1. This Farbrengen commemorates the 180th anniversary of the liberation of the Alter Rebbe from prison in Czarist Russia.
This year the celebration of that event is enhanced by an added quality. Yud-Tes Kislev occurs on Tuesday, the same day of the week as in 5559, the year of the Alter Rebbe’s liberation. This fact is significant, because in a public letter describing his liberation, the Alter Rebbe makes note that it occurred on a Tuesday.
Generally, Jewish holidays emphasize the day of the month and not the day of the week. The sages of the Talmud, for example, did not know on which day of the week the miracle of Passover, the first of the festivals, took place. Even, when the day of the week on which the festival was originally celebrated is known, the day of the month holds greater importance.
However, since the Alter Rebbe mentioned both aspects, it appears that an intrinsic relation exists between the Alter Rebbe’s redemption anal Tuesday. The relation between the two can be understood from the Alter Rebbe’s statement “I was reciting the verse from Psalms ‘My soul was redeemed in peace.’ Before I began the next verse, I was informed of my release.” That verse “My soul was redeemed in peace” is part of the selection from Psalms read on Tuesday.
The relation between the verse “I was redeemed in peace” and Tuesday is not coincidental. In the story of creation, peace was not possible until Tuesday, the third day. Peace implies a conflict between two opposing forces and their resolution. On the first day of creation, there was nothing else but G-dliness. To express that concept, Torah calls that day Yom Echod, which literally translates as “the day of one.” Although the proper Hebrew for the phrase “the first day” would be Yom Rishon, the Torah uses the expression Yom Echod to emphasize that a state of oneness prevailed throughout the world.
On the second day, G-d split the waters. He created division. Therefore, Torah does not mention the expression “and G-d saw that it was good” on the second day.
However, on the third day that division was resolved. The phrase “and G-d saw that it was good” is repeated twice, indicating that peace was achieved.
The relation of Tuesday to Yud-Tes Kislev is developed further by the “Responsa from Heaven.” Rav Yaakov of Korebil, a Medieval Kabbalist, addressed certain Halachic questions to heaven. The replies he received compose “the Responsa from Heaven.”
The responsa are listed by topic. Very rarely, does Rav Yaakov mark the date in which he received the answer. He almost never records the day of the week. However, he begins one answer “Tuesday, Yud-Tes Kislev.”
That letter contains another unusual element. The content of the letter deals with the necessity to study Torah while ritually pure. At the letters’ conclusion, for no apparent reason, Rav Yaakov adds “Today will herald good tidings.”
Throughout the generations, that addition puzzled scholars. What were the “good tidings” received on Yud-Tes Kislev? Scholars of the later generations concluded that the phrase must refer to the Alter Rebbe’s liberation. No other event occurred on Yud-Tes Kislev that would cause the day to be labeled a day which “will herald good tidings.”
The term is an appropriate description for Yud-Tes Kislev. The liberation of the Alter Rebbe on that date was not only a personal event. It affected the entire course of Jewish history. The Alter Rebbe’s arrest was caused by spiritual influences. His approach to teaching Chassidus (with rational explanation so that the common man could also understand) aroused negative forces in the spiritual realms. His liberation resulted from a heavenly judgment silencing these negative forces and calling for the continuation and intensification of his efforts.
The question arises: “How can a text written in the Middle Ages, hundreds of years before the Alter Rebbe’s liberation, refer to those ‘good tidings?’”
However, a similar example can be found in the Torah literature. Megillas Taanis (a text of the Talmudic period) prescribes a fast for the ninth of Teves. At that time, no tragic occasions had occurred on that date. Hundreds of years afterwards the Crusaders massacred many Jews on that date. Commentaries explain that the fast was instituted because of those massacres.
Megillas Taanis deals with straight forward Torah law; when to fast, when fasting is prohibited, etc.. If such a text can refer to an event which happened hundreds of years later, surely the Responsa from Heaven, obviously a mystical text, can, as well.
The reference from “Responsa from Heaven” emphasizes how both elements, the day of the month and also the day of the week, relate to the Alter Rebbe’s liberation. This year, when both elements coincide, we must take something valuable from the day. We must learn a lesson that is practically applicable to our lives.
Since the Alter Rebbe himself emphasized that Tuesday is connected with the verse “My soul was redeemed in peace,” it follows that the lesson should also relate to that verse. Our sages explain that the verse refers to the three general categories of service to G-d: Torah study, prayer, and Gemilus Chassadim (good deeds). Yud-Tes Kislev should cause progress in all three areas.
2. As mentioned above, this year marks the 180 anniversary of Yud-Tes Kislev. The question arises “What is the significance in Torah of the number 180?”
The fact that this is the 180th anniversary of Yud-Tes Kislev enhances the lesson previously mentioned. The forefathers represent the epitome of the three categories — Torah study, prayer, and Gemilus Chassadim — mentioned above. Yaakov was noted for the study of Torah. He is called “a dweller of tents;” i.e. the tents of Torah study. Yitzchok is identified with prayer. Torah describes how he “went out to pray in the fields.” Avraham was the personification of Gemilus Chassadim, as obvious from the Torah narrative.
Likewise, there is a unique connection between Yitzchok — who actually lived 180 years and Yud-Tes Kislev. The Medrash explains that in Messianic times, Jews will point to Yitzchok and say “You are our father.”
Why? What is Yitzchak’s special merit? Why not Avraham or Yaakov? The Medrash explains that before the redemption Avraham will ask G-d that his merit should defend the Jewish people. His request will be denied. The same applies to Yaakov. However, Yitzchak’s request will be accepted.
Yud-Tes Kislev is also related to the Messianic redemption. Once during a mystical revelation the Baal Shem Tov asked Mashiach “When will you come?” Mashiach answered “When the well-springs of your Torah will spread into the outer-reaches.” Chabad explains that human intellect is considered the outreaches when compared to the supra-rational connection to G-d stressed by the Baal Shem Tov. Through extension of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings into the realm of reason and logic, Rav Schneur Zalman, spread the Baal Shem’s well-springs into the outer-reaches. This achievement, though noticeable throughout the Alter Rebbe’s works, is more apparent in those teachings authored after his liberation.
3. The Alter Rebbe possessed many outstanding qualities. He was a giant of Torah knowledge (in both the legal and mystical realms of study). He performed Mitzvos with care and sacrifice. He was a Rebbe and headed the Chassidic community in Russia. These qualities, though, were shared by others as well. What distinguished the Alter Rebbe was thoroughness. He applied himself totally to a subject, researched all the sources which dealt with it, and then afterwards carried out his finding in deed and action.
The subject of Torah measurements serves as an example. This is a complex issue. The fulfillment of most Mitzvos depends on standard Talmudic measurements. The Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch define size, weight, time, etc. in terms common to their time and place but foreign to us. The Alter Rebbe, after studying and comparing the different references to the subject, correlated his findings with the teachings of Kabbalah. Then he himself made the model standard measures.
Likewise, in the matter of Pidyon Shuvuyim, (the redemption of captives): not only did he learn all the laws pertaining to the question but he also visited communities to collect funds. He even met with government officials to influence them in this matter.
Similarly, regarding Pikuach Nefesh, he himself interrupted his Yom Kippur prayers and went to cook food for a sick woman.
The Alter Rebbe’s fundamental thrust was practical application. The Talmud describes two opposing qualities in Jewish sages. One questions and probes, always digging deeper into the subject. The other searches for the subject’s functional relevance. The Alter Rebbe combined both of these qualities.
4. It is necessary to derive a point of instruction from the celebration of Yud-Tes Kislev. However, for that lesson to have a practical effect, it has to be particular. Just telling people to study Torah, fulfill Mitzvos and do good deeds, will not help. A general statement will neither motivate change, nor have an effect on another person. It will not bring the world any closer to the coming of Mashiach.
If you want to do something, that thing has to be specific. You have to provide a plan with specific objectives.
Likewise, in regards to Yud-Tes Kislev, we must search for a specific lesson. However, it is very difficult to derive such a lesson from Yud-Tes Kislev, because as a person, the Alter Rebbe had many different qualities. Likewise, his liberation had many different implications.
However, in the Alter Rebbe’s letter, he himself stressed the concept of peace, implying that the lesson to come from Yud-Tes Kislev must focus on that subject.
Peace deals with the unification of two contrary forces. In a state of oneness, (in spiritual terms — in Atzilus, in creation — the first day), there is no peace. Peace requires the existence of opposite forces and their unification. The Medrashic commentary on the verse “He makes peace in the heavens,” illustrates this point. It explains that Michoel is the angle of snow (water): Gavriel, the angel of fire. Their powers run contrary to each other. Only G-d, whose power transcends them both, is able to make peace between them.
The same principle applies in a Jew’s daily life. He begins the day with Modeh Ani. He is conscious of G-d and nothing else. However, as he begins to approach the world, he encounters other influences and even opposite influences. He meets other people, and then Michoel and Gavriel, two different ways of approaching the world, form in his heart. The nature of Michoel, is to appreciate the good in every person. No matter how low the person’s level, it is possible to find good in him. Gavriel’s approach is to demand the other person to go higher. Fire by nature soars upward. Similarly, Gavriel attempts to affect such a movement in others.
However, peace resolves these two forces. Their resolution does not reduce their powers; on the contrary, both remain intact and work in harmony. In the example above Michoel will produce a generous felling towards all, and Gavriel will regulate the size of the gifts given to express that feeling.
This then is the result of the third day. The phrase, “And G-d saw it was good” is repeated twice. The two opposing forces are reconciled and the Shechinah, “G-d’s presence,” is revealed.
5. In an individual’s personal life, peace is accomplished through education. The book of Eyub (Job) states “A person is born wild.” Each Jewish child has been given a G-dly soul. However, he must work to reveal the powers of that soul. He has a body and natural inclinations which tend to obscure the soul’s light. As a person, he needs development. Likewise, he is found in a world which he must elevate and refine.
Intellect is the key to mastering himself and overcoming his environment. Through education, he can tame his wildness, subdue his evil inclination. A Torah education will give him peace, a personal peace. It will establish harmony between his G-dly soul and his animal soul.
Likewise, it will bring about peace between himself and the world. Each person has physical desires. He wants as much as he can get. A Torah education trains a person not to take from someone else, but rather to enjoy giving; by (J) helping other people even before one’s own needs have been totally fulfilled. Furthermore, it stresses the importance of giving with joy.
The Previous Rebbe explained at greater length how proper education leads to Ahavas Yisrael. He told how as a child he was trained to give some of his food to other children who did not have. When someone has been given such a training, he understands how to love another. Jew and give to him with joy.
When Tzedakah is given with joy it brings genuine happiness to the one who receives it. Rather than feel bad that he must take from someone else, he is happy that he is able to provide the other person with the opportunity to give. As the Talmud comments, “More than the rich man does for the poor, the poor man does for the rich.” Such behavior brings blessings from G-d. Through giving, the giver will achieve greater success and therefore be able to give more.
All of this results from proper education. Therefore, it is necessary for Tzedakah funds to be dedicated to education. This is the most pressing Jewish need today. Even greater grants than were given in the past are necessary now. Thereby, the coming generation will be trained to give Tzedakah, and this will bring about G-d’s infinite Tzedakah, which will be revealed a with the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.
6. Torah brings peace to every aspect of a person’s life. Likewise the laws of Taharas Hamishpachah are intended to bring about peace in the home.
Taharas Hamishpachah emphasizes the union of two opposites. The Torah states, “Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” First, man and woman are two separate entities. Then, if their manner of approach is correct, they join in union. Through that union, they become one flesh. They produce a child. He fuses together both of their qualities.
Since men and women have opposite natures—in general men are more strict and women more generous — a union between them has to recognize their differences. Phases of separation and coming together are necessary.
Therefore, after the union of man and woman has brought about the birth of a child, Torah imposes a period of separation. Then following that period, the Torah calls for union. This pattern of union and separation is so important, that it will continue even after the Messianic redemption.
The Torah approach recognizes the existence of two opposing tendencies. Therefore it provides for times when a couple join together and times when their union is forbidden. This pattern has been successful in developing harmonious marriages. Natural scientists and doctors have explained reasons for that success. However, the real reasons extend beyond the grasp of their knowledge. The reason we keep Taharas Hamishpachah, is to follow G-d’s will.
Taharas Hamishpachah produces peace not only between husband and wife, but between parents and children as well. Lack of peace in the home is one of today’s most difficult problems. Parents cannot talk to their children.
Taharas Hamishpachah makes the home a place of unity. The temporary separation is regarded as just a passing phase. The same concept is reflected in the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people (for which the relationship of man and woman is a metaphor). The temporary separation (Galus) does not disturb the unity of the relationship.
Therefore, the construction of mikvas is necessary at this time. A mikveh is not the personal need of a few families. It is a necessity for the Torah future of the Jewish nation. The construction of a mikveh is so important that Halachah declares it necessary to sell a synagogue and use the funds to build a mikveh.
Likewise, building mikvas is connected with the Messianic Redemption. The Talmud says that Mashiach will not come until all the souls waiting in heaven are born. It is obvious that the Talmud is referring to such children who will hasten the coming of Mashiach, through learning Torah and fulfilling Mitzvos. The parents will be able to pride themselves in such children, saying “look at the children that we have raised” i.e. through Taharas Hamishpachah. Through fulfillment of Taharas Hamishpachah Mashiach’s coming is hastened.
7. The Torah proclaims “This is the Torah of man.” Kabbalah explains how every aspect of man is mirrored in Torah. Likewise, Torah is called “our life and the length of our day.” The Talmud illustrates that concept with a metaphor of fish and water.
On a simple level, the metaphor explains that just as a fish cannot live without water, similarly a Jew cannot live without Torah. However, the metaphor brings out a deeper lesson. The Jewish people are totally unified — there is no separation between them.
This concept can be understood in view of the opinion of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel. The Shulchan Aruch states that when immersing oneself in a Mikveh, one must not allow a foreign object to prevent water from touching any part of the body. Rabbi Gamliel maintains that a fish touching the body, though, does not separate. Even when a fish is next to the body and removes that part of the body from contact with the water, it is considered as if the water is touching the body. Even though a fish is an independent entity, it and the water are considered one thing.
The same concept applies in the relationship between Torah and a Jew. Even though the Jew has an individual identity, his true self is united with Torah. Through diligent study, the known, the knowledge, and the knower become one. The Jew who learns Torah and the Torah are considered as one.
This process of learning elevates not only the Jew. It lifts the Torah he studied to a higher level as well. Just as the Jew becomes G-d’s partner in creating, refining, and elevating the world, he also becomes G-d’s partner in Torah. A partner has to contribute something. In this case, his study reveals higher and deeper aspects of Torah.
This concept can be understood in terms of the statement, “every new concept developed by a trained scholar was given to Moshe on Mt. Sinai.” The concept is the product of the scholar’s mind. Yet, in truth it is not his own — it is Torah. It is included in the revelation to Moshe. Yet, that scholar was able to bring that concept to light.
The Talmud explains that the development of such concepts is so important that “G-d and his court come to listen to the Talmudic discussions of a Jew in this world.” The Talmud goes further. It explains that G-d and the heavenly court study Torah and if they come to a disagreement, a Jew is chosen as the mediator. If the Jew disagrees with G-d, “G-d smiles and says You have defeated me, my son, you have defeated me.”
The Talmud uses the expression “G-d smiles.” A smile is a sign of pleasure. Through his study of Torah, a Jew is able to give G-d pleasure.
The type of study alluded to above requires thorough examination of each issue and derivation of a Halachah. Through this type of study, a Jew is called “the Shulamite” — he brings Shalom — peace — between G-d and the world, and likewise reveals true peace in the world.
8. It is customary each Yud-Tes Kislev to divide the Talmud. Everyone takes a tractate, studies it during the coming year, and finishes by next Yud-Tes Kislev. Through this division, it is considered as if each individual had learned the entire Talmud that year.
This concept is illustrated by the laws of Shabbos. Generally, if two individuals carry an object from one domain to another, they are not obligated to receive punishment for breaking the Shabbos. However, if the object is so heavy that one person could not carry it by himself both receive full punishment. When a task must be accomplished by shared energies, each participant is considered as if he did the entire task. Similarly, since it is impossible for one individual to complete the entire Talmud in one year, shared efforts are necessary. Yet each individual is considered to have finished the entire task, himself.
May this study bring about G-d’s abundant blessings so that the Jewish people can study Torah at rest and at peace. May that study cause an increase in fulfillment of the mitzvos, which will in turn bring peace to Jews everywhere, particularly in Israel.
- (Back to text) The liberation occurred on the 19th of Kislev. However, the Alter Rebbe did not reach his lodgings until after nightfall, when the 20th of Kislev had already begun. Therefore, Chassidim always celebrated his release on the night between the 19th and the 20th.
There is another reason why the Farbrengen is held tonight. Regarding the Temple sacrifices, Torah considered the night a continuation of the preceding day, rather than the beginning of the following one. That same principle applies regarding all holy matters.
- (Back to text) On different occasions, the Previous Rebbeim have also stressed the fact that Yud-Tes Kislev occurred on a Tuesday.
- (Back to text) All texts translate the verse, “sheishes yomim asa” (Exodus 20:1) as “in six days G-d made the Heaven, the Earth..” However, a direct literal translation of the verse would read “Six days made the Heaven, the Earth...” The verse lacks the prefix “Be” which means “in.” Noting this, the Rashba explains that the omission communicates an important mystical concept. In truth, “Six days made.” Each day represents a specific G-dly attribute. That attribute brought into being the creation mentioned on that day.
- (Back to text) Yud-Tes Kislev is also the Yahrzeit of the Maggid of Mezeritch. However, it is difficult to conceive that those were the “good tidings” mentioned by Rav Yaakov.
- (Back to text) A similar concept can be seen from Rashi’s commentary on the Torah. There, in reference to the sale of Joseph, he describes Shechem as “a city destined for misfortunes.” One of the events which he lists as support, occurred many years after the life of Joseph.
- (Back to text) A similar pattern can be observed in Torah study. Torah sages often made “simonim,” (signs) by use of acrostics, key phrases, etc.. Other sages explained that these signs contain deep significance. People have protested against making such inferences. However, according to the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings , that everything that occurs, is a result of Hashgachah Protis (Divine Providence). It follows that a reason and a significance exist for these signs. Based on this principle, certain sages derived Torah lessons not only from Hebrew expressions; but from words in other languages as well.
The Talmud gives an example of the use of such a sign. Each day before the first sacrifice was offered in the Temple, the priests would ask, “Has the sun lit up the horizon until Hebron?” The phrase “until Hebron” was unnecessary. However, the priests added it to arouse the merit of the forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, who were buried there. Hebron is only a symbol of the forefathers. Yet its mention was able to arouse their merit.
- (Back to text) Among his qualities was another attribute with which the Torah also described Avraham. Torah called Avraham “Ba-bayomim” (generally translated as “of an advanced age.”) However, the Zohar focuses on the literal interpretation “came into his days” and explains that he made his days full. Each day was lived totally.
- (Back to text) Similarly, the Mitteler Rebbe explained that in order to develop genuine feeling in prayer, you cannot use a general concept like “G-dliness is everywhere” but must concentrate on a specific and particular topic of meditation.
- (Back to text) The name “Gavriel” and the attribute “Gevurah” (severity) have the same root.
- (Back to text) The Alter Rebbe explained that Tzedakah was the merit which brought about his liberation.
- (Back to text) The pattern followed in the world is to wait for someone to become successful and then send a fun-raiser to ask him to give. Torah opposes such an approach, because then a person never really learns that he should give. He never gives as much as he should, and he feels bad about giving what he does. The Torah approach is to train people to give when they are young. Then they always will give generously and happily.
- (Back to text) Because of their respective natures, Torah commands you to “fear your mother and your father,” and “honor your father and mother.” Naturally, the tendency would be to fear the father more and honor the mother more. Torah expresses it in this order to stress the necessity to fear and honor both parents equally.
- (Back to text) The impurity of Niddah came about through sin and will be abolished in Messianic times. However, even in Messianic times, the necessity for separation after giving birth will remain.
- (Back to text) In truth, the idea is not found in man and mirrored in Torah, but the reverse. The source is in Torah and from Torah it is reflected in the Jew.
- (Back to text) Even though the Halachah does not agree with Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, the expression “these are the words of the living G-d” applies to every statement of Torah, including a minority opinion.
- (Back to text) Likewise, when G-d wanted to destroy the Jewish people after the sin of the spies (who gave a false report to the Jews), Moshe protested and argued with Him. G-d accepted his argument. According to the Talmud He told Moshe, “your words gave Me life.”
This statement brings to mind the Baal Shem Tov’s interpretation of the verse “G-d sits on the praises of Israel.” The Baal Shem Tov commented “G-d is high, above the world. What makes him sit, — lower himself, — and relate to the world? The praises of the Jewish people.”