1. On Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat, the first thing that comes to mind is Yud Shevat (10th of Shevat), the Yahrzeit of the previous Rebbe. Our Sages state that: “As in the latter (passage) it means standing and ministering, so also in the former it means standing and ministering.” In other words, not only do the “words of tzaddikim exist forever,” and the influence a tzaddik exerted during his lifetime endures even after his passing away; but even after his passing away the tzaddik continues to exert new influence. Indeed, that exerted after the passing away is loftier than before, when he was alive.
For when he was in this world, although a perfect tzaddik, he was nevertheless constrained by the limits of the body. The Alter Rebbe, on the Zohar which states that “When the tzaddik departs he is to be found in all worlds more than in his lifetime,” explains that when a tzaddik is alive, his service (consisting) of faith, awe and love), is contained within the aspect of the soul that is bound to his body. Hence his disciples receive but a ‘radiation’ from these attributes by means of his holy utterances and thoughts. After his passing, these three attributes are no longer contained and limited within the physical body, but are in Gan Eden. Hence it is very easy for his disciples to receive the essential parts of these three attributes i.e. faith, awe and love, wherewith he served the L-rd — and not merely a ‘radiation’ of them. Indeed, the difference between that received by his disciples before and after his passing is not merely quantitative but qualitative.
The Zohar’s statement that “when the tzaddik departs he is to be found in all worlds more than his lifetime” refers also to this world — that after his passing he is found more in this world than before his passing away. Indeed, since the elevations the [soul of the] tzaddik experiences after passing away is due to his service in this world, especially his work with his disciples, the elevation is mainly in the place where he performed that G-dly service in this world. Hence this that “he is to be found in all worlds more than his lifetime” refers mainly to this world.
On Shabbos Mevorchim we bless the coming Rosh Chodesh and the rest of the month. For since “All the days (of the following week) are blessed from Shabbos,” including Rosh Chodesh, and Rosh Chodesh encompasses all the days of the month, it follows that the entire month is blessed on Shabbos Mevorchim. On Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat, blessing and strength are given to a person’s service for the month of Shevat, particularly in those matters connected with Yud Shevat.
This strength given on Shabbos Mevorchim is for deeds, for “the deed is the essential thing.” In every mitzvah there is thought, speech and deed: The physical action is the ‘deed in the deed;’ the blessing over the mitzvah is the ‘speech in the deed;’ the deep contemplation in the meaning of the mitzvah is the ‘thought in the deed.’ Of these three, the actual deed in the most important, for a mitzvah can be performed even without the ‘thought,’ whereas without the deed itself, no mitzvah has been done. Nevertheless, for a person’s service to be perfect, the thought and speech must also be present.
2. There are many matters associated with Yud Shevat, in which we must follow in the ways of the previous Rebbe. Each person, when learning and contemplating the Rebbe’s teachings, knows in which matter he must start his service. But while he must choose in which matter to start, he must also eventually perform his service in all matters — to perfection. Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat, when we are given the strength in those areas of service demanded by the previous Rebbe, is the appropriate time to make good resolutions in these things.
Of all the things demanded by the previous Rebbe, there is a matter particularly associated with Rosh Chodesh Shevat: “In the eleventh month, on the first of the month ... Moshe began to expound this Torah.” This continued during the entire month of Shevat, and extended until the 7th of Adar, when Moshe passed away. Thus the particular significance of the month of Shevat is that on every day there is emphasis on the idea of Torah study (“to expound this Torah”). This concept is also emphasized in the liberation of the previous Rebbe from imprisonment. At the first celebration of Yud-Bais Tammuz, the previous Rebbe gave out the Maamar (Chassidic discourse) titled “Ten who sit and engage in Torah.” It is not enough to learn Torah by oneself, but it must be with other people.
Furthermore, on the verse “Moshe began to expound this Torah,” Rashi comments that “He explained it to them in seventy languages.” The previous Rebbe placed great effort in disseminating Torah in different languages, so that Jews who do not understand the Holy tongue can also learn Torah. This was not just in the area of Niglah, or Halachah, but also in the area of the esoteric, Chassidus. We cannot wait until a Jew learns the Holy tongue to be able to study the esoteric, but we must translate it into other languages so he can learn it in the tongue in which he is familiar. This then is the lesson from the previous Rebbe — the dissemination of Torah in all possible ways.
Since the strength to carry out the service demanded by the previous Rebbe comes from Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat, the manner in which this service is carried out must be commensurate with the manner of service of Shabbos. On Shabbos, “all your work is done,” and a person’s service to G-d is on a far loftier plane than on weekday. It is not just a quantitative difference but a qualitative difference — “He makes a distinction ... between the Seventh Day and the six work days.” The service of Shabbos is “you shall call the Shabbos ‘delight,’“ which applies to all aspects of Shabbos, beginning with prayer and extending to physical matters such as the Shabbos repast.
This is the connection with the farbrengen on Shabbos Mevorchim, which, instituted by the previous Rebbe, is associated with the Shabbos repast. It was instituted to take place after midday, which is the time of ‘Raveh d’Ravin,’ the highest level of delight on Shabbos.
Now we can understand the greatness of Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat — the appropriate time to undertake good resolutions in following the previous Rebbe’s ways — for we receive strength from Shabbos itself; particularly from Shabbos Mevorchim; especially from Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat, in which month is Yud Shevat; and most specially from the time of ‘Raveh d’Ravin.’
The purpose of the good resolutions made now is that they should be translated into deed. But besides making resolutions on Shabbos (about things which may not be done on Shabbos itself), there are matters which can be done on Shabbos itself: to contemplate and learn the Torah of the previous Rebbe.
Yud Shevat always falls out in the time when we learn the book of Shemos, and there is a connection between the two. Shemos talks of the descent of Jews into exile — “These are the names (‘Shemos’) of the children of Israel who came into Egypt.” Although exile is a great descent, the purpose of this descent is for the later ascent that eventuates — it is specifically through first undergoing exile that we reach the perfection in the time of redemption. Indeed, the descent of the exile is really an ascent; but it is only revealed in the redemption. Thus we find that parshas Va’eira, which relates the redemption from Egypt, is part of the book of Shemos, for the inner truth of the descent into exile is the later ascent in the redemption.
So too with the passing away of the previous Rebbe on Yud Shevat. A passing away in general is a descent, and therefore Kaddish is said etc. But in reality, in the inner sense, it is not a descent but the exact reverse: “When the tzaddik departs he is to be found in all worlds more than in his lifetime.” The peak of this ascent will be in the future, when the promise “They who lie in the dust will rise up and rejoice” will be fulfilled.
The preparation to this is our deeds during the exile. Through our service according to the instructions of the previous Rebbe, we merit the true and complete future redemption by our righteous Mashiach, when “those who lie in the dust will rise up and rejoice,” together with Moshe and Aharon, and the previous Rebbe at our head.
3. While the above is relevant to every Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat, there is an additional lesson to be derived from the day on which Shabbos Mevorchim falls out on this year — the 28th of the month of Teves. That is, Rosh Chodesh Shevat this year is on Monday, which means there is one intervening day (Sunday) between Shabbos Mevorchim and Rosh Chodesh.
While it is seemingly better if Rosh Chodesh is on Sunday, for then there are no intervening days to interrupt between Shabbos Mevorchim and Rosh Chodesh, there is also an advantage in having a day in between. An aphorism of the Lubavitcher Rebbeim is that in regards to Chassidim, there is no such thing as ‘just’ doing something. Everything must be preceded by the appropriate preparation and service.
When Rosh Chodesh is on Monday, the intervening day between it and Shabbos Mevorchim allows for the proper preparation for Rosh Chodesh. When it is on Sunday, Rosh Chodesh immediately follows Shabbos Mevorchim, allowing no time for preparation. On Shabbos itself, it is prohibited to prepare for weekdays, and hence in order for the service of Rosh Chodesh to be performed adequately, an intervening day is needed. This is the peculiar distinction and advantage of Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat this year.
In man’s service to G-d, the above teaches us that for our service to G-d to be proper, we need adequate preparation beforehand. Although there are certain times when waiting is not beneficial, this is only when we are not sure if we can afford to wait. For example, if an opportunity arises to bring a fellow Jew closer to Torah and mitzvos, a person cannot wait until he has made the requisite preparation — for till he is ready, the opportunity will have been lost. But when we are sure that the preparation will not endanger the main task — as in our case, when we must wait till Monday to perform the service of Rosh Chodesh — the proper preparation must be made to ensure the service being fulfilled in the best way possible.
The above is also stressed in the parshah read today, parshas Va’eira. The beginning of this parshah states (6:3,6) “1 appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchok, and to Yaakov as G-d Al-mighty, but (by) my Name Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay (commonly translated as ‘L-rd’) I was not known to them... Therefore say to the children of Israel: I am Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay (the L-rd).” In other words, although the Name Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay was not revealed to the forefathers, it will be revealed to the children of Israel through Mattan Torah (Giving of the Torah). Through the revelation of this Name, the Jews reach a level loftier than that reached by the forefathers.
The lesson from this to us is that for our service to G-d to be perfect, the inheritance we receive from the forefathers (corresponding to a service without any prior preparation, as above) does not suffice. True, the “level of the forefathers is an inheritance for their children after them in every generation.” Nevertheless, in addition to that received as an inheritance, there must be a person’s own service and work.
In greater clarification: In general, the service of the three forefathers Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov is Love, Awe and Mercy. The service of every Jew must be in the manner of “I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchok, and to Yaakov” — that it must be openly apparent (“I appeared”) upon a Jew that his service is fittingly corresponding to the inheritance (Love, Awe, and Mercy) received from the forefathers. Rashi on the words “I appeared” comments “to the forefathers,” emphasizing that the greatness of Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov is applicable to all Jews, since they are the “forefathers” of each and every Jew. Hence, the inheritance received from them must be able to be seen on a Jew (“I appeared”).
In simple terms, this means that if a person is a ‘Chassid’ — it must be recognizable on him! If he is a ‘Tomim’ (student of Lubavitch) — it must be recognizable on him! Although one may have learned in Tomchei Temimim (Lubavitcher Yeshivah), and prays according to Lurianic custom, it does not suffice. The distinction of being a Chassid or Tomim must be apparent in the person’s very existence. When walking in the street even a non-Jew should be able to see that he is a descendent of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov (and likewise a Chassid and Tomim.).
Besides those things inherited from the forefathers, a person must perform his own service — the general idea of Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos as given to the Jewish people by G-d at Mattan Torah (Giving of the Torah). In other words, the strength given to Jews perform their service to G-d after Mattan Torah comes from the forefathers; but after this, it is demanded of a person that he perform his service with his own strength. The service of the forefathers is Love of G-d, Awe of G-d etc. Although this is the basis of Torah study and mitzvah performance, it alone does not suffice, but one must actually learn Torah and actually perform mitzvos — for “deed is the essential thing.”
4. The seventh plague in Egypt was hail, about which Scripture states (Shemos 9:24): “There was hail and fire flaring within the hail.” On the words “flaring within the hail” Rashi comments “A miracle within a miracle. The fire and hail were mixed together, and the hail is water, but to do the will of their Creator they made peace between themselves.”
There are several perplexing points in this Rashi:
1) The quote on which Rashi bases his comment is always exact. He will never omit a word of Scripture in his quote if it is necessary. In this verse, Rashi quotes only the words “flaring within the hail” and omits the word “fire (flaring within the hail).” Why does he do so, when seemingly it is integral to his explanation of the miracle that ‘fire and water were mixed together?’
2) The order of Rashi’s explanation is unclear. The ‘miracle within a miracle’ was the mixing of the fire and water. The actual hailing on Egypt was one miracle; the mixing of the fire and water was an extra miracle — a miracle within the miracle of hail. If so, why does Rashi first state ‘a miracle within a miracle’ and only afterwards explain exactly what that was. Should he not first explain what the miracle consisted of — mixing of fire and water, and that they made peace together, and then tell us that this was a ‘miracle within a miracle?’
3) Why does Rashi tell us that the water and fire “to do the will of their Creator made peace between themselves?” What difference does it make? The miracle didn’t depend on their agreement. In no other miracle is such an explanation offered. For example, in the miracle of Aharon’s staff turning into a serpent, there is no need to say that the staff agreed to be changed into a serpent to do the will of its Creator?!
4) Rashi takes plains to explain it was a ‘miracle within a miracle.’ In other words, he thinks it important to emphasize this point. If so, why doesn’t he make the same emphasis in the case of another miracle which is also seemingly a ‘miracle within a miracle.’ Scripture tells us that Aharon threw down his staff before Pharaoh and it changed into a serpent. When Pharaoh’s sorcerers did the same thing with their staffs, “Aharon’s staff swallowed up their staffs.” On this Rashi comments that “After it had again turned back into a staff, it swallowed all of them.” The Talmud (Shabbos 97a) explains that the fact that it swallowed the others only after it became a staff again, and not when it was still a serpent, was a ‘miracle within a miracle. If so, then just as Rashi emphasizes in the case of the hail that it was a ‘miracle within a miracle,’ so too in this case he should tell us it was a ‘miracle within a miracle.’
The explanation of the above questions is as follows: Rashi first says that it was a ‘miracle within a miracle’ without explaining what exactly it was, for Rashi never makes unnecessary explanations. Rashi’s commentary is addressed to the student learning Scripture who cannot understand Scripture without his help. If it is self-understood, Rashi will make no comment. In this case, it suffices for Rashi to merely say it was a ‘miracle within a miracle,’ without prior explanation, for it is self-understood that one miracle was the hail itself, and the ‘miracle within the miracle’ was the ‘fire flaring within the hail.’ Rashi’s comment on the fire and hail being mixed together, making peace to do G-d’s will, which follows his comment on it being a ‘miracle within a miracle.’ is not an explanation of the miracle (for a student knows that himself, as explained above), but serves another purpose — as we will see.
The reason why Rashi omits the word ‘fire’ from the quote ‘flaring within the hail,’ is because the ‘miracle within a miracle’ is not only in the case of ‘fire,’ but is itself a miracle. Hail is a cold substance, frozen water. When something hot flares within hail, it is a ‘miracle within a miracle.’ It does not have to be specifically fire; if it were boiling water within the hail, or glowing metal, it would also be miraculous. Hence Rashi omits the word ‘fire,’ and only quotes ‘flaring within the hail.’
Nevertheless, all is not clear. G-d does not perform miracles for nothing. Why then did G-d perform this ‘miracle within a miracle?’ To answer this unspoken question, Rashi continues in his commentary that “The fire and hail were mixed together, and the hail is water, but to do the will of their Creator they made peace between themselves.” The purpose of the plagues was that (7:3-5). “1 will multiply my signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt ... And the Egyptians will know that I am the L-rd....” As a result, Pharaoh will be forced to comply to G-d’s command to let the Jews out of Egypt.
However, Pharaoh could claim that in enslaving the Jews he is only fulfilling G-d’s command that the Jews be enslaved for four hundred years. Moshe Rabbeinu only told him to let the Jews out of Egypt. He never told him the four hundred years were finished. Why then should he listen to Moshe?
The answer to this claim comes from the plague of hail — “the fire and water were mixed together, and the hail is water, but to do the will of their Creator they made peace between themselves.” Fire and water are opposites. Rashi emphasizes this by saying ‘the hail is water, I telling us that the difference between the hail and fire is not just a difference in temperature (cold and hot), but hail is the direct opposite to fire (since it is water). Just as the fire and water “made peace between themselves” — in contradiction to their natures — so as “to do the will of their Creator;” so too Pharaoh must allow the Jews to leave Egypt in order to do G-d’s will — even though this is contradictory to his nature.
The reason why Rashi does not say that the swallowing of the other staffs by Aharon’s staff was a ‘miracle within a miracle,’ will be understood in the light of the purpose of the miracles and wonders — which was that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the L-rd.” When Aharon’s staff was turned into a serpent, this was not in the category of a miracle that lets “the Egyptians know that I am the L-rd;” for Pharaoh’s sorcerers did the same thing with their secret arts. Likewise, if the swallowing occurred before the staff returned to its original state (i.e. when still a serpent), it would also not be miraculous, for serpents naturally swallow things — including other serpents. The only miracle capable of influencing Pharaoh to know that ‘I am the L-rd’ was the fact that it swallowed the others when it was a staff. Hence there is only one miracle, and therefore Rashi does not say it was a ‘miracle within a miracle.’
There is a lesson to be derived from this in our service to G-d. “Serpent” indicates a dangerous, frightening thing. In man’s service, this refers to the service of ‘Sur Merah,’ the deflection and elimination (‘swallowing’) of evil. When one wishes to influence a fellow Jew to follow this service (i.e. to keep away from bad, and therefore become a Torah observant Jew), it should be done in the manner of Aharon (Aharon’s staff) — “loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them near to the Torah.”
This is emphasized in the verse “The staff of Aharon swallowed their staffs.” Even when a negative action must be undertaken, the idea of ‘swallowing,’ it must not be done in the manner of a ‘serpent,’ with anger, hot-headily, but in the manner of a ‘staff’ — with an even temper, calmly (just as a staff is ‘cold’).
May it be G-d’s will that we will no longer have the idea of war, and our service will be as on Shabbos — with delight. Then finally we merit the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach, “that day which will be all Shabbos and rest for life everlasting.” Then the promise “those who lie in the dust shall arise and rejoice” will be fulfilled,” including the Alter Rebbe (whose Yahrzeit is the twenty-fourth of Teves) and the previous Rebbe (whose Yahrzeit is Yud-Shevat). For the resurrection of the dead will be in two phases: In the first phase, the great tzaddikim will arise — and through them, those who follow in their ways; afterwards, in the second phase, the rest of the children of Israel will arise. And very soon all Jews will go out from exile into redemption, when we will merit to learn the Torah of Mashiach from Mashiach himself.
5. The Zohar on Parshas Va’eira states (23b): “R. Eleazar and R. Abba came and kissed R. Shimon’s (Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai — Rashbi) hand; R. Abba wept and said: ‘Alas, when you shall pass away from the world, and the world will become orphaned from you, who will then illuminate the words of the Torah?’“
R. Levi Yitzchok Schneerson (the Rebbe Shlita’s father) explains the necessity for the seemingly redundant words ‘the world will become orphaned from you.’ When R. Shimon will pass away, does not the world automatically become orphaned of him? But if R. Abba only said “when you shall pass away from the world,” it would not necessarily follow that there would be no one to ‘illuminate the words of the Torah.’ For since “when the tzaddik departs he is to be found in all worlds more than his lifetime,” (as explained in Tanya (Iggeret HaKodesh Ch. 27)) then, his disciples who were attached to him during his lifetime would be able to illuminate. Hence R. Abba continued to say “the world will become orphaned from you” — meaning that his disciples will also not be present, and therefore there will be no one to illuminate the Torah.
R. Levi Yitzchok, because he was sent into exile by the Russian government, did not have sufficient paper to write down all his thoughts; and therefore he had to write as sparingly as possible. In our case, he did not explain what is the lesson we can derive from the above Zohar in regard to our service to G-d.
That lesson is that when a Jew finds himself in the period after the 24th of Teves (Yahrzeit of Alter Rebbe) and before Yud Shevat (Yahrzeit of previous Rebbe), and he knows that it is many years since the passing away, the question arises: what can he do about it? Although he knows that “when a person’s seed is alive, he also is alive,” nevertheless, he claims that R. Abba (who was a (disciple of Rashbi) wept and said “Alas, when you shall pass away from the world, and the world will become orphaned from you, who will then illuminate the Torah” — even though he himself was a disciple of Rashbi!
The answer to this is that R. Abba’s weeping for the “world which will become orphaned from you” was in regard to the world when “his disciples will also not be present.” However, when a person’s disciples are alive, their task is to learn his Torah and continue on in his work.
Moreover, when “his seed is alive” (and continuing his work), then not only is the world not left orphaned, but “he also is alive.” The Rebbe Rashab said before his passing away” I am going to heaven, and my writing I leave to you below” — that through his disciples learning his works, he also is found ‘below’ in this world.
- (Back to text) The Talmud called this a ‘miracle within a miracle’ for a different reason. It is explained there that the extra miracle was that Aharon’s staff did not become any fatter after swallowing the others. But since there is no indication of this extra miracle in Scripture, Rashi, who interprets Scripture according to the plain meaning of the verse, does not mention it.