1. The 24th of Teves is the Yahrzeit (anniversary of passing on) of the Alter Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe in Iggeres HaKodesh (Ch. 28) writes that “all the effort of man which his soul toiled during his lifetime, is above in a hidden and concealed state. It becomes revealed and radiates in a manifest way from above downwards
at the time of his passing ... and at the time of passing on, the chesed (kindness) of the L-rd radiates from world to world over those who fear Him, and effects salvations in the midst of the earth.” From these words written by the Alter Rebbe about the passing on of a tzaddik, we can understand the effect of the passing on of the Alter Rebbe himself. Every word of the Alter Rebbe is exact and chosen with the greatest of care, and the language used to describe the effect of a tzaddik’s yahrzeit must be examined carefully to understand it properly.
The Alter Rebbe writes that the revelation on a yahrzeit is such that it “effects salvations in the midst of the earth.” It is explained in Kabbalah that “salvation” is a concept that is completely beyond and above the normal chain of descent of the creation of the world. The phrase “in the midst of the earth” is found in this week’s parshah (Va’eira 8:18): “in order that you may know that I am the L-rd in the midst of the earth.” It refers to the wonders and miracles (revelations of G-dliness) that G-d showed in Egypt, not just in holy places (synagogues etc.), but in the “midst of the earth” — in the lowest place in Egypt. Egypt was the most base and defiled of all nations, the “abomination of the earth.” In Egypt itself, its capital city, the residence of Pharaoh, was the vilest, full of idols. Yet it was precisely in this place that the revelation of G-d through miracles took place — in the “midst of the earth.”
The “salvation” wrought by a tzaddik’s yahrzeit in the “midst of the earth” is in the mode of “effects salvations.” The choice of this word too is exact. In general, there are three things by which a person expresses himself: thought, speech and deed. Thought is bound up and united with the soul of the person. Speech, although the words go out from the person, can still be easily recognized as belonging to a person, a human. Deed however, is more removed from a person’s soul, for animals also have the power of deed. In deed itself, there are differences in the relationship between the deed and the person who performs it (corresponding to the intellect put into the deed). The term “effect” indicates a more tenuous relationship than say the word “make,” meaning that the thing that has been effected does not openly reflect the power of doing that lies behind the effect. In other words, it takes great effort to discern that the “effect” wrought is due to an action.
This then is the meaning of “effects salvation in the midst of the earth.” The revelation of the “salvation” in “the midst of the earth” is not just with the power of thought, that a person understands intellectually that it is a “salvation.” Nor is it only in the feelings of the heart, in the power of speech. The revelation of the salvation permeates and penetrates even to the level of “effect.” Even if a person is on the low level that only the power of deed is revealed within him; and in deed itself in the mode of “effect” (the most tenuous relationship) — there too the revelation of the “salvation” penetrates.
This is the loftiness of the yahrzeit of a tzaddik, and in our case, that of the Alter Rebbe. Although we are in the last days of exile, and the darkness is most intense; nevertheless, when the day of the yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe comes, “the kindness of the L-rd radiates from world to world ... and effects salvations in the midst of the earth.”
In similar fashion, it is stated in the Prophets (Yirmiyahu 30:7) that: “it is a time of trouble for Yaakov, but from it he shall be saved.” Although the time of the end of exile will be a time of trouble such as never before experienced, the trouble will not only be eliminated, but the “trouble” itself will be converted to “salvation.” As the Baal Shem Tov interpreted this verse, that “not only will a person be saved from the trouble, but “from it he will be saved” — the salvation will come from the actual trouble itself.
2. The lesson from the above in man’s service to G-d is as follows. A person at different times is in different “worlds.” When learning, he is in the world of thought, the intellect, when it is easy to meditate on and recognize the wonders of G-d, Who “effects salvations in the midst of the earth.” During prayer, a person is in the world of emotions of the heart, as our Sages, on the verse “to love the L-rd your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart,” comment “What is the service of the heart? — it is prayer.” Although the world of emotions is lower than that of the intellect, nevertheless, since a person is not then steeped in the corporeality of the world, he can come to recognize that G-d “effects salvations in the midst of the earth.” The lesson learned from that explained previously is that even when not engaged in study or prayer, when one is involved in worldly pursuits, in the world of deed — even in such a situation the revelation of “effects salvations in the midst of the earth” reaches him. Moreover, even at those times when his deeds are only on the level of “effect,” meaning the effect is not recognizable as stemming from a person’s rational actions, the revelation of the “salvations” still permeates — “effects salvations in the midst of the earth.”
In greater clarification: All Jews are “believers the children of believers,” and thus when a Jew’s conduct is proper, even his worldly dealings do not cause him to lose his G-dly image. Even at such times it is recognizable that his conduct is consonant with true intellect and the good emotions of his heart — and hence he is scrupulously honest in business dealings etc. His every action bespeaks the fact that the person doing it is rational and of fine character.
At times however, it can happen that a person’s conduct is not proper, and he is sunk within the physical matters with which he deals, becoming more and more engrossed in them. This can be to the extent that his actions are only in the manner of “effects,” meaning, that these actions are totally unrecognizable as being those of a rational, intellectual person of good character. The G-dly image that rests on a man has been enveloped by his animal grossness. And the revelation of the salvations that are effected in the midst of the earth on a yahrzeit reach and penetrate even such people. Analogous to this is the revelation of miracles in the midst of the capital city of Egypt, the vilest city in the vilest of countries — there too G-dliness was manifested through miracles and wonders.
In all generations G-d guards every Jew from both outside enemies and those within each Jew, the Evil Inclination. Even when a person is only on the level that his deeds are but “effects,” the obstacles are not only eliminated, but the darkness is transformed into light, and “from it he shall be saved” — the salvation will come from the trouble itself, as “the superiority of light which comes from prior darkness.”
The concept of “effects salvations in the midst of the earth” applies also to actual deeds — “deed is the essential thing.” The revelation of the salvation effected on the Yahrzeit eliminates all things which obstruct the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos, and thus a person can learn Torah diligently and perform mitzvos in the best way possible. Then his conduct can be consonant to the instruction that “all your deeds should be for the sake of heaven” and “in all your ways you shall know Him.”
3. One of the major works of the Alter Rebbe was the arrangement of the “nusach hatefillah” in the Siddur — the prescribed order and text of the prayers. There are several variant forms of the nusach (e.g. Ashkenazic, Sefard, AriZal), but the basic form and text is the same in all; the differences are mainly in the order and exact wording. The Alter Rebbe’s Siddur is based mainly on the Siddur of the AriZal, as indeed stressed in the opening page, that it is “Nusach HaAriZal.” Nevertheless, there are differences between the Siddur of the AriZal and the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur, and since the Alter Rebbe wrote the Siddur with the utmost precision, these differences offer instructive lessons. The Siddur is the “order of the prayers for the whole year,” having equal relevance to all Jews — and hence every particular in the Siddur, even the minutest change in order, is of importance. Moreover, when the Alter Rebbe arranged the order of the prayers, “there were sixty Siddurim of different nusachs before him, and from them all he clarified and derived the nusach in his Siddur.” Hence, he certainly had the Siddur of the AriZal before him, and any changes from its order were made for a purpose.
The order of the Siddur of the AriZal (as recorded by R. Shabsi of Rashkov) is: the prayers for weekday, prayers for Shabbos, prayers for the three festivals (including the Haggadah of Pesach and
Sefiras HaOmer), and prayers for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Then follows the “kavannos” (inner meaning of the prayers) of Sukkos, the Lulav and its movements, the order of Hosha’anos; and the end of the Siddur is the “kavannos” of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. Likewise, in Likewise, in the Sha’ar Hakavannos which explains the inner meaning of the prayers, the end is the kavannos for Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. In addition the kavannos for Chanukah and Purim follow, since Chanukah and Purim are festivals that come after Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.
The Siddur of the Alter Rebbe, however, ends with Sefiras Ha-Omer. Both Siddurim contain all the prayers; the difference is the order. The Siddur of the AriZal ends with Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, whereas that of the Alter Rebbe finishes with Sefiras Ha-Omer.
The order of the prayers in a Siddur follows their regularity of occurrence. Hence the beginning is the morning blessings, followed by the weekday prayers which are six days a week. Then come the Shabbos prayers, which are said approximately 50 times a year, followed by the Rosh Chodesh prayers said 12 times a year. Then come the festival prayers (Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos) said three times a year, followed by Chanukah and Purim which are but once a year (the eight days of Chanukah being one unit). The question therefore is: why does the Alter Rebbe end his Siddur with Sefiras Ha-Omer (it should have been together with the three festivals in the order they occur beginning with Pesach etc.)?
There is also a difference between the Siddurim of the AriZal and the Alter Rebbe in their beginning. The beginning of the Siddur of the AriZal is about the effect prayer exerts on all the worlds. The beginning of the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur is about the greatness of arising at midnight to start one’s devotions. What is the reason for the difference?
The general concept of prayer is that it is the service of man — “service of the heart is prayer.” The Rambam writes: “the obligation of this mitzvah is that a person should beseech [G-d] and pray every day, and tell the praises of the Holy One blessed be He. Then he asks for his needs in requests and beseeching, and then gives praise and thanks to G-d for the good that He has given him.” Thus we see the order of the blessing in the Shemoneh Esreh: the first three are praises of G-d; the 12 middle ones are requests for one’s needs; the last three are thanks and acknowledgment to G-d.
Since the main idea of prayer is a person’s service, it does not include the idea of the reward which comes from Above. For since reward comes from G-d, it has nothing to do with the person’s actions. Moreover, our Sages state: “Today to perform them, and tomorrow to receive the reward” — there is a time difference between the service (“today”) and the receiving of the reward (“tomorrow”).
The effects wrought in the upper spiritual worlds through a person’s kavannos in prayers are similar to the idea of reward, and thus are not included in the Siddur. This answers an obvious question: Why do we not immediately see the fulfillment of our requests in prayer for life, children, ample sustenance etc. (and instead “tomorrow to receive the reward”)? Prayer is a commandment in the Torah, the “Torah of truth,” and if a person requests his needs in prayer, and finishes with a blessing, should he not see their immediate fulfillment? The answer is that his requests are immediately fulfilled — but in the spiritual realm. But when it must be drawn down into this physical corporeal world, the grossness of the world prevents the reward from being drawn down — for first of all the corporeality must be refined and made a fit receptacle. Since in the spiritual realms his requests have been immediately fulfilled, then, when a person prays with the knowledge of the effects caused in the upper spiritual realms, he has received the reward for the fulfillment of the mitzvah of prayer as it is in the spiritual worlds.
Since the concept of prayer is the service of man below, and not the reward which is associated with Above, the Alter Rebbe does not include in his Siddur all the kavannos that are in the Siddur of the AriZal. This is the difference between the two Siddurim. The Siddur of the AriZal encompasses many kavannos that are associated with the esoteric aspect of the Torah. The Alter Rebbe does not include such kavannos, for his Siddur is of equal relevance to all Jews. In Torah study, there are differences — Scripture is learned at 5 years old, Mishnah at 10, etc. But the Siddur of the Alter Rebbe was made for all Jews to be used equally. It was not made just for tzaddikim, people of extremely lofty stature, but for the whole congregation of Israel, even for small children. Hence he does not include those kavannos that are comprehensible to only a few special people and not the majority of Jews.
As explained previously, the kavannos and their effect Above is associated with the idea of the reward for prayer. Thus the difference between the Siddur of the AriZal and that of the Alter Rebbe is that the Alter Rebbe includes only things which have relevance to the service of the person (and not the reward, or the kavannos which are connected to it). The AriZal however, also includes the effects of the person’s service (which are similar to the reward).
In the light of the above, we can now understand why the Alter Rebbe ends his Siddur with Sefiras Ha-Omer and the AriZal with Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. In a person’s service, Sefiras HaOmer occupies a place that is unrivaled by any of the other prayers, even Shabbos or Yom Tov prayers. In general, the difference between Shabbos and Yom Tov is that Shabbos is sanctified of itself, without any action of man — it is always on the seventh day of the week. Yom Tov however, is sanctified by man, for it is the Bais Din which establishes which day Rosh Chodesh is, and hence which day Yom Tov will be. [Pesach, for example, is on the 15th of Nissan. But it is the Bais Din which sanctifies the new moon (through witnesses etc.), and establishes when the 1stlst day of Nissan will be — and thus when the 15th will be.] Thus we find that on Yom Tov, the prayer ends with “Who sanctifies Yisrael and the festivals,” for “Yisrael are the ones who sanctify the festivals.” On Shabbos however, the prayer ends with only “Who sanctifies the Shabbos.”
In other words: the sanctification of the month depends upon the actions of Jews — the sanctification of the new month by Bais Din, and thus the sanctification of the Yomim Tovim. Shabbos, although it is sanctified of itself (it is always Shabbos on the seventh day, regardless of man’s actions), does have an association with man’s service; through the service and prayers of Shabbos, Jews effect an increase in its sanctity, over and above that which comes of itself.
Although the fixing of the time for Rosh Chodesh (and thus automatically the Yomim Tovim) are dependent on Jews’ actions, this refers only to the actions of the Bais Din, not an individual Jew; an individual Jew cannot fix the time for Rosh Chodesh by himself. However, there is one Yom Tov which is fixed and sanctified by the individual actions of each Jew. Shavuos is fixed by Sefiras Ha-Omer, the counting of the Omer. The time for Shavuos is not dependent on when Rosh Chodesh Sivan is, but can sometimes be on the 5th, 6th or 7th of Sivan. For Shavuos is fixed by the counting of the Omer — after 49 days have been counted, the 50th day is the festival of Shavuos.
Counting of the Omer is a service and action of a Jew as an individual, as stated: “You shall count for yourselves” — plural, for Sefiras Ha-Omer must be done by every Jew, not just by Bais Din. Hence, when talking of the service of a person (not the effect Above, or the reward), the highest level is Sefiras Ha-Omer. Shabbos is sanctified of itself, without any service of Jews whatsoever, and Yom Tov is sanctified by Bais Din. Although both Shabbos and Yom Tov are further sanctified by the actions and prayers of each individual Jew, it is only an increase, not something new. It is only the service of Sefiras Ha-Omer in which a completely new entity has been effected — the festival of Shavuos.
This is the reason why the Alter Rebbe ends his Siddur with Sefiras Ha-Omer. As explained previously, the Alter Rebbe only includes those things which have relevance to the service of the person, and the Siddur goes in ascending order. It begins with the greatness of rising at midnight, which is a desirable time Above, and thus a person can overcome his Yetzer which tries to influence him to continue sleeping etc. Upon awakening, he immediately says “I offer thanks to You,” affecting the course of the entire day. Then comes the service of prayer: First of all the weekday prayers, when a person is engaged in worldly activities. Hence, the prayers on weekday are associated with requests for one’s needs etc. Then comes the service of prayer on Shabbos, when a person is on the level of “You shall call the Shabbos ‘delight.’“ Following this is the service of prayer on Yom Tov, when joy is openly revealed — “You shall rejoice in your festival” and “Joy is only with meat and wine.” While the service of prayer on Shabbos and Yom Tov is of a loftier level than weekday, it has not yet reached the peak, for the individual service of a Jew on these days merely increases their sanctity. It is only with Sefiras Ha-Omer that the individual’s service totally fixes and sanctifies the Yom Tov of Shavuos.
Thus the Alter Rebbe, who includes in his Siddur only those things relevant to the service of the person, places Sefiras Ha-Omer at its conclusion for it is the peak and perfection of a person’s service. The AriZal however, includes not just those things associated with the person’s service, but also the kavannos and the effects in the spiritual realms, similar to the reward which, as a result of the person’s service, is drawn down from Above. Hence, although Sefiras Ha-Omer is the peak of a person’s service, in regard to the effects of the service Sefiras Ha-Omer is considered only a preparation to Shavuos — and thus cannot be the conclusion of the Siddur. Instead, the AriZal concludes his Siddur with Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, consonant with the order of the festivals: Pesach, Shavuos, Sukkos — and then Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.