1. Generally, the previous Rebbeim would conclude all the festivals with a farbrengen. They would begin the farbrengen while it was still light and continue into the coming night. Though this was their custom on Pesach, Shavuos, Sukkos, and Purim, the Rebbeim did not hold such a farbrengen on Chanukah.
The reason for making an exception of Chanukah can be explained in terms of the basic difference between it and the other holidays. The Torah describes Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos as “festivals of rejoicing.” Purim, also, is distinguished by celebration. However, Chanukah’s central aspect is praise and thanksgiving. Torah custom does not connect celebration and rejoicing with Chanukah.
Despite the above, it is appropriate to conclude Chanukah with a farbrengen. Since the darkness of the Galus (exile) becomes stronger each day, we must counteract that darkness by adding new Torah customs that bring about joy and happiness. The happiness produced by these new customs will negate the opposite influences of the Galus.
This same concept explains the growth of Torah knowledge in our generation. The Talmud’s question, “Has the generation become more righteous?” remains unanswered. However, despite the intensification of the Galus, new dimensions of Torah study have opened up. As the Galus becomes stronger, parallel additions have to be made in Torah. Even though-the Sages explain that the later generations’ progress in Torah study is not totally due to their own merits, (On the contrary, they compare the situation to a dwarf standing on the shoulder of a giant), the fact remains that the scholars of later generations have made new contributions to the existing body of Torah scholarship.
No comparison can be made between the Sages of the previous generations and those of today. Their understanding and powers of reason outshine ours in every respect. However, in the field of practical Torah law, (which is the most important dimension of study, since “deed is most essential”), Torah scholars are continually developing new decisions and judgments. These judgments bring out new concepts of Torah law which were not understood previously. These additions in Torah come to counterbalance the increase in the intensity of the Galus.
There is an intrinsic relationship between the addition in Torah knowledge and the increased happiness necessary to offset the Galus. The Book of Psalms proclaims, “the precepts of G-d are dust; rejoicing the heart.” Specifically, the term “precepts of G-d” refers to Halachic judgments. Though in a larger sense, the above quote applies to the entire realm of Torah study, the study of Halachic judgments brings about greater boy than any other aspect of Torah.
When studying a concept, different questions come up. One train of thought leads one way, the other in another way. One idea leads to a deeper one that forces you to re-examine your previous thinking. You are always worried and troubled until you reach a final answer. Therein, lies the advantage of the study of Halachic decisions. Other realms of Torah study (in particular, the Talmud) deal with abstracts and as such can never be finally resolved. Decisions of Torah law are resolutions and therefore bring about true simchah.
Since, as mentioned above, the darkness of Galus has become greater, we must bring about more of “the light of Torah.” The progress in Torah must exceed and outweigh the influence of Galus to the point where the darkness itself becomes converted to light.
Each generation possesses a unique ability to do this. The principal performance of certain services, such as fasting, belonged to the earlier generations. The unique contributions to Torah life of the later generations has been their emphasis on happiness.
In these latter generations, Yud-Tes Kislev (the festival of festivals) has been added to the calendar. Similarly, in our generation the Previous Rebbe instituted the celebration of Yud-Bais Tammuz. Though Galus is getting stronger (necessitating the adoption of certain Halachic stringencies) we must work to institute customs which add boy. Though in previous generations, Chanukah was distinguished as “days of light;” a time for “praise and thanksgiving,” in our generation it is appropriate that we add new customs that bring about additional happiness and joy, by holding a farbrengen.
Other reasons can be given for celebrations on Chanukah. The Rambam writes that Chanukah should be marked by happiness. Even though the Shulchan Aruch does not agree, the Ramah in his addendum, writes that holding holiday feasts on Chanukah is a mitzvah.
Today, we have other reasons for happiness, as well. The Rambam writes that “fulfillment of the mitzvos with happiness is a great rung of service.” Since this assembly is involved in the study of Torah and also in making decisions to spread the performance of Torah and mitzvos, it should be accompanied with boy.
Those who still protest this celebration should look at the results it produces. Mussar seforim write that the yardstick to evaluate a new custom is to look at its effects and see whether or not it brought progress in Torah and mitzvos. Yud-Tes Kislev and Yud-Bais Tammuz produce obvious advances in Torah and mitzvos. Similarly in the past, the outcome of the Chanukah farbrengen has been positive.
To silence those who would object even now, the Chassanim (grooms in midst of their seven days of celebration) who are present should conduct Sheva Berachos. The Shulchan Aruch orders everyone, even the most inhibited, to ,join in the rejoicing: May this celebration bring about the ultimate boy, the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days.
2. At the close of the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, the Ramah comments, “A good natured person is always celebrating.”
It is important to note that this statement is made at the close of the section called “Orach Chayim.” The Shulchan Aruch is composed of four sections. “Choshen Mishpat,” the section that deals with monetary laws, is appropriate for advanced Torah scholars as the Talmud comments, “Whoever wants to become wise, should involve themselves in monetary laws.” The study of “Eben Ezra,” the section of the Shulchan Aruch that deals with the laws of marriage, is also not appropriate for everyone to learn. Only those “who are well versed in the laws of marriage and divorce” should be occupied with this texts. Similarly, the section “Yoreh Da’eh,” which deals with questions on Kashrus and related subjects, is studied only by scholars who feel competent enough to fudge on these questions.
However, the section Orach Chayim (literally translated as “the way of life”) is related to everyone who wants to live. Orach Chayim shows the way to live life as it should be lived. It is a path that brings about true life.
The conclusion of Orach Chayim is “A good natured person is always celebrating.” Orach Chayim, the path of life, is connected with boy. The service of the earlier generations included fasts and bitterness. However, the service of the latter generations revolves around happiness, which is produced through Teshuvah. When a Jew realizes that through Teshuvah he can rectify his entire past, even turn his sins into mitzvos in one moment, he will truly be happy.
It is noteworthy that the word for celebration is “mishteh” which literally means a wine banquet. The Talmud explains that wine has an intrinsic connection with rejoicing as it says, “You should not recite songs except over wine.” In addition, the Talmud explains “when wine goes in, secrets come out.” Wine helps a Jew reveal those aspects of his soul which are generally a “secret;” that is, hidden and covered over by his body and natural instincts.
The Book of Psalms expresses a similar concept. It states that wine makes happy G-d and man.” The word for G-d there is “Elokim,” which in gematria (numerical value), equals “hateva” (nature). It refers to the G-dly energies hidden in nature. Wine brings about happiness and helps man reveal those energies.
The concealment of G-dliness in nature is most apparent in these times of Galus. Despite the strength of the Balus, though, the Geulah is approaching. As the Previous Rebbe said, “all we have left to do is polish the buttons.” By adding joy and happiness (particularly the joy which is connected with Torah study) we can break through the darkness of Galus and reveal the G-dly energies concealed therein.
3. In the past, appeals for Tzedakah were made on both Yud-Tes Kislev and on Chanukah. In recent years, these two appeals have been fused together into one appeal. Tzedakah is closely connected with body holidays. In a public letter, the Alter Rebbe wrote that the merit of Tzedakah brought about his liberation. Yud-Tes Kislev is also connected with the verse, “My soul was redeemed in peace,” which our Sages associated with Gemilus Chassadim—deeds of kindness (including tzedakah). Similarly, we see that Rav Nechmiah Dubrovner’s addition to the Shulchan Aruch, stresses the importance of giving Tzedakah on Chanukah as well.
Some people might protest, “We never saw the Rebbeim give Tzedakah on these days.” Do they compare themselves to the Rebbeim in every way? Even if they did not see the Rebbe publicly give Tzedakah they should still give. The end result shows the falseness of their argument. Through this path of behavior: 1)They lose the mitzvah of Tzedakah, 2)poor people do not receive the money they need. They use the Rebbeim to help them rationalize why they should not give.
This year, I did not announce the appeal at the farbrengen of Chanukah and Yud-Tes Kislev. Though some people still gave, others did not. If by not announcing the appeal, I was responsible for some people not giving, I would like to correct that fault by making the appeal now. In fact, this was one of the reasons for this farbrengen. Hopefully, in the coming year, people will remember this announcement and give without further requests.
If someone did not give during the past two farbrengens, he should do Teshuvah now by giving. twice as much. It will thereby be considered as if he gave Tzedakah at the right time. In the times of the Bais HaMikdash, the Jewish court made arrangements for those who brought their half-shekels after Nissan to be included in the sacrifices offered before they made their donation. Similarly by giving now, you can still be included in the appeal of Chanukah and Yud-Tes Kislev.
May the prophecy of “You will have no poor among you” be fulfilled and may the coming of the Mashiach bring abundant blessings speedily in our days.
4. The eighth day of Chanukah contains within it all the previous days. Though this concept contains deep mystical significance, it can also be grasped by a young child. On the eighth day, the child sees eight candles. Each candle represents a different day. The new candle marks the new day (0) and the other candles mark the days passed.
At this point a child might ask, “yesterday we already lit seven candles—why again today?”
We answer by explaining that all the eight previous days are included in today. By lighting candles for the previous days we add new light to them. We are now at the close of the eighth day. It is after sunset but before Maariv, and these moments include the entire Chanukah festival.
We must take out a lesson from this situation. If in the past we have not completed the necessary service, we should realize that now the opportunity exists to elevate all eight previous days. If we have completed the service of those days, the present occasion teaches that we can proceed even further. The fact that more time exists reveals that we have the potential to progress further. We can bring about new light and with that light lift the previous seven days even higher. (P)
5. The concept above was explained to the children yesterday. One must teach children concepts that are true. Of course, when speaking to a child, one has to remember that his understanding is limited. The concept must be adopted to the child’s age and ability. The manner of presentation must be adjusted but the concept itself must remain true.
Some people believe it is proper to tell a child anything they want. They maintain that since he cannot understand the depth of a concept, it is proper to tell him whatever they want now and only later, when he gets older, to tell him the truth. This approach leads a child in the wrong direction. From falsehood, truth will never grow. To succeed, education must be genuine from the outset.
This line of thinking makes one re-examine some traditional Jewish customs. For example, when a child first enters the “cheder,” one member of the family hides and throws sweets at him. When the child asks “where are the sweets coming from?” he is answered, “Malach Michoel threw them.” On the surface, the last statement brings up a question. No older person would believe that Malach Michoel threw the sweets. The child only believes him because he is naive. Nevertheless, this custom has been practiced by Torah-Jews for centuries. It began the Torah education of many children who grew up to become observant adults. We must say that this statement contains genuine truth. The spiritual source for sweetness is Malach Michoel. Practically speaking, someone else threw the sweets, but in fact, where do they come from? Who is the real giver? Malach Michoel. Torah is true sweetness. We throw sweets at a child so he will learn that Torah’s sweetness brings about sweetness in the world.
The way to present a concept to a child is as an experience. To an older person, we would explain that the energy stems from Malach Michoel, and passes through intermediate stages, until it becomes enclothed in a physical garment. We would emphasize that what is important is not the outer garment, but what is inside. both the child and the adult receive the same concept, the only difference lies in the manner of presentation.
The Tanya explains how Torah is compared to water. Just as water by nature descends, similarly Torah lowers itself, level by level, in order to adjust itself to a form appropriate to that rung. However, that adjustment is merely external, Torah fundamental truth never changes. Solomon had to use 3,000 examples to communicate hip concepts to the average man. Similarly Torah presents itself in a physical form, ink on parchment, so that we understand it. However, its truths are not changed in this descent.
The essence of Torah is expressed by the word “Anochi” (the first word of the Ten Commandments). “Anochi” (I) is an acrostic for the words “Ana Nafshi Kesavis Yehavis,” translating as “I wrote My soul down and gave it over.” Torah transmits the essence of G-d to every Jew. On one hand, that concept explains how the deepest Torah secrets-for example, the nature of the realm of “Atzilus”-can be understood. It as well emphasizes that the Torah lesson you teach a young child connects even him with G-d’s essence.
This applies even before a child goes to school. Jewish mothers traditionally rock their babies to sleep with the lullaby “Torah iz da besta schoreh,” (“Torah is the best merchandise.”). The child is an infant. He does not understand what merchandise is, let alone why Torah is the best merchandise. Yet, through the lullaby, he learns a lesson. The concept “Torah is the best merchandise” becomes permanently engraved in his mind. His simple openness allows him to accept the concept totally.
The child does not question, but nevertheless, the concept given him is totally true. What would a child think is “good merchandise?”—a toy? Why does a toy exist? Because Torah was (G-d’s toy, so to speak) “His delight, it playing always before him.” Therefore, since G-d created the world by looking into Torah, the aspect of Torah which is G-d’s delight brings into being a toy in this world.
The child’s mother also might not understand the depth of the custom. However, she also does not approach it intellectually. This lullaby has been sung by Jewish women for centuries. The Rambam writes that even 600,000 opinions cannot negate the Torah custom of a Jewish woman.
The child is presented with a lullaby, which contains a deep Torah secret. Even in the child does not become consciously aware of that secret, he accepts it on faith. This acceptance molds his character and helps him grow up to be frum.
This same pattern applies to a scholar. Torah is spiritual truth, above human understanding. The scholar may know that truth exists but he can never grasp what it is. Every aspect of Torah is an example which hides (and through that concealment allows for a man’s approach to) spiritual truth. In relation to the essence of Torah, a scholar stands no higher than a young child. In fact, the child’s level may surpass him. The child knows he does not understand and the scholar may think that he does.
6. The service of “Yafutzu mayonasecha chutza”—”spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus into the outer reaches” shares a unique connection with Chanukah. The term wellsprings refers to the soul of Torah, Torah’s deepest secrets. Oil, with which we light Chanukah candles, also, is often used as a metaphor for Torah’s deepest secrets.
In general, Torah is compared to water. Oil, which floats on water, refers to the highest and most secret aspects of Torah. The expression “Torah Ohr”—”the Torah is light” — is used in this sense. Oil is the source of light. It stands for the source of Torah.
During Chanukah, oil lights (i.e. secrets of Torah) are placed at the entrance to the house on the outside. They are positioned there to shine into the outside, light up its darkness.
Therefore, on this occasion it is appropriate to mention activities which bring the wellsprings of Chassidus outside. The wellsprings of Chassidus were revealed in the Tanya. Recently, I called for the printing of the Tanya in all the countries where Jews are found. Reports have come in about its printing in many countries, including some very distant ones. May that effort continue until the Tanya has been printed everywhere. And may that addition in “Yafutzu mayonasecha chutza” bring about the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days.
- (Back to text) The reason we are able to contribute new concepts to Torah is because the scholars of the previous generations were able to explain their ideas in a way which scholars of our generation could comprehend. They, in turn, build on those concepts.
- (Back to text) In the laws of Torah study, the Alter Rebbe stresses the concept, “Torah is great because it leads to deed.”
- (Back to text) Our Sages commented “No greater boy exists than the resolution of doubt.”
- (Back to text) These days, fasting is restricted only to “a strong and healthy person” and most people are advised to “Redeem your fasts with Tzedakah.”
- (Back to text) The liberation of the Rebbeim on these days was not strictly personal. As the Previous Rebbe explained, “G-d did not only redeem me.” Rather, it affected, and continues to affect, every Jew.
- (Back to text) These restrictions protect us from a variety of new diseases that did not exist in previous generations.
- (Back to text) Chanukah shares a specific connection with the time preceding-.Mashiach’s coming. The sanctuary in the desert was completed on the 25th of Kislev. However, Moshe Rabbeinu waited until Nissan for its dedication. In return, G-d promised Kislev that the third Bais HaMikdash would be dedicated then. An intrinsic connection between the desert sanctuary and the Bais HaMikdash exists; the Talmud says the sanctuary built by Moshe was eternal. The third Bais HaMikdash will also be eternal.
- (Back to text) The Previous Rebbe told a story that showed how the other Rebbeim had marked Chanukah with family celebrations. However, in this generation, even greater rejoicing is necessary.
- (Back to text) The phrase translated as good natured person is “tov lav” literally translated as “good of the. heart.” It is important to note that the expression “tov lav” is singular and not “tov lavav”—the plural. there are two inclinations in a Jew’s heart: a good inclination and a bad one. The use of the singular implies that only the good inclination is happy. If the evil inclination were also happy that might lead to feelings outside the realm of holiness.
- (Back to text) In Psalms, the verse reads, “My sins are always before me.” On the surface, constant awareness of one’s sins should diminish the happiness spoken about above. However, the Alter Rebbe explains that the word “neged” translated as “before me” implies also the concept of being distantly removed. Though one is conscious of his sin, that knowledge does not effect his happiness in Torah and Teshuvah.
- (Back to text) Wine’s effect on a person parallels the manner in which it is produced. Previously, the wine was hidden and swallowed up in the grapes. Pressing brings it out into the open. Likewise, wine takes a Jew’s hidden energies and reveals them.
- (Back to text) Through the above service, (that is, “a good natured person is always celebrating”), the conclusion of Orach Chaim, is connected with its beginning—”I placed G-d always before me.”
- (Back to text) Besides, how do they know what it means for a Rebbe to give Tzedakah.
- (Back to text) Once I asked someone why he did not establish fixed times of Torah study each day. He answered that it was my fault. I should have called him each day and reminded him that he should study. I replied “Shulchan Aruch tells you to do so.” “Shulchan Aruch is Niglah,” he answered “my service is on a higher level.”
He proceeded to rationalize his behavior with the example of Rav Shimon ben Yochai. During the 13 years Rav Shimon hid in the cave, he did not eat Matzah, live in a Sukkah, etc. However, he fulfilled those mitzvos on the spiritual plane.
The comparison, though, is totally unfounded. That entire concept applies only to Tzaddikim. Rashbi could not have performed these mitzvos physically., To do so would have meant putting his life in danger. However, Kabbalists ask: even though his service was not lacking from a strict Halachic perspective, nevertheless, these mitzvos would have added to his spiritual level; how could it be that “Hashgachah Protis” could prevent him from realizing this higher level? That question can be answered “he fulfilled mitzvos on a spiritual plane.” Obviously such an explanation does not apply to the case mentioned above.
- (Back to text) This concept is accentuated by the fact that we recite the brochos over the new candle, while the prayer “Hanairos Halalu” refers to all the candles.
- (Back to text) This is possible because Teshuvah is “the service of the I heart “ In a person’s heart and feelings many levels exists.