1. The Alter Rebbe begins his first letter in Iggeres HaKodesh, which was written after being liberated from Petersburg, with the words: “We begin with a benediction ...” This gives a directive to all who follow his teachings to always begin with a blessing.
We also find at the conclusion of tractate Berachos, which is the first tractate of the Talmud, the importance of greeting and blessing a Jew with the name of G-d. The Talmud relates that when Boaz, who was the judge of the Jewish people, met his workers in the field, not on any special day or in any special place, they greeted each other with the name of G-d. Sometimes when the Talmud discusses a topic it does not give a clear ruling and sometimes there is a debate as to the final h;taChah, but in this case the story is accepted as the action of a teacher” and was accepted as a final halachah, that when Jews meet the salutation should be the words: “May G-d bless you,” using the actual name of G-d not a targum or sobriquet.
Therefore, when Jews gather in a holy place, where we pray and study and beseech G-d’s blessings, for the purpose of encouraging and strengthening each other in all aspects of holiness, purity and good deeds, we must begin with a benediction. Since those who bless others are themselves blessed, we can be sure that we will be the beneficiaries of a complete blessing from above.
If there are still some who have to be instructed about the benefit of G-d’s blessings then this should be our goal and role, to quicken the revelation of G-d, as the Rambam teaches concerning the time of Mashiach: “The world will be filled with knowledge of the L-rd as the waters cover tho sea “
The choice of simile by the Rambam is very precise, for the Midrash tells us that there are more creatures in the sea than on dry land, yet when we look at the oceans we perceive only water. The Talmud explains that the various forms of sealife were formed from the water and must continue to receive their sustenance from the water, which is their source; if they leave the water they perish. Conversely, the creatures of land, after being created from the earth, cannot exist in the earth, they must live on the land in an open environment, free to breathe and move around.
The water sustains and surrounds the sea-life to such a degree that first we see only the water, the source, and we only find the sea creatures if we search, study and penetrate the sea cover. This able used by Rambam teaches us the condition of Mashiach’s times, when G-dliness will be revealed and we will not have to search and investigate to find G-d. On the contrary, first we will see the spiritual, the source, which will cover all the creatures, so that we will have to meditate for a while and search until we find the material existence of the created things. Today we need rationalizations and proofs to see G-d — then we will need the proofs to see the mundane, for the creative power of G-d will be manifest.
This goal is accomplished through our actions and activities now. For in everything that we meet, hear or see, we must search for and find the spark of G-dliness. We have to reveal the truth, that the Creator is in the world, and everything and everyone should strive for the goal of making the world “a place of peaceful society,” — including also the seventy nations, who are obliged to fulfill the Seven Noachide Laws. This peace must negate jealousy, war and competition. It must bring true peaceful coexistence among all people in all aspects of life, that there shall be mutual assistance, for peace, in the name of G-d.
The individual Jew must remember that his role is to serve his Creator, by influencing all who come in contact with him; to bring peace and to reveal the honor of G-d so that all will willingly and joyously accept the Kingship and rule of G-d, meaning the 613 mitzvos for Jews, and the seven mitzvos for the other nations. Thought, speech and deed will then be permeated with the spirit of serving G-d, and will be “close” to us and quicken the arrival of Mashiach, as the Rambam says: “Immediately they are redeemed.” Speedily in our days, Amen.
2. The Baal Shem Tov taught that the Hebrew name nfo anything represents its true essence and the Hebrew letters of that word create, enliven and sustain it. Now, when several things have the same or similar appellations, then we must say that this common factor indicates an intrinsic, basic relationship between these diverse things.
The word “geulah” means “redemption,” that something which had been forcedly torn away from its proper place was returned. The opposite of geulah is “goleh,” which means “exiled from its place.” These two words are similar. In fact, when we add the “aleph” to “goleh” we have “geulah”; the concepts change, indicating redemption.
The Talmud tells us that the letter aleph refers to G-d, the Master of the world. Just as the aleph is the initial letter of the alphabet, so too, the Master of the world is the prime source, cause, and beginning of everything — the true aleph. When we bring G-d into the galus, exile, in a revealed way, as an aleph — not as just any letter, but like the aleph which converts the meaning — it changes exile into redemption.
Here we learn a very important lesson. A Jew can bring the aleph of G-dliness into his life in exile, and although the ultimate redemption will not be reached, he will effect a partial geulah. If we introduce G-dliness into all of our activities of the heart, mouth and hands, then the redemption affects us and all our surroundings. When many Jews do likewise, we create a majority; true, it is only made up of many single individuals, but in Torah we have a rule, to follow the majority.
This is what the Rambam means when he expresses our responsibility to see the world in a delicate balance which can be affected by even one asl-Ulon for the good. Of course, the evil-inclination argues that our individual actions, speech, and especially thought, are insignificant; to this the Rambam answers us that it could actually tip the scale of the whole world and bring success for all.
In Tanya, which the Alter Rebbe wrote applies to every Jew, we find the explanation for the existence of evil in the world. Why do we have two inclinations? To bring out and reveal the true quality of the prince, meaning each and every Jew, that although the evil inclination tries to confuse and confound him with intellectual arguments, he is not weakened and continues to follow G-d’s will, transforming even the evil inclination, so that he will worship G-d with “two hearts” and express love of G-d to the degree of “all your might.
This could be in the form of a battle to bend and break the evil inclination, but the true goal is to transform it without a battle, so that the evil inclination joins the side of good and contributes enthusiasm to his G-dly service; to transform the evil inclination into a servant of G-d to the point of loving G-d with all his might. He is now in the category of “many have joined with me,” as the Talmud Yerushalmi relates about Dovid with regard to the verse of: “Podah B’Shalom” — “He has redeemed my soul in peace,” that even the followers of Avshalom who were fighting against Dovid prayed that Dovid would win!
In the first letter, written after being freed, the Alter Rebbe writes: “... and when I was reciting the book of Tehillim, when I said the verse: ‘He has redeemed my soul in peace,’ and before reaching the following verse, I was released with peace.” This was a true case of peace, bezaaSc the same ministers who first made the decrees against him and the teachings of Chassidus, now granted him freedom and permitted the dissemination of his teachings, which he began to do immediately in Petersburg. This was truly with peace.
Yud-Tes Kislev, the 19th of Kislev, precedes by a few days the first day of Chanukah, and the intervening Shabbos connects them. But there is a major distinction between the miracle of Chanukah and the 19th of Kislev. The miracle of Chanukah came only after fierce battles and divine miracles of “many in the hands of few” and “strong in the hands of weak.” The miracle of Yud-Tes Kislev, however, was accomplished peacefully, the ministers and king nullifying the decree, giving the Alter Rebbe freedom and peace to continue to do, with greater strength, the same things for which he had originally been incarcerated.
Normally a contract does not have to be approved by a court, but if there were suspicions and the contract was investigated and then certified by the court, it then stands strong forever.
The arrest and liberation certified the philosophy of the Alter Rebbe, for there had been a spiritual doubt that perhaps the world really was not ready for Chassidic philosophy. When it was ruled in the spiritual realm “that it is incumbent to reveal this wisdom,” it was then revealed below; the Alter Rebbe was freed and the conduits were opened to spread the wellsprings to the out .c:i do
Because of the suffering of the Jewish people through its history and, especially in its most recent history — we must have the revelation of the wellsprings in order to understand and absorb the inner soul of Torah, and then, together with the revealed aspects they become one Torah, completely revealed, bringing the additional knowledge of the time of Mashiach.
3. Our sages teach us: “That which occurred with our forefathers is an omen for their descendants.” This means that our ancestors have given the later generations the power and ability to withstand similar tests and to be successful in similar situations.
In the case of the Alter Rebbe, his incarceration was not because of his personal study, but rather because of his work in spreading the teachings of Chassidus to others. In his letter, the Alter Rebbe adds that the ministers and people had presented charges relating to him and to his activities. For us this indicates, that we in the later generations must also use all of our ability, within the framework of time and place, to influence our surroundings.
In relation to our influence on gentiles, when we find ourselves among them, the Alter Rebbe in the letter also indicates that going into exile is not only for the purpose of removing a negative aspect from the person — to cleanse some blemish from himself — but also to implant G-dliness among those gentiles. They too should realize that they were created for the honor of G-d, and should accept it willingly!
Years ago we had to search for ways in which a Jew could influence the gentiles to keep the Seven Noachide Laws. As the Rambam says, just as we must know that our Torah is the Torah of Moshe, from G-d, so too the nations must be taught that their seven mitzvos are taught by Moshe, from G-d. Additionally, the day of Yud-Tes Kislev teaches us that it can be done in a peaceful manner. Just as a person can transform his evil inclination to be good, peacefully, so too can we instruct the nations of the world to realize that they exist for the honor of G-d; this also can be done peacefully. Our influence can be exerted with words, Torah words, the Torah of peace, whose ways are pleasant. When these words emanate from the heart, they penetrate the heart and accomplish their purpose, to explain that all that we teach comes from G-d.
For many reasons, in the past these powers were not utilized and although we were lax in this effort, G-d has changed the mood and atmosphere of this country: an awakening has come from the gentiles, most prominently, from the President himself, who is urging the nation to follow the path of belief in G-d in thought and in action.
Here the potential privilege for the Jews has been increased, together with increased responsibility, especially among Jews involved in federal, state and local governments. A Jew who finds himself in such a position must use all his influence to introduce discussion, study and activities which will spread the knowledge and acceptance of the Seven Noachide Laws with all their details. As the 19th of Kislev teaches us, this can be accomplished peacefully.
And yet there are foolish individuals who cloak themselves in their misguided and mislabeled liberalism and want to force the government and educators of our children not to teach: “Do not murder” and “do not steal,” even if it is taught out of the context of the Ten Commandments! As part of the Ten Commandments, the Divine law, whay are, a fortiori vehemently opposed! They want to stop children from thinking that there is a Creator who made them.
Going even further, they also oppose the Moment of Silence where it has been approved. The Moment of Silence tells the child that at the start of a new day — you must learn to be a “mentsch,” not just to have book knowledge! Before you become a lawyer or doctor or community leader, or before you endeavor in your business to have a bank account of six digits — first become a mentsch! Don’t swallow each other alive! Don’t think that if you have money you can bribe the judge or the lawyers or the police and then get congratulated for swallowing your adversaries. We tell the child there is an “eye that sees and an ear that hears,” which neither money nor smiles nor guiles will be able to fool. G-d sees the intentions of your heart and even if you hide yourself in your own “corner” because you do not want to be bothered about G-dliness, the eye still sees and the ear still hears.
These opponents of a Moment of Silence are trying to deprive the children of the opportunity which will motivate them to question their parents and hear from them that there is an “eye that sees :~n(l sn f~sr that hs~rs t~
Those who claim liberalism are really propounding slavery! This is clear from their own children, who were denied these teachings, and as a result also do not even know “Honor your father and mother,” which is also one of the Ten Commandments. They are enslaved by the “sly and old king,” and are ashamed of being Jewish, wanting others to think of them as gentiles. Thus they fight against the principle of “Shema Yisrael!” They are truly enslaved — for everyone knows they are Jews; they cannot hide their noses and yet key fight against the seven mitzvos.
The President openly said, and a Chief Justice in the state of Alabama has ruled, that a Moment of Silence is permitted, yet, they have started a war, fooling themselves and others. They, who have no self-respect for their Judaism nor their humanity, wish to enslave the innocent children to their evil inclination. The President and the parents want to raise the world and make sure that it does not become a jungle, by observing the seven mitzvos, not only as humanistic laws but rather as Divine ordinances.
In our recent history we have seen a country which rose to great prominence and established theories of justice and humanity based only on human intelligence. The result of such an approach was the worst destruction the world had ever known. They had a morality, but it set two standards: one for them and one for others. They conducted research, to help humanity, on those people who did not fit into their standards. Those who were with Hitler, may his name be erased, were better people; this is what they said then and his disciples continue to teach his philosophy now. There was no “seeing eye and hearing ear.” They said: “People have decided, ‘do not steal.”‘ So if someone thought he was smarter than they were he would take whatever he wanted. We have seen the result of that philosophy, morality purely on an intellectual basis!
Those who truly want to build and protect society must teach morality based on G-dliness, the eye which sees and the ear which hears.
The opponents say it should be taught in the home or in the synagogue, but did they ever mention G-d in their homes? They sent their children to elementary, — high school and college to gain knowledge and be good doctors or lawyers, but they forgot to teach them to be good people. And this they do in the name of liberty? The basis and beginning of everything is not chemistry or medicine but human morality!
The Moment of Silence will give the opportunity for parents to tell their children what to think about as mentioned above, and there will be positive results. There are movements which support this and each and every individual must use all of his powers to influence others and to accomplish this goal. The 19th of Kislev teaches us — that if you truly want — it can be done with peace. Success is guaranteed if we apply ourselves, 101 times, and in a peaceful way with assistance from federal, state and local governments.
The only people who can argue against this are those who have lost their G-dly image, and have become slaves to the evil inclination.
We must work diligently in this respect and it will bring blessing and the ultimate redemption — for the spirit of impurity will be removed and all will serve G-d together — speedily in our days through the righteous Mashiach.
4. Many times when speaking of world problems we forget about ourselves. We have just spoken of influencing the whole country, including also the non-Jews, to accept the Seven Noachide Laws and in a broad scope, to change and to improve the world. Being that this is based on Torah, which is our life and source of truth, this involvement must be firm and true. Yet when you deal with world problems you might tend to forget “perfect yourself ftmst-,” and that in your own small ‘city’ there is a ‘sly and old king,’ the evil inclination, which must be transformed in order to serve G-d with two hearts. If you want to affect and influence the world in a manner of ‘redeem peacefully,’ you must start by first applying that principle to yourself
At the beginning of tractate Berachos 8a, the Talmud interprets the verse “redeemed ... in peace” to mean: “One who occupies himself with the study of Torah, and with acts of kindness and prays with the congregation.” Why does the Talmud use the term “occupies” rather than the simple term, “study”?
The previous Rebbe has explained that by using this term, the Talmud wishes to teach us that one must be involved in Torah study just like a businessman is involved and immersed in his business. The word “osek,” occupied, in the Gemara is the same root as the word “esek” — business, just as occupied has the same root as occupation. A good businessman does not sit at home and wait until some potential customer comes to him and asks, “Do you carry this line of merchandise?” only then waking up and running to the store. That is not the way to do business. He runs around looking for customers and when he finds a potential buyer, he elaborates on and praises the quality of his merchandise and does not desist until he makes the sale! A good businessman does not look at the clock; an employee watches the clock, working only to a certain time and then leaves, not caring what will be. He goes to sit under his own “vine and fig tree” and does not think about the business. But the boss does not look at his watch. If a customer comes in later than closing time, he is thrilled. All he thinks about is his business, when he eats and even when he sleeps he dreams bcur his business. Go the Talmud uses-the word “involved,” not just “study”; you cannot be satisfied with studying just one chapter in the morning and one chapter at night. “The Torah shall not leave your lips day and night”; it has to be like your business!
The Rambam teaches us in the Laws of Repentance that the baal teshuvah, “the penitent,” thinks of G-d and His Torah all day long, and the first mitzvah in the Sefer HaMitzvos of the Rambam, is to think about and to know of the existence of G-d, that He is the Creator, etc. So when the Talmud gives us the first directive of the peaceful redemption, it tells us to be occupied in Torah at all times.
Next, it goes on to speak of acts of kindness and uses the connecting “vav” to indicate that the word “involved” also pertains to one’s fulfillment of acts of kindness. Do not wait until the poor person overcomes his shame and comes to you saying that he must keep his family alive. You should be concerned and go out to discover such a person. Maybe there is someone who does not have enough to eat; if he does, maybe he has not enough clothing to wear and if he does, has he been given all that he lacks to bring him back to his previous comfortable condition? Do not wait till someone comes to you to beg for charity; you must be involved. The Talmud places Torah before acts of kindness to show you that your kindness and charity must be based on, and motivated by Torah.
I was in Germany in those years when their bestial death and destruction was taking place. At that time there were groups in Germany organized for the prevention of cruelty to animals. If they saw that someone was not properly caring for his dog or cat, they saw to it that the person should be arrested and the suffering animal should be cared for. At the same time they were doing the exact opposite to human beings, not only those who were employed in the destruction, but even others in their homes. So first there must be Torah; then we can be sure that there will also be acts of kindness.
As an illustration, sometimes if a child is not well and the doctor says it will be harmful for the child to eat sweets, although it is usually a kindness to give the child candy, in this case it is bad; it is not an act of kindness. King Shlomo said: “[If you] spare the rod, you hate the child”; normally hitting is not kindness yet sometimes if you do not hit, you hate! This too must be according to Torah; as teachers we must know that the right hand must draw near, yet sometimes, Torah dictates, there must be rejection, certainly only by the left hand, but this is also the kindness of Torah
Finally we come to the third aspect, to pray with the community. Prayer includes asking G-d for all our needs. “One should not separate himself from the community,” for, as part of the public, surely G-d will accept our prayers. Chassidic philosophy adds an additional dimension to this concept and explains that in preparation for prayer a person must gather, unite and concentrate his ten soul-powers to stand before the Al-mighty as a servant before his master. Included also in this concept is the ability to join the two inclinations together, so that the evil inclination shall pray that the good inclination should conquer it.
When the person lives this way, utilizing these three forces and establishing his life on the three pillars upon which the world stands, $gfaS, acts of kindness and prayer, then he will also influence the rest of the world and effect salvation and success. In this way we may connect the liberation of the 19th of Kislev, with the ultimate redemption of Mashiach, for which we pray daily, “...when You will return to Zion in mercy,” when we will see the Kohen kindling the menorah. We pray that it shall be soon, so that this coming Chanukah of 5745 we will be in Yerushalayim, in the Beis HaMikdash, in Eretz Yisrael where the “...eyes of the L-rd your G-d, are upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” And there we will pray, with all the Jews, as one community. For the word “tzibbur” is really an acrostic for “tzaddik,” “beinoni” and “rasha,” i.e., “righteous,” “intermediary” and “wicked.” All will be united, just as the “chelbena” — which was foul-smelling — had to be included in the incense to make it acceptable. Under Mashiach we will have perfect unity of our nation, of Torah and mitzvos with the Third Beis HaMikdash.
5. It is customary to complete a tractate of the Talmud today and I should like to connect it to the concept discussed earlier of “... involved in Torah, etc.” I also want to include a discussion of the portion of the Rambam which is assigned to today.
In the verse: “redeemed with peace,” it does not say “redeemed and there was peace,” but rather the emphasis is on the word “peace,” “peacefully redeemed.” For in truth, the cohorts of Avshalom actually prayed that David should be successful. The Mitteler Rebbe also explains that the verse refers to Mashiach, when the whole theme will be peace. So the “siyum” or “completion,” will concentrate on the theme of peace, and will devolve on the six orders of the Mishnah, the last of ktch concludes: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, found no vessel that could contain blessing for Israel save that of peace as it is written: ‘The L-rd will give strength unto His people; the L-rd will bless His people with peace.”‘ This follows on the dictum: “In the world to come the Holy One Blessed be He, will make each righteous person to inherit three hundred and ten worlds, for it is written: ‘...that I may cause those that love Me to inherit yesh.”‘ [The word “yesh,” composed of a “yud” and a “shin” has the numerical equivalent of 310.]
Now why does the Mishnah introduce the concept of peace with the case of 310 worlds, which is far from true unity and peace? Real peace would mean no differentiation, all being partners and united, as we say: “Bless us our Father, together, as one.” Here we are told that as a preface to the ultimate peace, each tzaddik will receive not one, but 310 different separate, worlds.
Now let us look at the first mishnah of the Talmud: “When do we recite the Shema at night?” The Talmud there explains that we are referring mainly to the first verse of Shema Yisrael because the last word of this sentence is “echod,” which starts with an “aleph” and implies that G-d is ruler of the seven heavens and the earth and all four directions. Does this really show us the unity and uniqueness of G-d? It would have been better to say simply G-d is One, the perfect unity. Again this seems to be the opposite of true peace and unity. Why should the beginning and conclusion of the order of the Mishnah deal with these aspects? This becomes all the more perplexing when we read in tractate B. Basra about the 310 worlds, that each tzaddik will be “burned by the canopy of his friend,” meaning that they will be jealous of one another!
This is also connected to the portion of Vayeishev where we are told of the brothers’ jealousy, just after being told that all the children of Yaakov were righteous. Yaakov sent Yosef to visit his brothers because there was no evident problem. Why does the Torah say they were jealous? This same question applies to Rochel when the Torah says that she was jealous of Leah. How can there be jealousy between such lofty women who were prophetesses?
So Rashi explains that Rochel was jealous of Leah’s good deeds. If she had more sons, surely her merit was greater, so she was jealous of her good deeds. The brothers were also jealous of Yosef’s good deeds: if their father treated him better, it was because he had better conduct. “Jealousy of scholars increases wisdom”; when people learn together in groups there is discussion, one presents an idea and the other tries to “uproot mountains,” searching for a better and deeper answer. This increases wisdom. When an individual learns alone it is not good enough. Thus they “burn the canopy”; it is a form of jealousy of wanting to do more good.
On the 19th of Kislev too, there had been jealousy among the disciples of the Maggid, who had once seen him take the hand of the Alter Rebbe and say, “The 19th of Kislev — will be our holiday.” Subsequently the Alter Rebbe wrote of the liberation: “On the third day, in which ‘it was good’ is doubled, the day of the celebration of the Maggid’s Yahrzeit ....” Later this jealousy brought about the spreading of wellsprings.
At the beginning of creation G-d was One and unique. Just as the light completely covered the world, so was G-d One and unique. But G-d wanted what our actions should increase wisdom, so He wanted the jealousy of scholars, the discussion of students and the friendship and association of pupils, which will increase wisdom. At the beginning, G-d was alone and unique, but He wanted a multitude of worlds, with a supersession of unity above them. He wanted a transformation, from the aspect of “how great are Your works” and “how manifold are Your works” which represents the greatest number of worlds — 310 — to the true unity to make G-d the one ruler of all. So too in the case of increasing wisdom, the tzaddik takes the multitudes and makes one — makes peace for G-d.
In connection with the Rambam studied today, we find that the Rambam first brings in the Laws of Tumah (ritual impurity) of Foodstuffs 16:8-11, the rule that one may eat common food even when he is in a state of ritual impurity. As the Rambam writes in the laws pertaining to ethical conduct, “Is it not sufficient to prohibit that which the Torah has prohibited for you.” In the following halachah, 16:12, the Rambam says that it is a pious attribute to eat common food in a state of ritual purity, and this brings a person to holiness and purity: “For separation leads to the cleansing of the body from evil deeds, and the cleansing of the body leads to the hallowing of the soul from evil thoughts, and the hallowing of the soul leads to striving for likeness with the Shechinah; for it is said: ‘Sanctify yourselves therefore and be holy, for I the L-rd who sanctify you, am holy.”‘ Isn’t this paradoxical?! First, the Rambam says, “Enough is enough,” then he says “Do more and it will protect you and bring you close to the Shechinah.”
The explanation to this is that your first responsibility is to start with doing what the Torah requires; but t-hen you look at another Jew and you become jealous of his good deeds. So you move on from one level to another. You move into the level of more restrictions and you rise in holiness. The previous Rebbe used to say that there was an epigram among chassidim: “The world says ‘What we are permitted we are surely permitted, what is prohibited we can find a way to get around,’ but chassidim say: ‘What we must not, we must not and what we may, who says we have to?!”
So the Rambam says after fulfilling the minimum requirement, as you rise higher, first see if you really need it! Then rise to higher levels of holiness.
The same will also apply to the beginning and end of the six orders of the Mishnah, the 310 worlds and the Shema at night. When we have Torah, even if there is darkness, we can take the different worlds, even those that may have burned others, and we make unity on an even higher level. We take the desperate parts of “echod” — and connect them in a higher unity, and this will bring the ultimate blessing with which the Order of the Mishnah concludes: “G-d will bless His nation with peace.