The chassidic calendar starts on Yud-Tes Kislev
, the Nineteenth of Kislev. On this date, in 1798, the Alter Rebbe was released from prison where he had been interned on false charges laid by the opponents of Chassidus.
The Rebbe Rashab, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, referred to this day as the "Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus."
Just as Rosh HaShanah is not only the beginning of the year, but also the "head" of the year, as explained in Chassidus,
so, too, Yud-Tes Kislev
is the "head" of the chassidic year. It is therefore worthwhile to dwell for a few moments on what Chassidus
is all about, and what message it bears for the world at large.
Some people wish to define Chassidus as the way of life of a section of Orthodox Jews. But as time has passed, it has become clearer and clearer that this is not so. It is not a way of life for a select few, but an outlook on life in general, and Jewish life in particular, that is bound up with the destiny of the entire Jewish people. The appearance of the Baal Shem Tov at a certain point in Jewish history marks a milestone on the road to Mashiach, and this clearly affects the entire Jewish people.
Let me explain further: The Baal Shem Tov once wrote a letter to his brother-in-law who was living in Eretz Yisrael telling him of the aliyas haneshamah (elevation of the soul) which he experienced on Rosh HaShanah in the year 5507 (1746). He explained that he had asked Mashiach when he would come, and Mashiach told him that when the Baal Shem Tov's wellsprings -- his teachings -- were spread far afield, then Mashiach would come.
Today, there are very few groups involved in actively spreading the teachings which Mashiach gave to the Baal Shem Tov. Furthermore, there are very few people who even learn these teachings. True, every chassidic group has its customs and life style which were inherited from their Rebbes and ultimately derive from the Baal Shem Tov. But as regards the Torah -- the teachings -- of the Baal Shem Tov, this has been expounded upon in great depth and breadth almost exclusively by the Rebbes of Chabad, who have also made sure that these teachings are accessible to everyone, and can be learned by all, even those who have not reached the highest levels of Torah learning and mitzvah observance. This is the way that the Chabad Rebbes received the tradition from the Alter Rebbe, who received it thus from his teacher the Maggid of Mezritch, the chief disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.
The closer one is to Chabad Chassidus, and the more one learns it, and the more one follows the directives of the Chabad Rebbeim and listens carefully to what they're saying, and carries it out to the best of one's ability, the sooner Mashiach will come. It is clear that if you want to play an active part in the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people, and wish to be prepared to greet Mashiach, then the only way to do it is to be connected to Chabad Chassidus.
This is not only a matter of spreading Torah, which is a virtue in itself, but is an expression of ahavas Yisrael -- love for your fellow Jew -- as well. The mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael, like almost all the mitzvos of the Torah, has its limits and boundaries. According to the basic Halachah a person is obligated to love his or her fellow (which the commentators explain as referring to one's fellow in Torah and mitzvos) as himself. However, as regards one who is not your fellow -- there is no Torah obligation to love him. The Baal Shem Tov nevertheless ingrained in his chassidim ahavas Yisrael for every Jew. For this reason Chabad chassidim view it as their obligation to give every Jew the privilege of helping to bring Mashiach closer.
Before the Rebbe became Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz asked him to write a book of chassidic aphorisms and ideas for each day of the year. This is the renowned work called HaYom Yom. The very first page of the book, which really describes the purpose of the book, states that in our times, when we are going through the "birth pangs" of Mashiach, it is the obligation of every Jew, man and woman, old and young, to ask himself, "What have I done, and what am I doing to ease the birth pangs of Mashiach and make us worthy of the complete Redemption through Mashiach?" Our generation is different from any other generation that has lived before us, for we are the generation who will greet Mashiach, as the Rebbe has explained on numerous occasions. Though all the other generations prayed for Mashiach, and hoped that Mashiach would arrive at any moment, in our generation he is waiting just around the corner.
If we only knew how close Mashiach really is, we would be dancing in the streets. That is a tremendous difference from the generations which preceded us. For this reason too, our generation has to be imbued with the awareness of Mashiach, and how close he is. Many, many people are completely unaware of this. How they can be excited about Mashiach, and about Yiddishkeit in general, if they don't even know anything about the subject? Being aware of the closeness of Mashiach should imbue every Jew with a purpose in life. There is nothing more important than this, for this is the fulfillment of G-d's purpose in creating the world, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya (chapter 36). When we come into contact with people who are not aware of the concept of Mashiach at all, and certainly do not know that his arrival is imminent, it is our duty to somehow let them know this fact, so that they too can prepare themselves for the long-awaited day.
For those who question the necessity of this, since almost no one else is involved in even thinking and talking about Mashiach, let alone publicizing the concept, the answer is that Mashiach is not a specifically Lubavitcher concept. Mashiach is mentioned throughout the writings of the Prophets and our Sages, in the Kabbalah and in Chassidus. (We've come to the point, however, that if you say, "We want Mashiach," someone is bound to ask you, "Are you a Lubavitcher?")
Some people ask, "How does Chabad know that Mashiach's arrival is imminent?" The answer is stated clearly in the writings of our Sages in the Gemara. They state that the world will exist for six thousand years. They refer to the first two thousand years, prior to the advent of Avraham Avinu, as the era of Tohu -- spiritual and physical chaos. The following two thousand years, from the time of Avraham Avinu until after the destruction of the Second Temple, is the era of Torah. The final two thousand years is known as "the days of Mashiach." This means that at any time during these two thousand years, his arrival is imminent (although he will come at the very latest by the year 6000). Moreover, the Sages add that all the kitzin (the times which have been predicted for Mashiach's arrival) have already passed. Since we are already in the year 5750, with a mere 250-odd years until the year 6000, Mashiach's arrival is really imminent.
Furthermore, our Sages compare the six millennia to the six days of the week which precede Shabbos. The first millenium (i.e. up to the year 1,000) corresponds to Sunday, the second (up to the year 2,000) to Monday, and so on. Consequently, the sixth millenium (up to the year 6,000) corresponds to Friday. Just as the Halachah states that we are obligated to bring in Shabbos some time before sunset, so too, the seventh millenium, corresponding to Shabbos, will begin before the year 6,000. Just as we do not light the Shabbos candles at the appearance of the first stars, but quite a long time before that, so too, Mashiach will not come only in the year 5999, but before then. If you make a calculation of where the year 5750 is you will see that we are three-quarters of the way through Friday. According to the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law), we can already light Shabbos candles! (Incidentally, some people have connected this with the Shabbos candle-lighting campaign that the Rebbe instituted some sixteen years ago.)
In the previous generation, there were many, many tzaddikim, including the Rebbe Rayatz, who interpreted the cataclysmic events of the century, particularly World War II, when a third of the Jewish people lost their lives, as the birth pangs of Mashiach. As anyone who has had a baby knows, the contractions go on for hours. But once they start coming frequently, the baby's arrival is imminent. So, too, in our case. The upheavals of the last fifty or sixty years have signaled the onset of labor. And the frequency with which calamities are taking place now -- surely heralds the imminent birth of Mashiach.
All of the ideas mentioned above are not necessarily from Lubavitch sources. These are stated explicitly in the writings of our Sages and in the works of Torah authorities throughout the generations. The Rebbe has said quite openly that this generation is the last generation of the exile, and the first of the Redemption. Moreover, he has not said this in private, only to his chassidim. This is public knowledge. What the Rebbe says is transmitted all over the world instantaneously, with simultaneous translation into several languages. Shortly afterwards the printed versions of his discourses are published and distributed worldwide. It's no secret that the Rebbe openly and loudly proclaims that Mashiach is right around the corner. All we have to do is complete the final preparations for his coming.
People who have not heard the Rebbe's proclamation regarding Mashiach's imminent arrival, or ignore what he says, simply don't understand what I'm about to tell you: Many people look at the Jewish world and they're very discouraged. They look at the assimilation and they look at the demographic figures and they say, "We're going through an awful period in our history. Yiddishkeit is really going down." Then you hear the Rebbe and he's so optimistic. Everything is fantastic. We're all ready. We have even polished our buttons, and we are ready for the parade!
Yet to our minds there seems to be a contradiction between the reality and what the Rebbe is saying. The only way that I can resolve this contradiction is by realizing that our vision is flawed. We are near-sighted. We can see only what is in front of our noses. We have no awareness of what is happening, or what's going to happen later, or what's happening upstairs. We can only see a tiny bit. And that is why the Rebbe is constantly telling us to open our eyes! Have you ever had a three-year-old child? Try and explain to him why he shouldn't go climbing in the kitchen cabinets searching for goodies. Can you give him your understanding of why he should, or should not do something? Anyone who has tried will tell you that it is just impossible. A three-year-old has to grow up to understand things the way you understand them.
The same is true of us and tzaddikim. A tzaddik who has ruach hakodesh, who is divinely inspired, can see the past, present and future of a soul -- what a person has achieved, or failed to achieve, in previous incarnations, and in this life. Therefore, he simply sees things differently. The Rebbe has quoted the Rambam time and again, that all Jews will do teshuvah. Indeed, the Rebbe insists that all Jews have already done teshuvah. We may not see it. It may even sound impossible. How can these assimilated Jews become observant? How can these Jews do teshuvah? We cannot see it; we cannot understand it; it sounds preposterous. And yet the Rebbe has said this so many times: there will not be a single Jew that will not do teshuvah! Some will do teshuvah intellectually -- they will "discover the light," and be naturally drawn toward it. Others will come to teshuvah the hard way. The Rebbe gave the following analogy for the latter category: A flintstone is always able to give off a spark. Even if it has been soaking in water for a month, all you have to do is hit it with a piece of metal or other hard object, and out comes the spark. The same is true of the Jewish people. The spark of Yiddishkeit is never completely extinguished; it is always there. But sometimes, one has to give a knock in the right place to bring out the spark...
We can now understand how the end -- the long-awaited arrival of Mashiach -- is wedged in the beginning, the Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus. Although none of the above ideas about Mashiach are new, the Baal Shem Tov and the Rebbes who succeeded him certainly brought these issues and ideas to the awareness of the world, which had almost forgotten them.
We have to pray that we will merit to see the Redemption with our own eyes, and that we will play an integral part in bringing it about. The Rebbe can already see clearly what the future holds in store for the Jewish people: not one Jew will be left behind! So why be depressed? Why be discouraged? When everybody else is covering their eyes in trepidation and feeling so desperate, the Rebbe sees that it's going to be just fine, very very soon. It is only a matter of time -- a very short time, G-d willing.