1. [The Baal Shem Tov initiated the custom of eating a meal immediately before sunset on Acharon Shel Pesach. He called this meal Moshiach’s Seudah (The Feast of Moshiach) and explained that through participating in this meal we are able to appreciate a glimmer of the Messianic age.]
The full significance of Acharon Shel Pesach (the last day of Pesach) was only revealed recently, in our generation. Until then, the custom of celebrating Moshiach’s Seudah was unknown to the general public. It is appropriate to connect the two together since Acharon Shel Pesach marks the conclusion and, according to the principle “always proceed higher in holy matters,” the peak of the Pesach festival.
The prominence of Acharon Shel Pesach can be understood through analysis of the Torah’s reference to the seventh day of Pesach. (Trans. note: According to the Rabbinic injunction that Jews in the Diaspora celebrate each festival for two days. Acharon Shel Pesach is a continuation of the seventh day of Pesach.) We are told that it is “a day of assembly unto G-d” and therefore “do not do any work.” other holidays are described as “a day of assembly for you.” The Talmud explains that since we have two conflicting verses (one, “unto G-d” and the other “for you”) it is proper to divide the holiday evenly, half to G-d, and half for ourselves. Also, in general though work is prohibited on Yom Tov, certain categories of work, e.g. the preparation of food is permitted. These laws apply on the seventh day of Pesach as well. However, since the Torah specifically refers to the seventh day of Pesach as “a day of assembly unto G-d” and states “Do not do any work,” it is obvious that the spiritual aspects of the holiday are stressed more emphatically then, than on other festivals.
Acharon Shel Pesach possesses the same qualities. In Likutei Torah, the Alter Rebbe explains that the second day of a holiday is an extension of the first, instituted because the G-dly light that shines is too powerful to be contianed in only one day. In fact, the second day is on a higher level than the first as can be seen from the principle “always proceed in holy matters.”
2. Acharon Shel Pesach concludes the Pesach holiday, the festival of freedom. An intrinsic connection exists between freedom and happiness. A slave can never experience real joy.
However, there exist two levels of happiness: The first is achieved by attaining freedom from slavery. The second has no connection with slavery. It is the true happiness that comes from total freedom. Each level has an advantage. In the first, the recollection of slavery’s bitterness makes you appreciate freedom more. To illustrate this concept, Chassidus often brings the example of the joy felt by the king’s son who has been released from prison and can once again see his father. Nevertheless, in the second stage your simcha is complete. In the first, the taste of slavery remains. As long as its memory persists you can never experience true freedom and true joy.
These two categories define the difference between the seventh and the final day of Pesach. The seventh day is the continuation and culmination of the six preceding days. It concludes an entire week of Pesach. On the contrary, the fact that it is called “Acharon Shel Pesach” (the last day of Pesach) instead of the eighth day shows that it is placed in a different category. The seventh day continues and completes the process of Exodus from Egypt. The final day celebrates a level of freedom not at all connected with Egypt and slavery.
Therefore, Moshiach’s Seudah is celebrated on the final day. In Moshiach’s Seudah, we taste the revelations of Messianic times.
We sense a glimmer of how it will feel when the entire concept of Golus will be totally wiped away. Acharon Shel Pesach possesses this same quality, representing the state of total freedom with no connection to slavery.
3. The celebration of every holiday is not intended to be a one time event, but rather to teach lessons which will effect the totality of our service to G-d. Likewise, we should not regard the concept mentioned above as exclusive to Acharon Shel Pesach but practically applicable in our daily observance of Torah and Mitzvos.
Torah and Mitzvos bring about true freedom, as the Mishnah says “The only free man is he who is involved in the study of Torah.”
What is the rationale behind that statement? How does Torah make us free? The answer to that question relates to the essential nature of Torah. Torah is G-d’s wisdom and will. It existed before the world and even now, after the world’s creation, it transcends worldly limitations. Likewise, a student of Torah achieves a state of oneness with his subject matter and rises above the world’s finite boundaries.
The same applies to Mitzvos. The fundamental principle behind Mitzvos is “You are my servants and not servants to servants.” By following G-d’s commands, a Jew expresses his obedience to G-d’s will and not to the dictates of the world. Furthermore, the Talmud states: “The servant of a King is like the King.” He becomes the controller of his environment. All the restrictions placed upon him including those of “the laws of his country” which Torah says must be accepted as “your law” do not apply if they run contrary to Torah.
The two levels of freedom described above apply in this case. On the first level, he feels the pressure of the slavery of the world, and fights against it. on the second level, he does not at all feel the presence of the world.
The ultimate goal of Torah is to bring about full freedom. In the first stages of service, we have to work on breaking our nature and our ties to the worldly desires. However, the necessity for such service itself shows that we have not attained a full level of Torah experience. Only when there is no trace of connection to material desires left can our Torah service be complete.
On a practical basis, each one of us can attain (at least to some degree) the second level described above. It has been mentioned on a number of occasions while a Jew is studying Torah, he must stand above and disregard all worldly matters. Just as on Shabbos, he forgets his material concerns and would not pick up a telephone, etc., similarly when learning, his studies dominate his total attention; if the telephone rings he does not answer it, his mind is focused on Torah alone.
4. In previous generations, Acharon Shel Pesach was also connected with the coming of Moshiach. This is obvious from the Haftorah which elaborates on various details of the Messianic age. However, by instituting Moshiach’s Seudah, the Baal Shem Tov added a new dimension. Moshiach is appreciated not only in speech and in Torah, but also connected with physical activity, assimulated into our system, becoming part of our flesh and blood.
The question may arise: What is the difference between eating Matzoh now in Moshiach’s Seudah and eating it during the previous days of Pesach. We are told that when we eat Matzoh (not necessarily during Moshiach’s Seudah) we Must realize that “we are eating G-dliness.”
The difference between the two can be compared to the two different stages of the Messianic era (see footnote F). In the first stage, traces of Golus will remain. Only in the second stage will all remnants of any influences contrary to Torah disappear. Moshiach’s Seudah gives us a taste of such a perspective, and furthermore, endows us with the potential to perpetuate that state throughout the entire year. This meal gives us the potential to rise above Golus even now, to overcome all the disturbing influences thaty may effect our Torah observance.
Practically speaking; Acharon Shel Pesach reminds us that during Torah study it is required — and within the capacity — of every Jew to completely disassociate himself from the world around him. Even though before learning we may have had other involvements, while learning, only the Torah we are studying should fill our minds. Why is this so? As mentioned above, Torah existed before the world. The Rambam states “This is the Torah, it will not be changed.” Just as before creation Torah was not effected by worldly influences, the same still applies even after creation. Esoterically; in the spiritual order, the source of Torah precedes that of the world, hence Torah is above worldly limitations. “Study leads to deed,” it is therefore understood that if our Torah study is uneffected by worldly influences, our deeds will be on a similar level. Acharon Shel Pesach teaches us to have a Shabbos mentality throughout the year. Likewise, it prepares us for the day which will be “Shabbos and rest forever” with the coming of Moshiach.
May the influence of Moshiach’s Seudah be reflected in our daily service of Torah and Mitzvos. May that service be filled with joy and pleasure until it reaches an unbounded simcha.
5. Moshiach’s Seudah is the third meal eaten on Acharon Shel Pesach. It parallels Seudah Shlishis, the third meal eaten on Shabbos. Shabbos contains three different levels: 1) rest directly after work as it says in Koheles, “a worker enjoys a sweet sleep.” His rest washes away all traces of fatigue and effort. This is the level of the Friday night meal. 2) The rest that stems from the knowledge that there is no need to work as the Talmud says “Sleep on Shabbos is a pleasure.” This is the level of the Shabbos day meal. 3) The “day which is all Shabbos and rest.” This is the level of Seudah Shlishis, the highest level of Shabbos.
Kabbalah explains that Seudah Shlishis reflects the state of the world in Messianic times. This statement helps explain a Chassidic custom. The previous Rebbeim were careful to eat Seudah Shlishis, but they did not eat a full meal as in the case of the previous two. Rather, they would eat something light, fruit or cake (Some Chassidim were careful not to eat at all).
This behavior relates closely to Acharon Shel Pesach. As explained above, there also, the emphasis is placed on the holiday’s spiritual aspects, it is “an assembly unto G-d.” However, three meals, including Moshiach’s Seudah are eaten!
What’s the motivating principle operating in both cases? An argument exists between the two Jewish sages, the Rambam and the Ramban about the nature of the life in Messianic times. The Rambam holds that souls will live without bodies. The Ramban maintains that souls will be enclothed, as they are now, in bodies. As a proof he cites the Talmudic statement: “In Messianic times, there will be no eating and drinking.” If souls will exist without bodies, what is the necessity for the Talmud to tell us they won’t eat or drink? That fact would be understood without any explanation. Therefore, his opinion, and also that of Kabbalah and Chassidus is that also bodies will exist then.
However, the Ramban’s opinion arouses two basic questions: 1) The soul’s powers are more revealed when they are not contained within a body. Why then, in Messianic times, when the world will reach its ultimate state of completion, will they be subject to those restraints? 2) Why will the body possess a digestive system? Since man in his state of ultimate perfection will not eat, why will he need one?
Chassidus answers these questions explaining that the body possesses a spark of G-dliness higher than that of the soul. This level is not revealed now, but will be, in Messianic times. However, even then the body will not be able to reveal it by itself, rather it will need the soul as an intermediary. In that way, the body will nourish the soul even then.
From the above, we see that even the highest revelations of Messianic times will be connected with physicality. This parallels the concept that G-d wants “a dwelling place (i.e. a place to reveal His essence) in the lower worlds.” Similarly, through eating at the time of Seudah Shlishis and Moshiach’s Seudah we connect them with the physical world. In this manner, we create “a dwelling place” for G-d on the material plane.
This insight contributes to the lessons mentioned above. Before, we stressed the necessity for total dedication to Torah with complete disregard for the material world. It is possible to think that Torah asks us to sever all ties with physicality. Moshiach’s Seudah teaches us that even on the physical plane we must creat an awareness of G-d. The Alter Rebbe explained a similar concept speaking in reference to prayer. “Your heart must be focused above and your eyes below.” Even during the sublime spiritual experience of Tefillah it is necessary to maintain a connection and a point of relation to the physical world.
The Talmud states: “there is no happiness without wine.” Therefore, Moshiach’s Seudah involves drinking wine which produces physical joy. This happiness enables the body to experience full spiritual freedom and an awareness of Moshiach, even in a material world and while still in Golus.
In the future redemption not one Jew will be left in Golus. Therefore, as a preparation, it is necessary to encourage all Jews to participate in Moshiach’s Seudah and in that way hasten his coming. May we merit it speedily in our day’s.
6. When a Jew fulfills the injunction “place G-d constantly before you” he has the ability to sense G-d’s presence at all times and in all places. Furthermore, since the Jews are “believers, descendents of believers” this service cannot be considered difficult. This inner potential is reinforced by history, which shows that those Jews who departed from a Torah life-style were, sooner or later, swallowed up by their environment. No trace of their Yiddishkeit remained. Furthermore, when they turned their backs on Torah, they forfeited not only their place in the Jewish community but also (though not always immediately) their respect and position in secular society. The Gentiles never forgot that they were Jews and therefore could not respect him. How could they? They knew that each Jew’s ancestors sacrificed their lives for Yiddishkeit. Based on knowledge, how would they have to regard someone who has sacrificed all that, in an attempt to gain more honor and position in the secular world and given vent to his animal desires. Even a Gentile will not respect one who makes such a choice. On the other hand, he will feel true respect for a Jew who dedicates his life to Torah.
Nevertheless, in order to make our choice easier, G-d sometimes shows us the example of a large community of Jews who have returned to Yiddishkeit and have accepted it fully, without any traces of a pick and choose attitude.
In view of this, it is fitting to congratulate the group which has come here from France. That country was far removed from Torah observance. Yet in recent years, hundreds of men, women, and children in France have returned to a Torah life-style. The previous Rebbeim always considered France as the epitome of counter-Torah forces. Yet now it has produced youth who study Torah (revealed and esoteric), perform Mitzvos and even dedicate themselves to self-development through prayer.
Their activities will help other Jews in their Torah service, since every Mitzvah performed by a Jew affects the entire Jewish people. The Messianic redemption will not leave one Jew in Golus. After each Jew experiences his individual redemption, together as a people we will experience the full redmeption with the coming of Moshiach.
7. G-d operates in two ways. Sometimes, He works through grace and mercy to bring Jews closer to Torah and Mitzvos. Other times He works through the opposite attributes and leads Jews to Torah and Mitzvos through harsh and severe experiences.
Torah study is most successful away from home, as our sages commented “Seek exile in a place of Torah.” At home, a person can never fully divorce himself from his habitual way of life. However, when he “goes into exile” and moves away from home, into a Torah environment, his Torah study and practice can flourish and grow. There his habitual pattern is broken and he is open for a full commitment to Torah.
This is the proper approach to study Torah. Everyone should follow this pattern. However, there are times when G-d sees that people have not willingly responded to the opportunity He provided, and forces them into such a decision in order to bring them to full observance of Torah and Mitzvos.
These remarks are directed to the students from Persia. There, Jewish observance is not on a high level. A number of attempts were made to develop Yiddishkeit there. However, they did not meet with full success. Since G-d wanted these children to fulfill Torah and Mitzvos fully, He sent them “into exile” in a Torah environment. Whether they realize it or not, “G-d controlled their footsteps” and directed them here.
Many questions have been asked about the dramatic turnabout in Persia. How could such a radical change happen so fast? People forgot that thousands of years ago similar events happened on Purim. At that time also, the entire political situation was reversed in a brief time.
The Megillah devotes many verses to the description of Achashverosh’s wealth, the feasts he made, his wife, etc. Since the purpose of the Megillah was to describe the Purim miracle alone, why was it necessary to spend so much time on background information? The Megillah’s intent, however, is to teach us that everything in Achashverosh’s 127 provinces, all of his riches, etc., existed for only one purpose, to help bring about the Purim miracle and the strengthening of Yiddishkeit that accompanied it.
Similarly today, if we see a revolution in the world, it is a sign that we must bring about a revolution in ourselves and strengthen our commitment to Torah and Mitzvos.
Trans. note: At this point the Rebbe Shlita congratulated all those who had worked with the Persians in the past and gave them encouragement for their work in the future.
8. It is proper at this time to mention Mivtzah Chinuch and stress the importance of working to enroll children in Torah camps. Camp is a 24 hour experience. It is able to educate a child and motivate him to greater Torah commitment and observance. Many times, a summer in a camp has influenced a non-religious child to bring his entire family closer to Yiddishkeit.
Likewise, it is proper to mention the other Mivtzoyim: Mivtzah Ahavas Yisroel, Mivtzah Torah, Mivtzah Tefillin, Mivtzah Mezzuzah, Mivtzah Bayis Maley Seforim, Mivtzah Tzedakah, and also the three Mivtzoyim especially related to women (intrinsically connected to Pesach as our sages say: “Through the merit of righteous women we were redeemded from Egypt.”) Mivtzah Neiros Shabbos Kodesh, Mivtzah Kashrus, and Mivtzah Taharas HaMishpocha.
- (Back to text) According to this principle we can explain why, on the seventh (and final) day of Pesach (as opposed to all other festivals) no “Shehechiyanu” is said in Kiddush. We recite Shehechiyanu only when we feel “revealed Simcha.” Since, the seventh day of Pesach is “unto G-d” and stresses the holiday’s spiritual aspects, the Simcha is not felt in a physical way and therefore Shehechiyanu is not said.
- (Back to text) Israel, where only one day is celebrated, is a holy land and therefore has the capacity to combine both aspects in one day.
- (Back to text) This concept helps explain certain Rabbinic opinions that maintain the seventh day of Pesach should be called “the season of our happiness” and not the season of our freedom.
- (Back to text) The two levels can be compared to the concept of rest. Chassidic thought elaborates on this idea at great length, explaining that here also two levels exist: 1) Rest which comes directly after work, there you still feel the fatigue from your effort, 2) The Rest, for example, of the Shabbos day — which is not at all connected with work.
- (Back to text) Because of this advantage, even in Messianic times (where the freedom and joy will be of the second category) we will recall the Exodus from Egypt (which epitomizes the first). Because of the full and complete nature of redemption, we would have no reason to recall Egypt. However, since that service brings out an important quality, the radical transition from the depths of slavery to freedom, G-d commanded us to remember it even in Messianic times.
- (Back to text) The principle “in holy matters always proceed higher” applies in both cases. The seventh of Pesach represents a higher level than the days preceding it. A still higher rung is reached on the final day.
- (Back to text) The Messianic age will be composed of two periods. Our sages describe the first stage with the statement “There will be no difference between now and Messianic times except the end of the rule of the nations.” Then, we will still remember the days of Exile. However, the second phase, beginning with Techias HaMassim (the resurrection of the dead) will bring about a new order of creation. No trace of exile will remain.
- (Back to text) These comments relate to the statement of the Previous Rebbe “Our bodies were sent in Golus but not our souls.” Even though Torah and Mitzvos are carried out by the body, they are fulfilled through the intermediary of the soul.
- (Back to text) The above explains a difficult Biblical passage. Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were the princes of the Jewish people at the time of the Babylonian exile. When approached by Nevuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, they told him that they would obey all his orders, except those that contradicted Torah and Mitzvos. In such a case, they would regard him “as a dog.” Why did they use such harsh phraseology (particularly to a king, whom Torah law obligates you to respect)? Adog’s function is to protect sheep (metaphor for the Jewish people). Through that answer they explained to Nevuchadnezzar that his role in the world was secondary. He existed and received power only for the sake of the Jewish people and their Torah observance.
- (Back to text) In Chassidus these two levels are: the service of “Iscafia” (breaking your animal nature) and “Ishopcha” (transformation of your animal nature to G-dliness). In Iscafia, you have worldly desires, but control yourself and master them. In Ishopcha, you transform your material nature and that of your environment to the point where it is no longer an obstacle to Torah.
- (Back to text) The example of Shabbos also shows us that we have the power to carry out such a service.
- (Back to text) An intrinsic relationship exists between the Baal Shem Tov, the initiator of Moshiach’s Seudah and the Seudah itself — as stated above, the Seudah aims at bringing us to a state of awareness above the limitations of nature. Such a state was openly revealed by the Baal Shem Tov. Even now, a wondrous or miraculous story is referred to as a “Baal Shemska Ma’aseh.”
- (Back to text) In Shabbos, there are also two levels that correspond to the two levels mentioned before. One level of Shabbos is a continuation of the six preceding days. The second level of Shabbos transcends time completely (therefore, Sunday, the following day is called the first day. It is the first day, after an experience above time).
In Kabbalistic terms, the first level refers to the Sefirah of Malchus (which includes seven Sefiros like the Shabbos that includes all seven days of the week. The second level refers to the Sefirah of Binah, called the “world of freedom,” a level totally above the dimension of this world.
- (Back to text) Although Chassidus thought explains that the simcha experienced on the festivals is of a limited nature and only the simcha of Purim is unlimited. However, according to the principle “Connect one redemption (Purim) to another (Pesach)” we can experience the simcha of Purim on Pesach as well.
- (Back to text) Rav Nechemiah of Dubrovner would counsel Chssidim to make Kiddush and eat cake, then daven Minchah, and then eat the midday meal.
- (Back to text) The Talmud derives the custom of serving three meals on Shabbos from the repitition of the word “Hayom” (today) three times in the Torah portion dealing with the “manna.” The last time the phrase reads “today you will not find it.” Therefore, Seudah Shlishis is considered a meal but little food is eaten. Some Chassidim don’t eat at all, but merely study Torah.
- (Back to text) Except in singular cases, where individuals did Teshuvah, then the opposite was true, they broke off all ties with previous life-styles and blended totally into the Jewish community.
- (Back to text) Curiously, many Jews who themselves reject Torah and Mitzvos, respect their grandparents’s devotion, and feel proud that “my Zaideh was a Talmud Chachom.”
- (Back to text) This effect is enhanced when many join in performance of the Mitzvah.
- (Back to text) Simarlly, on a broader scale, the Talmud teaches that each Jew must believe “the whole world was created for me,” i.e. that everything in creation is intended to add to my Torah service.