We are assured by covenant that any wide-ranging effort and labor [in outreach] pursued wisely and with friendship is never fruitless.
This is good to remember all the time. It's very, very profound and comforting. What the Rebbe Rayatz is saying is that a person should know that when he or she does anything, provided that it is done (a) with wisdom, not just haphazardly, but with thought and with kavanah (proper intention), and (b) with friendliness, and a feeling of ahavas Yisrael, then you have a guarantee -- not just a possibility or a probability, but a covenant -- that you will meet with success.
Let's say you are trying to work with something, but it looks very difficult; it looks like it's not going to happen very easily. But you try and you see that it's just not going; you don't see any response, you don't see tremendous success and you can get discouraged. Very often people get discouraged just when they are about to succeed. But what we think of as success is not always true success. In other words, especially in American culture, success is often interpreted in terms of quantity. But as far as Torah, as far as spirituality is concerned, large numbers may not be successful at all. What you see and what HaShem sees are two different stories.
The Rebbe once told a story about someone who had distanced himself from Yiddishkeit, and decided to return when he saw a Yeshivah student with a beard and peyos. Yeshivah students go on shlichus in the summer to cities that are very far from Yiddishkeit. As the Rebbe's emissaries, they try very hard to inspire people to come back to Yiddishkeit. And we know sometimes it's very easy -- the people are waiting for you, they light up and they respond and it's a pleasure -- and sometimes you try but your words fall on deaf ears. You feel like no one is listening and no one is interested. You've heard it before: "I'm wasting my time; I'm running around and nothing is happening." It could be that the person whose door you knocked on may not be so interested, at least at this point -- but very often people notice you, through a window, from across the street, and so on. Someone is looking out their window and sees a bachur (unmarried Yeshivah student) with a beard and tzitzis. You don't even know that that person is looking at you, but what that person sees, just that sight, makes him remember his father or his grandfather or his greatgrandfather, or his early childhood... and just that moment of reminiscing can cause him to think of teshuvah. In other words, not always what you do directly, but often what happens indirectly because of somebody that noticed you or overheard you, can be the true reason that you went there.
The success that we can point to or talk about is not always what HaShem has in mind. What we must know is that if we made a true effort and we think about what we are doing, and do it with friendliness, then our efforts will not be in vain. It's like planting a seed. You plant a seed in the ground and then you think, "What did I do? I don't even see the seed anymore. Nothing is happening." Months go by and you don't see anything. And then you can go to the other end of the world and that seed that you put in a long time ago will take root.
We see the same thing with people -- a word somebody said or some interaction can take a long time to germinate and to bear fruit. But knowing that we have a guarantee gives us a certain encouragement not to get depressed or discouraged before we even begin.
The Rebbe my father told someone at yechidus: ever since G-d told our father Avraham, "Go from your land etc.," and it is then written, "Avram kept travelling southward," we have the beginning of the mystery of beirurim. By decree of Divine Providence a man goes about his travels to the place where the "sparks" that he must refine await their redemption.
Tzaddikim, who have vision, see where their beirurim await them and go there deliberately. As for ordinary folk, the Cause of all causes, the Prime Mover, brings about various reasons and circumstances that bring these people to that place where lies their obligation to perform the avodah of beirurim.
Beirurim in Chabad terminology may be understood as follows: This world is filled with many, many physical things. Now, because we are Jews, we have within us a G-dly soul, and each of us was sent down to this earth on a specific and unique mission, a shlichus, unduplicated by any other person. No one can do your shlichus but you, because your neshamah is unique. No one else in the world has your neshamah with its particular composition. Now in the course of your life, it is important for your particular neshamah to come in contact with specific physical things. Why? Because just as you have a neshamah, those physical things also have a spark of G-dliness, which is their neshamah. This is what Chassidus reveals to us. So when HaShem created the world, he created it yesh mei-ayin, something from nothing, physicality from spirituality. Nevertheless, the spirituality, which is like the soul of the object, is still hidden within it. Every fruit, every garment, every object has a spiritual life force. If it didn't, it wouldn't exist. What keeps any physical thing in existence, is a spark of G-dliness. This is its soul. Now when you come in contact with a physical object, and you use it in a way that HaShem wants, then you elevate it from being neutral to having a connection with holiness. And that is called avodas habeirurim -- the task of refining and elevating material things.
An example: Let's say a person is looking for a job. And he goes to seven different places for interviews. At the end he gets one of the seven jobs. But in the course of the interviews he's gone through many offices, met with many people, filled out many forms. It could be that while waiting in some of the offices that person had some time on his hands so he recited the Tehillim of the day. That is an elevation for the chair he was sitting on. In another office you were thirsty, so you went to get a drink of water. You went to the water fountain and you made a blessing before drinking the water. It could be that a lot of people drink from that fountain every day, but very few of them make berachos. Each time a berachah is made over the water in that fountain, the fountain, the water, the earth, the tiles that you walk over on your way to the fountain are all elevated. There are so many opportunities during the day to elevate the material world. You kissed a mezuzah on your way out, you met someone and they asked you how you felt and you said, Baruch HaShem. How many times did that stone in the sidewalk have a person standing on it that said Baruch HaShem?
One day you are driving to some place and you make a mistake, so you end up in a place that you never intended to go to. Did you waste a half an hour because you turned off at the wrong exit? Not necessarily. True, perhaps you did not have a tape of a shiur in your car at that time; nor did you stop to daven or do a mitzvah. However, there are certain mitzvos that are called constant mitzvos. For example, ahavas HaShem, love of G-d. It's not something reserved only for a certain time of the day, such as during davening; rather, it's a constant part of my being that I love HaShem. Similarly with fear of G-d, or believing in the Oneness of G-d. There are six mitzvos like that. They are part of you. When you are driving along that road, as you are driving you are getting frustrated because you are missing your appointment and you begin to wonder why you are there. Meanwhile, however, this road has a person who believes in the unity of HaShem driving on it. That is an elevation for the road.
In other words, it is very difficult for us, being so physical, to appreciate that wherever our bodies are at this moment, whether it's on an airplane, on a bus, in a taxi, or waiting by a bus stop, there is an opportunity to refine and elevate that particular place. This is why the Rebbe Rayatz insisted that a person know some Tehillim or some verses from Torah or from Tanya, so that he or she can repeat them wherever they are. This automatically elevates the place where the person is.
When Avraham Avinu left his birthplace and went to the Land of Israel at HaShem's command this began the mystical process of purifying the physical world. And through the workings of Divine Providence a person is presented with those sparks of holiness which are his or hers to elevate. Sometimes he must go to the places where those sparks are awaiting their redemption. At other times the sparks come to the person. This last point applies primarily to tzaddikim.
Whatever a Jew hears he should take a lesson from in his service to G-d. We all have different experiences. We don't all read the same books, or hear the same radio programs at the same time. Now, according to this concept of the Baal Shem Tov, why did YOU turn on the news at 4 o'clock and listen to this item, but she turned it on at 7 and heard that news item? Because if you would meditate upon everything you heard you could learn something from that in avodas HaShem.
In material matters, one should look at someone whose situation is lower than one's own, and thank HaShem for His kindness. In spiritual matters, one should look at someone who is above his own level, and plead with HaShem to give him the proper understanding in order to learn from that person, and the power and strength to rise higher.
The things we absorb in childhood unfortunately continue with us, unless we make efforts to change them. One thing that is universal among children, is that they compare themselves to other children, and are always jealous of what others have that they don't. You're always looking at what somebody else has that you want. And unfortunately, only the things change, not the person. First it's a doll, then it's a dress, then it's a husband, then it's a baby carriage, then it's a vacation. The only difference between men and women is the type of toy.
Our world is divided into two realms -- physical and spiritual. HaYom Yom tells us that in each of these worlds we have to look in different directions. As far as gashmiyus, the material world, is concerned, we have to look down. Not, "Who has more dresses than us, or who has the nicer dress," but, "Who has less than us?" We can train ourselves to look at things in this way. Instead of what I don't have, look at all the people who don't even have what I have. Baruch HaShem that I got to where I am -- and that simple change of direction makes all the difference in one's life and peace of mind.
In spiritual things, the natural tendency of a person is to look down at other people and think of himself as superior. That's the nature of people. We're built to be arrogant. So Chassidus comes along and says, "You may be right; you may be kind, but there are many people better than you. And instead of going around in life patting yourself on the back, wonderful, take a look up, at all the people who have achieved more than you. There are people who have worked on themselves harder than you, and who have achieved more than you in spiritual matters. The idea of ahavas Yisrael is to see how another Jew is superior to you, not the opposite. When you see a person, HaShem showed you that person because there is something you can learn from them. Who in this world can be a role model? It could be this person isn't smarter than me, but look how much tolerance she has for other people, or patience for others. Everybody has some superior quality, and if you spend your life that way, looking for the way in which another person is superior to you, you will progress spiritually.
Divine Providence leads everyone to his place of residence for the purpose of strengthening Yiddishkeit and disseminating Torah. When you plow and you sow, things grow.
It is a fundamental teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that wherever you go, you are in fact led -- by Divine Providence. You must go there because that is the place where you will be able to refine and elevate sparks of holiness.
However, do not think that this means that all you have to do is go somewhere and wait for the masses to come to you to hear your words of wisdom. Shlichus -- to be an emissary of the Rebbe, and ultimately an emissary of Divine Providence -- means finding and inventing acceptable ways of spreading Torah and Yiddishkeit. You don't wait at home until someone knocks on your door and says, "Please teach me Torah!" No, you have to plow a little bit, you have to plant seeds, and then comes the harvest.
The true way is to know one's character, truly recognizing one's own deficiencies and one's good qualities. And when one knows his deficiencies, he should correct them with actual avodah, and not satisfy himself merely with bemoaning them.
There's no chochmah in fooling yourself. The Rebbe Maharash (the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe) used to say, "You cannot fool HaShem; ultimately, you cannot fool others either. The only one you can fool is yourself. And to fool a fool is no great achievement." But there are two sides to this: Don't think of yourself as superior to others, but don't think of yourself as inferior either. It is very important to know your flaws as well as your strengths.
When you finally identify your flaws and faults, you have to know that it's not going to help to sit and get depressed, or cry and say, "Oy vey is me!" The reason HaShem gave you understanding about your shortcomings is so that you can do something; because you have the power to do so. HaShem never demands anything which is beyond our strength. And one act is worth more than a thousand groans. You know, it's not enough to say, "Oy! I'm such a lazy person." To just say that "I know that it's my own fault..." is only the first step. Then you've got to do something about it.
In psychology there is a concept called "life script." Now psychology is not necessarily true. But sometimes they hit upon a way of expressing an idea in Chassidus. This is one of them. The concept of a "life script" is that every person is patterned to live a certain way, depending on certain factors that are beyond their control. One of these important factors is their parents. Everyone inherits certain genes from their parents, and certain other factors which also have a major effect on their life. There is the family constellation: if you're the oldest child, or the middle child, if there were 15 children in your family, if you're an only child -- all of these things are very, very important factors in determining how your life is going to go. Another important factor is the financial status of your family -- wealthy or poor -- which can also have an effect on the way your life will go. So there is a concept that people are geared to go a certain way because of certain given factors in life. However, psychologists also point out that you cannot deny the reality that there are many people who logically should have grown up in a certain way, but surprisingly turn out completely different from what would have been expected. People that have had every chance to be successful, ended up dismal failures in life. And people who came from the lowest economic levels, or the socially disadvantaged, end up being extremely successful and influential, defying the prophecy that labeled them as "goners." This is called "rewriting your life script." You are the author of the play, not nature, not circumstances. For one person it might be very easy to travel a certain path and for another person, very, very difficult. However, once you get it into your head that you are the author of the book and not your parents, and not your brothers and not your second grade teacher who made you crazy -- though all of these things are factors that you have to consider, they cannot change your life, and you cannot blame your life on other people -- then you take responsibility for who you are.
When you sit down with yourself and decide that you can rewrite your life script and do things that don't make sense according to the laws of family mess-ups, then you can call yourself a chassid.
A comforting thought to remember, if you are one of those unlucky people who have trouble and difficulties, is that "according to the pain is the reward." So if somebody else had everything else going for them, the right parents, the right school, the right friends, the right husband, everything was right, so it was easy for them. Well, if they achieve more in life, it doesn't mean that they get more points. Because HaShem knows how to discriminate between effort and fortunate circumstances. If somebody has a very difficult situation, and they achieve much less as far as the eye can see, it doesn't mean that it counts for less. The important thing in Yiddishkeit is -- in which direction am I going, not how fast am I getting there!
A fundamental principle of Chabad philosophy is that the mind, which by its innate nature rules over the heart, must subordinate the heart to G-d's service by utilizing the intellectualization, comprehension and profound contemplation of the greatness of the Creator of the universe.
The principle stated above is not simply a requirement that a person act as a rational human being. It far transcends that, as we can understand by way of contrast with the secular world. According to the secular way of thinking, desire and intellect are the two fundamental catalysts for action. You either do what you feel like doing, as your emotions dictate, or you follow your reasoning and intellect. The Jewish way of thinking is that you must do what you know is right.
Chassidus makes the basic assumption that a Jew knows intrinsically and gravitates towards what's right. HaShem will guide a normal person who is honest and sincere, but lacking knowledge, in the way that he should go.
When Mashiach comes, we will see the superiority of hodaah (acknowledgment, belief) and temimus (earnestness, sincerity) -- in everyone's pure belief in G-d and in His Torah and mitzvos. Talmud -- namely, human comprehension, even on its highest level -- is limited. But hodaah -- belief -- is an unlimited feeling. Mashiach will explain the superiority of simplicity -- earnest divine service that springs from the heart
There is a law in the Shulchan Aruch that all week long people have to pay damages if they cause injury or damage to a person or property. However, on Friday afternoon it's a known fact that everybody is rushing, so if somebody pushes into you unintentionally, you can't blame them, because it's erev Shabbos. That's what happens on erev Shabbos: everybody's hyper, everybody's rushing, everybody's nervous. That little detail makes a difference in the entire ruling.
The period before Mashiach is very similar. Normal rules do not always apply because we're so close to the era of Mashiach. This is why the logical sequence of things isn't always valid. Sometimes we have to start from the top instead of from the bottom.
In today's HaYom Yom, the Rebbe says the main thing used to be to try and serve HaShem with seichel, with one's intellect. In other words, to try to reach as high an understanding of Yiddishkeit as you can, then serve HaShem with your knowledge.
However, our times are known as ikvesa diMeshicha, which means "the heels of Mashiach." Try to picture the entire span of time, since the creation of the world, as a body. The first generation, Adam, is compared to the top of the head, and the next generation a little lower, like the nose, then the neck, then the heart, then the abdomen, then the top of the legs, until the time of Mashiach. Almost 6,000 years after creation we've descended down the entire body from head to foot. The generation which will greet Mashiach, the generation which is right before Mashiach, is called the heels of Mashiach -- and there's nothing lower than the heels of the body.
The difference between the "heel" and the other parts of the body is that other organs of the body have some will of their own -- the brain has a mind of its own, the heart has emotions. According to Chassidus, the kidneys also have some relationship to the process of thought (even though scientists may not know it, but they will find out some day that the kidneys have their own place in the thought processes). But the heel? That is one part of the body that we look at as kind of passive. The heel cannot make major decisions. The heel simply follows the will of the person. If the brain decides that it wants to go someplace, then the heel has no choice but to go where the brain wants. So in Chassidus the heel symbolizes the idea of kabbalas ol, receiving the yoke -- not making one's decisions as the result of a rational process, but following submissively.
Chassidus explains that the era of the "heels of Mashiach" therefore means that just like the heel receives its directions and mission in life without too much intellectual enquiry, we too, should not be guided overly much by our intellect and reason, by rationality, but by pure, simple faith in HaShem. Even a person who has reached a deep understanding of G-dliness, of Torah and mitzvos, should nevertheless not be motivated chiefly by his understanding, but by his faith, regardless of how high his or her IQ is, and no matter how much knowledge he or she has. Whether you understand it, or whether you do not yet understand it, you do it with kabbalas ol.
That's a thought from HaYom Yom, and although it sounds simple, it's not so easy to live like that. These things from HaYom Yom are easy to say and hard to do.
The theme of Pesach Sheni is that it is never too late. It is always possible to put things right. Even if one was tameh (ritually impure), or one was far away, and even in a case of "lachem," when this (impurity etc.) was deliberate -- nonetheless he can correct it.
To most people Pesach Sheni seems to be no longer relevant. It is a very minor historical festival on which you're allowed to work. It is not celebrated by eating a special seudah; the only visible difference between it and a regular day is that we do not say tachanun. And we eat some matzah.
All of this is the way Pesach Sheni is generally perceived. However, Chassidus always goes beyond the surface and gives us the deeper meaning that makes everything on the Jewish calendar relevant and current, and not simply historically interesting. What was Pesach Sheni? In the time when there was a Beis HaMikdash, when sacrifices were brought, on the eve of Pesach, on the 14th of Nissan, there was a special sacrifice offered -- the korban Pesach, or the Paschal lamb. Now the Halachah states that if somebody was spiritually impure because of contact with the dead, then he could not bring the sacrifice. Also, if a person was too far away from Jerusalem when the sacrifice was offered, he was also exempt from bringing the sacrifice. What happened was that the first year that Pesach was celebrated, there was a group of people who were spiritually impure because they had fulfilled the mitzvah of burying the dead. Accordingly, they were not able to bring the sacrifice. Now, even though they were not to blame at all, nevertheless, these people felt deprived in a way, because they were unable to participate. So they came over to Moshe and said, "Why should we be denied the privilege of bringing the Pesach sacrifice?" Moshe really didn't know what to do. He didn't know what should be the case with a person that wants to have that merit but is exempt from it. He asked HaShem. And HaShem said, We'll make a Pesach Sheni for them. This is the only holiday in the year that we have a re-run. We don't have a Shavuos Sheni, or a Sukkos Sheni for someone who couldn't build a sukkah on time. It's only for this holiday that we have the chance to do it over.
Chassidus therefore explains that Pesach Sheni thus teaches us that there is never a situation in your spiritual life that is totally hopeless, where you've just missed the boat. There is no such thing in Yiddishkeit. Even a person who was impure for the wrong reasons, that is, not because he was occupied with a mitzvah, but because he was occupied with impure things, or because he is far from the spiritual ideal called the Beis HaMikdash, nevertheless, he always has the opportunity to correct the situation. This message is eternally relevant to each and every one of us.
The command, "You shall rebuke," is preceded by the words "You shall not hate your brother," for this is a precondition for the rebuke. The Torah continues, "...and you shall not ascribe sin to him," for if the rebuke was ineffectual, you are certainly the one responsible, for yours were not words coming from the heart.
There are too many people who see it as their Divine duty to rebuke others. Their motto is that, "It says in the Torah that you have to rebuke everybody; it's a mitzvah!" But Chassidus says that you have to examine this mitzvah in its context. In the Torah, nothing is a blank. Everything has a verse preceding it and a verse following it.
The word "Torah" is derived from horaah -- to instruct or teach. None of the stories found in Torah are incidental. HaShem did not give us a Torah so that we should have bedtime stories to read. Every story in Torah is a fundamental and vital teaching. And if you always tell the story without getting the moral of the story, it's been wasted.
Now not only are the stories of Torah teachings, not only is every pasuk (verse), and every idea in Torah a teaching, but it goes even deeper. The context of a story, and the order of verses is also a teaching. In other words, if there are three mitzvos that appear in one parshah, the fact that one is placed first and is followed by a second and third is also by Divine plan. You can learn something from the fact that one mitzvah precedes the other.
In our case, the verse describing the mitzvah of rebuking your friend, is preceded by another verse -- "Do not hate your brother in your heart." What is your motivation for rebuking your brother? Because you love him or because you hate him? If you rebuke somebody out of caring for him, and out of love, the rebuke comes out very different. A person may even use the same words, but it is said in a different tone of voice... And believe me, it is heard and it is felt. If you dislike the person your rebuke is most likely only an opportunity to shtech him, to jab him. The prohibition against hating your fellow Jew in your heart precedes the mitzvah of rebuking your friend. Only when you are positive that your rebuke is not caused by a feeling of hatred, may you then go ahead and rebuke him.
But this is not the end of the story. The verse which follows the mitzvah of rebuking your erring fellow states, "and do not cause him to sin." What does this mean? The explanation is as follows: If a person is not on the right path, he does aveiros, this is not your fault. You can't expect to be responsible for every Jew who isn't behaving the way a Jew should. However if you go to this person and you greet him and say, "Look my friend, you are not acting the way you should. You should really shape up and do XY and Z instead of what you are doing." If that rebuke is coming from the right place, if it's coming from real concern, and real love to the other person, you are really worried about him, you don't want him to get punished.
Because you have so much ahavas Yisrael, and because you know how good it is to do the right thing, you also want him to be on the right side of the fence. When your rebuke comes from love and concern, then words that emanate from the heart find their way into the heart and will surely have their desired effect.
Shavuos is an opportune time to achieve everything in improving Torah-study and avodah marked by fear of G-d, and also to strive in teshuvah concerning Torah study, without interference by the Accuser -- just like the time of sounding the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah and the holy day of the Fast of Yom Kippur.
Many of us think of Shavuos as a minor holiday. It doesn't rate anywhere near Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur or Pesach. I have many friends who are baalei teshuvah and some of them tell me that they never knew Shavuos existed when they belonged to their Conservative Temple. It just wasn't one of the crowd-drawers. There's nothing special to do, it seems, other than eat blintzes, which you can do on any day of the year. On the surface of it, there's nothing dramatic about Shavuos.
However, when one looks into what Chassidus says about Shavuos, it becomes an entirely different story. Shavuos is the marriage of HaShem and Bnei Yisrael. Accordingly, in a sense it's the greatest Yom-Tov of all. The reason that it's only one day (yom echad), or two in chutz laaretz, in the Diaspora, is not that it's minor, but because it symbolizes the unity, the oneness, the echad of HaShem and Yidden.
HaYom Yom continues and states that Shavuos is a good time for a person to make resolutions as far as learning the Torah is concerned. Since it's the Yom-Tov of receiving the Torah, it's an opportune moment to make a firm decision to do better in learning the Torah and serving G-d with yiras shamayim (Fear of Heaven) and teshuvah.
As is known, the Baal Shem Tov passed away on Shavuos. The year that the Baal Shem Tov passed away, Shavuos fell on a Wednesday. Now in the Torah, what was created on Wednesday, the first yom revi'i of the world's existence? The sun, the moon and the stars. They are called in Hebrew the meoros, the luminaries. And the expression used by the Sages is bayom harevi'i nitlu hameoros," on the fourth day of Creation the luminaries were suspended (nitlu, spelled with a tav) in the sky. Some years later the Alter Rebbe declared that bayom harevi'i nitlu hameoros, -- nitlu spelled with a tes, which means "removed." On the fourth day of the week the luminaries were taken away: the Baal Shem Tov was taken away from us on a Wednesday.
Now among all the possible resolutions that a person might want to make on Shavuos, a very good one is to undertake to do Chitas. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about when I say Chitas -- Chitas is a three-part daily shiur that the Rebbe Rayatz instituted. He advised that everybody, even women, should undertake them. The ches stands for Chumash, the first tav stands for Tehillim, and the second tav stands for Tanya. The way one studies them is this: The weekly portion in Chumash is divided into seven parts -- the seven aliyos to which men are called during the Reading of the Torah on Shabbos in shul. There are also seven days of the week. Accordingly, studying the Chumash of Chitas means that every day of the week you learn that aliyah part that corresponds to the day of the week. On Sunday, rishon; Monday sheni; and so on. So every day you would be learning approximately one seventh of that week's parshah. That's Chumash. The daily portion of Tehillim is one thirtieth of the Book of Tehillim. The Tehillim has 150 chapters and it's divided into thirty sections that have an average of five chapters a day. However, since some are longer and others are shorter, it has been divided for us into thirty more or less equal portions corresponding to the days of the month, so that we finish Tehillim every month. That is the dose of Tehillim.
Tanya: In the back of the Tanya there is a schedule that divides the Tanya into daily portions so that we complete the entire Tanya in a year -- from the 19th of Kislev to the following 18th of Kislev.
The Rebbe has urged people to study these passages every single day. If you cannot manage one day's passage, you can make up for it the following day. You cannot generally do that with davening (except in the prayer immediately following the one you missed, called tashlumim -- ask your rabbi) but you can do it with Chitas. Even if you don't understand everything you're saying, it's good (even vital) for your neshamah. There have been many stories. I don't really want to digress and go off on a tangent, but the Rebbe has mentioned many times that Chitas is a channel through which health and many good things accrue to the person who says it.
Now these three things, Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya, are all connected very strongly with the holiday of Shavuos: Chumash, because the Torah was given to us on Shavuos through Moshe Rabbeinu. Tehillim. Can anybody figure out how Tehillim is related to Shavuos? Right. David HaMelech was born and passed away on Shavuos.
Tanya because, even though Tanya was not written by the Baal Shem Tov, it was written by the Alter Rebbe who was a second-generation disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. The teachings of the Baal Shem Tov are explained in Tanya. So we see that all of these three people are closely connected with Shavuos. The Rebbe said it's not coincidental. Of course it's hashgachah peratis and therefore, if there is a Jew who has not yet undertaken to say Chitas, this is an excellent occasion to make this resolution. Nowadays we can just pick up the phone and hear beautiful dissertations on the daily Tanya. It's a golden era. You can even wash your dishes while you're listening.
If you are in the situation where reading Hebrew will be too cumbersome and too difficult then you can definitely read Tanya in English. Try and work your way up. One should never be satisfied with doing it only in English and it's better to do a little bit in Hebrew and a little bit in English, but certainly there is value also in doing it in English.
The words of Tehillim are G-dly words. And so it is with Tanya. These are very, very holy words. I understand Hebrew but many times I don't understand exactly what the Tanya is saying, either because it's late at night and my head is not working any more, or because it's abstract concepts that you really have to think and concentrate on. I don't always have the time. I remember asking the question -- is there any value in saying words if you don't really comprehend or you don't have the time to learn it properly, and the answer is: Of course it's ideal and wonderful and more desirable to understand deeply, but since for many of us that's not a reality and it's not practical, then it's better to do it superficially than not to do it at all.
The reason, the rationalization, behind it is as follows. First of all the words themselves are holy, so even saying those words has a value. The other thing is that the neshamah of a person does not depend on his brain. The brain, which is the seat of the intellect, and the neshamah are not connected in such a way that things have to go through the brain in order to get to the soul. It is possible for the soul of the person to comprehend something even if the brain does not comprehend it. So even though we're not getting it completely, the neshamah is getting it completely. Torah nourishes your neshamah.
You can almost use the example of when a person takes medicine. A person has a certain problem. You go to a doctor and the doctor says, you need to take this medicine or this supplement and you don't really understand how swallowing this pill is really going to alleviate your symptoms. And you start asking the doctor: "But I don't understand, just because I swallow this pill a few days a month or twice a day, is that going to make me feel better? It's such a little pill and I feel so miserable." The doctor says, "Look, I went to medical school for ten years and I really cannot convey to you in five minutes the reason that it will help, but I promise you that this will alleviate your problem." And so you swallow the pill, and you find that sure enough you're feeling better after a few days. You cannot comprehend it. You don't know exactly what was in the pill. You don't know exactly which part of the body it went to, exactly what it did to you, but you do know that you felt better. So it's not necessary for a person to have total comprehension of a thing in order to know that it helped and made him feel better. I know many people who definitely don't totally understand the Chumash or the Tehillim or the Tanya. But it keeps their neshamah fit and healthy. Come on now, let's make that resolution!
The Alter Rebbe's response to a brilliant young man who was famed for his intellectual gifts, at his first yechidus (a private audience with the Rebbe)...: Spiritual and physical are antithetical in their very essence. A superior quality in the physical realm is a deficiency in the spiritual.
In material matters, a person who is content with his lot is an individual of the highest quality. Through avodah, a person who has such a trait, with additional work on himself, can come to the highest levels. In spiritual matters, however, to be satisfied with one's lot is the worst deficiency, and makes one regress and fall, G-d forbid.
In material matters, a person who is satisfied with his lot is an individual of the highest quality. We look at such a person and we say, "What a wonderful middah this is, that he is content and does not seek more than he has." What HaShem gave him is his share, and he doesn't want more. However, in ruchniyus, this is the worst flaw. Through feeling totally complacent with his spiritual portion, a person can have the greatest downfall.
In material matters we should strive to be satisfied and not look for more. But G-d forbid that in spiritual matters we should fall to the level of just being smug about where we are or who we are. That is the worst fault.
With this advice, the Alter Rebbe hoped that this person would devote his life to an emphasis on running after ruchniyus -- unlike some people in our generation, who are never content with their physical things, who spend their whole lives running after materialism and are only too happy with where they are spiritually. It should be totally the opposite.
In Torah study the person is devoted to the subject that he wishes to understand and comes to understand. In davening his devotion is directed to that which surpasses understanding.
In learning Torah a Jew feels like a pupil with his master; in davening -- like a child with his father.
Study and prayer are two of the most basic concepts in Yiddishkeit. But there's a distinction. Obviously we're talking about studying Torah, not studying trigonometry. So a person's sitting learning Torah, man or woman or child. What do you see? You see the devotion of a person to a thing which he wants to grasp. He is trying to take this knowledge and understand it and take it in; hopefully, he will eventually understand it. As long as he has an earnest desire to understand, it is very likely that he will succeed.
However, in davening the devotion of a person is to something which is beyond understanding. Learning is a thing that depends on your intellectual capacity. The greater your intellect, the more you can grasp. Davening is not merely an activity of intellect; it's also an emotional activity. It is the devotion of a person to something that is beyond his intellect.
In learning we see the relationship of a student to a teacher. Of course, in a sense, HaShem is the teacher since the Torah is His word, and we are the students, whereas in davening the relationship is like that of a child to his father. A teacher can favor a student who is more intellectual, who has a better head, but the relationship between a parent and child doesn't depend on who understands more and who understands less. All children are equally beloved by their father. That's the difference between davening and learning.
Each of them has a unique quality, and we don't weigh what's more important, what's less important, what's better and what's worse. Each one is special and each one has a superior aspect. To be a complete Jew you need both aspects, and others as well. A Jew who only davens and never learns is not a full Jew. A Jew who only learns and doesn't daven is also not a full Jew.
The month of Elul is the month of reckoning. In the material world, if a businessman is to conduct his affairs properly and with great profit, he must periodically take an accounting and correct any deficiencies... Likewise in the spiritual avodah of serving G-d. Throughout the year all Israel are occupied with Torah, mitzvos and [developing] good traits. The month of Elul is the month of reckoning...
Even though this quotation from HaYom Yom is in the month of Av, it was written for the Shabbos which precedes and blesses the month of Elul.
The Rebbe explains the role of the month of Elul in the Jewish calendar: it is the month of cheshbon, the month of accounting. Just as in the material world, when somebody has a business, in order that the business should profit, the owner from time to time has to make an accounting in order to correct the flaws. In order for a business to be profitable you have to see if you are doing things right. You can't check what you're doing if you're in the middle of the business. So periodically you have to close the store and say, "Today we're doing an inventory, we're not having business as usual, in order to see how things are running." The Jew needs that too. He needs to step back from his regular work and make an accounting of his soul -- a cheshbon hanefesh. The entire year a Jew is involved in Torah and mitzvos and middos tovos, so that he doesn't have so much time to think about himself. He's busy. But in the month of Elul, in whatever realm he operates, he has to stop and make a cheshbon tzedek, a true accounting. Because it's very easy to make a superficial accounting where you always come out right. But what you need is to make a truthful accounting, to see where you're really holding and review the events of the entire year so that you will know not only your positive qualities, and where you're doing well, but also your flaws, your omissions -- and correct them. Through this preparation, a Jew merits a good year begashmiyus and beruchniyus.
Furthermore, not only is Elul the month of preparation for Tishrei, but Av is the month of preparation for Elul. And if we can start Elul on the right foot we can do what needs to be done in Elul, in Tishrei, and the entire year!
There are two general approaches in healing a bodily illness: (a) To heal the particular organ or faculty that is defective, sick or weak; (b) to strengthen the healthy organs and faculties so that they may overcome and heal the sick organ or faculty. The parallels in illnesses of the soul are the two approaches in service of G-d -- teshuvah and good deeds.
There are two general approaches to healing a bodily illness. One approach is to heal the particular organ that is defective, sick or weak. You might say this would be the approach of conventional medicine. For a toothache you fix the tooth; for a sore throat you treat the throat. The other approach, which is more like today's holistic or natural healing, is to strengthen the healthy organs and faculties, so that they may overcome the disease and heal the sick organ. Antibiotics are not always the best medicine; they may heal the sore throat, but they don't treat the low resistance that the patient has which caused him to get the sore throat in the first place. These are the two different approaches in dealing with bodily illness.
The Rebbe goes on to say that the parallels in illnesses of the soul are two approaches in the service of G-d: teshuvah, and good deeds. Teshuvah, in the eyes of the world, means that you have to repent for a particular transgression. This is like conventional medicine. But, unfortunately, it is possible that you might have treated only the symptoms, and not the cause of the illness -- why you transgressed in the first place.
"Good deeds," on the other hand, means trying to change your whole approach to life in general, and to Yiddishkeit in particular. You have to work on the positive; then, if you are so busy doing good deeds, you won't have time to transgress.
Let us examine an example of this. There is a very big movement today to learn the laws of shmiras halashon -- guarding your tongue -- with workshops and classes and seminars and so on. Somebody asked a certain Lubavitcher Rabbi why it is that Chabad is not involved in this movement. Shouldn't they be in the forefront of this worldwide shmiras halashon, anti-lashon hara campaign? So that Rabbi wrote a three-part essay on the subject. The gist of this essay was that shmiras halashon is a defensive approach, a negative approach; you're involved with doing away with a transgression. You get preoccupied and involved with not talking lashon hara. In contrast, the chassidic approach to dealing with this problem is to increase one's ahavas Yisrael, a subject the Rebbe always talks about. Through ahavas Yisrael the source of the "illness" which leads to it is treated -- a lack of love for one's fellow Jews. This is something much more encompassing than just shmiras halashon. When do you say bad things about somebody else? When you don't have ahavas Yisrael. Now, of course you must know the laws pertaining to the prohibition of speaking badly about other people. However, Chassidus always stresses the positive approach, ahavas Yisrael being a recognition of the beauty of every neshamah, as the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya, Chapter 32. Ahavas Yisrael on a deeper level means realizing that you are connected to all Jews, since all Yidden are part of HaShem. In short, if a person is preoccupied with ahavas Yisrael, he'll never even need to apply his knowledge of the laws of shmiras halashon. It wouldn't dawn on him to talk badly about someone when he's just been talking about how great that person's neshamah is.
There must be avodah by one's own efforts. There is something superior about being taken by the hand and led; it is more precious though, when one makes one's own endeavors
This reading from HaYom Yom focuses on the difference between the approach of Chabad Chassidus and some other approaches. Chabad Chassidus very much emphasizes the idea of individual avodah, serving G-d in general, and self-refinement in particular. It means that no man or woman can ever be complacent and say, "I'm good enough," or, "Under the circumstances, coming from where I am, I'm pretty good"; "I'm better than other people that started the way I started." In other words, avodah means that people have to constantly examine themselves, to see where they are coming from, where they are at, and where they should be going, and always try to improve and increase.
A Jew in this world is called a mehalech, one who goes or progresses, and life can be likened to going up a down escalator -- you can't stop. You either keep going up, or else you regress; there is no such thing as staying in the same place.
The Rebbe has often illustrated this by describing the mitzvah of neiros Chanukah: On the first night of Chanukah, if you light one candle, you're fantastic; you're excellent; you've done the mitzvah beautifully. But if you light one candle on the second night of Chanukah, you have not done the mitzvah in the best possible way. So you say, "I don't understand. Last night I did this and you said I was great; tonight I'm doing it and you say I'm not!"
Now, why is that? So you're told, "Because yesterday was the first night and today is the second night; you have to grow. Today you have to increase, to add another light." That is the idea of avodah: you cannot stay in one place, and you cannot say you're too old. As the Rebbe has pointed out, the older you get, the more wisdom and experience in life you have. Perhaps you cannot jump as far or walk as fast; but certainly, as far as serving HaShem is concerned, you can grow. In fact, I have taught many elderly women, and I was constantly amazed at these women, who are 70 years old, and would never miss a shiur. They say Tehillim, daven, and learn. This is really the beauty of old age. These women are not fading away; they're growing and they're living, and they're using their years and their free time in the most beautiful way. The idea of avodah is -- never stop. The Rebbe says the concept of vacation or retirement is foreign to Chabad Chassidus.
Growing up in America, in the Western world, you feel like a person has earned his retirement; now he has a right to be lazy for the rest of his life -- to lie on the beach in the sun and say, "I worked, I earned it, now let me have my retirement and don't bother me; I deserve it." This idea of letting loose is contrary to Torah. Torah says that if you have life, you have to work.
I remember when my father was in his sixties, he was the head of a printing shop -- a physically demanding business. He knew that according to New York law, at the age of 65 he was eligible for retirement, and he was concerned what would happen with the printing shop. So he wrote to the Rebbe to discuss his anticipated retirement, and the Rebbe told him not to retire. My father could take less of a work load, but the Rebbe did not want him to retire. In fact, by hashgachah peratis, his partner passed away and the place closed; he then became the head of a kollel. He did not retire, because he received a clear instruction from the Rebbe not to retire. That's the idea of avodah. If you want to stop, then you're not a chassid. You have to keep going.
The Rebbe Rayatz explains that if you let somebody lead you by the hand, you can get very high. In other words, there are those chassidim other than Lubavitch chassidim that cling to a Rebbe who is very pious and lofty. They feel that if they watch and copy the Rebbe, then they'll sort of hang on to the Rebbe's coat-tails, and they'll also go up when he goes up. However, that is not the idea of Chabad Chassidus. Chabad Chassidus says that although you can get to superior heights by being led, it is more precious when you get to wherever it is by your own strength. In other words, there is a tremendous value in doing it yourself. You may go slower, you may not get so high so fast, but that is what avodah means. It does not mean that you're never allowed to look at or listen to the Rebbe. Seeing the Rebbe is inspirational and gives you an idea of which direction you should be taking. But that is no replacement for your own avodah.
When the Tzemach Tzedek was nine years old, the Alter Rebbe told him the following: I received a directive from my Rebbe (the Maggid of Mezritch) who received it from his Rebbe (the
Baal Shem Tov) in the name of his Rebbe (Achiyah HaShiloni. The
Baal Shem Tov was taught by the soul of Achiyah HaShiloni, who lived thousands of years earlier, during the time of King David. He was one of the 48 Prophets, and a transmitter of the secrets of the Torah. According to some authorities he was the master of Eliyahu HaNavi). This is the teaching that was transmitted: From the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur, we are to say three chapters of Tehillim every day, and then, on Yom Kippur, 36 -- nine before Kol Nidrei, nine before going to sleep, nine after Mussaf, and (the last) nine after Neilah. If one did not start saying Tehillim on the second day of Rosh Chodesh, one is to start with the Tehillim of the particular day on which he realizes his omission, and complete the missing Tehillim later.
This is a custom, a minhag, which I would like to encourage all my students to take part in; if you can inspire your friends and acquaintances to do this, please do. The Tzemach Tzedek was the grandson of the Alter Rebbe and the son of Devorah Leah who gave up her life so that her father could live. The Alter Rebbe was under arrest because of the degree to which he had revealed the secret teachings of the Torah. There was an accusation Above, in the Supernal Court, which was reflected in the presence of opponents (i.e., misnagdim) of the Alter Rebbe below, and it was decreed that he should die because he had revealed so much Chassidus. His daughter, Devorah Leah, through divine inspiration, got wind of this. She called in three elder Chassidim and said she wanted to give her life for her father's, and indeed, shortly afterwards, she passed away, and the Alter Rebbe continued to live. She had mesirus nefesh so that Chabad Chassidus could continue. Devorah Leah had a small son. She asked her father if he would raise her child, because she was dying for him, and he accepted. That baby was the Tzemach Tzedek. Therefore, although he was really the grandson of the Alter Rebbe, he was in a sense his son, since he was raised by him in his home. There was a warm closeness between them. From a very young age he lived in the Alter Rebbe's home, and he witnessed and absorbed a tremendous amount from his very early youth.
Now, you might ask what is so great about adding three chapters of Tehillim to your daily schedule in Elul? You have to know that Tehillim is something that in the past was associated with very simple, plain people; all that people who did not know how to learn Gemara could do -- was say Tehillim. However, the Baal Shem Tov taught that when simple folk recite Tehillim, this is often dearer to HaShem than the Torah learning of great scholars, because it comes from the heart. Tehillim is always associated with the heart of the Jew. When you say extra Tehillim during Elul, it's like taking an extra vitamin. It's like the "stress tabs" some people take when they're going through a difficult period in their lives. They say that going through stress robs the body of vitamins; you need extra vitamins at such a time. Using this analogy, Elul is a stressful time for a Jew, because he has to make a cheshbon hanefesh, he has to account for everything he did or did not do. The equation does not always add up. Accordingly, this is a time when you have to put extra energy into teshuvah, and into reviewing the year. And so you need an extra boost, some extra vitamins. This secret was revealed to the Baal Shem Tov by his teacher, Achiyah HaShiloni.
It is very easy to add three chapters, especially since you can make it up the next day. (I'm speaking here to women who are not always in control of their own time: if you don't manage to say them that day, you can always make up for it the following day.) This has been the secret passed down for hundreds of years already: it is an extra segulah for this period.
Dedicated to the memory of
one of the pioneer shluchos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Eretz Yisrael who passed away at an early age on Twenty-Three Shvat 5752
She will be missed by all those whose lives were warmed by her compassionate encouragement her level-headed counsel her tireless outreach work and her constant happiness
For more people than she knew, her life served as an inspiring example of what a chassidic woman, wife and mother can aspire to
"My Beloved went down to His garden to gather roses." This the Midrash perceives as alluding to G-d, Who "gathers in those righteous souls" which have completed their mission in this world
Nechoma Greisman was one of those roses. But petals close in the evening only to reopen in the morning. In the meantime, until that long-awaited dawn, this volume is dedicated to her luminous memory by family and friends.
- (Back to text) "From Day to Day" -- a book of aphorisms from the Previous Rebbe, compiled by the Rebbe.