The fixing of the annual cycle of the Hebrew calendar sets the length of the year and months, and also fixes the dates in the days of the week and the Torah readings for each Shabbos. According to this system the months of Tishrei and MarCheshvan this year  were set in the same weekly pattern as last year, with the 29th of MarCheshvan occurring on Shabbos. The similarity stops there, because, whereas last year the month of MarCheshvan had 30 days and Kislev had a two-day Rosh Chodesh, Sunday and Monday, this year MarCheshvan has only 29 days and the following day, Sunday, is the first and only day of Rosh Chodesh Kislev.
A similarity of this nature gives cause for a retrospective glance to last year to help find the nature and theme of these days.
Since the Holy One, Blessed be He, looked into the Torah and created the world, and as the system of establishing the cycle of the calendar is appointed by Torah, we too must turn to the Torah to find the lessons for our Divine service. The directives we draw must be discussed, studied and acted upon. We will therefore look back to some of the themes discussed last year and we will also touch upon new aspects relating to this day.
Normally, something which was studied or performed once before does not awaken the same enthusiasm the second time. Nevertheless, regarding Torah we are told: "Every day they shall be as new in your eyes," that specifically by studying the Torah subject once again, the Torah itself gives us the renewed power to see things in a new and better light. Therefore we cannot be satisfied with the fact that surely the accomplishments of last year will continue to bear fruits this year too, but we must effect a regeneration and seek new ideas, which will come by studying the Torah once again.
When we review last year's thoughts, we must go through the complete analysis, not just the final deductions. For in order that the resultant actions shall be complete, with genuine will and motivation, the study must include the underlying reasons and components which motivated the action.
The Alter Rebbe also rules that one may not render a halachic ruling without knowing the underlying reasons for the particular Halachah. Likewise here we must study the roots and sources of the matter.
In carrying over the ideas of last year to this year, we should keep in mind that the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that on Rosh HaShanah a new light descends, which is higher than before, and which never shone previously. In other words, the same concepts are carried over, but they are regenerated in a higher form -- so now their quality is greater. Thus we certainly have to reexamine this "new light." And finally, since as of Rosh Chodesh Kislev there will be a change from last year, the emphasis now must also include the future changes which will take place.
With all this in mind, we must also approach the new and different themes of this year, which add new dimensions just as a wellspring adds more than "a plastered cistern which loses not a drop."
The review of last year's topics will be limited, with the hope that by giving the wise person knowledge he will increase his wisdom, diligently and willfully. This will also allow more time to discuss the new theme of this year.
The 20th of MarCheshvan commemorates the birthday of Rabbi Sholom Dovber o.b.m., who was succeeded by his son, the Nassi of our generation. Relating to the essential theme of this day we find in the Talmud Yerushalmi that on a birthday a person's mazal (fortune), helps him to the degree that it is "a time of surmounting fortune." This of course is not only a gradual increase from before, but rather a completely new and greater revelation, which did not even exist previously.
When we use the term "mazal" here, we refer to the source and root of one's essential soul, even beyond or higher than the inner powers. From this basic nucleus, there flows and descends a revelation to the inner powers of the soul. It is the "constellation" of powers of the soul, the radical [meaning root] soul powers in their transcendental form.
Now, although this lofty level is not encumbered or restricted by the limitations of time, we nevertheless say that on each birthday there is a new surge, a new transcendence of this 'constellation," compared to its previous conditions. And although each new surge is again not limited by time and therefore does not remain at the level of that year, nevertheless on the next birthday there is again a new surge and a new surmounting of this mazal.
For us, we must realize that when the 20th of MarCheshvan arrives we must increase our work and Divine service in those areas which the Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Dovber) taught, and to a greater degree than in previous years.
Within this same frame of reference we should also view the aspect of "serving G-d with joy." This basic principle has greater significance during the week of the portion of Chaye Sarah, for Rabbi Sholom Dovber explains the Zohar's description of Sarah's qualities to include the joy she felt in her service of G-d.
One of the characteristics of joy is that it can break through the restrictions. Having eliminated one level of limitations, happiness may once again be employed to assail the next level of restrictions. After all, we go from level to level and the elimination of the barriers at one point is not an infinite, absolute process, rather it is relative to the particular level. When at this point there are certain restrictions, we need joy to break through, so that now there are no restrictions at this level; we move to a higher level. Relative to the higher level, there may still be barriers, and our Divine service, which must include joy, is to break the barriers so that it must be rejuvenated and resumed at the higher level.
Certainly, last year we assumed the directives of the 20th of MarCheshvan with joy, and during the year there were many opportunities for happiness. These include also "the holiday of our joy," which certainly broke through the barriers at that particular level. Nevertheless at this higher junction there are still higher levels of restriction and this year we must undertake the directives of the day of the 20th of MarCheshvan with renewed strength and renewed joy to be able to overcome any barriers of a higher nature. This idea compares to the thought mentioned earlier that each year there is a new surge in the aspect of "the surmounting fortune."
Among the new aspects emerging this year will be the new chapter of Tehillim -- relating to the age of Rabbi Sholom Dovber. It is customary to recite daily the chapter in Tehillim which corresponds to a person's age, and at each birthday to start reciting the next chapter. Regarding the recitation of Tehillim, the previous Rebbe, in a sicha (talk) once related that years after his father's passing, on the 20th of MarCheshvan, his father appeared to him in a dream and told him that the previous Rebbeim would teach him commentaries on the verses of Chapter 84 of Tehillim, being 84 years since the Rashab's birth.
So, we will look to chapter 125 in Tehillim which corresponds to the 125th year since the birth of Rabbi Sholom Dovber to find new insights and interpretations, some of which have been noted by the Tzemach Tzedek on Tehillim.
Having touched upon theoretical topics, what about the practical?
One of the main teachings of the Rashab was that we must be "illuminating lights" in two respects: 1) A lamp which actually -- kinetically -- illuminates (not just potentially) and 2) to illuminate others and inspire them to give light.
On this day, when the Rashab's fortune (mazal) is overpowering, we must heed this lesson to increase our activities in this area. Even those, who because of their activities of the last 20th of MarCheshvan were motivated to an ongoing activity, since this year there is a new resurgence and a new "ascending fortune," it influences them, as well as us, and all who follow in his path, to grow in a higher and greater way. For we are all given the regenerated powers through the strength of the tzaddik.
In addition to the previous point of "illuminating lights" which is an essential aspect of the teachings of the Rashab, there was a well-known sicha in which the Rashab elaborated on the role of the students of Tomchei Temimim [the Lubavitcher Seminary].
In expounding on the Talmudic dictum: "Everyone who went out in the wars of the house of Dovid ...," he explained that "the house of Dovid" refers to Moshiach, and the war is the Divine service of spreading the wellsprings of Torah to the outside. As Moshiach revealed to the Baal Shem Tov when asked: "When will my Master come? When your wellsprings spread to the outside," meaning that when the Baal Shem's teachings of the wellsprings of Chassidus and his method of Divine worship spread out in the world.
But why a war? Because there are adversaries. The Yalkut says that one generation after another heap abuse [on the footsteps of Moshiach] then hope for the salvation. For in Tehillim it says: "Your enemies who insult, Oh L-rd ... insult the footsteps of Your anointed one -- Moshiach." The first generation referred to may not believe in G-d, but a later generation may be learned Torah scholars, yet they are weak in their faith in the redemption and they doubt the coming of Moshiach. The soldiers of the house of Dovid must wage a war "... not with [physical] might ... but with My spirit ...," to reveal and spread the essence of Torah and Chassidus and buttress the faith in the true redemption of Moshiach.
Now, this sicha was spoken to his disciples within the walls of his school in the city of Lubavitch. What's in it for us in Brooklyn? Here, most of the assembled are not even students, and certainly not all of the people hearing these words through all the mediums used for transmission. The truth however is that even now at this time, this message and mission is pertinent to each and every one.
By way of introduction, we know that there are several areas of Divine worship that at one time applied only to certain groups and later became pertinent to the general people.
A prime example of this phenomenon is one of the basic and all- encompassing areas of a person's Divine service, the service of prayer, as it encompasses the beginning and completion of the Divine service of the day. Generally speaking, the day starts with the prayer of Shacharis and then, "from the synagogue to the study hall," Torah learning, and subsequently to our daily endeavors -- including all aspects of life. In our daily activities we must reach to the degree of "all your actions [even mundane and secular] should be for the sake of Heaven" they should somehow bring to the fulfillment of a mitzvah and to "know Him in all your ways" -- to practical observance.
We lead off the day, generally speaking, with the prayer of Ma'ariv, more specifically, the Shema before retiring. This entails making a just accounting of all daily activities before depositing our souls in the hands of G-d. These two services -- Shacharis and Arvis -- had their counterparts in the Bais Hamikdosh in the daily sacrifice ["tamid"] of the morning at the start of the day and evening, the end of the day. To be more precise, Minchah is the time of the sacrifice, Ma'ariv the time of placing the limbs on the altar at night and the Shema before retiring corresponds to the removing of the ashes from the altar. This constituted the completion of the worship of the past day and the preparation for the next day, since it was actually done at the beginning of the next day. Generally Ma'ariv induces these two ideas -- the end of this day by burning the limbs and the start of the new day, since the day begins at nightfall.
Despite the fact that our prayers today take the place of the sacrifices, there is a major distinction between the Temple sacrifices and the service of prayer. In the Bais Hamikdosh only the Kohen could sacrifice the animal and only when the Levi sang and the representatives of the Jewish people (Yisroel) were observing from their "positions." Today, in prayer there is no necessity for the Kohen to say the prayer or for the Levi to say some special part -- each says the entire prayer and each includes what was at one time exclusively the service of the other.
Isn't this strange!? When the Bais Hamikdosh stood and Jews were on a higher spiritual level, then the sacrifices could only be done by a Kohen, and now, after the destruction of the Temple and the fall of the generations, anybody, Kohen, Levi or Yisroel, can accomplish the full service of the sacrifice. Today each can do it alone.
It seems that "spoiling makes it fit," that anyone, not only a Kohen, can now, through prayer, accomplish what previously needed special people and actions.
The service which we now do can also be perfect and complete. We know the connotation of the verse: "Our lips shall compensate ["u'neshalmo"] for the sacrifices," that not only does this mean that we will repay but also that it will reach completion and perfection.
Yet, somehow it does not seem right, that specifically after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, and in the diaspora, each and every individual can effect and accomplish that selfsame essential theme and purpose of the sacrificial services!
The explanation is that although the destruction and subsequent exile truly caused a descent in the spiritual level of the Jew, -- yet at the same time, the sacrificial service during the exile is likewise on a lower level.
The perfection we speak of in the sacrificial service at the time of the Temple was truly on the level of the absolute, complete and perfect, albeit that certain prerequisites had to be met. Today we speak only in relative terms; relative to the level of perfection now attainable; the prayer service of today will reach the goal. But to reach the true, essential perfection of the sacrifices, that could only be attained in the Temple at the hands of the Kohen with the accompaniment of the Levi'im and Yisroelim.
To further expound on this point. In the Temple the sacrifices were physical: the animals were actually slaughtered and the blood was sprinkled and the limbs burned on the altar. In that manner the sacrifice effected an ascent in the entire animal kingdom. You could see the changes taking place, through the actual stages of sacrifice and burning. Today however, when we "compensate by speaking" through prayer, we make only a spiritual sacrifice; the animals remain out in the field, fully alive. We operate on the spiritual plane and not the physical -- and the "perfection" is only relative.
Therefore the present form of sacrificial service, namely, spiritual, can be complete and perfectly fulfilled by every individual, whether Yisroel, Levi or Kohen for in some abstract respect, each individual Jew encompasses all aspects of the Jewish people. Each Jew is a microcosm of the Jewish nation and consequently has the qualities of Kohen and Levi too, in a manner enabling him to do the spiritual sacrifice. Whereas, the higher, true, perfection of actual animal sacrifices in the Temple truly needed higher spiritual powers, and could only be accomplished by a Kohen with the accompaniment of a Yisroel and a Levi.
Here we may draw a parallel to the spread of Chassidic teachings and philosophy. As the generations come and go and generally grow spiritually weaker, Chassidic philosophy spreads even farther and wider and more and more people are involved in the study, teaching and spreading the idea of Chassidus, but the level of intensity of service and devotion is eased.
At the beginning of the Chassidic era the Baal Shem Tov had only 60 disciples and his successor, the Maggid of Mezritch, had 120. These people shouldered the responsibilities and duties of promulgating and spreading the teachings of Chassidus. Each undertook a particular country or province. Some undertook to go to the limits of the "outside" while others did not. In later generations Chassidus spread and the adherents increased.
The point here is that at the beginning, the work had to be accepted by only choice, selected individuals of superior standing whose all-encompassing souls could undertake to influence a whole country. As time went on, the job became easier and more people became capable of fulfilling the responsibilities. And, as the Rashab explained, that after the liberation of the Alter Rebbe on 19th of Kislev, 5559, the work of spreading the teachings to the far outside began in earnest and since then it has continued [in the manner of ascending in holiness], so much so, that the 'far outside" can be transformed into illuminating lights.
Let us now return to the aforementioned talk of the Rashab, which exhorted his students to see themselves as soldiers in the army of Dovid. How does this apply to us?
At that time the original call went out to only to a limited group who were students of the Rashab and had spent many years in Tomchei Temimim. They were endowed with the all-encompassing souls, and accepted the message of the "wars of Dovid," receiving also the special powers to fulfill their mission to the fullest breadth and depth.
In later years the yeshivah spread out to many countries and finally to all corners of the world and, concomitantly Chassidus has spread all over the world. Thus, as a result of the efforts of the earlier emissaries, our responsibility now has become much easier; it is also relevant for everyone, even non-students, business people, who now can also become illuminating lights and join in the "wars of Dovid." Remember how our Nassi, the Previous Rebbe, put so much effort to reach the "outside," even the "extremities of the outside, by spreading his ma'amarim in a manner that each and every Jew and Jewess could understand them. They were written in elementary language so that they would appeal even to those whose observance and knowledge of Chassidus was elementary.
Furthermore, the Rashab specifically mentioned two levels in his sicha, those who shamed Hashem and those who shamed the footsteps of Moshiach. Clearly with the second level, he was referring specifically to this generation, the true time of the footsteps of Moshiach. Here we see that the responsibility to join the armies of Dovid Hamelech, as the previous Rebbe demanded of us and thereby also energized us by disseminating the sicha of the Rashab, rests on each and every one of us, no matter what our levels.
The battle must be joined in order to nullify the arguments of those, who might be scholars, but "insult the footsteps of Moshiach" by not being able to countenance or accept those who say "soon, soon, Moshiach is coming." The approach must be peaceful and pleasant but with the determination of a soldier in battle, not to fear any danger and not to lose enthusiasm, to go to the "outside" places where those forces are, and there to teach and spread the teachings of Chassidus.
We must realize that this directive, having been taught and disseminated by the previous Rebbe, applies to each and every one in every place, even the Southern Hemisphere, man and woman, student and non-student alike. To take it a step further, since the previous Rebbe put himself wholeheartedly into this, if one does not seriously accept this role, and goes as far as to reject the powers given to him for this purpose, then he is upsetting the role and mission of the previous Rebbe, the leader of our generation. Read the sicha of the Rashab, let it penetrate, and undertake this responsibility in a positive way. And when we meet another Jew, no matter what we thought the purpose of that meeting was, there is always the need for influencing him, in the path of spreading the wellsprings.
And this will bring the fulfillment of the promise: "The master, Moshiach, will come." By being soldiers in the army of the "wars of the House of Dovid" we will hear the footsteps of Moshiach, who will come speedily.
The chapter of Tehillim (Psalms) which applies to the year of the birth of the Rashab is chapter 125, which we start reciting today.
The chapter begins with the following verses:
Shir Hama'alos (song of ascending degrees). They who put their trust in G-d shall be firm as Mt. Tziyon; they will not collapse, and will dwell forever. Yerushalayim is surrounded by hills and G-d encompasses His nation from now and forever.
The meaning is that they who trust in G-d shall not fall or falter, just like Mt. Tziyon, which does not totter or turn away from its place. Also, they shall be like Yerushalayim whose surrounding mountains protect her from enemy siege. So too, Hashem encompasses His nation who trust in Him.
This needs some clarification.
- Why the emphasis on Mt. Tziyon? Any inanimate object generally does not move, and as it says in Koheles: "The earth always stands," which applies even to level land, how much more so regarding a hill or mountain which would be much harder to move as can be plainly observed. So why the stress, "like Mt. Tziyon"?
- Why bring the example of Yerushalayim surrounded by mountains, when it adds nothing to help us understand that "G-d encompasses His nation forever"?
There is an explanation developed by the Rashab in his ma'amarim, that Tziyon is the inner, essential nature of Yerushalayim. This same relationship can be applied to the human soul -- Tziyon relates to the essential (inner) matters of the soul, "Tziyon" being similar in meaning to "siman" a sign or mark which indicates the essence, while Yerushalayim refers to the external aspect of the soul. For this reason the Jews are called "Tziyon" being that the true main existence of a Jew is the inner essence of his soul, and consequently the Jewish nation is called Tziyon.
When interpreting the verse in light of the Divine service of a Jew we say, that "mountain of Tziyon" means, the act of revealing the inner aspect of his soul (Tziyon) -- in order to be seen as clearly as a "mountain" which controls the surrounding area. The inner essence of the soul is revealed and influences and affects all the (inner) soul powers.
The words Shir Hama'alos precede this and give the connotation of ascent serving as a preparation: first rising and then revealing the essence. The verse says: "They who trust ... will not falter." By "trust" here we mean a constant and firm faith and trust that G-d will satisfy all his needs materially and spiritually. It means firm belief that G-d takes care of everything! Now in the real world of ups and downs, can a person really be so unfaltering in his faith that G-d will take care of everything? It is quite possible that just yesterday he did lack something.
The answer is that when we base this faith on the "mountain of Tziyon," the revealed aspect of the essence of his soul, then his faith can be perfect, eternally strong, without variation or vicissitudes. Just as the essence of the soul is beyond vacillations, so too is his faith.
Now to the second verse. Its simple meaning: The mountains surrounding Yerushalayim provide a good protection against the approaches of any enemy. If the surrounding area were flat, then the city would be easily assailable. The mountains, however, impede and stop the approach of an enemy. Now, a physical quality normally derives from a corresponding spiritual quality. What could be the higher spiritual quality of the surrounding mountains which does not even exist within the walls of Yerushalayim. Would it not appear then, that the outer mountains would be on a lower level of holiness?
Chassidus explains that the holiness of the city of Yerushalayim came about by virtue of it being chosen as the permanent place of the Bais Hamikdosh, whereas the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was temporary and mobile and did not have a set place. Now why were the walls of Yerushalayim made of stone? In fact, even the walls of the Bais Hamikdosh itself were made of stone, while the Mishkan was constructed of animal and vegetable products, wood, cloth, etc. The level of holiness of the Bais Hamikdosh of Yerushalayim however was higher and fixed while the holiness of the Mishkan was lower.
This point, that the Bais Hamikosh was made of inanimate stone and still was on the highest level of holiness is connected with the esoteric principle that whatever is spiritually higher, when it descends, it falls lower, e.g. the "holy sparks" in the inanimate came from a higher level than the sparks in animal or vegetable. The Bais Hamikdosh was built of material which had the "sparks" of a higher level of holiness, specifically it was made from the inanimate level of mineral, stones. If so, the walls of Yerushalayim being made of stone also enclosed a higher holiness level and therefore could protect the city. Now looking at the mountains -- inanimate matter standing high and revealed, which are seen from the distance, we can understand that they too incorporated the higher sparks and therefore included also the potential to protect not only the city but also the walls of the city.
In a person's Divine service there are also these four levels, inanimate, vegetable, animal and human, and the most external aspect, far from the essence, also has the potentiality to protect even the inner essence. To elucidate this point let us look at the daily Divine source of a Jew, his worship of Hashem. When a Jew opens his eyes in the morning the first thing he says is "Modeh Ani ..." -- "I offer thanks to You ... for You have mercifully restored my soul ...." This is said in a form of thanks without any special emotional or intellectual profundity. Simple thanks, spoken in a manner of personal subservience, like something which is still inanimate. Later, through the further stages of prayer, the person moves through all active aspects of personal worship, yet when he comes to the Shemoneh Esreh -- the high point of the prayer -- here again he stands, without movement as a servant before his master, with absolute devotion. Again he is insignificant, but here he has risen to the level of self-abnegation, and has again reached a form of the inanimate. Thus the worship of "Modeh Ani" on the most elementary level is connected to the worship of the "Amidah" on the highest level.
This daily phenomenon can be extrapolated to the general Divine service of a Jew, the essence, root and initial step of which, is accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven -- fear and self-abnegation -- as the Mishnah states: "Why do we say the paragraph of Shema before Vehaya ["Hear, O Israel" comes before "And it will be"] to first accept the yoke of Heaven and then the responsibility of mitzvos." This acceptance of the yoke is not only the fundamental first step, it is also the ultimate goal of all our efforts.
In the attribute of fear and awe of G-d (Heaven) we find several levels: lower level fear and higher fear (awe). The lower level of fear serves as a key or preparation for Torah and mitzvos. The higher level comes as a result of and after the perfection and completion of one's service and fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos. In one case we find in the Mishnah: "If there is no fear [of G-d], there is no wisdom," and the other adage tells us: "If there is no wisdom there is no fear [of G-d]." Being given the same appellation, these two types or levels of fear are certainly connected.
In this light we can explain the verse: "Yerushalayim is surrounded by mountains ...," coming after the verse: "... like the mountain of Tziyon." What if the level of Tziyon, the inner essence, is not strongly revealed, as a mountain, but only as Yerushalayim which, as we said above, is the external aspect of the soul? Nevertheless, he should still persist in the attribute of fear for it is the surrounding mountains. This is the first level of fear, the inanimate which is nevertheless still connected to the higher level of fear, awe. Here we interpret "Yerushalayim" to mean perfect fear and "surrounded by mountains" the initial level of lower fear. This fear even protects the level of Tziyon, the inner essence. Then when fear surrounds all the aspects of his Divine service like surrounding mountains, from the external till the essential, he can be assured and certain that it will be proper and strong, eternal and everlasting, not wavering or falling. "G-d encompasses His nation from now and forever."
We can also apply this to the area of Torah study. In addition to the fact that fear and awe of G-d must be part of the preparation for Torah study, one must know that G-d is the giver of the Torah. Even at the time when the mind is deeply engrossed in the intellectual pursuit of analyzing and understanding Torah concepts, one must then too be filled with the fear of Heaven and be in a state of insignificance. One could say, "I believe that G-d's Torah is correct," is it still necessary to understand it? This is precisely what the mitzvah of Torah study is all about: to study the Torah of G-d and bring it into the understanding of man. Here is where we must keep in mind the fear of Heaven because this path of bringing Torah from its G-dly intellect to human understanding is a long and tedious way -- one might get sidetracked and misinterpret the meaning of Torah or the application of a halachah. But, when the fear of G-d is with him, he will reach the correct verdict as truly ordained by Torah.
The Rashab, in his many writings, urged a synthesis of these two aspects -- the fear and awe of prayer with the fear of Heaven during Torah study. The essence of prayer is: "I always place G-d before me" but do not be complacent with using this only as a preparation for study. Instead it should permeate and inspire the person also during study. A unity of prayer and study on the higher level, expressing both meanings of "Yerushalayim is surrounded by mountains" will bring the result of "not to falter."
May G-d grant that from this discussion we should merit to fulfill everything in practice, to see Yerushalayim built up and the surrounding mountains in their perfection and G-d encompassing the Jewish nation forever, including also the fulfillment of the promise that G-d will be an eternal light and the honor of G-d will be revealed and together all flesh will see the complete and true redemption. "They will rise up and sing, those who dwell in the dust," and including also the celebrant of this birthday, quickly and in our days, Amen.