1. This farbrengen commemorates the “Yahrzeit” of the Alter Rebbe, Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Although Rav Schneur Zalman possessed a new soul which allowed him to reveal the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov in an intellectual and rational manner,
he nonetheless repeatedly emphasized that the study of Torah (in the realm of Chassidus as well as in the realm of niglah-Gemorah and Shulchan Aruch) must be focused on the practical application of every concept. He encouraged his students to search for a “b ‘chain” (a Hebrew word meaning — “if so — what?”) whenever they encountered a new idea.
The Torah works that he himself published, bring out his emphasis on practicality. Though he wrote many other works (including an entire Shulchan Aruch) and authored many discourses, the first (in time and also in importance) texts that he published were the Tanya; The Laws of Birchos HaNehenin (what berachos to make and when to make them); and The Laws of Torah Study. These texts concentrate on deed and action—what, how, and when to do. The Tanya places an unique stress on practical action. In the forward, the Alter Rebbe explained that he wrote the book as an answer to various questions Jews had asked him. On the title page, as well, he accentuates the element of deed, quoting the verse from “Devarim” (Duet.), “It (the fulfillment of Torah) is very close to you, in your heart, and your mouth, that you may also do it.”
Therefore, we must take a practical lesson that will affect what we do and how we live, out of this farbrengen. As mentioned in previous years, we can derive that lesson through analysis of the name of the Alter Rebbe, “Schneur Zalman.” The Alter Rebbe, himself writes in Tanya, that the name of an object communicates its “character, and essential life force.” Similarly his own name provides us with insights into the nature of who he was.
The Alter Rebbe’s first name, Schneur, combines two Hebrew words, “shnei” and “ohr,” that together mean “two lights.” The Alter Rebbe radiated two lights: the light of the revealed and a legal field of Torah study (nigleh): and the light of the esoteric, mystical realm (Chassidus). Furthermore, he brought together both of these lights in one world; i.e., he revealed how both disciplines join to form one Torah.
The Alter Rebbe’s second name, Zalman, also contains a significant lesson. The Hebrew letters of Zalman, if re-arranged, form the word “l’zman” which means “to time.” Time and place define the nature of existence in this physical world. The connection of the name Zalman to Schneur implies that both lights (that of the legal and that of the mystical aspects of Torah) must be brought down and communicated in this physical world. This farbrengen should motivate activity in that direction. It should cause an increase in Torah study (in both nigleh and Chassidus), which must, in turn, effect practical changes in behavior.
2. Fifteen days from today, the Yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe, comes Yud-Shvat, which is the Yahrzeit of. the Previous Rebbe, will be celebrated. The connection between the two days is emphasized by the fact that every year, Yud-Shvat falls on the day of the week directly following that of the 24th of Teves. For example, this year the 24th of Teves occurs on a Tuesday, and Yud-Shvat on a Wednesday. Whenever two days of the week follow one another, a relation exists between them. The conclusion of one day leads into the next and the beginning of the following day starts at the end of the first. Thus we see that the Previous Rebbe’s Yahrzeit is connected to the Alter Rebbe’s. Even though, a gap of two weeks separates the two, Kabbalah explains that all Tuesdays (and also all Wednesdays) are related to each other. Therefore, we must find a lesson which connects the two dates.
The Previous Rebbe was a successor of the Alter Rebbe. The Hebrew word for succeed, “memale makom,” literally means “fills the place.” The use of that term indicates that the Previous Rebbe completely fulfilled the services initiated by the Alter Rebbe. Furthermore, since he belonged to a later generation, then according to the principle of “ever-higher in holy matters,” it follows that he made an unique contribution over and above the legacy he received from the Rebbeim that preceded him.
That contribution centered around the extension of Chassidus to the point that it reached even those outside the normal sphere of Jewish activity. The Previous Rebbe initiated the translation of not only elementary, but also profound texts of both the legal and mystical aspects of Torah into languages other than Hebrew. He oversaw the translation of a number of different texts into Russian, German, French, English, etc.
The translation of Torah brought about by the Previous Rebbe centered not only on texts, but also on Torah lifestyle and behavior. In the times of the previous Rebbeim, the Jews were “spread out among the nation,” physically. However, they had a strong consciousness of their Jewish identity, and their lives revolved around the Torah. However, in the times of the Previous Rebbe, the Galus had become internalized. By then Jews had adopted aspects of the lifestyle and character of the nations in which they lived. Not only did the Jewish people need translations of Torah texts but they also had to be taught how to live as Jews.
The Previous Rebbe worked to establish a connection between these Jews and a genuine Torah lifestyle. In bringing them into contact with Torah, he never compromised. He “brought them close to Torah,” without lowering Torah to their level. Simultaneously, he saw to it that they could approach Torah in a pleasant and inviting manner.
Certain preparations are necessary for Torah study. The Talmud explains that a teacher should begin his lesson with a joke. The joke attracts the students’ attention and prepares them to receive the lesson. The Previous Rebbe left the lesson intact. He did not weaken the power of the Torah he taught. However, he took care that the introduction to the lesson (the joke) the point which captured the students’ interest, fit the character and behavior of every Jew, even one far from Torah observance. The Previous Rebbe was able to take “the two lights.” the legacy of the Alter Rebbe, and give them over to every Jew in such a manner that they were “L’zman” (timely); i.e. they related well to practical deed and action.
The concept explained above clarifies the lesson of the connection between the 24th of Teves and Yud-Shvat. Stated succinctly, it is that we must try to bring Torah out in seventy languages and communicate its lifestyle to every Jew, no matter what his background.
Since the Previous Rebbe stressed the importance of reaching out and bringing Torah to every Jew, each person has an obligation equivalent to a Torah command to take part in these activities. The Rambam writes that any command of a Torah Sage, is included in the Torah’s dictum, “Fulfill completely the words they (the Sages) tell you,” and “Do not deviate from their words left or right.” How much more that injunction applies to the Previous Rebbe’s words in the light of his service which he performed with total self-sacrifice, even at the risk of his life. (In addition, he demanded the same self-sacrifice from others).
This obligation particularly applies to our generation. Much less self-sacrifice and strength of character is necessary to spread Torah now than in previous generations. Fewer obstacles stand in the way of Torah and Mitzvos. On the contrary the non-Jews generally respect those who observe their religion. This situation should encourage and bring about an increase in the spreading of Torah. We can clearly see that G-d has given us the potential to overcome the challenges of Galus. The existence of the opportunity must be a sign for us to broaden our scope of action. If G-d has provided us with the potential to do more, that potential must be used.
When confronted by this enormous task, someone might react with fear, asking “How can I possibly use all the potential that G-d gave me?” He must come to realize that “I (G-d) do not ask according to My strength, but according to the strength of each being.” Torah does not demand the impossible from a Jew. On the contrary, he has the ability to perform the service required of him. Every Jew possesses the strength to bring out the powers he was given. He must merely choose life; that is, make a conscious decision that he wants to do-so.
May it be G-d’s will that our activities be successful to the degree that the Rebbeim desired and that our work be accompanied with joy. Then it will bring the Rebbeim pleasure and likewise bring pleasure to G-d Himself, as our Sages commented “I derive pleasure from the fact that I commanded and My will was carried out.” That pleasure will bring about unlimited and unbounded blessings for success in everything a Jew needs including success in his task of translating the Torah into seventy languages. May that activity bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy, “Then I will convert the nations to a pure language, that they may call upon the name of G-d,” with the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.
3. In a public letter, the Tzemach Tzedek wrote that the Alter Rebbe passed away on “Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Shemos, the 24th of Teves.” Why the Tzemach Tzedek chose the phrase “Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Shemos,” when he could have written “Ohr L’yom Rishon, Parshas Vaeira” (the eve of the first day of the Parshah of Vaeira)? On the surface, the latter seems more appropriate. Parshas Vaeira deals with the first stages of our ancestors’ liberation from Egypt. The Gomorrah explains that from the beginning of the Ten Plagues (which are first described in Parshas Vaeira) onward, the forced labor of the Jewish people was abolished. On the contrary, Parshas Shemos recounts the entry of our people into Galus. On the day of a Tzaddik’s passing “all the works accomplished throughout his life... become manifest.” Taking all the above into account, why did the Tzemach Tzedek associate the Alter Rebbe’s passing with Parshas Shemos—”Galus” (exile)—instead of Parshas Vaeira—”Geulah” (.redemption)?
We can answer the question by first prefacing with the following stories:
(1) When Chassidim first brought the Berditchiver Rebbe a copy of the Tanya, he looked through it excitedly and exclaimed, “He (Rav Schneur Zalman) took such a big G-d and put Him into such a small book.” The Berditchiver did not mean the statement to be taken as a ,joke. On the contrary, with it he intended to communicate the unique contribution of the Tanya.
Torah is by natured unlimited. The statement particularly applies to its mystical secrets, the “soul of the Torah.” The Ten Commandments begin with the word “Anochi” (I) interpreted by our Sages as an acrostic for the Aramaic words, “Ana Nafshi Kesavis Yehavis” — “I (G-d) wrote down my soul and gave it over.” The transmission of infinite G-dliness is the essence of Torah study. However, in the study of nigleh, the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch, this innate G-dliness is concealed, because in that realm “the Torah speaks in the language of man.” However, in the mystical realm of Torah study, G-dliness is openly revealed. The Kabbalah describes the various different levels on G-dly energies.
The Berditchiver was amazed that the Alter Rebbe was able to take such a great G-d, i.e., delve into the mystical realm where the Torah’s G-dliness and infinity are apparent, and put that into a small book, i.e., communicate those concepts rationally and intellectually. The Alter Rebbe developed a logical framework within which not only the G-dly soul, but also the animal soul can understand and relate to G-d’s essential infinity, through deed and. action.
The soul of a Jew and how much more so the essence of G-d, the soul that “I wrote down and gave over,” must undergo tremendous contractions and veilings before it can be enclothed in human,.-understanding. This is the unique understanding which Chassidus contributed over and beyond the understanding of general Chassidus. Other forms of Chassidus were expressed in “vertlach” — short aphorisms or “mofsim” — miracles and wonders, wherein G-dliness was openly revealed. Chabad took that same frequency of G-dly energy and brought it down into the context of this world, explaining it in a rational and understandable system of thought.
(2) When the Baal Shem Tov experienced a revelation of the Mashiach, he asked him, “When will you come?” The Mashiach answered, “When the wellsprings of your Torah spread forth into the outer reaches.” Mashiach’s reply was met with tears, “How could such a dear thing as the wellsprings (the source and the essence) of the Baal Shem Tov’s Torah be thrust into the outer reaches?!”
The true service of spreading the wellsprings of Torah into the outer reaches began after the Alter Rebbe’s release from prison on Yud-Tes Kislev. It was then that he began to explain Chassidus in a rational manner.
These two stories have a point in. common. They focus on the Alter Rebbe’s unique contributions, bringing the essence of Torah down to the point where it could be understood rationally and logically even by the animal soul (and even translated into seventy languages until it could be grasped by a Jew with minimal Jewish involvement). This pattern parallels the descent of the soul into the body which, in the Zohar’s words was “from a high cliff into a deep pit.” This is why the Alter Rebbe’s passing was connected with Parshas Shemos, the beginning of Galus.
The intention of Galus, however, is to rise to an even higher level than before. It is a descent for the purpose of ascent. Similarly, through the descent into the rational and intellectual sphere which is the method of Chabad, the essence of Torah is revealed.
4. As mentioned previously, a period of two weeks separates the 24th of Teves from Yud-Shvat. It is appropriate that in this period of time everyone take on an added session of study of the texts of the Alter Rebbe in both Chassidus (preferably the Tan a) and in nigleh (preferably the Laws of Netilas Yedayim (the ritual washing of the hands), and the Laws of Birchos HaNehenin (the laws concerning berachos over food, etc.). It is also fitting to increase the activities that spread Torah to those of minimal Torah involvement (the contribution of the Previous Rebbe). Added stress must be put on the Ten Mivtzoyim: Ahavas Yisrael, Chinuch, Torah, Tefillin, Bais Maleh Seforim, (the campaign to spread Jewish Holy books), Mezuzah, Tzedakah, Nairos Shabbos Kodesh (lighting of the Shabbos candles), Kashrus, and Taharas Hamishpachah. And may our work in the Mivtzoyim cause G-d to bring about the greatest Mivtza—the Mivtza of Geulah HaShelamah—”the campaign of the complete redemption,” with the coming of the Mashiach speedily in our days.
- (Back to text) His teachings communicated a truly intellectual perspective, which transcended the plane of emotional reaction.
- (Back to text) The quote mentions three categories: thought (“in your heart”), speech (“in your mouth”), and deed (“that you may do it”). Thought and speech refer to meditation during prayer; deed to the actual carrying out of the mitzvos. In neither meditation nor action can the service be left in the stage of potential; both must be brought to actuality.
- (Back to text) On the verse (Bereishis 2:2) “And by the seventh day, G-d completed his work,” Rashi comments that G-d knows exactly when the sixth day ends and when the seventh day begins. However, human beings cannot make such a close distinction and must add extra tuna to the Shabbos.
- (Back to text) For that. reason, we recite the same “Song of the day” for each day, every week.
- (Back to text) In Devarim, verse 1.;3-5 reads, “on the first day of the eleventh month (the month of 5hvat)...Moshe began to explain the Torah.” Commentaries interpret “explain the Torah” as “he translated it into seventy languages.” It is significant to note that this first translation and the Yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe occurred in the same month, which implies a conceptual relationship between the two, as well.
- (Back to text) Kabbalah compares the letters of the Hebrew alphabet to stones and those of other languages to bricks. Both bricks and stones can be used to build. However, stones are creations of G-d, while bricks are creations of man.
- (Back to text) A parallel can be drawn to Moshe Rabbeinu’s translation of the Torah mentioned above. Even though, Moshe translated the Torah so clearly that even an unsophisticated Gentile could understand it, it nevertheless remained Moshe’s Torah. The translation contained the soul and power of Torah. Moshe gave over the Torah even in foreign tongues exactly as he received it from G-d on Mt. Sinai.
- (Back to text) It is harder to ask someone else to risk their life than for you to risk your own. Yet, fully conscious of the importance of every Jewish soul and the genuine risk involved, the Previous Rebbe encouraged others to risk their lies to spread Torah observance.
- (Back to text) Even in Russia, it is now easier to perform Torah and Mitzvos.
- (Back to text) By actualizing his potential, the individual achieves more than personal self-fulfillment. He helps bring the entire world to a state of completion. The Talmud says “G-d did not create anything without a purpose.” Every being, even an unclean animal has his place in the master plan of creation. Likewise, every potential which G-d has given man.,. must be exercised in order to bring the world to the desired state.
- (Back to text) Since this activity comes as a result of a conscious choice, a Jew will put more of himself into it and desire more pleasure from it. As a result, he will have greater success.
- (Back to text) This year the 24th of Teves occurs on-a Tuesday. However, a connection exists between Motzaei Shabbos and Tuesday. The Gomorrah explains that the three days following Shabbos are called “after Shabbos.” The connection is so strong that if someone did not recite Havdalah on Motzaei Shabbos, he can recite it until Tuesday evening.
- (Back to text) Though the Jewish people entered Egypt in the time of yosef, then they were both spiritually and physically free. Only after Yosef and the other brothers died (events described in Parshas Shemos-)dJd the Galus really begin.
- (Back to text) It is impossible to conceive that the Berditchiver Rebbe would consider either G-d or the Tanya something to make a joke about.
- (Back to text) The levels of tile G-dly soul that are enclothed in the body are much lower than those which are above the physical state. Therefore to bring the above understanding to the G-dly soul, would also be an achievement. However, the Alter Rebbe’s contribution surpassed even that. He explained these concepts in a manner that the animal soul as well could understand.
- (Back to text) Therefore the Alter Rebbe’s passing occurred on Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Shemos: it occurred after Shemos-Galus-had passed and Vaeira-Geulah-had already begun.