1. This farbrengen marks the celebration of Yud Kislev. On that date, in the year 5587, the Mitteler Rebbe, Rav Dov Ber, was released from prison in Russia. Since then Chassidim have commemorated those events by celebrating Yud Kislev as a festival of liberation.
Concerning his own release from prison, the Previous Rebbe wrote, “G-d didn’t deliver me alone...” Similarly, it can be understood that the liberation of the Mitteler Rebbe was not of an individual nature, but rather had an effect on the entire Jewish people. Each year, the celebration of Yud Kislev arouses and encourages every Jew to derive a lesson (and actualize that lesson in his daily life) from the events of Yud Kislev.
The celebration of Yud Kislev is further intensified by its position directly following Tes Kislev, the anniversary of the birthday and Yahrzeit of Rav Dov Ber. Particularly for a Tzaddik, a Yahrzeit holds special significance. The Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that at the time of a Tzaddik’s passing “all the efforts for which his soul toils become revealed in a manifest way.
Likewise, a birthday possesses unique importance. The Talmud explains that before a Jew’s birth “a candle was lit over his head and the angels taught him the entire Torah.” Even though prior to birth “an angel slapped him across the mouth” and caused him to forget those teachings, that loss of memory affected only his ability for cognitive recall. The spiritual influence and the holiness imparted during the instruction still remains intact.
An individual’s birthday marks the revelation of his full potential. On his Yahrzeit, the accomplishment which he has worked for becomes manifest. The incidence of both the birthday and Yahrzeit of Rav Dov Ber on Tes Kislev enhances the celebration of his festival of liberation the following day.
2. An awareness of the nature of the lessons to be derived from Yud Kislev can be gained through appreciation of the Mitteler Rebbe’s position as a national leader, as a “shepherd” of the Jewish people. Though Rav Dov Ber’s personal level of awareness was beyond the grasp of even the most sophisticated, he shared a point of connection with every Jew.
An understanding of the nature of that association can be derived from analysis of the metaphor used before: “Shepherd” of the Jewish people. A shepherd cares for all the needs of his flock, even those beyond their conscious grasp. Likewise, a shepherd of the Jewish-people relates to each Jew beyond the level of his individual perception, cares for the totality of his being.
Furthermore, the goal of a shepherd, a Jewish leader, is not only to fulfill the needs of the Jewish people, to relate to them as recipients but to develop them into “Mashpiyim,” make them a source of knowledge and instruction for others. Rav Dov Ber himself remarked, “I would desire that when two of my followers meet, they should speak together about G-d’s supernal unity.”
The lesson that can be learned from a leader relates to the fundamental qualities which distinguished his service. Each leader possesses characteristic personality traits. Even when a leader follows in the heels of a previous authority and perpetuates the service initiated by him (as in this case, Rav Dov Ber assumed the position of the Alter Rebbe, Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi ), he displays unique and particular personal qualities which must be appreciated by his followers.
An analysis of the historical background during which Rav Dov Ber took over the leadership of the Chassidic community reveals his unique personal qualities. He assumed his position during the Napoleonic Wars. Those wars had laid waste to the areas in Russia in which the greater proportion of the Jewish community lived. Houses had been destroyed, places of business ruined. Many Jews were wandering homeless. Even those who had settled experienced major difficulties in finding jobs and piecing together the basic necessities for minimal existence.
Likewise, in a spiritual sense, the French invasion had left its mark. The Alter Rebbe had described Napoleon as an adversary and contrary force to G-dliness. Even after his defeat, his influences remained.
Rav Dov Ber accepted the leadership of the Chassidic community in such a setting. Immediately upon accepting that authority, without consideration of the difficulties present, he began a variety of activities intended ‘to spread Torah. Those activities included efforts to advance the study of Niglah (the exoteric, legal realm of Torah study) and Chassidic thought.
Among his achievements in the realm of Niglah was the publication of the Shulchan Aruch of the Alter Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe had written the Shulchan Aruch in 5533 while a student of the Maggid of Mezeritch. For forty years, it had not been printed. Though the Shulchan Aruch of Rav Yosef Caro was widely used at that time, the Mitteler Rebbe appreciated the clarification of many questions and the difference in approach which the Alter Rebbe’s text provided and brought about its publication.
The above activity becomes even more noteworthy in consideration of the fact that the publications took place only one year after Rav Dov Ber became Rebbe. Despite the problem of arranging the material for publication and the technical difficulties involved in printing a four-volume text (and not the technical difficulties of today, but those of 19th century Russia) he was able to produce a major work in such a short amount of time.
Similarly, in the realm of Chassidic thought, Rav Dov Ber made major contributions. Though the Tanya had already been published and many of the Alter Rebbe’s discourses transcribed in manuscript, the Mitteler Rebbe was not content with those achievements and strove to extend the realm of Chassidic thought.
Among the efforts in that direction were the recitation, of lengthier and more detailed Chassidic discourses. The Previous Rebbe compared the Mitteler Rebbe’s explanation and elaboration of the Alter Rebbe’s ideas to the manner in which the power of Binah (understanding) develops and unfolds the germ concept produced by the power of Chochmah (wisdom).
In addition, the Mitteler Rebbe began a significant effort to publish Chassidic texts. In 5576 (only four years after he became Rebbe), he published the Alter Rebbe’s commentary on the Siddur. Afterwards, he published other texts of the Alter Rebbe as well as many of his own works. The publication of these texts was a major achievement, as the Tzemach Tzedek the third Chabad Rebbe) explained, “Once a text is published, it exists for posterity.”
These efforts to spread Torah, regardless of the challenges of the surrounding situation, provide a lesson for ourselves. As mentioned above, Rav Dov Ber assumed leadership of the Chassidic community while he himself was fleeing from Napoleon. Most of his first year as Rebbe was spent traveling through White Russia and the Ukraine encouraging and assisting in the settlement of his displaced followers. Likewise, he spent time searching for a suitable location to establish his own headquarters. Nevertheless, from the very beginning of his leadership he was actively involved in spreading Torah.
A parallel can be drawn to our present situation. Even though the destruction (both in a physical and spiritual sense) wrought by the holocaust has not been forgotten, the example of Rav Dov Ber should encourage us to be active in spreading Torah. Though the efforts to reconstruct the Jewish community have not succeeded in totally restoring the position of the past (neither materially nor spiritually), nevertheless, that failure should not affect the activities of a Jew in spreading Torah, extending its study and practice to the outermost reaches of the Jewish community.
In addition, our activity must include Tzedakah in the physical sense. The Previous Rebbe explained that another Jew’s physical needs must be considered as a spiritual matter. This concept was brought out by the Baal Shem Tov, who in the very first phases of activity, worked to improve the material conditions of the Jewish people. Only after a connection was established on that level did he begin dealing with their spiritual needs as well.
The first step in these activities must be in the field of Chinuch: educating the Jewish community. Then, motivated by feelings of Ahavas Yisrael, success will follow in the other Mivtzoyim: Mivtza Torah, Mivtza Tefillin, Mivtza Tzedakah, Mivtza Mezuzah, Bayis Maleh Seforim, Mivtza Neiros Shabbos Kodesh, Mivtza Kashrus, Mivtza Taharas Hamishpachah. What is most important is a stress on practical action — that the above-mentioned lessons be brought to deed.
These activities should not be regarded merely as duties but should be performed with dedication and commitment. The Mitteler Rebbe’s example should serve as a spur encouraging each Jew to devote all of his energies to this task.
Then, when the efforts to spread Torah are carried out with Simcha, they will bring about the ultimate cause of Simcha, the revelation of Mashiach speedily on our days.
3. The above-mentioned lesson refers to the general concept of Yud Kislev. However, each year, the particular day of the week on which Yud Kislev falls provides a new different lesson.
This year the dates of Tes and Yud Kislev occur on precisely the same days of the week as they did in the year of Rav Dov Ber’s liberation. Two different documents mark this fact. One records, “the liberation occurred on Sunday, Yud Kislev, in the week of Vayishlach.” A second record notes, “During the recitation of a Chassidic discourse on Shabbos Vayeitzei Rav Dov Ber was informed that he would be released.”
The two references quoted establish a connection between the liberation and the sedras of Vayeitzei and Vayishlach. The sedra of Vayeitzei describes Yaakov’s departure from the land of Israel (and from Beersheba, one of the holiest places in Israel) and entrance into the Diaspora (to the city of Charan describes by our Sages as “the place of G-d’s fierce anger”). Contrarily, Vayishlach describes Yaakov’s return to Eretz Yisrael. He was camped in Machanayim, named such because there he was greeted by the angels of Eretz Yisrael.
In a personal sense, the two sedras can be compared to birth and death. The descent from Israel to the Diaspora parallels the descent of the soul into the body. Likewise, based on the Chassidic interpretation of the statement of Pirkei Avos “at one hundred an individual is considered as if he were dead, passed away, and ceased from the world,” Vayishlach can be compared to death.
Chassidus explains that in that Mishnah, “Dead... ceased from the world” is considered a positive state. Though alive, the individual is no longer involved with this world, with material concerns. At this stage in life, his energies are to be channeled totally towards spiritual things. Likewise, at the beginning of Vayishlach, Yaakov announced to Esav, “I have lived with Lavan, I have acquired oxen, donkeys, etc.” all in the past tense, i.e. my service in refining material objects has been completed.
The same lesson can be brought into day to day terms. Israel refers to the realm of Torah study and prayer, Charan to involvement in material affairs. Vayeitzei and Vayishlach describe the transition from one stage to another. The relation of Tes and Yud Kislev to these two portions implies that the commitment to spread Torah (both Niglah and Chassidus) to another Jew and help him in his material affairs in both cases.
In terms of Parshas Vayeitzei — when a Jew leaves the world of Torah and enters into the world of material concerns, he must take extra care and precaution so as not to become totally caught up in physical matters. He must be concerned about himself. How can he think about another Jew?
Likewise, in Parshas Vayishlach. He worked twenty years “in the day, thirst consumed me; at night I suffered from cold. My sleep departed from my eyes.” At last he gets the opportunity to devote himself to Torah and Mitzvos. He can finally rest, relax, and learn. Should he involve himself with another Jew?
He is answered: “Learn from Yaakov.” After Yaakov completed his work with Lavan and returned to Israel, what was his first action? “And Yaakov sent messengers to Esav.” He extended his hand to someone else. Whether in transition from the realm of holiness to the mundane, or from the mundane to the holy (in time from Shabbos to the week, or the week to Shabbos) the obligation exists to help another Jew.
Then, as in the case of Yaakov, “he was met by the angels of G-d,” spiritual help is extended to insure the success of the activity — until the task is completed and the world made fit for the coming of the Mashiach speedily in our days.
- (Back to text) The Medrash explains that being born and passing away on the same day is a mark of a Tzaddik. “G-d fills up the years of a Tzaddik from day to day.”
- (Back to text) Because of these elements, the importance of a birthday surpasses that of a Tzaddik. The statement of our sages “May your departure from the world be like your entrance” further accentuates the advantage of a birthday. For that reason in Chabad circles, a birthday is marked with customs that express simcha, while no such customs are connected with a Yahrzeit. However, the Poland Chassidim consider a Yahrzeit a happy occasion.
- (Back to text) Moshe Rabbeinu was the first shepherd of the Jewish people. The Mishnah elaborates in great detail how, while caring for the flocks of Jethro, he provided each sheep with individual attention, leading them to the type of pasture appropriate to their individual needs. G-d considered such behavior proper training for his later role as leader of the Jewish people.
- (Back to text) The services of the leader may seem beyond the aspiration of a follower to approach. However, since, as explained above, a leader is related to the essence of his followers, every follower has been given the potential to accomplish this task. One of the basic premises with which the Torah operates is “G-d asks only according to an individual’s abilities.” If a particular service is demanded from an individual, that demand is itself a sign that he has the power to attain that level. Should in the process of fulfilling this service, he encounter difficulties he should regard those difficulties as signs that he has been endowed with extraordinary powers. Since those powers must be expressed and utilized, G-d has presented him with obstacles and difficulties which require the use of those extra powers to overcome.
- (Back to text) The Hebrew term for successor is “Memale Makom” — literally translated as “he who fills the place.” It implies that a successor carries on and fulfills totally the position end path of service of his predecessor.
- (Back to text) The Mitteler Rebbe was also the Alter Rebbe’s son. Therefore, in addition to the relation he shared as the latter’s successor, they were both bound by a natural connection. The difference and similarities between the qualities of a father and his son are explained in great detail in the Chassidic interpretation of the Talmudic statement, “the power of the son is greater than his father’s.”
- (Back to text) An example of this pattern can be seen in the very beginning of Jewish history. Though each of the forefathers — Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov possessed all of the highest personal qualities, nevertheless, each was distinguished by a unique type of service. Avraham was described as “Avraham who loved Me.” Yitzchok’s dominant characteristic was fear. Yaakov in turn followed a third path of service which was able to include and combine both of their qualities (as the Torah explains, “The G-d of Avraham and the fear of Yitzchok had been with me.”)
- (Back to text) To allow for his followers to gain such an appreciation, a leader would often grant his successor status in his own lifetime. Such a pattern is observable in the instance of Moshe Rabbeinu. Before he died, he gave Yehoshua ‘semichah’ and provided him with the opportunity to address the Jewish people publicly. Likewise, during his lifetime, the Alter Rebbe charged the Mitteler Rebbe with certain responsibilities and leadership roles.
- (Back to text) A Rebbe is a leader for all Jews, even those on the outermost fringes of the Jewish community. (Outermost in a physical sense geographically removed from the major Jewish settlements, and outermost in a spiritual sense, those Jews who are estranged from an active connection to their Jewishness.) Nevertheless, in a revealed manner Rav Dov Ber’s leadership qualities were seen in his relation to the Jews of Russia.
- (Back to text) From the above-mentioned information, it appears that the effort to bring the Shulchan Aruch to publication began directly after the Mitteler Rebbe assumed his position.
- (Back to text) Again, taking into consideration the difficulties involved in printing and preparing the material for printing, it appears that the efforts to publish the Siddur began shortly after the Mitteler Rebbe assumed his position.
- (Back to text) In his discourses, the Mitteler Rebbe elaborated in great detail on the statement of our sages, “all the appointed times for Mashiach’s coming have past and his revelation is dependent only on the Jew’s service of Teshuvah.”
- (Back to text) Yaakov had hoped that Esav had likewise been involved in the service of refinement and had similarly completed the task relegated to him. He made the announcement “I lived with Lavan, etc.” in the hope of receiving a similar reply.