non-Jewish neighbors. Nevertheless, they are required to become active and to affect the city and the country in which they live. When they do so in a proper manner, their efforts will be received and accepted by that city’s or country’s leaders.
By spreading the concepts of righteousness and justice (and practically the observance of the seven commandments), the Jewish people will bring about fulfillment of the prophecies calling for the transformation of the nature of the non-Jews, to the degree that they also recognize G-dliness, with the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.
4. Perhaps the single most important factor which caused Rav Levi Yitzchak’s exile was his work in spreading Jewish education in general, and particularly his efforts with younger children. His Yahrzeit should serve as a spur to stress the necessity of increasing one’s activities in the sphere of education. One’s previous activities must be strengthened and new efforts begun. Since Rav Levi Yitzchak’s efforts focused particularly on younger children, it is proper for the children present here to begin an activity stressing the importance of Jewish education: the recitation of the 12 Torah passages. The children will recite the verses and the adults will repeat after them. May this reverse order cause G-d to turn the exile upside down and bring Mashiach speedily in our days.
5. It is necessary to emphatically stress the need for an increase in efforts to further education among children.406 Those efforts should concentrate on stressing the importance of deed and action. Torah contains a wealth of intellectually and emotionally stimulating concepts. However, the necessity in education is not to stress the importance of comprehending these concepts, but rather to emphasize Torah as a behavioral guide, a discipline which teaches how to structure one’s everyday activity.
The emphasis on this type of educational system can be understood in the context of the statement of our sages, “If someone says wisdom can be found among the nations, believe him. If someone says Torah can be found among the nations, don’t believe him.” Wisdom can appreciate truth. It can evaluate the veracity of a statement or position. However, wisdom cannot evaluate whether that position is good or bad.
Wisdom can verify data. It can provide facts and predict a chain of causation. It cannot decide values. Through wisdom one can determine that a particular chain will cause life or death.407 Wisdom does not dictate whether to choose life or its opposite. An intelligent human being, if he applies himself and doesn’t allow himself to be affected by the influences presented by his surrounding environment can achieve wisdom. Therefore, our sages said, “Wisdom can be found among the nations.”
The function of Torah is to dictate behavior, to say which course of action is right to follow and which is wrong. Torah goes beyond the realm and range of human abilities. Had it not been revealed by G-d, man would have no possibility of realizing or grasping it. Therefore, it cannot be found among the nations of the world.
The practical difference between wisdom and Torah can be seen in the events of the last generation. The nation which was most sophisticated and advanced in the realm of wisdom wrought utter destruction throughout the entire world. Though they possessed ample resources of knowledge, they employed that knowledge for purposes totally contrary to the standards of justice and good.
Therefore, it is fundamental that the educational process emphasize the awareness of G-d, the Creator of the world (and also the Director of the world), explaining how nothing happens by chance. Rather, everything is controlled by Hashgachah Protis. Those who control the educational systems must realize that they have a more important responsibility than teaching wisdom and knowledge. They must stress faith in G-d and awareness of the Hashgachah Protis with which He rules the world. Such instruction will produce behavior which confirms with the divinely established principles of justice and righteousness.
Among the goals of this farbrengen is to encourage each state, city, and region to devote their energies to stressing the principles of education. Special programs must be developed to motivate parents to care about their children’s education, to teach them to seek the best schools possible for their children.408
Each major city and state has a department of education. That department should make special efforts to stress the need for education. It should declare a day of education and arrange for programs and assemblies to communicate the importance of education. There is also a need to provide reading materials which will help emphasize these principles.
These efforts will be more easily accepted since the United States government itself has set the pattern by establishing a national day of education. The individual states and cities should follow that example and create programs of this nature. If possible, these programs should be scheduled before (and as preparation for) the upcoming school year.
The success of this activity in one neighborhood will lead to success in others until the entire country (and the entire world) joins in a common effort. In this way, these activities will produce a generation of youth searching for justice and righteousness.
6. This year Chaf Av falls in the week of Parshas Ekev, and more particularly, on the fourth day of the week. Chabad Chassidim follow the custom of reciting Chitas, learning the section (aliyah) of the week’s portion which corresponds to each day of the week. Following the principle that everything a Jew sees or hears provides him with a lesson in the service of G-d, there is a unique lesson connecting Chaf Av with the fourth Aliyah of Parshas Ekev.
Among the concepts discussed in the Aliyah is the death of Aharon. The Torah relates that Aharon was mourned by the entire Jewish people. He was loved by the Jewish people to the degree that his death evoked even more grief than that of Moshe Rabbeinu.
Aharon was regarded with such sentiments because “he loved peace and ran after peace”. Our Sages elaborate on the extent of his efforts to encourage peace among the Jewish people. He genuinely loved every Jew.
In Pirkei Avos, the expression is used “Love the creations and bring them close to Torah.” Aharon loved even those Jews who were described as creations, i.e., their only positive quality being that they are G-d’s creation. Nevertheless, that quality is valuable409 enough to evoke genuine love410
Therefore, this year Chaf Av communicates a very necessary lesson: “Become a student of Aharon”,411 dedicate yourself to the love of your fellow Jew. Then, a second aspect of priesthood, the power of blessing will be able to be expressed. (The Zohar explains that the two concepts are interrelated. A priest must have feelings of love for the entire Jewish people when he recites the priestly blessing. If he wants to exclude even one Jew from that blessing, the blessing loses its effectiveness.)
When the Jews join together with love, then G-d will fulfill all the blessings of both a physical and spiritual nature, including the most important blessing, the blessing of peace. As the Talmud concludes, “G-d could not find a quality which could accept blessing except peace.” So may it be G-d’s will speedily in our days.
7. During a farbrengen which is connected with a Yahrzeit, it is customary to make a Siyum (a conclusion of a tractate of the Talmud).
The tractate chosen — Taanis — is particularly relevant to the present occasion, for as mentioned before, the Chitas of today speaks about the gift of the second tablets. The tablets were given on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is mentioned in the last Mishnah of Taanis which reads, “The Jewish people never celebrated as great holidays as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.”
Likewise, today’s date, the 20th of Av is explicitly mentioned in Masechta Taanis. The Mishnah refers to the different families who brought offerings of wood to the Beis HaMikdash and relates that the family of Bnai Pachus Moab (interpreted by the Gemara to be the descendants of King David or those of his chief general Joab ben Zeruiah412 ) brought their wood offering on the 20th of Av.
Likewise, the conclusion of the Gemara of Taanis is very appropriate to tonight’s occasion, the celebration of a Yahrzeit. The Gemara closes speaking about the rewards a Tzaddik will appreciate after death — “G-d will make a circle dance for Tzaddikim and He will sit among them in Gan Eden and everyone will point to Him with his finger and exclaim, ‘Behold, this is our G-d, in whom we put our hope for our deliverance. This is the L-rd for whom we hoped.’ “
The Mishnah refers to the revelation which the soul will receive after its descent to the physical world and its ascent after death. That revelation is reflected in a circle dance. A circle is (according to Rabbeinu Bacha) the way infinity is reflected within the limitations of our finite world. It is endless and each point on the circle is equidistant from its radius.
This concept has its parallel in spiritual terms. The above-mentioned quote implied that G-d will be equidistant from every Tzaddik. Since every Tzaddik possesses a different level of refinement and different spiritual qualities,413 the question arises: How is it possible for them all to be equidistant from G-d? On the surface, those who are more refined should be closer to G-d.
This question can be answered by the appreciation of the different levels of G-dly energy. In general there are two levels — one level of G-dly energy which conforms to the limitations of this world and another which transcends the world’s limitations. In relation to that second level of G-dly energy, all the levels of spirituality in this world, from the most refined to the most coarse, appear equal.
The approach to this level of spirituality can be described by our sages’ statement, “The ultimate height of knowledge is not to know”, i.e., to progress to a state of consciousness beyond the realm of knowledge attainable only through faith.
Faith itself is only a point, i.e., it taps a level of energy above and beyond all dimensions. Yet from that point of faith emanates an entire circle of Torah behavior.414 Afterwards, the Jew’s behavior of Bitachon, his trust and hope, in G-d, is rewarded by a direct revelation of that trust, a revelation of G-dliness so great that he can point his finger and say “This is my G-d.”
8. Another concept which is connected with the conclusion of the tractate of Taanis is also related to the laws bf the Temple (which is relevant to these times since the entire month of Av is connected to the concept of the Temple, its destruction and eventual rebuilding).
The Rambam expresses that concept as follows: “The first sanctification (accomplished in the time of Joshua) sanctified the land only for that immediate period; it did not sanctify it forever. The second sanctification (accomplished in the time of Ezra) sanctified the land not only for that immediate period but for all times.”
The first sanctification of the land of Israel, i.e., its designation as a holy land (and because of the holiness of the land, the obligation to treat its products in a holy manner and fulfill the Mitzvos connected with them (i.e., Shiviis, Maaser, etc.) was accomplished through conquest. When Israel was conquered by the Babylonians, that holiness departed. (During the seventy years of exile, the inhabitants of the land of Israel were not obligated to fulfill the Mitzvos connected with the land.)
The second sanctification of the land of Israel was accomplished through the settlement of Israel by the returning exiles. Every place which was settled by them acquired a degree of holiness which remains intact even today.415
Among the questions asked by commentaries on the Rambam are: a) Why is settlement more powerful than conquest? b) After the conquest of Israel, the land was also settled. Therefore, Joshua’s conquest seemingly included within itself the possible qualities of settlement as well.416
Commentaries explain that Joshua conquered the land from its non-Jewish rulers by force, while Ezra settled the land with the permission (and the assistance) of its non-Jewish rulers. Since Joshua’s conquest came against the will of the land’s rulers and was accomplished only through force, it was able to be annulled by force. Ezra’s settlement, since it was supported by the land’s rulers, became a permanent and internal factor in the land’s constitution.
However, there are difficulties with that explanation: The Gibeunites willingly surrendered their land to the Jews and therefore, according to that explanation, their land should have remained holy after the Temple’s destruction.
Nevertheless, that objection can be answered by a deeper perspective on the above opinion. Joshua conquered the land because he was so commanded by G-d, i.e., the divine authority had ordered that Israel be acquired through means of conquest. Therefore, implied in that command was the possibility that the land be reconquered and therefore lose the holiness it had acquired. In Ezra’s time, the divine command was to acquire(the land through settlement. Therefore, it was not subject to the rules of conquest and the holiness generated has a permanent effect.
9. It must be noted that the point under discussion is the holiness of the land of Israel and the Halachic ramifications of that holiness in the laws of Maaser, Shiviis, etc. There is no question about the Jews’ ownership of the land of Israel. From Abraham’s time on Israel was considered as the Jews’ homeland.
The Torah uses two different terms to describe the manner in which G-d granted the land of Israel to the Jewish people: ‘gift’ and ‘inheritance’. Each term has an advantage over the other. A gift reflects the generosity of the giver, in this case, G-d’s infinite grace. An inheritance, though perhaps not as large, becomes the heir’s (and his descendants’) property forever. The Torah uses both terms in order to stress the intensity of the power of ownership which G-d’s promise invested the Jewish people.
The extent of that power of ownership can be seen from the following discussion. Jewish law grants the B’chor, first-born, a double portion in his parents’ inheritance. However, that double portion is granted only in property which is tangible at the time of the initial division of the inheritance. The b’chor gets only one share in any further property which will accrue to his parents’ estate.
In the desert, while the Jews were preparing to enter Israel they divided the land into family plots. At that time, the daughters of Zelophchad asked to receive their father’s share. Even though Israel had not yet been conquered, G-d’s promise was powerful enough to establish the Jewish people as owners of the land to the point where Zelophchad’s share was considered property present at the time of the initial division of the inheritance.417
The above statement has a practical application today. Israel must remain a Jewish homeland. No inch of it can be given away. Particularly now, when returning portions of Israel to Arab rule would be disastrous to Israeli national security, it is obvious that no compromise can be made.
The reason why the practical points mentioned above — the need to stress education and the necessity of holding fast to every inch of territory in Israel have been stressed repeatedly (though seemingly unnecessary, especially since the concepts are obvious) is to put these concepts in terms practical enough to be realized by every aspect of the person’s intellect.
The Rambam writes that a wise man is recognized by the way he eats, the way he sleeps, walks in the street, etc. i.e., his wisdom is not an abstract entity. Rather, it permeates every facet of his personality. Likewise, these concepts should not be merely accepted as truths, but repeated and reconfirmed to the point where their truth becomes recognizable by one’s total being.
Then these principles can be presented with firm commitment, in a manner which will lead to their acceptance and actualization by even the non-Jewish authorities.