1. Although it is not as usual to hold a farbrengen on the 15th of Shevat as it is at other times of the year, nevertheless, a good custom that has been performed three times should not be changed. Moreover, the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya (ch. 26-27) that one should always be joyous. Even if it appears that there are good reasons for not being joyous — in physical or spiritual matters — nevertheless, the Alter Rebbe emphasizes strongly that one should always he in a state of happiness. Hence, if a person should start feeling sad or depressed, he must try to reverse the situation to one of joy — to increase in things which bring true happiness.
This is the distinction of this farbrengen — for through it joy is increased. Particularly when there are at least ten Jews present, as our Sages have said: “The Divine Presence rests on any ten Jews.” Moreover, when Jews are gathered and united together, this effects additional blessings from G-d, as stated: “Bless us our Father all of us together.” Certainly then, this applies when many tens of Jews are gathered together — a hundred, a thousand — and together with those who are listening in other places, their number reaches into the tens of thousands. In addition, the farbrengen is in a place of Torah study and prayer. All of these things bring true spiritual joy, reaching to the loftiest levels.
The above regarding the importance of a farbrengen applies also to those who live in other places — they too should make joyous farbrengens on the 15th of Shevat. Even if for some reason they cannot, since the resolution to do so was made on this eventful day of the 15th of Shevat, the farbrengen that will be held afterwards is considered as if it was held today — for “G-d attaches a good thought to the deed.” This is especially so if, in addition to making a resolution to hold a farbrengen, they also make physical preparations for it. For example: preparing the money, or fruit for it, or engaging in publicizing the coming event so that many people can participate. Then the thought which is attached to the deed will be with greater force.
The above also applies to the members of Tzivos Hashem — Jewish children of pre Bar/Bas Mitzvah age. The importance of holding gatherings for Tzivos Hashem has been emphasized many times. Thus it was to be hoped that a gathering for children would be held on the 15th of Shevat. Especially since it is a known custom that on the 15th of Shevat school ends earlier than usual, and gatherings are held for children where fruits with which Eretz Yisrael is praised is given to them — so that with the blessings said on these fruits their connection with Eretz Yisrael is strengthened.
The above points relating to the 15th of Shevat apply to all Jews equally: Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Chassidim and non-Chassidim. For although there are differing customs in some things, the 15th of Shevat is a festive occasion for all Jews — as brought in Shulchan Aruch, that one does not fast on the 15th of Shevat since it is a festive day.
The 15th of Shevat is “Rosh Hashanah for trees,” and this is relevant to all Jews. Scripture states that “man is a tree of the field,” and just as a tree’s function is to produce fruit, so too the function of Jews is to fulfill Torah and mitzvos, which are the “fruit” of a Jew.
May it be G-d’s will that all Jews produce fruit in the loftiest fashion, with greater abundance than previously. Very soon may we see the fulfillment of the promise “You, Yisrael, shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Yisrael, for they are at hand to come.” On this verse our Sages say that “There can be no more manifest [sign of] redemption than this” — “when Eretz Yisrael will produce fruit in abundance the time [for redemption] will be close, and there is no more manifest [sign of redemption] than this.”
2. The Magen Avraham states that on the 15th of Shevat it is customary “to increase in [the eating of] fruits of trees.” This custom is associated with eating the fruits of Eretz Yisrael specifically, those with which the land is praised. There are seven kinds of produce with which Eretz Yisrael is especially blessed and praised. The Talmud (Berachos 41a) states: “Whichever (food] is mentioned earlier in the verse has precedence in the matter of making a blessing [i.e. over which food should one make a blessing first if there is more than one kind of food in front of a person]. The verse is ‘A land of wheat and barley, and vine and fig-trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.’“ We see that wheat and barley have precedence over fruit of trees [grapes, figs, etc.]. Why then is it a custom on the 15th of Shevat to eat fruit of trees and not food made of wheat or barley?
The 15th of Shevat is not mentioned as a festival in the Written Torah (as for example, Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos are). Nor is it found in the Oral Law, as are Chanukah and Purim, which are called Yom Tov, and “Al Hanisim” is said on these occasions. In Mishnayos, the 15th of Shevat is mentioned as “Rosh Hashanah for trees,” but there is no mention of it as a “festival.” The idea of the 15th of Shevat being counted as a festival is a Jewish custom. Likewise, it is “a custom to increase in [the eating of] fruits of trees.”
The difference between a custom of Yisrael and something mentioned specifically in the Torah can be understood from the Alter Rebbe’s explanation on the distinction of the water libation compared to the regular wine libation. The wine libation of the altar is mentioned specifically in the Written Torah, whereas the water libation is only a Halachah [given] to Moshe from Sinai. The Alter Rebbe explains that because of the greatness and lofty level of the water libation, it could not be revealed in the letters of the Written Torah. In similar vein, something which is a “custom of Yisrael” (in our case the fifteenth of Shevat and eating of fruit then) is so lofty that it can be expressed only as a “custom” (and not in the Written Torah, and not even as a Halachah to Moshe from Sinai).
The distinction of a “custom” will be understood through a simple example. The difference between “wheat and barley” and “fruit of the tree,” is that from the former bread is made, which is an essential staple for life. Fruit, however, is mainly to give delight to a person. When a person is hungry, he satisfies himself with bread — “bread satiates the heart of man.” After he was assuaged his hunger, he eats fruit as a pleasant dessert. This is the distinction that fruit possesses over bread: although bread is necessary for survival, it is fruit that provides delight for a person.
So too the distinction of a “custom.” The fulfillment of something mentioned specifically in the Written or Oral Torah does not provide especial delight for the G-dly soul, for since he is a Jew, he must fulfill all the mitzvos of the Torah. A “custom of Yisrael” on the other hand, and especially a custom that has been inaugurated only recently, provides delight for the G-dly soul when it is performed — since it is not obligatory on a person (as say, a Halachah in the Oral Law is).
In other words: The reason for performing a “custom” (even before it has spread to and been accepted by all Jewry) is that it is an increase in Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos in a manner even greater than that demanded by Halachah. Thus the fulfillment of it gives special delight to the person’s Creator, as stated “it is a pleasure to Me that I have said and My will was done.” The knowledge that a person has merited to cause G-d to have delight automatically produces the greatest delight in the person.
Since the “festival” of the 15th of Shevat is a “custom of Yisrael,” one eats fruit of the tree specifically, for fruit produces delight for a person — as does a custom.
3. There is a lesson in the above for man’s service to G-d. When the 15th of Shevat approaches, a Jew is told that he has been given — as a “custom” — an extra festival with special customs, including eating fruit. The purpose of this is to teach a Jew that his service should not be limited to those matters which are obligatory, but one should always increase in his service, thus causing extra delight for his Creator. The delight of a Jew’s Creator in turn affects and permeates the creation, and the Jew also has special delight in fulfilling this “custom.” It does not suffice to remain static, on however lofty a level, but one must always rise higher in his service, beyond all limits thereby causing delight for his Creator.
In greater clarification: A person’s service can be performed as a routine, coldly, without warmth or enthusiasm. Even if it is done with enthusiasm, there are differing levels — with love, with great love, with burning love etc. Likewise, there are many different levels in service with delight. Thus in service to G-d we find the obligation to “always rise in holy matters,” notwithstanding one’s previously lofty level. This obligation applies not just on Shabbos or Yom Tov, but is a continuous one — every day, the whole day. We can therefore understand that on the 15th of Shevat the obligation to “rise in holy matters” applies to the highest degree. This is the lesson from eating fruit on the 15th of Shevat: to teach us that one’s service must always be in the manner of “rising in holy matters” — always increasing in those things which provide delight to our Creator.
4. In our days, there is a special need to spread Torah and particularly Chassidus — the “spreading of your [the Baal Shem Tov’s] wellsprings to the outside.” One must not just bring the waters of the wellspring to the “outside,” but actually bring the wellsprings themselves to the outside.
One of the ways of spreading Chassidus is through the radio. For many years now, Tanya has been learned on radio every Motzoei Shabbos. Radio enables a person to be in one place, and his words heard everywhere instantaneously. This is the “spreading of your wellsprings to the outside” in the loftiest fashion. For through it, Chassidus reaches and permeates the world instantly, regardless of the normal limits imposed by time and place.
There is another advantage in spreading Chassidus through the medium of radio. When Chassidus is spread via the written word, it is impossible to transmit the feelings and enthusiasm of the person who wrote it. The written word cannot reflect the emotions of a person, and thus the advantage of “words from the heart” is lost. Likewise, when Chassidus is spread through an emissary, a disciple, the enthusiasm is the emissary’s and not the sender. His feelings must be transmitted through a second person.
Through radio however, not only can a person’s words be heard, but also the tone, the inflection, the enthusiasm with which the words are uttered. Everyone listening to the radio can hear and feel the warmth behind the words, and realize that these are “words from the heart” — and hence they “enter the heart.” Since there is no limit to holy matters, every Motzoei Shabbos sees a further increase in the loftiness of the Tanya learned then.
This shiur on radio is presently reaching the end of the Tanya for the first time; and its conclusion should be such that immediately afterwards they should start to learn the Tanya again from the beginning. And may it be G-d’s will that this work hasten the concept of learning the Torah of Mashiach from Mashiach himself, when the promise “Those who lie in the dust will arise and rejoice” will be fulfilled — with the Alter Rebbe, and his successors until the previous Rebbe, at their head.
5. There is a story of the Tzemach Tzedek and his son the Rebbe Maharash concerning the idea of “We want Mashiach now.” In connection to the printing of “Likkutei Torah,” the Tzemach Tzedek remarked that it is the concept of the “Ketz” — the time of Mashiach’s coming. The Rebbe Maharash commented that we need our righteous Mashiach literally — here below!
Without doubt, the Tzemach Tzedek himself knew that Jews need the actual Mashiach (and that the printing of Likkutei Torah does not suffice). Nevertheless, he wanted to hear this thought expressed by his son and disciple — and through him this idea would be transmitted to Chassidim throughout the generations. Through the Chassidim it would be transmitted to Jews in all generations — that all of them want Mashiach now.
It is specifically when this cry (“We Want Mashiach Now”) is heard from children that it breaks all decrees — limits imposed by time and place. All other decrees have already been annulled. only that of limits imposed by time and space remain. Jews are separated from another by distance, some in Eretz Yisrael and some outside. Simultaneously however, this decree can be abolished in an instant. If Chassidus can be transmitted throughout the world instantaneously, G-d can surely take out all Jews from exile in an instant, and bring them to the Holy Land.
The Midrash relates the following narrative: A person wished to bring a stone to Yerushalayim for the Bais HaMikdash. Although the stone was extremely heavy, and the place far from Yerushalayim, “G-d sent him five angels ... he gave his hand to them, and they found themselves standing in Yerushalayim.”
The lesson from this is as follows: Even when a Jew is engaged in physical matters (“stone”), he must know that his task is to bring the stone to the Bais HaMikdash, to dedicate it to the Bais HaMikdash. If he complains that he has no strength to bring it to the Bais HaMikdash, and no money to hire laborers — he is told that he must do only that which is laid upon him — and G-d will do the rest.
6. There is a lesson to be learned from the weekly parshah in which the 15th of Shevat falls, and from the daily portion learned on the 15th of Shevat this year. The Alter Rebbe taught that we must “live with the times” — meaning we must live according to the lessons derived from the weekly parshah.
It was explained above that the 15th of Shevat is the idea of service over and above the minimum Halachic requirement; and this additional service produces delight. This concept is alluded to in the name of this week’s parshah, Yisro. Our Sages explain that one of Yisro’s names was “Yeser,” “because he caused to be added a chapter in the Torah.” Moreover, Yisro was a “ger,” a convert to Judaism, which is also the idea of addition — an addition to the congregation of Yaakov. Likewise our Sages say that “a convert is as a new born child,” for he has a new additional existence — a new birth, new actions etc. In other words, the concept of Yisro is the conversion of something previously antithetical to Judaism to true Judaism.
In the service of each Jew, this represents the idea of increase in service above the minimum Halachic requirements — which effects delight.
The above is also seen in today’s portion of the weekly parshah, the second portion of parshas Yisro. Its beginning states (Shemos 18:13): “On the next day, Moshe sat to judge the people.” Rashi explains that “the next day” refers to “the day following Yom Kippur ... the day after his descent from the mountain.” The end of today’s daily portion is (18:23): “If you will do this thing, and G-d command you so ... all His people shall come to its place in peace.”
Just as the name of the parshah expresses the idea of increase, so too the beginning of the daily portion. In regard to the day after Yom Kippur, there is a story told of the previous Rebbe that on the day following Yom Kippur he once asked his father the Rebbe Rashab “What now?” That is, after all the lofty heights received on Yom Kippur, what is the service to G-d to be performed now? The Rebbe Rashab answered him that “now we must first begin to do teshuvah (repentance).” In other words, notwithstanding the fact that a person may be on the loftiest heights, even that of Yom Kippur, a person can never remain static, but must increase in his service. Hence, even on the day following Yom Kippur, the service of teshuvah is required. For teshuvah is relevant whatever a person’s status. It is not just repentance over wrongdoing, but is the concept of “The spirit shall return to the L-rd Who gave it.”
This is the meaning of “On the next day, Moshe sat to judge the people.” A Jew may think that his service has reached the peak of perfection, similar to the day following Yom Kippur. The verse “On the next day Moshe sat to judge the people” teaches that even on the day following Yom Kippur the service of “to judge the people” is required — similar to the idea of teshuvah in the above story.
Likewise, there is a connection between the end of the 15th of Shevat and the daily portion — “all the people shall come to its place in peace.” Our Sages say that “if there is peace, there is everything” — peace encompasses all things; it is the peak of perfection. And the peak of perfection in man’s service is when it is continually on the increase — the idea of delight which is the concept of the 15th of Shevat.
Since a Jew has free choice, he may take delight in whatever he chooses. Unfortunately there are some who delight in inferior things. In the case of the 15th of Shevat, the eating of fruits causes delight for a person. But a person should not remain satisfied with such physical delight, but should delight in matters of far loftier nature. In eating fruit itself, there are differing levels, extending to spiritual “fruit” in “the Gan Eden of old.” And when a Jew has delight in spiritual matters, G-d provides him with all his physical needs in the highest fashion.
Just as one should not have delight (just) in physical things, but in spiritual matters, in spiritual things themselves there are differing levels. In Torah study for example, one can learn only the exoteric. But this is not enough. one should learn and take delight in the other areas of Torah — the homiletic, the esoteric etc.
In similar fashion, when engaging in the mitzvah campaigns, one should not rest content with that accomplished so far, no matter how much. One can and must use the strength given to accomplish many times more.
May it be G-d’s will that very soon we go out from exile, with delight and joy, such that all matters are complete and perfect — our whole people with the whole Torah in the whole land.