1. Yud-Tes Kislev is the anniversary of the liberation of the Alter Rebbe from imprisonment by the Czarist government. Although the details of this event are well-known, nevertheless, when many Jews gather together to commemorate an event, it is a Jewish custom to recount the story of the occurrence. Indeed, it is a commandment of the Torah to do so: On Pesach, it is a positive precept to relate the story of the exodus from Egypt, incumbent on every Jew — “even if all of us are wise, all understanding, all know the Torah, it is still a mitzvah to relate the story of the exodus from Egypt.” Moreover, ‘whosoever relates the story at length — it
is very praiseworthy.”
But we must understand the reason behind this. Torah teaches us that time is extremely precious, and every moment must be used to its fullest advantage. Why then do we use time to repeat things already known? Speech, although not as important as deed, is still very important. The “world was created with ten utterances,” and the entire Torah is included in the Ten Commandments which were said at Mt. Sinai. We must be careful not to speak idly or wastefully, for, as our Sages have put it “The Holy One blessed be He did not create even one thing in the world for naught.” Everything, every second, was created by G-d for a purpose, and we must be careful not to waste anything. If so, why do we use time in speaking of past events, when everyone knows what happened?
However, talking of these events is for a definite purpose. To remember things is deemed very important by Torah, and this remembrance is achieved by actually speaking about them. The reason for remembering is given in Megillas Esther, read on Purim, which states: “These days should be remembered and kept.” Through proper remembrance, the concepts and lessons of an event are ‘kept’ — they exert a profound influence on our deeds. Since “I was created to serve my Master,” and “deed is the essential thing,” one’s service to G-d must be (not just in thought or speech but) in deed.
Thus, to ensure that the remembrance of an event should be translated into deed, it does not suffice to merely remember the event, but it must be in more tangible form — in speech, by recounting the details of the event. This lends strength and assurance to the remembrance being translated into deed — “these days should be remembered and kept” — to their fullest extent.
A Jew must always be striving to reach loftier levels. His G-dly service must be such that “all your deeds should be for the sake of heaven” — every action and every minute is dedicated to G-d. Hence, when a Jew has reached a certain level, no matter how lofty, he must strive yet higher. In our case, no matter how well the event has been “remembered and kept” in the year, the next year it must be in loftier fashion still.
In the light of all the above, it is appropriate that we speak of Yud-Tes Kislev, the liberation of the Alter Rebbe from imprisonment on the 19th of Kislev. As with all things connected with Judaism, talking about Yud-Tes Kislev must be such that it lends vitality to and permeates all one’s limbs and faculties. Since the words spoken are the words of G-d in His Torah, true and everlasting, they lead to deed, both that of the speaker and listeners. As the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya, that “the thing is very near to you in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.” First comes speech (your mouth) which stimulates the feelings in “your heart,” and through this they come to fruition in deed (“that you may do it”).
The central theme of Yud-Tes Kislev is the liberation of the Alter Rebbe from imprisonment because of his work in spreading Judaism and Chassidus. Knowing that he was endangering his life, he still threw himself into this work, disregarding all obstacles. For although Jewish law regards “the law of the country as law,” this only applies when the government’s laws are not at variance with the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos. The previous Rebbe, in the name of his father the Rebbe Rashab, said that the soul (of a Jew) can never be in exile; hence no person can dictate to a Jew how to behave in matters of Judaism.
The Alter Rebbe was imprisoned because of his work in spreading both the exoteric and the esoteric parts of Torah.1 His imprisonment for 53 days,2 eventually brought about greater good than before — greater dissemination of Chassidus. This can be compared to the concept of “the superiority of light (greater dissemination of Chassidus) that comes from prior darkness (the imprisonment).”
Hence, when we remember and meditate on the events of Yud-Tes Kislev, it brings us to greater efforts in spreading Judaism and Torah. This should be in a manner above and beyond normal limits, disregarding all obstacles, even to the extent of literal self-sacrifice. In such a manner our efforts will be with enthusiasm and vitality, with joy and a good heart.
Just as the liberation then caused greater dissemination of Torah and Judaism, so must it be today, in regard to each and every Jew, men, women, and children. In all those things to which the Alter Rebbe dedicated his life, all of us must know that “the thing is very near to you in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.” Then we may be sure that “we will have the upper hand” — we will surely be successful in battling the exile.
This day is an auspicious one for making good resolutions in spreading Judaism and Torah. Just as the Alter Rebbe was completely exonerated and victorious, so too today in each person’s fight against his personal exile, and against the darkness of the general exile. Then will be fulfilled the Rambam’s Halachic statement that “Torah has promised that eventually Yisrael will repent... and immediately they will be redeemed,” in the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach.
2. The concept of “the thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it” — the idea of deed — refers to Torah and mitzvos in general. In addition, each particular time of the year has its own emphasis. For example, on Pesach, there is special emphasis on the mitzvos associated with Pesach (matzah etc.); on Sukkos, those mitzvos associated with Sukkos (Sukkos, Lulav etc.). In other words, the obligation that “all your deeds should be for the sake of heaven” rests first and foremost on those mitzvos and customs associated with a particular time.
In our case, the lesson to be learned from Yud-Tes Kislev must be associated with those things to which the Alter Rebbe dedicated his life. For although in general his entire life’s work was one of self-sacrifice, there are nevertheless certain things to which he especially dedicated his life.
In the Letter that the Alter Rebbe wrote upon his release from prison, it states: “As I was reading in the Book of Tehillim (Psalms) the verse “He has redeemed my soul in peace,” before I began the next verse I went out (of prison) in peace. I will conclude with peace from the L-rd of peace.” This letter clearly indicates the great stress laid on peace in association with the liberation of Yud-Tes Kislev.
This is slightly puzzling. The Torah comprises many things, such as the 613 mitzvos, including the 13 Principles of Faith. The concept of peace is not one of them, and is certainly not the foremost concept in Torah; not to be compared, for example, to the first of the Ten Commandments “I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out from the land of Egypt.” The liberation of the Alter Rebbe was not just the freeing of an individual, but of a leader in Israel, who was imprisoned because of his work in spreading Judaism and Torah — applicable to all Jews. His liberation was thus associated with all Jews and all of Torah. Why then does the Alter Rebbe stress in his letter the idea of peace, and not the idea of self-sacrifice for Torah — something which is connected with the first Commandment of “I am the L-rd your G-d”?
However, peace is connected with the general concept of Torah and mitzvos; and is emphasized in the first Commandment. To understand this, we must first explore the meaning of the first Commandment. Why, it is asked, does it state “I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt” and not the seemingly greater “I am the L-rd your G-d who created the heaven and earth”? The explanation given is that the exodus from Egypt is a greater wonder than the creation of the world. Even after the creation, when nature had been set within its definite limits, G-d has the power to change the natural order of things, and conduct the world in a way that is beyond nature.
In greater clarification: The words “I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out from the land of Egypt” represents the synthesis of two contradictory concepts. Egypt was the most degraded, immoral, and lowest of all countries. It was the antithesis of the concept of “I am the L-rd your G-d.” The entire verse, “I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt” is the synthesis of these two opposite things. The triumph of the exodus was not that there was war (so to speak), between these two concepts, and the concept of “I am the L-rd your G-d” defeated the concept of “the land of Egypt.” Instead, the concept of “I am the L-rd your G-d” permeated and was absorbed into the very “land of Egypt.” This synthesis is the idea of peace.
The fact that Egypt, the land which was the antithesis of G-dliness, had now become permeated with the concept of “I am the L-rd your G-d,” effected, so to speak, an added dimension of completeness to the concept of “I am the L-rd your G-d.” This is similar to the greatness of a baal teshuvah (repentant) as compared to a tzaddik (a person who has always been completely righteous). A tzaddik has never sinned in his life, and having never been tested, cannot know how he would act if put to a trial. A true repentant however, having once sinned and then repented, knows he will never sin (in that particular area) again. This ensures that his G-dly service will be with extraordinary strength, unwavering and unchanging no matter what the circumstances. So too in our case: The permeation of G-dliness in the land of Egypt effects an additional loftiness (so to speak), in the concept of “I am the L-rd your G-d.”
In similar fashion, the purpose of a soul’s descent below, and its service in fulfilling Torah and mitzvos, is to effect the idea of ‘peace.’ The descent of a soul from its place below the Throne of Glory to this physical world is a very great one. The purpose is so that a Jew should refine and elevate his body, ‘animal soul,’ and environment, to make a dwelling place for G-d in this world. This service is in the form of ‘peace’ — not to war with the ‘opposite’ side (body, animal soul etc.) and to annihilate and break it, but to convert it to good. Not to destroy, but to build, to build a dwelling place for G-d; and as we find in the building of the Mishkan (Sanctuary) in the desert, to take the “gold, silver and bronze” and use them to build a Mishkan for G-d — “they shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within them.”
This is connected with the idea of the exodus from Egypt. The gold and silver used to build the Mishkan came from the booty taken from the Egyptians. The wood used to build its walls was taken from trees planted in Egypt by Yaakov, who instructed his children to take them with when they would go out from Egypt. In other words, the Mishkan is associated with the elevation of (things of) Egypt.
So too was the purpose of the exile of the Jews, together with the Divine Presence (“I will go down with you to Egypt”) in Egypt, the most base of all countries. It was to elevate Egypt, and through this to reach Mattan Torah (Giving of the Torah), when the concept of “I am the L-rd your G-d” was fully revealed. This revelation affected the entire world: as our Sages said, that during the uttering of the Ten Commandments “no ox bellowed, and no bird twittered (anywhere in the world), and the voice (of G-d) was heard in all the four corners (of the world) and above and below.” The revelation of “I am the L-rd your G-d” permeated everything in the entire world.
Likewise, our Sages explain that the voice which uttered the Ten Commandments “had no echo.” An echo is the reflection of sound, which ‘bounces’ back when it strikes an object. The sound of the Ten Commandments had no echo because it penetrated and permeated every physical thing in the world. There was no ‘barrier’ to reflect the sound, for everything was permeated with the revelation of “I am the L-rd your G-d” — everything realized that its existence derived from G-d.
Similarly, the purpose of a soul’s descent into this world is to “make peace in the world” — a Jew’s environment, through his G-dly service, should be permeated with the concept of “I am the L-rd your G-d.” Before the creation of the world, G-d was still G-d. But the idea that creations should recognize and know of G-d’s wonders existed only ‘in potentia.’ To exist in actuality, the world, and a soul’s descent below, was needed.
Now we can understand why the Alter Rebbe stressed the idea of peace in connection with his liberation. The liberation was associated with the concept of spreading Judaism and Torah — the idea of peace (as explained above). Hence the liberation was such that “He has redeemed my soul in peace,” and, as the Alter Rebbe writes, “G-d did wonders... in the land... in the eyes of all the princes and all the peoples in all the lands of the Czar...” That is, even non-Jews (even those who imprisoned him) recognized and acknowledged the righteousness and innocence of the Alter Rebbe.
Therefore, Yud-Tes Kislev is an auspicious time to receive added strength in the service of spreading Torah and Judaism. The beginning of this service is the study of Torah, of which it is said “Its ways are pleasant ways, and all its paths are peace. When a Jew learns Torah properly, for its own sake, then “Whosoever learns Torah for its own sake effects peace in the hosts Above and the hosts below.” This includes the idea of making peace between the spiritual and the physical aspects of the world; and in man, between his G-dly and animal souls. In man’s G-dly service, it embraces the concept of Ahavas Yisrael, love of a fellow Jew — “You shall love your fellow as yourself” — to make peace “between a man and his fellow, and between a woman and her husband.”
Through our service in the manner of peace, we merit the fulfillment of the promise “I will give peace in the land” and “I will make you walk upright,” speedily in our days.
3. We have said on previous occasions that gatherings of “Tzivos Hashem — the Army of G-d,” comprising Jewish children under the ages of Bar/Bas Mitzvah, should be held from time to time during the year. At these assemblies, the children should be inspired in all matters of Judaism, beginning with Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos. This includes the mitzvah of “You shall love your fellow as yourself”: children should influence their friends (boys to boys and girls to girls) to register in Tzivos Hashem and join in its activities.
These few days preceding Chanukah area specially suitable time for this. It is a Jewish custom on Chanukah to do various things connected with children. The Lubavitcher Rebbeim used to hold a gathering for their entire family, including the children, on one of the nights of Chanukah. In general, it is a Jewish custom in many places to give ‘Chanukah gelt (money)’ specially to children, and to play ‘dreidel.’ In other places, plays are staged, in which children act out the story of Chanukah.
The common factor and purpose in all these Jewish customs is to strengthen and reveal the bond between Jewish children and their religion. This also has the effect of strengthening the bond between children and their parents and teachers. In this way, the ‘generation gap’ is bridged, and the opposite effect is achieved — “He will turn the heart of the fathers through the sons and the heart of the sons through the fathers.”
More particularly, in these days before Chanukah, and if possible, certainly on Chanukah itself, Jewish children should be gathered together and told the story of Chanukah — that “You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak” because it was “the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah” — “Mattisyahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Chashmonai and his sons.” They should be told that they belong to “the kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” just as Mattisyahu the High Priest and his sons.” Stories appropriate to this theme, drawn from Midrash, should also be told. Stress should also be laid on the idea that children should influence their friends to join Tzivos Hashem and acquire a letter in their special Sefer Torah.
Now is also the appropriate time to once again call on everyone to involve themselves in the Chanukah campaign. We must ensure that in every Jewish home the Chanukah lights be lit, and in the manner of “always rising higher in holiness” — to add an extra light each night [i.e. first night we kindle one light, second night two lights etc.]. The Ramah3 renders the Halachic decision that in our times it is a ‘simple unquestioned custom’ for all Jews to kindle their Chanukah lights in the way that, in Talmudic times, was considered a custom only of the most pious. That is, each Jew lights his own Chanukah lights, and adds one each day.
Similarly, it is now also appropriate to encourage everyone, in additional to the general work of spreading Judaism, Torah and Chassidus, to involve themselves in all the Mitzvah campaigns: Ahavas Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew), proper Jewish education, Torah study, tefillin, mezuzah, tzedakah, to possess Jewish books in the home, Shabbos and Yom Tov lights, kashrus, and family purity.
All these campaigns have an association with Chanukah. Their concept and aim is to kindle the “mitzvah which is a candle and Torah which is light” — and to continually increase in these things. As we see on the days of Chanukah, that after we kindle one light on the first day, on each of the seven successive days we add an extra light each day (until we kindle eight lights on the eighth day).
This year, we must also involve ourselves in something that is associated with Ahavas Yisrael, Torah, and unity of Jewish people — the campaign to have all Jews purchase a letter in a Sefer Torah. This is connected with Chanukah, for Chanukah is associated with “a mitzvah is a candle,” which in turn is associated with “Torah which is light.” Hence, till Chanukah (or at least during Chanukah) we must ensure that each and every Jew should participate in the writing of one of the Sifrei Torah currently being written for this purpose.
Through this, each Jew is united with the hundreds of thousands of letters in a Sefer Torah. And each Sefer Torah is united with every other Sefer Torah, for it is “one Torah” for all of us. And all Sifrei Torah are united with the very first Sefer Torah, written by Moshe Rabbeinu in fulfillment of G-d’s command “Now write for yourself this Song... to learn it.”
We must ensure that all Jews, from the smallest infant to the greatest of adults, be inscribed in one of the Sifrei Torah. Special efforts should be made to ensure that the soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces, who guard their fellow Jews with literal self-sacrifice, be inscribed. Their connection to the Giver of the Torah, through having a letter in the Torah, is their best protection. All of the above should be done as quickly as possible.
May it be G-d I s will that through our resolutions to work in all the Mitzvah campaigns, we immediately receive the reward. In our case, the central point of these campaigns is that we resolve to repent. The reward for “Yisrael will repent,” as the Rambam writes, is that “immediately they are redeemed (from exile).” Then, in the true and complete redemption, we will all go to the Holy Land, the “land which... the eyes of the L-rd your G-d are on it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” Each and every Jew, together with their letter in the Torah and with the whole Torah, will reside in Eretz Yisrael in its entirety, (and even more, “the L-rd your G-d will broaden your boundaries”) in the true and complete redemption, speedily in our time.
- (Back to text) The Talmud states the different degrees of piety in kindling the Chanukah lights. 1) One light kindled each night for the entire household (no matter how many males are in the household). 2) The more pious each kindle one light each night for themselves (i.e. not just one for the entire household). 3) The most pious of all add an extra light each night. In our times, the Ramah writes, it is a simple unquestioned custom for everyone to 1) each kindle their own lights and 2) to add an extra light each day. Thus, today, our observance of Chanukah is better even than the most pious in Talmudic times. Then, kindling of the lights by each person was a separate thing from adding a light each night. Either one added a light each night, or each person kindled his own. But not both things (Shabbos 21b Tosfos). Today, every Jew both kindles his own and adds a light each night.
- (Back to text) Proper Jewish education is such that it must ensure that even when the educator/teacher is not with his students, the students are in Jewish-Torah surroundings.
- (Back to text) The Shulchan Aruch renders the Halachic decision that when a resolution for good is made, the reward that ensures is received immediately (before the resolution is even carried out).