This year, Shabbos Parshas Lech Lecha falls on the day after the seventh of Cheshvan which was singled out by our sages as the end of the pilgrimage season. On this date, the Jews living in the farthest reaches of Eretz Yisroel were able to arrive home after their journey to Yerushalayim for the Sukkos holiday.
During this holiday, the entire Jewish people, men and women, were in Yerushalayim and, after its conclusion, they began their journey. For the Jews living on the Euphrates River, the furthest reaches of Eretz Yisroel, this journey took fifteen days and thus, was concluded on the seventh of Cheshvan.
The influence of the festival was felt during the entire journey home as obvious from our Sages' comments on Shemos 34:24: "A person shall not covet your house while you go up to see the Presence of the L-rd, your G-d." They explain that this blessing applied until the Jews returned home, that G-d would send angels to watch the Jews' homes. They appeared to the gentiles to resemble the people living in the home. Thus, during the entire journey, they never had a thought of taking the Jews' property.
Thus, even when a Jew was journeying home from Yerushalayim, we see that his inner thought and will was connected with Yerushalayim; not having to worry what was doing at home. Furthermore, this was able to influence the world at large and prevent thoughts of desire from arising in the minds of the gentiles.
Thus, the seventh of Cheshvan, the completion of the journey home for the entire Jewish people, marks a transition from the heights of the festivals to the involvement in worldly affairs as implied by the verse "and Ya'akov went on his way."
This does not represent a descent in a Jew's service. True, he is no longer in Yerushalayim, no longer in the Temple. Rather, he is very far away, in the furthest reaches of Eretz Yisroel. Furthermore, instead of witnessing the open revelation of G-dliness as he did in the Temple, he is involved in everyday affairs. Nevertheless, precisely in such a situation does one have the potential to reach even greater heights.
This concept can be explained by comparison to the contrast between the Jews' level after their entry into Eretz Yisroel as compared to their level during the forty years they journeyed through the desert. During their journey through the desert, all the Jews' material needs were met in a miraculous way. They received manna from heaven, water from Miriam's well, their clothes were cleaned by the clouds of glory. Thus, all their energies could be devoted to Torah and mitzvos.
In contrast, after the Jews entered Eretz Yisroel, the manna ceased and they were forced to work the land to derive their sustenance and carry out all their other activities according to the limitations of nature. If so, why was the entry into Eretz Yisro-el considered so important and desired by the Jewish people? Why were they anxious to leave a life where they had no other concerns besides Torah and mitzvos to become involved in the material affairs of this world?
The reply to this question can be explained as follows: The most complete happiness a Jew feels is through the fulfillment of G-d's will. G-d "desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds," i.e. He wanted a Jew to involve himself in material things and within that context, live as a Jew. Therefore, when a Jew involves himself in these activities he fulfills G-d's will and this, in turn, grants him the highest degree of satisfaction.
Furthermore, this satisfaction is intensified by the realization that a Jew's involvement in material things is "desired" by G-d. Desire refers to a level above normal will, transcending understanding, as the Alter Rebbe explains "no questions can be asked in regard to desire."
A similar concept applies in regard to the Chukim. In general, mitzvos are expressions of G-d's will and thus, transcend Torah which expresses G-d's wisdom. However, within mitzvos themselves, the Chukim represent a unique category about which "you have no permission to question."
In regard to other mitzvos, not only is permission granted to question and seek to discover their motivating principles, it is a mitzvah and an obligation to study and make such an inquiry. In contrast, Chukim represent a category of mitzvos which totally transcend intellect.
Similarly, in regard to "desire." This expression is used to imply a will which totally transcends the constraints of intellect. Since it is through involvement in the material affairs of this world that a Jew fulfills G-d's desire, each individual also "desires" such an involvement and derives pleasure from this opportunity to fulfill G-d's will.
Thus, though on an obvious level, the entrance into Eretz Yisroel represents a descent, it must be considered a "descent for the purpose of ascent." It is only through this "descent" that G-d's desire for a "dwelling place within the lower worlds" can be fulfilled.
In microcosm, a similar pattern can be seen in the journey back home after spending the pilgrimage festivals in the Temple. The Temple represents the most elevated place in the world and after completing the journey home, a Jew returned to life within the context of worldly reality. However, precisely within the context of such life is it possible for us to fulfill G-d's desire for "a dwelling place within the lower worlds."
A question can be raised in regard to the above: The return home of the last festival pilgrims on the seventh of Cheshvan was not a matter of relevance to them alone, but rather affected the totality of the Jewish people as obvious from the fact that the prayers requesting rain were postponed until then. It was only the Jews living furthest from Yerushalayim, those living on the Euphrates River, who reached their homes on the seventh of Cheshvan. Those who lived closer arrived home much earlier. Furthermore, many Jews lived in Yerushalayim and did not have to journey at all. If so, why is the date of the seventh of Cheshvan considered relevant for the entire Jewish people?
The above question can be resolved within the context of an accepted principle in Torah law. Many of the laws pertaining to Eretz Yisroel only apply when "all of its inhabitants are present." Furthermore, the Hebrew word for inhabitants is related to the concept of settlement, implying that Eretz Yisroel reaches its most complete state only when it is settled entirely, even to its most far-removed points, the banks of the Euphrates. Thus, until the final Jew returned home from the pilgrimage festivals, Eretz Yisroel and the entire Jewish people were lacking.
Parallels to this concept are found on many levels. In a house, there are many rooms with different functions. There are rooms intended for the study of Torah, rooms for eating and sleeping, and a lavatory. Firstly, regardless of this difference in function, all the rooms in the house belong to the same owner. Furthermore, without the lavatory, the entire house is not complete.
Similarly, there are many levels within the Jewish people, each with a unique mission and task of its own. G-d's presence can be felt while involved in each of these different tasks and all are necessary to complete the "dwelling place for G-d in the lower worlds."
Thus, the return home of those Jews living on the banks of the Euphrates effects the entire Jewish people for only when they return home is it possible to complete all different aspects of the service of G-d. Furthermore, their position as the furthest removed from Yerushalayim implies a connection to the lowest levels of service, thus, contributing to the establishment of G-d's dwelling in "the lower worlds."
Based on the above, we can understand why the request for rain is not made until the seventh of Cheshvan. Our sages explain that the key to rain is held by G-d Himself without being entrusted to an agent; i.e it relates to an essential level of G-dliness that cannot be approached through intermediaries. Therefore, the request for rain is made when G-d's essential desire for a dwelling place in the lower worlds can be fulfilled, when the Jews return to the places most far removed from Yerushalayim.
The above is also relevant to the concept of Jewish unity. During the pilgrimage festivals, the essential unity of the Jewish people is expressed. However, that unity applies to the essential oneness that binds our people together, while transcending their particular differences. The unity expressed by the seventh of Cheshvan relates to the Jews as they exist within the context of particular differences. Jewish unity remains even after each Jew returns to his own home and his individual lifestyle.
The practical lesson that can be derived from the above is: The seventh of Cheshvan is the final stage of the beginnings of the service of "Ya'akov went on his way." This service begins after Yom Kippur when a Jew becomes involved in the service of Torah and mitzvos, reaches further levels after Simchas Torah and after the conclusion of the month of Tishrei, and comes to completion on the seventh of Cheshvan.
A Jew might complain: "I want a rest. After the intensity of accepting G-d as King on Rosh HaShanah, the celebrating after the completion of the Torah on Simchas Torah, I'd like a chance to breathe. Why must I begin immediately the service of `Ya'akov went on his way'?"
In reply, we quote our Sages' statement: "Talmidei Chacha-mim have no rest, neither in this world or the next as it is written: `They shall proceed from strength to strength.'" A Jew must always proceed forward. There is no possibility for him to rest, not even for a moment. Therefore, directly upon his return from the heights of Tishrei, he begins the service of "Ya'akov went on his way," creating a dwelling place for G-d in the lower worlds.
The Alter Rebbe told his students that they must "live with the times," adapt their lives to the lessons to be derived from the weekly Torah portion. Thus, it is fitting that the seventh of Cheshvan which is related to all the above lessons falls in the portion of Lech Lecha, which also communicates how a Jew must continually proceed and journey forward.
In particular, Lech Lecha refers to the journey abandoning one's native land and place of residence. Thus, the guests who came Tishrei may feel that they have carried out this service in the most complete manner, leaving their homes for an entire month. They must realize that they cannot remain content. Rather, they must proceed "from strength to strength," and go totally out of their previous place, rising above their former habits and natures.
Furthermore, they are told to proceed "to the land that I will show you," without the name or the location of that land being specified. A Jew is not even granted the security of knowing where he is going. Rather, G-d conceals this from him in order to "make it precious for him and give him reward for [following] each specific command" (Rashi).
The Midrash explains that on the journey described above Avraham took with him: "the souls he had made in Charan," the people who he and Sarah had been able to convince to accept his lifestyle. The name Charan is related to "Charan Af," furious anger, i.e. a place which aroused G-d's anger. Even in Charan, Avraham and Sarah were able to influence people to follow their lifestyle.
The same applies to the heirs of Avraham and Sarah, each and every Jew and Jewess. They must realize that they have been sent to Charan, i.e. the lowest places of the world, for a purpose, to fulfill the mission of Avraham and Sarah, by bringing people "under the wings of the Shechinah," and elevating the sparks of G-dliness found in these places. This fulfills G-d's intention to have "a dwelling place in the lower worlds."
Furthermore, by involving himself in the service of drawing others back to their Jewish heritage, a person can reach a higher level himself. Pirkei Avos 4:1 teaches: "Who is the wise man? One who learns from every man." For a person to attain true wisdom, he must seek contact and learn from every man.
Thus, the seventh of Cheshvan teaches the importance of beginning the service of "Ya'akov went on his way," going out to Charan, a place which angers G-d, with the intent of establishing a dwelling place for G-d in the lower worlds.
To put the above in simple terms: One must go out to the street and meet a Jew who knows nothing about Judaism (or a Jew who knows about Judaism, but his practice is lacking) and influence him to increase his Jewish practice, and, as a first start, establish fixed times for Torah study. A person must be willing to go beyond his nature and familiar pattern and dedicate himself to spreading Judaism with even greater energy and vigor. This service will bring about abundant blessing including the most complete blessing, the coming of the Messianic redemption. May it be speedily in our days.
After all the above, a Jew might raise his hands in confusion. There are so many things that are necessary for him to do that he does not know where to start. Indeed, for that reason, he remains complacent and does nothing at all.
Firstly, he must realize that this lack of knowledge is his own fault. On Devorim 32:47: "It (Torah) is not an empty thing from you," our Sages commented: "The Torah is not an empty thing. If you see it as empty, realize that this emptiness comes 'from you.'"
In practice, such a person should approach a wise man and ask him for advice. Every Jew has a Rav whom he consults about questions of Kashrus. If he asks a Rav what to do when he used a milchik spoon to stir a fleishik pot -- despite the fact he has other spoons and other pots -- he should be willing to consult the Rav on something as all important as his priorities in the service of G-d. The knowledge that every day in which he does not exercise proper choice is a loss that cannot be corrected should spur him to seek guidance.
If the Rav cannot provide him with this guidance, this is a sign that he must look for another Rav, to quote the Mishnah, Asei L'Chah Rav, "make a Rav for yourself." For a number of years, I have spoke about the need for Mashpi'im, people charged with the responsibility of motivating those around them to increase their service of G-d, to establish fixed times for Torah study, to involve themselves in the spread of Yiddishkeit and Chassidus.
Despite these efforts, no change is seen. Those appointed as Mashpi'im are involved in other matters -- surely, they are worthy matters -- nevertheless, their responsibility as Mashpi'im is not being fulfilled. In doing so, they are responsible, not only for their own lack of fulfillment, but for the lack of fulfillment of all those who need their guidance and direction.
How is it possible for a person not to accept the role of Mashpia if it is offered to him? The answer is: a lack of direction. Likkutei Torah gives the example of a person standing with his back to a great treasure. Though the treasure is near him, since his back is toward it, he does not take note of it.
If a person has a doubt of the mission for which he is intended, whether the role of Mashpia is appropriate for him or not, let him consult a Rav. The Mitteler Rebbe taught that when one Jew asks another for advice, two G-dly souls are pitted against one animal soul. The person whom you are asking also has an animal soul. However, his animal soul is not at all concerned with the desires of a colleague.
The above applies to every Jew, for every Jew can be a Mashpia. Just as in a material sense, every Jew is obligated to give charity, similarly, in a spiritual sense, every Jew must be charitable and share his insights and knowledge with others. Indeed, anyone who has barely tasted Chassidus realizes how spiritual charity is more important than material charity. This is the mission with which the Rebbe Rashab charged the students of Tomchei Temimim, to be "candles to illuminate... to fight the wars of the House of Dovid."
To conclude with a positive point: Every Jew must "go out from his land, his homeland, and father's house" and apply himself to fulfilling G-d's mission of spreading Torah and mitzvos. This will cause G-d to take us "to the land I will show you," to Eretz Yisroel, with the coming of the Messianic redemption. May it be come with happiness, speedily in our days.