1. Every aspect of a Jew’s life should be governed by Torah. Torah is called the “Torah of life” providing us with directives in our everyday living, affecting even the physical and material aspects of our lives as emphasized by the Torah principle “Deed is the most essential thing.” Torah is “G-d’s wisdom” and “He and His wisdom are one,” and Torah is called “an object of delight before Him. Nevertheless, it also deals with deed and action in our physical world and furthermore, it emphasizes “deed is most essential.”
This principle can be derived from the Zohar’s statement that G-d “looked into the Torah and created the world.” Every aspect of the world has a source in Torah.
The above is true of every event and particularly of the present occasion, when so many Jews have gathered together. We must try to link this assembly with an actual deed. This does not contradict the fact that this gathering is associated with the redemption of Chabad Chassidism, for even though Chabad (wisdom, understanding, and knowledge) is above the level of emotions, and surely above the level of thought, speech, and action, nevertheless the purpose of wisdom is to be brought down in understanding and eventually into action. What is important is not so much one’s understanding or one’s feelings but one’s actions. In a similar vein when we study Torah, we must first bless G-d for giving us His Torah. When doing so, we must realize the infinity of the Torah, that it is G-d’s Torah. Nevertheless, we must also appreciate that “study is great because it leads to deed,” that deed and action are of highest priority. Every new concept that is grasped must motivate a change in behavior that effects one’s entire approach to life. Every concept in Torah is not only a particular insight, but adds light to the totality of our understanding, uplifting the level of all our previous study. Similarly, it also effects our practical behavior.
Hence, we must derive a lesson from Yud-Tes Kislev that effects our daily behavior and which is relevant in the entire year to come and for all years to come. This must be done with joy, as the Rambam writes that joy is a fundamental element in the service of G-d and that “joy will break down all barriers” including the barriers of Golus. ‘May we indeed proceed to the true and complete redemption led by Mashiach, speedily in our days.
2. It is possible that since each person’s mind is different, each person will derive a different lesson from a particular event. This is surely true in regard to Yud-Tes Kislev, a happening of public general importance at that time and at present as well. The Alter Rebbe related many different stories and lessons connected with Yud-Tes Kislev. For him, as an individual, the event was of general significance, and brought about a number of changes in his manner of teaching Torah.
Such a situation poses a great difficulty. When there are so many different reasons, concepts, and ideas, it is possible that the very multitude will prevent growth as too much rain prevents the growth of crops. It is therefore necessary to focus on one concept, preferably one which the Alter Rebbe himself stressed was fundamental to his redemption.
In one of the letters which he sent out concerning his redemption he writes that “G-d worked greatness and wonders in the land.” He continues to note that even “the nations of the world (i.e. gentiles) witnessed the sanctification of G-d’s name.” In another letter, he mentions “the officers of the royal court” and “those from the furthest corners of the earth.” On the surface, the involvement of the gentiles is a secondary factor. The redemption afforded the Alter Rebbe the opportunity of spreading his teachings, text of the Siddur, approach to education, etc., without any limitations. This was seemingly the most important effects of Yud-Tes Kislev. Nevertheless, he stressed that the knowledge of the redemption effected gentiles as well.
The fact that the Alter Rebbe mentioned this point in a letter which he released directly after being liberated from prison, indicates that it teaches us an important lesson regarding our behavior. The sanctification of G-d’s name must be done in a manner that it is recognized as such even by a non-Jew. It is not enough to restrict one self to the confines of prayer and of study. Rather, one must have an effect on one’s environment and the world at large. This concept is emphasized by the statement of our sages that “the entire Torah was given in order to bring peace to the world, as the verse (concerning Torah) declares, ‘its ways are pleasant ways and all its paths are peace’.” Similarly, when G-d gave the Torah at Mt. Sinai, the entire natural order was disrupted. The gentile nations became very excited. They asked Bilaam, their prophet, for an explanation. He declared, “G-d is giving strength (Torah) to His people.” This brought about peace in the entire world.
Similarly, in regard to Yud-Tes Kislev. Not only did the Alter Rebbe’s release “deliver his soul in peace” from the battle against him, it also made non-Jews aware of the wonders which G-d had performed.
What lesson can we learn from the stress that is placed on the knowledge of non-Jews? We are living in a dark Golus. Each one of us is aware of his own low status in Torah and Mitzvos. Why should we be concerned with non-Jews? Isn’t solving our own problems a large enough task?
Yet, the fact that the Alter Rebbe stressed the point in a letter describing his redemption makes us conscious that it contains a lesson for us, as the Baal Shem Tov declared, “everything which a Jew sees or hears is a lesson for him in the service of G-d.”
The concept of redemption involves the shattering of all boundaries and limitations. A Jew has a G-dly soul that is eternal and infinite. For it, any confinement and restriction is considered imprisonment. On the other hand, when he is redeemed, then, his mind, the Torah, and his thought process become one. “A perfect unity of which no like is found” is established, the Jew becomes one with the infinity of Torah. Hence, he breaks through all limitations and can manifest this infinity in his daily life. Also, he can extend that revelation to include his surrounding environment. Even the non-Jews around him will be affected to the point where “strangers will rise up and feed your flocks” (Isaiah 61:5) and “Kings will be your foster-fathers and their queens your nursemaids.”
This can come about, even now, in the last days of Golus, if the Jews adopt an approach of self-esteem. The very first law in Shulchan Aruch declares: “Do not become embarrassed in the face of scorners,” explaining that when we fulfill the injunction of “I place G-d before me always,” we will have the strength to overcome these challenges. Therefore, even an officer, even one whose greatness is appreciated by the Torah, will not be able to embarrass a Jew because of his performance of Torah and Mitzvos. Scorn is one of the most difficult challenges to overcome, since by nature a person is always worried about what others will say. Nevertheless, the fact that the injunction “Don’t be embarrassed” is the first law of Shulchan Aruch shows that it is within reach of every Jew, regardless of age or level of observance. It is not proper to be “a Jew at home and a man in the street” i.e. to live outside of the home in the same manner as the non-Jews. On the contrary, there is a difference between a Jew and a non-Jew. By stressing that difference, and proudly displaying Jewish pride, we will cause the non-Jew to stop scorning us: on the contrary, they will become our “foster-fathers” and nursemaids.”
Furthermore, the argument that saving oneself is a large enough task is not acceptable. In a normal, stable, situation when we follow a step by step program of growth, there might be room for such an approach. But now, a fire is burning. Now is not a time for questions. When a person is running to escape a fire he does not pause and think what is most valuable, but instead grabs whatever he sees. Similarly, now we must sanctify G-d’s name in whatever manner possible by being a Jew at home and a Jew in the street. Then, just as our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt through the merit of not changing their names, their dress, and their speech, similarly we will be redeemed from the present Golus with the coming of Mashiach and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the water fills up the sea.”
3. There is another point which the Alter Rebbe includes in his letter which is of special relevance at the present time. One of the charges against the Alter Rebbe was that his support of the Chassidic settlements of Israel was an act of treason against the Czar. (At that time, Israel was under Turkish rule and Russia and Turkey were enemies.) Nevertheless, when the Alter Rebbe was released he writes that it was the merit of his support of Israel that caused his redemption.
Even though “we have been exiled from our land,” it is still our land. No matter where a Jew lives, he has a portion in the land of Israel. His claim to a portion of Israel is so strong that there are Torah authorities who maintain that the land which each Jew owns in Israel is sufficient to legalize a Pruzbol. (A Pruzbol is a document which prevents the annulment of loans after the Sabbatical year. In order to write a Pruzbol one must own some land.) Therefore, every Jew is responsible for the land of Israel.
[Trans. note: The Rebbe continued to speak about the situation in Israel. He noted that he had been criticized for speaking about Israel while living in America and for criticizing the policies of the American government. Using the above remarks as a basis, he emphasized his right to express his opinion and the need to take a strong stand, follow the opinion of the military experts, and based on the law in Chapter 329 of Shulchan Aruch which requires us to respond to an attack or even a threat of attack by non-Jews by taking up arms.]
4. Trans. note: The Rebbe mentioned that in Tanya the Alter Rebbe praises the custom of dividing up the study of the Talmud in such a manner that through the efforts of each individual, the community as a whole is able to finish the study of the entire Talmud each year. It is customary to make such a division of the Talmud each Yud-Tes Kislev. In such a case, it is considered as if each individual learned the entire Talmud himself. The foundation for this custom is a statement of our sages regarding work on Shabbos. If the efforts of two people are necessary to perform a specific task, each one is considered responsible as if he had completed the entire task alone. Similarly, with the entire Shaas, of which each individual learns only a part.
- (Back to text) There are two aspects to each Mitzvah, the actual deed and the ‘kavannah’ (intention) — the understanding and desire that goes into fulfilling the Mitzvah. Of the two, while the latter is more spiritual, nevertheless it is of secondary importance. If one would meditate on all the intentions of the Mitzvah and not actually carry it out, he has not performed the Mitzvah. On the other hand, if one carries out the deed, without all of its intentions, he has performed the Mitzvah. (Surely, it is better to have proper kavannah when performing a Mitzvah. However, the lack of them does not detract from the fact that G-d’s will has been fulfilled.)
- (Back to text) When making the blessing over the Torah, we call G-d, the “Giver of the Torah” using the present tense of the word giver. G-d gives us the Torah continually. This concept is also connected with our sages’ statement “Just as then (at Mt. Sinai, we approached the Torah) with awe and fear, trembling and sweating, so also now (we should approach it in a similar manner).”
- (Back to text) our sages declared “the words of Torah are rich in one place and poor in another.” When learning one concept, one can deepen one’s understanding of a seemingly unrelated point.
- (Back to text) There is no contradiction posed by the fact that next year there will also be a Farbrengen on Yud-Tes Kislev. Torah is infinite and we must always strive toward higher goals.
- (Back to text) This can be understood from the fact that the sentence he was threatened with was death, which threatened the very essence of his being.
- (Back to text) This principle is emphasized by the Chanukah candles which are lit “at the outside door of one’s home” in order to shed light into the street.
- (Back to text) This principle can be derived by the combination of two statements of our sages: 1) “and I(and every Jew) was created to serve the Creator” and 2) “G-d did not create anything without purpose.” Hence, since everything that happens is through Hashgachah Protis (Divine Providence), it follows that everything that happens to a Jew is for the purpose of helping him satisfy the reason for his creation, the service of G-d.
- (Back to text) The above can also be applied to our personal lives. Each person can establish his own personal Israel, a place where G-dliness is revealed, no matter where he lives. Once, when a Chassid asked the Tzemach Tzedek whether he should go on Aliyah, the Tzemach Tzedek answered “make Israel here.” This statement is supported by a statement of the Meiri (whose name means the illuminator. His commentary sheds light on many questions, particularly on the topic of Teshuvah, about which there are many arguments between commentaries.) Commenting on the Talmud’s prohibition to leave Israel, and also Babylonia (which in Talmudic times was a Torah center), he writes that any place which possesses Torah and Yirah Shamayim (fear of heaven) is like Eretz Yisrael and one is forbidden to depart from it except under certain circumstances. Each Jew has a mission to make his portion of the world, wherever it is, a land of Israel, a land which desires to fulfill G-d’s will. If he meets with opposition, he must know that the name Israel was given over to Yaakov, because “he struggled with angels and with men and prevailed.” No matter what the challenge, a Jew has G-d’s blessing and promise of success and therefore, will not be affected by those who scorn him.
- (Back to text) This point is particularly underscored this year, since it is a Shemitah year.