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Through the Eyes

of a Woman
A Chassidic Perspective
on Living Torah

Through the Eyes
of a Woman
A Chassidic Perspective
on Living Torah
Nechoma Greisman
Edited by Rabbi Moshe Miller

Machon Chaya Mushka
Women's Institute for Jewish Studies
5761 - 2001
2nd Edition 2001
Published by
Machon Chaya Mushka
8 Machanaim St.
Jerusalem 95314
Tel.: (02) 532-3156
Fax: (02) 532-3172
In the U.S.A.
Machon Chaya Mushka
750 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, New York 11213
Tel.: (718) 493-8449
Fax: (718) 773-7589
I SBN 1-8814-0030-1
Publisher's Foreword ix
Rosh HaShanah
The Significance of Being Alone 1
Rosh HaShanah
A Rebbe's Fear 4
The Sixth of Tishrei
Yahrzeitof RebbitzinChanah 6
ErevYom Kippur
The Inside Story of Kreplachand Lekach 17
The Fruits of Togetherness 20
Turning a New Leaf the Symbolism of a Lulav 25
Shemini Atzeres Simchas Torah
Departing but not Separating 30
Making Light of the Creation 39
Looking at Yourself Through Others 47
Bringing and Being Brought Closer 53
7 th of Cheshvan
Brave New World 58
Chayei Sarah,19th of Kislev, Chanukah
Three Flashes of Light 68
The Ninth of Kislev
On Interconnectedness 75
The Nineteenth of Kislev
How the End is Wedged in the Beginning 79
Chassidus 85
Light a Lamp for a Friend in the Dark 88
Is it a Mitzvahto eat Lathes? 90
Light, not Might 98
Don't Just Sit There. Do Something! 101
The Tenth of Teves
Bearing Up, and Giving Birth 104
A Priest in G-d's Sanctuary 106
Egyptian Heads and Jewish Heads 113
24th of Teves
The Passing of the Alter Rebbe 116
Blood and Frogs 119
Approaches to Life 124
At the ShluchosConvention 5749 (1989)
The Women's Convention of Emissaries 130
Fire Insurance 136
The Essence of Moshe Rabbeinu 145
The Future of Purim 150
The Malady and its Cure 153
Living and Loving 158
The Dynamics of Revelation 162
The Importance of Little Things 168
Counting [on] the Omer 173
As One Man 175
The Philosophy of Sleep 177
Receiving the Torah? No, Giving it! 184
Tidbits on Torah
A Treasure Beyond Compare 186
The Lamplighters 191
Shlach/ 28th of Sivan
The Rebbe's Arrival in the U.S 201
The Value of Life 207
The Twelfth of Tammuz
NeshamahResolutions 223
The 17th of Tammuz
The Good Within 228
The Three Weeks
From Galusto Mashiach 234
Life's Journeys 239
The Nine Days
Curtailing, Joyfully 245
Know Him in All Your Ways 246
Tu BeAv
On the Way Up 250
Bread from Heaven 253
The Reward for Keeping Mitzvos 263
Seeing Is Believing 265
The Laws of Kosher Animals 267
Living in Eretz Yisrael 273
Your Fellow Jew's Gashmiyus 280
A Spiritual Refuge 283
Taking a Stand on Moving Forward 286
Brief Themes
Random Thoughts Extracted from Shiurim 289
From HaYomYom
Sample Readings from the Rebbe's Calendar 314

Year by year, thousands of Jews lovingly tread the familiar path of
the weekly Torah readings. The path, however, becomes so familiar
that it is easy to forget that beneath the surface lie countless strata of
hidden treasures. Mercifully, though, from time to time, such as when
one studies one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's talks on the weekly Torah
readings, a penetrating shaft of light opens up the surface terrain; it
grants the reader a breathtaking glimpse of the deepseated treasures
that have lain hidden from mortal eyes since Sinai.
Many of these weekly sichos of the Rebbe have already appeared
in a variety of translations, summaries and adaptations. Yet this
book is unique. Here the Rebbe's insights and interpretations are
perceived through the eyes of a woman.
For many years, until her passing in 1992 at the age of 39,
hundreds of women of all ages and levels of observance eagerly
attended Nechoma Greisman's weekly classes on Chassidic Insights
into Torah, at Machon Chaya Mushka and at the Israel Center in
Jerusalem. As those women fondly recall, each of these shiurimwas
not merely a forum for the transmission of information: it was an
unforgettable happening, a shared sisterly quest, a joyful igniting of
souls. (Regrettably, not all of these classes were taped.) Basically, they
constituted a chassidic lesson in learning from life. In addition, their
womanly perspective considered the varied roles of women earnestly,
yet with mellow good humor. Now, within the limits of the printed
word, much of their tone and savor is distilled and preserved in
these pages.
The present book will be a welcome breath of life for those who
seek a human, vibrant, chassidic guide to digging for treasure,
whether it is hidden within the weekly Torah readings or within
oneself. For those who have read (and reread) TheNechomaGreisman
Anthology, the present book will be doubly welcome. Simultaneously,
it presents womanhood through the eyes of Chassidism, and
Chassidism through the eyes of a woman.
Machon Chaya Mushka
Women's Institute for Jewish Studies
23 Shvat, 5758 (1998)
Machon Chaya Mushka would like to thank Rabbi Moshe
Miller, who painstakingly compiled this volume from a variety of
lecture notes and tape transcripts; Uri Kaploun, for his editorial
advice; Hinda Esther Baruch, for her conscientious proofreading;
Yosef Yitzchok Turner, for the tasteful typography and layout; and
Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English, for his tireless
efforts as publisher.
Many chassidic discourses ask why we celebrate Rosh HaShanah
on the first of Tishrei, when the beginning of creation, the first day
of creation, was on the twenty-fifth day of Elul. The answer: because
Adam was created on the sixth day of creation, corresponding to the
first of Tishrei, we celebrate Rosh HaShanah on that day.
However, the question now becomes, why was Adam not
created at the beginning of Creation, but rather at the end the last
of all the creations? This is even more puzzling when we consider the
statement of our Sages that Adam was the object of creation. That is,
the reason HaShemcreated the world was not merely for the birds
and the bees and the flowers, but primarily for man. The first word
of the Torah, Bereishis, can be broken up into two words: Beis(two)
and reishis(foremost, chief), indicating that the entire creation was
for the sake of two things the Jewish people and the Torah (see
Rashi on Bereishis1:1).
So, if we're so important, why were we created last? Why didn't
G-d create us first? The Midrashgives us the answer by way of an
analogy: This is comparable to a family who invited guests for
dinner. They wouldn't invite the guests into the kitchen while
they're cooking, and make them wait three hours till the roast is
done. Rather, they would invite them to come later when the meal
has been prepared, the house is in order, and everyone is ready.
Similarly, Rosh HaShanah is not celebrated as the beginning of
creation, but when all the preparations have already been done.
HaShemsaid, "Since Adam is the object of the entire creation,
I'd rather create him when all of the secondary things are ready." So
He created the trees, and the fruits, and the flowers, and everything
else, so that Adam would come into a perfect world, all ready to
enable him to serve HaShem.
The Midrashalso relates that when Adam was created even his
heel (the lowest and least sensitive part of his body), outshone the
sun, so holy was he. In fact, he was so full of light that all of the
animals came and bowed down to him, believing that he was their
creator. But Adam told them, "Come let us bow down together and
worship the One Who created us all." This was his function and
purpose to bring all of the world to the service of HaShem.
The Rebbe points out that one of the major differences between
the way Adam was created and the way all the other creatures were
created is this:
All of the other creatures were created in multitudes. When
HaShemcreated bees, he created thousands, perhaps millions, of
bees. When HaShemcreated trees, it wasn't just one little tree;
immediately there were forests. Everything was created in big
numbers. Like the stars: Hundreds of thousands... perhaps millions
we don't even know how many.
However, there was one creation that was created alone man.
He wasn't even created as a couple, just one. Why did HaShem
create man as only one? He could have created a nation, thousands
let Adam have some company, some friends; it's lonely being the
only one. However, he was created all alone. Solitary. Why?
This is something that is vital for us to know. The fact the
HaShemcreated man alone, means that every man and every woman
is extremely important to Him. We should never suffer from feelings
of inferiority nor feel, "oh, I'm just one more cog in the wheel, one
more flower on the wall; of what importance am I? I'm just one of
several billion, or, as a Jew, one of several million." We should not,
G-d forbid, think that; it is an incorrect attitude. We should know
that the world started with one man. HaShemmade this entire
universe for one person! The same thing applies today, to each and
every single Jew. our Sages declare that a person should say, "The
world was created for me!" of course, this does not mean that the
Sages encourage egocentricity. on the contrary, a Jew is the purpose
of creation because he brings a revelation of G-d into the world
through his Torah and mitzvos which is the purpose of creation.
Thus, when a Jew says, "The world was created for me," he means
that he recognizes his obligation to reveal G-dliness in the world
"The world was created for me to reveal G-dliness in it."
Accordingly, each person has infinite importance to HaShem, for all
of creation is there for his sake!
From this we see that we should never play ourselves down. We
are important, very important, in HaShem's scheme of things, for we
have a great mission to live up to. We should have great self-esteem
as a result. Psychologists say that the most important thing parents
can do for young children, is to instill in them a feeling of self-worth
and self-esteem. If a person does not have a feeling of importance,
he cannot go through life productively; he has to know he is great
and he is important, and has tremendous potential. That is the
reason that man was created alone.
on Rosh HaShanah, when we stand before HaShemin
judgment, we must realize that we were created for a specific reason
each of us has our own individual mission. And it isn't important
what's going on with everybody else. They could be living the wrong
way; we have to live the right way, because every single one of us is
unique and important.
In the Chabad machzor for Rosh HaShanah, right before the
section which begins with the word "HaMelech" (i.e., before
Yishtabachand Barchuin Shacharis) the following story appears in
small print:
Once, astheholyrabbi, RebAharon of Karlin (oneof thegreat
disciplesof theMaggid of Mezritch), wasabout torecite[theprayer
beginningwith theword] "Hamelech" hefainted. Later, whenhewas
asked what had happened, herepliedthat hehad beenmeditatingonthe
wordsintheTalmud [which werespoken byVespasian, but whichReb
Aharon of Karlin understood metaphoricallyasspokenbyG-d]: "If I amthe
King, whydidyou not present yourself beforemeuntil now?" Now, what
answer couldwe possiblygive?
on Rosh HaShanah, maybe not everyone spends the entire
period in the right frame of mind. But if one stops to think for a
moment that this is the Day of Judgment, HaShemis reviewing all
his deeds from the past year, and one might be on the debit side,
then he may think he is in for some punishment. When one gets
into that frame of mind, and seriously thinks of all of the negative
thoughts and deeds he's done in the past year, then what could
happen? His heart can begin to pound from fear of the possibility of
punishment that might come to him. one feels like a child who is
called to the principal's office, waiting his turn while the principal is
on the phone, and he doesn't know what is going to happen or what
is going to be said. That fright or terror can actually be felt; little
children can get stomach aches and headaches from this fear. There
is a feeling of fear that is literally felt in the body. Similarly, the fear
of HaShemshould not be the kind of fear that is abstract and purely
intellectual it should be a fear that you actually feel in your heart
in a physical way.
However, fear does not only have to mean fear of punishment.
Those of you who have studied mussarbefore you started studying
Chassidus, may know that there is a difference in emphasis between
the two schools. Both schools, ChassidusChabadand mussar, have
the identical goal to inculcate people with love for HaShem, with a
will to fulfill the mitzvos, and to go on the right path. However, there
is a difference in the means and approach utilized by the two
The approach of mussaremphasizes the dire consequences of a
life that does not accord with the Torah; Chassidusportrays the other
side of the coin the good, the light, the beauty of a life that does
accord with Torah.
The Rebbe says a person should not think of fear in the sense of
the fear of punishment. Jewish thought does not view G-d as
vengeful or spiteful, like someone who is always out to get you with
a big stick, looking to catch you if you slip. The Rebbe explains that
fear yirah has many different degrees. Two of these are
expounded in chassidic teachings at great length. They are called
yerehboshes, and yirasharomemus. Yereh boshesmeans a bashful fear.
When you come to appreciate how HaShemis kind to the
undeserving (which you learn by studying Chassidus), you may start
to feel ashamed that you do not behave as He expects you to. You
may think of where you are and how you sometimes resent doing
the things HaShemis asking, which are so small compared to that
which He gives to you. If you think about this seriously, you come to
the realization that you really are so far from where you should be.
You come to a feeling of embarrassment: "Oy, look at the way I am,
in relation to HaShem, and compared to the way I should be." This
shame is called yerehboshes.
The other type of fear is called yirasharomemus, and that is more
like a feeling of awe, of seeing how great HaShemis and how small I
am. Both of them are variations of the concept of fear, but they are
not the same thing as saying, "I'm afraid I'm going to be smacked."
What kind of fear Reb Aharon of Karlin experienced I do not know,
but it was certainly not fear of punishment he was a righteous
tzaddik who certainly did not succumb to his Evil Inclination. Why
then did the Alter Rebbe include this story in the machzor? To
indicate to us what type of fear is expected of us. Not fear of
punishment, but yerehboshes, and yirasharomemus.
Froma shiur in honor of theYahrzeit of RebbitzinChanah
Thesaintlymother of Rabbi MenachemMendel Schneerson,
theLubavitcher Rebbe
On the yahrzeitof every Jew, and particularly that of a tzaddik or
tzadeikes, our Sages tell us that the person's mazal radiates forth in a
particularly powerful way. Chassidusexplains that the mazal is that
aspect of a person's Neshamahwhich transcends his physical being.
For this reason it is not affected by death, and even after the tzaddik
or tzadeikeshas passed on to the World of Truth, their mazal radiates
forth on the day that they were born.
The day that a Jewish soul enters a physical body is a critical day
in the person's entire life. Furthermore, it has an effect on the entire
universe, according to the Baal Shem Tov, because that Neshamah
fulfills G-d's purpose in creating the entire universe by fulfilling
Torah and mitzvoshere on earth. Similarly, the day on which a
Neshamahdeparts from the body, which has been its "home" in this
world, is also of vital importance for all of the Torah and mitzvos
which the person actually fulfilled throughout his or her life come to
their completion.
Kabbalah,the Jewish mystical tradition, explains that when a
person passes away, he or she does not cease to exist. Rather the
person continues to exist on a different plane. The Neshamahis
released from the limitations of a human body, and in a sense is
much more powerful after death than in life. In this sense, the
presence of RebbitzinChanah's Neshamahis with us here tonight, her
yahrzeit, in a very powerful way, as it has been ever since VavTishrei,
the sixth of Tishrei, 5725 (1964), the year she passed on to the
World of Truth.
I would like to try and introduce RebbitzinChanah to those
women in this audience who didn't have the merit of knowing her
when she was alive in this world. Who was this woman whom
HaShemselected from all the great Jewish women throughout history
to be the one to give birth to the illustrious Lubavitcher Rebbe?
What was so special about her that she was chosen to bear this child
in her womb and to forever have the credit of being the eimhabanim
smeichah the joyous mother of children the mother of the
The Jewish Child
The sichahI chose to learn with you tonight is one that the
Rebbe delivered several years ago, some time after the Rebbitzin's
departure from this earth. As is well known, in connection with his
mother's yahrzeit, often the Rebbe analyzes verses from Tanachwhich
discuss the prophetess Chanah, to reveal facets of his mother's
A section in the Book of Shmuel I describes how Chanah the
prophetess accompanied her husband, Elkanah, to the Mishkanin
Shilo. She cried bitterly because she did not have any children. Her
husband, Elkanah, became aware of how bitter and sad her life was,
and he asked her, "Why are you so sad? Am I not better for you than
ten sons? There are things in life other than children. HaShemhas
seen fit to prevent you from having children. But you're a good
woman, you do a lot of chesed,there are many mitzvosto fill your life
with, other than children!"
Now, interestingly, we do not see that Chanah said anything to
her husband in reply. Actions speak louder than words. She didn't
correct him, she didn't reprimand or contradict him, she just went
ahead to the Mishkanand prayed from the depths of her heart, and
cried out to HaShemthat He bless her with children. She didn't
accept Elkanah's attempt to appease her. She did not make peace
with the fact that she would not be able to bear children. The text
goes on to describe how Eli, the KohenGadol at the time, watched
Chanah praying silently. At first he reprimanded her, accusing her
of being intoxicated, but later, when he realized that she was simply
pouring her heart out to HaShem, he blessed her that she should
have children. The story has a happy ending, for Chanah became
the mother of the great prophet, Shmuel, and six other sons as well.
Commentaries explain that she is the joyous mother (eimhabanim)
alluded to in Tehillim, and recited in Hallel.
Chanah had made an oath that if she would be blessed with a
child, she would dedicate him to the service of HaShem. When
Shmuel was two years old, she fulfilled her promise. She brought her
young son to the Mishkan, and there he dedicated his life to the
service of HaShem, becoming a prophet of great stature, so great that
our Sages even compare him to Moshe Rabbeinu. However, for the
first two years of her child's life, while he was still a nursing infant,
Chanah did not go to Shiloh, the site of the Mishkan. Before she
had children, Chanah went up to the Mishkanevery year with her
husband. When Shmuel was born, however, she chose to stay home
and take care of him.
From Chanah's actions, the Rebbe has derived several teachings,
hora'oswhich apply to every Jewish woman. One of these teachings is
the great importance of every single Jewish child. We live in a world
today, that tells us that having children is not such a great thing. It's
not so important, especially if you already have two. And if you
already have three, or four, five, six, or seven it's enough already!
Who needs another one?! We live in a world that is filled with
propaganda regarding "family planning," which teaches prospective
parents how to limit the size of their family and how to space the
children conveniently apart.
The Rebbe emphasizes the value of every single Jewish child,
even if it is the tenth, or the eleventh, the twelfth, or the fifteenth!
Every Jewish child has tremendous importance, not only to his
mother, father and siblings, but to the Jewish People as a whole.
And as long as HaShemhas granted a woman the ability to give birth
to another Jewish child, then that is her first mission, her most
important shlichusin the world, which takes precedence over any
other mission, and any other activity in which she could be involved.
The Rebbe mentioned that some women feel that they have
done their duty regarding childbearing. They have a girl and a boy, a
big one and a little one. Perhaps now is the time to take a break, not
(G-d forbid) to do a little tap dancing, but to do worthy things,
mitzvos,like bikur cholim(visiting the sick), being active in the
Rebbe's mitzvahcampaigns, etc. So what's wrong with that? That's
very noble, very right. The Rebbe responded as follows: Anything
that a Jewish woman could do for the world, for the Jewish People,
had she not been pregnant and given birth to that child, comes
nowhere near the great accomplishment of having, and bearing, and
bringing up another Jewish Neshamahin the world. No one should
think that anything is more important than that activity. And if
HaShemhas decreed that a certain sector of the population will have
the shlichusof bearing, tending to and educating a large family, then
those women must know their priority that their main
contribution to the Jewish People as a whole is to bring down
another Jewish Neshamah.
Moreover, this also hastens the coming of Mashiach, because our
Sages declare that, "Mashiachwill not arrive until there are no more
Neshamosin Guf." Now, the word "Guf" in this context does not
follow its traditional meaning of "body." Here the word means
"treasury," or "repository." Just as there is a treasury of rain, and of
other things, there is also a treasury of neshamosthat have not yet
been born. Somewhere in the upper worlds this treasury exists, and
its name is "Guf." And only when all the neshamosin this treasury
have been born, will Mashiachcome.
Now, as each woman becomes pregnant a Neshamahbecomes
attached to the body of the child which is forming. Even nine
months, eight and seven months before the child is actually born,
the Neshamahfrom Guf already belongs to that particular body.
Mashiachwill arrive when there are no more neshamosleft there. We
can be sure that the number of neshamosdecreases day by day, and
that there is a finite number of neshamoswhich will one day all be
born. As we draw closer to the coming of Mashiach,the treasury is
continually decreasing. Each woman who has a child, even if it is her
tenth, has mesirusnefeshto bring that child into the world. She does
not have the child only for her own sake, or for the sake of the child
himself, but for the sake of the generations of Jews who are waiting
for Mashiachto come and he will not come until the storehouse of
neshamosis empty.
The Rebbe has repeated time and again that our generation is
on the threshold of Mashiach, and so this mission becomes even
more vital than in the past. After I gave birth to my sixth child, my
parents came from the united States to Jerusalem to celebrate the
birth and the bris. It was a Thursday night, close to midnight, and I
was taking care of the laundry, the cooking, nursing the baby and
answering the phone. My father was sitting in the dining room,
learning. At some point he looked up from the seferover which he
was poring, and said, "This is the most difficult of all of the Rebbe's
mivtzaim(mitzvahcampaigns)." We know that if it were not for the
Rebbe pushing us and encouraging us, we might not have the
strength, motivation and determination which is required after
seven, eight, and nine children. But the Rebbe presented us with a
mission, a cosmic mission, of bringing Jewish children into the
The Rebbe also quoted an expression banei, chayei, mezona
which means, children, life and sustenance, things that we all pray
for daily. The Rebbe asks why the expression is in this order? We
know that every word in the Torah is precise. Chronologically, we
don't begin with children children come after marriage, and after
the person is already somewhat established, when he already has
chayei and mezona life and sustenance. The first thing we need is
chayei, life and health, and then we are in a position to worry about
parnassah, earning a living. What good is parnassahif there's no life
and health? Hence the logical order of these words should surely be
chayei life, and then mezona parnassah. only then should they be
followed by banei children. However, we see that the order is
reversed. Why? The answer is that this very expression emphasizes
the most important thing in life. If there are no children, of what
value are chayei and mezona?The Rebbe pointed out that HaShem
gave Avraham Avinu many blessings and promises. Before Yitzchak
was born however, Avraham said, "HaShem, of what value is all this
if I am barren, and my servant Eliezer is my only heir?"
This is the lesson that the Rebbe teaches us. As women it is
important for us to know the importance of having children, and
spreading this message to others.
on a few occasions I have spoken with women who were
contemplating abortions, or who were using birth control. After one
good, serious, heart-to-heart talk, they made the decision not to
abort their child, or to stop using birth control so that they could
have another child. I mentioned to my husband that when I stand
before HaShem, I will tell Him that if I did nothing at all in my life,
there are another two Jews in this world because of me. I think it's
important for all of you to know this, and to share it with other
people, because we don't know the value of one good dose of truth
for someone who is wavering about a life-and-death decision!
Another point that the Rebbe emphasized in the story of
Chanah, was the fact that she stayed home for the first two years of
her son's life. She did not join Elkanah on his pilgrimage to the
Mishkanin Shiloh for the Festivals the aliyah leregel. Again, the
Rebbe asks a question. Couldn't Chanah have hired a babysitter?
Surely in those days they had babysitters! She could have taken
somebody to watch baby Shmuel when she went to the Mishkan.
After all, Chanah was a prophetess, a woman with ruachhakodesh.
Surely she would have benefited greatly from going to the Mishkan,
the dwelling-place of the Shechinah, for the High Holy Days? But she
gave it up for two whole years, just to watch a baby! And the lesson
is, that this devotion which Chanah showed to her child, as
documented in the Torah for eternity, teaches us again that what a
Jewish mother can give to her child, cannot be duplicated by the
very best babysitters.
Now, although the Rebbe did not imply that one should never
leave the baby with a babysitter, what he did imply was that we
should not make light of our G-d-given mission of giving our
children the education and the love and everything else that only the
biological mother can give, and must give her child. The chinuchand
impressions which a child receives from his mother during the
formative years of his life, when he's too small to talk and too small
to read, are the most crucial and critical in the entire life of the
child. And what mothers knew all along, has now also been proved
by psychologists.
There are many many women who would love to observe this
precept, and would love to be the mothers of large families.
However, due to whatever reason HaShemin His Infinite Wisdom
has, He may see fit to give them a shlichuswhich does not include
bearing children. I have had many occasions in my life where people
sat in my house and cried and said, "I wish I were in your shoes. I
am envious that you have this mission. I would love to do it." But
can we understand HaShem's ways? For every Jew there is a shlichus.
The Rebbe said clearly and unequivocally that every mitzvahin the
Torah constitutes the command of p'ru u'revu "Be fruitful and
multiply!" That was the first mitzvahthat was commanded to Adam.
However, there are 70 facets to the Torah, and every mitzvahin the
Torah can be observed on the material plane, as well as on the
spiritual plane.
We have to understand not only the literal meaning of the
Torah, but the hora'ah, the spiritual lesson behind it. What is the
inner dimension of p'ru u'revu,of "be fruitful and multiply?" It
means, to make another Jew... Jewish! Literally, p'ru u'revumeans
have a Jewish baby, and because of you there is another Jew in the
world. But if for reasons known to HaShemalone, you cannot at this
particular time bear a Jewish child, then you can still fulfill the
mitzvahof p'ru u'revu. How? By working with a Jew who doesn't really
care about being Jewish, or count himself or herself as being part of
the Jewish nation. A Jew who would write u.S. as his nationality,
rather than Jew. When you take such a person, and you work with
him by inviting him for Shabbos, and showing him hospitality,
when that person is now much more Jewish because of you... So that
perhaps the next time he is asked his nationality, he might write
down, "Jewish." Then, if you have been instrumental in some way in
helping to make another Jew Jewish, you have fulfilled the spiritual
dimension of the mitzvahof p'ru u'revu. If you can in some way
influence an unlearned Jew, our Sages tell us that "talmidimare like
banim" your students are like your children.
Perhaps a woman's ability to bear children, or the lack of it, is
due to previous gilgulim, incarnations. Many things which do not
make sense in this world can be explained by understanding that
almost everyone went through previous incarnations, and the
purpose of one's present incarnation might well be to rectify a
previous incarnation. We are told that this world is like a puzzle.
Did you ever clean the house and find a piece of a puzzle? What is
it? Is it a tree? Is it a house? It just looks like a blob of color. It has no
meaning until you find the rest of the puzzle, and then, all of a
sudden... This is our life, it makes no sense, unless you know what
has happened in the past, and what will happen in the future.
Perhaps the woman with the ten children didn't have any in a
previous gilgul. She needed to go through the experience of raising
children to complete the mission of her Neshamah.
The woman who cannot find a shidduchand therefore cannot
have children perhaps fulfilled that mission to the utmost in a
previous gilgul, and in this generation before Mashiach,has to go
through the torture of being alone. Who knows? One thing we do
know, is that there are no mistakes. Every woman was given, exactly
and precisely, the shlichusthat requires her to develop those areas of
her life that were uncompleted by previous visits to this earth. If this
alone is some consolation to those people who are not blessed with
children, then, so be it.
The Previous Rebbe's name was Yosef Yitzchak. During this past
year (5750/1990), which was the fortieth year of our Rebbe's
leadership of Chabadand world Jewry, the Rebbe spoke on
numerous occasions about the significance of the Previous Rebbe's
name. The name Yosef comes from the verse in the Torah that
Rachel said as soon as she had given birth to her first son, "Yosef
HaShemli ben acher." Translated literally, it means, "May HaShem
grant me an additional son." However, the Rebbe offers an
additional interpretation of the verse: "May HaShemgrant me the
ability to make a "ben" from an "acher!" May HaShemgive us the
ability to turn a Jew who regards himself as an "acher" he thinks he
is American, he thinks he is English, he thinks he is French and
make him into a "ben" a son of the Jewish people. That was the
lifework of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. Making many,
many achersinto banimand banosof the Jewish people.
What does the name Yitzchak signify? It comes from the word
"tzchok," laughter, joy. The methodology of Chabad, as we see clearly
in the writings of all of our Rebbes, and particularly in the works of
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, is not to go about their work with a big stick.
Simchah, joy, a big smile and lots of warmth and friendliness are the
Chabadway that the name of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak represents. This
is the way of Yitzchak. If I don't have a benof my own, a biological
son, then HaShemwants me to spend my energy and my time
turning the achersin the world into banim.
Those of us who have small children may have been puzzled by
the number of directives that the Rebbe has been giving, one after
another, over the last ten years. First the Rebbe said that we
shouldn't hang pictures of non-kosher animals in the child's crib or
on the wall so all the mobiles that had Mickey Mouse went out the
window. The mothers in America went so crazy that you couldn't
find a single picture of a treifanimal in their homes. Then when that
was over the Rebbe said that a Jewish child should have a Siddur,
Tanyaand Chumashin his room, and finally a tzedakahbox with the
child's name and LaShemHaAretz U'Meloah. One after another the
Rebbe gave us more and more directives about the education of
small children. Many women have asked, "Such important things,
why did you wait thirty years to say them? Why didn't you start on
day one and say 'Hey, lady, there's so much more to do with your
The answer is interesting. When the Rebbe first assumed the
leadership of Chabad, he was xnumber of years away from
Mashiach'scoming. As the years went by, his ruachhakodeshhas
revealed that we are much closer to the coming of Mashiach. The
coming of Mashiachwill span several eras. During the final era,
HaShemtells us through His prophets that He will remove the spirit
of impurity (tumah)from the earth. Life will be filled with kedushah.
To pave the way for a life of more kedushahand less tumah, the
Rebbe has instructed us and taught us to remove the tumahin small
ways. By removing those treifanimals, being more modest in dress
and in behavior, using our Hebrew names instead of the English
ones, teaching our children to say "BaruchHaShem," and so on, we
add more kedushahand remove tumah.You had better get ready for a
better world. You have to keep in touch with the Rebbe, listen
carefully and know that every hora'ahis another step in getting the
world ready for the days of Mashiach. These are just a few words to
share with you on the night of the Rebbitzin'syahrzeit.
As I mentioned earlier, I had the zechuswhen I was a small child
to see RebbitzinChanah. The Rebbitzen'shouse was on President
Street. Walking from my house we went down President and up
Kingston Avenue when we went to 770, and we passed her house
every time. I will share with you a scene that I remember from my
childhood. It was Shabbosmorning in 770 in the women's section
and we were davening. Suddenly a hush fell over the women and
everyone turned towards the door. The door opened and Rebbitzin
Chanah, then an elderly woman, entered the shul.As soon as she
walked in, one of the important rebbitzinsof the shul greeted her and
escorted her to the corner of the women's section where she always
sat. I remember her beautiful eyes and her special chair that was
always spotlessly clean and covered with plastic, except when the
Rebbitzinwas in shul. No one else dared to touch or sit in that chair.
When the Rebbitzincame in, it was placed in the mizrach(the east
side, the special place reserved for important people) during the
entire service. When the Rebbitzin finished davening, all of the
women would come to wish her a "good Shabbos" and she in turn
answered "good Shabbos." My most vivid memory of the Rebbitzin
was her two seemingly contradictory characteristics, at once regal
and at the same time totally humble and unpretentious. As she
finished daveningand greeting all the women in the shul, she moved
towards the staircase, went down the three or four steps and left
770. The Rebbe knew exactly when to be at the door of 770 as his
mother was leaving the women's shul.The Rebbe knew how much
time it took her to get to that door. The Rebbe would open the
front door of 770 the one that you all know so well, and stand at
the door and look into his mother's eyes. The two of them would
look at each other for a few seconds and then with a nod, the
Rebbitzinwould turn around and walk to the corner of Eastern
Parkway. The Rebbe remained at the front entrance of 770 until he
could no longer see his mother, and only then turn around and
close the door and go back into 770.
RebbitzinChanah passed away on Shabbos, the 6th of Tishrei,
1964, in the late afternoon. She was 84 years old. At the time that
she returned her pure soul to her Creator, her chair in the women's
section inexplicably caught on fire.
We observe many, many minhagim(customs) without knowing
why we do so "Oh, that's the minhag!" or, "It's just something that
people do; it doesn't have any real significance..." might be the
answer when someone asks what the reason is for keeping a certain
custom. The truth is, that the reason for observing minhagimin one
way or another is more profound than we may realize. our Sages
teach that "minhagYisrael Torahhu" the customs of the Jewish
people are (also) Torah. It is just that the profundity of each
individual minhagis generally not known to most people. In order to
show how profound the minhagimreally are, let us take two examples
of customs which are commonly observed on the eve of Yom
One example is the custom of eating kreplach(small pieces of
ground meat enveloped in dough, served with soup) on the eve of
Yom Kippur. Why do we do so? The common answer is, again, "Oh,
it's just a custom!" The truth is that there is a very profound
Kabbalistic reason for eating kreplach. using the symbolism of the
Kabbalah,the Rebbe explains that the meat in the middle of the
kreplachsignifies the emotional attributes, called the middos,whereas
the dough enveloping the meat made from wheat flour signifies
knowledge (da'as), that is, knowledge of HaShem. On the eve of Yom
Kippur the innermost attribute of kindness, which is hidden within
intellect, shines forth. Thus, when you eat your soup on the eve of
Yom Kippur, you have something to think about we pray that
HaShem's attribute of kindness and mercy will be revealed in our
knowledge and within our hearts, and that we too will respond to
others with kindness and compassion. Another explanation: The
two pieces of dough enveloping the meat allude to the two loaves of
bread which were placed on top of the two lambs which were
sacrificed on Shavuos. Just as Shavuos celebrates the giving of the
Torah for the first time, so too, Yom Kippur celebrates the giving of
the second luchos, after HaShemforgave the Jewish people for the sin
of the Golden Calf. Now you will have something to think about
when you eat your soup on the eve of Yom Kippur.
Another example of a very common minhag, carefully observed
also among Chabadchassidim, is the custom of asking for lekach
(honey cake) on the eve of Yom Kippur. In every household there
should be honey cake, and someone should be put in charge of
giving it out to each person who asks for it. one of the highlights of
Tishrei in 770 was when the Rebbe gave out lekachto about ten
thousand people. What is the meaning of this minhag?
In one of his sichosthe Rebbe explained the custom of giving
out lekach. We all understand why specifically honey cake is given
out because it's sweet and it alludes to a good and sweet year. But
what is the minhagthat you should ask for it? Note that the custom
is not simply that the person in charge of the cake should give every
body a piece of cake, but that everybody should consciously say,
"Can I have a piece of cake?" You should stretch out your hand and
say, "Please give me a piece of cake." And then the cake is given.
That's the minhag. In our family, when I was growing up, we did the
same thing. The husband asks the wife, the wife asks the husband,
the children ask the mother, but everyone has to ask. And you say,
what's the game we're playing? What's the meaning behind it? And
you're given some trite, petty answer like, "This is the minhag. You
don't have to know why you are doing it. You just do it."
However, the Rebbe explained the rationale behind this
custom. We know that a person's parnassah(income) is decreed
every year during this period of time during the AseresYemei
Teshuvah,the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShanah
and Yom Kippur. During this time HaShemdecides how each
person will earn their livelihood, and how much. Now one person
can earn it by being the head of a bank, in an honorable,
respectable, prestigious way. Another person can earn it by
cleaning floors. Another person can get his parnassahthrough
welfare and another person can get his by standing in the streets
and getting hand-outs. As we well know, there are many people
who have to get their parnassahin ways that are embarrassing and
So the minhagof distributing lekachis to say that if, G-d forbid, it
has been decreed that I have to beg for my livelihood, then let this
be my atonement I will ask my wife, I will ask my son, "Please, give
me a piece of cake," and let that be the fulfillment of the decree that
I have to beg, so that the rest of the year I won't have to ask anybody
for food or for money. That is one aspect of the reason for asking
for lekach.
There is another reason given for the custom of asking for
lekach: The way a person earns his living is only the means by which
he receives that which HaShemhas decided to give him. HaShem
decides how much a person will get, and by what means. Now
people would not only like to earn their money, they would like to
earn it in a manner that is not embarrassing. People would like to
earn it with a friendly face in a pleasant way. The Rebbe gave out
thousands and thousands of pieces of lekachto people from all over
the world. Now, why is that when a person gets a piece of lekach
from the Rebbe, he doesn't feel embarrassed? If you have to go
asking for a piece of bread, it's very embarrassing. But if you go ask
the Rebbe for lekach, you don't feel embarrassed. The reason for this
is that even when you give money, or something else, it is really not
you who is giving it, but HaShemthrough you. He is the real
provider of the money. You can see this clearly when you compare
two beggars on two sides of the street. Roughly the same amount of
people pass them by, but the guy sitting on this side of the street
collected forty-seven shekels, whereas the guy on that side got sixty-
seven. How come one got more and one got less? one was given
dirty looks, and one was smiled at. This is not simply chance. This is
all from HaShem. of course, the people who give the money are
HaShem's messengers. So the person giving lekach,or the person
giving tzedakah, is really a divinely sent messenger, and you get that
hand-out without feeling the humility and the unpleasantness of
having to get a handout. This is especially so when one receives
lekachfrom the Rebbe because of his tremendous humility, when
he gives out lekach, one feels clearly that he is a divine messenger,
and that the lekachis really coming from HaShem.
May you all have a good, sweet year.
The month of Tishrei is called ChodeshHashvi'i literally "the
seventh month." However, our Sages tell us that the word shvi'i also
has the connotation of sova satiation. (In the Holy Tongue, these
two words share the same three root-letters.) This month is filled to
satiation with all the important ingredients in a Jew's life. Every Yom-
Tovthat we experience in Tishrei gives us an injection of some
major concept in Judaism. on Rosh HaShanah taking upon
ourselves the yoke of Heaven; on Yom Kippur teshuvah;on
Simchas Torah to serve HaShemwith simchah, etc. What is the
major concept of Sukkos?
Al l Types Together
The Rebbe explains that the idea of unity and togetherness
the unity of the Jewish people is one of the major aspects of
Sukkos. He explains it in several sichosfrom different points of view.
Firstly, in terms of the Sukkahitself: Our Sages state that all of the
Jewish people are worthy of sitting in one Sukkah. This is in fact the
way it will be in the future all of the Jewish people will sit together
with Mashiachin one Sukkah.
In other sichosthe Rebbe explains this in connection with each
of the arbaahminim the four species of plants used in the mitzvah
of lulavand esrogduring Sukkos. However, before we explain the
concept of unity at length in connection with each of the four
species, I would like to point out that the fact that this concept is
explained in all types of different contexts teaches us how vital it is,
because otherwise you wouldn't spend so much effort saying it
repeatedly in different words and from different points of view. This
is comparable to a good teacher. When a good teacher wants to give
an important lesson that her students will remember, she won't just
mention the main point once, and then go on to something else.
That way, her students wouldn't know that it is such an important
lesson. Therefore, to really get her point across, she will explain the
point with a mashal (parable): she'll tell a story about it, then repeat
it again a different way (so it won't get boring). After a while, the
message gets through. The students realize that since the teacher said
it in so many different ways, it must be really important. So we see
that as HaShemis telling us this message (about unity and
togetherness) in so many different ways, it must be an important
message to get.
once again, the idea of Sukkosindicates the idea of unity and
completeness. Each of the four minimhas a unique feature either
taste, or fragrance, or both, or neither which relates to four
different categories of people. The esrog(citron) has both taste and
fragrance; the lulav, only taste (being the branch of a date-palm); the
hadassim(myrtle twigs), only fragrance; and the aravos(willow
branches) neither.
Taste, in our context, alludes to Torah learning. The word for
taste in Hebrew, taam,also means "reason." In addition, the Torah
is called "food for the soul." In addition, it should be noted that the
date, referred to here, is not just any type of food, but a fruit. Fruit is
a metaphor for that which gives pleasure and delight. Similarly, not
only does Torah learning sustain the soul, it also gives a person great
pleasure. Intellectual pleasure (taam)is one of the highest types of
pleasure a person can experience.
Very often, when a person does a mitzvah, he doesn't
understand the rationale behind it. (of course, some mitzvos those
in the category of chukkim cannot be understood rationally.) He
does not do the mitzvahbecause he has an urge to do this act at this
time; rather, he does it because he has what we call kabbalasol
accepting the yoke of Heaven. In other words, he does it because
HaShemsaid to do it. But a person can enjoy Torah learning even if
he is not observant, as intellectual stimulation; people who are
intellectual or intelligent enjoy it, more than they would enjoy doing
a mitzvah. There are people who do not like to do mitzvos, but they
still like to learn. In this context, therefore, the lulavrefers to
somebody who learns.
Fragrance in this context refers to the mitzvos. The Midrashstates
that the mitzvosof the Patriarchs were "fragrant." The hadas, which
has fragrance, but no taste, refers to somebody who does mitzvos, but
is lacking in his learning. of course, since learning Torah is one of
the mitzvos, this cannot be talking about a person who does not
learn Torah at all. Rather, it alludes to a person who is outstanding
specifically in his fulfillment of the mitzvos to the extent that his
mitzvosare called "fragrant."
The esrogalludes to somebody who is balanced he has both
Torah learning and is outstanding in the performance of mitzvos.
The aravosrepresent those Jews who may be Jewish at heart, but
they don't really do mitzvosas yet, and they don't learn Torah.
However, the Torah says that to perform the mitzvahof arbaah
minim,you must take all four types together. If this is not done, even
if you have three of the four types, you did not do the mitzvah. You
have to have all four together. What does this teach us? Although
not all the Jewish People are whole, complete, and perfect some
have only mitzvosto their credit; some have only Torah to their
credit, and some have neither nevertheless, the nation is not
complete if any one of these types is missing.
Sukkostherefore represents the togetherness and unity of all
strata of the Jewish world. When you have the togetherness of all
four groups, this is called observing the mitzvah.
Internal Unity
We also see the unity of the four species emphasized in another
way. Not only is their harmony and togetherness expressed at the
collective level, i.e., when all four different types are taken together
in performing the mitzvah, but, in addition, each one of these four
types displays an internal unity as well.
The Esrog : The esrogis the only fruit that remains on the tree
for an entire year. Every other fruit has a season when the tree on
which it grows blossoms. After the flower falls off, there is a little
fruit that stays on the tree until it ripens. But the fruit is only on the
tree for a few weeks, or for a maximum of a few months. However,
although the esrogstarts out in the same way as other fruits, it
remains green and unripe unfit for pronouncing the blessing over
it until it has been through a process of growth which spans all four
seasons of the year. In this regard it is unique there is no other
fruit like it.
Each season of the year has a different feature or quality: some
have more sun, some have more rain, aspects of the atmosphere that
we cannot sense. Correspondingly, each fruit in its season prefers
more or less rain, more or less sun, more or less wind. A drastic
change in the weather usually means the destruction of the esrog.If it
is to become mature and perfect, it must utilize aspects from each of
the seasons. To become complete, it needs to go through the entire
cycle of seasons. Thus, the esrogexpresses its unity by encompassing
all aspects of time and change within itself (thus indicating that
unity transcends time and change).
The Lulav: If you examine a lulavclosely after Sukkos, you will
probably see that its leaves have begun to spread apart. In order
for a palm branch to be kosher for the mitzvah, its leaves must not
be spread apart like a fan. Rather, they must be closely pressed
together. This is an expression of unity. Although each leaf is
really a separate entity, attached to the spine of the lulav, it can
only be used when all the leaves are packed so closely together that
they appear to be a single unit. Furthermore, each of the leaves of
the lulavis really made up of two leaves which are attached along
their backs from top to bottom. According to halachah(Jewish
law), if the majority of the leaves are split apart the lulavis pasul
it cannot be used for the mitzvah. The lulavtherefore also
represents an aspect of unity that each entity must be attached
to, and combined with, all others.
Hadassim: Where do we see the idea of unity expressed in the
myrtle branches? The leaves of hadassimgrow in groups of three. To
be kosher, each of the three leaves of each group must emanate from
the same nodule on the branch. If one of the leaves emanates from a
point higher or lower than the other two in the group, the hadasis
invalid if a majority of leaves grow like that. At any rate, even if only
a minority of the groups of three leaves do not emanate from the
same nodule, the branch is not regarded as mehudar perfect. This
again emphasizes the idea of unity, all individual entities having a
common source.
Aravos: The aspect of unity expressed by willow branches comes
from the fact that many trees do not need "friends;" a single tree
could be growing with no other similar tree nearby. Aravos, however,
typically grow in clusters. In fact aravosare called achvanain
Aramaic, related to the Hebrew word achavah, meaning
"brotherhood" or "friendship," as our Sages say: "Why is the willow
tree called achvana?Because it grows b'achava in friendship!" This
is yet another expression of unity.
HaShemtherefore tells the Jewish People: "You may be separate
and individual entities, but, in order to fulfill My will, you must
come together. You must form a single bunch, and one will atone
for the other, and each one will complement the other." Thus, when
we have a group of Jews, although one might be an esrog, possessing
both taste and fragrance, whereas another might be a mere aravah,
nevertheless, all of them are necessary, for one complements the
other, and each one reflects HaShem's unity in a different way. You
cannot know whose merit is atoning for whom. But we do know
that when you have everybody together, all the merits are there.
This, incidentally, is one of the explanations of why one needs a
minyan(a quorum of ten men) in order to repeat certain prayers. No
one is complete and perfect in himself, but when people come
together, each one complements the other, and when you have ten
men this forms a complete entity.
It often happens that a person who possesses some superior
quality or distinction is liable to become arrogant, even though that
quality is not necessarily earned. He or she may have been born with
it, or have inherited it. on the other hand, just as widespread, and
perhaps even more so, is the feeling of low self-worth experienced by
a lot of people these days. What is the difference between true
humility and low self-esteem?
Regarding Moshe Rabbeinu, the Torah states that he was "the
most humble (anav) person on earth." The Rebbe points out that
the word used for Moshe's humility is anav, rather than shafel.What
is the difference? The word shafel is used to signify a person who
regards himself as lacking in distinctive qualities, while an anavis a
person who has special qualities (and who even knows that he has
them) but is humble about them.
Who has to worry about arrogance? The person who has great
qualities. If a person thinks he is stupid and ugly, with a terrible
personality, and his whole life people have been telling him just
that, he will probably have a very low self-image. There is not very
much chance of this person being arrogant. He has to worry about
his low self-esteem, for what does he have to be arrogant about?
(This subject also needs to be discussed at length, but at present let
us look at the other side of the coin, the aspect of arrogance and
humility.) A person who is beautiful, bright and talented, and
throughout his whole life has been told how wonderful he is, is
liable to have feelings of superiority and arrogance. Such a person
has to take precautions and preventive measures to make sure that
he does not fall into the clutches of gaavah conceit.
one of the lessons we can derive from the lulavand esrogrelates
directly to the prevention of arrogance:
As is well known,* the esrogrepresents that type of Jew who has
it all both Torah learning and mitzvos. It is told that when the
* See previous section.
great Kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the AriZal), was on his
deathbed, his final words were the verse Al tevoeini regel gaavah
"Let me not come to arrogance" (Tehillim36:12). What does this
have to do with an esrog? The initial letters (the roshei teivos) of the
Hebrew verse Esrog! So the esrog's very
name is a plea that HaShemhelp me not to become arrogant.
"Granted, I do have Torah and mitzvos to my credit. But let me
remain humble about it."
As for the lulav, although it is the symbol of someone who
learns much Torah, such a person could easily become arrogant
about himself if he thinks he is such a Ben Torah (a Torah scholar).
(This is the Ben Torah syndrome, where people feel they are such
great Torah scholars that if you do not pay homage to them you're a
terrible sinner.)
The story is told about one of the young students of the Maggid
of Mezritch who was a very diligent fellow. one day, after learning
several pages of Gemara with all the various commentaries, he
walked out of the beis midrash for a breath of fresh air. Being proud
of his achievement, he placed his hat upon his head at a jaunty tilt.
As he strolled past the Maggid's window, the great Rabbi called out,
"If so-and-so many pages of Gemara make a Yeshivah boy's hat tilt at
such an angle, how many more pages of Gemarawill knock it right
What must be done in order to prevent arrogance in the Torah
scholar? We can answer this by pointing out something paradoxical:
Isn't it the fruit of the date palm which has taste, rather than the
leaves? And yet we do not recite the blessing over the dates, but over
the leaves of the date palm, which do not have the taste! There is
something incongruous here, a paradox! Why don't we take dates
themselves? After all, they are the ones which symbolize Torah
learning! Just as we take the esrog as a fruit, not the leaves of the esrog
tree, let's take the dates rather than their leaves! From the fact that
the Torah tells us to take the leaves and not the fruit, the Rebbe
deduces a hora'ah an instruction: It is in order to prevent the lulav
type of person from becoming arrogant that we are instructed to
take the leaves instead of the fruit. The fruits of a tree are its
consummation, its glory, whereas the leaves are merely secondary. So
we take the leaves and hide the fruit. We know that these are the
leaves of the date palm, but we do not see the dates in a revealed
way. This teaches us a lesson in modesty tznius. Be humble. Do
not show off your fruits. Everyone knows that there are dates
behind the leaves, but one does not have to put the fruits on
Furthermore, when a person learns Torah, the thing that causes
him to become arrogant is when he feels he has come to the
conclusion he has learned everything. For example, let's say you're
figuring out a math problem. When do you feel pride? When you
solve the equation. "Ah! I got the answer. Wow! I'm so proud!" But
while you're figuring it out, you're not so proud you're struggling
to figure it out: "Which theorem should I use? Did I get it right?" It's
only when you finish that you're proud. The Rebbe says that the
leaves are symbolic of what precedes the fruit. on a tree, the leaves
precede the fruit. They protect it, but are not the culmination of the
growth process. Thus, they signify the process of learning, rather
than its culmination, symbolized by the fruits. Because the process
of learning is difficult, at times tedious, at times exasperating, so that
the person is often troubled and even upset that he hasn't reached
the answer yet at that point there is no possibility of arrogance.
That is why we take the leaves of the date palm, rather than the
fruit, to symbolize that no matter where you are up to in your Torah
learning, you have not yet come to the conclusion. You're always
still at the stage of the leaves, because as far as you've gone, you can
always go further, and further, and further. If you would take the
date, you would say, "Ah! I've made it; I've reached the end." And
so, you take the leaf because you never reach the end. And if you
feel as if you never reach the end, you will never become arrogant.
As it says, the more one learns, the more one knows how little he
knows. The more you learn, the more you see how much more there
is to learn, and that is very humbling.
The Rebbe makes another interesting point: The blessing we
make before shaking the four minimis, " netilaslulav." Why not
" netilasesrog?" Since the esrogsymbolizes a person who is
outstanding in both his Torah learning and his observance of
mitzvos,shouldn't we therefore make the blessing on the esrog?
Alternatively, since all four of the species are necessary to fulfill the
mitzvahthey should all have equal importance. Accordingly,
shouldn't we make the blessing "... al netilasarbaah minim?" Why do
we say " netilaslulav?" one of the explanations offered is that
this is because the lulavis the tallest and most prominent of all the
four minim. Is this in itself sufficient justification for our Sages to
focus the wording of the blessing exclusively on the lulav? The
Rebbe answers that the physical structure of an object is a reflection
of its spiritual stature. In other words, the fact that the lulavis the
tallest of the four species also suggests that there is some superiority
that the lulav has over the other three kinds, and that is why HaShem
made it the tallest. It's not the fact that it merely has more inches,
but that this is a sign that there is some special quality associated
with it.
As explained previously, the lulavis associated with somebody
who has really devoted himself to Torah study, even more so than
the esrog-type. Although he puts on tefillin, he eats kosher, etc., he is
most outstanding in his devotion to Torah learning. That is why he
is taller than the esrog, and that is why we make the blessing over
However, because the lulavsignifies someone outstanding when
it comes to learning, he really may have the problem of swelling with
pride at his achievements, especially when this is not
counterbalanced by an equal devotion to the performance of the
mitzvos, as with the esrogtype of person.
one of the ways in which a Torah scholar can avoid arrogance is
by emulating what we do to the lulavwhen we fulfill the mitzvahof
the arbaahminim. As everybody knows, during the up and down and
inward-outward movement of the four minimin all four directions,
called the naanuim, it is customary to make sure that the leaves of
the lulavshake visibly or audibly. Although all four types are
obviously shaken along with it, it is clear that the lulavshakes the
The Rebbe points out that this is reminiscent of the shoklen
the Yiddish word for swaying from side to side, or backwards and
forwards that a Jew does when he prays or learns Torah. "Why does
he shokl?If you ask him why, he probably will not be able to tell you.
Furthermore, he might not even have realized that he was shokl-ing!
In fact, the Rebbe explains that it is the unconscious result of
the ratzohand shov the "running forward and returning" of a
person's Neshamah(soul).
Regarding the Neshamah, a verse states, "Ner HaShemnishmas
adam" "The soul of man is a lamp of G-d." Just as a flame flickers
because it longs to return to its source above,* so too, the soul of a
Jew. Each element of the world has a natural tendency to return to
its source. Water and earth fall down if you throw them up in the air
because that is where their elemental sources are below. But a
flame, whichever way you turn the candle, always burns upward.
Similarly, the Neshamahof a Jew longs to return to its source, and
therefore it "flickers" this is manifested in shoklen, which indicates
that the person is connected with his Source, and unconsciously
shows that he longs to return to it. When does this happen? "When a
person prays or learns Torah. When you're eating lunch, or reading
a newspaper, you don't feel that connection to your source. But
when you davenand when you learn, that subconscious desire to
gravitate to your source manifests itself in shoklen.This in turn
reminds you that you're not just daveningbecause it's an exercise in
Hebrew, and you're not just learning because you're taking a Gemara
test, but because this is how one attaches oneself to HaShem.
And that is why it's the lulavthat does most of the shoklen,
because that's the kind of person who needsto be shaken up. He's
the one who has to be reminded that this Torah learning is not just
an intellectual exercise, but the way for a Jew to unify himself with
* Our Sages explain that a flame always flickers upwards because the divine source of the
element of fire is Above.
The mitzvahof reciting a blessing over the arbaahminim
(comprising the lulav, esrog, hadassimand aravos) and the mitzvahof
eating in the sukkahare observed during all the days of Sukkos,
except for the last day. on the last day of Sukkos, the day of
Shemini Atzeres (and outside of Israel, Simchas Torah* as well) we
don't take the lulavand esrogetc., anymore, and we don't sit in the
sukkah. (outside of Israel it is a custom to sit in the sukkahon
Shemini Atzeres, but one does not recite the blessing Leisheiv
In one of his sichosabout the last days of Sukkos, the Rebbe cites
a famous parable to explain why we have the Yom-Tovof Shemini
Atzeres. We went through so many yamimtovimin Tishrei; what is
the need for another Yom-Tov?The parable tells about a king who
had a dear friend who came to visit him. When the time came for
this friend to leave, the king just couldn't bear to part with him, and
asked him to stay just one more day. This is the idea of Shemini
Atzeres; HaShemwants one more day with the Jewish People.
The source of this parable is the Midrash. In explaining it, the
Midrashuses the following expression: Kashaalai preidaschem
"Your separation is very hard for me." Literally, of course, this
means that the departure of his friend is very difficult for the king.
However, from a close analysis of the words of this statement, the
Rebbe gleans an amazing insight into the real meaning of the words
of the Midrash. The expression used is: preidaschem "your
separation." In other words, if there is separation, it comes from
you. It is not G-d who ever leaves the Jewish People, but vice versa.
So, if, G-d forbid, we feel separated from HaShem, if we feel
abandoned and alone, this is only because we have drifted away, not
because He has departed. "I didn't leave you," says the King, "you
* Some of the festivals are celebrated for one day in Israel and for two days in the Diaspora.
left Me. Furthermore, this separation is just as difficult for Me as it
is for you."
The Rebbe gives another interpretation, perhaps even more
insightful than the previous one: Kashaalai preidaschem 'Your
separation (in the sense of discord and dissension) is what is difficult
for Me," says G-d. "When Jews do not get along together, when
there is a distinct lack of ahavasYisrael, love for one's fellow Jew, this
is what hurts Me," says G-d.
Every day in the final blessing of the ShemonehEsrehprayer, we
recite the words, BarcheinuAvinu kulanoke-echad beor Panecha
"Bless us our Father, as one, with the light of Your Countenance..."
That is, if we are as one, then we will receive G-d's blessing.
So HaShemsays, "When there is strife among you, so that one
Jew is separated from the next, when you separate yourselves from
each other, then I cannot be with you. If you want Me to be with
you, then you have to be with each other."
The Rebbe very often emphasizes another idea the joy of
Sukkos. The entire week of Sukkos is called zmansimchaseinu, the
time of our rejoicing, which is expressed in nightly dancing
celebrating the drawing of the water to be poured on the altar
during Temple times. This is called SimchasBeisHa-Sho'evah the
water-drawing celebration. This rejoicing reaches its peak on
Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.
Why do we celebrate Simchas Torah precisely in this way? On
Rosh HaShanah we celebrate by blowing the shofar, on Yom Kippur
we fast and pray for an entire day, and on Sukkos we celebrate by
taking the four minimand by sitting in the sukkah. Why do we
celebrate Simchas Torah literally, "the joy of [completing] the
Torah" by dancing? Why don't we celebrate it by learning Torah?
This is the Yom-Tovon which we finish reading the entire Torah
from the first parshah,* Bereishis, to the last, ZosHaBerachah, which
we read on Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. So why don't we
* The Five Books of Moses are divided into 53 sections (parshas). One section is read each
week (sometimes two), so that the entire Torah is completed in a year.
simply go to lectures and shiurimon these days, rather than merely
dance? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to have marathon learning
sessions in order to celebrate the completion of reading the Torah?
Although it is taught that on Simchas Torah, the Torah dances and
celebrates with us, the question still stands: "why can't the Torah be
happy when everyone's learningit?" Wouldn't the Torah be happy if
it saw that everybody was learning it? After all, why is it called
Simchas Torah if not to mean the joy of the Torah itself the
Torah is b'simchathat people are learning? And so why do we dance,
davka, on Simchas Torah?
The Rebbe gives several answers to this question. First, when
people are dancing, you see the achdus the unity among them
very strongly. By way of contrast, when a teacher is teaching Torah,
it is obvious to him that not everyone in the class has the same level
of understanding. He can teach some people and they get it right
away; some get a blank look so that he feels like he's lost them;
others are somewhere in the middle. You don't see the achduswhen
you teach Torah instead, you see the differences. Another
example: Pesach (Passover) night at the Sedertable. When you look
at the people sitting around the Seder, you can see that everybody is
doing the Sederdifferently one enjoys this part, one enjoys that
part. You don't see that everyone is the same. However, when
people dance together, you cannot tell if this one is a big professor,
and this one is a beginner who can barely read Hebrew. Everybody is
doing the same thing picking up their feet and jumping and
singing. You don't see the differences between their intellectual
levels or even their spiritual levels how frum(pious) this one is,
how frumthat one is. You just see everyone doing the same thing
dancing. Dancing emphasizes the sameness, not the differences.
That is why we don't celebrate by learning, because with learning, all
those who do not have such good brains say, "I wish I could learn,
but I just don't understand," and it makes them feel depressed. And
even among those who do understand there are differences. It's not
So HaShemsays, "I want this day where everybody can
participate in the same way, in unison." That is why when we dance
with the Torah, we keep it closed. We don't open up the Torah
scroll so that everybody can read it; we close it up, tie it, and cover it
with its mantle. This shows that we are accepting the Torah as it is,
even if we do not understand it all. Because if the Torah is open,
some people could read it, while others could not, and would feel
bad. Like this we say, "Whatever level we're on, we accept the Torah
and dance with the Torah for what it is." It's like accepting the Yoke
of Heaven upon yourself, even though it transcends your
Another interesting thing is that when you dance, you don't
usually dance with your head. You dance with your feet, the lowest
part of the body. But when the feet jump, even the head is raised.
This signifies that even the Jews on the very lowest levels also have a
place in the Torah. In fact, on Simchas Torah their place is primary.
Imagine a group of men, some of whom are very prominent
scholars, roshei yeshivah, and some of whom are just ordinary Jews,
and others of whom are the very simplest of Jews. If a dance would
start, who do you think would be most fervent, jumping around
the most? The roshei yeshivahor the simpler Jews? In the old days,
the Talmudtells us that it was the Torah scholars who danced the
longest and in the liveliest way. But today, it seems that the
scholarly learning gets in the way of the dancing. In other words,
today who dances most fervently? The "feet" those who are
presently at the lowestlevel of learning. So on Simchas Torah we
see the superiority of the feet the simplest Jews like to dance the
It is also explained in Chassidusthat joy is the kind of emotion
that unifies people, as opposed to the emotions that we have during
the other YamimTovim.Let's take Rosh HaShanah as an example.
on Rosh HaShanah, the Jew is involved in doing teshuvah
(repentance). He is serious; he doesn't need anybody. You want to
be alone when you're meditating, when you're thinking about a
certain thing. But when you have good news, don't you want to
burst, to tell somebody, or even everybody? It is especially when
there is joy that you want to have many people over; you want to
share. Simchahis the kind of emotion that breeds togetherness,
whereas seriousness, or reflection, tends to prefer solitude. on Rosh
HaShanah and Yom Kippur, you do not need so many people. But
sharing the joy of Simchas Torah makes for togetherness.
Simchahis also self-transcending bitul, as it is called in
Chassidus. Why? Because when one involves himself with teshuvah,
for example, then just as a scholar could get arrogant by thinking,
"I've learned so much," "I'm so knowledgeable," so one who does
teshuvahcould also think, "What a good teshuvahI did! Boy, did I do
a cheshbonhanefesh(critical self-examination)!" But when you are in a
true state of joy, b'simchah, you lose your sense of self. When
someone is happy, or something good happens and you are in the
spirit of joy, you don't feel your "I" so much. In fact, you feel more
humble in a moment of simchah. Simchahis the opposite of
arrogance and isolation. When one is in a mood of simchah, he feels
togetherness with other people. This is why our Sages tell us that
"joy breaks all boundaries." It breaks barriers and brings out the
achdus, the inherent unity between Jews, which reflects the inherent
unity of HaShem.
The Torah writes:* Tachasasher loavadtaes HaShemElokecha
besimchah..., veavadtaes oyvecha "Because you did not serve the
Lord your G-d in happy times, you will serve your enemies." The
AriZal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the famous Kabbalist of Safed,
interpreted the passage as follows: "Because you did not serve the
Lord your G-d with joy, you will serve your enemies." Serving
HaShemis not enough. You are expected to serve Him with simchah.
I would like to conclude with a beautiful story, one that shows
how important simchahis. It's a true story that took place 200 years
ago, in the times of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. As you know,
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was a great tzaddik (saintly individual) who had
ruachhakodesh(divine inspiration). In his time, the country was ruled
by feudal lords, who lived extravagantly and were generally cruel to
the Jews who lived and worked on their estates. In Rabbi Levi
Yitzchak's city there was a paritz(feudal lord) who had arrested an
entire Jewish family because they had not paid their rent. It had
* Devarim28:47.
been a difficult year, and it was hard for them to pay. Nevertheless
the paritzhad threatened that if they did not pay the entire rent, the
whole family would rot away in his dungeon, until someone would
pay the astronomical sum of 300 rubles that they owed him. So the
whole family was thrown into a dungeon. This took place some days
before Yom Kippur.
When the community of Berditchev heard the sad news,
everyone wept. The family's life was in mortal danger. one of the
chassidim of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak heard about the matter and
decided to take responsibility for the mitzvahof ransoming the
family, the mitzvahof pidyonshevuyim. "How can I go about my daily
affairs," he thought, "when the lives of an entire Jewish family are in
danger in the jail of the paritz?It's terrible!"
So he went around from house to house telling the story of that
unfortunate family. However, while everyone was very sympathetic,
they were not very rich. People gave him whatever they could, but
when he counted what he collected, it was only a fraction of the 300
rubles he needed. The chassid did not know what to do. So it was,
that on the eve of Yom Kippur he was racking his brain, "Where can
I get 300 rubles, such a large sum of money?" Then he remembered
that on the edge of town there was a bar, frequented by some
wealthy Jews who had strayed from the path of Yiddishkeit. So he
went there hoping that perhaps the sad story of the imprisoned
family might make them open their hearts and their pockets. He
went there and saw quite a large crowd of Jews. Although it was the
eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, they didn't know or
care about making the proper preparations. They were drinking and
laughing, and playing cards. They were in a different world
altogether. The chassid went over to one group and began to tell the
story of the family in the paritz'sdungeon: "A whole family,
including the mother and her little children, are in mortal danger!
You have to give something!" The Jews started whispering among
themselves, and then said, "OK, we'll make a deal with you. We will
give you a hundred rubles, a third of the amount you need, from
just these guys around this table, if you will drink a whole glass of
96-proof vodka." This was on the eve of Yom Kippur, don't forget.
The chassid first thought, "My goodness, if I drink a glass of this 96-
proof vodka, I'll pass out! It's the eve of Yom Kippur! A Jew should
not drink on the eve of Yom Kippur because he will not be able to
concentrate while intoxicated. How can I agree to such a ridiculous
condition?" But then he thought, "Am I thinking only about myself?
What about this family? Their lives are in danger! It's a case of
pikuach nefesh!I cannot be selfish. I must think of them!"
So he said to the Jews in the bar, "OK, I accept your deal." But
they started laughing, "Look, this religious guy is going to drink a
glass of vodka and get drunk?!" However, they kept their word. The
chassid drank the vodka and they gave him the hundred rubles.
Although his head was already spinning, he thought, "Well, it
worked at this table, I'll try the next table as well." So he went over
to another table and said, "You know, your friends at that table just
gave me a hundred rubles. Maybe you also could make a little
collection? I know you have money." So they said, "We'll only give
you a hundred rubles if you do what you did at that table. Are you
willing to drink a second cup of 96-proof vodka? If you do, we'll also
give you a hundred rubles."
At first he thought, "My goodness one cup, OK! But, if I drink
two cups of this stuff, I'll be so drunk that I won't be able to say a
word. What kind of Yom Kippur will it be? I may as well not go to
shul!" However, his second thought was, "What, am I thinking only
of my Yom Kippur? I ought to be thinking of getting those poor
people released!" So he said, "OK, I'll do it. By this time his knees
were already shaking, but he drank a second cup. They kept their
word and gave him the money, so he now had 200 rubles. All he
needed was 100 more. He had estimated that it would take him
weeks to collect, but suddenly he had two-thirds of the money. So he
thought, "Well, I'm going good. I'll try the table in the other
He went over and said, "Look, your friends gave me 200 rubles.
All I need is 100 rubles more, and I can get the family out today,
before Yom Kippur! It's really a big mitzvah, and I know you people
have Jewish souls. You gotta do it!" So they said, "It's a deal; we'll
give you a hundred rubles, but you have to drink another cup of this
strong, strong vodka." The chassid said to himself, "This is getting
out of hand already, you know. If I drink three cups of vodka, I'll be
lying on the floor all Yom Kippur. I won't even be able to get up
until after the fast day! What kind of fast will it be? What kind of
teshuvahcan I do, drunk as a paritz?" But of course, he thought,
"This is ridiculous. I can't think only of myself;I have to think of the
family." So he drank the third cup and his head started to reel. He
could hardly stand up, but he had the 300 rubles. He then said to
one of the people, "Look, I cannot walk right now. I want you to do
me a favor. You gave me the money; now, please take me to the
paritz. I'm afraid that I'll collapse on the way."
So the chassid left the bar, and was escorted to the paritz.He
gave him the money, and the family was released. on the eve of
Yom Kippur. The father kissed him and hugged him; they just could
not express their gratitude enough to him. But the chassid said to
the man who was just released from the dungeon, "Do me one
favor. I just drank three cups of this vodka and I cannot stand up.
Please do me a favor: don't kiss me, don't hug me. Just get me to
shul,and put me on one of the back benches. If I'm going to pass
out, I'd rather do so in the atmosphere of Reb Levi Yitzchak and the
shul,than in my bed at home."
They brought him to the shul, and he passed out on a bench in
the corner. Meanwhile, everyone else started coming to shul wearing
their white kittels. When they saw this well-known chassid passed out
in a drunken stupor on the bench, they couldn't believe it. on the
eve of Yom Kippur? They never heard of such a crazy thing! "Is that
what's-his-name drunk and sleeping on the bench, without his kittel?!
It looks like he doesn't even know it's YomKippur!"
Eventually, the introductory prayer of Yom Kippur, Kol Nidrei,
was started. At this time, the custom is to take out all the Torah
scrolls from the Ark and hold them. Suddenly, as they were taking
them out, the chassid woke up. Being totally intoxicated, he thought
it was Simchas Torah, for the Torah scrolls are taken out on that
night also. So he got up from his bench, and started jumping and
dancing around the shul,singing at the top of his voice. Everyone
stared at him, wondering if he had lost his mind. They had never
seen such behavior from such a normal person. "First he's sleeping,
and now he's dancing. He thinks it's Simchas Torah; he must be
crazy!" they whispered. They were about to throw him out of the shul
when Reb Levi Yitzchak said, "Leave him alone. He earned it. He
deserves it. Don't touch him." The chassid danced joyfully the entire
Finally, when Yom Kippur was over, they asked Reb Levi
Yitzchak, "Why did you tell us to leave him alone? Wasn't it a
disgusting way to behave, for a drunk to dance during the entire
Yom Kippur service?"
Reb Levi Yitzchak replied, "I want you to understand something
very important. The month of Tishrei is like a ladder that we climb.
We start in Elul and go up to Rosh HaShanah, then we go up
another step to Yom Kippur, and then to Sukkos. We keep
climbing; each Yom-Tovis like another rung. SimchasTorah, with the
togetherness of all the Jewish People united joyfully with the Torah,
is the peak, the climax. When you've reached that rung, you've
nowhere higher to go. This Jew, because of the mesirusnefeshthat he
showed for another Jew sacrificing his Yom Kippur to save
another Jew already fulfilled the requirements of Yom Kippur; he
doesn't need it. As far as he's concerned, he has reached the peak
Simchas Torah. It's not a mistake; for this Jew, the service of Yom
Kippur was superfluous. He already achieved everything that one has
to achieve on Yom Kippur without going through the motions that
we all need to go through. So, when he got up to dance, he was
doing the right thing. He simply reached Simchas Torah ahead of
everyone else."
This story teaches us an important lesson. A person might say,
"What's so special about dancing on Simchas Torah? I mean, every
one can dance. What's so holy about singing and jumping?" But we
see that it's not true: if Yom Kippur would be holier than Simchas
Torah, then Yom Kippur would come last. The fact that Simchas
Torah is last means that despite what appearances may be, the danc
ing on Simchas Torah is even greater, and higher, and holier than
the fasting on Yom Kippur and the daveningof Rosh HaShanah.
[In her openingwordsat thisclass, Nechomapointedout the
importanceof thesichahwhichshewasabout toteach thesecond
sichahonBereishisinVolume10 of Likkutei Sichos andwhichshehad
taught aweek earlier at theKinusHaShluchosinAmerica. Shealso
madeaspecial request that anyonewhoenjoyedthesichahshould
promisethemselves(bli neder) tostudyit againwitha friend, or withtheir
husband, or evenwiththeir older children.]
In Pirkei Avosour Sages state that HaShemcreated the world
with ten utterances. The very first of these utterances* is "Vayomer
Elokim, yehi or" "And G-d said, 'There shall be light.'" Since He
created the world with ten utterances, no more and no less, then
obviously each of them was absolutely necessary. Moreover, each
one represents a further stage of development. Accordingly, the
order in which they were uttered didn't just happen haphazardly.
There was a specific order involved: The order in which things are
presented in the Torah is also Torah! In other words, not only do
we learn practical lessons from the content of what is said in the
Torah, but also from the order in which things are written in the
Given these principles, the Rebbe now asks: "Why was light the
first thing to be created? When HaShemcreated this fantastic world,
with millions and billions of things, why did He choose to create
light as the first thing of all? Remember that the content as well as
the order are important. "oh," you might say, "this is obvious
because light is so important." So the Rebbe asks further: "Granted,
light is important, but whom is light important for?"
At first glance, we would conclude that light is useful only to
those creatures who can see, or make use of light in some way or
another. Light only reveals what is already there. We all know if
we would have come into this very shul in the middle of the night
* Although our Sages state that the word Bereishisis also one of the ten utterances,
nevertheless, it refers only to the creation of primordial matter, as explained by Ramban. Ed.
when it's pitch dark, we would walk very, very slowly because we
know there are benches and tables, and other objects, and so we
would be afraid of falling. But all you need is one tiny bulb, and
all of a sudden you feel safe. You see where the aisle is, you see
where the table is. So what did the light do? Did it change
anything? Did it add anything? Nothing! It just showed you what
was there. But now that you know what's in the room, you feel
confident. In chassidic terminology this is called gilui revelation.
So the Rebbe asks: Since the function of light is to reveal, then
what possible accomplishment can it be to have light when there is
nothing to reveal, on the very first day of creation, when there was as
yet nothing else? Moreover, not only was there nothing to reveal,
there was no one to reveal it to!
When we were little, my father always used to say, "Turn off the
light. It's not my job to support Con Edison Electric Company. If
you're in the room doing homework, bevakashah(you're welcome).
But when you go out, turn off the light!" There is no reason to pay
electric bills when there is no one there who needs the light. So light
is only important if somebody is using it. But as soon as you go out,
shut off the light! So why did HaShemput on the light on the first
day of creation? There were no people until the sixth day, when
Adam was created. There weren't even any animals which could
distinguish between light and darkness until the fifth day. You
might say HaShemwanted to create light for the plants, which also
need light in order to grow. But they were created only on the third
day. In other words, until the third day there was nothing in the
world that required light. So at the very earliest, light should have
been created at the end of the second day, so that it would be ready
for the plants on the third day. Why then was it so important to
create light on the first day? He could have created it even the day
before. You don't want to have the beds ready long before the guests
Rashi comments that the light created on the first day was not
the light that we are familiar with, which originates in the sun.
When was the sun created? On the fourth day! So obviously, the
light that shone from the very beginning of creation was not
sunlight. Rashi continues, explaining that HaShemconcealed the
light He created on the first day for use in the future, le'asid lavo. He
hid the light that He created on the first day, and will reveal it again
when Mashiach comes. Based on this, the Rebbe asks a second
question: Since this light was not intended to be used on earth at
present, why did He create it altogether? What was the purpose of
creating something, and saying, "I'm hiding it. I'm holding it in my
treasure house, and I'll give it back in 6000 years!" But, if HaShem
did it, there's got to be a specific reason why He did it precisely this
The Zohar, one of the earliest Kabbalistic works, written by
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, states that the Hebrew word for light, or
( ) has the same numerical value as the word raz ( ), which means
"secret." Kabbalistic teachings explain that the fact that two words
have the same gematria, or numerical value, shows that intrinsically
they have a connection, although that connection may not always be
obvious. But it seems that in this case, although or and raz have the
same gematria, they are completely opposite concepts. Light signifies
revelation, whereas raz, a secret, is something concealed. A secret is
thus the opposite of light. So, the Rebbe asks, how could words
which have completely contradictory meaning have the same
In order to answer all of the above questions, the Rebbe quotes
an analogy given by the Midrash for the process of creation: When a
king of flesh and blood wants to build a palace, he first prepares
architectural plans and blueprints. When everything has been
planned out on paper, only then does he actually start the
construction. The same idea applies to the way HaShembuilt the
world, declares the Midrash.
The Rebbe explains that of course the reality is exactly the
opposite. A king of flesh and blood builds this way because this is
the way HaShemdesigned and built the world. Everything down here
is the way that it is, because it stems from the way things are Above.
That is why our Sages state that the Torah was the blueprint of
creation. "HaShemlooked into the Torah and created the world."
The Torah preceded the world, and therefore if we want to know
how things should be, we must look into the Torah to find out.
Nevertheless, the Midrash uses the analogy of a king of flesh and
blood so that we will be able to relate to the concept and understand
it more easily.
In terms of human behavior then, before a person makes up
his mind to do something which requires some effort and
organization, he first decides what the purpose of the proposed
action is. only once he has done that, does he begin to plan how
to go about it, and finally actually put the plan into effect. Now, at
each stage of the implementation of the plan, although one has
the ultimate goal in mind, one generally concentrates only on that
particular aspect of the activity, and not on the enterprise as a
whole. Let me give you an example: Since the year 5748 (1988,
when the Rebbe first spoke about how birthdays should be
celebrated), birthdays have become a big thing in our lives. (My
children, for instance, made me a birthday party and they put my
age on streamers on the window in giant letters ) Now, how
could you make a birthday without a cake? You have to have a
birthday cake! Although I'm not such a big baker these days, I
realize the necessity, and so I bake the kids a cake. of course, not
every cake is the same, so you have to take orders what kind of
cake, what kind of decoration, a chocolate cake, white icing, pink
icing, etc. So one day my kid comes home from his friend Yankie's
birthday party and says, "Yankie had a chocolate cake with white
icing and sprinkles, and make me a cake just like that!"
"Sure, anything you want."
I look through the cookbook and find a recipe for the cake, and
another one for the icing. First and foremost, I ask myself, what do
we need to make the cake? The recipe says flour, baking soda,
margarine, sugar, etc. oops, I'm out of margarine, so I'll have to
send one of the kids to the store, and another one to borrow a
round pan from my upstairs neighbor. I get out the flour and the
sifter and start sifting. So I have to do a few activities before I can
create a cake like the one my son ate at his friend's house.
Meanwhile, the kid's getting nervous. He says, "Mommy, what about
the cake? You're wasting so much time, going to the store and sifting
the flour."
"Tattele," I reply, "in order to make a cake there are a few things
you have to get first. I don't have all the ingredients."
A previous cake-baking incident comes to mind, while I'm
explaining the finer points of cake-baking to my son. For her last
birthday, my daughter decided that she would bake the cake herself.
So she said, "Mommy, I'll bake the cake and I'll just, you know, ask
for help." So far, so good. The recipe was in Hebrew, so I figured
that nothing could go wrong. She puts it all together, and then calls
me to the kitchen, "Mommy, can you come in and taste it, just to
see if it's okay?" So I go into the kitchen, and something tastes
funny. The cake is bitter as wormwood. "What did you put into this
cake?" I said, "Did you follow the recipe exactly?" So we started
reading the recipe. "You put in two cups of flour?"
"A cup of coffee? You put in a cup of coffee like the recipe says?"
"Yeah," she replies. "I measured out a whole cup of instant
coffee and I put it into the cake, just like it says here 'kos cafey!'"
"But wait a minute," I say to myself. "This needs some
clarification. Did she mean a spoon of coffee and a cup of water, or
a whole cup of coffee? Coffee as she is drunk, not half of the can!"
Well, you might have guessed why the cake was so bitter. So what
did we learn from that? That in order to make a cake taste good, you
have to do things exactly right. A lesson in life!
While I'm reminiscing, the kid is getting nervous. I'm wasting
too much time getting all the pans and the ingredients and sifting
the flour. "You're going to have a cake," I assure him. "Just watch."
So finally I get the mixer out and start baking the cake. After two
hours the cake is on the table and I take out the decoration and get
to work on stage two. Finally, some three hours later, we have a
cake, just like his friend had. This finished product was exactly what
he had in mind. I'm greatly relieved.
Let's get back to the main point. Just like a mother baking a
cake begins her task with an image of the finished product in her
head, but must go through a long and involved process until the
cake comes out the way she imagined it, so too, lehavdil*when
HaShemcreated the world, He had in mind what he wanted the
world to be, and a master plan for achieving it. In order for the
world to achieve the final product which He originally had in mind,
every ingredient has to be taken care of, and every stage has to come
in the right order.
When Mashiachcomes, and everything will be revealed, when
the light that HaShemwas saving will be turned on, everything will
be revealed. Then we will see clearly what was concealed during the
galus.We'll understand why there had to be illness and tragedy, pain
and suffering, that to our understanding seemed completely
unnecessary. Now we do not understand, just like the little boy who
doesn't understand why his mother is wasting so much time with
the eggs and the flour and margarine. He wants a cake! In the era of
Mashiachthe final plan will be revealed and we will then see
everything very clearly.
The revelation of this G-dly light that was created on the first
day is the ultimate goal of creation, the Rebbe explains, and will be
revealed when Mashiachcomes. But in the meantime it is hidden
from us (but only from us, not from HaShem). Thus, when He
created light on the first day of creation this was both the statement
of His purpose in creating the world, and the blueprint and plan of
The Rebbe explains further that the expression, Yehi Or
"There shall be light," is in the future tense signifying the light
that will be, things will be revealed, when Mashiachcomes. However,
this is not only a prediction, so to speak, about what will be in the
future, but also a promise "I promise you that the day will come
when all of this darkness will be light." When Mashiachcomes, you
will see that everything that happens in the world will be revealed as
Nevertheless, the revelation of this light is very much dependent
upon the avodah the divine service which we do during the galus,
as a result of the Torah and mitzvoswhich we do now, as the Alter
Rebbe states in Tanya(Chapter 37). Through Torah and mitzvahs, in
* "To make a distinction between the holy and the mundane."
which the light has been hidden, the entire creation will come to the
fulfillment of its purpose.
Here the Rebbe adds another point which makes the entire
sichahparticularly relevant to us as baalabustas(homemakers) and the
mothers of small children. Since we are involved in the daily nitty-
gritty of homemaking, it is vital for us to remember that in every
detail of the daily activities which are required to keep our homes
running smoothly, and our children headed in the right direction,
there is a nitzotz a "spark" of G-dliness. In order to reach the final
target, we have to carry through all of these other details. But we
must never get so caught up in the humdrum of daily survival, that
we fail to see the purpose of our existence to reveal light. There
are numerous, numerous opportunities for revealing light. We just
have to keep our eyes and ears open for those opportunities. And
then we are promised "there shall be light," even though we do
not see it now.
Although the ultimate good when all of creation will be filled
with light ("there shall be light") will only be revealed in the
future, nevertheless, HaShemregards every step along the way as also
good. That is why, after the completion of every stage of creation,
the Torah states, "and HaShemsaw that it was good," just as it states
regarding the light created on the first day. In fact, light in the Torah
is always associated with good. When Moshe Rabbeinu was born, it
is written that Yocheved, Moshe's mother, "saw that he was good."
Rashi explains, "because the house became filled with light."
(Incidentally, there is a tradition we have from the Baal Shem Tov
that the most important feature of an apartment is not if it has a big
kitchen, or a private bathroom off the parents' room, but whether or
not it is brightor not. If it is a lichtigeapartment then consider
buying it.)
HaShemregarded each aspect of creation as good. This means
that the "light" and the purpose of creation was imbued within every
aspect of creation in rocks, in the trees, in fish, etc. so that every
creature will be able to achieve the ultimate purpose for which it was
created. In every part of the creation the light, the divine spark,
exists, even if we don't see it. The same thing applies to every event
in the universe, even the most painful. Since everything takes place
by hashgachahperatis(Divine Providence), everything plays its part in
the realization of the ultimate purpose of creation.
The weekly reading that speaks of Noach, as interpreted in
Chassidus, contains several psychological insights which are highly
relevant today. As we all know, the best psychology is found in the
Torah (because HaShemis the best psychologist; as the Torah states,
"I am G-d your Healer" physically and spiritually).
The majority of ParshasNoach talks about the story of the
Flood. Before HaShembrought the flood upon the world, he gave
Noach specific instructions as to how to go about preparing for it.
one of the things he was told was that he should take seven males
and seven females of each of the kosher animals, and two each of
the animals that are not kosher, and place them in the ark.
Commentaries ask why the Torah uses the roundabout
expression "the animals which are not pure" to refer to the non-
kosher animals. Generally, the Torah is very concise and sparing in
its use of words. Thus, when discussing the various varieties of
kosher birds and animals, the Torah always enumerates those that
are fewer, so that it lists the non-kosher birds, because they are fewer
than the kosher ones, and it therefore has to use fewer words,
whereas when listing kosher animals, the Torah enumerates the
kosher ones because they are fewer, and therefore fewer words need
to be used. The rule is that the Torah almost always uses the
minimum amount of words to say the maximum amount of things.
Accordingly, since it is much easier to say "the impure animals,"
rather than "the animals which are not pure," why does the Torah
use the latter expression, which, in Hebrew, is all of eight letters
longer than the former. Remember that whole reams of Halachah
are deduced by the Gemarafrom the presence or absence of a single
Rashi explains that this is to teach a person that he should
always strive to use clean language, to speak in a refined way. In
other words, since calling a non-kosher animal "impure" is not
complimentary, it is preferable to call it "an animal which is not
In the Western culture that many of us grew up in, we were
taught that you call a spade a spade; you call things by their names
and you don't mince words. You must say things outright, and you
must be forthright. But in the Torah it is not always regarded as a
virtue to say things the way they are. This does not mean that one
should lie, G-d forbid. But one can say the same thing in many
different ways, some of them positive, and some of them negative.
For example, if you have to explain something to a person, you
can say it very coarsely, or you can get your same point across by
saying it in completely different, much more pleasant words. The
person will understand you just as well, but meanwhile you didn't
contaminate your mouth. Your mouth was kept pure, because you
were careful which words went out of it. Just like we have to be
careful what goes intoour mouths, in terms of kosher food, etc., the
same way we have to be careful about what comes out of our mouths.
This is easy enough to understand.
The matter goes even deeper than that, however. The Rebbe
says that just as the Torah teaches us that we must be careful with
the way we speak, in the same parshahthe Torah also teaches us that
we must take care regarding what we look at.
of course, you cannot always control what you see. However,
the problem is not what you see; the problem is what you look at!
You cannot walk around with your eyes closed, but once something
questionable pops into your range of vision, don't look again.
Peeking a second time is called looking, not seeing. This again is
radically different from Western Culture which claims that
television, for example, doesn't harm you, because of course you
realize that television is not real. You can look at anything; you are
an intelligent person.
The parshahmentions that Noach planted a vineyard, and when
the grapes matured, he made wine and became drunk. He fell asleep
and as often happens when people are drunk, he became
unconscious of what he was doing. He became uncovered, and lay in
his tent in a manner which was very un-tzniusdik, very immodest.
(There are laws of modesty and proper decorum for men too.) As
you know, Noach had three sons, Shem, Cham and Yefes. Canaan,
Cham's son, saw Noach lying in his tent, and instead of covering his
grandfather, he went off to tell the news. "Hey, guess what I just saw!
Did you see what Zeidie is doing? He's lying naked in his tent." He
made a big joke and hullabaloo about it.
When Shem and Yefes heard that their father had gotten drunk
and was lying exposed in an immodest way, they didn't talk about it;
they wouldn't think that it was something to discuss, let alone make
public. They both immediately went into the tent to cover their
father. Now, the Torah notes that when they went in to cover him,
they went in backwards. They didn't go in so that they could see;
they knew he was lying there, so they went in backwards, facing the
other way, with a sheet or whatever, and they covered him without
ever looking at their exposed father, and walked out. The Torah
then concludes the incident with the words, "They did not see their
father's nakedness."
Now the Rebbe asks the question, "When they walked
backwards in order to cover their father, and their faces were turned,
isn't it obvious that they were not going to see his nakedness? If you
are not looking, you don't see! So why does the Torah need to
mention the obvious?"
The Rebbe explains that these two incidents, about the
unkosher animals and the incident about covering Noach, teach a
person a very fundamental lesson in interpersonal relationships
how to avoid speaking bad things about other people, and how to
avoid seeing bad things in other people.
The Rebbe quotes a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov in this
regard. The Baal Shem Tov says that whena personseesevil in another
person, heis reallybeingshowntheevil in himself. The other person is
simply a mirror which reflects the image of the person looking into
it. You see something bad in another person becauseyou have that
same negative quality in some form or another. True, the negative
quality may be manifested in you in a different or more subtle way,
but HaShemis showing it to you so that you can correct that same
problem in yourself. If you are the kind of person who always sees
negative things in other people, that is a red light. It means that you
have a lot of work to do on yourself. When you look into a mirror, if
your face is clean, you don't see dirt in the mirror. But if you see dirt
on the face of the person in the mirror, you need to wash your face,
not the mirror.
However, there is something puzzling about this teaching of the
Baal Shem Tov: Why must we say that when one sees something
negative in his fellow Jew, it means that he himself has that trait in
some degree and that he has to do teshuvahor refine himself? Why
can't we say that it's because one has to help that person do
teshuvah?Perhaps that is why HaShemshowed me his negative traits,
because I have to teach him to mend his ways. Why do I have to
berate myself and assume that it is due to my own evil?
The Rebbe points out that it is human nature to immediately
notice deficiencies in others, but it takes a long time to become
aware of deficiencies in oneself. There is a verse that states that,
"Love covers all flaws." A similar English expression is, "Love is
blind." When there is love you do not see faults. When you are in
love with someone, they are perfect. A mother doesn't see her
child's flaws, a wife who's in love doesn't see her husband's
deficiencies. If this is true of one person's love for another, how
much more so is this true with self-love. Self-love is the strongest
love of all. When a person is in love with himself, he finds it very
difficult to really see his own shortcomings. How does HaShemget
you to become aware of the deficiencies in yourself? By letting you
see them in another person. We can even prove this by citing a well-
known phenomenon. Whenever the Rebbe speaks at a farbrengen
about something negative, everybody thinks he means some other
person. No one thinks, "He means me." It's easier to think, "I'm
oK. The Rebbe is obviously referring to what's-his-name." So
HaShemshows you ina round about waythat you need some self-
Now, the Rebbe says, there's still a question. We know that one
of the foundations of Yiddishkeit is rebuking another person. This is
one of the mitzvosof the Torah. You are required to rebuke someone
who is not acting as he should. of course, there are rules governing
this you may not embarrass him and your rebuke should be
discreet and loving. It is a part of Torah to try to help other people
mend their ways. So why are we saying that there is another reason
for seeing the evil in another person so that you can rectify it in
yourself? Perhaps we are seeing this negative quality in order to
rectify it in the person in whom it is manifested, the other fellow!
However, the Rebbe explains that HaShemdoesn't want to make any
Jew an intermediary. In other words, HaShemwanted things to
happen in a direct way. HaShemdidn't want this meeting between
you and the other person to be only for the sake of the other person
who has to do teshuvah.
In other words, there is essentially a two-fold purpose in meeting
a person and seeing the evil in him. one aspect of this meeting is to
truly help the other person to improve himself. However, the fact
that the Torah points out in the story of the sons of Noach that not
only were their faces turned backwards, but also they didn't see the
evil teaches us about ourselves.
There is a simple test which will clarify which lesson HaShem
intends to convey to us: If the first reaction upon seeing this flaw in
the other person was, "Oy, how bad this person is. Just look at her.
Such terrible behavior..." If your reaction is like Cham to talk
about it, and tell people, "Look what happened, look at this person,
she's so this, she's so that... can you believe it?!" then you're not
interested in helping the other person. Accordingly, you should
know that you yourself have the same problem, albeit in a different
way, and you had better look into yourself and do teshuvah. We see
that Shem and Yefes didn't talk about the problem, they acted
and covered their father's nakedness.
We see the Rebbe's reaction to people who do not yet keep
Torah and mitzvos he treats them with love and with kindness.
When a tzaddik meets a person who does not keep Shabbos, who eats
treifand doesn't wear a yarmulke, he views this person in terms of his
potential. This person is going to do teshuvah. True, he hasn't yet
done every mitzvah, but if you hate him for that, he will never do
teshuvah. on the other hand, if you show him love and kindness,
then he'll want to do teshuvah. A tzaddik looks at a person who
transgressed, not as an evil person to be rejected, but as a person
who is longing to do teshuvah. He doesn't see evil, only the potential
good, the potential baal teshuvah.
People who are not on the level of a tzaddik will see evil and will
talk about it, and they may even try to push away the person in
whom they see evil, for that will show how pious they are. But the
truth is that on a different level they have exactly the same blemish,
the same sin.
In contrast, when you noticed this lack in the other person, if
your reaction was, "Hey, something has got to be done to help him"
in other words, the emphasis was not on the evil, but rather on
the tikkun, on the rectification of the person for his sake, then it is
clear that the reason you saw the evil was so that you could help to
rectify him or her.
Incidentally: It is true that elsewhere the Torah does use a blunt
expression for "unkosher." The Rebbe explains that when the Torah
is teaching the laws of kashrusit has to state the law in the clearest
possible way, and therefore it uses the more direct, although less
complimentary term. Here in the story of Noach, however, we are
not teaching Halachah, which animals are kosher and which animals
are not, and therefore the Torah uses extra words, in order to avoid
saying something derogatory.
Althoughthisshiur was not directlyabout ParshasLechLecha, it
neverthelessrelatestothefirst great "mekarever" AvrahamAvinu
One of the mishnayosin Pirkei Avosspeaks about one of the
greatest "mekarevers" Aharon the Kohen Gadol: "Be one of the
disciples of Aharon... love creatures (habriyos) and bring them close
(mekarvan)to Torah."
The Rebbe asks why the mishnahuses the word habriyos,
creatures, rather than a word such as "people," "fellow man," or
some similar term? He answers that the word habriyosimplies people
who have no other (revealed) virtue other than the fact that G-d
created them. Accordingly, when we are told to be among the
disciples of Aharon and love creatures as he did, the mishnahis
instructing us to love even those people whom one cannot really
find any good reason to love. You only love them because they're
Jews and they have a Jewish soul. The truth is, that even such people
are part of you, because all Jews are really brothers and sisters. We're
part of one people.
There is a story that illustrates this idea. I "happen" to have
been present when this story took place, and it had a profound
impact on my life and on my perceptions of many things. It
happened about twenty years ago when I was in a certain women's
Yeshivahfor a summer program. There were about a hundred
women there that summer, and among them, there was one girl who
had real problems. She was a kind of a nebbich.A nebbichis someone
who never seems to make it, a failure. The girl was not very popular,
nor was she very intelligent. Nobody really went out of their way to
be friendly towards her because she really wasn't such an interesting
person. She remained pretty much on the sidelines and was more-or-
less ignored. She often used to sleep late and come late to classes.
She wasn't really part of the Yeshivahexperience.
one morning she didn't show up for class, which was nothing
new. But one of the girls said to her roommate, "Would you go
please see where she is, wake her up and tell her to come to class?"
This was despite the fact that she would sit in the back and never ask
questions and never participate. The messenger came back and said,
"She's sleeping and I can't seem to get her up." To make a long story
short, they went back to try to wake her up. We found out later that
she had taken an overdose of sleeping pills and had also slashed her
wrists. It was hashgachahperatis undiluted Divine Providence that
they went to check up on her, because when they brought her to the
hospital and pumped her stomach and resuscitated her, the doctors
said that had she been left for another hour, she might have been
brain dead or beyond revival. You can be sure that all of us were
totally shocked. That was the first reaction. How could this happen
right here? Such wonderful people, a place of Torah and look at
this. The second feeling was shame. Yesterday, at lunch, I had sat
with my back to her. The other day she might have asked me
something and I didn't respond. Everybody had some guilt that they
had not done the maximum. Or perhaps worse, that they were
responsible in some measure for the girl's unhappiness.
It was erevShabbos, Friday morning, when this happened. Right
before candle-lighting she was brought back. Friday night after
candle-lighting, there was a very heavy feeling in the place because of
what had happened. The Rabbi gave us his usual Friday night shiur.
That night he couldn't help but address the morning's events. I
won't tell you the whole thing verbatim, although I remember it very
well. Words from the heart are not easily forgotten, even though
twenty years have passed. one thing he said, everybody in that room
probably still remembers. He said that what had happened,
happened to all of us. Although it happened to that girl, we were all
involved, because hashgachahperatishad brought us all to the same
place at the same time. HaShemwas obviously giving us all a message
that we are very selective with the people that we are nice to. In
other words, very pious and noble but always selective. When we
invite guests for Shabbos, we invite people that are likeable and
personable. of course, it's not such a challenge to be pleasant to
them. He added, "Isn't it interesting that some people have four
invitations for the same Shabbosand some people have to make ten
phone calls before somebody will agree to have them for Shabbos?
When the Torah was given at Sinai, do you think that it was given
only for the beautiful people? Do you think that there was a special
line for the nice people and in the back is where all the nebbichs
stood? No, the Torah was given to all Jews, no matter what kind of
personality they have, no matter what kind of troubles they have, no
matter what kind of IQ they have. The Torah is part of every single
Jew until the end of time. What happened today points a finger at
all of us to really make a good cheshbonhanefesh, a critical self-
evaluation, of our personalities and the way we decide to whom we
are going to be loving and pleasant and nice, and to whom we are
going to be cold and nasty."
When we start to think about it, we realize that we generally
don't extend ourselves for people who are in the category of nebbichs.
This one she's beautiful, she's rich, she's popular. For her I'll put
on the nicest face. But what about the one who is none of these?
This is what "loving creatures" means. Even though you can't
find anything great to compliment them about, at the very least, try
your best to be pleasant.
The second half of the mishnahstates, "and bring them close
(mekarvan)to Torah." The Rebbe says that one has to be very careful
about the meaning of this statement: Bring the people to the Torah,
but not the Torah to the people. In other words, you have people
that are not yet on the level of the Torah and then you have the
Torah that is somewhere up in heaven, as far as they are concerned.
Now you have a problem how are you going to make the twain
meet? There are two possibilities: You can either water down the
Torah a little bit, make it a little easier and a little softer and say,
"this mitzvahis old-fashioned, this one is not for her... We'll just
make it into a nice easy thing and then maybe it'll be an enticement
for them." That's what the Reform and Conservative movements
have done. They took out all the parts they felt were not relevant or
were too difficult.
There's another approach: "I know that this person can't jump
up a mountain. I know that in one day she's not going to turn into
Me'ahShe'arim. But my goal is to bring this person slowly to the
Torah, not to bring the Torah to her. Who is the one who has to
make moves? It's the person. The Torah stays where it is; it is
In the time of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef
Yitzchak Schneersohn, in the 1930s-40s, the Reform and
Conservative movements really made tremendous inroads into
Judaism, not only in America but also in Europe. The Previous
Rebbe was unlike the Rebbe in that he traveled quite a lot. The
Rebbe doesn't travel; everybody comes to him. But the Previous
Rebbe did travel. He was once a participant in a meeting to discuss
the plight of youth. It's not just today that people are worried about
the younger generation; they were worried many years ago. At that
meeting one of the speakers said, 'Yiddishkeitis disappearing. It
really looks as if by the next generation there won't be anybody left."
That's the way it seemed to people who lived at that time that
there was no future for traditional Judaism. The speaker continued,
"We cannot raise the level of observance of the next generation.
They're just not interested. The young people do not want to live a
totally Jewish life. So the only hope we have is to sort of modify
Yiddishkeit, make it a little more appealing for the youngsters and
then at least they'll keep something, rather than not keep anything.
The way we're presenting it, being strict," he said, "they won't have
any part of it."
The person speaking used an analogy to back up his point.
"When a building is on fire, it doesn't matter whether you use clean
water or if it's water that you've used to wash the floors...; as long as
it's water it will put out the fire. Right now, Yiddishkeitis on fire.
We've got to extinguish the fire, so it doesn't matter how we do it
as long as we achieve our goal."
The Previous Rebbe then spoke up and said, "But what if the
fluid you're throwing on it is kerosene? That won't put out the fire,
it'll make the fire much bigger. What you are trying to do is not only
going to not solve the problem, it's going to make the problem so
much bigger."
The Previous Rebbe was famous for being like Aharon
bringing people to the Torah. He didn't budge. He had a lot of faith
that people could and would get higher, that it's wrong to say that a
person's on such-and-such a level and there's no hope for him. He
had tremendous faith that people would return to their faith. Baruch
HaShem, today we're seeing the result, when children are bringing
their parents back.
A number of women whom I taught told me that when they
went to the mikvehjust before their wedding day, they asked their
mothers to go with them too, because their mothers had never gone
to the mikveh. These girls were bringing their mothers back to what
their grandmothers had done in Europe. And we see the pattern
very often where the youth are more strict than the parents. As the
Previous Rebbe taught, when we bring the people to Torah, not only
do they come themselves, they even bring others.
As everyone knows, the month following Tishrei is called
Cheshvan, or more correctly, MarCheshvan. Two reasons are given
for the first part of its name: The Hebrew word mar means "a drop
of water," as in the words of the morning prayers, kemar midli "like
a drop from a bucket," for in the Land of Israel this is the month in
which rain first starts to fall. But mar also means "bitter." Coming
after the month of Tishrei, which is satiated with festivals Rosh
HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah
the month of Cheshvan may seem, at first glance (but only at first
glance) a sad, and even depressing month. There is not a single
holiday to break the gloom, especially when contrasted with the
month which precedes it. We know the excitement of the
spirituality of Tishrei. Those of us who have spent Tishrei with the
Rebbe experienced a certain high, an elevation of spirit. For some
it's such a spiritual time that the month of Cheshvan is like an anti
climax. Back to an ordinary, mundane and boring life.
Moreover, Cheshvan is the only month in the Jewish calendar
which does not have a holiday. If you argue that Menachem Av has
only the fast day of TishahBeAv, the Ninth of Av, we need only
point to the words of the Prophet Zechariah, quoted so often by the
Rebbe, that in the future all the mournful fast days will be major
holidays they will be turned into days of joy and celebration.
Accordingly, TishahBeAv already contains its future status in a
hidden way and is therefore not entirely gloomy. In fact, it is
explicitly referred to in Eichah*as a holiday. Furthermore, Tishah
BeAvis followed by Tu BeAv, the Fifteenth of Av, which is declared
in the Mishnahto be one of the two best holidays for the Jewish
people (the other one is YomKippur!). MarCheshvan therefore
remains unique, as the only month in which there is no (visible)
* The Book of Lamentations,which is read on TishahBeAv.
However, the Rebbe declares that the spirituality of Tishrei
doesn't just end abruptly. The Rebbe cites the principle that a Jew
must always ascend in holiness. There cannot be such a thing as a
descent in the life of a Jew. one must constantly be climbing higher
and higher in his service of HaShem. So how can one say that the
entire Jewish nation now returns to their mundane material
There is one apparently minor event associated with
MarCheshvan which gives us a clue regarding what is expected of us
during that month. Moreover, this is indeed an expression of
"ascending in holiness." on the seventh of the month, people in
Israel begin to pray for rain in the prayer, teintal u'matar livrachah."
Historically, after their journey to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem for
the Festivals, the last pilgrims reached their homes by the seventh of
MarCheshvan. It was therefore appropriate to begin praying for rain
from this point on, but not before. Thus MarCheshvan is a month
when we return to the mundane world, in order to make it into a fit
place for G-dliness to dwell. The seeds that were planted during our
spiritual pilgrimage in the month of Tishrei must now be watered
and carefully nurtured in order to harvest, with G-d's help, a
bumper spiritual crop. MarCheshvan is thus indicative of the Jew's
mission in this world: To bring out the very best in ourselves,
through our own hard work, and thus transform mar into matok
bitterness into sweetness.
uncovering and actualizing one's hidden potential demands,
first of all, a change in attitude. Consider the case of Hendel
Lieberman, for example. Reb Hendel was a well-known chassid, who
tragically lost his entire family, his wife and five children. Here he
was, having suddenly lost everything, left alone and in mourning!
obviously, he was very, very discouraged. He couldn't imagine how
he could continue. For a long period of time he was very, very
gloomy and no one was able to cheer him up. What could you say to
such a person get married again? Have another family again? He
was not eighteen years old any more. It was very depressing.
The Rebbe wrote him a long letter and spoke to him about what
had happened. The Rebbe mentioned that through art and
painting, a person could find what he was seeking...
Now Reb Hendel had never drawn or painted in his life. What
could the Rebbe possibly mean? However, he thought, if the Rebbe
says something, he must know what he is talking about. He was well
into middle age when he tried his luck at painting. Surprise! He
discovered that he had a great gift for painting. With the passage of
time, he became a famous artist. In his later years, he must have
been in his 70's, he was still giving exhibitions. His paintings have
depth, and now hang in many homes. He has a unique style. He
often painted scenes of Russia, of chassidim, and of life in the shtetl.
These offer the observer a real flavor of the chassidic life he
experienced in the Old Country.
After he discovered this artistic talent, he became a very cheerful
person. He never remarried, he never had another family. He lived
alone in his home on President Street, corner of Kingston, but he
became a warm and welcoming host for many guests. His house was
never empty, he was never alone. That's why so many people called
him Fetter Hendel, Uncle Hendel, even though he had no relatives,
because of the kind of person he was. He was warm, he was alive. He
had been transformed into a different person altogether.
This is one example of a person who had potential and talents
which he didn't know about. But when he discovered them, he
became a different person. If the Rebbe had not pointed him in the
direction of art, you would never even think that this could become
a new direction in his life. The same is true of many of us. We have
hidden talents (not necessarily of the artistic type) and vast spiritual
resources waiting to be tapped. The crops which result are a product
of how much effort we use.
When we see how much is expected of us, we might say, "My
goodness, this is really very demanding. How can I achieve such a
high standard? It's too much. I don't think I can do it!" However,
Chassidusexplains that our potential is not a product of our labor
it is an inheritance from the Avos,Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov,
and the Imahos,Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. And each Jew
acquires this inheritance, irrespective of whether he deserves it or
not, or whether he has worked for it or not. Thus, you find out that
you actually possess tremendous potential and strength. You just
didn't know it until now. It's a part of your genetic makeup. You
can bring this out and reveal it, although actualizing this potential
demands hard work.
There's a story about a chassid who refused a blessing from the
Alter Rebbe for wealth. When the Alter Rebbe then wished to bless
him with a long life he asked that they not be poyerisheyears
"peasant years." You know in Russia they had peasants. What was
their life? Drinking, eating, playing cards. Today you might say,
watching TV, eating popcorn, you know; that's a poyerishelife. Does
one have any intellectual or spiritual aspirations, or is just going to
the beach, having a good time and drinking soda sufficient? That
chassid didn't want an empty life, even if it was long. He would
rather have a shorter, productive life. He added that there are people
that do not see or hear G-dliness in their life. Such a life was
unattractive to him, even if it would be long in years. That's
something we can think about for a while.
Connecting with G-dliness
on many occasions we have pointed out that there are different
levels of closeness to HaShem. By way of an analogy: There are
certain people with whom you have a very superficial relationship
you don't open up to them, the relationship is not close, like a
neighbor. They don't know anything about you, they're just very
much on the outside. Then there are some people that you can
really be yourself with. You can be who you really are and give them
your whole essence. In the same way, there are those people who
have a very superficial relationship with HaShemand then there are
those who want to know HaShem'sEssence, to get to know who
HaShemreally is.
The Essence of G-d is called Atzmus. How does a person have
the ability to reach the Essence, the Atzmusof HaShem?Through
doing those things that HaShemasks you to do. When a person does
a mitzvah,the Will of HaShem, he becomes one with His Atzmus.
Your intellect might tell you that learning Torah may be the best
way to reach the Essence of HaShem you understand, you
comprehend His Torah. But Chassidussays that this is not the whole
story. As great as your intellectual abilities may be, even if you're very
bright, they are limited and ultimately cannot grasp HaShem's
infinite wisdom, as the Zoharstates, "no thought can grasp You at
all." The depth of the Torah that can be grasped with your wisdom,
is only a fraction of the total depth of wisdom that's in Torah.
Through intellect, you cannot hope to grasp the depth of Yiddishkeit,
Torah, or HaShem.
Again, an analogy may be used to illustrate this idea. Imagine
yourself speaking with the head of a department in Hadassah
Hospital, and suddenly one of the cleaners walks in to empty the
ashtray. Do you think that this big professor relates to the cleaner in
any way? He's in a different world. A hospital cleaner may be on the
lowest level of intellectual capacity. The doctor, the professor, what
does he have to do with a cleaner? Nothing. It's not even a part of
his life, his world. Consequently, when these uneducated people
come into the presence of these professors, they experience a lot of
bittul, or self-effacement. Moreover, this feeling is mutual. The
professor also feels the lowliness of the cleaner. This is not
necessarily because of any evil in the heart of the professor; it's just
because there's no common ground between him and a cleaner.
They can't relate to one another. However, should the brilliant
professor tell the cleaner to do something for him, then this
command automatically gives importance to the cleaner. In other
words, until now the cleaner didn't have anything to do with the
professor; they were in two different worlds. However, if the
professor needs the cleaner for something, to bring him coffee or
otherwise he'll fall asleep, this mission gives the cleaner status and
importance. Not only does the professor begin to see the simple
man in a different light, but the simple man gets new energy and
interest in his job he is working for the professor. He knows that
he is doing something vital for this important person!
This forms a link between the two worlds. It doesn't matter
whether the person's mission is something very complex or
something simple. The important detail is that he is giving that
professor something he wants or needs. This creates a relationship
between them that is important to both sides. How does this relate
to HaShem?As important as we feel ourselves to be, in reality, we are
totally distant from HaShem;much further apart than the professor
and the simple cleaner. The only way we can relate to HaShem, is by
doing those things that HaShemwants, whether we understand them
or not.
Let us now apply this analogy to our case the relationship of a
Jew to HaShem: What was HaShem"lacking" that He decided one
fine day to create a world? Chassidusexamines the various views that
have been given by the Zohar, the AriZal, and other sources. It is
pointed out that all of these views give spiritual reasons for G-d's
creating the world. The problem with these answers is that they do
not explain why G-d created a physical world. All of the
explanations they give are fulfilled by the creation of lofty spiritual
worlds and do not explain at all why G-d created a physical world.
Chassidustherefore concludes that the only satisfactory explanation
is the one found in the MidrashTanchuma HaShemcreated the
world because He desired (nit'ava)a dirah b'tachtonim, a dwelling
place in this, the lowest of worlds. The Midrashuses the word nit'ava
G-d desired a dwelling place. The word really means more than an
ordinary want, it could even be translated as passion. It says that
HaShemhad a passionate desire to have a dwelling place in the lower
worlds. The Alter Rebbe explains that regarding a desire, no
question "why" can be asked. Someone desires pizza. Why? Pizza is
not healthy, and it's expensive; why must you have pizza? I WANT
PIZZA. You can't explain why you want it, but you want it, that's
all. People have desires they cannot explain. HaShemalso had a
"desire" and He went ahead and fulfilled this desire. Why He had
such a desire, we cannot know, although we do know what His
desire was a dwelling place in this world. The Torah does not offer
a rational answer to explain G-d's desire.
The advantage of this world is precisely that it is a material
world, inhabited by physical beings. We all have a Jewish neshamah,
but we all know the sad truth that we also have to sleep, and eat, and
be involved in many activities that superficially seem to be very
remote from spirituality. Especially women, when they get married,
may want to sit in a women's yeshiva and also be involved in
learning and praying. But when you are married, and have a
husband and a house and a family, you find that there are many
demands upon you that take up a lot of time and energy and seem
to pull you away from those very things that seem to be the
uniqueness of Yiddishkeit. So we have an apparent conflict, a
What's expected of me? HaShemsent me into this world and I
must spend so much time with physical, material endeavors? A male
student in Yeshivahexperiences this same dilemma, because once a
man gets married he has so many responsibilities. Many people must
spend the major part of their lives feeling very distant from
In truth, however, our descent into this physical world is for the
express purpose of elevating the material world to holiness. This
means that the physical activities of a Jew in a material world are in
fact permeated with spirituality. When a person involves himself
with the physical world for the sake of making it into a fit dwelling
for HaShem, then these activities become even more elevated than if
he had been involved only in the spiritual realm, for in this way he
fulfills the ultimate purpose of creation.
The activities that a Jew is involved in after the seventh of
MarCheshvan are thus higher than those of Tishrei, because when
you return from the lofty spirituality of the festivals to the mundane
world and start planting your fields, you say, "oh my goodness, my
house is full of laundry. I've got to clean this house; I've got to get
back into a schedule." That is really why HaShemcreated the world.
When you go farm the field, you can do the many mitzvosthat have
to do with agriculture. When you run a home, with all the manifold
activities that this involves, you are making your own home into
G-d's. As you prepare food for your family you observe the mitzvah
of kashrus. When you shop, you look for only the best kosher
products. If you don't buy and wear clothing then how can you
observe the mitzvahof tzniyus modesty? The same applies to
keeping your house clean. All the mitzvosthat a woman does they
call it housekeeping involve a multitude of mitzvos. Through our
involvement in the material world, we sort out and elevate the
sparks that are bound up in it. only a person involved with the
world can observe those mitzvos. If you're praying and learning all
day long you cannot do them.
When the Jewish people returned to their homes after Tishrei
and reinvolved themselves in the material world, they elevated not
only themselves but the physical tools they used. When HaShem
creates a physical object, it must be used by us in the way that
HaShemintended it to be used, or it is not elevated. If one owns a
home, and no one lives there, no one puts up a mezuzahand no one
brings in holy books, then what is the home for? When you move
into the house, bring in the mezuzos, the seforim, invite guests for
Shabbos, organize classes, then you build a home for HaShem. The
home itself, the field itself, becomes elevated.
When you're in Jerusalem, in the BeisHaMikdash, your home is
standing unused. How do you carry out HaShem's purpose in the
creation of the world? By leaving Jerusalem, by leaving the holiness
of the BeisHaMikdash. You could even be on the border of Eretz
Yisrael, very far away from Jerusalem, and be saying, "Look, I'm a
Jew, I have to live as a Jew," you become an emissary of HaShem.You
become a vehicle, an intermediary, through which HaShem's world is
elevated. ultimately it's an elevation for you too, because if you
weren't there, there wouldn't be an elevation. So you are vital in
carrying out HaShem's desire. You and the physical things that you
use to do mitzvosare elevated through carrying out HaShem's
mission. It's not a descent at all. By going back home and starting
your mundane life, you are achieving the true ascent.
In the desert on the way out of Egypt there were no worries
about clothes, about food, about anything. What a great life! The
Jews were able to use their time to learn Torah. They had just
received the Torah; it was all very exciting. They had the greatest
teacher, Moshe Rabbeinu, giving classes. Can you imagine? What a
life. Learning, praying it was wonderful. Then HaShemsays, "Well,
you know, this is just a temporary thing; Eretz Yisrael is the goal."
They weren't so excited about going there, even though they knew
that that was their final destination. "Why should we have to worry
about making a living sowing, watering, reaping, preparing,
running a house, etc.?"
However, what if the general of the army comes over to a soldier
and says, "Look, you have been selected to carry out a certain
mission." Now although this mission might be very dangerous, very
uncomfortable physically, if one has received the mission from the
top, the ordinary soldier will do everything in his power to fulfill it.
What a privilege, that he has been selected from an entire army to
do a certain duty!
When we go to visit the Rebbe for Tishrei, we derive great
pleasure from the experience. oh, what a nice feeling to be in the
BeisHaMikdash, to bring sacrifices. It's such a nice spiritual thing to
experience. So Y OU get a high out of it. But what does HaShem"get
a high" out of? When a person says, "Well, it would be nice to spend
a whole year here, but I have to get back home and have my house
the way HaShemsaid; I'm going to do everything in my life the way
HaShemsays." That causes HaShemthe greatest pleasure. Because we,
in a sense, are subordinating our pleasure in order to cause pleasure
to HaShem. That is a much more lofty kind of activity.
Even i n the Lowest of the Low
There is a further aspect which we need to clarify. HaShem's
desire for a dirah bitachtonim, a dwelling place in this lowly world,
includes the very lowest aspects of this world. In HaShem's view of
this world, holiness can imbue every single aspect thereof, even the
places that seem the most unlikely addresses for it like 42nd
Street, or Dizengoff, which don't seem to be very Jewish. How does
this come about? Through the divine service of the Jewish people,
wherever they may be, for it is ultimately the Jew who is the
Sanctuary in which the Divine Presence dwells; as the verse states,
"They shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them."
our Sages explain that the verse does not say "I will dwell in it" in
the Sanctuary or the Temple, but literally i n them, within each and
every Jew's soul.
For this reason each and every Jew is equally important to
HaShem, and has his or her place in the Divine Plan. A Jew who
lives in, let's say, Kansas City, is just as important as a Jew who lives
in Jerusalem or Boro Park. It is equally important to HaShemthat all
of them keep Shabbosand kashrusand family purity, and so on. We
all form a single body, so to speak. True, in the body of a person, the
brain is more important than the toes; the heart is more important
than the eyelashes. But if you would meet a person who had all his
organs except for toenails or toes, would you say this is a whole and
perfect person, and it's just too bad that he doesn't have toes or
toenails? For a person to be physically perfect, even the toenails and
eyelashes are necessary. So too in the "body" of the Jewish people
every individual has his or her function in the workings of the entire
Therefore, you cannot write off even one single Jew from the
Jewish nation, for if you do so, you're writing off yourself as well.
You are incomplete if that Jew is excluded from the Jewish people,
because he doesn't yet keep kosher, or put on tefillinevery day. It's
like you just cut off your little toe. True, your life does not depend
on your little toe, but you are incomplete if you don't have your
little toe. It could be that that Jew is sick; just like your toe has an
infection. If a toe is infected, you go to the doctor. If you see a Jew
that has a spiritual malady, why don't you try to help him? Don't
just say, "I wouldn't look at him, he doesn't keep Shabbos."This is
the concept of achdusYisrael the unity of the entire Jewish people,
which the Rebbe emphasizes so much. Everybody has to do their
thing, in their way. Mashiachwill not come only for frumJews, but
for all Jews. When Mashiachcomes, the world will enter a different
era, and then everybody will come and live in Eretz Yisrael. until
then, however, Jews find themselves, by Divine Providence, in the
most unusual places so that when that Jew eventually does
teshuvahand becomes fully observant, he will retroactively elevate
that place in which he found himself previously.
May we be privileged to see that time very, very soon.
The Rebbe often cites the sefercalled Shnei LuchosHaBris(or
Shelahfor short) regarding the connection between events in the
Jewish calendar and the portion of the Torah which is read in the
relevant week. Since everything happens by hashgachahperatis,
Divine Providence, there is clearly a connection between two events
which coincide. Thus, if a certain date always falls in the week of a
certain parshah,then there is a connection between them, even
though you may not see it at first glance. You just have to know how
to look. Anyone who has heard the Rebbe's farbrengensknows well
that at least one of the sichos(very often the first one) is dedicated to
explaining this connection.
The same principle applies to ShabbosMevarchim the last
Shabbosof the month on which we bless the coming month. Since
ShabbosMevarchimblesses all of the days of the coming month, it
must be connected to each day of the coming month.
This Shabboswe read the weekly portion of the Torah called
Chayei Sarah. Since this Shabboswas ShabbosMevarchimKislev, when
we bless the month of Kislev, it is connected to all of the days of this
month, including Yud-TesKislev the nineteenth of Kislev, when
the Alter Rebbe was released from prison where he had been
confined on trumped-up charges in 1798 and also Chanukah,
when we celebrate the victory of the Chashmonaim (Hasmoneans)
over the Greeks, and the finding of the jar of undefiled oil which
miraculously burned for eight days.
Miracles and Light
What is the connection between the weekly reading of Chayei
Sarah, the 19th of Kislev, and Chanukah? One of the major events
that is described in the Torah reading is the shidduch and
subsequent marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah, the first marriage
mentioned explicitly in the Torah. This in itself is significant, for
when something is mentioned in the Torah for the first time, it
always has special significance, and we can derive a special lesson
from it for example, regarding the concept of marriage.
However, what we are looking for is a connection between the
Torah portion, Yud-TesKislevand Chanukah. The Rebbe points
out that all three events were miraculous, and all three were
connected with light.
Our Sages explain that all of the Avosand Imahos, the Patriarchs
and Matriarchs of the Jewish People, observed all of the mitzvoseven
before the Torah was given at Sinai. Sarah, for example, used to
light Shabboscandles. But when she lit her candles they remained lit
until the following Friday afternoon. When she passed away, this
miracle stopped. When Avraham Avinu lit the candles in her place,
they only burned for a few hours, just like the candles we light.
Now when Yitzchak married Rivkah, and brought her back to
live in the tent of his mother Sarah, to his amazement and delight
the candles which Rivkah lit on Friday prior to Shabbosalso stayed
lit the entire week. The miracle that had taken place with his
mother, now repeated itself with his wife. (When Yitzchak saw this
miracle taking place again, he knew that he had married the right
HaSheminstituted the "laws" of nature. He decreed that water
will always flow downwards, and fire burn upwards. once HaShem
decided upon what we call these chukei hateva, and set the world into
motion according to these natural laws, every time they are defied,
we call it a neis a miracle. of course, you can argue that every
breath a person breathes is a neis. A newborn baby is a neis. or the
fact that I can drink water and it goes into my pinky is a neis.of
course, that is so. Nature is wondrous. We are not claiming that it is
more difficult for G-d to perform a neisthan to act according to teva.
Rather, as far as we see it, from the human vantage point, the world
functions in a certain way. The sun rises; the sun sets. The rain falls.
The natural, predictable order that HaShemestablished in the world
is called teva. Any time that an event defies the natural order that
is a neis.
Several miracles occurred on Chanukah. There was the miracle
of the victory of a tiny civilian minority over a well-trained military
majority. Then the Chashmonaim found a jar of oil undefiled by the
Greeks. But the major miracle of Chanukah was that the jar of oil,
which was enough to light the Menorahin the BeisHaMikdashfor
one night only, burned for eight days, until new oil could be
The Gemaraasks why there was any need for the Menorahin the
BeisHaMikdashin the first place? G-d certainly did not need its light!
The Gemaraanswers that one of the candles (the ner maaravi, or
western light) continued burning throughout the day, long after all
the other candles had burned out, even though there was the same
amount of oil in all of them. The candle continued burning until it
was time to light candles again, the following afternoon. The Gemara
then explains that this miracle was a testimony to the entire world
that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, always rested upon the
Jewish People.
The miracles that took place on Yud-TesKislevalso involved
light, but in a more spiritual sense. The Torah is referred to as
light, as the verse states, ner mitzvahveTorahor "a mitzvahis a
lamp and the Torah is a light." The teachings of Chassidusare not
only called "light," but a "luminary" the source of light (as the
Rebbe always writes in his letter of blessing to a chassanand
kallah). This is because the teachings of Chassidusare the very
essence of the Torah, the essence of "light." We can explain this
according to the comparison our Sages make between seven types
of liquid mentioned in the Torah (water, wine, oil, milk, honey,
dew, blood) and the various aspects of Torah. Torah in general is
compared to water, without which we cannot live. Milk is
compared to those aspects of Torah which make us grow and
mature, just as milk is what makes a baby grow into a child. Wine
is a symbol of the secrets of Torah, as Rashi explains in his
commentary to the first verses of Shir HaShirim. And oil is a
symbol of the very deepest secrets of the Torah referred to in the
Zohar as "the secrets of the secrets" of Torah. In the chassidic
discourse entitled Inyanahshel Toras HaChassidus, the Rebbe
explains that whereas wine is a symbol of the teachings of
Kabbalah, oil is a symbol of the teachings of Chassidus,which
illuminate the soul and the world with a bright, steady flame. Thus
Chassidusis also connected to light, the source of light.
Transcending Nature
The thrust of ChabadChassidusis to teach us a practical lesson
in our service of HaShem, not just an ingenious pilpul or an
interesting insight. We have to go home with something. From the
common denominator of all three events mentioned above, the
Rebbe learns that we have to serve HaShemin a manner that
transcends nature. Moreover, this has to be "in the manner of light,"
as we will explain.
Everybody comes into this world with a certain inborn nature.
This nature may be defined by our natural tendencies and our
instincts. There are a lot of factors that influence who we are, and
how we act and react. There are factors that are beyond our control,
such as the type of physical bodies we were born with some people
are stronger than others, some have better eyesight, some are
physically handicapped. Then there is the parental influence, the
person's family situation, his financial status, etc.
If we serve HaShemaccording to our teva,according to the
nature with which we were born, this is not really serving. I'll give
you an example of what I mean. Some people are naturally kind. It's
typical of them to share their last bit of food. They have a lot of
sympathy for others. So if a person is naturally kind and spends his
life being kind, you might say, what a nice person; he's kind. But
that's not really called serving HaShem, because it comes naturally.
There are gentiles who are kind, and even animals with a naturally
kind nature. There is a type of bird from the stork family that is
called a chassidahbecause it has a naturally kind disposition. But
being kind because it comes naturally is not really serving HaShem.
It's just doing what comes naturally.
Avraham Avinu was a very kind and loving person, the epitome
of chessed. But HaShemput him to the test to prove that his kindness
was not simply natural or habitual it was an expression of his
service of G-d. After the test of the binding of Yitzchak, where
Avraham was asked to slaughter his own son, the angel says to him,
"Now I know that you fear G-d..." We see that Avraham was able to
transcend his kind and loving nature in the service of G-d; and this
proves that his kindness was not merely the result of his personality.
Because he was able to do exactly the opposite of kindness, we learn
that his kindness also transcended nature.
The Torah expects opposites from you. In one place it tells you
that you must love every Jew as yourself. But elsewhere, when a
person commits a serious sin, you have the obligation imposed upon
you by the Torah to take the sinner to court and bring witnesses
against him. That doesn't sound like the kind thing to do the
person might get lashes, or worse. But this is what the Torah
demands of you. You have to transcend your own definition of
kindness in order to do what is right. There are times when the
Torah says that a parent has to punish a child. But what if you just
read a book and it says if you hit a child you might traumatize him
for life? You must be kind! But the Torah says you have to
sometimes hit. Right? You say, "But I can't do it because I'm so
kind; I can't hurt anybody!" If you could never go against your
kindness, then you're serving HaShemal pi teva only according to
your nature. There are times when Torah demands that you do
something which is not natural to you. By transcending your natural
inclination when the Torah demands it, you are serving HaShemal
pi neis in a miraculous way. If you can do things that you don't
necessarily agree with, that defy what you feel is right, and you do it
anyway because the Torah demands it, this is called mesirusnefesh,
true self-sacrifice. Mesirusnefeshdoesn't mean that you necessarily
have to burn at the stake. That's not what mesirusnefeshmeans in
our generation. Rather, since nefeshalso means will or desire, it
means that you give up your will in order to fulfill G-d's will, doing
something that may be contrary to what you would like to do.
For example, if you would really like to say things which are not
complimentary to others, lashonhara, and you bite your tongue and
you don't say it that's mesirusnefesh,because you just now
overpowered an urge that was natural and didn't fulfill it for the
sake of HaShem. Any time you do something with kabbalasol,
accepting the yoke of HaShem, you have done an act of mesirusnefesh.
You don't say, "My intellect will guide me and direct my life" that
is the Greek way of thinking. We had to fight against that way of
thinking ending in the miraculous victory of the Chashmonaim
over the Greek army. Rather, HaShem's intellect, as enclothed in the
Torah this is what must guide me. So even though Reform Jews
feel that they have the right to determine intellectually what is kind
and what is cruel and what makes sense, the observant Jew will say,
"Even though, to me, it also looks like a very cruel thing to do, if the
Torah says it must be done, it must be done, even though I don't
understand why." That's kabbalasol.
Another example: A woman is pregnant, and the doctors have
determined that the baby will be born deformed. All the "normal"
people say, "of course you should have an abortion. That's the kind
thing to do. Spare yourself the delivery, spare the child misery. "Why
go through the pregnancy, why go through the birth?" But the Torah
says you're not allowed to. of course there are certain cases where
the Torah may permit abortion. If the Torah tells you to go ahead
with the birth, that this is the Halachah, even though you cannot see
the kindness in this, and you follow the Torah's ruling, even if it is
very painful and very difficult that's serving HaShemal pi neis.
There was a time when things were much more peaceful and
tranquil. There weren't so many of these times in Jewish history, but
once upon a time there was a period when Yiddishkeitflourished and
where there weren't very many obstacles to the Jew maintaining his
Yiddishkeit. But when the powers of impurity and evil are active, and
are trying in every way to put out the light of Yiddishkeit, and the
darkness is very, very dark, then you have to respond by lighting up
the darkness with the Chanukah candles, by bringing the mesirus
nefeshout of the closet and being ready at every moment to fight.
And you have to be very active. You cannot be passive. In everything
you do, you have to be a Jew and make sure that Yiddishkeit is seen
and felt, and make sure that everybody around you is aware of the
light that you are radiating "outside the door of your house," as
the Halachahstates regarding the lighting of Chanukah candles.
This kind of miraculous behavior is demanded in a time of
spiritual war. And the Rebbe says, now at the end of the exile, the
war is starting to become much fiercer, because the evil forces of the
world sense that Mashiachis on the way. Nowhere do you see this
more clearly than in the opposition to TorasHaChassidus, which is
the Torah teachings of Mashiach.
Perhaps this needs some explanation: In a letter to his brother-
in-law, who was living in Eretz Yisrael, the Baal Shem Tov once wrote
of the aliyasha-neshamah(elevation of the soul) which he experienced
on Rosh HaShanah in the year 5507 (1746). He had ascended to the
very highest spiritual levels, until he stood before Mashiach. The Baal
Shem Tov asked him when he would come, and Mashiachtold him
that when the Baal Shem Tov's wellsprings his teachings were
spread far afield, then Mashiachwould come.
For this reason there is a tremendous hisnagdus opposition
to Chassidus, the teachings which the Baal Shem Tov received from
Mashiach. our response must be not to minimize our learning of
Torah, nor of Chassidus, but to study more and do more and to
influence another Jew, and another Jew, and another Jew, as the
Rebbe is constantly calling upon us to do. What if you stay in your
house and you pray three times a day and you learn constantly? Who
heard about it? It's a big secret. But if you make a chassidic farbrengen
in your house, you are defying the laws of nature. Everybody else in
the world is telling you that you're crazy, but this is the lesson we
must learn in our service of G-d. This is the greatest miracle, the neis
that we should bring into our daily lives especially now, at the end
of the overly-extended exile.
The Ninth of Kislev is both the birthday and the yomhillula(the
yahrzeit)of the Mitteler Rebbe, the son and eventual successor of the
Alter Rebbe. In honor of this important day, it would be beneficial
to discuss one of the Mitteler Rebbe's teachings.
The Mitteler Rebbe once said to one of his chassidim: "When
two people speak to each other about the service of HaShem, and
they study together, there are two G-dly souls against one natural
soul" (see HaYomYom, entry for 20 Teves).
I'll elaborate on this. Those of you who have learned some
Chassidus, know that one of the first and most basic teachings of the
Tanyais that every Jew has two sources of consciousness and
motivation, called in the language of Chassidusthe G-dly soul (the
nefeshhaElokis)and the animal, or natural soul (the nefeshhabahamis
or the nefeshhativ'is).The latter is the soul which enlivens you,
which occupies itself with eating and sleeping, etc., whereas the
G-dly soul is the part of the person which strives toward spiritual
When a person is trying to fulfill the mission of the descent of
his soul into this world, he often experiences a conflict between the
two souls, which may be manifested as a disagreement, or even open
battle between a person's brain, and his heart. In other words, the
intellect says one thing, while the emotions tell him otherwise. The
emotions are very powerful (Chassidusexplains that they come from
a higher source than intellect!) and can sometimes overpower his
good sense. That chassid who consulted the Mitteler Rebbe had
clearly asked for advice regarding his spiritual situation, and how to
advance in his divine service. The Mitteler Rebbe gave him very
simple, but very profound advice: You should discuss these things
with another Jew, rather than trying to solve it alone. on your own,
the G-dly soul and the animal soul are one against one. Accordingly,
either this one or that one will win, and there is no guarantee that it
will be the G-dly soul. However, when you discuss your problems
with another person, your ability to overcome the animal soul is
doubled. Why is this so?
The G-dly soul is selfless and altruistic, whereas the animal soul
is basically self-interested. Its function is to look after the person's
own survival and interests. When you yourself are hungry, even
though you ate only a few hours ago, you are much less concerned
with the fact that there are people on the other side of the world
who are literally starving. Survival is basically self-centered. Thus, the
animal soul cares about itself, not about others. By way of contrast,
the G-dly soul is selfless, concerning itself with the welfare of others
even before its own well-being. For this reason, when a person
discusses his problems with a friend, there are two G-dly souls
working on the problem, because it is only the G-dly soul which
takes an interest in another person's problems.
If we are serious Jews we will sometimes encounter difficulty in
deciding what exactly HaShemrequires of us in certain situations. Of
course, the Torah guides our every step. Nevertheless, sometimes we
find that there are several alternative ways of acting. Which one do
we choose? Because our animal soul tends to seek its own benefit,
even within the realm of Torah and the Halachah, the Mitteler
Rebbe tells us that we should always discuss matters of divine service
with another Jew. It's not that when you have a problem you have to
pour your heart out, even though that is also a good thing. The
point is that every Jew has a G-dly soul, which lifts us up and makes
us strive for things that are more spiritual. It makes us seek out other
Jews to bring them closer to Yiddishkeit, it makes us go to shul, and to
pray even when we're really not in the mood. That's the nefeshElokis.
It pulls us above the material world and says, "You know, there's
something higher." And it makes us strive for it. It is your G-dly soul
which motivates you to say, "You may be very comfortable right now
at home, but outside there are people who are very much in need of
help." You can go out and make it good for somebody else, whether
this is in a material sense, such as giving or lending money, or doing
them a spiritual favor, such as teaching them Torah, which is also
called tzedakah. Everyone needs help in getting closer to HaShem, or
to do a mitzvah. The nefeshElokis, by its nature, cares about
somebody else, and wants somebody else to be good also, whereas
the nefeshhabahamiscouldn't care less as long as I'm happy, it says,
everything's in order.
Very often we cannot solve our conflicts because we are fighting
the drives of our G-dly soul in one direction and the drives of our
animal soul in the opposite direction. We can't come to any
resolution. Therefore, when there are two Jews whose souls strive for
the same spirituality, as all Jewish souls do, it is far easier to identify
and overcome the self-seeking tendencies of the animal/natural soul.
Just as your animal soul couldn't care less about anyone else, the
other person's animal soul couldn't care less about you either,
whereas his G-dly soul does care about you, just as your G-dly soul
cares about him. Accordingly, you have two G-dly souls against one
animal soul.
There is a further point to be made because we are all
interconnected, by way of our souls, we can never say, "What
difference does it make, as long as I'm OK." This is like the story
our Sages tell of a passenger on a boat who was busy making a hole
in the hull underneath his seat. When other passengers told him to
stop making a hole, for he would sink the boat, the silly fellow told
them to mind their own business he had paid for his seat, and it
was of no concern to anyone else what he was doing within his
private four cubits. Similarly, supposing the general, the highest
ranking officer in the army, wants to review the troops. of course,
the soldiers know that on a certain date, at a certain time, they must
all be ready to make sure that there are no wrinkles, their shoes are
polished, etc., and they are ready to be reviewed. As everybody is
standing on parade, waiting for this great general to walk by, if one
of the soldiers is not tidy his buttons were not polished, his
uniform was a mess the general wouldn't be angry at the soldier,
he would go to the officer in charge and he would say, "What nerve!
How come you didn't prepare your group for this review!" In other
words, the blame is never on the individual, but on the one in
charge of him. If you see a kid walking in the street who looks like a
mess, do you say, "What a messy kid!" or, "What an irresponsible
mother that allows her child to walk around like that?"
Each of us is responsible for our fellow Jew who isn't yet the way
he should be, because we can do something about it. You cannot sit
home complacently, saying, "oh, what's it my business? As long as
I'm oK," because you are to some degree responsible for the other
person's deficiencies. We are inter-responsible. This is the Mitteler
Rebbe's message.
The chassidic calendar starts on Yud-TesKislev, the Nineteenth
of Kislev. On this date, in 1798, the Alter Rebbe was released from
prison where he had been interned on false charges laid by the
opponents of Chassidus. The Rebbe Rashab, the fifth Lubavitcher
Rebbe, referred to this day as the "Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus."
Just as Rosh HaShanah is not only the beginning of the year, but
also the "head" of the year, as explained in Chassidus, so, too, Yud-Tes
Kislevis the "head" of the chassidic year. It is therefore worthwhile
to dwell for a few moments on what Chassidusis all about, and what
message it bears for the world at large.
Some people wish to define Chassidusas the way of life of a
section of Orthodox Jews. But as time has passed, it has become
clearer and clearer that this is not so. It is not a way of life for a
select few, but an outlook on life in general, and Jewish life in
particular, that is bound up with the destiny of the entire Jewish
people. The appearance of the Baal Shem Tov at a certain point in
Jewish history marks a milestone on the road to Mashiach,and this
clearly affects the entire Jewish people.
Let me explain further: The Baal Shem Tov once wrote a letter
to his brother-in-law who was living in Eretz Yisrael telling him of the
aliyashaneshamah(elevation of the soul) which he experienced on
Rosh HaShanah in the year 5507 (1746). He explained that he had
asked Mashiachwhen he would come, and Mashiachtold him that
when the Baal Shem Tov's wellsprings his teachings were spread
far afield, then Mashiachwould come.
Today, there are very few groups involved in actively spreading
the teachings which Mashiachgave to the Baal Shem Tov.
Furthermore, there are very few people who even learn these
teachings. True, every chassidic group has its customs and life style
which were inherited from their Rebbes and ultimately derive from
the Baal Shem Tov. But as regards the Torah the teachings of
the Baal Shem Tov, this has been expounded upon in great depth
and breadth almost exclusively by the Rebbes of Chabad, who have
also made sure that these teachings are accessible to everyone, and
can be learned by all, even those who have not reached the highest
levels of Torah learning and mitzvahobservance. This is the way that
the ChabadRebbes received the tradition from the Alter Rebbe, who
received it thus from his teacher the Maggidof Mezritch, the chief
disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.
The closer one is to ChabadChassidus, and the more one learns
it, and the more one follows the directives of the Chabad Rebbeim
and listens carefully to what they're saying, and carries it out to the
best of one's ability, the sooner Mashiachwill come. It is clear that if
you want to play an active part in the ultimate destiny of the Jewish
people, and wish to be prepared to greet Mashiach, then the only way
to do it is to be connected to ChabadChassidus.
This is not only a matter of spreading Torah, which is a virtue in
itself, but is an expression of ahavasYisrael love for your fellow Jew
as well. The mitzvahof ahavasYisrael, like almost all the mitzvosof
the Torah, has its limits and boundaries. According to the basic
Halachaha person is obligated to love his or her fellow (which the
commentators explain as referring to one's fellow in Torah and
mitzvos)as himself. However, as regards one who is not your fellow
there is no Torah obligation to love him. The Baal Shem Tov
nevertheless ingrained in his chassidim ahavasYisrael for every Jew.
For this reason Chabadchassidim view it as their obligation to give
every Jew the privilege of helping to bring Mashiachcloser.
Before the Rebbe became Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz asked him to
write a book of chassidic aphorisms and ideas for each day of the
year. This is the renowned work called HaYomYom. The very first
page of the book, which really describes the purpose of the book,
states that in our times, when we are going through the "birth
pangs" of Mashiach, it is the obligation of every Jew, man and
woman, old and young, to ask himself, "What have I done, and
what am I doing to ease the birth pangs of Mashiachand make us
worthy of the complete Redemption through Mashiach?" our
generation is different from any other generation that has lived
before us, for we are the generation who will greet Mashiach, as the
Rebbe has explained on numerous occasions. Though all the other
generations prayed for Mashiach, and hoped that Mashiachwould
arrive at any moment, in our generation he is waiting just around
the corner.
If we only knew how close Mashiachreally is, we would be
dancing in the streets. That is a tremendous difference from the
generations which preceded us. For this reason too, our generation
has to be imbued with the awareness of Mashiach,and how close he
is. Many, many people are completely unaware of this. How they can
be excited about Mashiach,and about Yiddishkeit in general, if they
don't even know anything about the subject? Being aware of the
closeness of Mashiachshould imbue every Jew with a purpose in life.
There is nothing more important than this, for this is the fulfillment
of G-d's purpose in creating the world, as the Alter Rebbe explains
in Tanya(chapter 36). When we come into contact with people who
are not aware of the concept of Mashiachat all, and certainly do not
know that his arrival is imminent, it is our duty to somehow let
them know this fact, so that they too can prepare themselves for the
long-awaited day.
For those who question the necessity of this, since almost no
one else is involved in even thinking and talking about Mashiach, let
alone publicizing the concept, the answer is that Mashiachis not a
specifically Lubavitcher concept. Mashiachis mentioned throughout
the writings of the Prophets and our Sages, in the Kabbalahand in
Chassidus. (We've come to the point, however, that if you say, "We
want Mashiach," someone is bound to ask you, "Are you a
Some people ask, "How does Chabadknow that Mashiach's
arrival is imminent?" The answer is stated clearly in the writings of
our Sages in the Gemara. They state that the world will exist for six
thousand years. They refer to the first two thousand years, prior to
the advent of Avraham Avinu, as the era of Tohu spiritual and
physical chaos. The following two thousand years, from the time of
Avraham Avinu until after the destruction of the Second Temple, is
the era of Torah. The final two thousand years is known as "the days
of Mashiach." This means that at any time during these two
thousand years, his arrival is imminent (although he will come at the
very latest by the year 6000). Moreover, the Sages add that all the
kitzin(the times which have been predicted for Mashiach'sarrival)
have already passed. Since we are already in the year 5750, with a
mere 250-odd years until the year 6000, Mashiach'sarrival is really
Furthermore, our Sages compare the six millennia to the six
days of the week which precede Shabbos. The first millenium (i.e. up
to the year 1,000) corresponds to Sunday, the second (up to the year
2,000) to Monday, and so on. Consequently, the sixth millenium
(up to the year 6,000) corresponds to Friday. Just as the Halachah
states that we are obligated to bring in Shabbossome time before
sunset, so too, the seventh millenium, corresponding to Shabbos,will
begin before the year 6,000. Just as we do not light the Shabbos
candles at the appearance of the first stars, but quite a long time
before that, so too, Mashiachwill not come only in the year 5999,
but before then. If you make a calculation of where the year 5750 is
you will see that we are three-quarters of the way through Friday.
According to the ShulchanAruch(the Code of Jewish Law), we can
already light Shabboscandles! (Incidentally, some people have
connected this with the Shabboscandle-lighting campaign that the
Rebbe instituted some sixteen years ago.)
In the previous generation, there were many, many tzaddikim,
including the Rebbe Rayatz, who interpreted the cataclysmic events
of the century, particularly World War II, when a third of the Jewish
people lost their lives, as the birth pangs of Mashiach. As anyone
who has had a baby knows, the contractions go on for hours. But
once they start coming frequently, the baby's arrival is imminent. So,
too, in our case. The upheavals of the last fifty or sixty years have
signaled the onset of labor. And the frequency with which calamities
are taking place now surely heralds the imminent birth of
All of the ideas mentioned above are not necessarily from
Lubavitch sources. These are stated explicitly in the writings of our
Sages and in the works of Torah authorities throughout the
generations. The Rebbe has said quite openly that this generation is
the last generation of the exile, and the first of the Redemption.
Moreover, he has not said this in private, only to his chassidim. This
is public knowledge. What the Rebbe says is transmitted all over the
world instantaneously, with simultaneous translation into several
languages. Shortly afterwards the printed versions of his discourses
are published and distributed worldwide. It's no secret that the
Rebbe openly and loudly proclaims that Mashiachis right around
the corner. All we have to do is complete the final preparations for
his coming.
People who have not heard the Rebbe's proclamation regarding
Mashiach'simminent arrival, or ignore what he says, simply don't
understand what I'm about to tell you: Many people look at the
Jewish world and they're very discouraged. They look at the
assimilation and they look at the demographic figures and they say,
"We're going through an awful period in our history. Yiddishkeit is
really going down." Then you hear the Rebbe and he's so optimistic.
Everything is fantastic. We're all ready. We have even polished our
buttons, and we are ready for the parade!
Yet to our minds there seems to be a contradiction between the
reality and what the Rebbe is saying. The only way that I can resolve
this contradiction is by realizing that our vision is flawed. We are
near-sighted. We can see only what is in front of our noses. We have
no awareness of what is happening, or what's going to happen later,
or what's happening upstairs. We can only see a tiny bit. And that is
why the Rebbe is constantly telling us to open our eyes! Have you
ever had a three-year-old child? Try and explain to him why he
shouldn't go climbing in the kitchen cabinets searching for goodies.
Can you give him your understanding of why he should, or should
not do something? Anyone who has tried will tell you that it is just
impossible. A three-year-old has to grow up to understand things the
way you understand them.
The same is true of us and tzaddikim. A tzaddik who has ruach
hakodesh, who is divinely inspired, can see the past, present and
future of a soul what a person has achieved, or failed to achieve, in
previous incarnations, and in this life. Therefore, he simply sees
things differently. The Rebbe has quoted the Rambamtime and
again, that all Jews will do teshuvah. Indeed, the Rebbe insists that all
Jews have already done teshuvah. We may not see it. It may even
sound impossible. How can these assimilated Jews become
observant? How can these Jews do teshuvah?We cannot see it; we
cannot understand it; it sounds preposterous. And yet the Rebbe
has said this so many times: there will not be a single Jew that will
not do teshuvah!Some will do teshuvahintellectually they will
"discover the light," and be naturally drawn toward it. Others will
come to teshuvahthe hard way. The Rebbe gave the following
analogy for the latter category: A flintstone is always able to give off a
spark. Even if it has been soaking in water for a month, all you have
to do is hit it with a piece of metal or other hard object, and out
comes the spark. The same is true of the Jewish people. The spark of
Yiddishkeit is never completely extinguished; it is always there. But
sometimes, one has to give a knock in the right place to bring out
the spark...
We can now understand how the end the long-awaited arrival
of Mashiach is wedged in the beginning, the Rosh HaShanah of
Chassidus. Although none of the above ideas about Mashiachare
new, the Baal Shem Tov and the Rebbes who succeeded him
certainly brought these issues and ideas to the awareness of the
world, which had almost forgotten them.
We have to pray that we will merit to see the Redemption with
our own eyes, and that we will play an integral part in bringing it
about. The Rebbe can already see clearly what the future holds in
store for the Jewish people: not one Jew will be left behind! So why
be depressed? Why be discouraged? When everybody else is covering
their eyes in trepidation and feeling so desperate, the Rebbe sees
that it's going to be just fine, very very soon. It is only a matter of
time a very short time, G-d willing.
Once, when I was teaching a class, I said, "Chassidusexplains..."
and I proceeded to explain something according to the chassidic
viewpoint. But a woman from the audience immediately jumped up
and asked, "That's all very well, but what does Judaism say about
this?" So I told her that Chassidusand Judaism are not two different
philosophies. Chassidusis part and parcel of mainstream Judaism; it's
just an inner view of it; it's not another religion. In fact, one of the
greatest achievements of the Alter Rebbe was to show how nigleh,the
revealed parts of the Torah, such as Gemara(the Talmud)and
ShulchanAruch(the Code of Jewish Law), and Chassidus, the inner
dimension of Torah, are not two different things.
Moreover, as mentioned on numerous occasions (see essay
above), Chassidusaffects the destiny of the entire Jewish People.
The most famous mystical work written by the Alter Rebbe is
his Tanya, which takes the loftiest concepts in chassidic philosophy
and brings them down to a level at which everyone can understand
something (each according to his level and ability) and put it to use
in his divine service. The Chumash(the Five Books of Moses) can,
and according to the Mishnah,should be taught to even a five-year-
old on his level, of course. At the same time it is studied by the
most erudite scholars, on the very highest of levels, including the
level of Sod the esoteric explanation of the Torah. The same thing
is true of Tanya, which is sometimes referred to as the Written Law
of Chassidus. Every individual can get something from the Tanya.
Interestingly, in regard to the Tanya, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of
Berditchev, the famous Berditchever Rebbe, a friend and colleague
of the Alter Rebbe, once asked rhetorically: "How did Reb Shneur
Zalman manage to put such a great G-d into such a little book?"
The Alter Rebbe taught that there is no part of Torah, even the
most esoteric, which is not relevant to every Jew. Later on, the
Rebbes who succeeded him expanded the scope of this concept,
making Chassidusavailable to those who speak Yiddish, English,
French, etc. Thus, the works of Chassidushave been translated into
almost every language that Jews speak, and even those that are not
spoken, such as books in braille for the blind. Chassidusis now
accessible through classes, tapes, videos, telephone, faxes [and now,
via INTERNET as well Ed.]. The purpose of all this is to spread
the teaching of Chassidusas widely as possible, so that Mashiachwill
come as soon as possible.
Light and Time
The Rebbe points out that the Alter Rebbe's name, Shneur
Zalman, reflects this idea. First of all, Shneur (shnei or)means "dual
light" the light of the revealed dimensions of Torah, and the light
of the hidden dimensions of Torah. The name Zalman has the same
letters as lizman "to time" indicating that the two [types of] light
(shnei or) must be made accessible to a world which is essentially
time-bound. Before the world was created, there was no time. The
upper worlds do not run according to clocks. Time is a feature of
this world.
of course, a Jew should never feel himself bound by any
limitation, including time, for the soul transcends all limitations. A
practical example: My sister's older son went about a month ago to
Russia on shlichus.* He is twenty years old, has been through the
regular yeshivahsystem, and he's not married. He's sort of in-between
yeshivahand kollel, so he went to Russia for a few months. He just
sent his mother a letter which she gave me to read. It was just
unbelievable. He describes all the things that the shluchim
(emissaries) in his city are doing, and the yeshivoswhich they have set
up. Everybody goes to classes on Sunday, and many at night after
hours as well. People are coming in to ask shaalos(questions
regarding the Halachah Jewish law). He just went on and on about
the amazing changes that have taken place there, and the intense
interest people express and invest in Yiddishkeit. My goodness, you
begin to think, this is Russia?! Mashiachhasn't come yet, but he
must be on his way! The moral of the story is that we can do
anything. We do not have to be bound by time, place, or any other
* As an emissary of the Rebbe, to spread Torah and mitzvos.
constraints. These words "limitation" and "constraint" should not
be part of a Jew's vocabulary. our souls are "part of G-d Above," as
it says in Tanya,and we don't let time and things like that bother us.
A Jew can transcend the limitations of this world by not taking them
into account.
This is what is meant by bringing down shnei or the dual light
into the time-bound world. When the light of revealed Torah and
the light of hidden Torah are manifested in the world through us,
then we transcend the limitations of this world, making it a fit
dwelling place for Hashem.
Good Yom-Tov!
Mesirusnefesh(self-sacrifice, for those who are not so familiar
with the term) does not only mean that you were burned at the stake
during the Spanish Inquisition. It also means sacrificing your own
wishes and desires in order to do what Hashemasks of you. How do
you know what Hashemwants from you right now? The Rebbeim
have instructed us to do what He wants us to do. Determination to
carry out the will of Hashem,without letting anything deter you, that
is mesirusnefesh, which can also be translated as devoting your soul.
This type of mesirusnefeshis what brought about the miracles of
One of the laws of Chanukah is that you should light the
chanukiah(Chanukah Menorah)where passersby can see its light, in
order to publicize the miracles that took place during Chanukah.
Now, the custom has become to light inside, and not outside the
door, as the Gemarasays we ought to (there are many explanations
as to why we light the candles inside specifically, but we cannot go
into them now). This is one of the reasons that the Rebbe instituted
the idea of public Menorahlighting so that we are able to fulfill the
mitzvahof publicizing the miracles of Chanukah in a big way.
Nevertheless, you have to do your part in a big way, in a small
way, but the world around you has to become brighter and lighter
and more Jewish because of you. This is symbolized by the
Chanukah candles. In our world today, there are still Jews who
don't think only about maintaining their own observance of mitzvos
and their own Torah learning. They are aware that there are other
Jews around. Not, "I don't care about the rest of the world, as long
as I'm ok." That is totally against the whole story of Chanukah. The
story about Chanukah is to care and to worry about the fact that out
there in the street there is somebody who is groping in the dark. If
you know something about Yiddishkeit and he knows less than you,
you have an obligation to share your light with him. As you know,
when someone else also benefits from the light, it does not reduce
your share.
There is another point: "You don't drive away darkness with a
stick," as the chassidic aphorism states. The Rebbe has always
emphasized that when you're trying to be mekarevanother Jew and
bring him closer to Yiddishkeit, you don't use a stick until he agrees
to become more observant. perhaps you will get the person to do a
mitzvahby threatening him with all the dire punishments mentioned
in the Torah and the writings of our Sages, but that's not the
preferred way, and it is very doubtful that it will be effective. Those
people who stand on the corner and throw stones and shout
"Shabbos," do they really think they're going to instill in the driver a
love for Shabbos, so that next Shabboshe's not going to drive? Is that
really going to create a change in the number of people who
desecrate Shabbos?The right way is through peace and through love
and through light. "A little light dispels a lot of darkness." You just
have to light a candle and immediately the darkness disappears.
That's the way of Yiddishkeit. When one shines and is friendly and
shares Yiddishkeitwith another Jew, he will see that the darkness will
melt away.
It is a basic principle in Yiddishkeitthat what happens in this
world is the result of spiritual causes. The war with the Greeks and
the initial difficulties of the Jewish army were brought about by
spiritual factors. Similarly, the ultimate victory of the Hasmonean
army over the Greek invader was also brought about by spiritual
causes. More specifically, the war and the initial defeat of the Jewish
army were brought about by certain transgressions: Firstly,
socializing with the Greeks, and the Hellenization of many Jews;
secondly, Greek culture was more attractive to them than Torah and
mitzvos, and they studied it enthusiastically; thirdly, there was
widespread desecration of Shabbosand Yom-Tov; fourth, there was
laxity in kashrus many people were eating treifa;fifth, there was a
neglect of taharashamishpachah, the laws of family purity. These
transgressions brought about the spiritual destruction of the
Sanctuary (the Romans destroyed it physically a couple of centuries
later), death, and slavery in exile. It didn't take long for the Jews to
realize the cause of their defeat, and Mattisyahu and the
Hashmonaim (Hasmoneans) acted as catalysts to arouse the people.
Their eventual victory over the Greeks, recapturing the Beis
HaMikdash, finding the jar of pure oil, and the purification and
rededication of the altar, came about through teshuvahand mesirus
All of the festivals share certain common factors. One of the
ingredients that we find in every Yom-Tov, with the notable
exception of Chanukah, is the obligation to eat a seudah a festive
meal. Even Yom Kippur requires a seudah(eaten on the eve of the
fast). purim, a Rabbinical injunction, also has a mandatory seudah.
Chanukah is the only festival which involves no obligation to eat a
seudah. Although we all eat latkes, sufganiot (doughnuts) and dairy
products, this is a custom, not an obligation. It is not one of the
mitzvosof Chanukah. The only specific mitzvahof Chanukah is to
light the Menorah.
Two questions arise: Why we don't celebrate this Yom-Tovwith a
festive seudah, just like every other Yom-Tov?Secondly, the Chanukah
lights commemorate the miracle of finding the jar of pure olive oil
which was used to light the Menorah.What about the miraculous
victory of a tiny untrained virtually unarmed band of kohanimover
the mighty Greek army? We commemorate this only by reciting an
extra paragraph (Al HaNissim)in prayer and in bentching(Grace after
Meals). Why isn't this commemorated in a more prominent way? As
everyone knows, if you leave out al hanissimby mistake, you do not
even have to repeat the ShemonehEsreh. It seems to have only very
minor importance, whereas the miracle of finding a jar of pure olive
oil is given a far more conspicuous place. This is particularly strange
since the Menorahcould have been lit with impure oil, according to
the principle of tumahhutra(or, dechuyah) betzibbur since the
majority of the community was in a state of ritual impurity (due to
contact with the dead, etc.) it would have been permissible to light
the Menorahanyway.
Body or Soul?
The Rebbe explains that throughout the course of history we
have had two kinds of enemies those who were interested in our
physical annihilation, and those that were interested in our spiritual
annihilation. Hitler yimach shemo, was a classic example of the
former. He wasn't interested in philosophizing. He didn't want Jews
to convert to Christianity. In Spain, during the years of the
Inquisition, they wanted Jews to accept the cross. Hitler wasn't
interested. He just wanted to kill Jews. In the same category as Hitler
is Haman who was just interested in killing. The Crusaders and
inquisitors were interested in the Jews accepting Christianity, not
necessarily in their physical annihilation. others have also wanted to
take Judaism out of the Jew, such as Stalin's Communism, and
modern secular humanism. You could remain alive as long as you
became de-Jewified.
This was also the aspiration of the Greeks. They wanted the
Jewish people to stop being Jewish, but they could remain alive if
they would give up their Yiddishkeit. The Al HaNissimprayer which
we recite on Chanukah therefore states, "...when the wicked
Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make
them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will." In
other words, they wanted the Jews to forget that the Torah is Your
Torah, G-d's Torah. They didn't mind if Jews studied Torah. They
said that if the Jews wanted to read Bible nuit's a nice classical
book. But you shouldn't learn it as something G-dly, something
holy. It's a source of wisdom, it has literary and historical content.
Why not? But they were troubled by the fact that it was G-d's Torah.
Similarly, the Greeks were particularly upset about the
observance of the chukim(the superrational commandments), "the
decrees of Your will," as it states in Al HaNissim. Note that the
liturgy does not mention the other two categories of mitzvos eidos
or mishpatim, which have some logical content and could possibly
have been deduced logically. It mentions only chukim those mitzvos
which only a person who has faith fulfills. If you believe that there's
a Higher Authority, whose "intellect" you cannot grasp, so then you
can humble yourself and say, "I don't understand why a mixture of
linen and wool is worse than cotton and polyester, but since the
Torah says you can't wear it, so I won't, even though it doesn't make
any sense to me." It was therefore the category of mitzvoswhich are
called chukimthat Greeks fought against mitzvossuch as kashrus,
milah, family purity, etc. (The Red Heifer, which is the classic
example of a chok, is not mentioned here, since it was not a daily
mitzvah.) The Greeks made decrees forbidding Jews to observe the
chukim because as long as the Jews were serving HaShemand
keeping the chukim, it meant that they had a certain subservience to
a higher metaphysical power, and that really got on their nerves.
They wanted to eradicate that from the Jews. They wanted the Jews
to be like them and only do things that were logical on theirlevel of
understanding. They wanted to uproot the kedushahfrom Torah,
and turn it into "culture."
Jewish Culture
In the thirties, forties and fifties, a lot of Jews came over from
Europe, and they "worshipped" the Yiddish language. They had
Yiddish theatre, the Yiddish language, Yiddish literature and
Yiddish music. It was culture. "Let's go to the Yiddish theater and
we'll sit together and watch a play in Yiddish and we'll feel very
Jewish because we're all together watching a Yiddish play." Is there
anything Yiddish about a play in Yiddish? obviously not, because
you could be watching it in French or Spanish for that matter. Just
because the jokes have a Jewish ethnic flavor doesn't mean to say it's
holy or Jewish or Yiddish in the sense of Yiddishkeit.
The same thing applies to what is called "Israeli culture."
There's a whole trend of people that do things that are Israeli. You
know, they eat falafel, dance the horah, sing Israeli folk songs. The
yordim, Israelis who have emigrated to America, get together in an
Israeli cafe in Manhattan, they eat humous and falafel, and feel very
Israeli and very "Jewish" because that's what you do in Israel. This
morning I gave a shiurin Gilo. one of the women at the shiurtold
me that she had met a Russian olehwho doesn't know anything
about Yiddishkeit, but he did remember something from his
childhood once in a while they would eat kneidlach, and once in a
while his mother would serve poppyseed cake. That was his memory
of Yiddishkeit Jewish food. It's obviously better than nothing at all.
But this Yiddishkeit is merely culinary as they say, some people are
Jews at heart and some people are Jews in the stomach. When
Yiddishkeitbecomes only traditional foods or only things that you
dance or read or watch, then obviously you're making a culture out
of it rather than a religious way of life, which is what Yiddishkeit
really is.
Even though the Greeks waged war against the Jews, their main
intention in this war was not merely to kill Jews, nor was it
territorial. As a matter of fact, we see that they didn't even destroy
the BeisHaMikdash. They entered the BeisHaMikdashbut only
contaminated the altar and the oil used to light the Menorah. They
could have destroyed it like the Babylonians and the Romans did,
but they didn't. They were content with contaminating it. They
didn't even take away the gold vessels used in the BeisHaMikdash.
So we see they had a very specific intention in what they did. As a
matter of fact, if they had wanted to prevent the Menorahfrom being
lit, they could simply have spilled out the oil. But they left the oil in
the bottles and just contaminated it.
Interestingly, the Gemarastates that the Greeks contaminated all
of the oil in the Heichal. The Heichal is the place where the Menorah,
the Showbread Table and the golden incense altar were placed.
However, as anyone who has studied the structure of the Beis
HaMikdashknows, the oil was not stored in the Heichal, but in a
storage room in another part of the BeisHaMikdash. The kohanim
would bring oil into the Heichal as needed. What, then, does the
Gemaramean by saying that they contaminated all the oil in the
Heichal?It seems that the Greeks brought the oil from its usual place
into the Heichal and they contaminated it there and left it there to
make a statement. Here, we brought the oil right next to the
Menorahfor you. It's right here. It's just a little bit tameh(ritually
impure). Their intention was not to disrupt the lighting of the
Menorah. on the contrary, they almost made it easier for the kohanim
to light it by bringing the oil right into the room where it was kept.
All they did was deliberately contaminate all the existing bottles of
oil that they found, as if to say, "Light the Menorahas always, but
with oil which has a Greek touch." It was another attempt to
Hellenize Yiddishkeitfrom the inside. They wanted the Jews to
continue having a Beis HaMikdash and continue lighting the
Menorahand continue studying the Torah but without holiness,
without G-d. They wanted to make Yiddishkeitinto a culture that had
no kedushahin it.
When the Jewish people fought the Greeks and were victorious,
they proved that spirituality is superior to materiality. The Greeks
believed that materiality is superior to spirituality witness the
olympic games which they invented. They worshiped the body.
They thought that by sheer numbers they could squash the Jewish
people and eradicate G-dliness from Yiddishkeit. The response of the
Jews was that we may be fewer in number; we definitely are weaker
physically; but quantity and physical strength are not everything.
Quality and spiritual strength are a lot more potent than quantity
and physical strength.
Contamination i n Context
We have spoken about the Greeks contaminating the oil used to
light the Menorah. What is contamination? When something is
spiritually contaminated it does not look any different from
something that isn't tameh. Contaminated oil and uncontaminated
oil look exactly the same. A person who is tamehlooks just the same
as a person who isn't. Tumahcannot be seen, heard, or detected by
the latest scientific instruments. The difference between tamehand
tahor(spiritually pure) is on a totally spiritual level. What the Greeks
did by contaminating the oil, was to remove the kedushahfrom it.
Holy oil, oil that has the seal of the KohenGadol (the High Priest),
looks the same and acts the same as contaminated oil. The
difference is only on a very spiritual level. This ideology of taking the
holiness out of the oil, and removing G-d from the Torah, is what
Chassidusrefers to as the kelipahof the Greeks. Different nations of
the world symbolize different evil qualities that exist in the world.
These evil qualities are called kelipos shells or husks, which need to
be cracked off in order to reveal the inner core of good. spiritual
kelipos, like the kelipahof Amalek and the kelipahof the Greeks,
attach themselves to holiness in one way or another and smother it,
covering up the G-dliness contained inside. The Greek kelipah, as
mentioned previously, was this very idea of trying to remove the
holiness from Yiddishkeit. "Keep Shabbosbecause you need a day of
rest. Observe the festivals because of historical events. Do brismilah
for health reasons. Learn Torah as literature." This was the Greek
philosophy. But, since a Jew and holiness cannot separate, the
Jewish people realized what the Greeks were doing and with all their
might they resisted this encroachment on their holiness. They
fought against the Greeks and were eventually victorious.
oi l in a spiritual sense represents holiness. Before the vessels in
the BeisHaMikdashcould be used, they had to be anointed with
what we call shemenhamishchah, a certain holy oil. Kings of Israel
were also anointed with oil, and Mashiach Mashiachmeans "the
anointed one" will also be anointed. oi l that was made for a holy
purpose is a sort of vessel for initiating that holy purpose. That is
why the Greeks made an effort to defile the oil. They could have
defiled other things, had they wanted to. In the BeisHaMikdash
there was also wine. Nevertheless, we do not see that they made any
special effort to defile the wine. They defiled only the oil because it
symbolizes also the essence. The oil we get by squeezing the olive is
its innermost part. Thus, oil symbolizes the innermost part of a Jew,
the essence of his soul. That is what the Greeks wanted to do away
with, the innermost holy aspect of a Jew. And the Jewish people
knew that if they would agree to light the Menorahwith the Greeks'
contaminated oil then they were succumbing to a new kind of
Judaism cultural Judaism that is devoid of its holiness and
G-dliness. This is what they were willing to martyr themselves for.
If Yiddishkeit had been a culture it couldn't have been identical
over 3,000 years, because over the 3,000 years since the Torah was
given, the Jewish people have traveled to so many different
countries, and styles of clothing and languages and food have
changed so much, there couldn't have been one identical external
thing that would have stayed the same. However, because our
Yiddishkeitis based on G-dliness we see that things have not been
affected by the outer world. For example, the tefillinthat a bar-
mitzvahboy puts on today are exactly the same as the tefillinthat
Moshe Rabbeinu put on. Near the Dead sea in Eretz Yisrael,
archaeologists have discovered tefillinjust like ours. They found
mikvaoslike ours in Masada. They found remnants of other mitzvah
objects that are identical to the articles we use today. They haven't
changed for 3,000 years. The bor (the approximately 200 gallon
reservoir of rainwater) of a mikvehis the same. We see there are
certain things that have been totally unaffected. It could be that we
cook in a microwave and they cooked in a stove over coals. How you
cook your food is not the essence of Yiddishkeit. The essence is what
makes us tick, what makes us Jewish. Our daveninghasn't changed. It
could be this one prays with a sephardi accent, and another one
with an Ashkenazi accent. But we all pray to the same Holy One,
blessed be He. We all say ShemaYisrael and we all say berachosand we
all read the same Torah. In all kinds of countries. The inside of
Yiddishkeithas been the same in every country and throughout all
the ages. And it's only because we fought the Greeks. If we had let
them do what they wanted we wouldn't have anything left by now.
Yidden had mesirusnefesh. They did not even think of
compromising. They did not say, "This is the best way of doing
things from the outset, lechat'chilah, and this is the second-best way,
but also kosher bedieved.We'll do things bedieved!"Rather, they said,
"We are going to do it the right way, the best way." Because they had
that determination, HaShemmade the miracle. When a Jew doesn't
follow what would be the natural, logical course, teva, but he
transcends nature and logic, then HaShemmakes a miracle for him,
and he is able to do that which doesn't seem at all possible: the
many fell to the few, the mighty to the weak, and so on. The
Hasmoneans did not even think about miracles at the time. Because
they had the right attitude, HaShemmade the miracle for them.
We don't celebrate Chanukah with a seudah, because the whole
story of Chanukah is focusing on a totally spiritual concept. The war
with Haman was a physical war. Haman wanted to eradicate the
Jews. Because it was a war relating to physical things, the Purim
celebration is physical too, just like the war was physical. But since
Chanukah is a spiritual celebration, it is celebrated with light, with
the kindling of candles, rather than with food. Even though there
was a war at Chanukah as well, we don't celebrate the victory as
such, because the war was strictly secondary to the main miracle of
Chanukah finding pure, uncontaminated oil and kindling the
Menorah.Even though we mention the victory in the Al HaNissim
addition in the Amidahand in bentching(Grace after Meals),
nevertheless, this is only an honorable mention. It is not the main
feature of Chanukah. Perhaps this is proved by the fact that if you
forget to recite Al HaNissim, you do not have to repeat the entire
Let us try and understand something of the nature of light. As
everyone knows, our sages divide physical matter into four elements
Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Fire is different from the other three
in two ways: The other three elements are all physical. They have
dimensions, and they follow certain laws of physics. They are limited
in time and space. Fire is unusual in that if you have a little flame,
one candle that has a small flame, with that candle you can kindle
an infinite number of candles. A million, billion, ten billion. As
long as you have time and candles, you can forever keep kindling
candles from that one. And the original candle does not lose
anything thereby. That seems to defy logic. From where does all that
fire come? There's a limited amount of water, or earth, or air. But
fire seems to have an infinite quality. Of the four elements, then,
fire is the most spiritual, for in a sense it defies natural laws.
Another difference between fire and the other elements is that
fire always seeks to go up. You can take a candle and hold it upside
down and the flame will always rise up. our sages explain that this
is because it is seeking its source above.
It is because of these unique qualities that we celebrate
Chanukah specifically with fire, because fire is as spiritual as a
physical thing can get. It's as close as one can get to merging the
spiritual and the physical.
There are three types of candles we light as a mitzvah Shabbos
and Yom-Tovcandles, the candles of the Menorahin the Beis
HaMikdash, and the third, Chanukah candles. However, there are
several main differences between them: Shabbosand Yom-Tov
candles, and the candles of the BeisHaMikdash, are lit indoors,
whereas the Chanukah candles are (ideally) lit outside (even though
this is not the custom today for other reasons). Another difference is
that Shabbosand Yom-Tovcandles and the candles of the Beis
HaMikdashare lit before it gets dark, before sunset, while it's still
light outside. Chanukah candles are lit after sunset, when it begins
to get dark.
A third difference is that we always light the same number of
Shabbosor Yom-Tovcandles; likewise, the candles in the BeisHaMik-
dash.Although we do add another Shabboscandle when another
child is born, nevertheless, this is only a custom. The main mitzvahis
to light two candles on Shabbosand seven in the BeisHaMikdash,
whereas on Chanukah we light an additional candle every day. on
the first day of Chanukah one candle is the fulfillment of the mitz-
vahin the best way possible, mehadrinminhamehadrin. But in order
to do the mitzvahin the best way on the second day, you have to
light two candles, adding one from day to day.
The first difference, that Chanukah candles are lit outside,
teaches us that we should not keep the light of Yiddishkeitto
ourselves. There are people out there who also need to "see the
light." We must exert effort and energy in illuminating our
surroundings. There are people who live "enclave Judaism," where
people are satisfied as long as they and their children are frum.
What's going on the neighborhood ten minutes away from them
doesn't concern them at all. This is not what the Chanukah candles
teach us. The Rebbe says that if there are people out there who
don't know about Yiddishkeit, then there is something lacking in me
too, for together we all comprise a single entity. As long as one part
of our people are not what they should be, everyone is lacking. Did
you ever have an infected toe? What do you care, as long as most of
your body is healthy, just ignore the toe that has the infection. But if
your toe hurts you can't even walk. It hurts your body, you can't
even think right. Every part of the body is interconnected. In the
same way, the entire Jewish people is connected.
What about the second difference, that we wait until it begins to
get dark before we light the Chanukah candles? This teaches us that
a Jew should not let the darkness intimidate him. In other words, a
Jew shouldn't say, "It's dark outside, what can I do? It's bad out
there, but I'm just one little me. Can I really make a difference to
the darkness out there?" The mitzvahof Chanukah tells us not to
feel helpless. You can do something to illuminate the darkness. If
HaShemputs you into a situation that is dark, and here we're
referring to spiritual darkness as well, the Jew shouldn't say, "There's
no way I can do anything." You can. You have Torah and the Torah
says a little light dispels a lot of darkness. so we have our tool that
no matter how dark it is out there, we can still be a source of light
and illumination which will drive away the darkness.
The final difference between Chanukah candles and the other
types of candles is that a Jew must always add and increase.
Yiddishkeitis not like a plateau. If you are now on a certain level, it's
only enough for today. But if HaShemgave you another day, and
another year of life, you can't remain on that level. You have to
always grow this is called maalinbakodesh, increasing in holiness.
May we soon merit to see the light of the BeisHaMikdashand
dance together in Jerusalem, as we celebrate the ultimate spiritual
victory with the advent of MashiachTzidkeinu!
I would like to repeat a vortfrom Shabbos. I see there are a lot of
newcomers and they don't know what I mean. When I say "a vort
from Shabbos," I mean a synopsis of teaching from the farbrengen
concerning the weekly Torah reading in this case, ParshasVayigash
at which the Rebbe spoke this past Shabbosin 770. one of the
tenets of ChabadChassidusis that a person must live with the parshah
of the week. That means not just read it, but actually go through his
week getting guidance and inspiration from the parshah. The Rebbe
always imparts a teaching from the parshahthat is relevant to each
and every one of us.
so what is the teaching derived from the first word of the
parshah "Vayigash?" The translation of the word is "approach."
Yehudah approached Yosef. Not only is this the first word of the
parshah it is also the name of the parshah, which makes it even
more significant. In Torah, and in Chassidusparticularly, names are
significant. Now the name of every parshahis not necessarily the first
word of every parshah, as you will see if you go through their names.
The Rebbe explains that the word Vayigash, relates to the period
that we are living in now. Right before the coming of Mashiach,
one's main avodah(divinely-appointed task) is to serve HaShemwith
pure faith rather than intellect. (However, as regards our behavior
between man and man, you definitely have to use your seichel.)
As we've mentioned numerous times, those of us who are
fortunate enough to hear what the Rebbe says, know where to put
our energy. The Torah is so vast, that you cannot do anything totally
and exclusively. Nor can you do 613 things at once. so where should
I put my emphasis, you may ask? The Rebbe says that in the last
generation before Mashiachthe emphasis is on ahavasYisrael, on
loving your fellow Jew, on simply overcoming the differences and
the barriers between people and looking away from their faults and
foibles and just loving one another. In misnagdishcircles or in mussar
circles you will find a great emphasis on shemirashalashon, on
guarding your tongue, with symposiums and seminars, lectures and
luncheons. And the truth is, this is only the other side of the same
Every coin has two sides. one side is the aspect of "doing good."
The other is the aspect of "refraining from evil." AhavasYisrael is
"doing good," emphasizing the positive. Shemirashalashonis
"refraining from evil." But, by emphasizing ahavasYisrael, the result
will be shemirashalashon.
The Rebbe says ahavasYisrael is where we should be putting our
emphasis in our generation. The Rebbe explains that matters have
to come down to action. "The deed is the main thing." It's not
enough to feel it in your heart. You've probably heard jokes about
Jews who are not yet fully observant. A "cardiac Jew" is someone
who is Jewish in his heart: he feels Jewish, and loves Yiddishkeit, and
it's all there in the heart. But not in his actions. And there's the
gastronomical Jew. Kreplach, gefiltefish, cholent. He feels so Jewish
in his stomach. But what about his actions? Did he share his kreplach
and cholentwith another Jew? There are all types of Jews, and their
Judaism is expressed in many different ways. But it is not enough to
feel love. You have to dosomething about this love.
And that is what the word Vayigashmeans. It means making the
effort to approach another Jew, and not just sit home and learn
about ahavasYisrael. Why don't you go visit another Jew? A fellow
Jew might appreciate a kind word. Another might need a ride.
Maybe a third one just needs some friendship, a fourth needs some
tzedakah. The only ahavasYisrael that is meaningful is that which
descends from the realm of thought into the realm of action. It must
be in deed actually doing something. This is the teaching gleaned
from the word Vayigash.
Being a Jew is not just a privilege. It is also a responsibility. We
all know that in secular modern American society the main aim is to
succeed. It doesn't matter how many people fall by the wayside, as
long as I get to the top of the ladder, and I get the job and I get a
promotion and raise. And I, I, I, I. But that's not the Jewish way.
The Jewish way is that there has to be interaction. And if there isn't
any you should seek it. Don't wait until somebody knocks on your
door and asks for your help. You have to go out of your way to look
around you and seek out people in need. You have a mission to help
those people whose paths you cross.
There is a story about the shpoler Zeide, who became one of the
disciples of the Baal shem Tov. When he was a newborn baby, on
the day of his brismilahthe Baal shem Tov came to the ceremony
disguised as a simple farmer. He placed his holy hand on the baby's
heart and blessed him that he should always be "a varemer-Yid" a
warmhearted Jew. That blessing permeated his being for his entire
life, and he was indeed a varemer-Yid, who cared deeply for other
Yidden. Let's all be warmhearted Yidden.
To our limited vision, it seems that the days commemorated by
fasts are sad, lonely days. But the Rebbe explains that when Mashiach
comes things will be revealed in their true reality. And then we will
see that these days were not as bad as they seemed. on the contrary,
we will see how these were days of tremendous potential, of
closeness and holiness. The same applies to the Tenth of Teves.
The number ten indicates a certain level of sanctity, of
wholeness and perfection in holy matters. There are Ten Sefirot,
(Divine Emanations), and Ten utterances through which the world
was created. There are Ten Commandments, and ten levels of
holiness in the Land of Israel. It is no coincidence that Yom Kippur,
the holiest day of the year, also falls on the 10th of the month, the
10th of Tishrei. "OK," you say, "Tishrei is Tishrei, but Teves? What
significance does Teves have?" As you know, we count the months
from Nissan, which the Torah calls the first month. What month is
Teves if Nissan is the first? The tenth! so the tenth of Teves is the
10th of the 10th. An indication of an extra level of kedushahthat is
not found even in the festivals!
In the Torah, the period of galus(Exile) and especially the end
of galusis often compared to the situation of a woman about to give
birth. As the actual process of birth comes closer, the pains are more
frequent and more difficult to bear. However, soon afterwards, the
pain is just a past, vague memory, and the day the baby was born is
now remembered as a joyful day. As the years go by, the pain
becomes less and less prominent, and the joy and nachaswill
hopefully outweigh the memory of the pain and difficulty of giving
birth. And that is the idea of galus. We are now experiencing the
birthpains, the contractions. It is difficult, but they are temporary,
only a small price that we must pay for the joy and the great blessing
that are going to come out of them. Again, if I had the time I would
go into it, but this is one way of looking at a fast day in a positive
way, and using it studying and trying to be better and more Jewish,
knowing that when it will be a Yom-Tovand Mashiachwill be here, it
will all be forgotten.
The sichahwe shall learn today is particularly relevant to women.
The reason I chose it from among many others, is because of the
qualities we learn from the main character of the sichah,Rachel
Imeinu(our Mother), one of the seven co-founders of Yiddishkeit. The
main impetus of the sichahregards bringing good qualities into
actual deed. This is the whole purpose of learning. There's no point
in learning it if it remains in the realm of theory.
The Rebbe gave instructions that this sichahshould be printed
and handed out. Every week the Rebbe gives out a sichahon the
parshah, or on a subject related to the Jewish calendar. usually, the
sichahwas delivered as an informal discourse at a farbrengen. As with
everything the Rebbe says, it is then written down by chassidim.
sometimes the Rebbe gives the instruction to publish it. The draft
copy of the sichahis then given to the Rebbe to check, and he adds
footnotes and corrections. This particular sichahwas given out after
the Rebbe had finished saying Kaddishafter the Rebbitzin'spassing in
5748 (1988). Although he didn't say so explicitly in the sichah, there
are many people who maintain that the Rebbe was alluding to the
Rebbitzinin this sichah,even though overtly he was talking about
Rachel Imeinu.
One of the very special qualities of RebbitzinChayah Mushka,
and I think that everybody knows this, is that she was a very private
woman, and was totally committed and devoted to the Rebbe's well-
being. Keep this in mind as we go through the sichah.
The background of the sichahis a very touching moment in
Jewish history. ParshasVayechi is the final parshahof the book of
Bereishis, and it tells about the passing of Yaakov and Yosef. Before
he passes away, Yaakov calls all his sons to him in order to tell them
what will happen to each of them in the future. A person who
knows when he is about to die is fortunate, for he has the
opportunity to settle accounts, and clear up any misunderstandings,
and ask for forgiveness from those he has slighted. A person who
has a sudden heart attack doesn't have time to finish off all his
As Yaakov was about to leave this world he called his children to
his bedside, and he parted from each one in a different way. Not all
of his four wives had equal status. There was no question that
Rachel was regarded as his primary and most beloved wife. And
from the most beloved wife, her two sons also shared this favored
status. Incidentally, we have to know that all these things are really
not as simplistic as they seem. They have a much deeper meaning
than common family rivalries, etc. But for today, let's just take it at
face value.
The first son he wanted to settle accounts with was Yosef. And
so Yaakov explained to Yosef that he had buried Rachel on the road
to Beis Lechem (Bethlehem). Kever Rachel (Rachel's Tomb) is in the
middle of nowhere. But there was a purpose to her being buried
there. It wasn't that it was too much of a shlepfor Yaakov to take her
coffin to the Maaras(Cave of) HaMachpelahin Hebron, where
sarah, Rivkah, and Leah are buried. The purpose of burying her
there, near BeisLechem, is revealed in the prophetic Book of
Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) , and is also quoted in Rashi.
Yirmeyahu was a prophet during the era of the Destruction of
the First BeisHaMikdash. At that time, a significant number of
Jewish people had begun to worship idols, and one was even
brought into the BeisHaMikdash!Yirmeyahu saw that the situation
was bleak and that HaShemwas about to destroy His BeisHaMikdash
and send his children into galus. He tried to intercede in Heaven on
their behalf, pleading with HaShemin the merit of the Avos
(Patriarchs), Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. But there was no
response. It was an unprecedented situation. Even the prayers of the
Avoswere not answered.
Then Rachel pointed out that when she was about to get
married to her beloved Yaakov, on the day of the wedding, she
heard rumors that her father Lavan was going to marry her sister
Leah to Yaakov instead of her. Now she and Yaakov, suspecting that
the wily Lavan might try and deceive Yaakov, and marry him off to
somebody else, had made certain secret signs so that he would know
that the woman under the chuppahwas really Rachel. But Rachel
realized that when Yaakov discovered Lavan's trick, Leah would be
terribly embarrassed. Could you imagine her being led to the
chuppah, and all of a sudden Yaakov says, "Hey, he's fooling me.
This is a trick!" And this poor kallahis going to have to face the
embarrassment of having the wedding stopped in the middle, and
be accused of having deceived Yaakov. so in order not to embarrass
her sister and make her go through this pain, she revealed to her
those secret signs. In essence, she gave up her dream, her hope of
marrying Yaakov. This was real self-sacrifice, mesirusnefesh. she took
in a rival wife. she did not have to do it, but she chose to do it. she
chose to give her privileges to her rival. This argument was
convincing. Matching her decision, HaShemcould also overlook the
treachery and infidelity of some Jews and forgive them.
Yosef, being a true understanding son, then understood why
Yaakov didn't bury Rachel in the MaarasHaMachpelah. Yosef
certainly wouldn't bear a grudge against his father on his deathbed.
But the emphasis here is not on Yosef bearing a grudge against
Yaakov, but his sadness that his mother lost the tremendous merit
of being buried with such great tzaddikim. But Rachel was a true
tzadeikesherself. In her merit her exiled children will come back to
Eretz Yisrael, as Yirmeyahu prophesied. "And so," Yaakov explained,
"even though logically, I should have buried her in the Maaras
HaMachpelah, rather than in the middle of nowhere, for the sake of
the Jewish people, I did not." For she was buried outside the borders
of Israel, in galus,and she pleads with HaShemon behalf of her
children, who are still in galus. And in her merit, they will return
with Mashiach.
The Rebbe explains that this was Rachel's nature. she was
always willing to sacrifice her own interests for the sake of others.
Could you imagine a girl waiting seven years to marry her husband,
and then give him up for the sake of someone else? But this was
Rachel she gave up her own good for another person's benefit.
Concern about somebody else's good rather than her own good, her
own honor, was her hallmark. so HaShemtook note of that. Even
though after death a person is no longer conscious of certain things,
we all know that married couples make an effort to be buried near
each other. she forfeited that privilege. she gave up being with
Yaakov for thousands of years until Mashiachcomes.
And this is what Yaakov was telling Yosef: "Your mother was a
very special person." And that's why Yaakov loved her so deeply, the
Rebbe explains. He didn't love her because she had a beautiful face.
The reason he loved her so much is because he loved the beauty of
her character. He respected and honored this beautiful trait which is
so valued in the Torah not looking for one's own glory but for the
good of others.
Rachel was one of our mothers. And so all Jewish daughters,
being the direct offspring of Rachel, inherit this trait genetically.
There is an aspect of Rachel which is truly a part of the makeup of
every Jewish woman. There are many things that a Jewish man is
obligated to do. He is obligated to leave the peyosof his beard, he is
obligated to pray with a minyan, he is obligated to pray three times a
day, and he wears tallisand tefillin,and tzitzis.There are so many
external signs and external things that a man does that anybody can
point to the man, and say, "of course, this is a Jewish man." It's
clear to anybody. A man has numerous obligations throughout his
day that are very obvious and very visible.
But what about a Jewish woman? What are the obligations of a
Jewish woman? she is exempt from all time-bound positive mitzvos.
she doesn't have to leave peyos. If she has five minutes to pick up a
Siddurand say the morning blessings and the Shema, she's happy that
she got to pray for a few minutes. The external signs of Yiddishkeit
are not obvious in a woman. she could wear a sheitel that looks so
natural that it wouldn't be obvious to someone in the street that she
is covering her hair. The difference between a man and a woman in
this regard is that the woman serves HaShemin a way that's much
more secret. A man serves HaShemovertly, whereas a woman serves
HaShemcovertly. No one knows that when you're walking in the
street you're thinking about the love and awe of HaShem.
What does a woman do most of her life? What did Rachel do
for most of her life? The woman has the role of an akereshabayis, a
wife and mother. And out of deference for the seriousness and the
holiness of this role, HaShemlightens her burden in other things. If
she cannot find the time to do anything more than nurse her baby
and feed herself and maybe go back to nursing her baby, and take
care of her husband and children and her home, she has done all
that is required of her. A woman should know that she can serve
HaShemtotally. she has done everything she has to do, because what
HaShemasks of her is to maintain her home. That is the primary
goal, and if she has done that, she is perfect. If she has time for
davening, wonderful. If she has time for more, even more than
wonderful. she might even have time to go out of the house and do
a mitzvah. But that is not her prime identity. Her service to G-d is in
and through her home.
The Gemararelates that one of the sages declared that he never
called his wife his wife, but his home. Because without her there is
no home. A woman may look like every woman does anywhere else
in the world while she's sweeping the floor, and while she's doing
the wash and dressing her baby. These are all things that any other
mother and wife does. But if she keeps in mind that these children
are Jewish children, and she knows that she's raising them to be
G-d-fearing Jewish kids, and she does it knowing that she is serving
HaShem, then she is completely different from any other woman
anywhere else in the world.
What did Kohanimdo in the BeisHaMikdash?They cleaned and
scrubbed, they cut up meat and cooked it, and they washed and
scrubbed again. so too with a woman. she is the Kohen of the Beis
HaMikdash. And it is the holiest service that can be, much more
internal and pnimi than the divine service of a man.
A man's service easily leads to arrogance. It is a terrible pitfall.
Look what a good daveningI did today! I learned so much. I'm so
holy. I daven, I learn, I do so many mitzvos. Arrogance is something
that is very detestable to HaShem. Arrogance in Yiddishkeitis the
worst of all negative traits. If a person is arrogant, there is no room
for HaShem. HaShemsays, "I cannot dwell together with an arrogant
person." It is much less likely that a woman will be arrogant. she
just doesn't have time to think about herself and how wonderful she
is. People are constantly asking her to do things for them. so she is
much less likely to regard herself as the holiest and the wisest. Her
service is deeper and much more humble.
According to the ShulchanAruch, the Jewish identity of a
person follows the mother. If a person has a Jewish father and a
non-Jewish mother, even if the father was a big tzaddik, the child
is not Jewish. But if the mother was just a plain Jewish lady, even
if the father is a gentile, the child is 100% Jewish. Why is this so?
Because a woman serves HaShemwith her essence, with her soul.
This essence is passed on to her offspring, and so they are Jewish.
A man's way of serving HaShemis primarily by revealing light,
rather than serving with his essence. And that is why he has
specific actions to perform. For his service is outward-directed.
What identity goes by the father? Tribal identity! A person's tribe,
whether he's a Kohen, Levy, from the tribe of Reuven, shimon,
or Yehudah, is determined by his father's tribe. But that is more
of a superficial attribute. "What is a Jew? Whether a person is a
Jew or not, i.e., the essential matter of his being Jewish or
otherwise, is determined by the mother; details go according to
the father. That relates to the way the mother and the father serve
The Midrashexplains that when Avraham became aware of the
holiness of the MaarasHaMachpelah, he immediately decided to buy
it as a burial place for himself, and his wife and children. Rachel
didn't mind giving up the holiness and specialness of the place for
the sake of her children, to be buried instead in a place where there
is no glory at all. (It was only in the 1840's that the building that
now stands over Rachel's Tomb was completed by Moses
Montefiore.) For thousands of years, Kever Rachel was just a grave at
the side of the road without glory, and without credit. But because
it was an expression of Rachel's nature to be completely self-effacing,
had she had any say in the matter, she would have preferred to be
buried in a place where she could be of assistance to her children
the Jewish people in exile. And that is why Yaakov buried her there,
and not in the MaarasHaMachpelah, out of respect for what would
have been her wish.
When we say that she gave up her life for her children, you must
realize that we are not talking about her children who were all
tzaddikim. We're not even talking about her grandchildren. We're
talking about children tens of generations later. You know, there's a
difference between your son, and your sons ten generations later.
And what kind of children were they? These were children who
served idols! They were so bad that they had to be thrown out of
Israel into exile! But Rachel gave up her place, her glory the
honor of being buried in a holy place, next to her husband Yaakov
for these very children. And so HaShemnoticed that she wasn't
concerned with superficiality. You know, "My son is good, I'll be
good to him; my son is bad, I'll be bad to him." That's superficial.
But if you're a real mother, you know that this is my son. Today he
is bad, tomorrow he'll be good but he is my son, no matter how
he is behaving today. It is not based on his behavior, but on
something far deeper, and so I have hope in my son, because of the
essential connection between a mother and a son. Rachel had this
depth of perception and character, and so she was able to perceive
that. she was able to feel a kesher atzmi, an essential bond, between
herself and those children, regardless of the situation, and other
non-essential factors.
Thus her reward was middah kenegedmiddah measure for
measure. This means that in the same way that you committed that
sin or that mitzvah, HaShemreturns in kind. she realized this
essential bond, that despite their faults and failings, the Jewish
people were her children. And thus her reward was that in her merit
they will return from exile.
The people of Egypt were very bright. In those days, they were
the smartest of all nations, and to this day people cannot understand
how they built the pyramids without the assistance of modern
machines and technology. To this day we see the mummies that
have been preserved for thousands of years, and yet they did not
have access to modern chemicals and medical know-how. The
Egyptians were masters of astrology, medicine, science and many
other fields. Pharaoh was also no slouch. But Pharaoh is a symbol of
the anti-Jewish way of thinking.
There is a Jewish way of thinking and a goyishway of thinking.
The two are very very different. Pharaoh is the prime symbol of the
goyishway of thinking. When you read in the Torah that Pharaoh
said this-and-this, take heed. It is not just the Pharaoh of that
generation that said that, but all through the generations there is a
Pharaoh saying the same thing. That is why HaShemput these things
in the Torah because He wants us to know how not to think.
There is an expression, "Forewarned is forearmed." That means that
you are taught in advance how to fight this kind of philosophy or
outlook on life.
In this parshahPharaoh tells Moshe to go mind his own
business, to do his own work, and to stop pestering the Jews about
serving G-d. This is the eternal statement made by the eternal
Pharaoh. "Mind your own business," he says. "You like to learn
Torah? Go ahead. I won't bother you. I will not stop you from
learning Torah. But don't bother other people; don't make them
learn Torah. You want to be a frumJew? Be a frumJew, be a tzaddik.
But leave other people alone." When you hear people speak like
this, you should know that this is the philosophy of Pharaoh and it
is anti-Jewish.
spiritual death is far more severe than physical death according
to the Jewish view. If a person loses his life, as long as he has the
World to Come, that's the main thing. If he loses the World to
Come, then there's nothing. What good is a physical life if it's all
over? one's person's love for a fellow Jew should motivate him to
enquire into his welfare. This doesn't mean that one is being nosy.
someone told me that once she was very annoyed at a certain
Lubavitcher person who seemed to be very nosy and was very
interested in her business. This person kept on bugging her, until
she lost her temper and shouted, "Why are you bothering me? This
is my life. What business of yours is my life?" That is the goyishway
of thinking. And it was only years later, when she had changed a lot,
that she was able to see that what she took to be annoying pestering
was actually a great kindness.
One has to be like a mother. From your own experience you
know what it's like when you have to give a dose of medicine, or
when you have to remind your children to wear a coat. As a mother
you really care about your child, but the response is generally, "oh
Mom, leave me alone, you're making me nervous." If we would
really care about another Jew's spiritual life, we wouldn't feel like we
were being a pain in the neck. There's too much at stake. The Torah
says, "Love another Jew like yourself." When it comes to yourself,
you don't say, "oh, I did enough for myself," do you?
The Mezritcher Maggid once said that he wished we could kiss
the Sefer Torahwith the same love that his mentor, the Baal shem
Tov, loved every Jewish child. The Baal shem Tov was one of those
very rare individuals who loved Jews because they were Jews, even if
they were not learned or bright or rich. If we are trying so hard to
raise ourselves to a higher level, how can we be satisfied if other Jews
are on a lower level? Try to raise them to a higher level. And if you
don't, you can be jeopardizing not only your own mission in life, but
also the redemption of the entire Jewish nation from galus. This is a
point which the Rebbe quotes from the Rambamvery often the
redemption of the Jewish people could be dependent upon a single
action that tips the scales in our favor. so don't think so much. Do
not put it off for a week or a day or even for a second. As soon as
you have the opportunity to help another Jew, do it right away.
HaShemwants to see all the Jews in all their levels, b'achdus
living in unity and harmony. A building is built of many parts, but
every part is connected to every other part to make the whole.
Because we are all connected, we could never say, "Well, what
difference does it make if someone else out there is stumbling, or is
not behaving properly?" That's ridiculous. If the roof is okay, but the
basement is about to collapse, the entire building is in danger. You
want the whole house to remain standing, don't you?
Let us explain this further, using the analogy of an army.
supposing a general announces that he is coming to inspect his
troops. of course he gives them time to prepare to polish their
shoes, iron their uniforms, etc. But, if there is even one soldier who
is not ready if his buttons were not polished, or his uniform was a
mess he isn't angry at the soldier. He goes to the officer in charge
and says, "What nerve! How come you didn't prepare your unit for
this review?" In other words, the general does not blame the
individual soldier, but the one in charge of him. If you see a little
child walking in the street and he looks like a mess, do you blame
the child or the mother? You blame the mother, right?
In the same way, the Rebbe says that each of us is responsible
for our fellow Jew who isn't yet as he should be, because we can do
something about it. We cannot sit complacently and say, "Oh,
what's the difference. As long as I'm OK, I don't have to worry."
Because the Day of Judgment will come and HaShemmay find you
guilty for the other person's deficiencies, because you could have
done something about it and you didn't. We all come into contact
with people who are less knowledgeable than us. We know that if we
would care a little bit, and expend some energy, we could dent that
person's life in a positive way. This is certainly within the reach of all
of us.
When we reach this oneness and unity, we will merit the total
oneness and unity, when "G-d is One and His Name is One" will be
revealed. But the oneness of HaShemis dependent on the oneness
of the Jewish people. If you want to reach that era when the unity of
G-d will be revealed, be warm to your fellow Jews.
The Alter Rebbe passed away on the 24th of Teves 5573 (1812),
while fleeing from the onslaught of Napoleon, whom he opposed
bitterly. His ohel (resting place) is in the Russian town of Haditch.
some of the most striking differences between Yiddishkeit and
the non-Jewish way of life, are evident in the way the former
approaches some of life's major events, such as birth, marriage and
How does a non-Jew look at death? To the non-Jewish way of
thinking, death means that life is all over. A person lived, and then
he died, and now it's all over. Yiddishkeit, and particularly Chassidus,
maintains that death is the point at which all the mitzvoswhich a Jew
has accumulated throughout his life reach their culmination and
peak. As long as a Jew is alive, every day, every hour, every minute he
adds to the sum total of his mitzvos. In some cases this can even be
without his being aware of it. This principle applies even to those
who are not yet observant as our sages state, "Even sinners among
the Jewish people are as full of mitzvosas a pomegranate is full of
The minute a person passes away from this world, he is no
longer able to do any more mitzvos, and therefore he has reached the
culmination of his life on earth at that point. But what about sin?
Don't his sins erase the effect of his mitzvos?The answer is that they
do not. Mitzvos are eternal, and therefore cannot be "cancelled out,"
even if there may be sins which have to be accounted and atoned
Although the soul existed up in Heaven before its descent into a
body in this world, its powers and identity are concealed. When the
person is born in the world, his soul begins to operate and shine in
a different way, in a revealed way. And therefore the soul is
compared to a candle, for it too illuminates the world.
Now, on the day of a person's passing, and especially so
regarding the passing on of a tzaddik, whatever that person did in his
life, and whatever he worked for, from the moment of his birth until
the point of the departure of his soul from his body, becomes
revealed and illuminates the world from Above in a tremendous
burst of light, which is the sum total of whatever that person
achieved in his life. obviously the greater the person, and the more
he did in his life, the greater is the light at the moment of his
departure. so it's a very very special moment. The death of a person
is a special part of his life. And from that time on, every year on the
day of his death we again recall that person and what he meant for
the world, and in this way his light shines even more brightly.
of course, our physical eyes cannot see this but what the
deceased person achieved does not disappear the moment the body
is buried. It's true the body may no longer be there, but the soul of
the person continues to exist, and is still connected to the body in
the grave. We are able to receive some of the radiance of this soul's
light by daveningat the graveside, as is explained in Chassidus, in a
discourse of the Mitteler Rebbe. And this is the reason for visiting
the grave of the person, and particularly the resting place of a
It is a fundamental belief in Yiddishkeitthat the connection
between the living and the dead is not interrupted, particularly as
regards a tzaddik. on the contrary, one of the tenets of Chabad
Chassidus, based on statements in the Zohar, is that a tzaddik can do
more for his people after he dies, than while he's alive. After his
passing from this world, he is liberated from the restrictions of the
physical body, and in a sense his neshamahis even higher and closer
to HaShem. so if we need someone to intercede on our behalf, we
should definitely davenat the graveside of a tzaddik.
Every person has hidden inner strengths or powers. When life is
nice and easy, we do not activate these hidden powers. But in the
times of galus(exile), because we do not see overt miracles, and the
Shechinah(the Divine Presence) remains hidden from us, our
Jewishness has to come much more from the inside, so that our
inner powers become revealed. And that is why, throughout the
Galus, Jews have always demonstrated mesirusnefesh self-sacrifice
and martyrdom, which stem from the activation of these hidden
inner powers of the soul. We saw times when Jews were slated to be
killed, times when they were discriminated against, times when
logically you should say, "Well, now they are going to stop being
Jews." But they fought and they brought out their connection to
HaShemfrom deep within themselves, from their very essence.
You can see an example of this in the relationship between a
husband and wife: Although they obviously care for each other,
since they see each other every day, this deep, caring feeling is not
evident on the surface. But when there's a separation and they are
far away from each other, then the bond between them becomes
revealed. You know, just like when your husband had to go to
America for three weeks, then it's, "I'll never scream at him again
for the rest of my life." It's only when you're far away that you feel
how important it is to be loving and considerate, right? "When do
you feel these feelings? When you are separated for a while.
This is the nature of galus. As David HaMelech said in Tehillim:
"Tzamah lechanafshi, kama lechabesari..." "My soul thirsts for You;
my flesh wilts for You." When? Precisely "in a thirsty and weary
land, without water." When you are far away from G-d, in exile.
When Mashiachcomes, we will say, "What idiots we were! We did
not take advantage and now it's too late!" In other words, in galuswe
have opportunities to develop that don't exist when we are not in
exile. This is the unique quality of galusand its purpose to bring
out these hidden powers in order to overcome the darkness. It takes
great inner strength to say, "I don't care if you don't like me," and
"I'm going to defy the non-Jewish way of life." It's hard to say, "I'm a
Jew." But this is the ultimate purpose of galus, and even though all
of us would be willing to forego this for the immediate Geulah, this
is apparently not what HaShemhas wanted up until this very
moment. May Mashiachcome very, very soon!
All the "stories" related in Torah are not written primarily for
their historic value, although they were real events which did in fact
take place. Rather, they represent concepts and ideas which are
eternally relevant, in every generation and in every country.
Consider the concept of Mitzrayim(Egypt), for example. The word
Mitzrayimcomes from the word meitzar, limitation, and is related to
the words tzar (narrow), tzarah(suffering), etc. Thus Mitzrayim
represents (spiritual) limitation, to the point of confinement and
even suffering. This does not only apply to the history of
enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt, but also to any situation
in the life of a Jew where he feels boxed in by some obstacle and he
doesn't see a way to get out of it. He doesn't feel himself free; he
feels confined.
Every Jew has his Mitzrayim, depending on his level. For a
person who is just starting out in Yiddishkeit, his limitations and
difficulties are entirely different from the obstacles of a person who
is seventy years old, and close to being a tzaddik. Each of them has
their difficulties, each of them has their obstacles, but they are
entirely different. For one person it's his family. It's his family's
mockery, their attitude towards him which is stifling him. He's
afraid of what people are going to say. This is a real-life situation for
thousands of people and it's a real Mitzrayim, it's a real confinement.
For somebody else, who's on a much higher level, his problem could
be his desire to sit in isolation and learn Torah rather than go out
and spread Torah and mitzvos. The Rebbe calls this type of Mitzrayim
"Mitzrayimdikedushah" limitations within the realm of holiness, as
opposed to Mitzrayimdikelipah the limitations placed on a Jew by
the realms of unholiness in other words, the yetzer hara, a person's
natural inborn inclination to evil.
The yetzer haracomes to different people in different costumes.
To a person who's on a very very simple level, the yetzer haramight
come in the form of McDonald's. Here is a person who's not really
committed to keeping 100% kosher, and he is really hungry.
Immediately, he spots a yetzer harain the form of a non-kosher
restaurant. For another person that might not be a yetzer hara
attraction at all. That particular weakness he never had, or has
already overcome. His yetzer haramight be this tremendous urge to
absolutely ignore another Jew, or talk lashonharaabout him, etc. To
each and every Jew, the Torah declares: Remember the exodus from
Egypt, and draw a practical lesson from it in your daily service of
The plagues that HaShembrought upon Mitzrayim(Egypt) will
give us insight into what we should do to destroy or break our
personal spiritual Mitzrayims. Let us understand the plagues not as
simply historical events, but as a message to us as to how to
overcome our own spiritual limitations. We will examine the first
two plagues blood, when all the waters of Egypt turned into blood;
and frogs, which suddenly began multiplying and spreading
throughout the land.
When HaShemturned the waters of the Nile into blood, it was
real blood, not petel*Water, as everyone knows, is cold and wet. In
general, coldness is opposed to holiness, for holiness is associated
with life, just as unholiness and impurity are associated with death.
The Torah tells us that "the blood is the vitality" of a living thing. If
there was an injury that caused a lot of bleeding and eventual death,
one must bury all of the items that have blood on them with the
person in the kever, because the blood is the nefesh. so blood is very
much connected with life. The difference between life and death is
warmth vs. coldness. If a body is cold, the person is no longer alive.
Life is always associated with warmth. Let's give an example. There
are people who get very excited when there's a football game or a
rock concert. I understand that there's a lot of excitement and
warmth and frenzy. Now people who get very warm and excited
about a rock concert or a football game, or things of that nature,
generally speaking, do not get as excited about learning a sichah.
other people are pretty cold about football or rock concerts: "I
don't care if there's a rock concert; I don't care if it's next door; I'm
not even going to pay a penny; even if you give me a free ticket. I
* A drink made from syrup, known in America as "bug-juice."
don't care about it; I don't care about shaking hands with this movie
star, it doesn't excite me one bit." Now this is not a matter of
internal chemistry. It's a matter of choice. You can, and do, choose
what you get excited about.
You might say, "What's so terrible if a person is cold towards
holy matters? The main thing is whether he does it or not, not what
his feelings are!" some people feel that keeping Torah and mitzvosis
a very big burden. It's a "necessary evil," if you want to use that
expression. "I went to a Jewish school because that's where my
parents sent me. Now I have to make Shabbosand I have to do all
these things, but I do it; I can't say I like it." sounds familiar? The
Rebbe explains that this is the beginning of the downfall. When you
have no excitement in your Yiddishkeit, this could lead subtly and
very gradually to the other side completely! Why? Because blood,
warmth, excitement is life. It is involvement!
Water is also necessary for life. In some respects, it has the
opposite character from blood. Water is cool and calm. It doesn't
generally get excited. our sages point out that water is an analogy
for Torah just as water is necessary for life, so too with Torah.
However, water can also freeze, at which point its movement stops,
and it becomes "dead." The same is true of Torah it is only alive if
it's imbued with vitality, with joy, with enthusiasm and energy. If it
cools off, it can simply become a non-life-sustaining block of ice. so
a Jew has to know that joy, warmth and enthusiasm are not just
luxuries, nice features of life. A verse in Tehillimstates, "Ivdues
HaShembesimchah" "serve G-d with joy." This is a fundamental
principle of Yiddishkeit, which is especially emphasized in Chassidus.
one of the lessons that the first plague the waters of the Nile
turning to blood teaches is the importance of warmth and
enthusiasm, symbolized by blood. A Jew is required to get rid of that
coldness and replace it with warmth. We should have a real simchah,
joy and warmth, for Yiddishkeit.
What about the plague of frogs? Among animals, some are cold
blooded (i.e., creatures whose blood temperature ranges from
freezing upward in accordance with the temperature of their
surroundings), some warm-blooded (i.e., creatures whose blood
remains fairly constant, independent of the environment). Frogs
belong to the former category. In addition, they are water creatures.
Not all cold-blooded creatures are also water creatures, as for
example, a scorpion.
Frogs infiltrated every part of Mitzrayim, but the Torah tells us
explicitly that one of the places they penetrated was the ovens of the
Egyptians. The question is asked if the Torah wants to emphasize
that there were frogs everywhere, why doesn't it tell us that the frogs
went into the closets, underneath the beds, on the table, etc? or just
tell us that they went everywhere. Why emphasize that they entered
the ovens? The Gemaraexplains that this was to show that the frogs
were even willing to martyr themselves have mesirusnefesh, so to
speak in fulfilling the command of HaShemthat there would be
frogs throughout Egypt. The Rebbe explains that the fact that they
entered the ovens indicates to us the degree of mesirusnefeshthe
frogs had they went totally against their natures (as cold-blooded
creatures) and entered burning hot ovens. The frogs therefore
symbolize cooling down the fires of passion for negative, forbidden
matters (the symbolism of the oven). The main point is, that you can
use your excitement for mitzvos, or G-d forbid, for aveiros, things that
HaShemdoes not want in the world. But you have to choose.
I remember an incident which will remain etched in my
memory probably to the end of my life. I come from a family of one
boy and five daughters. My father was always hoping that he would
have a table-full of talmidei chachamim, but they kept on having girls.
Then, one day, my parents had a boy. My father invested all his
dreams and his hopes in this boy, that he should be a talmid
chacham. However, he was very troubled when he discovered that my
brother, as a young boy, was into baseball and other types of
nonsense. He would always go to Yankee stadium, and had a whole
box of comics and baseball cards under his bed. Now my father
came from Russia, and he couldn't relate to it at all. "My son should
be learning!" But my brother was more excited about comics than
about learning Gemara. My father would get reports about my
brother from his teacher, and he was very very upset. He kept telling
him, "Your bar-mitzvahis coming up, and then, ge-endikt!No more
comics, no more baseball cards; turn over a new leaf, become
serious." But my brother didn't think that my father really meant it;
he was hoping for a reprieve. I still remember the day after his bar-
mitzvah. My father made him take all his comics and baseball cards,
and they went to a garbage fill not in front of the house, but
across the street and down the block and my father made him
trash everything. My father said, "Ge-endikt!No more! Now you're
bar-mitzvah." It was probably the hardest thing my brother ever did
in his life. But, as many of you know, my brother turned out OK,
baruchHaShem. He is a very successful shaliach,and my father is
proud of him. until you get rid of the shtuss(nonsense), you cannot
put your energies into where you should put them.
This then is the lesson we should learn from the plagues to
break any Mitzrayimyou have on any level. In other words, you must
try to analyze in what your warmth and excitement lies. Is it lying in
the right place, and if not, work on getting it into the right place.
Take the cooking, the excitement in things that you are not
supposed to be involved in, and replace it with warmth and
excitement in matters of holiness, and this warmth will eventually
bring you to the right place, so that you will achieve what you are
fully capable of.
This week is ParshasBeshalach,where the story of the splitting of
the Red sea is told. The following sichahis one of what I call the
classic sichos.
The subject of this sichahis the four approaches that were
expressed when Pharaoh began chasing after the Jews who had left
Egypt. It deals with the situation that prevailed right before Kriyas
YamSuf the splitting of the sea. The Jews then divided into four
groups, representing four different approaches to life. As always, the
Rebbe explains that the incidents related in the Chumashare not
simply stories, but paradigms of universal experience. These are
events which happen again and again, as we say in one of the
Chanukah and Purim blessings, "In those days, at this time." This is
interpreted as meaning that events that happened "in those days,"
continue to recur "at this time."
The Rebbe therefore explains these approaches to life in terms
of our times on the eve of Mashiach'sarrival. Although the original
sichahwas delivered in 5722 (1962), the instructions and insights are
very relevant today.
After their exodus from Egypt, the Yiddenproceeded in the
direction of Israel until they came to the sea YamSuf. On two
sides there were steep cliffs, before them was the sea, and behind
them, the Egyptians, who now regretted letting them go and were
chasing after them. It was a great test of their faith.
Looking at the situation, which seemed pretty bleak at the time,
some people said, "How can Moshe say we're going to get the
Torah? Here's the sea, and we're hemmed in by steep mountains,
with the Egyptians chasing after us... What's going to be?" At that
point disagreements broke out among the Yiddenover how to
proceed. They were divided into four groups. Each group offered a
different solution to the problem. (That sounds very familiar. Every
Jew has his opinion about what we all should do.)
When Moshe saw this uproar among the Yidden, he said to
them, "Don't be afraid. stand and see the salvation of HaShemthat
He is going to do for you today. You see the Egyptians today, but
you will never see them again. HaShemwill fight for you and you be
silent. There is no need for you to cry and yell and scream." Then
HaShemsaid to Moshe Rabbeinu, ""Why are you crying out to me?
Turn your attention to Bnei Yisrael, tell them they should proceed,
they should go forward."
Why such a lengthy reply? Our sages explain that the reply is
divided into four parts, one to each of four groups.
The first group comprised people who were very, very
discouraged. They saw that there was no way out and they decided
that the only way that they could respond was by committing
suicide, by drowning themselves in the sea. In Massada, too, when
the Jews there felt that the Romans were about to get them, they
decided to kill themselves, rather than be killed by the Romans.
"Why should we give the Egyptians the joy of killing us after we
thought that we had escaped from them? Let's just drown in the sea
and do it ourselves." This was an expression of despair.
Whether it was permissible or not, that's what they felt.
sometimes when people are under duress, they don't ask the Rabbi
a halachic question, they just say what they say or think what they
think. This group was suffering from desperation. They just couldn't
see what to do. When people commit suicide, and sometimes even
religious people commit suicide, they know it's a big aveirah
(transgression), but at that moment their worries drown them, and
they can't think whether it's right or wrong. so Moshe responded,
"Don't drown yourselves. stand up. Don't jump in and drown. Just
stand up and watch the miracles, the salvation that HaShemwill
bring us."
The second group comprised the kvetchingand complaining
types: "Why did you take us out of Egypt? Aren't there enough
graves there? Why did you take us out from there to have us die here
in the desert? It would have been better had you not taken us out in
the first place. We should have stayed there and served the
Egyptians. At least we were alive. Here we're going to die." In other
words, "Why don't we just submit. Let's just surrender and tell them
that we're sorry we left; we're ready to come back now and be your
slaves again. And then at least we'll have a land to live in and we'll
be fed. It's better than dying."
The answer to the second group was therefore, "You see the
Egyptians today, but you will never see them again."
To the third group Moshe replied, "HaShemwill fight for you."
This indicates that they wanted to fight. The third group was the
Kach-niks. They said, "We're not going to let them kill us. We will
kill them, or at least we'll put up a good fight." But Moshe says, "It's
not the right thing now. HaShemwill fight this war. You don't have
to fight."
The fourth were the kolelniks. They said, "oy. HaShemwill help
us. We will davento HaShem. We will davenwith so much kavanah
and we'll be so pious that surely HaShemwill send us salvation."
What did Moshe Rabbeinu answer them? "You be silent. There is
no need for you to cry and yell and scream."
Four reactions, four different groups. It is clear that we have
exactly the same groups today as well. We have the fighters who are
always ready to make demonstrations and throw stones. And we
have those who would rather commit suicide and be rid of the
world's problems. Then there are those who are always despairing,
ready to return to galus.And we have the daveners.
But what was HaShem's response to all of them? All of you are
wrong. None of you are right. At this point, none of these responses
is appropriate. Of course, there is nothing wrong with davening;it's a
very good thing to do. And what's wrong with fighting? sometimes
you have to fight. Maybe committing suicide is hard to justify, and
returning to Egypt is wrong. But daveningand fighting? Why were
these inappropriate at that time?
The Rebbe explained that each of these reactions is wrong
because they stem from some emotional drive. one comes from
desperation. one comes from submission, surrendering. one comes
from a desire for victory. some people have a very big fighting
instinct and they're always ready to fight. For everything they have to
fight, and so on. others leave everything up to HaShem: "Let Him
take care of everything. I don't have to do anything." This is also
HaShem's response to all the groups was that they should stop
thinking of solutions and proceed towards Mount sinai. They
should have said, "We are on our way to Mount sinai to get the
Torah, and until we get there the mission is not over; the journey is
incomplete." so instead of thinking that they're supposed to stop
there, why don't they just remember that they're still not there? They
should all just go forward towards Har sinai. When HaShemtells
you through Moshe Rabbeinu to do something you do it, even if
it makes no sense. If there's a problem, you don't let the problem
prevent you from doing what must be done. You just do what you
have to do and let HaShemworry about the problem.
The Rebbe explained that the reactions of these groups were not
only physical. Let me explain to you what I mean. sometimes a
person is faced with a problem, a problem of a physical, worldly
nature. And he comes up with a solution that is also a physical,
worldly solution. The Rebbe points out that worldly solutions have
counterparts in the spiritual world, which is the root of the physical
world. Just as the Red sea symbolizes a certain obstacle in the
physical sense, it also symbolizes an obstacle in the spiritual sense.
The Egyptians pursuing the Yiddenwere a physical manifestation of
a negative spiritual quality. The Rebbe explains that Moshe, the
leader and guide of the Jewish people throughout the ages in
physical and spiritual problems, condemns or criticizes these
reactions in their spiritual root.
The first group wanted to jump into the water. What does that
mean in a spiritual sense? Water symbolizes Torah. Jumping into the
water, on a spiritual level, is a holy thing. Becoming immersed in
Torah is a very good thing. But it is not always the appropriate
response. The Rebbe explains that in every generation there are
people who respond to a bleak situation by saying, "You know what
I'll do? I'll just forget about the world and I will become totally
immersed in Torah. I'll go sign up in a kolel and I'll learn Torah
from morning to night. That way I don't have to deal with the
Wonderful. You are now very holy, and you get involved in your
learning. You're busy with good things. At the same time you have
an excuse to evade the realities of the world around you. Even
though at first glance that may seem like a noble and pious thing to
do, nevertheless Moshe rejected that as a correct solution in this
situation. When you are supposed to go to Mount sinai, you do not
sit down in the beismidrashand learn Gemara. Right now is not the
time to cut yourself off from reality and submerge yourself in Torah.
The kind of person that throws himself into the sea (of Torah) is
diagnosed as "a tzaddik in peltz" a tzaddik in a nice warm fur coat.
But it warms only him, not those around him. There are people who
feel that since they can't solve the problems of the whole world, they
will just take care of themselves. How many people can wear one fur
coat? Just one person. You can't have two people in a coat, it's very
crowded. "so as long as I have a fur coat and I'm warm, I'm happy."
But there is another solution to the problem. Light a fire or buy a
heater which can heat the entire room. Why is the type of person
who wants to throw himself into the sea of Torah regarded as a
tzaddik in peltz?Because he asks himself, "How can I be mekarevall of
those Jews? There's thousands of Jews outside who are not religious.
Could I be mekareva thousand Jews? obviously not. It's too much
for me. How many people observe Shabbos?There are people who
eat ham. How can I deal with this? I'll just go in a kolel. At least I'll
be safe from eating ham and being machalel Shabbos. I'll take care of
Instead of thinking, "I can't deal with a thousand people or ten
thousand people, but maybe I could speak to my next door
neighbor, maybe I could work with one person," he couldn't be
bothered. Why not? Because he thinks, "A person of my talent
should only deal with one Jew?! I have bigger talents than that. I
want to do things on a grand scale! But then he says, "That's really
too big of a project, so if it's not everybody then we'll just do
nothing and I'll just take care of myself." Many people feel that way.
so this is rejected by Moshe. This is not a good reaction to a difficult
Now we come to the next group which wanted to go back to
Egypt, to confinement, limitation (the word MitzrayimEgypt is
related to the word meitzarimlimitations). This symbolizes the kind
of Jew who feels that Yiddishkeitis a big burden. He's not going away
from Yiddishkeit. He's going to be a frumJew but he feels that it's a
real weight on him. "You know, all these mitzvos, all this davening, all
these instructions that the Rebbe gives. It's just too much. But what
can I do? Nebbich, I was born a Jew. I can't give it up. That's it, that's
my lot in life." He decides that he'll fulfill his obligations. He'll go
through the motions, but he does it with a real kvetch. You know,
whatever he does, he does, but he feels it as a burden. He'll carry his
burden without a smile, without joy. "Nu. Where does it say in
Torah you have to do it with enthusiasm? It's not one of the 613
mitzvos. You just have to keep Shabbos. It doesn't mean you have to
likekeeping Shabbos." so he goes around like he's in Egypt. He bears
the yoke.
Now, even though bearing the yokekabbalasolis a very lofty
thing, it is only the beginning of our service. A small child who's just
learning about life cannot be expected to do the mitzvoswith a lot of
understanding or joy. You tell them, "This is the way you do it.
Before you eat you have to make a blessing." Later on, when the
child gets older you can explain to them more. But accepting the
yoke of Heaven is only the beginning. You do it because Mommy
said. Later on you should learn to love it, to understand and enjoy
it. But this Jew is in Egypt his whole life. He never gets out of it...
[Unfortunately, we do not have the rest of this shiur.]
I didn't even know for sure that I was going. But in Lubavitch
things usually happen quickly. I had planned to go, and then I
decided not to go and then at the last minute my husband really
wanted me to go, and so I went, to put it in a nutshell.
I arrived in New York on Monday night. That Wednesday was
the 22nd of shevat, the first yahrzeit of RebbitzinChayah Mushka.
Thursday, the 23rd of shevat, was the first session of the first
International Convention of the Rebbe's female emissaries the
shluchos. Four hundred women, from all over the world, literally
from every corner of the globe, converged on 770.
Every year there's a kinushashluchimfor the men on Rosh
Chodesh Kislev, but this year, the year after the passing of Rebbitzin
Chayah Mushka, was the first international convention for shluchos.
It was an inaugural event, and came about as a result of the Rebbe's
direct request to make a convention for the women.
A Gift from the Rebbe
On Shabbosthe Rebbe farbrenged. We were hoping that the
Rebbe would somehow refer to the convention or say something
directly to the shluchos, but he didn't. We were a bit disappointed,
but on Motzaei Shabbos, at a banquet for the women, we were
informed that the following morning all of the shluchosshould meet
right after daveningShacharisin the Rebbe's minyan(no, we did not
davenwith the men; we were upstairs in the women's section) in
front of 770 in order to go in as a group to get dollars from the
Rebbe. At that time the Rebbe was giving out dollars every sunday.
Because we were a group we would be allowed to go in first and
While we were standing there waiting to pass before the Rebbe
and receive a dollar, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, one of the main
organizers of the conference, announced that the Rebbe would be
giving a special sichahto the shluchos. This was something we had no
idea about. It was a surprise and a wonderful privilege. A gift from
the Rebbe. We were all very, very excited. Only the shluchosand their
babies were allowed in, no one else. What follows are some of the
main points of the sichahthe Rebbe addressed to the women. As a
preface, I must tell you that the date was the sunday after Shabbos
The Rebbe stressed two main ideas one, the theme of simchah.
The convention took place at the end of shevat, when we bless the
forthcoming month of Adar. our sages state that when Adar comes
in, we increase in joy: MishenichnasAdar marbinbesimchah. since
ShabbosMevarchimAdar blesses the forthcoming month of Adar,
simchahhas to start permeating us even now, from Shabbos
Mevarchimon. once you bless the month of Adar it is as if you have
already entered the mood of that month simchah.
The second point focused around the fact that we had gathered
together as a group. In Temple times, Yiddenused to gather together
in the BeisHaMikdashand listen to the king read from the Torah
during sukkos after every shemittahyear. This was called hakhel.
Although we cannot fulfill the mitzvahof hakhel, since we do not
have the BeisHaMikdash, nevertheless, the spiritual benefits of
gathering together are still completely relevant. The Rebbe spoke at
length about the greatness and the significance of Jews gathering
together. since each Jew is precious to HaShemas a single child born
to elderly parents after many years of waiting, then how much more
special to HaShemis a whole group of Jews. Every time a group of
Jews convenes, this automatically creates a joyful atmosphere, both
for the people in the group, and also for HaShem.This particular
gathering is taking place after ShabbosMevarchimAdar, and therefore
the joy is much more apparent.
subsequently the Rebbe explained that the phrase mishenichnas
Adar marbinbesimchah, is not only a statement of fact, that people
rejoice more as Adar enters, it is also a command. When Adar
comes, you must increase in joy, even if you are not in such a joyous
mood. You have to try to create a joyous mood because it's Adar. It's
just like simchas Torah. If you have a problem and simchas Torah
comes and you're not feeling very joyful, or you are even in a bad
mood for whatever reason, you have to try to work on yourself. You
can sing, you can go and do something you enjoy, you put on
something nice, you eat something you like you have to create the
mood, create a feeling of joy if you do not have it.
The Rebbe pointed out that joy is not only the result of being in
a good situation, when things are going well, and you are feeling
well; when you do not have financial worries, and so on. The Baal
shem Tov explains that the verse, "HaShemis your shadow at your
right hand" means this: Just as your shadow inevitably follows the
movements of your body, so too, the way you present yourself to
HaShemelicits a similar response from Him. In Chassidusthis is
called isarusadil'eilawhich follows isarusadil'tata, which means that
the response from Above echoes what takes place below. Just as we
react to things that are happening in the spiritual spheres, the
spiritual spheres react to what is going on down here. When HaShem
sees that we are acting properly, He responds with goodness, and
with blessing. When a Jew is joyful it arouses HaShem'srejoicing in
Let's say your life is not so complete and you do have problems;
there are things that you would like to have. Complaining about
what you do not have, about your lack, is a very effective way of
making sure that you won't get what you want. There are people
who want to get married, but they are so depressed and despondent
about the fact that they're not married, that no one wants to marry
them. Even though it's difficult to be joyful when the thing you
want most is beyond you, nevertheless, the Torah tells us that by
making the effort to live as if our prayers had already been answered,
is the best way to ensure that they will be answered.
There is a story of a certain woman who went to a Rebbe (I
forget who), because after many years of marriage she had not yet
had any children. You can imagine how depressed she was. she
could hardly explain her difficulties to the Rebbe because she was
crying so much. The Rebbe listened to her story and then quoted
several verses proving that the way to have children was davkaby
rejoicing. One verse states, Emhabanimsmeichah("The mother of
children rejoices"); another states, Rani akarahloyelada("Let the
barren woman who has not given birth rejoice"); and so on.
Needless to say, by changing her attitude and rejoicing, the woman
eventually bore children.
This then is the Rebbe's message: marbinbesimchah be joyful;
that makes HaShemgive us blessing which in turn makes us even
more joyful.
A Shluchah
Another point: The Rebbe spoke about the concept of being a
shluchah, an emissary. A Jewish woman cannot do things in every
part of the world. Everybody lives in one place and they can do
things effectively primarily in their own location. When a woman
agrees to move to a different part of the world and serve HaShemin
that place, she is an emissary of all Jewish women. This is true even
if either of the parties is not aware of this. This, of course, is in
addition to her being an emissary of all the Rebbeim.
Moreover, when a woman takes it upon herself to go on shlichus
and make her home in a distant part of the world, she is rewarding
not only herself, but all the women in the place she came from, for
she is their emissary, and so they also share in her reward.
Making a Sanctuary
one more idea. The Rebbe tied this in to the parshahof the
week, which was the first day of parshasTerumah. There it states,
"They shall make me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell among them."
The Rebbe explained that this is precisely the goal of shlichus. The
shlichusof every Jew in the world is to make the world into a
sanctuary for HaShem. In the desert our forefathers did it by
constructing a Tabernacle, a physical edifice in which HaShem's
Shechinahdwelt. Later, in Jerusalem, there was the BeisHaMikdash.
But once the BeisHaMikdashwas destroyed and the Jews were sent
into galus, how is this mission fulfilled? Is this mitzvahin abeyance
until Mashiachcomes? G-d forbid! As long as there are Jews in the
world, every Jew has the mission of making his personal home a
dwelling place for HaShem that becomes a Mikdash me'at, the
sanctuary in microcosm. "Make me a Mikdash" means that every
couple should make a home where HaShemcan dwell. However, you
don't have to be married to have that home. I am very aware of the
fact that there are many people who would love to get married and
set up a home and do all the nice things it says you can do when you
have a home, but they have not yet found the right partner. It is
obvious that even a single person who lives in a rented room, or
whatever, can, and must, make their home a sanctuary for HaShem
by having a kosher mezuzah, by having holy books in the house, by
sanctifying their mundane activities, by doing mitzvosand acts of
kindness in their home. All of these activities are not limited to
married couples.
A person must be conscious that they have to sanctify HaShem
in every way. I think I mentioned to you the story of Subota Rabbi
Lazer Nanes, who now lives in Jerusalem* who spent 20 years in
Russian jails. This person didn't have a home. He was in his
barracks in a cell with the lowest type of Russian goyim,but he made
a dwelling place for HaShemthere too. He was mekarevmany Yidden
in jail.
Wherever your home is it may not be a castle but wherever
you live, that place has to be a place where HaShemcan be found,
where G-d can be comfortable and at home. You have to be the
vehicle to do that, and you can do it.
The Rebbe added that since the home is generally run by the
woman, this is even more applicable to shluchosthan to shluchim, for
the woman is the one who has the major role in making the Jewish
home into a dwelling place for HaShem. The fact that a woman is
willing to go on shlichus(because nobody goes on shlichusagainst
their will, no-one is drafted) not only makes her own home into a
BeisHaMikdash, but through her home she helps other women
around her make their respective homes into a Mikdash.
It is clear that there are a tremendous number of Jewish homes
today that keep kosher and keep Shabbosand have kosher mezuzos
because of the Rebbe's shluchimand shluchos.
* Rabbi Nanes, a prominent and scholarly member of the Lubavitch underground in stalin's
UssR, passed away on 13 Adar II, 5757 (1997), just before his 100th birthday. May his
memory be a blessing.
May the simchahand shlichusof each one of us permeate the
environment in which we live and bring many other families in turn
to do their shlichusin this world.
In ParshasShekalimHaShemtells Moshe Rabbeinu to instruct the
Jews to contribute a half shekel in order to atone for the sin of the
Golden Calf. Our sages explain that Moshe Rabbeinu had a
difficult time understanding what it was that he had to do. so
HaShemshowed him a coin of fire and said, "This is what they must
give." Why did HaShemshow him a coin of fire rather than a coin of
silver or gold? After all, they weren't going to give a coin of fire, were
Compare this with the Menorah.Our sages tell us that Moshe
Rabbeinu did not understand exactly how the Menorahshould be
constructed, either. When he asked HaShem, He showed him a
vision of the golden Menorah. He did not show him a Menorahof
fire. He showed him a Menorahof gold. And when Moshe saw it, he
understood. seeing is worth a thousand words. When he saw it, he
understood. so if we see that in the past HaShemshowed him a
Menorahof gold why couldn't He show him a coin of silver or gold?
Why a coin of fire?
In order to be able to understand this, we must first understand
what money is all about. In the BeisHaMikdashthere was a vessel
known as the kior the laver or wash-basin from which the Kohanim
washed their hands and feet before beginning their service in the
Mishkan or BeisHaMikdash. This was the preparation which the
Kohanimmade before they began HaShem's service. The kior was
constructed from the mirrors that the women had used to beautify
themselves in Egypt. When the entire Jewish people were asked to
donate whatever they could to the building of the Mishkan, the
women donated (among other things) their mirrors, which were
made out of highly polished copper. Moshe Rabbeinu, however, was
very hesitant to accept them, for, after all, the women had used
them to beautify themselves and make themselves attractive to their
husbands. Can objects which were used to arouse passion have a
place in the Mishkan?Moshe Rabbeinu did not see how one could
fuse the Mishkan which embodies the highest levels of holiness
and spirituality with something that seemed so connected to
physical desire and pleasure.
The Rebbe explains that the Mishkanencompassed everything
that has to do with human life, including what may be perceived as
the lowest and most animalistic of all passions. He points out that
low and high are relative terms, for what seems to be "the lowest of
all passions" in truth has the power to bring down the highest of all
things a holy Jewish soul. It is only the Torah which can define
what is truly low and what is truly high.
Intimacy between a man and a woman may be viewed as a
concession to man's base impulses. Alternatively, it can be perceived
as one of the most spiritual acts that a human being can do, for it
can bring about the creation of another Jew.
The same thing, says the Rebbe, can be said about money. There
are different ways of relating to money. Money is a very powerful
thing. It is something that arouses greed in people, it is something
that people can do many unholy and unethical things with. The
Flood started when the earth became full of robbery stealing
another person's possessions. Money can be a vehicle for much evil
and selfishness.
Rabbi Twersky (Rabbi-Doctor Avraham Twersky, for those of
you who have not yet heard of him, is the head of a prestigious
psychiatric hospital, and he deals specifically with drug and alcohol
abuse and addiction) once mentioned in a lecture that drug and
alcohol abuse and addiction have begun to invade Jewish society,
where they were almost entirely absent in previous generations. We
always used to think that Jews were above alcoholism and drug
addiction. This is no longer true. There is no longer any room for
complacency in this matter.
Rabbi Twersky explained that drug addiction and alcoholism are
diseases of excess where a person cannot force himself to stop. They
are the result of a lack of discipline. You just start and you cannot
stop. In our society, even though most healthy people who are
emotionally stable would admit that drug addiction and alcoholism
are still not acceptable and are self-destructive, he pointed out that
among many religious Jews money addiction is not viewed in the
same light. Why is it that people who earn a million dollars don't
say, "stop. A million dollars is certainly enough to allow me to live
comfortably." No. Now they've got to go for that second million.
And when they get the second million, perhaps they should stop
now? "one minute," says the millionaire, "If I was able to make two
million, I could make four million... " And so it becomes an
addiction, a disease, which may be even worse than alcoholism. At
least the average individual realizes when his drinking has gone too
far. When a person tries to amass more wealth than he could ever
possibly use, that is a disease.
Nevertheless, money in itself is not evil. on the contrary, it has
a very high source. The fact that when we see that money has a
become such a powerful focal point for so much sin, for so much
greed, and so much evil, that is only a proof that money really
originates in a very high place.
Now we can understand the concept of the half shekel. It is one
of the ways in which a person purifies and elevates his natural
passions and lust for possession. Although money can be a source of
evil, you can't live without it. A person cannot exist without earning
money. You can't say, let me close my eyes and live on spirituality.
You need money to buy things and pay your bills. But the question
is, in what framework do you relate to money? What are the proper
limitations and proper usage of wealth? How am I supposed to use
money in order to live a proper life?
HaShemsays, to make your life holy as far as money is
concerned, it must be regulated by the Torah. Just as we have many
halachosregulating the intimate relationship between man and
woman in order to sanctify it, so that the relationship does not
become a mere search for pleasure, so too with money. HaShemgives
us money and then HaShemteaches us how to deal with it.
one of the first lessons is, that a Jew must realize that the money
that he earns, or inherits, or receives as a gift, comes to him from
HaShem. It does not come to you because you are smart. It does not
come to you because you are talented, it doesn't come to you
because you deserved it. It doesn't come to you because you've
worked x amount of hours. It came to you for one, and only one
reason that HaShemin His supernal wisdom felt that at this
moment you should be the possessor of x amount of money. Now
it's for you to decide how to spend it. To a large extent you have free
choice in this matter, but there are some preconditions. HaShem
tells you that the first thing you must do with your money is give
your half shekel. You are obligated to return a certain amount of
what He gave to one of the projects which He supports to the Beis
HaMikdash, or to a poor person who needs it, or some other form of
One action is worth a thousand words. Your giving to tzedakah
says it all. You are making a statement: you realize that the money
you received was not because you are the greatest or the smartest, or
even because you deserved it. It is an expression of thanks to Him
Who gave it to you. When you realize that you may not be deserving
of whatever you receive, you will, of course, not be overly cautious
about whom you give it to, whether he is really deserving of the
money or not.
There is a well-known story about Reb Zushya of Anipoli. A
certain wealthy man gave some money to the poverty-stricken Reb
Zushya. He noticed that whenever he gave the tzaddik a sum of
money, he was blessed with success in his business endeavors. And
so he became a regular donor. one day, he went as usual to Reb
Zushya's shack to give him a gift, but he was informed that the
tzaddik had gone to visit his Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch. And so
the wealthy man made the following inference, a kal vachomer:When
I give tzedakahto Reb Zushya, HaShemblesses me with success. How
much more so if I give to Reb Zushya's Rebbe! so he stopped giving
to Reb Zushya, and began giving to the Maggid instead. But, lo and
behold! His business deals started failing. Thinking that this was a
temporary crisis, the man continued giving to the Maggid, but not to
Reb Zushya. He soon realized, however, that if he continued this
pattern, he would not have anything to give the Maggid either.
Things became so bad that he turned to Reb Zushya, his Rebbe, for
advice. Reb Zushya told him the following: "When you gave to
someone that was really undeserving of your generosity, HaShemdid
not make an accounting of whom Hegave charity to, and so you
succeeded in your business endeavors. But when you started making
all kinds of calculations as to who was more worthy and who was less
worthy of your support, HaShembegan doing the same thing. The
end result, you are familiar with "
Does this poor person deserve your money more than another
one? Perhaps not. However, he stretched his hand out to you, so you
have to give him. Perhaps he does not deserve it, but on the other
hand, who said I deserved it from HaShem?The idea that HaShem
showed Moshe this half shekel was not only to show him the
amount of money that a Jew has to give because then He could
have showed him a gold or silver coin. Rather, HaShemspecifically
showed him a coin of fire which He took out from under his
Throne of Glory, as the Midrashstates, to teach us that even though
money is something that can be perceived as very materialistic, very
low and coarse, nevertheless, by giving it with fire, i.e., with
enthusiasm and vitality, not in an apathetic and uncaring way, it
becomes a holy coin.
A Jew ought to give his half shekel withfire,realizing that this
money wasn't given to him only to buy himself whatever he needs,
but also as the trustee of that portion which he must disburse to
others. When you meditate and think about all these things, you
will feel totally different when you are giving the money to charity.
You don't feel so smug all of a sudden: "Look how noble and
generous I am, that I gave some of my money away." Who says it's
your money? HaShemgave you one tenth of your salary which was
never meant for your use to begin with. There's no reason here for
feeling so high and mighty.
The word for coin in Hebrew is matbe'a. Interestingly, the word
is related to the word teva, which means "nature." HaShemwants a
Jew to imbue his tevawith eish fire, and that is why He showed
Moshe Rabbeinu a coin of fire. This means that a Jew should not be
cold, uncaring or apathetic. A Jew should be alive; a Jew should have
fervor in his Divine service. When you give your half shekel your
charity to whomever you choose, it should be with fire, with
warmth, with enthusiasm. And then if you do it that way, it's a
completely different coin. That coin is no longer anything
materialistic. It becomes something spiritual. In the words of the
Rebbe: "HaShemcreated the world ex nihilo from nothing, and He
commanded us to make from the physical world nothing, i.e. to
transform it from physical into spiritual, through observing Torah
and mitzvos." You take money and transform it into a mitzvah into
spiritual fire by giving it to somebody who really needs it to live or
to study Torah, or to some other worthy cause. Then it becomes a
redemption for your soul. That is the reason that HaShemwanted
specifically a coin of fire, and not a coin of silver to teach Moshe
and the Jewish people how important it is to serve HaShemwith
simchahand with vitality.
Half of the Whole
The Rebbe now asks why HaShemcommanded us to give a half
shekel rather than a whole one. Given the symbolism of the shekel
mentioned above, wouldn't it have been more logical for HaShemto
command us to give a whole shekel? A half is a limitation.
Furthermore, we see that regarding the half shekel no one was
permitted to give more than a half, even if he wanted to. In other
aspects of tzedakah, you could give a million dollars; if you have it,
give it. But in this particular case, not. The richest Jew should not
give more than a half and the poorest Jew should not give less than a
The lesson that the Rebbe derives from this is relevant even
now, when we do not give the half shekel: often a very wealthy Jew
can fall into the clutches of arrogance by saying, "Look, it's because
of me that such-and-such a Yeshivahmanages to exist. I cover 75% of
their budget!" Wealthy people who give tremendous amounts of
charity could be tempted to reach the conclusion that, "If not for
me, the world could not continue!"
on the other hand, you have a poor Jew, who can barely afford
to give a few pennies to tzedakah. He might think, "What is my
contribution worth? A few miserable pennies. Who needs me?"
Accordingly, through the mitzvahof the half shekel, HaShemtells
every Jew that he and his contribution are equally important. What
the wealthy man is expected to give is no more important that the
poor man's contribution. And what the poor man is expected to
give is no less important than a wealthy Jew's contribution.
Moreover, no one can do it alone. Every Jew needs the
participation of every other Jew for completeness. There are Jews
who would rather not have all these other people around; they just
make them nervous. "What do I need all these other people for?"
There are people who try to avoid contact with other people because
they find that that brings them down from their lofty spiritual
quests. They have to deal with other people's problems, and answer
their questions and get involved with them. "Oy!I can't stand it, I'd
rather just learn and develop myself and become better and better."
You see quite a lot of this in the secular world that people are very
much into themselves and develop themselves, ignoring the rest of
the world, i.e., those who don't belong to their particular interest
group. They really don't have time in their lives for other people,
especially the people that need them. That's the kind that you avoid
the most. so HaShemsays, "A half shekel is not enough to buy a
sacrifice. This costs more than a half shekel. on your own, you
cannot even buy one korbantamid*which is an atonement for your
soul. You need to get together with all other Jews. Only together can
you bring this sacrifice." Every Jew was required to give his half
shekel, and from the lump sum, every day, the necessary amount was
drawn to buy the korbantamid.The half shekel is therefore an
expression, not only of AhavasYisrael, the love each Jew must have
for his fellow, but of AchdusYisrael the interdependent unity of
the Jewish people.
Elsewhere, the Rebbe makes another point about giving a half
shekel, rather than a whole one: A Jew is expected to give only that
which he is capable of the ten powers of his soul (equal to a half
shekel which equals ten gera,since a whole shekel equals twenty
gera). More than that he cannot give. However, HaShemgives the
second half, thus making a whole shekel.
Furthermore, the Rebbe asks why did HaShemhave to show
Moshe the coin of fire? Why couldn't he just tell Moshe the lesson
we have just learned without showing him the coin? HaShemcould
have told Moshe, "Moshe, tell the Jews, when they give tzedakahwith
simchahand with enthusiasm, it'll do much more than if they give it
without simchahand enthusiasm."
* A communal sacrifice offered daily in the BeisHaMikdash, in the morning and in the late
According to our sages, one of the things that was created just
before Shabboswas this coin of fire. HaShemspecially created a new
thing a coin of fire just prior to Shabbos.Why?
The Rebbe explains that the fact that HaShemactually created
this object actualized it. We know that there are many concepts that
sound very abstract, and even though they may sound wonderful,
they are unattainable. so HaShemtold Moshe: "Look, this is not just
one of those abstract concepts that I'm telling the Yidden.This is a
real thing." HaShemactually brought into this world a coin which
was a fusion of physicality and spirituality. By showing it to Moshe,
as an actual three-dimensional tangible object, HaShembrought into
this world the potential for a fusion of the spiritual with the
physical. Had He not shown Moshe an actual coin of fire, it would
have remained on the level of the abstract and theoretical. The
actual creation of this object, however, gives us the ability to achieve
that fusion through training ourselves to first of all think correctly
about tzedakah, and then give it in a completely different mood and
frame of mind from the one we are accustomed to when giving
To return to the concept of the half shekel which we give before
Purim: The greatness of tzedakahis that it is not only an atonement
for the past if a Jew sinned in the past and he gives tzedakahwith
the right intention, it becomes like repentance, as we say on Rosh
Hashanah, "Teshuvah(repentance), tefillah(prayer), tzedakah(charity)
[annul the evil decree]." More than this it is also an insurance policy
for the future. How do we see this? our sages explain that it was
because of the half shekels that the Yiddengave in the desert that
Haman's evil decree, many generations later, was annulled. Who
knows what our children will have to confront, G-d forbid? Maybe
we are not going to be around someday to give to our children.
Today we can provide for them. Will we be able to provide
tomorrow or next month? Who knows? This is a big worry in the
mind of every parent. so we know when we give tzedakahtoday, we
know that HaShemis putting it down in the spiritual computer up
there. This person has made a deposit of this and this money in this
tzedakahbank and HaShemwill remember it for the future as well.
so that we ourselves, and our children and our great-great-
grandchildren will someday benefit when a moment of difficulty
In thecourseof thissichahtheRebbediscussesMosheRabbeinu'sutter
self-transcendence hewaswillingtoset himself completelyasidefor the
sakeof hisfellowJews. Insomanyways, thismesirusnefeshdescribesthe
MosheRabbeinu of our own generation.
Moshe Rabbeinu had many confrontations with Bnei Yisrael.
There were times when the Jewish people complained, and even
sinned. Although the commentaries point out that they were not
always entirely at fault, nevertheless, we see that they were
sometimes punished. That was why they didn't go into Israel right
away, as G-d had wanted, and that's why the generation that came
out of Egypt died in the desert, and so on.
After one of the most serious of these confrontations, the sin of
the Golden Calf, HaShemsaid to Moshe Rabbeinu: "What do I need
this for? What do I need this obstinate and stubborn nation for? I
will destroy the entire Jewish people and I will start a new Jewish
nation from you. Maybe this time they'll be on a higher level."
What did Moshe reply? "If you are planning to destroy the
Jewish people then you can destroy me first: mecheyni na misifrecha
erase me from Your Book, the Torah." Moshe put himself on the
line for Bnei Yisrael. And he did this many times, not just once.
Most leaders are hungry for power, and that is their motivation
for becoming leaders. People run for President, for Prime Minister.
They try to show everybody how wonderful they are. They really
want to be in office and once they are in office they won't leave that
office for anything. They don't want to step down. They don't have
the best interests of the people in mind, but rather their own. Very
often they want the prestige, the power, the salary and the status.
Moshe, by way of contrast, was a leader who didn't want to be a
leader, as we see from the very beginning of his career when he tried
to refuse to accept upon himself the leadership of Bnei Yisrael. He
had to be forced and coerced into becoming the leader, and once he
became the leader, his own interests were always secondary and
subordinate to the interests of Bnei Yisrael. They always came first.
so when HaShemthreatened to kill the entire Jewish People, and
start a new nation which would be called Bnei Mosheand not Bnei
Yisrael, Moshe said, "I won't hear of that. If You do that then You
may as well forget about me. I will not agree to that."
The commentaries say that whatever a tzaddik says must come
true. Just as when Yaakov declared that whoever had stolen Lavan's
terafim(idols) deserved to die, not realizing that it was his beloved
wife Rachel who had done so, in order to prevent her father from
worshiping avodahzarah, his words took effect and she later died in
childbirth. There are several other examples as well in Tanachof the
same principle.
Thus, when Moshe Rabbeinu said these words, "If You do not
spare Bnei Yisrael, then erase me from Your Book," this had to have
its effect. This is the uniqueness of ParshasTetzaveh it is the only
parshahin the Torah, from the time Moshe's birth is recorded in
ParshasShmos, until the beginning of Devarim(MishnehTorah), where
Moshe Rabbeinu's name is not mentioned at all.
Commentaries explain that instead of erasing him from the
entire Torah, he was erased from one parshah, Tetzaveh.
Why ParshasTetzaveh, however? The Rebbe explains that even
though Moshe Rabbeinu's name was not mentioned at all in Parshas
Tetzaveh, he is still mentioned in the very first pasuk, in the very first
word, albeit in a different, covert way.
The parshahbegins with the words, Ve' atah tetzaveh "And you
shall command Bnei Yisrael to bring you pure olive oil to kindle the
eternal light." "You" here refers to Moshe Rabbeinu, but instead of
being referred to by his name, he is simply referred to as "you." The
Rebbe explains that the name of a person is not really his essence. A
name is not necessary for the person himself, only for someone else,
so that others can call him. We see that a person's name can be
changed, added or even dropped. A person doesn't get a name at
birth, but only at the brismilahfor a boy or at the next time the
Torah is read for a girl. A person's name comes after they have been
around for a while. sometimes it's only a day, sometimes it's a week,
sometimes it's two months. I know a situation where a baby was
born very prematurely and he didn't have a brisuntil he reached a
healthy weight, when he was two months old. He remained
nameless for two months, until his bris. so we see that the essence of
a person transcends his name. The name is only a revelation, a
manifestation, albeit a lofty one, but not synonymous with the
essence of the person.
When we say atah,"you," that is something higher than a name.
It refers to the person himself; that which cannot be limited by a
Chassidusexplains that this is the meaning of the word Anochi
the first word of the Ten Commandments "I, Myself." Why is
Anochi the first word of the Ten Commandments? Because it refers
to HaShemHimself, higher than any Name or attribute. All of
HaShemsNames are like manifestations "According to My deeds I
am called," he said to Moshe Rabbeinu. Each name refers to a
certain attribute, a particular trait.
When one calls a person kind, or brilliant, or artistic, or short-
tempered, one refers to his qualities, his traits, but not to his
essence. The person is something that is higher than any
description. In the same way, and of course much more so,
HaShem's Names signify particular attributes. But Anochi refers to
Him Himself, beyond any Names. It's His hidden Essence.
The same is true of the word Atah, "you," signifying the highest
level of a person, that which transcends names and descriptions.
When somebody says, "I love you," it's not that she loves your name,
or your nose, or that you're so kind, or you made a good supper last
night. I love you, your essence.
When HaShemtalks to Moshe Rabbeinu and says, Ve'atah
tetzave,it means that he is referring to the essence of Moshe
Rabbeinu not to his qualities of leadership, not to his wisdom, not
to his knowledge, but to Moshe himself, the source and origin of all
these other qualities. Even though Moshe's name isn't mentioned
here at all, this is not to be interpreted as a negative thing that
HaShemwas punishing him. on the contrary, because of his mesirus
nefesh, his self-transcendence, his willingness to erase himself from
the Torah for the sake of Yidden, the Torah reveals him as he is in
his essence atah,transcending his name and all of his attributes
and qualities.
The Rebbe then goes on to explain the next part of the verse
"...command Bnei Yisrael to bring you pure olive oil..."
An olive is by nature a bitter fruit. If you take an olive as it is
from the tree, and you eat it, it's not at all appetizing. In order to
make olives tasty, or in order to make oil from them, there is a
definite process, a procedure that the olives have to go through. I'm
not an olive expert so I can't tell you what that procedure is, but
there is a process. And through the process the olive is transformed
from something bitter into something tasty.
This is an analogy for the Jewish people. When a Jew serves
HaShemhe should not only seek out a service which is sweet and
pleasant and tasty, and say for example, "I will work with the
brilliant people, because that's more fun; I will do what's popular; I
will do what's easy." sometimes you have to work with olives as they
are just off the tree. It isn't so much fun, it isn't so easy, it isn't so
popular, it isn't so attractive. There is no immediate gratification.
Nevertheless, through your work, the olive can become sweet and
As Rabbi Feller once said: "Do you remember what happened
when the Torah was given to the Jewish people? Every Jewish soul
was there, even those who would be born in the future, for all the
generations until Mashiachcomes. Do you think that the Torah was
only given to the beautiful people, to the intelligent people, to the
nice people? No! The Torah was given to every Jew for every
generation. Accordingly, it's our obligation to think of each person
as a fellow Jew, even the ones that are not so much fun."
This is what I think the Rebbe's referring to when he talks about
the bitter olive. It's so much easier to serve HaShemin a way that is
pleasant for us, but then we have to ask the question, whom are we
serving, HaShemor ourselves? If you're interested in serving yourself,
then fine, you can choose what you want to do. But if you want to
do what HaShemwants then it's not always fun. That's the idea of
the olive.
The Rebbe then goes on to explain the words, "to kindle the
eternal light." In the Menorahthere were seven branches, one in the
middle and three branching off to each side. six of the candles had
to be rekindled every evening, from the one which remained alight.
This was the ner tamid, the eternal light. one of the miracles in the
Temple is that it never went out. The verse used the expression
lehaalos, which we have rendered as "kindle." However, the literal
meaning of lehaalosis "to raise." The idea is that we have to take all
the things of the world and raise them up to the fulfillment of their
spiritual potential. use the physical things in this world for a
spiritual purpose, and in this way you elevate them to their highest
What is unique about Purim in comparison with all of the other
YamimTovim, is also what is unique about MegillasEsther in
comparison with all the other twenty-three books of the Tanach. our
sages state that in the future, after Mashiachcomes, all the festivals,
Pesach and shavuos and sukkos, will be nullified, though not Purim
(and some say Chanukah as well), even though they are commanded
by HaShemin the Torah, whereas Purim is not commanded in the
Torah, but was instituted by the Anshei KnessesHaGedolah, the Men
of the Great Assembly.
This must mean that the festivals will no longer be necessary.
Whatever these YamimTovimachieve won't be relevant when
Mashiachcomes. our sages tell us that the same idea applies to the
entire Tanach, excluding MegillasEsther.
The Rebbe asks how this can be possible, since other sources
state that when Mashiachcomes we will be able to fulfill all of those
mitzvoswhich we are not able to do now, e.g., those associated with
the BeisHaMikdash, such as sacrifices, and the laws of purity and
impurity, etc. Moreover, the Rambamrules according to the latter
view. The Rebbe gives two answers to this apparent contradiction.
one answer is that the mitzvoswill not be nullified in the first part of
the era of Mashiach, but at a later stage. The second answer is that
they will not be nullified in the sense that they will actually cease to
exist, but in the same sense as a candle is not noticeable in the
sunlight its light is nullified by comparison with a much brighter
light. so, too, the light elicited by the other festivals will pale in
comparison with that elicited by Purim (and maybe Chanukah).
However, whether we take it literally, or according to the
Rebbe's second explanation, it is clear that there is something about
Purim that transcends the idea of time. There's something eternal
about Purim that makes it relevant forever. What is this eternal
one of the laws in the ShulchanAruchregarding the obligation
of hearing the Megillahon Purim states that a person who read it
lemafreiyadid not fulfill his or her obligation. What does lemafreiya
mean? The literal interpretation is that if a person heard the Megillah
in the wrong order, the second half first, followed by the first half,
for example, they did not fulfill their obligation one must hear it
from beginning to end, in that order. You know how it is. You
started getting the kids dressed up in their Purim costumes early, so
that you could get them to shul in good time, without having to
rush. Well, nothing ever goes wrong, does it? so you came late, and
they were already in the middle of the Megillah-reading. "Nu!" you
say, "Not so terrible, I'll hear the second half now, and the first half
later." Nope. To fulfill your obligation, you must hear the Megillah
in the right order! First the first half, and then the second half. That
is the explanation of lemafreiyain halachah.
The Baal shem Tov gives another interpretation: If you read the
Megillahas past history, as something that happened to Mordechai
and Esther long ago, you have not fulfilled your obligation. "Why?
Because the story told by the Megillahis absolutely relevant to us
here and now!
In order to understand how those events are relevant to us, we
need a little explanation...
The essence of the story of Purim began many years before the
times of Mordechai and Esther, Haman and Achashverosh. Purim
really began not long after Bnei Yisrael had come out of Egypt. After
all of the miracles which had taken place, all the nations of the
world were afraid of the Jewish People all of the nations excluding
Amalek. Chassidusexplains that the numerical value (the gematria,
for those of you who know the word) of the Hebrew word Amalek
equals the gematriaof the word safek doubt, skepticism. Amalek
had also heard of the miracles which took place. But the Amalekite
philosophers argued, "Come on, what are you talking about? G-d is
interested in what goes on down here? Those weren't miracles. They
were lucky coincidences!" And so they attacked the Jewish people,
cooling down the fear of G-d and the dread that other nations had
of us. others too began to be skeptical about the miracles that had
taken place...
In later generations, Amalek clothed himself in his descendant,
the treacherous Haman, who demanded the total destruction of the
Jewish people. And so, in every generation, there is an Amalek, a
Mordechai and an Esther. That which cools down the enthusiasm to
fulfill HaShems will is none other than Amalek. You've most
probably heard something like the following many times: "You're
not going to eat only that kosher certification, are you? Come on.
Don't be such a fanatic!" Or, after you have just come out of a shiur:
"You're walking around with these books, just like a bochurin
Yeshivah?" And then you say, "Maybe I am being too religious;
maybe I should just cool it! Maybe I took this upon myself
prematurely; maybe I'm not ready for it." And so you start
questioning what you're about to do.
Amalek can come from many different places. From things that
you read, from what people say, from you yourself. But the end
result is all the same: "Come on, don't get so excited about
Yiddishkeit." That's Amalek and you have to fight it. Because when
you fight Amalek, you will be together with Mordechai and Esther!
And when you win because you will win if you are determined to
do so then you will get a taste of Purim as it will be revealed in the
The situation that the Jewish people found themselves in during
the time of the Megillahshould have been one of the safest and best
eras for the Jewish people. When we look through history we see
that there were many times when the Jews were in a bad situation.
They were a minority, there was an evil anti-semitic ruler, and so it
wouldn't be surprising if there were decrees against them. But in
that period, Mordechai was not only the head of the Sanhedrin, he
was also one of the king's advisors. He wasn't the highest. But he
was part of the king's government on some level.
This is a nice thing to have someone like Mordechai
representing us. He could be a spokesman; he could intervene on
our behalf if necessary. And who was the queen? A Jewess, and a
deeply religious Jewess at that. When else in Jewish history was there
a Jewish queen in a foreign land who was G-d-fearing? One would
imagine with Esther being queen and Mordechai in the government
that the Jews could be very relaxed for at least as long as this period
lasted. But we find that precisely in this period, not only was there
an evil decree against the Jews, but the worst decree ever made. The
Rebbe explains that there were three ways in which this decree was
worse than any other which ever happened before or after:
(1) Haman's decree was universal, against all the Jews in
Achashverosh's dominion. He was the king of 127 countries from
Hodu to Cush the entire populated known world of that time.
Accordingly, there was nowhere to flee to. Even though Hitler was
very evil, there were many Jews who owed their lives to the fact that
they had somewhere to escape to.
(2) Haman wanted to kill everyone. Pharaoh wanted to kill only
the boys. Other decrees concerned only men in the army. In czarist
Russia there was a decree against Jewish youth, forcing them into
the army at a young age (the Cantonists), but they didn't go around
killing older men, women, children and infants. Later, under
communist rule, the decree was mainly against adults, even though
the purpose was to isolate the children so that they could educate
them in the ways of communism. Haman wanted to kill man,
woman and infant. Everybody. No one was to be spared.
(3) Everybody was supposed to be killed in one day. In Hitler's
case, even though the decree was very, very severe, it took place over
a period of several years. And even people who were in the
concentration camps on the day of the liberation might have died a
week later, but they were spared because the liberation took place
that day. so when a decree is spread out over a period of time,
there's a hope that maybe the one who made the decree will die, or
be conquered. But if it all happens so quickly, there's no time to
In these three ways, Haman's decree was worse than any other
decree that took place, before or after and precisely in an era
which should have been so secure, they suffered the worst of all
The point is that even though naturally, logically, they should
have been secure, the security of the Jewish people isn't dependent
on natural forces. We are a supernatural nation and therefore,
natural conditions don't play a major role in Jewish history.
According to all logical calculations, according to the rules of nature,
we shouldn't even be here; we have no natural right to exist.
My mother once showed me a quote by Mark Twain, called
"The Mystery of the Jew." He says in essence that the Jewish nation
is less than one percent of the world's population. one percent is
nothing. He writes as if it's like a whisker. It's a hair, it's nothing.
Naturally the Jews should be completely overshadowed by the other
99-plus percent of the world's population. They should, if anything,
be less than one percent in every field. And yet, he writes, we see
that they are prominent not only in medicine and in law, but in
many other fields. He enumerates all of the fields in which Jewish
people have been prominent: statesmanship, finance, arts,
literature, medicine, science and technology, and today, in
government. In so many fields the Jewish people have excelled and
been prominent far beyond their numbers. Even the mere fact that
the Jewish people have survived is amazing, he writes. of course, we
are aware of all this, but he was a gentile, and also noted this fact:
"Where are the Romans and where are the other nations that have
persecuted the Jews?" he asks. The Jew has survived and outlived all
of the nations that have tried to stifle him. so the Jewish people's
survival is not natural and we never depended on natural reasons for
our existence. The only reason we exist is because HaShemwants us
to exist. And if HaShemdidn't want us to exist we would not.
You all must have heard what happened when a scud missile
fell on an American building in saudi Arabia? Twenty-seven soldiers
died, so far, and a few hundred were injured because of one missile
that fell. Thirty-nine missiles fell in Israel, and not one person was
killed because of a direct hit. one person was killed not from the
missile, but from what they call the aftermath. Not one Jew. Could
anybody explain that? A house can be rebuilt, furniture can be
replaced. There is not one person who is crying over his lost house.
Everybody that had their house destroyed was overjoyed to be alive.
You know when you come through that situation you don't cry over
your dining room set. You just say baruchHaShemit's the dining
room set and not me. If that isn't a miracle I don't know what is.
HaShemis undoubtedly with us. There's no other explanation.
Now, when the Jewish people sinned by eating non-kosher food
at Achashverosh's feast, that indicated a weakening of their faith in
HaShemand that was the catalyst for the decree of Haman, despite
the fact that Esther was the queen and Mordechai a minister in the
When the Jewish people became aware of the severity of the
decree, they did not send diplomatic missions to Achashverosh.
They didn't try to undo the decree by natural means. It was because
the Jews did teshuvah. The decree was nothing more than a threat. It
was all torn up and erased by their teshuvah. Its purpose was just to
make them come home.
one of the first things Mordechai did was to proclaim a fast. He
also took the little children to learn Torah and davenwith him.
Torah, prayer and fasting. These are the three ingredients of
teshuvah. Mordechai understood the situation very clearly. He told
the Yidden,"If we don't do teshuvahwe're all going to die. so we'd
better do teshuvahthis minute."
Now had Esther been thinking in a natural frame of mind, she
would have said, "since Achashverosh married me for my beauty, let
me try and charm him some more and try to get him to rescind the
decree." We see she said nothing like that. she said, "I and my
maidens will also fast for three days!" Now we know what we look
like after missing breakfast. And if you fast the whole day take a look
at yourself. After Tishah BeAv or after Yom Kippur you don't look
so great, even with make-up on. If you're starving it shows. Try to
think what you'd look like after not eating for three days. There are
bags under your eyes, your skin is sallow. You look terrible. After a
three-day fast she says, "I'm going to go to Achashverosh."
Mordechai might have said to her, "What do you mean? He married
you because you're beautiful. You're going to go to him?! You look
like a wreck. You should first eat well and look beautiful and then
maybe he'll listen to you. But if you go to him after three days of
fasting he's not going to look at you because he's not a spiritual
person; he only likes you for your looks."
But Esther and Mordechai understood that the reason Esther
found favor in Achashverosh's eyes was not merely that she was
beautiful. As a matter of fact, one of the commentaries says that
Esther was not beautiful. What was beautiful was her deeds. A
person can have a beautiful personality and a terrible complexion.
That doesn't mean that they are an ugly person. According to this
view, why Achashverosh chose her as a wife was superrational. He
wasn't interested in her good deeds and her fear of G-d. He only
wanted a beautiful wife; but HaShemmade a miracle that he should
find her beautiful, even though if she went to a beauty contest she
wouldn't have won the prize.
Both Esther and Mordechai were aware that even after fasting
for three days, strengthening their spiritual bond with HaShem
would be the only channel through which His blessing would come.
They realized that going to the king was only a garment. Esther's real
success was not dependent on what she said or how she looked, but
whether HaShemwas with her.
Parenthetically, that is also the reason that when we have to go
on a very dangerous mission or an important meeting and there's a
chance that we won't be successful, we don't necessarily have to go
to a Dale Carnegie course to learn how to express ourselves better.
The advice has always been to say a chapter of Tehillimbefore you
go. Ask HaShemthat your words find favor in the ears of the person
that you have to speak to. Because that is ultimately what determines
whether you'll be successful or not in your mission, whatever it
might be.
Eating non-kosher food caused a weakening of the spiritual
bond between the Yiddenand HaShem, but through teshuvahthey
were able to create the vehicle for the miracle which overturned an
extremely negative situation. Let this be a lesson for us.
The Rebbe explains that the nature of the world is such that the
more vital something is for our survival, the easier it is to obtain and
the less expensive it is. For example, air. Air is unarguably the most
vital thing for life. Now there is not a single country on earth that
doesn't have air in abundance. And it is free of charge. It's not even
taxed like water is. In all countries of the world air is free and
abundantly available.
The next thing is water. Water is not equally available in every
country of the world, but we find that most civilizations and most
inhabited places are near water reserves. For the majority of the
world's population we can say that water is fairly readily available
and the price that one has to pay for water is not for the water itself,
as much as for the service of having the water delivered. In other
words, if somebody wants to go and draw the water from the well, or
take it from a river, it's generally free of charge. If you want to buy
bottles of spring water you have to pay for it, but if you want plain
ordinary water it's free and abundant.
What's next on the level of necessity? Food. Now, even the least
expensive and most basic foods, probably bread and grains, are
probably the most plentiful and the most necessary. But you have to
plant them, and producing crops requires effort. Even the simplest
and cheapest food requires effort in its planning and its preparation.
There is no food that doesn't require somebody to pick it. Rain can
fall right into your backyard, but food doesn't come into your house;
you have to go and get it. You have to plant it, you have to tend it,
you have to reap it. And food costs money. It may not be that
expensive, but it does cost some money. of course, food that is more
of a luxury, like smoked salmon, meat, chocolate and so on, is
generally more expensive. The fact that something is more expensive
generally proves that it is less vital for life. To survive you don't need
chocolate. For life you need water and bread.
After food, the next most important need for humans is
clothing. In order for a person to survive, you really don't need an
all wool French two-piece suit. Putting aside for a minute the
necessities of modesty and so on, if the weather is nice you can even
survive without clothing. Clothing is not vital for life in the same
way as food is. Clothing is only necessary to cover the body and
protect it from the elements. Inexpensive clothing protects the body
as well as expensive clothing. You don't need a leather coat or a fur
coat to be warm. You can have a wool coat or an acrylic sweater and
it'll do the same job.
Next in the hierarchy of human needs is shelter. In order to be
protected from rain or the heat you don't really have to buy a house.
You can live in a cave. There are tzaddikimwho lived in caves for
many years and they survived. A cave can shelter a person. A person
can live with somebody else, or rent a room. It is not necessary to
purchase your own house if we're talking about mere survival. If a
person wants to own a beautiful villa that's fine, but you have to pay
a lot of money for it. Which means that this is not vital for human
survival or existence.
After these come the things that would not be classified as
needs, but rather as desires. In this category are things like art,
jewelry, beautiful things in a house, decorations. These things
people like, they enjoy, but they're very expensive. And sometimes
one piece of jewelry can cost more than a house. Now obviously an
object that costs so much money is definitely not vital for survival,
for health, or for peace of mind, and acquiring such things is very,
very difficult. To make these expensive paintings or to go down to
the mines to get these diamonds or to get the pearls from the
bottom of the sea, requires tremendous skill and tremendous effort
and risk, and that's why they cost so much money.
What is the Rebbe telling us? He's saying that just as in the
material world there's a hierarchy, in which things that are more
necessary are easier to get and are cheaper, whereas the things that
are harder to get and more expensive are not as vital, so too in
spiritual matters. In the spiritual world, there are certain mitzvosthat
are so vital for the survival of the soul that HaShemmakes them easy.
HaShemwants to make these mitzvoseasy to do so that no Jew
should have the problem of not being able to observe them.
As far as Purim is concerned there are seven mitzvos. some of
these mitzvosare more difficult to observe. For example, the mitzvah
of hearing the Megillah.That one requires a lot of effort. First you
have to have a scribe write a Megillah. He has to learn how to write
it. He has to write it on parchment, which is expensive. The writing
takes a long time. It has to be kosher, and so on. It is hard work to
produce a kosher Megillah.Then you have to acquire the kosher
Megillah. Then the one that reads it has to know how to read it with
the right punctuation, the right tune, and so on. And then while
you're listening, you have to concentrate. You're not supposed to
miss even a word. That's hard. To concentrate for forty minutes or
so and not miss a word requires much effort.
What is a simple easy mitzvahon Purim? The Rebbe says that
among the mitzvosof Purim there are two that are very easy. The two
that are easiest are matanosle'evyonimand mishloachmanos. Matanos
le'evyonimis observed by giving even a small amount of money to two
people. If no poor person knocks on your door and you didn't
happen to meet one in the street, don't worry. Take two coins, put
them aside and say, "This is my matanosle'evyonim," and the first
opportunity I have after Purim I'll give it.
The other mitzvahthat's very easy is mishloachmanos, because the
halachahrequires only that each person give two kinds of food to
one person. Those fancy baskets that they sell that make a good
profit for the ones that make them, are not required by Halachah.
All you need is two ready-to-eat foods. You may not send raw fish or
raw meat or unpopped popcorn. It has to be something that is
edible as is. Everybody can find one person to whom to send two
things. A couple of cookies and an apple is enough.
To make the seudah, however, is an awful lot of work for the
balabusta. You can't just serve cookies and apples. You should have
wine and meat. It's more expensive. You have to buy the meat, you
have to cook it.
so we see that the two mitzvoswhich are easiest to observe are
that way because they are the most important. Why are they the
most important? Do you understand what I'm driving at? Why did
HaShemmake it that mishloachmanosand matanosle'evyonimare the
easiest of the mitzvosto do? You don't even have to have kavanah
intention when you give shalachmonos. You don't have to think
about it, just do it. The reason is because they're the most
important. Remember what we said about air being the cheapest
because it's most vital. The most vital mitzvosare shalachmanosand
matanosle'evyonim. Why are these two mitzvosconsidered more vital
than all the other mitzvos, even more important than hearing the
Because all the other mitzvosthe person does for himself. The
seudahis for himself, hearing the Megillahis for himself, saying Al
HaNissimis for himself, and so on. But matanosle'evyonimand
mishloachmanosare for the sake of somebody else. Helping another
Jew, sharing with another Jew, reflect the caring and concern one
Jew has for another. That is why they're the most important of all
the mitzvos.And that is also why they're the easiest to observe.
The most important mitzvahof all is AhavasYisrael;as Hillel
said, "The remainder of the Torah is simply commentary." Rabbi
Akiva too, stated that this is the major principle of the Torah.
It is a basic teaching of Chassidusthat without ahavasYisrael
there's no ahavasHaShem. A Jew cannot say, I love G-d but I don't
love Jews. The best expression of ahavasHaShemis ahavasYisrael.
If you don't love every Jew, then your love of HaShemis
blemished. Because every Jew is part of HaShem. If you don't love
every Jew it means you don't love every part of HaShem. There is a
flaw in your love of HaShem. I'm not saying, look at me, you'll find
in me the epitome of love of every Jew. I'm telling you this as an
ideal. We are all striving together to fulfill it. Of course there are
people who are easier to love, like family and friends, and there are
other people whom it is more difficult to love. This is our challenge.
MegillasEsther tells the story of Purim in such a way that many
ideas are alluded to, but are not stated explicitly. The Gemara
explains that the name Esther is from the Hebrew word hester,
meaning "concealment." The word Megillah, by contrast, is from the
word gilui, meaning "revelation." MegillasEsther therefore means
"the revelation of the hidden," because our job is to reveal what's
hidden in the story of Purim.
After Haman's evil decree was annulled, the Megillahstates,
LaYehudimhaysaorah vesimchah, vesasson, viykar. The literal
translation of this is, "The Yiddenhad light, happiness, rejoicing and
glory." However, the Gemarainterprets orahas an allusion to Torah,
simchahas Yom-Tov, sassonas circumcision and yekaras tefillin the
four mitzvosthat Haman wanted to eradicate.
Haman, in addition to wanting to eradicate Jews, whom he
hated, was also irked by Judaism that the Jewish people were
different because of Yiddishkeit;as he said to Achashverosh: "There is
one people, dispersed among the nations... who do not observe the
laws (i.e., religion) of the king." Even though this nation is dispersed
among all the nations, they haven't become part of us. They are still
different and they don't listen to our decrees. They have never
become part of us. Every time he saw a Jew wearing obviously Jewish
clothes and behaving according to Jewish custom, it angered him.
The Gemaraexplains that the four mitzvosthat bothered Haman
most were Torah study, Yom-Tov, circumcision, and tefillin.
Accordingly, when we were victorious over Haman, we were able to
have these again.
But why does the verse state, "The Yiddenhad...?" This seems to
imply that we received them as a result of Purim, which is not so. All
of these are mitzvosfrom the Torah! The simple answer is that it is as
if we received them for the first time, because now we could observe
them freely.
The Rebbe explains further that these four mitzvosare all things
that on a surface level seem not to be exclusively Jewish. They seem
very similar to the way gentiles do things. How so? As regards Torah
gentiles also learn "the Bible." In every parochial school gentile
children study the "old Testament." In what way is Torah unique to
The Rebbe says that non-Jews also have Torah but they read
only scripture, not the oral Torah. Haman would have been
satisfied if Jews would only learn the Written Torah that everybody
else learns. What he couldn't accept was the Oral Torah. You learn
the Gemara, it doesn't seem so G-dly. The Written Torah does seem
G-dly. It talks about the creation of the world and it talks about
things that happened in our history way back. It talks about the
giving of the Torah. The oral Torah, however, appears to be just a
discussion between human beings. This rabbi says this, this rabbi
says that. If you disagree with them, why don't you just do what you
want? Why do you consider what these human beings said as being
holy and G-dly and overruling your opinion if you feel differently?
Why do you have to be bound by what some rabbi says and thinks?
This is clearly a misconception. Every word of the oral Torah
was written with RuachHaKodesh Divine Inspiration. When
HaShemgave us the Torah at Mount sinai, he gave us the oral
Torah too, except that it wasn't written down. It wasn't written
down till years later but it was given to Moshe Rabbeinu at sinai.
Did Moshe Rabbeinu receive all of the laws as we have them now?
Most opinions say no. However, he was given all of the principles of
deduction and exegesis by which the rabbis later derived all of the
laws and developed the oral Torah.
If you ask why it is that HaShemwanted the Torah to be
developed by human beings, why He did not give it fully developed,
we could ask the same question regarding other things also, such as
modern technology. Why didn't HaShemgive us electricity in the
first week of creation? After all, electricity is part of creation. It's not
a thing that man invented. Why did HaShemwait till Edison, Watts
and all these people discovered the powers that are really part of the
creation? Why did HaShemwait until Marie Curie discovered
radiation, x-rays and so on? Why didn't he give them to us right
away? The answer is that HaShemwanted mortals to be partners in
the discovery. This was part of HaShem's divine plan. He wanted
these things to be revealed by different individuals, even though it
was all given to Moshe. Indeed, the oral Torah is just as holy as the
Written Torah.
so, coming back to Purim, the Megillahrefers to the oral Torah.
This is why it is called orah. The Written Torah is called Or in the
masculine form; the Oral Torah is called "orah" in the feminine
form, because the Oral Torah receives power from the Written
Simchahrefers to Yom-Tov. What is exclusively Jewish about Yom-
Tov?The gentiles also have their holidays Thanksgiving, New Year,
and so on. They also have a celebratory meal, which does not look
essentially different from a Jewish holiday meal. People get dressed
up in their holiday finery; we get dressed in our Yom-Tovclothes. so
what's the difference between our YamimTovimand lehavdil their
holidays? The Rebbe explains that when a gentile has a holiday, it
doesn't lead him to kedushah. The Rebbe is basing what he says on
facts; he is not trying to incriminate or criticize, but when gentiles
celebrate their festivals it leads them to frivolity, and worse. It
doesn't make them more refined or holy or thoughtful of other
people; it is simply an opportunity to indulge in one's physical
desires, whether eating or drinking, or just having a great time.
statistically, after those holidays we find that there are many more
accidents than normal because people drink while driving. People
are just into themselves. It's an excuse to indulge. In Yiddishkeit,
every single Yom-Tovhas the admonition that we must not forget the
stranger and the orphan and the widow. Pesach we right away
remember to help those that don't have what they need for the
holiday. similarly with Purim, and the High Holy Days. There is
always an emphasis on the Yom-Tovprayers, study, and so on. The
objective of a Jewish Yom-Tovis to ascend a step or two from the
mundane world. Yom-Tovis where you withdraw from the material
world, rather than taking a steep descent into it. That is the
difference between the Jewish Yom-Tovand the gentile holiday.
In brismilah(circumcision), corresponding to the expression
sasson,there is a similar distinction. often gentiles also perform
circumcision on their children, for health reasons, hygiene, and the
like. Their motivations are purely to prevent infection, to prevent
perhaps a greater pain later on in the child who would not be
circumcised. But this has nothing to do with holiness. Now, even
though Moslems do circumcision for supposedly religious reasons,
this is because Yishmael was circumcised. In other words, it is more
because of historical identity reasons than as a way of bonding with
HaShem. When a gentile performs a circumcision he just does it
because the doctor said so, or because that's the way everybody does
When the Jew does a brismilah, it is a conscious act of elevating
the child to a higher level, to have a stronger bond with HaShem,
because the moment of the brisis when the nefeshhaElokis, the G-dly
soul, starts entering the body. As long as there is the barrier of orlah
(the foreskin) the person cannot reach his full level of holiness.
Anyone can have a circumcision, but only a Jew makes a bris a
covenant between himself and G-d. Moreover, this covenant
encompasses the entire Torah the Hebrew word brishas a
numerical value (gematria)of 612. Together with the mitzvahof bris
milahwe have 613. so it's as if the brisfulfills the whole number of
613. Thus, brismilahis the idea of bringing G-dliness into
everything, even a physical organ associated with lowly pleasures.
This mitzvahtherefore represents the entire service of a Jew, which is
to elevate everything and make everything holy and G-dly.
The last one of the four expressions, viykar, corresponds to
tefillin. There are many other nations and religions that wear
religious symbols, or make certain marks on their faces, or they may
wear necklaces, bracelets or certain kinds of headdresses that show
which tribe or which religion they belong to. They have their
symbol, we have our symbol. What is so special about tefillin?
The Rebbe explains as follows: Other symbols that gentiles
choose are somewhat aesthetic. They're either jewelry, gold, colorful,
pretty something that a person can appreciate and be proud of
wearing. But what are tefillin?Animal hide, painted black, with
pieces of parchment inside. What is so beautiful and attractive about
that? In Torah black is not regarded as beautiful. It's not even a
color. It is the absence of color (although one might argue about
Why then does a Jewish man put these boxes on his hand and
on his head? Not because he looks at these objects in and of
themselves as something intrinsically attractive and beautiful, but
because in these boxes are verses that talk about the unity of
HaShem. A Jew knows that by wearing tefillinon his head and
around his arm he is subordinating his intellect and his heart and
his emotions to HaShem. tefillinhave meaning and holiness to a Jew,
not for the way they look but because this is what HaShem
commanded. That's where tefillindiffer from the ornaments of
gentiles. They choose their ornaments because they look nice, or
perhaps because they are believed to have some special property or
power. We choose tefillinbecause HaShemchose them for us. And
that's what makes it beautiful to us, the fact that this is the way we
bind ourselves with HaShem.
This is one of the reasons why in Chabadcustoms you do not
find the same kinds of embellishments that you will find in other
communities, such as beautiful mezuzahcases, highly decorated
sukkos, and fancy holders on the lulavfor the hadassimand aravos;a
man's tallisdoes not have a thick silver ornament on the top; and so
on. In Chabadyou will generally find none of these things.
Everything is very simple. The mezuzosare generally wrapped just in
plastic or paper, the sukkahwalls are left bare, the lulavis tied
around very plainly so that the hadassimand aravosare closer to the
lulavthan they are when you make the separate fancy holders for
them. This is all because the mitzvahitself is regarded as beautiful to
us. We don't have to do anything else to beautify the mitzvahand
make it aesthetic. Its beauty is derived from the fact that it's
HaShemswill and that's beautiful to us. You don't need to add
ornamentation or embellishment.
The Rebbe concludes that Purim is the Yom-Tovthat celebrates
this concept. Accordingly, one of the mitzvosof Purim is to eat a
celebratory feast, and even to get drunk. This is something which
gentiles do too, and more often than Jews. However, there is a
fundamental difference between the two we do not drink for the
sake of getting drunk. When a Jew drinks wine ad deloyada until
he does not know the difference between "blessed is Mordechai and
cursed is Haman" this means that he cannot distinguish the
difference between what is better G-d's goodness as expressed in
"blessed is Mordechai," or G-d's goodness as expressed in "cursed is
Haman." subconsciously, a Jew should always know that Haman is
Haman and Mordechai is Mordechai. Within his heart of hearts
every Jew knows what's right and what's wrong, what's Jewish and
what's not.
Externally, the celebration of Purim seems to be a celebration
like any other, but hidden within the celebration of Purim is a
strong identification with the values of Yiddishkeit.
There are several differences between the NusachAri Haggadah
used by Chabad, which is based on the writings of the AriZal, and
the traditional Haggadahused by other frumJews. one of the striking
differences is the order of the Four Questions the smallest child asks
his father Mah Nishtanah. The classic order of the Mah Nishtanah,
for those using the conventional Haggadah, is as follows: The first
question is in regard to chametzand matzah;the second question is
in regard to marorand other vegetables, the third question is why we
dip, and the fourth question is regarding why we lean. The order
that the conventional Haggadah uses is that the first question,
chametzand matzah, is a question regarding a mitzvahspecified in the
Torah; the second question, is about a rabbinical injunction (in our
times maroris only a rabbinical commandment); dipping is merely a
custom. In other words, let's say somebody had to make a Sederand
they couldn't have everything, what would they choose, what would
be the most important? obviously, the most important part of the
Sederis the matzah, followed by the maror, and so on.
However, in the Chabad Haggadah,the first of the Four
Questions is about dipping we ask everyone else's third question
first. The second question in our custom is chametzand matzah, the
third one is about maror and other vegetables, and the fourth
question is about leaning.
When the Alter Rebbe composed the ChabadSiddurand Chabad
Haggadah, he examined tens of different versions prior to
determining the exact Chabad nusach. Every word, every letter, even
the vowels, were carefully selected. (vowelization is sometimes
different, sometimes a kametzinstead of a patach, and so on. In the
Haggadah, for example, we say hei, not ha lachmaanya,as in the
majority of other versions.) Every single change was precisely
selected for kabbalistic, halachic and grammatical reasons, for the
Alter Rebbe was a big baal dikduk (an expert on grammar).
Accordingly, there must have been a reason for his placing the
subject of dipping as the first question.
The Rebbe explains that this is to emphasize the role of
minhagim(customs) in Jewish life. It is to correct the thinking of
some people who feel that Jewish customs are of secondary, optional
status, an optional extra. I'm sure that you have heard this before:
"You like it do it. You don't like it don't do it. It's not a law. It
doesn't say so in the Torah; it's not in the Gemara; so take it or
leave it." This is incorrect. our sages state, MinhagYisrael Torahhu
"The customs of Yiddenare Torah!"
The Rebbe explains that what a child notices most, what arouses
his curiosity is minhagim. The Rebbe points out that it is possible
for a person to be a totally observant, orthodox Jew, and still look
very similar to a goyor to a non-observant Jew. Why? Because a Jew
could put on his tefillinin the morning, eat kosher, keep Shabbosand
everything else. But if he doesn't have a beard and if he wears a
baseball cap instead of a hat, how would you know by looking at
him that he is a religious Jew? What is the thing that makes a person
look frum?It's the beard, it's the way you dress, and so on. There's
nothing in the Torah that says a Jew may not wear the latest
fashions. But Jewish people, frummen and frumwomen, have always
dressed in a way that is not as trendy as the latest fashion. It's not
really our goal to blend in with society at large. so the things that
make a person look different are the minhagim, not the dinim(laws)
in the Torah. The dinimdon't show.
At the Sedertable the minhagimlike dipping, which are so
unusual we never do it normally those are the things that a child
finds unusual. Kids have seen you eat matzahon occasions other
than Pesach also. They don't know that this is kosher lePesachmatzah
and not chometzdikkematzah. Matzahis matzah. They don't know the
difference between this vegetable and that vegetable. They've seen
you eat vegetables before. They know you eat onion sometimes
when it's not Pesach, and they see you putting chreinon your gefilte
fish almost every Shabbos.
That is all as regards the children. Now, as for their parents
we must realize that minhagimcannot simply be dispensed with. You
should not say, "If we want our kids to be frum,we should narrow
down our demands to the necessities, at least let them keep the
dinim. If we demand so much of them, maybe they won't keep
anything. so let's at least make it mandatory for them to do the
mitzvoswritten in the Torah."
The Rebbe explains that a minhagthat has become part of
Yiddishkeithas the force of a Torah law. If we lose the minhagim, if we
stop caring about the minhagimand stop observing them, we are
reducing the holiness of Yiddishkeit. Then the real danger appears
slowly and subtly the mitzvoswill also be abandoned.
The Rebbe says that this also applies to those minhagimthat you
can't even find in the books, but you know that this is the way that
people behave. Even those minhagimare important. All the minhagim
that were added over the years came about for the same reason to
preserve Yiddishkeitand to make it more holy, to show that a person
wants to be more Jewish.
one example is saying ModehAni on awakening in the morning.
It doesn't say anywhere in the Written Torah that a Jew has to say
ModehAni when he wakes up. It's not even a rabbinical
commandment. It was introduced centuries after the Gemarawas
written. Chassidusexplains that a Jew's ModehAni can never be
defiled. (That is why we do it even before negel-vasser,before pouring
water from a washing-cup on both hands alternatively, immediately
on rising.) It symbolizes the pure attachment of a Jew to HaShem.
When a Jew says ModehAni Lefanechait's like standing up for roll
call: "I'm here, I'm presenting myself. I'm Yours." In Chassidus,
ModehAni is regarded as a very holy thing. Could you imagine the
life of a Jew without ModehAni?
Let's take another example the idea of putting negel-vassernext
to your bed. This is a very chassidisheidea, that before a Jew goes to
sleep he makes preparations to purify himself first thing in the
As you know, there are people who say that you can go to the
nearest sink, or to the bathroom and do your negel-vasserthere. But
in chassidishehomes, in Lubavitcher homes, there is a very big
emphasis on training even children to take negel-vasser and put it
next to the bed. That's a minhag, not a din. Putting negel-vassernext
to the bed is like saying, "Even though I'm asleep, I don't sleep
without a mitzvahnext to me."
If somebody walked by, he would say, "What are all these crazy
people doing with jugs of water next to their beds. They think
there'll be a fire in the middle of the night?" But you would reply,
"As soon as they wake up, these people want to be ready to do a
Another example: The table of a Jew is regarded as an altar.
Now that we don't have the altar in the BeisHaMikdash, the table
where we eat is regarded (in a sense) as the equivalent. We women
are the kohanimof this BeisHaMikdash; the food we eat is the
sacrifice. It is here that we offer our food to HaShem, so to speak, by
eating in a holy manner, by using the energy we get from eating to
serve Him.
Now, there are numerous customs that surround the Jewish
table and the act of eating. Among them is the custom of dipping
the bread into salt before eating the first bite. You won't find it
among the 613 mitzvos, although it is based on the mitzvahthat there
had to be salt on the altar. one of the explanations of the custom is
that the numerical value of the Hebrew word melach(salt) is three
times the numerical value of the Four-Letter Divine Name. Three
times 26 is 78. That is why it is customary to dip the bread into salt
three times, immediately after the blessing Hamotzi, before taking
the first bite. Now what is the idea behind this? This Name of
HaShemrepresents the attribute of compassion. When you dip the
bread three times into the salt, this cancels out the qualities of
severity, of gevurah.
Finally, another interesting idea for balabustas, is that many of
the foods traditionally eaten by Jews are connected with holy
reasons. I once met a woman with whom I became very close
through one of the shiurimthat I used to give. she grew up in a
reform home. Let me tell you how reform: Before her father died he
expressed the wish to be buried in a business suit. When he died she
wanted him to be buried in the traditional Jewish shrouds. Although
she wasn't frumyet, she knew enough about Yiddishkeitto know that
it was wrong that he should be dressed in a suit. But her sister was
very, very reform and refused to allow their father to be buried in
tachrichim(shrouds). They finally made a compromise and buried
him in a suit with a tallison top of the suit. When she started
getting interested in Yiddishkeitand keeping Shabbos, she was very
puzzled. she asked me, "Isn't it hard for you, week after week, to
think of different menus? How many different ways can one make
fish and chicken?" so I said, "What do you mean different menus? I
make the same menu every week. We have the traditional challah,
gefiltefish,chicken soup and chicken. Nothing out of the ordinary."
she didn't know that. she was so new to Yiddishkeitthat she was
thinking that every week you have to create a different pie and a
different sort of fish.
Now there are reasons why we have gefiltefish they have no
bones, so that there is no problem of borer;* cholent, in order to have
hot food on Shabbos;and so on. Even though you can't be Jewish by
eating bagels and lox and buying Rokeach's gefiltefish, at the same
time you have to know that there are specific reasons for eating
particular foods. It's the little things in life which make it so
interesting and unique. And it is precisely the little things which are
important in chinuch. This is what we can learn from the fact that
the question regarding the custom to dip is placed first in the
Chabad Haggadah.
* On Shabbos, though the piece of fish to be eaten may be separated from the bones, the
bones may not be picked out and separated from the fish.
Every mitzvahhas two aspects the actual performance of the
mitzvah, and its spiritual content. Today, when we do not have the
BeisHaMikdash, many of the mitzvoscan be fulfilled only in a
spiritual sense. However, even those mitzvoswhich can be fulfilled
practically still have an important spiritual dimension which should
be examined. Let us take, as an example, the mitzvahof Sefiras
HaOmer counting the Omer. What is the idea of SefirasHaOmerin
a spiritual sense, and specifically in chassidic terms?
Each day of SefirasHaOmeryou make a blessing and then count
the day: "Today is three days of the Omer," "Today is five days of the
Omer," etc. As everyone knows, in Yiddishkeit we don't take saying
HaShem's Name lightly; that's serious business. so every single day,
you make a blessing with G-d's Name, and then you count the day.
What is the big accomplishment? When you count time it doesn't
change anything. You can count the seconds from today until
tomorrow, but it will not make an hour longer than 60 minutes, nor
a day longer than 24 hours. Furthermore, it would be another day
even had you not made a blessing nor counted it.
Those of us who come from the united states, or other
westernized countries, where leisure is an important commodity,
know that people have plenty of time. They are always relaxing and
just letting the time pass. Even worse, I'm sure everyone has heard of
"killing time" helping the time to pass because you have nothing
worthwhile to do. That concept is as foreign to Yiddishkeitand to
Torah as treifmeat. Torah adheres to the concept that HaShemhas
given every Jew a predetermined number of minutes, days and hours
in which to live. You get the exact amount of time you need to
complete your mission. There is not one day extra. The Zoharstates,
"Each and every day does its work." What does this mean? That each
day, which is a gift from HaShem, must show some accomplishment.
Furthermore, this is true not only for each day, but for each hour.
Each day and each hour has a multitude of opportunities for the
sanctification of G-d's Name.
The intention of Sefirah of counting the days, and making a
blessing before counting them is to make us aware of what we do
with our time, and how precious time is. Before counting we should
think for one minute, "What are we about to count?" "What did I do
during the last 24 hours that's important, that was worth living for?
Regarding Avraham Avinu, a verse states, "Avraham was old,
coming on in days." What does this mean? Chassidusexplains that it
means that each and every one of Avraham Avinu's days was
accounted for. He was able to point out for each day he lived what
he accomplished on that day. It's as if he had his days in his pocket.
on that day, 37 years ago, a Tuesday, I did x, y, z. on this day, 94
years ago, on Wednesday, I did this and that. Every day was special,
every day was full, and every day was something to remember.
Furthermore, as he grew older, each and every day showed progress
and development, building on top of the previous day's
accomplishments. This is the message of SefirasHaOmeraccording to
Chassidus. Believe me, it is something you can count on.
How do we prepare ourselves for MatanTorah, for the Giving
of the Torah on shavuos? The Rebbe often quotes the AriZal's
interpretation of the verse in the Megillah: Hayamimha-elehnizkarim
venaasim literally, "These days are remembered and done."
However, the AriZal explains that every year when the holiday comes
around (not only Purim, but any holiday or festival), the same
spiritual energy that was first revealed on that date, is revealed again,
every year. Moreover, we have to remember what happened then,
and do something about it so that it will happen now as well. These
days are here for us to do. We're not just going to sit and reminisce
about the old days, drink and be merry, because of a date on our
calendar. For Yidden, all of our holy days and celebrations are an
opportunity to do something, to affect us and to change us and to
make us and the world better.
so again, how does a Jew prepare for MatanTorah? The Rebbe
explains that we must prepare for the Torah now in the same way
that we prepared for the Torah then with naasehvenishma, we will
do and then understand. This is the concept of kabbalasol,
acceptance of the yoke of Heaven: "Even if we do not yet
understand, nevertheless we will obey. First we'll do it and then we'll
worry about understanding."
This is a relevant and eternal lesson when shavuos comes
around we should remember that our first priority is learning how
to do the mitzvos, learning how to behave. obviously there are going
to be some points that are not clear to us, but let's not wait until we
understand everything from A to Z, because that might take a
lifetime. Meanwhile the important thing is to do. Accordingly, one
of our preparations should be to strengthen our learning of
Halachah,how to observe the Torah, and then we should increase
also our learning of the whys and wherefores, the things that will
give us the joy and the insight. The truth is that a person has more
pleasure in intellectual pursuits than in just learning technical
things. Nevertheless, we should try to overcome the inclination to
do that which is more pleasurable for us, by remembering that in
Yiddishkeitit's not just an intellectual thing. The deed is primary.
A second way to prepare, the Rebbe explains, is to do what the
Yiddendid on Rosh Chodesh sivan: The Torah relates that on Rosh
Chodesh sivan the Yiddenarrived in the sinai Desert and set up
their camp. The expression the Torah uses for this is vayichanYisrael
"and Yisrael encamped." Everywhere else in the Torah this word is
stated in the plural vayachanu, "they encamped," rather than
vayichan, "he encamped." Rashi comments on this unusual form of
the verb: This time, they were as one man with one heart. The use of
the singular form indicates that they had reached a high level of
unity and ahavasYisrael. This was the second real preparation for the
Giving of the Torah. It is a prerequisite.
To work, chevra!
There is a famous custom that is observed by almost everyone,
not only by chassidim people stay up all night on shavuos and
read the TikkunLeil shavuos, selections from the entire Torah,
including Chumash, the Prophets and Writings, Mishnah, Gemara,
Zohar, and so on. some people do not recite the Tikkunbut simply
study the entire night, until morning.
What is the reason for this custom that Yiddenstay up very late
on shavuos, or don't sleep at all? This is based on an event that is
not even mentioned in the Chumash, but only in the Midrash. The
Midrashstates that the night before the Giving of the Torah, the
Jewish people went to sleep. Why did they go to sleep the night
before getting the Torah? "Because sleeping on shavuos night is
sweet, and the night is short!" The Midrashgoes on to say that
during that night a miracle occurred and mosquitoes did not bite
them. I don't know where you live, but where I live, in Kfar Chabad,
we have a mosquito plague, and very often you wake up in the
middle of the night eeeee... You try and find that mosquito that's
not letting you sleep. This can go on for hours. But that night, the
mosquitoes didn't bother anybody. It was a very sweet and peaceful
When HaShemcame in the morning to give them the Torah, the
Midrashcontinues, they were still sleeping. HaShemsays, "I came and
there was no one; I called and there was no answer." HaShemis
ready to give them this great gift and everybody's asleep. HaShemhas
to wake them up and he says, Nu, it's time to get the Torah.
This is what the Midrashstates. But what does it mean? There's
obviously more to it than meets the eye. The Rebbe points out that
the Torah is always very, very careful about not saying a bad word.
In other words, the Torah in general expresses things in a positive
way. When the Torah says something negative, such as calling an
animal tameh(spiritually impure), this is only for the purpose of
practical instruction. Where no practical instruction is intended, the
Torah will go out of its way to use positive words. This you will
probably remember from ParshasNoach the Torah describes
impure animals as those "which are not pure," rather than as
impure. But when it comes to matters pertaining to kashrus, when
one has to know the Halachahclearly, the Torah does use negative
expressions, such as tameh. But normally, bad words don't have to
cross your lips; use a euphemism, unless you have a specific reason
to be blunt and explicit. For example, there is a very serious disease,
a malignant disease, that one shouldn't call by its name, for that
adds to its power. or when you're talking about certain parts of life
that are very intimate, you can talk about them in a way that people
know what you mean, without being explicit.
Accordingly, why does the Midrashspeak so disparagingly about
the Yiddenbefore receiving the Torah? Let's say they didn't do such a
good thing is there any reason to publicize it so that all future
generations will know how bad they were, that instead of waiting up
eagerly for the Torah they went to sleep? That's not such a nice
thing to say. The Torah could have overlooked it. What kind of
teaching is it for us to know that our forefathers did something that
isn't so great? After all, ever since then we're doing a Tikkunfor it,
we're trying to repair it, which means that it wasn't a good thing. so
let's just say simply that they overslept a little, and we say Tikkun. But
the Midrashgoes into great detail.
obviously if the Midrash, which is part of Torah, does choose to
go into this incident with all of the details, there are several things
that must be learned: (a) It must be important to know every one of
those details; (b) it must be something that is relevant and a teaching
to us; and (c) it's probably not that bad.
However, when we look at it through the eyes of Chabad
Chassidus, what appear to be negative things change completely.
When one sees it from the inner-dimensional viewpoint, the entire
incident takes on a completely different perspective. If one does not
learn Chassidusit just doesn't make sense that they went to sleep and
overslept on that night, because we know that from the very day they
came out of Egypt they started counting the Omer!They didn't have
the mitzvahof counting the Omer that was only given at Mount
sinai after the Torah was given to us but the Yiddencounted on
their own, in a spontaneous way. They started counting because of
the excitement of looking forward to the Torah. It was a natural
thing. When you want something you count the days until it arrives.
During each day of the seven weeks of the counting, every day they
rose to a higher and higher spiritual level. so you can imagine that
by the time they reached the 49th day of counting and the 49th level
of holiness, they were on a much higher level than they were the day
they began the counting. obviously, then, they were able to
appreciate the event of the Giving of the Torah in a much higher
way. on the night before they received the Torah, having reached a
higher level of understanding and sensitivity precisely now they
went to sleep, and overslept?! It just doesn't make sense.
The Rebbe explains that HaShemgave us a Neshamah(soul) and
he clothed the Neshamahin a body. We are fully aware of the fact
that our body is what we see and experience. It is obvious, but it's
only a cover-up for the soul which is inside and enlivens and
activates the body. When the Neshamahleaves the body, the body
remains a piece of nothing, like a doll; there's nothing there. The
body is essentially subservient to the soul. Now, even though there's
a great purpose in living in this world in a body, for if there wasn't,
HaShemwould not have created a world and would not have put us
in the world, nevertheless, it is clear that the soul is in a sense
confined within the body. There is a certain restraint that the
Neshamahmust undergo because it is in a body. If the Neshamahwas
not in a body it wouldn't have to stop serving HaShemin order to
eat and sleep and wash the dishes. Let's say the person has a
tremendous longing for Yiddishkeit. Let's talk about a tzaddik who's
on a higher level than you and I. Even the tzaddik has to stop every
so often because of his body. There are certain needs that the body
has that put a damper on what the soul would want to do twenty-
four hours a day. so the body, in a sense, prevents the soul from
expressing itself fully, and from serving HaShemconstantly. A person
gets tired. A Neshamahdoesn't get tired; a body gets tired. After a
while you get bored. You lose your train of thought. You can't
concentrate any more. You need to sleep, you need to rest, you need
to have your coffee. We're just human beings. so the body slows the
Neshamahdown. That's clear.
However, when a person sleeps, a totally different thing
happens. During the time of sleep, even though the person is
obviously still alive, the heart still beats and the person still breathes,
nevertheless, a segment of the Neshamahleaves the body during the
time of sleep. That is why we have to wash negelvasserwhen we wake
up. We have to wash right, left, right, left, right, left, even if we slept
only for one hour. Because during the time of sleep the part of the
Neshamahthat leaves the body is replaced by what's called a ruach
hatumah,impurity. When the person wakes up again, this ruach
hatumahremains on a person's fingers, according to the Shulchan
Aruch. This is why we have to wash only the hands and not the
whole body.
During sleep there is a loss of consciousness. one does not fully
hear, nor speak, nor see. There is an idea of death, a whisper of
death the Gemaracalls sleep one sixtieth of death. Many people
die in their sleep. Because during sleep everything slows down. The
heart, the respiration, everything functions at a much slower pace
than when the person is awake. During sleep the Neshamahthat was
inside the body rises to its source above.
Now you and I normal, ordinary people who are not
tzaddikim, (maybe there are some tzaddikimin this room that I do not
know about?) when we sleep, what normally happens is that we
dream. But people that are on a level above ours, people who are
really truly devoted to Yiddishkeitand to Torah, receive assistance
from Above during sleep. According to Kabbalistic texts, one can
receive a form of Divine Inspiration while asleep. There are
numerous cases told about tzaddikimand great people that worked
on themselves, so that if they were troubled by a certain dilemma
during their day let's say they were involved in learning and there
was a certain thing that they just couldn't figure out when they
slept, this dilemma was resolved. HaShemgave them the answer
during their dreams. I'm not talking about ordinary Jews who wake
up in the morning and say, "Last night I had a dream." Most of our
dreams are pure nonsense. There are people who see visions of
tzaddikimor they receive teachings during their dreams.
I remember a story about a young woman who was at that point
not even fully observant. I think today she is, but this was during her
return to Yiddishkeit. she had studied dance. she was a professional
dancer. she was gearing herself up for a career as a professional
dancer on stage. she was really into it. This was her life, practicing
and dancing and performing. she was in a car accident and her legs
were very badly injured. After rehabilitation she was able to walk
again, but the doctors told her she should forget about being a
professional dancer because she would never be able to have that
grace and that fineness of movement that she had before. she was
totally devastated. This was her life. she had invested years and so
much effort and money, and all these dreams were just dashed
because of this accident. she went into a deep depression, because
she didn't know what to do with her life. one night she went to
sleep and had a dream. And in this dream she saw her grandfather
who had passed away. Her grandfather had known from the time
she was a little girl that she wanted to be a dancer. He asked why she
was so sad and she said, "Because I wanted to be a dancer, and now
I can't be a dancer and I don't know what to do with my life. I'm
shattered, I'm broken." Her grandfather replied, "Why? Your
training and experience don't have to go to waste. You can live your
life like a dance. You can use all the wisdom of dancing to live."
When she woke up in the morning, she remembered the dream
and started thinking about how choreography, the theory of
dancing, organization and coordination and so on, working on your
body and pushing yourself to your limit, could really be applied to
life. she decided then and there that she was going to start a new
life, and try to live with her grandfather's advice. Eventually she
became a baalasteshuvah. It was just amazing how this insight came
during her dream. Dreams can be Divine Inspiration even for us.
At any rate, we see that during the time when the person seems
to be unconscious and not functioning, that is sometimes when a
higher level of consciousness takes over.
During sleep, when the Neshamahis free of the body, it can in a
sense go higher and reach revelations that cannot happen during the
day, when a person is awake. The Rebbe explains that at sinai, this
was the intention of the Yiddenin going to sleep. They knew that
they had been working for seven weeks to elevate themselves to be
ready to receive the Torah. But all of their preparations had been
done, in a sense, during the day when they were awake and
conscious. And they felt that now that they had reached such a high
level, maybe now, if we go to sleep, our souls will reach such a high
level that we can get the Torah while asleep. For we will be on a
much higher level than we can attain through our own efforts. This
was the true intention. They were hoping that through their sleep
they would be able to reach a level of holiness that would be much
greater than they could reach on their own accord during the day.
This is what the Midrashexplains: Their sleep on shavuos night
was very sweet. sleep can only be great and holy and special if you
are on the level of shavuos, if you have done all the necessary
preparations. Then you can go to sleep with the hope that great
things will happen, that you will see great revelations during your
"The night was short." Here "night" alludes to concealment. We
know that darkness, night, hides things. Have you ever tried looking
for your glasses in the middle of the night and then in the morning,
there they are just by your night table, two inches away from your
hand? At night you just grope and you can't find your slippers or
anything. so what does the night do? The night doesn't change
anything. It just hides things. You cannot see. In the day you see it
all, it's so simple.
When a person is just beginning his first steps in Yiddishkeit, it
seems like things are so complex, things are so hidden, so
mysterious. You feel like you're groping in the dark. You're finding
your way with a sense of touch. But as a person learns more, as a
person does more mitzvos, as a person gets more habituated to live
this way, as you develop more relationships with people that are
spiritual guides, madrichim, all of a sudden you feel like you can find
your way better. "I understand more. It seems clearer." And as the
person grows in his Yiddishkeitand grows in his Torah knowledge,
the night gets shorter. Things seem to be less concealed, and become
more and more revealed.
The Yiddenhad reached a level where the concealment was
minimal. They had almost overcome most of the night. There was
still a bit of a night left but it was much shorter than it was when
they started. so they felt, now we have done what we can do with
daytime, let's see what sleeping can do for us.
HaShem, in recognition of their good intentions said, "You
know what? They're really so sincere that I will help them along by
preventing the mosquitoes from biting." Had HaShembeen opposed
to their sleeping He wouldn't have made this tremendous miracle
that the mosquitoes which bit last night and the next night, all of a
sudden this night didn't bite.
Why, then, do we recite the Tikkunyear after year? Because
HaShemsays, "I know what your idea was, but you made a little
mistake. That's all. It was an innocent error. I'm not punishing." We
don't see that there was any punishment. If there was something
bad, HaShemwould have punished. We don't see in the Midrashor
in the Torah that there was ever any reprimand or any punishment
meted out to them. The only thing HaShemsaid is, "I want you to
make a Tikkun. Don't do it again, and to remember that you
shouldn't do it again, every year I want you to stay up."
What was their mistake? It was a very innocent error that many
people still make today that the ultimate purpose is the spiritual
world, rather than the physical world. HaShem, however, wanted a
dwelling place in the lowest world, as the Midrashstates. This is
explained in Chassidusat great length. Actually, to make a dwelling
place for HaShemin this world was not possible until we received the
Torah, and HaShemannulled the decree separating spirituality and
physicality, so that now even the physical can become spiritual
through the service of Yidden. Thus, their error was entirely
understandable, for it took place before the Torah was given.
The Rebbe explains that MatanTorah, the Giving of the Torah,
is supposed to be an eternal teaching. It's not just a holiday that we
celebrate annually to commemorate an historical event. Every year
we have to live with MatanTorahas an event here and now.
What does MatanTorahteach us? One of the best places to look
for an answer is in Pirkei Avosbecause that is what our sages have
established as the best preparation for receiving the Torah to learn
the six chapters of Pirkei Avosduring the six Shabbososbetween
Pesach and shavuos.
We will examine the first mishnahof Pirkei Avos, because the first
in a series always has importance in its own right, and that is why it
was placed first. What does the first mishnahof Pirkei Avosstate? That
Moshe received the Torah at sinai and gave it to Yehoshua. The
lesson is that as soon as you get the Torah, you must give it over to
somebody else. Moshe didn't say, "Lucky me, I got the Torah; I'm
going to sit and learn and enjoy it all by myself." The first thing
Moshe did, as soon as he got the Torah from HaShem, was to give it
over to his disciple, Yehoshua. The love that Moshe Rabbeinu had
for his fellow Jews compelled him to share with them the Torah he
Although Pirkei Avosmentions only that he gave over the Torah
to Yehoshua, anyone who learns Chumashknows that he also taught
it to Aharon and his sons and then he taught it to the seventy elders,
and so on. In turn, they also taught it to others. In other words, this
was the idea behind receiving the Torah. You receive it in order to
impart it to others.
This is the idea of being a lamplighter. You do not keep
anything for yourself. You have Torah? That's great! Now share it
with somebody.
Another point that the Rebbe makes is that nothing should be
left in the abstract. When Torah remains in the realm of
philosophy, or even of study without practice, then it's like a secular
subject. When someone goes to college to learn calculus or botany,
he doesn't expect it to change his life, he just wants to get a good
mark on his exams. He likes the subject, but it doesn't make him a
moral person. Don't we all know that! Botany doesn't make a
person moral, it doesn't make him kind, it doesn't make him a nice
husband or anything like that. It's just there in the brain. But, the
Rebbe says, if Torah remains an intellectual pursuit, the acquisition
of facts, then it's not Torah, it's a subject in school. Torah has to
affect the way you feel, the way you think, the way you speak and
most importantly, the way you act.
The festival of shavuos is closely intertwined with three very
famous personalities in the Torah. One is Moshe Rabbeinu, who
gave us the Torah. The second one is David HaMelech, who passed
away on shavuos, and the third one is the Baal shem Tov, who also
passed away on shavuos. Each of these three individuals is
connected with a very important work in the Torah. Moshe
Rabbeinu is connected with the Chumash, with the five Chumashim
that he gave, that he wrote, that he taught. David HaMelech, as we
all know, is synonymous with the Sefer Tehillim. The Baal shem Tov
gave us TorasHaChassidus,which is encapsulated in the Tanya,
written by the Alter Rebbe two generations after the Baal shem Tov.
The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak schneersohn,
inaugurated and initiated the custom of learning a little from each
of these works every day. It is obvious to those of us who are close to
the Rebbe that it is to our utmost benefit in gashmiyusand in
ruchniyus, on physical and spiritual planes, to observe this custom,
because the Rebbe has indicated on numerous occasions that saying
every day the daily portion of Chumash, Tehillimand Tanyais a
channel, a vessel, for spiritual and physical blessings. This is the
actualization of receiving the Torah to bring it into your daily life
through fulfilling the custom of reciting Chitas,as it is called (an
acronym for Chumash, Tehillim,and Tanya).Take this custom upon
yourself, and you will surely fulfill the idea of MatanTorahin the
most practical sense.
The Law of the Desert
Prior to the section about the giving of the Torah, the Chumash
states that the Yiddencame to the sinai desert. This must therefore
be necessary information. There must be something very special
about a desert. The answer is that a desert has a unique feature over
other geographical areas in that it doesn't belong to anybody. It's
generally considered hefker. It's so vast and it's so empty. If you want
to pick a flower, people won't tell you that it belongs to them. Why
was the Torah given in a desert and not in a specific country? To
teach us that the Torah belongs to everybody. There's no person or
no group that can say, "It belongs to us. We are the scholars and
sages, we are the priestly family, we are the royal family." The Torah
belongs equally to every single Jew. And that is why the Torah was
given in the desert, to illustrate that point. It is free for all. Anybody
who wants, can have it.
Our Inheritance
The Torah is described as an inheritance, "an inheritance for
the congregation of Yaakov." Why is the Torah called an
inheritance? This highlights another aspect of Torah. When a man
passes away, the offspring automatically receive an inheritance, even
if the child is only one day old. Whatever belongs to the father will
automatically go to the children, even if the children are not
virtuous, or not very bright, or undeserving of it. When a parent
passes away, the personality of the child does not count he
inherits his parent.
The same thing is true of Torah. The Torah belongs
automatically to every single Jew, no matter who he is, whatever his
personality, whatever his intelligence, whatever level he has achieved
or failed to achieve, whatever his background and lineage. That is all
irrelevant. What is all-important is that he's a Yid. And if he's a Yid,
the Torah is his entirely.
The Rebbe explains that there's a difference between a family
that has several children and a family that has only one child. In a
family that has only one child, that child receives everything that his
father owns, whereas if there's a family of several children, you have
this terrible problem of having to divide it among all the children.
But according to the Torah the relationship between HaShemand
the Yidden, between Him and each and every Yid, is like that of a
father to an only son. Accordingly, every Jew gets everything, not
only a single verse.
The First Letter
The Torah begins with the letter beis the first letter of Bereishis.
The Rebbe explains that the letter beisis written in such a way that it
is closed on three sides and open only on one side. What does that
mean? That what is above is closed. A Jew does not know what is
happening in the spiritual realms. That's sealed to him. What
happens below, in Gehinnom, we also have no way of knowing. It's
not within our domain. What happened before, prior to our times,
we also cannot know clearly. We do not know what happened in
generations before us. We do not know what happened before the
world was created. There are certain things that we must humbly
admit are beyond our reach.
The only thing we have knowledge about is the present, our
little world that includes us here and now. That's really a very small
fragment of the world. And yet that's what HaShemis telling us in
the Torah that through the Torah we can have knowledge about
the here and now, and what we do here and now affects the future.
That is why one side of the beisis open, because the future is open-
ended, it all depends upon us.
The letter beishas another feature. It's the first letter of the word
berachah, blessing, and this is why, of all the letters, it was the one
selected to begin the Torah, as pointed out in the Zohar. When a
person learns Torah and lives by Torah, this brings blessing into his
Guarantors of the Future
It is a Lubavitch custom, initiated by the Rebbe, to bring even
the smallest children to shul on shavuos, even tiny babies, to hear
the reading of the AseresHaDibros(Ten Commandments). What is
the reason for this custom?
There is a well-known Midrashthat says that when HaShem
wanted to give the Torah to the YiddenHe asked them, "Who is
going to guarantee that the Torah will be accepted and studied?"
First they said, the Avos,Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. They were
such great tzaddikim. They will be our guarantors that we will keep
the Torah and study it. But HaShemrejected them. so they said,
"Our prophets. We have such great prophets, they will be our
guarantors." But HaShemdid not accept that one either. Finally they
said, "our children, our sons, will be our guarantors." And HaShem
said, "That I accept."
In other words, the fact that our parents or our forefathers were
rabbis who learned Torah is not enough yet to guarantee that Torah
will have a continuation. It's only when our children are taught
Torah that its continuity is assured.
The Rebbe once mentioned this at a farbrengenand he said that
reminds us of America. In America we find this Midrashre-enacted.
You go to a Jew who is not observant a little traditional but not
very religiously observant. And you ask him, "so what about the
Torah? You're a Yid. Do you learn Torah?" He says, "Torah? I have a
father who's eighty years old and he's in a religious nursing home
and he has a shiurthree times a day. Isn't that enough? My father's
such a religious Jew." And he'll point to his dining room and he'll
show you a picture of his zeidein Europe with a long white beard.
When you tell him that this is good for his father, but what
about him? Then the American Jew says, "Well, what about my
Rabbi? You should see my Rabbi. He can davenMinchahby heart,
without a Siddureven. He's such a tzaddik, so righteous. And I've
seen him rattle off verses from the Torah. I pay his salary. And my
father in the old-age home, I pay for him there. so I have a portion
in my father's Gemarain the nursing home and I have a portion in
my Rabbi's sermons. He's so learned, he gives such nice sermons,
and I pay my dues."
Neither of these is a good answer. You can't make do with your
Rabbi who's scholarly, or your father who learns a lot while he's in
the retirement home. That is no substitute for each and every Jew
having a direct personal involvement with the learning of Torah.
I remember a story about a certain rabbi who went into a
restaurant of some sort. He started to ask the owner, who didn't
look like a very religious Jew, about the kashrusof the establishment.
The man pointed to a picture of his grandfather on the wall, a
bearded Jew sitting over a sefer. "That's my zeide" he said to the
"Now if your picture was on the wall, and your zeidewas behind
the counter, that would be different. Then I wouldn't have any
questions about the kashrus," retorted the rabbi.
This is why we bring our children to shul on shavuos they are
the future of Yiddishkeit.
Wi th Joy
Why is shavuos a time of great joy? Because two things
happened on shavuos that in our lives are also occasions for great
simchah. One is a marriage. We know that weddings are always very
happy occasions. And the other thing that causes us tremendous joy
is when a child begins learning Torah. When a child goes into cheder
we make a big celebration. It is a very happy occasion. The Rebbe
explains that on shavuos both of these things happened the
Yiddenwent into cheder. They started learning Torah. Even though
they had practiced the mitzvosbefore the Torah was given, there was
nevertheless no book to learn from... That was when they began
their formal education. so, of course, it was a day of joy.
Rabbi Manis Friedman once told a story about a discussion he
had with a student who was having a hard time accepting the
divinity of Torah. He was trying to prove it to the student, but he
wasn't accepting it. While he was having this discussion, there was
another student sitting quietly on the sidelines listening, and after a
while the other student said, "Look, I can't hold myself back any
more. I've been listening to you going on for an hour and I just want
to say something. I'm not religious. I don't keep the Torah yet. But,
I know one thing, that when the Jews came out of Egypt they were
slaves. They didn't have any ethical code. They didn't have anything.
When they came out of the desert after forty years, they had five
books. And with these five books they've been living ever since. The
Bedouins have been in the desert for 3,000 years. They don't even
have one pamphlet. Nothing. What do they get from being in the
desert? I don't know exactly how this revelation happened, but one
thing I know, something happened. It doesn't matter if they heard it
this way, or that day. I don't know the technicalities, but I know that
something happened in that desert that gave the Jews a guideline
and a guide book forever." Then, turning to the other student he
says, "Why do you argue so much? If your grandparents got this
book, some way they got it, you want to read it. Instead of arguing,
just open it up. Just read it once instead of arguing all the time."
It was also the marriage of HaShemand the Yidden. Many of the
details of weddings, Torah weddings, are based on events that
happened at sinai. We know that the chuppahthat the bride and
groom stand under is compared to the mountain that was lifted
above the heads of the Yiddenwhen they received the Torah. Could
you imagine? Har sinai was like a chuppah. They stood under the
base of the mountain. The mountain was above their heads. so that
was like the chuppahof the wedding ceremony. The Groom of
course was HaShemHimself, and the bride was the Jewish people.
The thunder that they heard is the source for the fact that you have
music at Jewish weddings. We don't only have music because we
want to be happy, but it says the Jews heard sound so we also have
music at our weddings. The lightning is the source for the candles
which are held at the chuppah.When you go to the chuppahyou take
a candle. Why do you take a candle? It's not so dark that you can't
see. Because it says there was light and there was sound, so we have
candles and music to remind us of the thunder and lightning.
Those of you who have had close contact with the Rebbe or
with his emissaries, the shluchim, know that a basic theme of Chabad
Chassidusis the idea of not living for yourself, but for others. This
might be referred to as "lighting the lamps," particularly as it relates
to teaching Torah to those who know less than you, and sharing the
observance of mitzvoswith those who do not yet observe, as the verse
states, "The mitzvahis a candle and the Torah a great light." As I see
it, this is the foundation and the theme of Chabad.
This week's parshahbegins with instructions to Aharon about
lighting the Menorahin the Mishkan. The Menorahin the Mishkan
and in the BeisHaMikdashhad seven branches. one of the major
daily services of Aharon, the KohenGadol, was kindling the Menorah.
The verse, however, uses an unusual expression for kindling the
lamps behaalos' cha eshaneiros, literally, "when you will raise up
the lamps," rather than the more common expression, lehadlik es
haneiros" "to light the lamps," as we say on Shabbos, or lehadlik es
haMenorah "to light the Menorah." Rashi explains that the Kohen
had to coax the flame until it burned on its own.
Based on a verse in Zechariahwhich compares the Jewish people
to a golden Menorah, the Alter Rebbe explains that each of the seven
lamps of the Menorahcorresponds to one of the seven holy middos
(character traits) chesed(kindness), gevurah(austerity), tiferes
(compassion), etc., and also to the seven tzaddikimwho are "lamps"
for all generations. Although all of them are relevant to every Jew,
each Jew has a special connection to one of them by way of the root
of his soul. In other words, each of us is particularly attached to a
certain attribute and to a certain tzaddik.
The Rebbe points out that one of the conclusions we must draw
from this is that there are really several different paths in Yiddishkeit.
There are seven different ways. We are not all the same and we are
not all meant to be the same. Just as there are seven basic middos,
and there were seven tzaddikim, so too, there are seven legitimate
and valid ways to be a Menorah a luminary. You don't have to be a
carbon copy of somebody else to be a good Jew. The critical issue is,
are you kindled? Are you lit up? If you are lit up, and you are
illuminating the surroundings as a Menorahof Yiddishkeit, then your
way is valid. The Torah teaches us this by the fact that the Menorah
does not have one branch, but seven, so that everybody can be
themselves and serve HaShemaccording to their own personality and
derech, provided that they are illuminating the world in the way
The windows of the BeisHaMikdashwere very unusual. Most of
the time, when you build a house, you make the windows in such a
way that the light from the outside will come into the house. But in
the BeisHaMikdash, the windows were built in such a way that the
light from inside could shine out, but not vice versa. This, too, is a
lesson to every Jew that he is not supposed to be influenced by the
"outside" world, from what the street has to offer. Rather, he must
kindle his own Menorahand illuminate the world around him, even
the street outside.
A verse states, Ner HaShemnishmasadam "The soul of a Jew is
a lamp of G-d." Now, a candle can either be lit or unlit. In other
words, you can have the wick and the oil, and everything else
necessary for being a luminary except that you are not yet lit! The
soul is just a potential light, it is not yet an actual light until it burns
with a steady flame. How do you get this flame to come into reality?
sometimes, certain neshamosneed the help of another person. some
neshamosare already lit because of the way they were born and the
family they were brought up in. other people, for whatever reason,
just haven't gotten lit yet. That is why the Torah says we need an
Aharon, we need a Kohen, who is himself a luminary, to come and
kindle the Neshamahof the Jew who is not lit up as yet.
In what way can you light another person up? The Rebbe
explains that one must kindle another person in a way of
behaalos'cha raising it up and coaxing it until it burns by itself! As
every woman knows, when you light Shabboscandles, sometimes you
have a stubborn candle that goes out just as you take away the
match. Then you have to try again, and it goes out again. And you
have to keep lighting it, until it catches, and then it burns like all the
others and you can go away. sometimes you even have to stand near
the candles for a minute to see if all the candles are going to remain
lit and not go out. This is the meaning of behaalos'cha.
The Rebbe explains Rashi'scomment that the Kohenhad to
coax the flame until it burned on its own: Aharon was commanded
not merely to light the candle and then run off to do other work in
the BeisHaMikdash, but to light the Menorahuntil each flame would
rise up independently. That is why it says lehaalosand not lehadlik.
Lehadlik means only to light "I lit it; it's not my fault if it went
out!" The instruction was therefore to kindle it in such a way that it
remains burning independently.
What is the horaah the practical instruction we are supposed
to derive from this? After all, this is TorasChaim, a Torah of Life,
and its instructions must apply to every Jew. The horaahis this:
When you meet another Jew who seems to be an unlit candle, don't
just say, "Oh, isn't that just too bad. What a pity! Well, maybe it's
not their fault." That's not enough. You can, and must, do
something about it. You can light up that Neshamah. But don't just
light it and run away. stand there for a moment until you are sure
that that light won't go out!
Many times, when people are first taking their initial steps in
Yiddishkeit, they are very shaky. If you run away, the flame that was
just kindled might go out. A person taking his first steps needs
support, he needs encouragement until he can remain burning by
himself. When you can be sure that this person is firm in his
commitment to Yiddishkeit, only then can you leave and go on to a
different candle. This is the eternal horaahfor every Jew.
We mentioned before that there are seven paths, there are seven
approaches to Yiddishkeit. The Rebbe gives two examples: There is
the way of ahavah(love), and the way of yirah(austerity, fear,
severity). Everyone is probably familiar with both approaches. We've
all gone through school and have probably experienced teachers
who teach with love. The kids love them, they love the kids. There's
a feeling of joy and participation. Then we have all had teachers that
were very strict disciplinarians. If you made one move, you were out
of the room, or standing in the corner or writing lines a hundred
times. Both of them were teachers, both of them were trying to do
the same thing teach children. But they had different approaches
one with love, the other with fear. Now you might say, "What's
the difference? Do it with love, do it with fear, as long as you
accomplish your goals. What's the difference what method you use?"
However, the Rebbe says that there is a difference. Even though
the way of the person who kindles you with yirahis legitimate,
nevertheless, how much better, how much more pleasant it is when
your way of kindling is with ahavah. There is a story about the early
years of the Rebbe's leadership. A certain non-chassid met the Rebbe
and was so taken with him that he commented, "I'm afraid that I'm
going to become one of your chassidim!" The Rebbe replied, "If
you're going to become one of my chassidim, you might as well do
so from love, rather than fear!"
Why should we choose a path which is severe and rigid and
instills a feeling of fear and withdrawal when we can also choose the
other way which is the way of AhavasYisrael?Let's look at Aharon
HaKohen himself, says the Rebbe. He was the very first Kohen, and
the first one to kindle the Menorah, and therefore he is supposed to
be our prototype, our example. As it states in Pirkei Avos: "Be one of
the disciples of Aharon... Love creatures and bring them close to
Torah!" Aharon HaKohen, the first one to kindle the Menorah,
teaches every Jew how to go about lighting up other Jews. "Love
creatures" he did not love only Torah scholars, that were on his
level, or only very pious Jews. He had love even for those whom the
Torah calls "creatures, creations." What is a creature? It is not a very
complimentary name, is it? What are you going to do, call a person a
creature? But Pirkei Avosteaches us that there are certain people
whom we have difficulty saying something nice about. They have no
easily identifiable redeeming quality. They are not learned, their
behavior is not as it should be, their personality is not as it should
be. The only thing we can say in their favor is that HaShemcreated
them. For some reason unknown to us, G-d decided that this
"creature" was worthy of being created. This is the meaning of
calling a person a "creature" it indicates that he has no positive
qualities that one can detect. Even such a person was loved by
Now, what did Aharon do with these people? He didn't just
pick up his hands in despair and say, "What can you do with such a
creature? I mean, he's not intelligent, his personality is down the
tubes, he's a..." Rather, Aharon brought them to Torah!
The Rebbe makes another point: Aharon brought them (the
creatures) closer to the Torah, and not, as many would like to do,
bring the Torah close to the people, in the sense of diluting the
Torah, watering it down. "This mitzvahis not for you, it's too hard.
That mitzvahis not modern. This mitzvahis not comfortable. Do one
or two mitzvos, that's enough. You are not on such a high level. Just
do one or two, and you are a good Jew." What kind of lie is this?
You cannot tell a person that this is the whole Torah when it isn't.
Aharon's message is, that you should strive to bring the other
person to the Torah. of course, this must be done slowly, bit by bit,
not overnight. Don't throw the entire Torah on them in one
minute, but slowly try to lead them toward the Torah. Tell them,
"We'll start today with one mitzvah. There's another bunch, but this
will be for today. Tomorrow, another little bit." Lead them in the
direction of Torah, but don't reduce the Torah to their size. Every
Jew has a part in Torah and every Jew deserves to get closer than he
There are several other procedures related to the kindling of the
Menorahin the BeisHaMikdash. The Rebbe explains how each of
these also apply to us when we go out to kindle another Jew. For a
start: Every day the Menorahhad to be cleaned. The Menorahburned
the entire night, and in the morning when all of the candles except
one had gone out (that one miraculously remained alight until it was
time to rekindle the Menorah), the wick and traces of oil had to be
removed. This was called hatavashaneiros from the word tov to
make the Menorahgood and clean. paradoxically, the cleaning out of
the Menorahand preparing the wick and the oil, which seems like
dirty work, that had to be done by a Kohen.But the actual pinnacle,
the kindling, doesn't even have to be done by a Kohen.When
Aharon was alive, he was given the mitzvahof kindling the Menorah.
subsequently, however, neither the KohenHaGadol, nor any Kohen,
had to kindle the Menorah, as long as it was cleaned out and
prepared by a Kohen.
Furthermore, the place where the Menorahhad to be lit was in
the Heichal, one of the holiest places in the BeisHaMikdash. one
might think that perhaps the Menorahshould be lit outside, so that
people should see it, like the Chanukah Menorah.Why did it have to
be inside, in a hidden place? After all, HaShemdoesn't need the
The Rebbe explains that each of these details has a horaahfor us.
The first horaahwe can learn is that kindling the Menorah, the work
of lighting up a Jew who hasn't yet been ignited, does not require a
rabbi or a talmid chacham. You don't have to be a tzaddik, and you
don't even have to be a Kohento do it. A Kohen, in this context,
symbolizes a person who is totally dedicated to Torah. When there
was a BeisHaMikdash, there were people who were involved in the
service of G-d for their entire lives the Kohanim. Today this is no
longer true. Today you have Kohanimin every profession. But in
those days, when there was the BeisHaMikdashand the Mishkan, the
Kohendid nothing other than work in the BeisHaMikdash, and learn
and teach Torah. He was symbolic of a person whose life was totally
devoted to and committed to Torah. You do not have to be such a
person in order to be successful in kindling another Jew. Even a
non-Kohen, even a plain ordinary Jew like me and you can do it.
Not all of the Rebbe's shluchimwho go to Hong Kong, Morocco,
Australia, or anywhere else in the world, are necessarily
extraordinary, talented, or brilliant people. Many of them are plain,
ordinary people like you and me. Nevertheless, they are successful.
Why? The Rebbe explains that they are successful because the Kohen
prepared the Menorahfor them. In other words, once the Kohenhas
done the groundwork, then the ordinary Israelite can kindle the
Why can't the ordinary person prepare the Menorah?sometimes
an ordinary person has difficulty deciding exactly how to go about
his work. Let's say you see a person who doesn't seem to be
interested in keeping mitzvos. so you might think, "This person is
not interested in mitzvos, so maybe we'll just forget about mitzvosand
we'll start with Torah, and we'll just leave it on that level, an
intellectual level." Is that the correct thing to do or not? What about
a person to whom only one kind of mitzvahappeals? shall we ignore
the kind that don't appeal to him? Many questions arise in the
course of trying to deal with a Jew who is uncommitted and trying to
bring him back. For this reason the Torah tells us that the hatavas
haMenorah,the cleaning and preparing of the Menorah, must be
done by a Kohen.We need the guidance of somebody who is a
Kohen,who is totally dedicated to Yiddishkeit, one for whom "the
Torah is his trade." He can tell us, "start with this mitzvah, start with
that mitzvah,do it this way, do it that way; if you have problems,
come to me." This fact changes the whole situation and gives the
ordinary Israelite the ability to be successful.
I will tell you what I understand this to be in our modern-day
context. Those of you who come to this class regularly, know that
from time to time the Rebbe comes out with a horaah. "Do this, now
do that, learn this, give tzedakah." Why? Why today this? Why today
that? Why next week do this? We don't know, but if the Kohentells
us that this is the time to do this, we have to go ahead and do it, and
then we know we'll be successful, even if we're ordinary Israelites.
Now, why does the Menorahhave to be in the Heichal,and not
in a less holy place? Because when we go about kindling another Jew,
we should not be satisfied with mediocre results. I don't know how
many of you have had interaction on a close level with reform and
conservative rabbis, but if you have you will recognize the scenario
where a reform or conservative rabbi has in his mind what he thinks
is a full Jewish life, and once you've reached that level, that's
enough, that's fine, you're great. You know, it stops here, don't go
There's a famous story Rabbi Friedman tells about a young
couple that had gotten married and seemed to be having difficulties
in their marriage. By hashgachahperatis, they met Rabbi Friedman
and started talking with him. They mentioned that they had gotten
married only several months previously through a certain orthodox
rabbi whom Rabbi Friedman happened to know. He asked them in
a discreet way if they knew about the mitzvosof taharashamishpachah,
family purity, and he asked the woman if she went to the mikveh.
she looked puzzled and said the rabbi never mentioned this to her.
Rabbi Friedman was very puzzled. "This orthodox rabbi married
you, and you said that he spoke to you before the wedding. I'm
really surprised that he never even mentioned this, it's such a major
thing in Jewish life and it's such an important thing in marriage. I
can't figure this out." so Rabbi Friedman proceeded to talk to them
about the importance of taharashamishpachah. He arranged for
someone to teach her the necessary laws, and they eventually began
to keep taharashamishpachah. They found that it was a source of
great strength.
A while later Rabbi Friedman happened to bump into this
particular rabbi, and he said, "I met this couple that you married last
year. I just want to ask you a question. You know, the wife said that
you never mentioned to her about taharashamishpachah. I'm
wondering why. You are an orthodox rabbi. she came to you and
not to a conservative rabbi, which means that she was willing to hear
about mikveh. If she didn't want to hear about it, she'd have gone to
a conservative or reform rabbi. Why didn't you even tell her about
it?" The Rabbi looked at him for a minute and he said, "I'll tell you
why. Because she didn't look like the type." she didn't look like the
type that would want to keep taharashamishpachah, so the rabbi
decided that he'd leave out that little "unnecessary" detail. This is
the way people act if they are not under the Rebbe's influence.
"Well, it's enough for her to light Shabboscandles and buy her meat
at the kosher butcher. That's good enough for her."
When you light the Menorahyou can't say, "For that Jew it's
enough to do this; for this Jew it's enough to do that," etc.,
according to your analysis of what type they are and what personality
they are. That's crazy! Can you see into somebody's soul? Can you
know what a person is or is not capable of? It may seem to you that
this individual is on a very low level, but that's only because of the
way they look. However, you have no way of knowing from where
this neshamahcomes. some of the greatest tzaddikimin Yiddishkeit
were born of very simple people. The root of a person's soul is
something only a tzaddik could know. If somebody has a high soul-
root, they can go very, very high, so it is not for me or you to
determine to what level of holiness an individual should be brought.
We should strive to bring every Jew that we come in contact with
higher and higher and higher, to kindle them "in a holy place" and
not say, "oh, they don't look like the type to be that holy, so we'll
just make them only a little bit holy; we'll be satisfied with that."
That is not the way of Aharonand that is not the way of Chabad
The Rebbe says that one of the cardinal themes of Chabad
Chassidusis the concept of yafutzu mayanosechachutzawhich means
"spreading the wellsprings out." Don't just sit back in your study
with all of your scholarly volumes until somebody knocks on the
door and says, "Teach me Torah." Then you'll say, "OK, let me
teach you a little Torah." No, that's not the way. The way is yafutzu
burst forth to the outside, to army bases where the soldiers are far
away from home, to prisons and hospitals and old-age homes, to far-
flung corners of the world where Yiddishkeitis scarce. You know how
many people started keeping mitzvosbecause they first came into
contact with it in the army, even though when they were home they
couldn't care less? In the army they came into real life and death
situations, and then they had their first awakening of what life is all
about. At that moment somebody came to read the Megillahfor
soldiers, instead of spending purim with his own family. This is
mesirusnefesh real self-sacrifice and those soldiers really
appreciate it. You can see it on their faces; you could see how happy
they are when somebody thinks of them. The guy in the hospital
whom somebody came to put on tefillinwith... Maybe he wouldn't
have put on tefillinif he wouldn't be lying there, but now he has
plenty of time to think about faith and life and death. If you're there
at that moment, you can really kindle a flame that later on brings
people much, much closer. You have to be there ready to sense that
a Jew needs this mitzvahand needs this friendliness and needs this
warmth. You can be critical in kindling this Jew and bringing him
very, very close to where he should be.
Let me tell you about the shaliachin Hong Kong, Rabbi Avtzon.
He goes out to the plane to greet people as they land in Hong Kong,
and he gives them candles, or the address of the shul and the times
they daven. Now these Jews aren't coming to Hong Kong for
Yiddishkeit, they came for a business trip or a vacation. But someone
gave them Shabboscandles and then they went to the hotel and they
thought, we might as well light them since we have them. And who
knows, they may continue lighting candles for the rest of their lives,
which often happens.
Let us all become lamplighters, in the tradition of Aharon
I would like to share with you two small points the Rebbe made
on ShabbosMevarchim, ParshasShlachLecha, the 28th of sivan.
Although the Rebbe did not openly refer to it, this is the day
that he and the Rebbitzin, alehahashalom, came to the United states
[in 1941]. This heralded a new era in the United states, which had
repercussions throughout the entire Jewish world. And though the
Rebbe did not, in his humble way, make one reference to this fact in
the entire farbrengen, he did perhaps hint at it by saying that the
Hebrew date chaf-ches(twenty-eight) forms the word koach(strength).
The Rebbe said that the 28th day of every month has in it, in a
mystical way, a certain potential to give koach to bring out the full
strength of the events of that entire month.
Every month has a special quality. since the month of sivan is
the month of MatanTorah, when the Torah was given to the Jewish
people, the 28th day of sivan is a day which is still connected to the
events of MatanTorah. It is a day when the koachof MatanTorahis
fully manifested. of course, this might be in a mystical way, of which
we are not necessarily aware, but that does not lessen its value.
I have often mentioned that one of the unique talents of the
Rebbe is his ability to point out the value of every single detail,
however "minor" it may seem. Let us examine an example from the
parshahof the week:
The Rebbe referred to the story of the meraglim(the spies),
saying that the meraglimwere emissaries of Moshe Rabbeinu, who
sent them to Israel on a specific mission. Their mission was very
simple: all they had to do was go to Eretz Yisrael and describe the
conditions in the country is it strong; is it weak; what are the
people like. They weren't supposed to give their commentaries and
opinions, just the facts.
What was their flaw? When they came back, they said, "Oh, this
land is very frightening. The people are so strong! We're never going
to be able to do it. Lonuchal laalos we will not be able to go up and
conquer this land." That was their downfall. "Who asked you? Who
asked you whether we'll be able to? You weren't sent for that! You
weren't sent to Israel to come back with predictions. You were just
going to report the weather."
But when they came back they said, "oh, this is just too much.
We will definitely fail; there is no way we can conquer this land.
We'd better stay here." The people then became distraught. They
started crying, and wanted to go back to Egypt. The problem of the
spies was that they forgot what their mission was, and they messed
up. They didn't do what they were sent to do!
The Rebbe mentions this incident and explains that when the
meraglimwere sent, it wasn't really by direct command of HaShem.
There wasn't a mitzvahin the Torah to send meraglim. HaShemsaid
to Moshe, "If you want to send meraglim, OK. I'll let you send them
ledaascha on your cheshbon, if you wish to. I am not commanding
you or asking you; it's not something I specifically want. If you want
to do it, gei gezunterheit, do it in good health. But I'm not telling you
to do it."
The Rebbe explains that there are two domains of activity in
life. one domain is governed by the express mitzvosof the Torah.
There are certain things we must do: we must keep Shabbos,we must
keep kosher, we must keep taharashamishpachah, etc. These are
things we have to do. There is also a tremendous gray area, limited
only by what we may not do (the prohibitions of Torah), in which
we have, to a very large extent, free choice you may do something
(it is permitted), but you don't have to. If you want to do it, go
ahead; if you don't want to do it, you don't have to.
Let's consider the example of two people who have some free
time. They're not busy every minute of the day; they have three
hours in the day that they're just free there are no mitzvosthat they
have to do. one person decides, "You know, I have this free time. I
know an old lady next door. Let me just see how she is doing." she
goes to visit and finds out that the elderly neighbor needs some
company, she needs someone to go shopping for her. so she decides
to help this woman during her free time.
The other person spends her three hours doing her needlepoint
or going swimming, or just relaxing in bed and reading a book.
Now, this person who stayed home didn't do an aveirah. Reading a
book is not an aveirah;sleeping is not an aveirah;eating chocolate is
not an aveirah.But, you have that option. You can either do a
mitzvahwith your time, or you could just do neutral things with your
The Rebbe explains that HaShemis hinting to the Jews that
sending the meraglimwasn't a mitzvahand it wasn't an aveirah;it was
just a thing that they wanted to do. The meraglimhad the potential
to elevate their mission to something divine they could have come
back and said, "This land is strong. And we know that with
HaShem's help, we'll conquer it." They could have used it as an
opportunity to instill emunah(faith) and bitachon(trust) and
inspiration in their fellow Jews. But instead, they took it and turned
it into one of the most tragic events in Jewish history.
This is to teach us the tremendous responsibility we have in
what is called bechirahchofshis free choice. We have free choice in
many, many things in our lives. And HaShemtruly gives us the koach
here the Rebbe referred again to the idea of koach to do as we
should. Yet, we must always be aware of the purpose of our shlichus,
our mission in life, because the problem with the meraglimwas that
they forgot why they were sent.
At every minute we have to be conscious of why are we in this
world. Why are we alive? What is the reason HaShemsent us here?
Keep this in the forefront of your consciousness at all times.
It's like suddenly getting a severe pain in your leg and ending up
spending four weeks in a hospital bed. If you don't realize your
mission in life, you could spend those four weeks in absolute agony,
misery, complaining for four weeks... You could just have a totally
negative experience. However, you should remember all the time: "I
was sent to this world for a purpose. And this purpose is to make
this world a dwelling place for HaShem, to reveal G-dliness in
everything that comes into my life. so what difference does it make
if I'm in my house, or if I'm in a hospital, or if I'm in an airplane."
Being laid up in bed in one or several hospitals could be a mission
that HaShemis sending you on to meet people that you would never
have met had you not been sick. perhaps there are people that only
you could reach or help in some way.
This is the way you must think. suppose you're fired from a job
and you cannot figure out why you were fired. Realize that HaShem
obviously wants you to go from this job to another, because there
are people you have to come in contact with in this place of work or
in that one. All your moving around is not only for the reasons you
know every individual that you come in contact with in your
entire life, and every event that takes place, is really for the purpose
of revealing G-dliness in the world. If you keep that in mind, you see
every event with totally different eyes.
I would like to tell you a story about Rabbi Mendel Futerfas, a
Russian Jew who now lives in Kfar Chabad, and is the head mashpia
of the Yeshivahthere. Reb Mendel spent many years in jail in Russia
for spreading Yiddishkeit, and for helping Yiddento escape from
behind the Iron Curtain. He is a real mesirusnefeshJew. I could
probably spend many hours just telling stories about Reb Mendel;
many miracles happened to him.
Reb Mendel came out of Russia about twenty-five years ago;
when I was still a young girl in New York, he had just come out. At
that time his wife was living in England, so when he left Russia, he
first came to London to be reunited with her. The next Yom-Tov I
think it was in Tishrei he went to the Rebbe for the very first time.
Although he had known the Rebbe in Russia, this was before the
Rebbe had taken the leadership of Chabadupon himself. Thus it was
the first time he was meeting the Rebbe as his Rebbe. You can
imagine what an emotional event it was, not just for Mendel, but for
everyone else who knew his story and the tremendous mesirusnefesh
that he had, to bring Yiddishkeitto Jews and Jews to Yiddishkeitunder
the worst circumstances.
Anyway, Reb Mendel was sitting on the plane going back from
New York to London, which is about a five or six-hour flight. He
barely knew English he had only been in London for a few weeks,
and in New York for another few weeks, but even so he had spent
most of his time speaking Yiddish and Russian. On the plane, he
looked over at his neighbor, who looked to him to be Jewish he
didn't ask him his name, but he could tell a yiddisheface. His
neighbor didn't look like a frumperson, but how could Reb Mendel,
being so full of Yiddishkeitand so full of life, not try to make contact
with this Jew? But how will he talk to him? He can't speak English!
so he thought and thought, "It must be hashgachahperatis." It
can't be for no reason that this person is sitting two inches away
from him for six hours! Finally, he got an idea. He took out his
tefillin,and pointing to them, he said to the man sitting next to him,
"I Jew, you Jew. I tefillin,you tefillin." His neighbor consented and
donned the tefillin.With these few words of English, he got this Jew,
who was far away from Yiddishkeit, to put on tefillin without any
eloquent English oratory.
so I think we have to take Reb Mendel's lead and say: it's
hashgachahperatisthat this person lives next door to you, or that
storekeeper happens to be on your block. They are people that
HaShemplanted in your life. You know it's not a mistake if there is
an old lady who just happens to be part of your world. Just smiling,
or giving shalachmanosis a start. You can bring Yiddishkeitto Yidden
and Yiddento Yiddishkeit in a lot of little ways. They may be little to
you, but very big to the person next to you.
What the Rebbe is saying is that we all have free choice. We
could either ignore these people, these opportunities, these events,
or we could see everything in our life as a G-d-sent opportunity to
use our free choice to sanctify HaShem's name in the world.
Finally, the Rebbe mentions, there is a verse in the Torah which
refers to the concept that HaShemgives a person free choice. HaShem
does not compel a person to do what He wants. As we can see, there
are many people living very happy lives and not doing what HaShem
wants, and yet HaShemdoesn't strike them down with a bolt of
lightning. They continue to live very happily without feeling they are
being coerced to do as HaShemwants. The Torah states, Nasati
lifneichemhayomeshachaimve'eshatov, eshamaves, ve'eshara...
ubarcharta bachaim. HaShemsays, "I am placing before you today two
choices: Life and death, good and evil Choose life." The Rebbe
explains that HaShempleads with us: "Please choose life." HaShemis
not standing over you and forcing you, or commanding you; He asks
of you: "please! It's for your benefit to choose life!" And when
HaShemasks you to do something, he also gives the ability and the
of course, making choices in life is not so simple. very often,
there seem to be many obstacles standing in our path when we want
to do what HaShemwants. We sometimes feel it's not fair that
HaShemasks us to do these things and then makes it so hard for us
to do what He wants us to do. The Rebbe says that very often these
difficulties are partly in our minds. If we see them as difficulties and
as obstacles, that is what they will be. But if we decide that they just
don't exist, then it's like what Reb Mendel did in Russia when he
said, "Look, the Czar has his thing to do and I have my thing to do.
Let him do his thing and I'll do mine. I'm not going to let him
prevent me from doing what I have to do."
This is how you should feel about all those people that laugh at
you, all those people that want to make life difficult. Just say, "Well,
that's their job; they're here to make life difficult for me. Let them
go ahead and try. But I know what I have to do."
Your attitude is all important. If you have the attitude that, "I
know what I have to do," and you go ahead and do it, you'll see
those obstacles will just vanish, or diminish into nothingness. Many
people can attest to this in their own lives. This is what the Rebbe
says about the meraglim: they saw the giants as an obstacle. other
people would see them and say, "We're soon going to witness
HaShemjust dissolving these giants; it's nothing!"
This is our challenge in life. And we have the koachto see it
This is the parshahthat deals with the ParahAdumah(Red
Heifer). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ParahAdumah,
I'll try very briefly to summarize the main points.
In Yiddishkeit, spiritual purity is a desirable factor. This has
nothing to do with hygiene and personal cleanliness; it is a spiritual
state that is called taharah purity. The opposite of taharahis tumah,
which is translated as "impurity." But the truth is, it's very, very
difficult to give an accurate English translation to these two terms
taharahand tumah simply because they do not exist in the English
language. These concepts do not exist any place other than in Torah
and therefore, foreign languages don't have the capacity to provide
good synonyms for them.
At any rate, the Torah describes many situations that can impart
this state of tumahto a person. Among these is contact with a dead
body. Those of you who have unfortunately been at a funeral may
know that, after you come back from the cemetery, before you go
into the house, you have to wash negel-vasser pouring water on each
hand alternately, six times in total. Why do you wash negelvasser?
Because it is a spiritual formula for removing tumahfrom your
hands. We don't have to go into a mikvehafter a funeral, but we
must at least do negel-vasser. A Kohenis not allowed to go to a
cemetery at all, except under special conditions.
Another situation that can cause a person to become spiritually
contaminated is the disease of tzoraas, which doesn't exist today. In
Biblical times there was such a disease, which is today loosely
translated as "leprosy." However, it really isn't the leprosy of today,
which is called "Hanson's Disease." The leprosy of the Torah is a
disease in which the person noticed various colored blemishes on
his skin. If he did not go and get cured, through the help of the
Kohen,if the disease progressed, if it was not stopped in its early
stages, then eventually his limbs would die, one by one an awful
kind of death.
Yet another situation which causes tumahis birth. When a
woman gives birth, she contracts a spiritual impurity called tumas
yoledes.There are various other situations which the Torah describes,
which also cause tumah.The common denominator of all these
kinds of tumahis that they are all somehow related to the concept of
death. Even childbirth is associated with death, not because of the
dangers involved, but simply because the mother who carried the
child for nine months had an extra neshamahin her an extra life
during the pregnancy. During pregnancy, a woman is extra pure. But
when the child is born and leaves her body even though the child
is independently alive outside the mother's body then as far as the
mother's body is concerned, there was a loss of life. This loss of life
is the reason for her temporary state of spiritual impurity.
similarly, when a man has an issue of seed from his body, this
seed can potentially impregnate a woman and cause a child to be
born; there is a potential for life in every drop of seed. Every time a
man has an issue, even if his wife becomes pregnant, he becomes
tameh. When a woman has her menstrual period every month, that
egg which died, if it had become impregnated, could have become
another person. Therefore, there is a vestige of death every month,
when a woman has her period. And that is why she has the impurity
called tumasniddah.
We can see how Torah values life how the highest thing in
Yiddishkeit is life. The Torah itself is called "a Tree of Life." Where
there is life, there is holiness and purity, and where there is death or
the loss of life, there is tumah. Though a person may be alive today,
there was once a period when he wasn't alive, and there will be
another period when he won't be alive. But to be really alive even
when one is alive, it is not sufficient to just live. "You who cleave to
HaShemare all alive today," a verse states. An evil person even
while he's still alive is called dead. Breathing and having your
heart pumping do not denote life. What the Torah considers "life"
is connected with Torah, with Yiddishkeit. A tzaddik is called living
even when he has passed away from this world because he clung to
the source of life.
The Process of Purification
This is what ParshasChukasis all about. This parshahtalks about
a very strange mitzvah. I say "strange," because there are certain
details of the mitzvahof ParahAdumah(removing defilement by
sprinkling the ashes of the Red Heifer) that are unlike any other
mitzvahin the Torah. The mitzvahof ParahAdumahis totally
irrational there is no rhyme or reason by which a person can
figure out how this procedure makes any sense. Nevertheless, the
Torah describes an exact procedure that a person must undergo if he
wishes to rid himself of the impurity which is brought about by
contact with a dead body.
Let's say a person who lived in Biblical times was sitting in his
tent when suddenly someone in that tent passed away. That person,
because he was in the same tent at the moment of the other person's
death, has contracted the strongest possible type of tumah the
impurity of actual death.
somebody who is at a funeral, or has to carry the dead body
from the house in which the person died to the cemetery, or he
buries the person (this is one of the greatest mitzvos, to bring a
Jewish body to a Jewish burial) becomes extremely impure. Why do I
say "extremely"? Because there are levels in tumah. Contact with the
dead is the most intense kind.
In order for a person to return to a life of taharah, he had to
undergo a seven-day process of spiritual purification, during which
time he could not visit the BeisHaMikdash, bring a sacrifice, touch
ritually pure food, and so on. This, of course, applied in Biblical and
Temple times, but not today. Today only Kohanimobserve some of
the mitzvosof purity and impurity.
This process of purification included being sprinkled with ashes
from a red heifer that was burned in a very special way. These ashes
were mixed with spring water and other ingredients. This process
sounds strange; to our minds it doesn't make sense.
And yet, the Torah says, whether you like it or not, "this is the
decree of the Torah." You don't like it, you can remain impure.
Generally, it's no sin to remain impure for an extended period of
time. If a person wants to be tamehfor the rest of his life, go ahead.
But, as long as you are tameh, you cannot do the following things:
You cannot come to the BeisHaMikdash, you cannot bring a
sacrifice, you cannot touch ritually pure food. If you want to be out
of it, that's your privilege. But if you want to come back, you must
go through this entire process.
Intellect and Beyond
From the time the Torah was given, nine cows were prepared
for this purification process. A cow with even two black hairs was
disqualified as a Red Heifer. We are told that the tenth Parah
Adumahwill be prepared when Mashiachcomes. All of us will be
sprinkled with its ashes because all of us, whether we like it or not,
have become impure due to contact with the dead. All of us. If you
have ever been at a funeral, a hospital or a cemetery during the
course of your life, you have contracted this type of impurity.
Because there is no BeisHaMikdashtoday, it doesn't affect us in
a relevant way. But when Mashiachcomes and we will all want to go
to the BeisHaMikdash, we will all have to undergo this process of
Now the interesting thing about it is that those Kohanimwho
were involved in preparing the ashes of the Red Heifer in order to
help their fellow Jews become pure again became tameh. The
Torah says that the mystery, the paradox, of the Red Heifer is that it
purified the impure and impurified the pure. How does something
that has the ability to purify one person cause impurity in another?
It doesn't appear to make sense; it's a contradiction. Yet, "This is the
decree of the Torah."
The mitzvosare divided into three categories, called mishpatim,
chukkim, and eidos. The category of mitzvoscalled mishpatim,which is
probably the majority of the Torah, refers to those mitzvosthat are
rational. They are so rational, that even if the Torah didn't tell us,
we'd probably figure them out by ourselves. Like the prohibition
against murder; you don't have to be a very pious, G-d fearing Jew to
realize that killing is not a nice thing to do. Many people are not
murderers even though they're not chassidim or even orthodox.
This is the category of mishpatim.
Eidosare a different kind of mitzvah. Eidosare those mitzvosthat
we probably would never have invented of our own accord, but
because the Torah told us, we can see some logic in them. Basically,
these are the mitzvosthat have to do with testimony: they testify that
certain historical events occurred, such as Pesach; when HaShem
took us out of Egypt, our forefathers ate matzah, so we also eat
matzah. It could be that we'd never come up with it on our own, but
we could accept it; it makes sense in a certain way.
Chukkimare those mitzvosthat we just cannot figure out
rationally. The classic example is ParahAdumah who would ever
think of such a mitzvah?To take a Red Heifer, burn it, and sprinkle
its ashes...who would invent such a mitzvah?No one. Another
example is the prohibition against wearing linen and wool. Who
would even think of such a mitzvah that you shouldn't be able to
wear linen and wool, shaatnez? Why not? Or to deny yourself
cheeseburgers. Why should the Torah say that this food is no good,
that food is good; this meat is kosher because it comes from an
animal that chews its cud and has split hooves whereas the other
meat is not kosher because it comes from an animal which does not
have these qualifications?
We see that there are certain mitzvosthat just don't make mortal
sense. Try as you will, you will never find a rational reason for those
mitzvos. Those mitzvosare called chukkim laws, statutes, decrees.
You like it, you don't like it; this is the Jewish way.
ParahAdumahfalls into the category of chukkim. That's why the
name of the parshahis Chukas, because this mitzvahis the classic
decree. The Torah says "this is the decree of the Torah," not, "this is
the decree of the ParahAdumah," as if to say, "This is the
paradigmatic decree of the entire Torah. If you want to know what
the whole Torah is about, look at ParahAdumah." And then we say
to ourselves, "But how can you say that this is the chok of the Torah?
This is so different from other mitzvos. It's not like the other mitzvos;
it's unusual. It's the exception, not the rule. I don't know any other
mitzvahthat's so weird."
The Rebbe explains that we have to look a little bit deeper in
order to see that hidden in the mitzvahof ParahAdumahare many of
the most fundamental concepts of the Torah.
One of the things that the Rebbe explains is that in every
person, there are two levels. There's the level of intellect, and there's
the level of will. Will and intellect are not the same thing. You
might think that since a person is basically an intelligent being, the
will and the intellect are the same thing; you want what makes sense,
and what makes sense is what you want. But it doesn't always work
that way: You could know, logically, that this is the right thing, but
you don't want it you want something else, which everybody tells
you is crazy.
For example, with shidduchim. Everyone is telling the girl, "He's
not for you; it doesn't make sense; look at his personality." But she
says, "I don't care, I want to marry him!" Or it could be with a dress:
"It's only dry-cleanable, it's white, it's too expensive, it doesn't make
sense." But the kid says, "I want it, I like it, and that's that!" Will is
will and brains are brains; they are not the same thing.
Intellect is something that you can explain in words. Will is
something that is higher than intellect, that you cannot explain. If
somebody asks you, ""Why do you want this thing? It doesn't make
sense, it's crazy!" You can't even explain to them why. "I just want it.
That's it. I want it; I can't tell you why, I just want it."
Reaching the Essence
The same way that our will transcends intellect, so too, with an
obvious difference, with HaShem because we are created in G-d's
image. Everything that exists in a person is a mirror of what is going
on in G-d Himself. Chassidusexplains that there's a level of G-dly
revelation which can be understood rationally, and there's a level of
G-d that transcends intellect, that we can never understand.
Those mitzvoswhich are called mishpatim, those that make sense
to us, are actually at a lower level. For every mitzvahHaShemasks of
us don't murder, don't steal, etc. there is a Divine reason, a
Divine desire that HaShemhas for us to do that mitzvah. some of
the mitzvoswere "contracted;" they came down in such a way that
they can be understood even by limited human intellect.
Imagine a mother trying to tell her three-year-old child why he
has to eat vegetables. she says, "If you eat the vegetables, you will
grow, you'll be strong, your teeth won't hurt, you'll see well at
night... " she can't really explain to the child everything it says in the
textbook about vitamins, but she tries to condense the idea that
vegetables are healthy to her child, in whatever language; she's
bringing it down to the child's level.
Then there are certain things that parents don't even try to
explain it's just too complicated, it's too high. They will never be
able to give this concept to a three-year-old. so when the three-year-
old says, "Mommy, why do I have to...?" You say, "Listen, honey, I'm
your mommy, you're my child, and you're going to do it because I
said so." You know that when the child is 25 and is herself a
mother, you will try then to talk it out; but right now, "I'm your
mommy, and you must listen to me."
Certain things HaShemcannot explain to us. Our intellect,
compared to HaShem, is far lower than that of a three-year-old
compared to a twenty-five-year-old. The child is going to be a parent
someday. Right now the child is three; but when he's six, when he's
ten his intellect grows. And eventually he and you will be on the
same level; sometimes children surpass their parents in intelligence,
it's just a relative thing. But the intelligence of a human being
compared to the Creator? The gap is infinite.
Those mitzvoswe call chukkimare on such a level, that there is no
way HaShemcould condense the reason or the rationality behind
them in terms the human mind can grasp. Now, it is said that when
Mashiachcomes, our understanding will grow and our consciousness
will change to such a level that, in a sense, we won't be human
beings anymore we'll be like angels. But now, in our current
situation, there is no way that a person, with his finite intellect, can
ever grasp a chok. And that's why HaShemdoesn't even try; we just
do it because He said so. It's not possible for a human being to
understand a chok.
Therefore, a chok in a sense is higher than a mishpat, because it
cannot come down to the level of a mishpat. Just take it and do it;
it's the Jewish thing to do. That's what you tell a person: when a
person asks ""Why?" you ask, "Are you Jewish? If you are Jewish,
then you should know that this is what Jewish people do; this is
part of the Jewish Torah. You can't understand it, but it's the
Jewish thing to do, so do it. You don't understand it? You don't
have to understand everything; who says you have to understand
sometimes when a person is becoming religious, you try to
appeal to them with nice reasons. You say, "Do this mitzvah it's so
beautiful. Let me tell you the reason." And they say, "Oh, it's so
inspiring; I'm going to do that mitzvah."
But how do you inspire them to do a mitzvahthat doesn't make
sense? You tell them that when you do a mitzvahthat makes sense,
that has a beautiful reason, what is happening is that your intellect is
hooking on to HaShem's intellect. You will say, "Even though I'm a
human being, with my human mind, I can now understand a little
bit of G-d's mind, because this is part of the mishpat."
But when you do a mitzvahthat doesn't make sense to you, that
your mind can't even relate to at all, and you do it anyway, you are
reaching a part of HaShemwhich is called Etzem the Essence. In
other words, HaShem's "intellect" is a lower dimension of HaShem
than HaShemsEssence, Just as our intellect is lower than our will.
Would you say that the essence of a person is his IQ? No,
because the person's intellectual level is one of the manifestations of
who he is, but it's not him. You are something that is greater than
any of your powers. Your brain is a detail of you, but you are greater
than your brain, your speech and your powers.
The word etzemin Hebrew means a bone, just as we know that
inside each of our limbs there is an etzem, a bone. But it also means
the essence what's inside. It is the quality of "what is it?" That's
the etzem.
The Etzemof HaShemis His innermost core. It's far higher than
any explanation. When you do a mitzvahthat you don't understand,
you're hooking in not to HaShem's "brain" but to HaShem's
Essence. And that's much higher.
When you say, "I am doing the mitzvah, because I enjoy doing it,
because it makes me feel good, because it makes so much sense,
because I like it," that is one level. But a much higher level is
reached when one can say, "I am doing it because I am a Jew; I have
a Jewish soul. And my G-d said that He wants me to do this, so I'm
going to do it. I don't know if I understand it, I don't know if I
agree with it but I'm going to do it anyway." When you do a
mitzvahlike that, it's infinitely greater than doing the mitzvah
because you understand it. You are transcending the level of
intellect. The etzemof your soul is joining with the etzemof HaShem.
This means that your highest level is linking up with HaShem's
highest level. It's a superior way of serving G-d.
To put it another way, we are all different in many ways; if we
were all to take an IQ test right now, we would not all get the same
mark. Let's say that all of us were meeting together in a room, and
would have to perform a rational mitzvah the mitzvahof learning
Torah, for example. suppose somebody would come and say, "I
want everybody, for the next hour, to learn Torah; it's a mitzvahto
learn Torah." Everybody in the room would do it differently: those
who could learn with commentaries would learn it on a very high
level; those who can barely read Hebrew would do it on a lower
level, in a sense. Everybody would learn Torah according to their
level of insight; it would be very, very different. some would enjoy it,
some wouldn't enjoy it everybody would be different.
However, if HaShemwould come and say, "I want you all to do
something now: lift your right hand like this and your left hand like
that, jump four times, and turn around and look at the ceiling." No
one would understand what in the world this is. But we would all do
the same thing whether we understood it or not because it has
nothing to do with intelligence.
In other words, a thing that has to do with intellect varies:
everybody does it according to their own intellect. But a thing that
has nothing to do with intellect is all the same; it is indicative of
what all Jews have in common. As far as essence is concerned, we are
all the same. As far the essence of our neshamah, we are all the same,
whether we are baalei teshuvahor not; or are very learned or very
unlearned; or have a big yetzer haraor a little yetzer hara that's all
superficial. The etzemof the soul is the same for all Jews; it has
nothing to do with things that happen after you came down to this
Earth. so again, when a Jew observes the mitzvahwhich is called a
chok, it is a very lofty way of serving HaShem.
The Crux of Torah
I would like to return to what I mentioned earlier: "Why is the
ParahAdumahcalled chukashaTorah, "The decree of the Torah"? It's
as if the Torah is saying, "This is the crux of the whole Torah."
On this subject the Rebbe explains something very, very
beautiful. We know that the essence of the whole Torah is ahavas
Yisrael: There is the famous story of Hillel and a person who wanted
to convert provided that Hillel would teach him the Torah while
standing on one foot. Hillel answered: "What is hateful unto you,
do not do to another. This is the whole Torah. All the rest is
commentary." What did he mean by this statement? He meant that
ahavasYisrael is the key to the entire Torah. That's what HaShem
wants, first and foremost. And if a person has ahavasYisrael love
for a fellow Jew that will lead him eventually to keep the entire
Torah, and it will bring him to love of HaShem.
The other way around doesn't work. If a Jew only has love for
HaShembut doesn't love his fellow Jews, that is a terrible, terrible
flaw. But if he has only ahavasYisrael the Rebbe says, "Don't worry:
he will eventually achieve ahavasHaShemas well."
What more does the Rebbe say about ParahAdumah?What is
the paradox of the ParahAdumah?It is that the Jews went ahead and
gave away hours of their time in order to prepare it for somebody
else. They didn't do it for themselves, they did it for the other Jews
who had become spiritually impure. In other words, those kohanim
who prepared the ParahAdumahnot only gave up their time to
prepare it it's a long process but they also became impure as a
one may ask, "Now, why should I go ahead and give up my time
to help a Jew whom I don't even know? I don't know who are going
to be the beneficiaries of this ParahAdumah." The container with its
ashes was kept in a certain part of the BeisHaMikdashand whenever
it was necessary it was used. It's not as if it was for your next door
neighbor, for your mother, your brother; maybe for them a Kohen
would have spent his time and purity making it. But for a total
stranger?! Why should a Jew do that? should a normal person go
and harm himself to help another Jew?
The Rebbe declares, "This is the decree of the Torah." A Jew
should not only want to help another Jew when he gets a prize,
when he becomes Chairman of the Dinner or Man of the Year.
Everyone will know that this person did a great deed; it'll be in the
newspaper, and he'll get a lot of honor for it. That's not necessarily
It's more like serving yourself; who knows if you are really doing
the mitzvahfor others, or because you want everyone else to know
how nice you are? What is your real intention? But if you do
something for another Jew and not only don't you get rewarded for
it, but you also become tamehfor it, that is real mesirusnefesh. Mesirus
nefeshliterally means giving away your soul for somebody else self-
sacrifice. When you sacrifice yourself for another Jew, not only don't
you get a prize, but you also, in a sense, suffer for it. That is "the
decree of the Torah."
If you ever go to a funeral we should never have to go to one
you may notice that on the car carrying the deceased, there are
four Hebrew letters: gimmel, ches, shin, alef.These stand for the
words gemiluschessedshel ernes acts of true kindness. Why is this
called "true kindness?" Because when you do a kindly act,
someone will say, "oh, you're so nice. I love you. You're such a
nice person." Well, you like to hear that, so you go help others so
that everyone will tell you how nice you are you go on an ego
trip. But if you go and bury a dead person, he'll never say "Thank
you" to you. That's it you're just doing it for him. It is chessed
shel emes,true kindness. It's the same thing with the chevrah
kaddisha, which doesn't get a thank you from the dead person, and
they become tamehto boot.
so this is what the Rebbe teaches us about ParahAdumah. Why
is it called chukashaTorah? Because those that were involved with
preparing the ParahAdumahshowed the ultimate in ahavasYisrael,
by working to help another Jew become purified, though themselves
becoming tamehin the process.
Moshe's Worry
Another point the Rebbe makes is this: The Midrashtells us that
HaShemtaught Moshe the whole Torah. (Moshe was in Heaven for
forty days and forty nights, and during this time HaShemtaught him
the entire Torah.) HaShemalso taught him the laws of tumahand
taharah. When they came to the subject of impurity through contact
with the dead, the Midrashsays that Moshe's face became very dark,
and he asked HaShemhow a person who had become so spiritually
defiled could become purified?
The Rebbe notes that this is a strange expression. Concerning
all the other laws of the Torah Moshe's face is not described. The
Torah is not emotional, it doesn't talk about how Moshe reacted to
what he was learning. suddenly the Torah says "Moshe reacted."
When he learned this law, he got very serious.
The Rebbe explained that when Moshe heard that a Jew could
fall to such a low level, that he would be on the lowest level of tumah
defiled by contact with the dead Moshe understood it in a
spiritual sense: not just a person who came in contact with a dead
person, but a person who became so far removed from Yiddishkeit, so
far removed from holiness and from spirituality, that he himself
became like a corpse; it was as if the person himself was half dead.
This is because when you are impure, you cannot become involved
with things of holiness. The impure person, in spirituality, means a
person who is cut off from life, from HaShem.
When Moshe heard that a Jew could fall into such a situation,
where he would be so far removed from G-dliness, he got very, very
upset. He looked at every Jew as his child, and so he said, "My
goodness, it's awful that a Jew should be in such a situation so far
away from Yiddishkeit, so far away from spirituality. What will bring
this Jew back to purity, to Yiddishkeit, to Torah?"
Then HaShemexplained to him that this is the process through
which a Jew will be able to come back. HaShemexplained to him
that there are levels in spirituality; that there is a level that's called
the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, which transcends every level of
impurity. It is such a lofty level of holiness that it can raise anyone
out of the deepest pit.
When the Yiddenwere in Egypt they were so low that only
HaShemHimself could take them out of Egypt. They had fallen so
low, it required the very loftiest level to lift them out of their
impurity. Think of all the people that you know rack your brain
for a minute, and think of Jews you know who seem so far away
from Yiddishkeit, that you could never figure out how such a Jew will
come back; he's not interested, he doesn't identify. How is this Jew
ever going to come back to the fold? It seems so hopeless! It seems
this Jew is too far gone.
so HaShemsays, "Even such a Jew, who has contracted the
impurity of the dead, who is so cut off from Yiddishkeit, from
spirituality, from Torah even he can come back through the effort
of a person who has mesirusnefesh." It isn't easy to bring these Jews
back. And the one who goes to work with this Jew is going to have a
hard time. But that is the ultimate in ahavasYisrael: to work, not just
with those who are easy customers, but with those that are hard
customers. When it's hard when it's not easy going through the
mesirusnefeshof a fellow Jew, even those will come back.
There's another interesting detail of ParahAdumah, and that is
that it's prepared outside of the entire camp. In the camp as the
Jewish people lived there was the Mishkan(the Tabernacle), and
surrounding it the camp of the Kohanimand Levites, and
surrounding them the camp of the Israelites. These corresponded to
three levels of holiness: a section of greatest holiness, lesser holiness
and even less holiness. Then there was an area called michutz
lamachaneh outside of the camp. This place was for the people who
had leprosy; the graves were there; this area was for impurity.
The ParahAdumah, which technically was a korban, a sacrifice,
unlike all other sacrifices was not performed in the precincts of the
Mishkan; it was done outside of all the camps. Those people who
were involved in preparing it had to go far away. Why? Why did they
have to go far away, out of the camp, to prepare it?
The Rebbe answers that this is to teach us that through helping
a Jew in spiritual matters, we have the power to bring back those
people who are outside the camp. some people are in the camp
they're more religious, less religious but they're here; they count. If
you ask them, "Are you Jewish?" "Of course I'm Jewish!" "Are you a
good Jew?" "I try. sometimes I fail, but I'm part of the Jewish
people; count me in."
Then there are those who say, "Count me out. I couldn't care
less; I don't want to be a Jew; leave me out of this Jewish business,
I'd rather be a citizen of the world, an American..." You might know
people like that: they're not in; they're out of the camp. If they
would take a census, and it would say "Nationality," they would
write "American" they wouldn't write "Jew." The same thing
happens in Israel: there are those who would write "Israeli" instead
of "Jew." They don't want to be identified as Jews. Those people are
"outside the camp."
The mitzvahof ParahAdumahsays: "Don't write them off.
Even those people who are outside the camp can be brought
back." And because the ParahAdumahis prepared outside the
camp, that teaches us that you can reach those people. When
Mashiachcomes and we will, G-d willing, witness this speedily in
our days the Jews in monasteries, in Buddhist temples, in
kibbutzim, in Minneapolis and so on, will be located and will be
brought back by Mashiach.
This is the teaching of ParahAdumah.Even those who are way
out of the camp will become pure. It sounds like a dream; it doesn't
sound like it's going to happen tomorrow; but the Torah tells us
that it will happen, and it can be as soon as today, because in his
essence, every Jew is still pure.
Another point about the ParahAdumahis that HaShemtells
Moshe Rabbeinu, "I want you to take the cow." What kind of honor
is it for Moshe, who is on the level of a king, to take care of a cow? It
doesn't seem to be very respectable for a person of such a lofty
stature to be involved with something lowly like a cow.
The Rebbe explains that the fact that the Torah in a few places
connects Moshe with the Parah(it's called the ParahAdumahof
Moshe) teaches a Jew that the ability he has to save another Jew, to
bring another Jew back to the path of Torah comes from the
power of Moshe.
Because Moshe himself received the Torah from HaShem, and
he was our first Rebbe, every one of us inherited a little bit of him.
With that koachof Moshe Rabbeinu, we don't have to say, "I don't
speak Hebrew so well; I'm not so talented; I'm not so smart; I don't
have all the answers." That's all baloney. You are one of Moshe's
people and with that power, you can go out to inspire and influence
another Jew.
The Ashes of the Past and of the Future
I would like to mention one last point on this subject. our
sages explain that each time they prepared a ParahAdumah, they
divided it into three parts: one section was made to purify the
people who became contaminated; the second section was set aside
to purify the Kohanimthemselves. The third was saved for the
future. What does this mean?
The Rebbe explains that this alludes to the following idea: If
there are Jews around who need spiritual salvation and we all
know that there are plenty of such Jews a person might think,
"You know what? I will devote my entire day to helping these
people. I'll go out and try to inspire them, and I'll try to bring them
back. I'll use all my powers (and we know that if we work hard, we
do succeed; we can get to them). I'll spend my whole life being
devoted to other people. But as far as I'm concerned, it's not so
important what I do; it's important that I help others."
The Rebbe teaches us: no matter how lofty your goal, no matter
how many noble things you are doing with your time, helping other
people in the greatest of ways, you must never forget about yourself.
You have your own obligations and you have your mitzvosthat you
must fulfill. And this is hinted at by the word lemishmeres, which
means that part of the ashes were saved: You have to save part of it
for yourself. You must try to be balanced; it is not balanced to totally
revolve your life about yourself. Nor is it balanced nor is it
HaShem'sWill that a person devote his entire life to other people
and totally disregard his own personal divine service.
I think this is something applicable to every minute of every day.
When we look around and we see what's going on in the world, we
shouldn't lift up our hands in despair. Never despair, because every
Jew will come back; and you might be the person who was sent to
help another Jew on his path.
Make sure you leave this farbrengenwith a Neshamahresolution!
This is the ultimate purpose of the farbrengen. I have mentioned this
at the very beginning, so that you know what to listen for, rather
than wait to the end and try to remember what the main point was
that you have to take home with you.
The twelfth of Tammuz is the birthday of the Previous Rebbe,
the Rebbe Rayatz, the sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch. This was also the
day on which he was suddenly and miraculously released by the
communists [in 1927] after they had already pronounced the death
sentence upon him, G-d forbid, which was subsequently commuted
to several years of exile in Kostrama a pretty unpleasant place, by
all accounts.
The events that happen to a tzaddik, and especially a world
leader of the stature of the Rebbe Rayatz, are not a personal thing.
The leader of the generation, the Nasi, does not have a private life as
such, in the way that we feel we have a private family life. since the
Nasi is completely and totally bound up with the entire Jewish
people, every event in his life becomes an event connected with the
entire Jewish people.
similarly, those of us who are close to Chabadand close to the
Rebbe, know that when RebbitzinChayah Mushka passed away [in
1988], that event became related to every single Jewish person.
When a Rebbe has a simchah, or G-d forbid the opposite, it has
ramifications for the whole Jewish people.
The Rebbe Rayatz's release from prison had far-reaching effects.
There is not a place in the world where there are Jews that has not
been affected by the presence of Lubavitcher emissaries whom the
Rebbe Rayatz began sending all over the world shortly after his
arrival in America [in 1940]. Think of all the people who have
become baalei teshuvahas a result of the work which the Rebbe
Rayatz began, and the Rebbe continued and expanded to
unprecedented dimensions. Had he remained in Russia, it is
doubtful that this would have happened. His banishment from
Russia, which seemed so tragic at the time, actually became the
source of untold blessing. This is the true meaning of turning
darkness into light, and bitterness into sweetness.
Yiddishkeitdeclares that nothing in the universe happens by
coincidence. Everything has a purpose, and everything is
significant. When the Rebbe Rayatz's redemption took place on the
12th of Tammuz, Chabadand friends of Chabad(not everybody likes
to call himself a Chabadchassid, for whatever reason, but myriads of
people regard themselves as friends of Chabad)were aware that this
was a Yom-Tov.
When Mashiachcomes, we will look back at the galusand it will
seem like a distant dream. All of the pain and darkness of exile will
suddenly be transformed into joy and light. so HaShemgave us a
sneak preview of the imminent redemption by bringing about the
redemption of the Nasi of the generation in a month in which the
major part of the three weeks of mourning takes place. This is an
omen it is to teach us that the geulahis on its way, and all sad and
bad times will fade away and we will only see the joy. This is a
teaching that had to come at the end of galusin order to teach us
what the geulahwill be like.
The exile is generally regarded as a punishment, an expression
of HaShem's anger and gevurah, or stern judgment: we sinned, and so
we deserve to be punished. When we have paid off our
transgressions with suffering, then the Redemption will come. From
this point of view, the galushas no real virtue in itself.
Chassidus, amazingly enough, views the galusas an expression of
HaShemslove for the Jewish people. Let me explain this by way of
an analogy brought in Chassidus: When a king loves his child, he will
make the effort to wash the dirt off the child himself, rather than
giving the unpleasant job to a servant. similarly, because a mother
loves her child, she cannot bear to see that child dirty.
I'm in the middle of toilet training one of my kids. sometimes
kids have accidents, and when they do you've got to clean them. It
takes time to clean them. sometimes you have to wash them off with
water, and if its winter and the boiler hasn't been switched on the
water is freezing. And sometimes you have to scrub them off. It takes
time and patience, and the kid's fighting and he doesn't want you to
do that. It's very uncomfortable for the kid, but its the only way to
get him clean, and the end justifies the means. You know that you
want to have a clean child because you love and care for him,
although as far as he is concerned, you're cruel and nasty. so, too, it
is only because of HaShem's love for us that He takes the time to
wash off all this junk, rather than simply giving the job to a servant.
In the same sense, the galusis an expression of HaShem'slove for His
children, and His personal involvement with us, rather than an
expression of His gevurahand severity. This is why the Baal shem
Tov interpreted the verse in Tehillim, keinbakodesh chazisicha
(literally, "in the same way, I have seen You in holiness") as a
request: "If only I would see You in holiness (after the Redemption)
as I experience Your closeness in exile!"
In another analogy, the Torah compares redemption to giving
birth. Galusis the painful labor called chevlei Mashiach the birth
pangs of Mashiach. When a woman is about to give birth, right
before the baby is born, there is a period of extreme, unbearable
pain. But the woman who is having a baby knows that in order to
merit a tremendous simchah, the birth of her baby, there has to be
some difficulty before. When we know that, we can accept the pain
and suffering. The same is true of galus: It seems that we have to go
through this pain and suffering in order to merit the joy of the
imminent geulah.
The Rebbe Rayatz's mission in life was instilling Yidishkeit in
the Jewish people. We all have many friends and acquaintances who
unfortunately keep their Yiddishkeit to the bare minimum, you can
barely tell that they're religious Jews. Many do mitzvosbut they do it
in a way that you get the feeling that it's not the important part of
their lives. You know, they do it just to get it over with and then
they want to get on to the real stuff, which is not Yiddishkeit. This is,
unfortunately, the mentality of galus.
Then there are Jews whose Yiddishkeitis the main thing in their
lives. Every minute of Jewish activity, every new opportunity in
Yiddishkeit is their cause of joy. This is what Chassidustries to instill
in every Jew that a Jew should serve HaShemwith joy, not the
feeling of "Uff. I wish I didn't have to fulfill so many obligations."
This is a geulahmentality to live a joyful life of Torah and mitzvos
even though there are still difficulties and barriers.
Anyone who follows the Rebbe's farbrengensor learns the
Rebbe's sichosknows that there is hardly an occasion when the
Rebbe does not mention Mashiach.Even if he doesn't talk about it
directly, the Rebbe is very "Mashiach-conscious," and he has
undoubtedly instilled this in his chassidim, and in almost everyone
else as well. For a Lubavitcher chassid, it is not enough to believe in
Mashiachand the construction of the Third BeisHaMikdash; we
want to see it, in front of our eyes. This is, perhaps, one of the
meanings of the Rebbe's campaign in 5748 [1988] as "the year of
building" shnashabinyan. The way I understand this is that the
Rebbe keeps reminding us, in the most subtle ways, that even
something so mundane and gashmiyusdik as adding a room to your
house, or even a coat of paint, should be viewed as a step in the
construction of the Third BeisHaMikdash. This makes the concept
of the geulahvery tangible.
There is a story told about Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev.
He had such a close relationship with HaShemthat he would even
chide Him, so to speak. You know how it is when you're afraid of
the stability of your marriage, you're very polite to your husband.
But when you're secure, you can argue I am sure that everyone
knows what I mean. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was very secure in his
relationship with HaShem, so he could give Him a few arguments.
He said, "You know, You promised You're going to be kind to
widows and orphans. How come there are so many widows
suffering? How come there are so many orphans? show us that You
really are kind. We should see it, not just believe it."
In the merit of the 12th of Tammuz, the redemption of the
Rebbe Rayatz, and the redemption of Yiddishkeitwith him, may we
merit to see the geulah, not just believe in it. one of the ways in
which we can speed up the process is through ahavasYisrael, loving
your fellow Jew, something which the Rebbe Rayatz was renowned
for. The Rebbe has often pointed out that when a Jew thinks about
another Jew in need we all know people who need help, whether
it's physical help or spiritual help merely thinking about them
already helps them. How much more so does this apply to a tzaddik
who never leaves his flock but continues to think about them and
care about them in the World of Truth.
one of the unique things in ChabadChassidusis that it sees
good in everything. In life there are three different categories. There
are those things that are obviously good, and things that are
obviously (to our eyes) bad, and there are things that seem neutral.
Chassidustells us, and the Tanya(chapter 26 and other places) goes
into it at greater length, that since "no evil descends from Above,"
since HaShemis the epitome and the ultimate of goodness, how can
there be evil or cruelty by Divine Providence? It just cannot be. It is
Tanyaexplains that there are two kinds of good. one kind of
good is what we call revealed good. As regards human beings, we live
somewhere between the bottom of our heels to our heads. We don't
live two miles up there. Revealed good means that which we can
relate to right here, between the bottom of our heels and our heads.
Then there is good that is concealed. We don't see it, we don't feel
it, but on a higher level it is good.
The Rebbe addresses the following question (in regard to the
Holocaust, but his reply can also explain the concept of good and
evil in general): If G-d is truly good, and that is one of the
fundamental beliefs of Yiddishkeit, how can He allow a Holocaust to
happen? We know that many of the people who died in the
Holocaust were righteous, they were pious. We could have
understood it if only the evil people had died. But why is it that so
many fine and devout and G-d-fearing Jews perished in the
Holocaust? And not only that, but in such painful and cruel ways at
the hands of evil people. For many people there is no resolution to
this dilemma.
The Rebbe answers this question by way of an analogy: A person
who was raised in the jungles of Africa, from some really barbaric
tribe living far away from any modern civilization, by accident
wandered out of his village and found himself in a modern medical
center. He opens the door and walks into an operating theater. He
has no idea where he is, or what an operating theater is. He has
never in his life come in contact with modern medicine, so he
doesn't even know that he's in a medical center, in a hospital. All of
a sudden he notices a number of people, wearing green masks on
their faces, totally gowned, you can only see their eyes, wheeling in a
table with a person on it. Then, one of the masked people takes out
some object, a metal object, jabs it into the body of this person, and
all of a sudden the person is still. Then another one of the people
takes out an instrument and starts cutting off part of the person's
body. Well, this savage from the jungle, what does he know? In his
eyes, all he has witnessed in his past is that when people fight in the
jungle they take out knives and they kill each other. There's two
enemies and they fight it out until the victor wins. so in his
perception, from what he knows, the people with the masks are the
enemies of the guy on the table. Look how cruel they are. They've
done things to not let him move and then, while the guy is sleeping
they cut him up. The savage gets up and he runs around and he
starts yelling and he starts pulling the knives away and he starts
protesting this cruelty and injustice.
Now, the Rebbe says, obviously it's impossible to try to explain
to this man that the person on the table is suffering from a
malignant growth in his foot and these guys in the masks have
mastered a certain amount of knowledge, and they know that if they
cut off part of his foot, he will be able to live for another 40 years.
However, if they allow this growth to continue growing, he will die
in a short time, and it's a pity that he should die so young. They
mean the patient no harm; what they are doing to this person is
truly an act of goodness and of kindness. However, it is cloaked and
garbed in a way that causes pain. The operation is unpleasant. The
post-operative pain is unpleasant. But what is the reason? Is it
because they hate the person? Is it because they have an argument
with the person? That's ridiculous. The doctors are motivated by a
wish to save the person's life.
Now the gap between our intelligence and HaShem's intelligence
is much greater than that between the savage's and the doctor's.
Because the savage just never had education. It is possible to educate
him and get him to a certain level. But a human being's intellect and
capacity to understand is totally limited in comparison with the
Creator of the World. Accordingly, a human being can never totally
fathom HaShem's reasons.
The Rebbe considers the Holocaust, as horrible and as bloody as
it was and no-one was saying that it was pleasant in any way as
some necessary operation that the Jewish people had to undergo. It
was not a punishment, it was a cleansing. All of those who died in
the concentration camps and ghettos are regarded as having died al
kiddushHaShem sanctifying G-d's name. All are guaranteed the life
of the World to Come. The point that I'm trying to make is that we,
with our limited human minds can never truly understand events in
our own lives. An illness, an injury, a robbery, a fire all of these
things seem cruel, they seem unfair and even unjust. However, often
in retrospect, years later, we will see that because of this we met this
one, and this happened and if it hadn't happened then... who
knows what might have happened. so many things that happened
were painful at the time of their occurrence, but later on we see that
the chain of events was for the good, and HaShemhad his reasons
for doing it in precisely this way.
Now how does this relate to the 17th of Tammuz? Because the
17th of Tammuz was the beginning of the destruction of the Beis
HaMikdash. Actually it began on the Tenth of Teves, but on the
17th of Tammuz the wall that surrounded Jerusalem was breached,
and that let the enemies in so that they could set fire to the Beis
HaMikdashon Tishah BeAv. It seemed like such a devastating act,
and in a revealed sense it certainly was. However, it was a necessary
step, comparable to a king washing off excrement from his child's
body. When the king's beloved child gets dirty with excrement, only
the one who loves the child most will get their hands dirty and
remove it. somebody else that doesn't love the child or doesn't care
about the child is disgusted by it and won't want to touch it or look
at it. It's only the mother or the father who care about the child
enough who go and get involved with cleaning him up.
The Rebbe explains that according to Chassidus, the destruction
and exile, and all of the accompanying woe and troubles that we
have experienced since then, are part of the processes of cleansing.
seventeen (the 17th of Tammuz) has the numerical value of the
word tov, meaning "good." This day, the 17th of Tammuz, has
within it, in a very deep way, the potential to be revealed as tov.
When Mashiachcomes, the 17 th of Tammuz and Tishah BeAv will
be days of great rejoicing; they will be yamimtovim, because that day,
when it seems that evil was strongest, was in a hidden way the
greatest good.
The Rebbe gives another analogy: When a parent sees a child
misbehaving, he gives the kid a smack. I'm not saying you should
smack your kid every minute, but sometimes you see your child has
gone overboard, and you know at this point that a lecture is not
going to help, so you give the kid a slap. "Why did you hit your child?
someone might say, "oh, she hit her child because she hates him."
If I hated the child I wouldn't care if he was rude. There are plenty
of kids hanging out in the street who act in disgusting ways. Do I go
over and punish them and discipline them? They're not my kids, so
their lack of discipline, and their rudeness don't bother me. But my
child? I'm not going to have my child grow up undisciplined and
rude. My child's going to be a mensch. In order for my child to know
that certain behavior is just unacceptable, I'm going to punish him
on occasion. That punishment is motivated by my love for the child,
and wanting the child to learn to be a menschand a good person.
Later on he will thank you for that smack. You know the adage,
"Better you should cry today, than that I should cry tomorrow."
There are plenty of mothers that were afraid to give that slap, and
now they're home crying, because they were too afraid to have the
child cry when the child was seven years old.
BaruchHaShem,Torah Jews have enough self confidence to
disregard modern psychology and we don't pick up Dr. spock like
it's the Bible. We don't pay too much attention to the sixty-odd
psychology books that you can find on any bookshelf. We look into
Torah. The Torah is older than all the psychologists put together
and the Torah tells us that if you want to have nachasfrom your
child, sometimes you have to do something radical. As long as your
motivation is love for the child, it's ok.
I remember when my sister, who was in high school at that time,
wanted to see a movie. Now in our family we generally didn't go to
movies, but we're talking about 20 years ago when the movies
weren't so bad. she had been invited by all her classmates to go with
them to a movie. My mother, who was not too excited about having
her child go to movies, said, "Well, what's the movie about?" so she
said, "I don't know, I'll ask my friends." so she asked her friend.
The movie was West side story. she came home and she said, "It's a
movie about kids that ride on a motorcycle." Anyway, my mother
asked around and she didn't like the story of the movie. so she said,
"You don't have to go to that movie." My sister presented the usual
counter-arguments: "Nothing will happen... But all my friends are
going. I'm going to be the only one in the class not to go to this
movie?" But my mother put her foot down. she didn't think it was
necessary and she said no. All the other girls went and my sister
didn't go. she was very, very angry at my mother. I still remember to
this day how she cried. she was a high school girl, not a six-year-old.
But my mother said, "I'm sorry. All the other mothers... they have to
decide about their daughters, but you are my daughter and I am not
letting you go, and that's the end of the story."
About 15 years later, her son came home from chederand said,
"All the kids in my class are doing this or doing that... " and all of a
sudden she had a flashback. she remembered the story about the
movie that she had forgotten, and what my mother had said: "You
are my daughter and you're not going." so she told her son, "All the
other boys' mothers will decide for them as they see fit, but you are
my son and you're not going, or you're not buying, or you're not
doing whatever." Then my sister wrote my mother a letter explaining
what had happened, and she thanked my mother for putting her
foot down and giving her the strength to tell her child the same
If your motivation is real concern for the child's good, then
eventually that message will come out. It will give the child the
strength to do what is right and to be able to pass it on to the next
generation. This is the idea of chinuch, education.
In the same way, HaShemis trying to educate us, although we do
not always see the good in any particular event. Accordingly, this
period of the Three Weeks between the 17 th of Tammuz and the
9th of Av should be regarded in a more positive light. The Rebbe
explains that we are getting to the end of the galusand that is why
the pains we experience are stronger. The redemption is compared
to giving birth the contractions get stronger and quicker as the
birth approaches. The mother who is in labor, if she didn't do her
Lamaze, she could think, oyvey, the baby's never going to get born.
But if she did her child preparation course, she knows that when the
contractions seem like they're not stopping and they're just going on
and on, it means that the baby is about to be born. Now that the
tsorresare becoming so strong and fast and frequent, we know that
Mashiachis mamashjust about to come.
You know, it only takes an eyeblink for Mashiachto come and
the BeisHaMikdashto be built. so we have to put our focus now on
the positive, on the fact that the galusis almost over. Let's not dwell
on the galus.Let's think of the geulah, of the good. One way of
preparing for the geulahis studying about it. When a woman has a
baby, she doesn't forget that after the pregnancy comes the baby.
she wants to know about how to take care of the child. she starts
reading the child care books while she is pregnant, before she gives
birth, because she knows that the pregnancy is only a temporary
state and eventually that will be forgotten and her focus will be on
the child. The same thing here. We have to focus on the future, on
the BeisHaMikdash.
HaShemsaid to the Prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel), "Why don't you
learn about the building of the BeisHaMikdash?" so he said, "What
good will it do to learn about the BeisHaMikdash? It is not
standing." HaShemanswered him, "If you study about the
construction of the BeisHaMikdashI will consider it as if you are
actually involved in constructing it." We shouldn't say, "What can
we do? We're a bunch of women. We're going to start building the
BeisHaMikdash?" If you want to do something actual and real to
hasten the construction, one way you can do it is by starting to study
everything you can about the BeisHaMikdash, and about Mashiach
and the geulah. May it all come very speedily, so that the galuswill
very soon be only a distant nightmare.
During the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the
9th of Av, we mourn the destruction of the BeisHaMikdash.
Although the destruction and subsequent exile may seem to be a
punishment, something intrinsically negative, Chassidusteaches us
that there is a potential for good even in this.
The Rebbe quotes an analogy given by a famous chassid of the
Mitteler Rebbe and the TzemachTzedek (the second and third
Rebbes of Chabad)for this: A teacher, in the middle of teaching a
shiur, has a sudden inspiration. A new insight into the concept he is
talking about is suddenly revealed to him. In order to be able to
absorb and understand the concept properly for himself, with the
ultimate purpose of transmitting the new insight to his students, he
stops for a moment, thinking. To the students, it seems that he has
ceased to communicate. He no longer reveals his teaching. of
course, the ultimate purpose is to reveal something much deeper,
but at this moment he has, in fact, ceased to communicate. The
same is true of the destruction. Its ultimate purpose is so that the
Third Beis HaMikdash can be built. The interruption is only
temporary, and ultimately for our own benefit.
The King's Son
There are also other analogies which relate to the destruction
and exile, for example the mashal (allegory, analogy) of the king's
son. In many meshalimHaShemis referred to as the king and the
Jewish People as the king's son. In this mashal the Jewish People are
referred to as not only the king's son, but as the king's only son. The
king had one son who he knew would be the heir to the throne.
And because the king knew that his son would succeed him it was
very important that the future king should learn all of those skills
and traits necessary for a ruler, and really get ready for his role. The
king, of course, hired the best teachers and exposed him to whatever
knowledge he would need. However, there was a point when the
king realized that, as long as the prince was living in the palace,
cushioned from the reality of the outside world, there was a flaw in
his plan. Because when a person is living in the lap of luxury and he
has anything he wants, he doesn't have to bring out latent traits,
because he doesn't need them. In the palace, you just have to snap
your fingers, and you get whatever you want right away. You can't
really know how a person will behave in a difficult situation if he's
never been in a difficult situation. so the king realized that, in order
for his son to be a better king someday, he had to send him away
from the palace. That it wasn't good for him to only know what the
life of a prince was. so the king sent his only son to a place very far
away from the palace, a place where the conditions were very rough.
Before the prince left, the king told him that he wanted him to find
his way back to the palace. When the prince was deposited in that
far-off province, at first he found the life very, very difficult. of
course he had never endured those kind of conditions. All of a
sudden he had to fend for himself. He wasn't eating the food he was
accustomed to and he was living among people that didn't
appreciate royalty. And in every way, emotionally and physically, it
was very, very difficult. The king realized that his son was having a
hard time, but nevertheless, he felt very secure in the fact that this
was the best way to get his son to develop those aspects of his
personality which weren't being developed in the palace. And then,
when the son would return to the palace, the king would know that
now he was ready to rule.
The moral of the story is that the soul, the Neshamah, before it's
born, is also like a prince in a palace. It learns the entire Torah. It's
under HaShem's throne and is basking in HaShem's glory. It's a
wonderful situation but it's too comfortable. You can't test yourself
that way. so HaShemdecides to send the Neshamahaway, down onto
this earth in a body. And all of a sudden the Neshamahexperiences
all kinds of things that are very unpleasant, very distasteful. But
HaShemknows that while the Neshamahis living in a body and
facing the trials and tribulations of a life, it has a lot of opportunity
to bring out its devotion to Him. That if you don't have to test your
devotion between the king and anybody else, then you don't know
how devoted you are. But if you are in a place where there are
numerous other things to become devoted to and you maintain
your devotion to the king, then it's that much more true and special
and exalted. so when HaShemsees that the Neshamah, despite all the
distractions and difficulties of galus, still wants to cleave to HaShem
and still chooses Yiddishkeit over all the other isms that exist in the
world, and the Neshamahsays, "I want to be Jewish; I don't want to
be anything else," then its devotion has been proven.
This causes a lot of joy to HaShem, as well as making the soul
itself stronger. This is another example of how the galus(the descent
of the soul into this world), which may seem to be something
difficult and negative, is nevertheless truly for the good of the
This applies on an individual level, and also as regards the entire
nation: When HaShemdestroyed the BeisHaMikdashand sent us
into galus,although it was ostensibly only bad, in reality, it was
precisely in galus,when the Jews were far away from Eretz Yisrael, that
almost the entire Oral Torah was developed. When did the
Mishnayosand the Gemaraand the ShulchanAruchand Chassidus
develop? After the destruction of the second Temple.
Oi l through Toi l
But why was the destruction necessary? The Rebbe points out
that the condition of galusmade it necessary to expound on the
Torah. The Mishnahwas written because of the difficulties of galus;
people were starting to forget. so the Mishnahand Gemarawere
written. Why was the ShulchanAruchcodified? Because people were
getting weaker. It was all a result of the trials and tribulations of galus
that prompted these works. so we see that the situation of galushas
a positive effect on the Jewish People as a whole. In America, where
it's easy to learn Torah, do you see people making underground
cheders?Many would be just as happy to leave Torah, G-d forbid.
The Rebbe compares this situation to an olive. As is well
known, olive oil was used to kindle the Menorah,as well as in the
sacrifices, etc. The only way you get the oil is by squeezing the olive.
You give it a real hard squeeze and you get a drop of oil. And that is
what the galusdid to the Jewish People. Because they were squeezed
and pressed and put in tight spots it made them give out their oil,
their best. It came out in the galus, and that is the reason for the
galus. HaShemis giving Bnei Yisrael opportunities to prove their
fidelity, to prove their devotion. You couldn't prove it if everything
was so easy to begin with. If a person grew up in a frumhome and
everything was so easy, handed to him on a platter, how does he
prove that he loves HaShem?But if one got the wrong education and
the wrong friends and then went out and sorted out one's life with
tremendous, tremendous difficulty that makes it all the more
great, all the more precious.
The Rebbe brings out a third point first we talked about the
galusof the individual Jew; now we're talking about the galus
collectively, applying to the entire nation, and the positive effect it
had in developing the Torah and proving the Jewish people's
allegiance to HaShem. The third point is that even in the galusof the
Jewish people there are some Jews whom HaShemplaced in a "galus
within galus." In other words, even in galusthere are levels. You
might say that Yerushalayim is certainly not the worst place to be.
After all, in Yerushalayim you have the Western Wall, the Kotel, and
you have a wide range of classes available, and a huge number of
shuls. You can get any kosher products you want, and so on. It's not
such a hard place to be a Jew.
There are other places in this world where it's much more
difficult to be a Jew than it is in Yerushalayim. And yet we find that
HaShemdidn't put all the Jews in the world in Yerushalayim. some
are in Yerushalayim, but some are in very far-away places. some
people are in monasteries, some people are in hick towns where they
don't even have a shul or a kosher butcher or any of the Jewish
necessities. Why is that? Because HaShemplaced some Jews in a
"galuswithin galus," because even in Yerushalayim we're in galus.Just
because we have the Kotel doesn't mean it's not galus. Galusis a
spiritual state where G-d's Presence the Shechinah is hidden. In
the general state of galusthat the whole entire nation is in, there are
areas which the Rebbe calls a "galuswithin galus." For example, a
person who is in a place where he's being laughed at for being
Jewish that's a galuswithin a galus,because here you're trying to do
what you know is right, and the people around you think you're
crazy. They're being so destructive and they're making it so much
harder for you. similarly, if you're not within close range of a
mashpia, a spiritual teacher. All these things make it a galuswithin
Those Jews who are found in those places which fall into this
category are there not to be punished, but because HaShemgives
every Jew an opportunity at some point in his life to come out of the
spiritual galus, and to actually influence people in that galus.
If all the religious Jews lived in Yerushalayim, and learned
Torah, did mitzvos,and davenedhere, that would be wonderful.
utopia, from one point of view. But what about the non-religious
Jews who live in Australia, or England, or south Africa? If all the
influencers were congregated in Yerushalayim, who would bring the
Jew in Australia back to Yiddishkeit?Who would help the Jews in
Russia? Who would influence the Jews in Oregon? For this reason it
is necessary for Jews to live in other parts of the world for the
purpose of bringing Jews that live in that galusout of their spiritual
galusbecause once a Jew opens his eyes and realizes what Yiddishkeit
is all about, he's already on his way out of the galuswithin the galus.
There is another explanation of the concept of a galuswithin a
galus that is, when a person is so deeply in galusthat not only
doesn't he know that he is in galus;he thinks that it is geulah!This is
the worst possible kind of galus. It is for this reason that some people
have to leave Yerushalayim and go out into galus in order to take
people out of their galuswithin galus, by teaching Jews Torah and
mitzvoswherever they are. This may be regarded, from a certain
point of view, as the rebuilding of the BeisHaMikdash.
May we have the merit of participating in this building,
wherever G-d happens to place us!
This week's parshah, Matos-Masei, is a double one. Although the
Rebbe generally mentions the instruction we derive from each of the
parshas, and also from the fact that they are read as a double parshah,
this time I would like to emphasize the second parshah, Masei, that
talks about the 42 journeys of the Jewish people from their
Exodus from Egypt until their final entry into Israel.
It is a basic principle of Yiddishkeitthat everything in the Torah
is eternal and has relevance at all times and in all places. Based on
this idea, the Baal shem Tov teaches, furthermore, that everything
in Torah is also relevant to every individual Jew at all times and in
all places.
To get from Egypt to Israel didn't happen overnight. It took 42
stages, over a period of 40 years. Each stage of the journey was
determined exclusively by Divine decree the cloud which hovered
over the Jewish camp when they were required to relocate, began to
move on. The entire camp then packed up their belongings and
moved on, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire
by night. Whenever the cloud was stationary they were stationary,
and when the cloud moved again they followed the cloud. This is
what happened through 42 stops and starts to get to Israel.
The first verse of the parshahstates, "These are the journeys of
the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt..."
The Rebbe asks why the verse states, "These are the journeys..."
They weren't going out of Mitzrayim on all of the 42 journeys.
surely after the first stage of the journey, after they had arrived in
Ramses, they were no longer leaving Egypt but Ramses, and so on?
After the first stage of the journey, weren't the other 41 stages going
to Israel, but not from Egypt? The simple answer is that until a
person arrives at the ultimate goal, Israel (in a spiritual sense as well
as a physical one), he is always in the process of leaving Egypt.
However, the verse has an even deeper meaning it refers to
the journeys through life of every individual Jew. Moreover, each
Jew's life may be analyzed in terms of these 42 journeys of Bnei
Yisrael from Egypt to Israel. In other words, it is possible to identify
each person's journey through life with the 42 stages of the journey
described in this week's parshah.
The Rebbe very often points out that the word Torah means
horaah instruction. Each and every word and verse of Torah gives
us instruction. What are the instructions we can derive from the 42
stages of the journey mentioned here?
The word Mitzrayim, Egypt, is related to the Hebrew word
metzar,which means a constricted or limiting place, a strait. It comes
from the word, tzar,narrow. Every person, in his or her life has
situations which the Torah describes as a metzar, a limitation and
constriction, where the person feels that something is obstructing
him from behaving in the right way. In order to get out of this
metzar, a person has to exert energy. And when he manages to
escape the metzar, it is as if he has left that place and gone to a place
that the Rebbe terms as merchav, a wide-open place. When you're
finished with that problem you breathe a sigh of relief: "I've gotten
out of that tight spot."
The verse therefore means that the life of the Jew, which begins
at his birth, is a succession of tight spots followed by relief and
expansion. It means that at every given time in our life, in every
given stage in our life, we are given certain obstacles and certain
tests. These are the tight spots. of course, these situations are not
meant to stifle us or to make us surrender. on the contrary, through
overcoming these difficulties, we become strengthened and our
awareness of G-d is expanded.
This can be compared to an army. When you go for basic
training they make you run ten miles, they make you carry packs,
they make you go through difficult situations. "Why? Because only
after you have undergone the difficulties they put you through, do
you become a good soldier. If you had never done that you wouldn't
even have known you were capable of doing it. When you undergo
difficulties, you build up your strength. Just as this is true of physical
situations, it is true also in spiritual situations.
In this context, Egypt doesn't mean a geographical land, a
country called Egypt; rather, it refers to the stages of constriction
and development that we all go through on our journey to spiritual
perfection signified by Israel.
This is life. What may be difficult at the age of five is a joke at
the age of ten, and what's difficult at the age of ten is a joke at the
age of twenty. A person that just got married is struggling with the
first year of marriage and getting used to marriage. That's a big
struggle. But when people are married for 25 years and are marrying
off their children there's a whole different set of difficulties and
problems. Then there are the problems that come with older age
and being grandparents. Every stage in life has its own qualities.
HaShemis constantly placing us in new situations, and we have to
deal with them and grow through them. Then we go to another
stage and then we come to a third stage and a fourth stage. This is a
succession of metzarim.
When does it end? It ends at the end of a person's life. In other
words, the beginning is Mitzrayim the birth; coming into Eretz
Yisrael at the end of the forty-second journey is when a person
completes his journey in this world and comes into the land of the
World to Come. This is on an individual basis.
For us as a nation, Mitzrayim signifies the beginning of galus;
and coming to Israel means the end of galusand the ultimate
redemption through Mashiach.
The Torah states that the last journey of the Jewish people is
called YardenYericho, "by the Jordan at Jericho." The Rebbe explains
that the word Yericho, the Hebrew word for Jericho, is a hint to
Mashiach. How is Yerichoa hint to Mashiachrather than merely
meaning a place in Israel called Jericho? The word Yericho is related
to the word reiachwhich means scent, smell. The Prophet Yeshayahu
(Isaiah) says that when Mashiachcomes he will not judge by what his
eyes tell him, or by the testimony which his ears hear. Rather, he will
judge by the sense of smell, which he develops because of his fear of
G-d. When Mashiachcomes there are going to be a few skeptical
people. It's obvious. We've been waiting for Mashiachfor thousands
of years now. When Mashiachcomes, speedily in our days, when
people hear that Mashiachis here, some of them will no doubt say,
"Are you sure? Prove it to me. How do we really know it's that
person we've been daveningfor?" so the Torah says you can test him.
one of the wondrous things that Mashiachwill be able to prove is
that he will be able to know and judge things by the power of smell.
Now that's something that's impossible to do with mere physical
senses. You can cook a chicken from the Eidah Charedisand one
from Idaho and they will look the same and they will taste the same
and smell the same. Just because it is kosher doesn't mean when
you're roasting it it has a different odor. But the Gemarasays that
Mashiachwill know the difference by his sense of smell. until now,
in all of the years of exile we have never heard of a tzaddik who was
able to hand down an authoritative decision based on his sense of
smell. so when we encounter the person that can, that will be a sign
that this person is Mashiach. In this sense, Yerichoalludes to
The Rebbe explained then that a person's life is a series of
journeys, each one being a strait in comparison to the one after it,
and the tests change and get more difficult as you pass through
them. This also happens every single day. There are, of course,
different levels. The nation goes on its journeys, the individual on
his. on any given day, the person goes through these journeys from
the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep at night. We see this in
prayer. Before a person starts to daven, "he has his soul in his nose,"
as our sages say. It is not internalized within him. He is at this stage
little more than an animal with the potential to be human. In order
to become human, you start davening. But you have to cut yourself
off from what's going on in the world around you. For whatever
amount of time you're going to daven,you do not listen to the radio,
read the paper, and so on. This is the test full concentration.
Then, as you daven, the prayers themselves lead you through stages.
The first part of davening, the Pesukei deZimrah, is one stage; Shemais
another; ShemonehEsrehis the climax. At this point, the Baal shem
Tov teaches, you should be in such a state of self-nullification, that
you are as if dead. You are no longer in this world, but in Israel, the
place where the Divine Presence is revealed.
We're not talking about the way I daven. I'm not going to tell
you, look at me and then you'll see the ultimate in davening. I'm
talking about a person who really davens.When you come to
ShemonehEsreh, the ShulchanAruchstates that one should be like a
servant before his Master. He is so humble in front of his master
that he cannot even talk out loud. He talks very softly. We become
so overcome by bittul, so nullified to HaShem, so subordinated to
HaShemthat we can't even talk, we can only whisper. That is the
ultimate level of davening. And yet, even though the person has
worked through different levels and come to a high level in
ShemonehEsreh, nevertheless, the next day he starts all over again
from ModehAni. A new day, a new journey, onwards and upward,
towards Eretz Yisrael. The next day, because it's a new day and you're
a new person, you have to start again you continue the journey.
This is what the life of a Jew is. You're never finished. You always
have your work to do.
The Rebbe explains that this condition of being on a continual
journey can have two possible reactions. one reaction is that the
person can become very arrogant and he can say, "Look how far I've
come. I remember years ago I was on this level and now I've really
struggled and worked hard and now I'm on a much higher level." To
the arrogant person, the Torah says, "Don't be so arrogant. You may
have gone through 22 journeys. That's fantastic, but you still have
another 20 to go. As long as you are alive you can never become
complacent about the number of journeys you've traveled." The
Torah states that even tzaddikimdon't rest in the World to Come.
It's not only that this world is a series of stages, but even in the
World to Come there are levels upon levels.
Then there's a person who can get depressed. He's saying, "My
goodness, this is terrible. I'm on such a low level. How can I ever get
to the level of this other person? Look at her. she's so much higher
than me and what's the point of even starting?" For that person
there is also a word of encouragement. Depending on who you are
and on how you're relating, the Torah has a reaction for each
situation. The reaction to that person is: Do not despair because
HaShemnever intended that a person go from Mitzrayim to Eretz
Yisrael in one move. The Torah originally told us that it's going to
take 42 small journeys. No one should ever get depressed, because as
long as you're involved in the journeying, as long as you didn't give
up and stop running, you're still in the race. HaShemis the one who
can read everybody's heart. He is the one that gives points. You
cannot ever compare yourself to anybody else because you don't
know where the other person started from and what their handicaps
are. The important thing is to know that you have to keep going.
Just keep going from one journey to the next and let HaShemdo the
grading. To a person who says despairingly, "Look how far I have to
go," the Torah says, "Do not give up. After all, look how far you've
come. A little further; a little more effort, and you will reach the
next stage. Don't take on the whole journey at once. Go one step,
one stage at a time. set your goals on the next stop." Eventually, all
of us will get to Eretz Yisrael.Each of us will experience our own
individual redemption, and the Jewish people as a whole will also
achieve redemption. May it be speedily in our days!
One of the things most emphasized in Chassidusis the quality of
joy. When it comes to the Nine Days the ShulchanAruchstates that
"when the month of Av begins, memaatinbesimchah we have to
reduce in joyfulness." Chassidic thought offers an additional
interpretation: "When the month of Av begins, we have to reduce
the Divine self-concealment that finds expression in the
mournfulness of Av bymeansofjoyfulness."
Why was this attitude not emphasized to such an extent in
previous generations? Because as we get closer to Mashiach,we're
getting closer to the geulah. so Chassidussays, why should we only sit
and cry about the destruction of the BeisHaMikdash?Let us rather
emphasize the idea of joy and the positive, for this is a way of getting
ready for the geulah. In no generation has this been emphasized so
much as in ours, by the Rebbe, who keeps us focused on the future,
on Mashiachand the redemption, rather than on the past and the
The question is, how do we increase in joy in a way that is
permitted by the ShulchanAruchwhen you can't even eat meat, you
can't even wash clothes, and you can't even wear clean clothes? It's
literally a period of mourning. Here we find an innovative solution
from the Rebbe, a real chiddush. The Rebbe suggests that we make a
siyum the completion of a tractate of the Talmud every single day
of the nine days. Why a siyum?Because when a Jew completes the
study of a tractate of Talmud,this gives the day the status of a
holiday. Technically speaking, one may even eat meat if the siyum
takes place during the Nine Days. Practically speaking, this is not
done, but since this is permitted by the ShulchanAruch, it is
indicative of a change in the somber status of these days.
[A siyumthen followed, after which Nechoma commented:]
Let us hope and pray that this siyumwill be followed
immediately by the siyumand conclusion of galus, as the Rebbe has
remarked on several occasions.
One of the sections in this week's parshah, Vaes'chanan, is the
Shema. It delineates some of the most fundamental concepts of
Judaism, such as the unity of HaShem, the mitzvahto love G-d, the
mitzvahto study Torah, and teach it to our children.
When should you be occupied with Torah study? The verse
mentions four states, or different times: When you are sitting at
home; when you're going on your way; when you lie down; and
when you rise up. This is the simple, conventional explanation of
the words. The verse therefore talks about a person's day there is a
certain amount of time which one spends sitting at home. For most
of us this is usually in the evening, or from early evening until
bedtime. You return from your day at work, and you stay at home.
"Going on your way" is usually what people do during the day, going
to work, when at work, and coming home from work. "When you
lie down," this is obviously at night, at the end of the day, and
"when you rise up" is obviously in the morning, the beginning of
the day. The plain meaning of the text is thus that Torah is not to be
relegated to one small part of your day, such as when you're sitting
in your house. It has to permeate your entire day, from the moment
you arise, until the moment you go to sleep.
When the Haskalah Movement (the 18th-19th century
intellectual movement among Central and East European Jews,
which aimed to "modernize" Jews and Judaism by encouraging the
adoption of secular European culture) swept through the Jewish
world, a certain attitude to Judaism became prevalent: "Be a Jew at
home, if you so wish, but a mensch respectable person in the
streets." If you want to be a frumJew, that's for the house. Within
your home, with your family, put on your yarmulke, learn Torah, do
mitzvos. But when you go out into the world, to your job, be a
mensch.You don't have to flaunt your Yiddishkeitin front of gentiles,
in front of other people. But this is diametrically opposed to what it
says in the Shema."When you go out on your way, don't forget
about Torah. Take your Torah in your pocket book. Make sure that
Torah is with you wherever you go, on your travels, in your
one of the most beautiful sights I will always remember from
my childhood is a certain Lubavitcher Jewish storekeeper that we
had in my neighborhood. When there were no customers he would
take out a sefer. No customers? You don't read the daily paper or just
twiddle your fingers. You could learn a real wealth of things in the
ten minute gaps between customers. Torah is part of a Jew wherever
you are.
The saintly Rebbe Rayatz, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, offered
another very insightful cosmic explanation of this verse. He points
out that as regards the activity of learning Torah, there are several
levels and there are several stages. At every stage of a person's
existence Torah is part of it. "When you are sitting at home" is the
status of the soul above, prior to its descent below into this physical,
secular world. There, in GanEden, it sits before G-d and learns
Torah constantly.
Alternatively, the verse could be interpreted as the status of a
person in the womb, which may also be called, "sitting at home."
When a woman is pregnant, the Gemaratells us, the child in the
womb is taught the entire Torah. Moreover, "a candle is kindled
above its head, and it sees from one end of the world to the other."
The verse thus refers to the period of a person's life before he is
born when he is wholly and totally occupied with learning Torah.
The next stage, "when you're going on your way," refers to the
time when the soul descends from the world above to the world
below, from level to level, until it enters a physical body in this lowly
world. Here, through Torah study in this world, it learns how to
progress (walk) in spiritual matters, and even in material matters
when they are for the sake of Heaven. This is not really the natural
way of the soul, whose real habitat is above. When the soul is born
into a body, it has to learn to deal with a new world, and
nevertheless remain faithful to HaShem.This is the mission of the
soul here in this world.
As the soul leaves its heavenly abode, and is born in the earthly
sphere, it must go through a number of descents. At each level it is
taught the Torah as appropriate to that level. once the child is born
in this world, you must start teaching him kamatz alef oh; Bereishis
barahElokim "In the beginning G-d created..." That's a much
lower level than it was capable of learning before it was born. so the
Torah then has to be adapted to the soul in a body. But the end
result of the soul's descent into this world, where it learns the Torah
of this world and does the physical mitzvos, is that the soul achieves
an ascent to beyond the level where it stood prior to its descent into
this world. The descent is for the sake of a much greater ascent.
The next stage is "when you lie down." This is the day on which
a person's soul is recalled to its supernal realm, when he lies down
in his grave. Even at that time, he continues to "study" Torah, as it
states explicitly in Pirkei Avos(6:9): Even when a person is in his
grave, awaiting the Resurrection of the Dead, all of the Torah that
he learned in his lifetime guards him and watches over him.
When a person dies, as you all know, nothing material that he
acquired in this world goes with him. His house, his car, he leaves it
all behind. Nothing that he amassed in his earthly existence goes
into the grave. But his Torah and his good deeds do accompany
Perhaps some of you have read these stories about the graves of
saintly tzaddikimwhich, for some reason, had to be moved. There are
several recorded incidents of bodies which were exhumed and were
found to be intact tens and even hundreds of years after their
I heard something very unusual in that line. Apparently when
the Germans came to Lyzhansk, in Poland, they heard rumors that
Jews used to bury gold and silver in their graves. They went to the
grave of Reb Elimelech of Lyzhansk, a famous tzaddik, and they
opened it up. When they opened it up they found inside a little man
with a brown beard, who looked like he was sleeping. In terror, they
dropped their shovels and fled. That night, Jews from the town went
to the cemetery in order to cover up the exposed grave. There they
saw the body of Rabbi Elimelech, completely untouched, without a
spot of decomposition. A person who was a Torah Yidin his life,
remains one even in his grave. Elsewhere, the Gemaraadds that
when someone learns the teachings of a Tzaddik, the lips of the body
in the grave whisper the words of Torah together with the person
learning them.
Besides the fact that the body that is in the kever(grave) is
guarded and protected by the Torah that a person learned in his
lifetime, the soul meanwhile is in heaven learning Torah.
The next stage "And when you rise up" obviously refers to
the era of the Resurrection of the Dead. This too, is one of the
fundamentals of our faith. Every Jew, no matter how long he's been
in his grave, will awaken with the Resurrection at the time of
Mashiach.Then, the Torah will again be on a totally different level.
There won't be all of the limitations that make it so difficult for us
now to learn Torah. Why is it so hard for us to learn Torah now?
Because we have so many other things on our minds. A man has
parnassah; a woman, if she can run out Monday morning for an
hour, she feels so great that she got in a little shiur. But how can we
sit all day and learn Torah? We just don't have the time or the
ability or there's so much else that's distracting us. However, when
Mashiachcomes, all of these other things that are weighing us down
and preventing us from truly concentrating even just the idea of
physical tiredness and all the other things that are hindrances to true
Torah learning, will not be problems in the times of the Mashiach.
Besides the fact that when Mashiachcomes, the Midrashstates that "a
new Torah will come forth from Me," which means that all of the
secrets of the Torah which had been hidden for all the years of exile
will be revealed. In other words, not only will we be different, but
the Torah itself will be of a much, much deeper and clearer and
higher quality than anyone has ever known. May it be speedily in
our days.
Next time you say Shemayou can think of this explanation as
The Fifteenth of Av marks a turning point it is the summer
equinox. This means that until this day, the days are longer than the
nights. on the Fifteenth of Av, the day and night are equal, and
from this point on, the days become shorter and the nights longer.
Now, what is the significance of that to a Yid?since "nights were
given for learning Torah," in the words of our sages, this indicates
that from this point on we must increase our Torah learning.
It is interesting that people say, "I'm a day person," or "I'm a
night person," or "I'm an early morning person." We definitely are
aware of the fact that the time of day has an effect on the way we
perform and behave. Generally, the daytime is when people interact
with the world. You go out, shop, work, and do things. What do
people generally do at night? Night is usually the time of rest and
relaxation. Most people, except the minority who have night jobs,
spend their time at home at night ideally with their families, but in
any event, in a quieter way than they spend their day. since the
learning of Torah can be done best with concentration, and you're
finished with your day's work, this is the proper and suitable time
for the study of Torah. The fact that from Tu BeAv on, the night
becomes longer than the day, is almost a subtle hint and reminder
to a person that now there is more time to learn more than there
was before Tu BeAv. Now is the time to make an increase in the
learning of Torah.
The Rebbe adds that since Tu BeAv marks the beginning of the
second half of Av it may be regarded as the "eve" of the month of
Elul, the last month of the year, in which we prepare for the new
year, which is Tishrei. Accordingly, preparations for Elul and Tishrei
begin from this point on as well.
The Rebbe cites the Tanya(see ch. 5) that when a person is
learning Torah, his brain is involved with HaShem's wisdom.
someone once told me that a person's brain capacity is enormous.
Each of us has stored up in our brains endless bits of information.
only the thing you are learning now is in the forefront of your
brain. What you learned 25 years ago has receded into the storage
areas of the brain, but whatever aspect of HaShem's wisdom you are
directly involved with now, is the vehicle through which you can
unite yourself with HaShemat this minute.
The Rebbe mentioned this so that a person can understand the
value of learning Torah. A finite human being who isn't brilliant
may be of merely average intelligence, but if he nevertheless chooses
to busy himself with Torah, he is at that moment in a yichudnifla, a
fantastic union, with HaShem. As long as he can keep this up, he is
on this high level.
In Yalkut Shimoni, HaShemrefers to the Jewish people as anavim,
humble people. of all the different wonderful qualities which
characterize the Jewish people, HaShemcalls us anavim, rather than
tzaddikim(righteous), chachamim(wise), etc. because humility,
specifically, is the quality that is required for achieving greatness in
Yiddishkeit. The Rebbe explains that if a Jew does not have humility,
then he can never attain true wholeness and completeness. As we
know, some people who learn Torah are quite arrogant. A person's
arrogance may actually be the result of learning Torah people call
him a benTorah, a talmid chacham, etc., and he begins to feel very
proud of how much Torah he knows.
The Rebbe adds that if one who is learning Torah suffers from
pride when he learns Torah, then not only does the Torah he learns
not elevate him, but he lowers the Torah to his level. In other words,
the benefit of learning Torah depends on the learner. If he is a
person who has humility, then the Torah raises him; if he is
arrogant, he degrades the Torah to his level, which is a very low level
since arrogance is one of the traits most despised in the Torah.
When a person is arrogant, he is suffering from a terrible disease; in
fact, the Rebbe compares arrogance to a malignant disease.
HaShemdeclares that He cannot dwell in the presence of
arrogance, say our sages. In Chassidusit is said that a person who is
arrogant is so full of himself that he does not allow room for
anybody else, including HaShem. so HaShemsays, "If so, I'll go
somewhere else." That is why the prerequisite for successful Torah
learning is to have anivus, humility.
There is a story told about a gifted Torah scholar who came up
with a question to which he could not find the answer. He went
from scholar to scholar, from RoshYeshivahto RoshYeshivahover a
long period of time, but still did not find a satisfactory answer.
Eventually, although he was far from being a chassid (in fact he was
a misnaged), someone convinced him to present his question to the
Alter Rebbe. He traveled to Liadi, where he spent an unusually long
period of time. When he eventually returned home, he was a
different person altogether. His family and friends bombarded him
with questions, 'Nul What took you so long there? What has
happened to you, you seem to have become a different person
altogether! What did the Rebbe answer you?"
"Before I went to the Rebbe, to Liadi," he said, "I had a
question for which I had only an unsatisfactory answer. Now that I
have spent some time with the Rebbe, I still have a question for
which I have only an unsatisfactory answer. However, although the
answer is the same answer, the question is a different question." He
then explained his cryptic remarks: "Before I went to the Rebbe, my
question was this it states in the holy books that for even a single
mitzvahthat a person does, and for even the little Torah that he
learns, he is given infinite reward. Now, since I have learned so
much Torah, and since I have so many mitzvosto my credit, I could
not understand how HaShemwould manage to reward me for all of
this. My answer then, although unsatisfactory, was: 'since HaShemis
omnipotent, He will surely find a way to reward me.' Then I went to
the Rebbe. Now my question is, 'How can HaShemstand to have
someone like me in His universe?' And the answer is, 'since HaShem
is omnipotent, He has found a way to manage that too!' And that,
incidentally, that is why I am now a Chabadchassid!"
It is well worth keeping these matters in mind as we increase our
Torah learning from the Fifteenth of Av onwards!
one of the main subjects of ParshasEikevis the man the
manna that the Jewish people ate during their travels through the
desert. Now as everyone knows, the manna was very, very different
from any other food that Israelites had ever had before. The manna
was known as lechemmin hashamayim bread from heaven. As a
matter of fact, when they ate the manna, the blessing they made was
...hamotzi lechemmin hashamayim, not ...hamotzi lechemmin ha'aretzl
What were the special qualities of the manna, and what
practical lesson do we learn from it? Nothing in the Torah is told
merely for the sake of an interesting story it has to give us
instruction in avodah, in the service of HaShem.
First, the Rebbe explains, the manna was given to us only during
a very short period of Jewish history only for the forty years that
the Jews lived in the desert did they have the manna. HaShemgave it
to them as a preparation for the real world. As long as they were in
Egypt they weren't really serving HaShemto their full capacity. They
were slaves to Pharaoh, and so they could not be full servants to
HaShem. During the forty years in the desert they also did not live in
the real world. They didn't have to work for a living. They didn't
have to contend with the problems that most normal people do.
We, as women, as housewives, as homemakers what do we do
all day? We maintain our houses. We're cooking or cleaning, we're
shopping, we're washing, we're doing all those things to keep and
nurture our families. But in the desert all of those things were
unnecessary. They didn't have to shop because they got the manna;
they didn't have to buy clothing, because their clothes grew with
them, and did not wear out; nor did they need to be washed,
because the clouds which surrounded them washed and ironed their
clothes, as our sages tell us. Can you imagine? GanEdenl They
didn't have to throw out the garbage, because the manna produced
no waste. Here your garbage fills up with all the wrappers and bags
and bones and peels, but they didn't have that. The manna was
100% edible with no leftovers or waste. There were no bathrooms to
clean. For the forty years in the desert the Jews did not have to
eliminate. It sounds very strange, but the reason people need to use
the bathroom is because every food, no matter how nutritious and
how delicious it may be, has some waste in it. And when you drink
water, you can't just drink exactly how much you need, and the body
needs a certain amount of fluid to help remove the waste. However,
since the manna was a perfect food, unknown to science, all it had
in it was the necessary nutrients and nothing additional. Everything
was absorbed by the body and there was no waste. And the water
that they drank from Miriam's well was also perfect. Everything was
just exactly as much as was needed.
The Rebbe explains that the period in the desert, this forty-year
period, was a preparation for Eretz Yisrael. HaShemknew that the
existence that they were going to lead in Israel was so unlike what
they knew in Egypt or in the desert, that they needed preparation.
But how was the situation in the desert and eating the manna a
preparation for Eretz Yisrael?The Rebbe explains that the manna was
a learning experience, a lesson. What is there about the manna that
can teach a person about the real world, about life?
In order to understand this we first have to understand some of
the unique qualities of manna. The first feature of manna is that it
could produce all tastes (except those tastes that would be
detrimental to nursing mothers).
Another feature of the manna was that it kept for only one day.
You could never have a stock of it in your pantry. You received only
a certain measure every day, just enough for each person. Every
single day (except Shabbos)you had to go and gather it in.
Another unique feature of manna it fell like rain. It came
down from heaven and every morning they found it lying on the
ground. As it fell, precious jewels fell together with it, so that when
the Yiddenwoke up in the morning, there wasn't just manna but also
diamonds and rubies and pearls. usually to attain precious gems you
have to mine them or go down to the bottom of the sea, and so on.
Just to be able to pick them up and put them into your pocket, was
as miraculous as getting the manna.
Testing Inner Strength
Life in the desert seems to have been easy. However, G-d
Himself declares that his intention with the manna was to test us.
When you want to know what a person's true capacities are, you
have to put him through his paces. If a person has an easy life you
never know what his true strengths are. As we often see, it's only in a
crisis period that a person reveals their true inner resources. When
everything is just everyday, regular, you don't have to show your true
strength. But when you're pushed to the limit or you're given a
difficult task, then you can show what you really have within you.
And this is a good way of preparing a person for difficult times, by
giving them a test. We see this in the army. When you put a soldier
into basic training, they don't just give lectures all day, video, audio
visual, theory. When the enemy comes, you have to pick up a gun
and fight. For this, a soldier requires preparation. They test them.
They make them walk and they make them carry heavy packs and
they make them go hungry and thirsty. Their officers put them
through difficult situations to teach them what to do, and to see if
they can really do it. Testing is a way of preparing a person for the
main challenges which he will face, and it's also a way of detecting
whether the person is capable or not of facing that challenge.
Likewise, the manna was a way of testing the Jewish people's faith in
HaShemin two different directions.
sometimes people look at difficulties in life as a punishment.
According to Chassidus,when a person has to face tests and
challenges in life, this is not because he deserves punishment.
Rather, he has to face challenges in order to raise him up to a higher
level. HaShemwould like him to bring out his emunah his faith
and trust in G-d, or his ahavasYisrael, his love for a fellow Jew, or for
the Torah. Let's say you have to contend with a very, very unpleasant
person. You say, perhaps, "Why did HaShemmake me the daughter-
in-law of this woman who is so difficult to deal with?" You keep
saying to yourself, "My friend has such a nice mother-in-law; how
come I got her?"
The answer is that perhaps HaShemwanted... not perhaps.
HaShemdefinitely wanted you to work on a certain trait and you
would never know how to work on it if you didn't have practice. so
this difficult person that you have to deal with is a way of bringing
out or working or strengthening those middosthat might be weak in
you, but not in your friend. That's why she doesn't have that test.
This is not, G-d forbid, a punishment.
Tests, or nisyonos, can generally be classified into two groups.
There are nisyonosof poverty, whether material or spiritual, and
there are nisyonosof wealth, whether material or spiritual. In the
simplest sense, when a person lacks something in life, whether it's a
lack of money or a lack of personality traits that we would like to
have, or lack of husband or lack of parents, or any lack, anything
that we think we should have, or want to have and we don't have,
that is called a nisayonof poverty. When a person has wealth, more
than other people are endowed with, such as intellectual wealth,
good looks, outstanding qualities of some sort, or simply a lot of
money this is a test of wealth.
Each kind of test is given to a person to develop a different kind
of middahthat is vital for true service of HaShem.
A person could spend his whole life being very discouraged,
depressed and angry over his lot in life, and it will lead him
nowhere. However, a Jew who is filled with Torah will learn to deal
with his situation.
One must realize that if HaShemplaced him in a particular
situation, this is for a reason. It is something that is clearly necessary
for him, and it is certainly for his benefit. There is a story about a
man who had a terrible wife. Later on, he found out that in a
previous incarnation he was guilty of a sin that carried the death
sentence. However, instead of administering the death sentence, the
Heavenly Court decided that he would have a wife who would
regularly shame him in public. Each time this happened, it removed
part of the death sentence. We don't always realize that when we
experience some negative situation, it is part of the account from the
past or the present. I once read an article that was written by a
famous dancer in the New York City Ballet. she described the
painful exercises that she had to go through to keep fit for
performing on stage. she described it as actual physical pain. When
you read it you say, Ribonoshel Olam, who would want to be a
dancer? It is such a terrible life. But there were plenty of rewards and
that's why she did it.
similarly (lehavdil), when a Jew is imbued with faith in HaShem,
he knows that sometimes he has to pay a price for other good things
in life. Every painful experience for the body is a tikkun
(rectification) for the soul. suffering cleanses. Of course, this does
not mean that one should look for suffering, G-d forbid. But if this
happens by Divine Providence, then one must accept suffering with
love, knowing that it is for the person's own good. Acceptance is the
first thing that the test of poverty is supposed to bring out. To accept
it and not say it was a mistake, I don't deserve it, this is bad. To say,
"HaShemunderstands why it happened. He knows that it was
addressed to me, it wasn't a mistake, it wasn't meant for someone
else. If I got it, it's my package, and that it truly is for the good,
whether I understand it or not." If anybody here in this room has
gone through a difficult time, and I think every one of us has, in
different ways, you will know that it isn't easy to say these words and
truly internalize them and believe them. For some people it can be a
lifetime task learning to accept with love what HaShemgives us. But
you don't learn that unless you have this test. If you never had a
hard day in your life how are you going to learn to accept
difficulties? so HaShemgives one person an illness, another one has
a child who has a problem, another one is not pretty, or whatever.
Now what is the test of wealth? What could be the teaching or
the lesson if you have more than other people? You are wealthy,
your husband is nice, your family is lovely. Everything is just great.
You have an excellent job, and you like the work... In brief, you have
everything. What kind of test is that?
When a person has it all, he is liable to say, "Well, of course. I
deserve it. Look how pious I am, look how wonderful I am. I'm such
a good Jew. of course I deserve all that I have. I should really get
even more than I have, but I won't complain!" In other words, "My
strength and my greatness gave me this wealth."
This is a terrible, terrible test. We see it every single day
people that do well financially seem to carry themselves with their
noses a little higher than other people, "because obviously, if I'm
rich, I must be better than those who are not. I must be doing
something right to find favor in HaShem's eyes. so everybody else
should give me respect as well."
A variation on the theme: "Because I am smart and I am really
the top in my field, I got the best job, and therefore I have the best
salary. It follows that everybody had better respect me." The same
attitude is bred in women who are very attractive, so that whenever
they walk into a room everybody's eyes turn their way. or the guy
with the muscles, the football star. Most of these people become very
arrogant, and everybody idolizes them. For what? For something
which is a G-dly gift, and should be treated as such, whether it's the
looks or the muscles or the talents or the good voice! so the test of
wealth is whether a person attributes these things to HaShem, or not;
whether they will increase your humility, or the opposite.
When a person has been blessed with unusual wealth, this
means that HaShemis making him a vehicle to give charity. That's
all. It doesn't mean you have to have solid gold faucets and the most
expensive Chinese carpets.
There are fabulously wealthy people who regard their wealth as a
mission in life. They support institutions, they help people, and so
on. Not like Howard Hughes the more he had the more he
hoarded. Who ever benefited from it? Not even he himself!
How does this all relate to the manna, one of the main subjects
of this week's parshah?The Rebbe explains that the manna included
both tests, the test of wealth and the test of poverty. It had the test
of wealth in the fact that it could taste like anything you wished. It
was like no other food anybody ever had. You could eat the manna
and it had everything in it. The manna also brought with it physical
wealth. The Midrashrelates that precious gems fell with it. In
addition, there was no waste in it. It was something that was perfect.
No one had ever eaten a perfect food before.
However, at the same time that the manna had these unusual
Divine properties, it also put the Jews to the test of poverty in several
ways: It could not be stored. You know how good we all feel when
the freezer is full of food, the pantry is stocked and we don't have to
shop for another two days, so that if guests come, we can pull a
whole sumptuous meal out of the freezer? We know we have it. If
you had to go every single day to the grocery and only buy one day's
food, you're always worried: What happens if there's a strike
tomorrow and the store doesn't open? In Israel anything can
happen. or what happens if guests come in tomorrow morning
before I go to the store. You always feel nervous. I only have one
day's worth and tomorrow morning I won't have anything. When I
start the day I am zero. The "problem" with the manna was that no
one could point to it and say, "This is mine." A person feels satisfied
when he knows that he has more than his immediate needs. But
with the manna, one had to go out and gather it daily. People lived
hand to mouth. Every day they were starting out from zero, with an
empty pantry.
Furthermore, even though the manna was lechemmin
hashamayim bread from Heaven and could taste just like your
favorite recipe of roast chicken, it nevertheless didn't look like roast
chicken. The Rebbe explains that psychologically, a feeling of
satisfaction has a lot to do with your eyes. That's why it is said that
blind people do not feel satisfied from eating as much as people who
see. If you go to a wedding, and you look at the smorgasbord, you'll
see 16 different kinds of salads. Just looking at it, you feel satisfied,
especially since you know that the main course is yet to come. so
you eat the first course, but you know there's still soup and the main
course, and dessert and coffee and cake. Mentally, you're already
satisfied. However, if you're blind and you eat one bite and you
don't know that there's another 75 bites coming, you say, I'm still
hungry. so take another bite. But I'm still hungry. Don't worry,
there's a whole big plate. But you don't see that plate. And if you
cannot see it in front of you and you don't see all that amount that
you're soon going to eat, psychologically you're just not as satisfied.
The manna too, was not impressive to look at. It didn't please the
eye as normal food does. This was a test of poverty.
The Rebbe goes on to say that during their years in the desert,
these two opposite tests were to teach the people how to relate to
both situations, wealth and poverty.
Food for Thought
Now, just as there are certain characteristics of physical food, so
too, with spiritual food. Now what is spiritual food in this context? It
is seichel intellect, knowledge. Why is knowledge compared to
food? Because when a person eats he takes something that is outside
of him and makes it part of his own body. After a while the food is
assimilated and becomes one with him. The same things applies to
knowledge. If you have never studied geography it is comparable to
something outside of you. But if you take a course and you learn it,
it becomes part of you, part of your knowledge. You now know
Just as there were two kinds of food bread from the earth, and
bread from Heaven (manna) so too, in terms of knowledge: There
is bread from the earth, which is secular knowledge; and there is
bread from Heaven G-dly knowledge, Torah. What is the
difference between the two? We said that physical food, like bread, is
something that has its limitations, but when you eat it you're
satisfied. so it is with secular knowledge. When a person goes to
college or takes a course to learn a certain secular subject, when he
learns it he feels satisfied; he has achieved something. He studied
this subject and now he knows it. Let's say you went to college, you
read a lot of books, you took a lot of tests, and now you've got your
B.A. in literature. You went for another few years, you got your M.A.
Now you can say, "I am a Master of Literature, a Doctor of science,
a Professor of Medicine; I know it all." You naturally feel
satisfaction. Look at all the degrees and diplomas on the wall. "My
son the doctor, my son the lawyer."
The Torah, however, is Divine knowledge, which is unlimited.
Did you ever hear anybody say, "I learned Torah, I already finished.
I spent 15 years, I learned Gemara, I am a Master of Gemara, I know
it all. I am the world's expert." Did you ever hear anybody say this?
You can learn Gemarafor 200 years and you still can't say that you
know it all.
Divine knowledge is unlimited. It's like manna. It has every taste
in it. You know when you were at school, there were certain subjects
that you loved and certain subjects that you hated. some people hate
math, some people hate music. But Torah is like manna. It has every
kind of taste in it. Those who are technical go for Gemara. Those
who are poetic go more for Tehillim, perhaps. Those who are
mystical are attracted by Kabbalahand Chassidus, and so on. Torah is
so varied, it has everything. There's Chumashand Rashi, there's
Mishnayosand Gemara, there's Rambamand Rambanand Kli Yakar,
and there's Chassidus. You name it, it is there. There is no person
who can't find something he likes in Torah, something that suits his
personality. some people like the stories, they learn Midrash, or Ein
Yaakov. There is something for everybody, for a child, an adult, and
a talmid chacham. Everybody can find one flavor he likes among all
the different varieties. It's more than Howard Johnson's. Every
flavor to please your palate. Everyone can find something in Torah
that will agree with his personality.
However, you can never say, "I have a degree. I know it all. I am
the master of Torah. I've learned it and I know it." Because the
more Torah you learn the more you realize how little you know.
When you're five years old, you come home "Tatty, I learned three
pesukimthis week. I know three pesukim, I'm so proud." Then,
twenty years later, he learns the Rebbe's sichahand he realizes that
he didn't understand the verses at all. When he was five years old he
thought he knew them perfectly, he could recite them backwards
and forwards. But the more you learn, the more you realize how
much you do not know, especially when you learn Chassidus. That's
probably why Yeshivos don't have any graduation ceremony
because you never graduate. Accordingly, you never feel really
satisfied and content, so that you can say, "I'm finished." You're
never finished learning Torah. This is why Torah is called manna
bread from Heaven.
Now the Rebbe goes one step further and with this he
concludes. He says that even though there is secular learning and
Torah learning, we see the contrast between the two, so in Torah
itself there is this division also. In Torah itself, we can subdivide
Torah into the revealed part of Torah and the hidden part of Torah,
called Chassidus. Chassidusis the heavenly aspect, and the revealed
parts of Torah, such as Gemara, Chumashand ShulchanAruchare the
earthly aspect. Here too, the same idea applies. one can become
satiated with the revealed aspects of Torah, but not with Chassidus.
They tell the story about a person that wanted a donation so he
came to a rich man's house. The rich man said, "It's winter; come in
and close the door; it's freezing outside; and we'll talk about it." But
the poor man said, "No. I want you to come outside, and we'll talk
about it. I want you to be in the cold for a few minutes. Maybe if
you feel the cold, you'll give me a bigger donation." When you're
feeling kind of complacent, you're full, you're warm, you don't feel
somebody else's pain. You feel kind of arrogant. But taste the
hunger and then you'll be a bit humbler.
our challenge is to deal with both situations poverty and
wealth. May we merit the rebuilding of the Third BeisHaMikdash
speedily in our days, and then we will be free to study all day long.
This week's parshah, Eikev, discusses, among many other things,
the concept of the reward promised to a person if he is careful with
the observance of all mitzvos, even those that people tend to trample
on. According to TargumOnkelos the Aramaic translation of the
Torah the word eikev, the name of the parshah, means "reward."
Thus the first word of this section should be understood as follows:
"This shall be the reward when you obey these ordinances, and you
observe and perform them... "
However, the Midrashand Rashi point out that the word eikev
also means "heel." There are certain mitzvosthat people tend to
observe scrupulously, and other mitzvosthat people are not so careful
about. In Rashi'swords, "These are the mitzvoswhich people tend to
trample underfoot (with the heel)." They are mitzvosabout which
people tend to say, "Ah, that is just a minor one, a little pettiness;
it's not such an important mitzvah. That is not the one we really
have to observe carefully. We'll put our efforts into Shabbos that is
an important mitzvah. But tzniyus, modesty? It's not so important; it's
not a major mitzvah." The same logic is applied to whatever mitzvos
such people decide are major or minor.
The Rebbe explains that therefore, according to the verse,
reward is given to a person precisely when he doesn't judge which
are the major mitzvosand which are the minor mitzvos,and he
observes all of them equally, even those mitzvoswhich other people
tend to trample with their heels, because they are all equally
HaShemswill. The Jew who is on the right wavelength says, "Who
are we to give points to mitzvosand decide which ones are major and
which are minor? If it is HaShem's will, what's the difference if one
appears to be more important than the other?" The Rebbe points
out on many occasions that there are two aspects to every mitzvah.
one, the individual intention and meditation specific to that
particular mitzvah, such as the concept of a person binding his heart,
mind and strength to HaShemswill through the mitzvahof tefillin.
secondly, there is the feature common to all mitzvos that they are
all (even the most "minor") equally the will of HaShem. That is why
our sages tell us that we should not weigh which mitzvosseem more
important, and which less because they are all equally the will of
The Rebbe explains further, in the name of the Rogatchover
Gaon, that this is the meaning of the statement of our sages, "One
who is occupied with a mitzvahis exempt from performing any other
mitzvah," since he is occupied with fulfilling HaShem's will in the
first mitzvah, he need not stop to fulfill another one.
Thus, the Torah promises that those people who do not
differentiate between the major and minor mitzvoswill merit great
reward from HaShem, the ultimate reward that he will give us
Himself, so to speak, when He "moves in" to the dwelling we have
made him here below in this world through fulfilling all of His
R E ' E H
The Rebbe points out on many occasions that the week when
the portion of Re'ehis read always falls on the Shabbosprior to Elul,
i.e., ShabbosMevarchimElul, when we bless the coming month, or
within the first few days of Elul. The Zoharexplains that not only is
Shabbosthe culmination of the six days which precede it; it also sets
the tone for the six days which follow it. Accordingly, whether the
Shabboswhen the portion of Re'ehis read is ShabbosMevarchimElul,
or whether it falls in the early days of Elul itself, this portion of the
Torah is clearly related to Elul. In a general sense, Elul is a month of
increase in Torah study, and in the quantity and quality of our
performance of the mitzvos, as a preparation for the YamimNora'im,
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which follow. It follows that here
must be a special teaching regarding Torah and mitzvos, a horaah,
which we can learn from the fact that they coincide.
The name of the Torah reading is Re'eh, which means "see," or
"look." What does seeing mean? In English there is a saying, "seeing
is believing" a picture is worth a thousand words. We have phrases
like, "I saw it with my own eyes" indicating that once somebody
has seen something he cannot be convinced that he did not. He
does not doubt what his eyes saw. You cannot tell somebody who
witnessed an accident that it didn't happen. For example, imagine
you heard someone saying, "You know what happened? I was on my
way to work today, and I saw this accident." He described it in great
detail, and you could tell that he was not lying, but you didn't see it
with your own eyes. Two minutes later, somebody else says, "That
person who just told you about the accident is a liar. He didn't see
an accident; he just made it up." Now you don't know whom to
believe the first person or the second person. But it sounded so
real, it seems like it was real.
The point is that when you heard it, you could not be 100
percent sure that it really was exactly the way he said it. Maybe he
exaggerated, he's a little imaginative, or he doesn't see so well. only
when you have seen it yourself, however, you know it, and no one
can tell you that it didn't happen, or that it is not true. seeing is
However, when you hear something, there is the possibility of
forgetting, or misunderstanding. The experience is only indirect. If
you hear a song or a story, you may not remember it perfectly or
completely later. The power of hearing, Chassidusexplains, is weaker
than the power of seeing. When you've seen a person's face, you
remember that face years later, but when you hear a person's name,
you may forget the name easily. so we can understand that seeing
and hearing do not have the same effect on a person.
Let us now apply this to the name of the parshah, Re'eh.One
idea suggested by this word is that a Jew has to "see" what the Torah
is telling him, not just "hear" it. It means that the idea of Yiddishkeit,
the concept of G-d's Oneness, and the idea of a person's mission in
the world, must affect him so deeply that he can never be convinced
that it is not true, or that he has no purpose on earth. He knows it,
because he's seen it.
This is in fact what the Torah states: "see, I present you today
with a blessing... that you obey the commandments of HaShem, your
G-d..." In other words, keep growing until you reach that level of
"seeing." Then G-d's blessing will come upon you.
This is what the Rebbe said is the concept of ParshasRe'eh to
work on attaining that level of vision and clarity.
R E ' E H
In this parshah, the Torah goes through the different animals,
fish and birds, and gives us signs to tell us which of the many species
of creatures we may and may not eat.
As far as four-legged animals are concerned, the Torah gives a
very simple sign: Those animals that chew their cud and have split
hooves, you may eat; those that have only one, or neither of these
signs, are forbidden for you to eat.
until we learn a little ChabadChassidus, we just take this as a
matter of fact: HaShemcreated thousands of kinds of animals, and
in a small minority of them HaShemcreated these two signs, and we
don't think more of it. However, the Rebbe points out that nothing
HaShemdid is simply coincidental. In other words, if HaShemchose
these two specific signs to be the differentiation between kosher and
non-kosher animals, it cannot be a coincidence; there has to be a
specific reason why it is these signs, and not others. For example,
HaShemcould have made all kosher animals with a red stripe
around their necks, or any of an infinite number of possible signs to
make those animals look different from non-kosher animals. Why
specifically these two signs, chewing the cud and having split
You might argue that these signs are not significant in
themselves; they are only indications of the kashrusof these animals,
not causes of their being kosher, and are therefore not directly
related to the fact that they are kosher. Nevertheless, nothing is by
coincidence, and as the Baal shem Tov taught, anything which you
witness should teach you a lesson in serving HaShem. Therefore, we
must explain what the horaahis that we can learn from chewing the
cud and having split hooves.
People, in a sense, are also animals. By this I do not mean to
suggest that I hold by Darwin's evolutionary theory, that a person is
just a descendant of the ape. Instead, I mean to say that there are
certain things we have in common with animals certain ways of
behavior, certain needs, certain drives. We are animals that have to
serve HaShem, but within us we have the animal soul, the nefesh
habahamis, mentioned in the first chapter of Tanya.*We cannot go
through life without eating, drinking, sleeping, and doing other
things that animals do. Nevertheless, there are ways that a Jew can
elevate his life so that he becomes a kosher animal. In other words,
everyone on earth has to live a more or less physical life, as a soul
within a physical body. However, there are kosher and non-kosher
ways of living. As Torah Jews, we want to know how we, together
with our animal-like bodies, should live in a way that makes us
kosher animals, rather than unkosher animals. The Rebbe uses the
signs that differentiate kosher from non-kosher animals to explain
how we, as human beings with an animal side to us, must live in
order to be categorized as kosher animals.
We all know that there are people whom we consider animals,
because there is no spirituality in their lives; we see in their lives only
physical desires and motivations. What are the motivations of an
animal? An animal is driven by a desire for food, to reproduce, to
look out for itself. An animal is motivated by instincts, rather than
by reasoned intellect, or by principles. When a person lives in the
same way, driven by his animal instincts and passions, we say the
person is like an animal. Nevertheless, these things are part of life,
and we have to live our life partially on a physical plane and partially
on a spiritual plane. The Rebbe explains that for this reason HaShem
has given two signs which differentiate between kosher and non-
kosher animals. These signs are guides by which we can try to keep
our lives on a level that will make us kosher, and even holy, unlike
other people who do not live their lives by these signs.
Split Hooves
All non-kosher animals have either a round hoof, where there is
no division at all, like a horse, or toes with more than two divisions,
like the paws of dogs and cats. Kosher animals, by contrast, have
split hooves, with two sides to the hoof and a gap between them.
* A classical chassidic work, written by Rabbi shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the
Chabadschool of Chassidism.
The Rebbe explains this as follows: A person is born with
certain inborn natural tendencies, which are not the result of
education or environment. We can see these even in the smallest
infants and young children. some people are naturally gentle; others
are naturally aggressive; some people gravitate toward one kind of
activity, while others gravitate toward a completely different kind of
If a person spends his life totally devoted to the things that
come naturally to him, this is not called serving HaShem. It is serving
oneself. In other words, suppose that by nature you find a certain
way appealing, comfortable, and easy for you, and you never deviate
from it your whole life. You remain with what is comfortable and
easy. Then you've never risen above what is natural, you have made
no effort to transcend your natural self.
In the sixties and seventies there were people, and even entire
movements, that set themselves the goal of being natural, of living
like animals. "That is pure," they taught, "that is holiness." If you
can just walk around with a loincloth, eat raw food, drink water out
of your hand, and live by your animal passions and instincts, then
you have achieved perfection. Yiddishkeit, however, teaches that you
have to transcend your natural, animal self. If you do not do this you
are not serving HaShem;you're locked into a certain natural inborn
pattern, like an animal. An animal could never rise above its nature.
A cow, for example, could never become more than a cow. For its
entire life, a cow is motivated by things that motivate cows; it could
never do more than that, and it could never change itself to become
more than a cow. When did you last see a cow sitting down and
looking up at the sky, wondering why HaShemcreated it? Tigers are
different from cows. A tiger lives its life totally motivated by those
tendencies that motivate tigers, and it could never become a cow. A
tiger will never act like a cow, nor will a cow act like a tiger; each
spends its life doing the things that come naturally to that species.
How do you become a kosher animal? By rising above your
innate nature, by transcending the way you were born. sometimes,
you have to do things which do not come naturally to you, and even
things that might be the opposite of your nature because HaShem
said so. This a cow cannot do, nor can a tiger. This is what is
symbolized by the split hooves. They indicate that there are two
paths the left path and the right path. There are times in a
person's life when HaShemsays you have to exhibit strength. A
person might say, "But I'm not that kind of person. I'm a gentle
soul. To exert force is against my character." However, one ought to
say, "I know it's against my character, and it's hard for me to say or
do things like this. But HaShemtold me to do it, so I have to
overpower my natural tendency to go to the right, which is chessed,
kindness, and go to the left." By doing this one rises above one's
natural tendencies, and one becomes a "kosher animal."
In other words, the prerequisite for being kosher is the ability to
go in both directions, right and left, as HaShemdemands. To do
what is comfortable for you, and ignore what is difficult for you, is
not going to change you at all. For example: Avraham Avinu(our
father Abraham) was the epitome of love and kindness, as the verse
states, "Give... chessed(kindness) to Avraham." In order to prove to
the world that Avraham's chessedwas not simply the result of his
natural tendencies, but was his way of serving HaShem, he was put
through a test, where he was required to display the utmost degree
of harshness he was commanded by G-d to slaughter his beloved
son, Yitzchak, for whom he had waited for so many years. When he
showed his willingness to carry out G-d's command, even though at
the last minute the decree was annulled, the Torah states that now it
is known that Abraham fears G-d. since he was able to transcend his
natural tendency towards love and kindness, he proved that what
motivated him was not his natural characteristics but a love of
H aShem. When a person loves HaShem, he can transcend his nature
and do the opposite of what comes easily to him.
similarly, there are certain mitzvosthat some people find easy to
do, and other mitzvosthat they find difficult to do. serving HaShem
means doing them all those that are agreeable to you, and those
that are disagreeable to you, those that seem to be against your
nature. I say "seem to be," because the real nature of a Jew is that he
wants to fulfill G-d's will, no matter what this entails. Therefore,
there is nothing which is really against his nature. It only seems that
Thus, the split hooves teach us the necessity of going in
whichever direction HaShemasks, whether it is easy or not.
Chewing the Cud
What does this sign teach us? During a person's life he must
make decisions that are difficult, because life is truly complex, with
many, many factors that could color his decision. For example, at
times we have to make a decision that does not come easily to us.
When we face such a situation, we often base the decision on what
is the most comfortable, or what will make the least waves in our
lifestyle. However, that is not necessarily always the correct decision.
Let's say that the issue is about moving, about whether we should
leave our neighborhood. This is a situation that happens to many
people. You live in a certain neighborhood where you have a nice
house, you have friends, and you're all settled. Everything is fine and
comfortable. But you are beginning to realize that there are certain
factors in this environment that are not good for your family or for
yourself. Just the thought of uprooting and changing your whole
lifestyle, changing your apartment and your job, is so difficult that
often you might say, "Oh, it's not so bad, you know. I'll just stay
here." It could be, however, that the right decision is to do the
difficult thing. of course, this decision-making process might apply
to many aspects of life, to a shidduch, for example, or to the chinuch
(education) of children, which can involve very, very difficult
decisions for parents to make. Because of all these difficulties, we
cannot make decisions capriciously, or at the snap of a finger. That,
the Rebbe says, is the horaahwe learn from chewing the cud. To be a
kosher animal, a Jew must know that he should talk things over with
other people, and think things over a few times, especially in
situations and decisions that involve Torah and Yiddishkeit. A kosher
animal doesn't just gulp the food down; it chews it over and over
and over again. similarly, a Jew who is serious about his Yiddishkeitis
going to be serious about the decisions in his life that involve
Yiddishkeit; this requires chewing the cud thinking about it over
and over and over, from every angle. The Rebbe himself would at
times ask people to appoint somebody as a mashpia*with whom to
discuss matters before coming to a decision. Do not just make a
decision based on what feels good, or on what is comfortable and
easy. Talk it over with an objective person, preferably one who has
experience in life, and knows the Torah and chassidic point of view.
That person may see your life in a very different light from the way
you see it. He or she may help you make that difficult decision by
presenting options and situations in a way that will help you see
what is right to do, though it may be difficult for you. Just as kosher
animals chew their food over and over, we, too, must think about
things over and over. We must make sure that we've looked at a
matter from all angles, and have chewed it well before we make a
decision. This way we will decide correctly, based on the right
motivations and the right reasons, and not just on the whim of the
The attitude of "What's the difference? It's all good. Everything
happens by hashgachahperatis," is an incorrect attitude. Of course,
everything is by hashgachahperatis,but nevertheless, HaShemhas
given us the ability to make free choices, which are not
predetermined. Your choice is essentially free. Therefore, you have
to be very careful when you make a decision that might change the
course of your life or the lives of members of your family. Even a
minor decision can greatly affect the rest of your life. Think it over,
talk it over, think it over again, and then decide with the knowledge
that you have looked at all the angles, and that you have not decided
* A spiritual guide.
R E ' E H
This week we read: "When HaShemyour G-d brings you to the
land to which you are coming, to inherit it..." A similarly indirect
verse (Devarim26:2) says: "And go to the place which HaShemyour
G-d will choose to make His Name rest there."
The Rebbe points out that this verse does not mention
Jerusalem explicitly. Instead, it alludes to Jerusalem with the words
"the place which HaShemwill choose... to make His Name rest
there." It is clear that Jerusalem is the place HaShemchose from all
the other places, but nevertheless it is strange that the Torah does
not state so explicitly. This is particularly true since we know that
the Torah always tries to use precise words and be as concise as
possible. Hence, why does it use all those extra words here? It could
simply have said, "Jerusalem" one Hebrew word instead of eight!
Accordingly, there must be some horaahwhich the Torah wants us
to learn from the fact that it refers to Jerusalem in this way.
The Rebbe explains this as follows: Any place in which a Jew
reveals HaShem's Name is like Jerusalem, and in that place you can
serve HaShem. Today, when we don't have the BeisHaMikdash, what
do we do for sacrifices? our sages explain that today our prayers are
a substitute for sacrifices. Can we say that a Jew can pray only in
Jerusalem, or in Israel? In one of his sichosrelating to this week's
Torah reading, Re'eh, the Rebbe discusses the mitzvahof yishuvEretz
Yisrael settling in the Land of Israel. Is it an obligation for every
Jew to live in Jerusalem, or in Israel, and to immigrate to Israel from
wherever they live in the Diaspora in order to be able to serve
HaShem, or not? There is a story about one of the chassidim of the
TzemachTzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe. The chassid decided
that he wanted to settle in Israel, and so he went to his Rebbe, the
TzemachTzedek, for a blessing. But the TzemachTzedek said to him,
"MachdohEretz Yisroel" "Make Israel over here." I must mention
at this point that this is a very delicate subject to the many people
who have made a tremendous effort to come to Israel. With this in
mind, I would like to present some points that the Rebbe made
about this subject.
The Rebbe first of all quotes a statement of our sages, to the
effect that living in the Diaspora is like idol-worship "kol hadar
bechutz laAretz ke'ilu ovedavodahzarah." It is as if a person living
outside of Israel does not have a G-d. "When they hear this, many
people say, "How can a religious Jew live in the Diaspora?" It seems
like you cannot even be a full-fledged Jew in galus(the Diaspora), in
America, or any other country.
of course, if you have the means, if you have the ability, you
should come to Israel. Yet, we look around and we see that there are
so many G-d fearing people, real anshei emes(people of truth) who
do not live in Israel, and don't seem to be making motions toward
coming. They certainly know about this statement of our sages, just
like you and I know it. How come they're not coming, how come
they're not packing their suitcases? What's going on?
The Rebbe says there are certain important things to clarify
before we make any decisions. The first thing is that the statements
of our sages are always very, very precise. They use the expression
"kol hadarbechutz laAretz." There are many words which express the
idea of dwelling or living in a place, but the sages explicitly use the
root-word dar. This has the connotation of kviyus, permanence. In
other words, what our sages are saying is this: When a person lives
in the Diaspora, and looks upon his living there as a makomkeva, a
permanent place, because he has a good job and a nice home, etc.,
and because he hears that in Israel it's hard to make a living, then
he's like a person who has no G-d. However, if this person lives in
America, or England, or Australia, but his whole life is based on the
feeling and the understanding that he constantly prays and wishes
for Mashiach, so that the moment Mashiachcomes he is ready to
come to Eretz Yisrael, to the BeisHaMikdash, then that person is not
permanently settled and locked in his exile.
The first factor to know is, how a person looks at his life in
galus. When people are inculcated with this desire and longing for
Mashiach, then it's clear that America etc., is not their priority; their
priority is Mashiachand coming to Israel. Those people are not in
the category of those that dwell permanently in the Diaspora.
Therefore, the second half of the statement, "it is as if he worships
idols," does not apply to them. All of the people that stay in the
Diaspora, (although they know of the holiness of the Land of Israel),
because they have a duty or mission to perform there, are also
serving G-d, just as if they were in Israel.
The Rambamexplains that one way that we will know that
Mashiachis the true Redeemer, is that he will gather together the
Jews from the four corners of the world. This indicates that Jews
have what to do in the four corners of the earth until Mashiach
comes. The understanding of ChabadChassidusis that wherever a
Jew lives, whether in Australia, New Jersey, or any other city or
country, his mission is to bring G-dliness and Yiddishkeitinto that
part of the world. That is a tremendous shlichus(mission) to bring
kedushah, holiness, into every part of the world, not just Israel. so
there is a mission for Jews in the Diaspora until Mashiachcomes.
When Mashiachcomes, then we'll come to Israel.
Another argument that many people quote is the mitzvahof
yishuvEretz Yisrael settling the Land of Israel. "It's a mitzvah;how
can I not do that mitzvah?" The Rebbe explains that there are many
differences of opinion as to whether it's an obligatory mitzvahin our
time. An obligatory mitzvahmeans that if you do not do the mitzvah,
you have transgressed. For example, keeping Shabbos: if you do not
keep Shabbos, you've transgressed. Then there are other mitzvosthat
are a mitzvahif you do them, but if you don't, you have not
Now, yishuvEretz Yisrael is not one of the 613 mitzvos, which
means that if a person lives in Israel, he is fulfilling a mitzvah;but if
he does not live in Israel, it's not a transgression. so, regarding all
the people who want to go to Eretz Yisrael because it's a mitzvahthe
Rebbe asks, "Have they done all the other 613 mitzvosthat are
obligatory?" If one has done all the other mitzvos, and now you want
to be totally complete, that is your privilege! However, there are
people that jump to this mitzvahfirst, before they've done the other
mitzvosthat are definitely, without an argument, obligatory. The
Rebbe is not saying that people should not come to Israel; the
Rebbe is simply clarifying certain issues regarding coming to Israel.
For many people, Israel has proved to be a place of inspiration,
and many people became religious here. There are also people who
feel that living in Israel is such a holy act that this is sufficient. All
other mitzvosare secondary: "I speak Hebrew, and I live in the Holy
Land; that's enough of a Jewish identity, just to be an Israeli in
Israel." However, that is sort of twisting it. Because you're an Israeli
and you live in Israel, you have a bigger responsibility to act the way
the Torah wants. The Rebbe points out that Israel is on a higher
spiritual level than the Diaspora even now, after the destruction of
the Temple. Many people do not truly think about what this means
when they're living in New York or Miami Beach, before they make
the decision to come here. Living in Israel means that you are taking
on a responsibility to behave on the highest level of Yiddishkeit,
because you're in the King's palace. Israel is regarded as the King's
palace, and there are certain rules of conduct in the King's palace
which do not necessarily apply in some far-away corner of the
kingdom. The question that anyone who wants to come to Israel
must ask himself is am I ready to make sure that while living in
Israel, I will do my utmost to learn and practice, as is expected of
someone who lives in the King's palace? If you're not ready to do
that, then what are you coming to Israel for, to come and pick
oranges on a kibbutz?That is not why Eretz Yisrael was given to us. In
Israel a person has to be on a higher level. He has to be much more
careful with his mitzvos, as well as having many more mitzvosto
fulfill, such as terumahand maaser,* shemittah,**etc. so a person who
truly feels that he is on a high level in his or her fulfillment of
mitzvosmay consider coming to live in Israel. But for those who are
not yet on such a high level, they might well be better off living
outside of Israel, until they improve their Divine service. only then
should they even consider coming to live here. Briefly, the decision
to come to Israel should not be taken lightly; it's a very serious
decision, and these are some of the factors to consider before buying
a ticket.
* The laws of tithing.
** The Laws about the sabbatical year.
There are other factors to consider as well. For example, often
Rabbis will come to Israel after many years of serving their
congregation elsewhere, in order to fulfill a dream of making aliyah.
When this happens, the community left in the Diaspora, when the
Rabbi goes to settle in the Holy Land, is left without guidance.
When the Rabbi leaves, he is not always replaced by a person of his
caliber, if he can be replaced at all. There are certain times when a
person leaves his place, and there is a void where he left that isn't
filled. And there are people outside of Israel who are truly in need of
an inspired leader who will teach them how to be Jewish. so when
you decide to come to Israel for your own spiritual good, it may or
may not be true that it is really for your spiritual good. It could be
that your spiritual mission is better accomplished staying in
America, or England, or south Africa, and serving HaShemthere, by
helping with teaching and running a congregation, than by coming
to Israel and enjoying a life of self-fulfillment.
Here is where the most delicate question comes in: What is
your G-d-given mission in life? It is very easy for a person to talk
himself into believing that the thing he finds more palatable is the
thing he should be doing. For example, consider a person who is 55
years old and somewhat tired of serving his community, which he
has been doing for the past 25 years. He feels he has earned a
vacation, he deserves retirement. Now he can settle in Ramat Gan,
or Raanana, or even Jerusalem, go to a few shiurim,write his book of
memoirs, and raise himself up spiritually. However, is that what his
soul came to this world for? If he has the skills and personality
needed to work with a community, is he allowed to leave the
community and go to a place where it will be, perhaps, more
pleasant for him? Perhaps hundreds of people will be left without a
leader! For that you need to consult with somebody else. In other
words, to decide what is better, wiser, and more fruitful one
sometimes needs an objective view.
There were many times when people asked the Rebbe for
permission to go to Israel and the Rebbe said they should go and
gave them a blessing. However, there were also those whom he told
to stay, because their mission was in America, or Australia, or
Canada. You must realize that where you want to be is not
necessarily where you should be; that is, your mission in life is
something that may be unpleasant. It's like a mother with her
children: very often mothers get so exhausted, that they'd like to
just lock the door and run away. "I took care of them for 15 years
already; let them be on their own!" In reality, however, any mother
who would do that, would be looked upon as irresponsible. You
know, these are your children. It's not so much fun, day after day, to
be with them and take care of them, but they're your children; you
cannot throw them away. Once, Rabbi Manis Friedman, the
principal of Bais Chana in Minnesota, was questioned by a
"women's libber" as to what his wife does. she was trying to prove
that Chassidic women are chained to their homes and children.
When Rabbi Friedman told her that his wife ran a home for
unwanted children she was visibly impressed until he explained
that the children were actually their own, but no one else seemed to
want them! But that is really the truth women have a very
prestigious job in looking after a whole family. The same is true of
community rabbis. It may not be such an exciting job; it may even
be monotonous; it may be very, very difficult, and he may even
experience opposition from some members of the community.
However, if Divine Providence made a certain person the rabbi of
his community, then that is quite clearly his responsibility. until
HaShemindicates clearly that he may go off and leave them, it may
be a very irresponsible thing to leave for Israel.
The factors by which a person decides to go and live in Israel are
often very noble and very spiritual, but may in fact cause them to
evade their true responsibility and mission in life. That is why, as I
mentioned earlier, this is a very touchy issue, because many people
do not take kindly to hearing these words, when they have made
tremendous sacrifices to come to this country. Nevertheless, the
Rebbe is not one who is motivated by what is popular, but rather
speaks the truth.
Earlier, I mentioned the story about a chassid of the Tzemech
Tzedek who wanted to come and live in Israel, but the Rebbe
answered him, "Make Israel right here where you are." He knew that
the mission of this person was to stay right there in Russia, and live
a life of self-sacrifice mesirusnefesh and thus inspire other Jews,
and by doing that, bring Mashiacha little bit closer. There will be a
time in history when all Jews will come to Israel, and that is in the
times of Mashiach. But until the time of Mashiach, may it be speedily
in our days, there is a place for every Jew wherever he is. If everybody
would be aware of their mission in the Diaspora, then the Jewish
world would look a lot different.
I would like to conclude this issue by saying very simply that
there is no one recipe for every person. If you listen to what the
Rebbe was saying you will note that he does not say "go to Israel," or
"don't go to Israel." He is saying that the reason the Torah does not
mention Jerusalem by name in this verse, is that people should not
think that the only place they can serve HaShem, wholly and fully, is
in Jerusalem, or in Israel. The main factor to consider is
understanding your role in the Diaspora or in Israel, and
understanding the part you play in bringing Mashiachcloser how
this relates to your life as a real factor.
Many of the Rebbe's sichos explaining the nature of the month
of Elul center around the explanation of the rashei teivos (initial
letters) of the verse in Shir HaShirim, (Ani LeDodi
VeDodi li "I am for my Beloved, and my Beloved is for me"). These
letters spell (Elul). This verse indicates the relationship between
HaShemand the Jewish People throughout the year, and particularly
during the month of Elul a month of teshuvah on our part, and a
month of compassion and forgiveness on the part of HaShem.
The Rebbe also points out that the final letters of each word in
the verse are all yuds, each of which has a numerical
value of ten. Thus together, the four yuds add up to forty. What is
the significance of this number? That there are forty days from the
first day of Elul until Yom Kippur. This indicates that the central
concepts of the month of Elul do not end at the end of Elul, but
extend to Yom Kippur. In other words, the first ten days of Tishrei
also fall into this category of Elul. After Yom Kippur, however, the
mood changes.
From the beginning of Elul until Yom Kippur is a serious time
of year the YamimNoraim, or the "Days of Awe." After Yom
Kippur, we start with preparations for sukkos, when the joyful
aspect of simchah prevails. Thus, the relationship which we have with
HaShemfrom the first day of the month of Elul ends with Neilah,
the final prayer of Yom Kippur. During Neilah (which literally means
"closing" or "locking") the gates are closed. A chapter has closed,
and we open a new chapter where HaShemrelates to the Jewish
people in a different way.
The forty days from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur are days
of rachamim compassion. It was during this time that Moshe
Rabbeinu communed with HaShemfor forty days in order to obtain
forgiveness for the Jewish People after the sin of the Golden Calf.
on Yom Kippur he was given the second set of stone tablets on
which the Ten Commandments were written. Therefore, these are
the days that have always remained days of rachamim(compassion)
and selichah(forgiveness).
once the forty days are over and we have finished this era, we
start a new period, which is the days of joy of sukkos. This begins
right after Yom Kippur, because we start preparing for sukkos: we
start building the sukkah, and start getting into the mood of sukkos.
In keeping with the spirit of this month, then, the Rebbe spoke
many times about helping people get what they need for Yom-Tov.
Tishrei can be an expensive month, with all the food, clothing, a
sukkah, the arbaahminim(Four species) required for sukkos, etc.
Paradoxically, before Tishrei, you shouldn't think only about your
own spiritual preparations. You also have to think about gashmiyus
(material needs) other people's gashmiyus.You have to worry about
your teshuvah(repentance), but for other people, you have to worry
about their material needs. You're not obligated to go around
saying, "Repent! Do teshuvah!Did you davenenough? Did you learn
enough?" That is for you to take care of for yourself. For the other
person you have to ask, "Does he have chickens, does he have meat,
does he have challah?" Because, as the Rebbe has repeated on
numerous occasions the gashmiyusof another Jew, for you, is
ruchniyus(spirituality). In other words, when you take care of your
own gashmiyus, it's merely gashmiyus, but when you worry about
somebody else's gashmiyus, it's ruchniyus. Therefore, on erevRosh
Hashanah we have to worry about other Jews; we have to make sure
they have their provisions.
I would like to give a practical suggestion to anyone who has not
managed to really put energy into the direction of giving tzedakah
(charity) to help people get their needs for Yom-Tov. I know that in
Yerushalayim there is an organization called Collel Chabad,that
provides meals for people who are elderly or who don't have
families. This is one place you can give your tzedakah. There are also
many other places that provide food. Try to find an organization
that is involved in giving money, food packages, etc., to poor people.
Put your tzedakahinto this area now. While it is important to give
money for Torah and yeshivos, now the important consideration is
that Jews should be happy, and you can only be happy if your
stomach is not groaning for food. By the eve of the festival, people
should have their needs; people should not have to worry, "How am
I going to buy meat? Maybe we'll just eat cottage cheese this Yom-Tov,
because we cannot afford meat." There is a story of a certain ravto
whom one of the members of his community came on the eve of a
festival with a question: Is it permitted to make Kiddushon milk?
The ravthought for several minutes and then replied that this was
permitted. As soon as the person had left, the Rav told his wife to
immediately send over wine and meat and other goodies to that
family. "Why meat?" she asked, "He apparently lacks only wine!" "If
he intended to make Kiddushon milk," the ravreplied, "it is obvious
that there was no meat for the meal either, for one cannot have milk
and meat at the same meal!"
on Yom-Toveveryone should be happy. This is what should
concern us in Elul. This is the best preparation for Yom-Tov.
Chassidusexplains that there are two parallel realms, the physical
and the spiritual. In other words, whatever objects exist in this
world, whether they are human, animal, plant, or inanimate, have a
counterpart in the spiritual realm. The same is true of the Torah.
There is Torah in the physical realm and Torah in the spiritual
Regarding the Torah of the spiritual realm, our sages state that
the Torah preceded the world by two thousand years. of course, this
is not meant literally, in terms of time, for time was created along
with all the rest of physical creation. Rather, it means that the Torah
is two thousand levels above the world. That is the spiritual aspect of
the Torah. But the ultimate purpose of the Torah is to relate to this
world, and not to the spiritual worlds: Lobashamayimhi" "The
Torah is not in Heaven." The Gemararelates an incident where
there was a disagreement between the sages of the Mishnah more
specifically between the Chachamimand Rabbi Eliezer. A voice came
out of heaven and declared that Rabbi Eliezer was right. But the
Chachamimargued that they were not obliged to pay heed to a
heavenly voice (a baskol, as it is known) since "the Torah is not in
Heaven." similarly, when Moshe Rabbeinu was called by G-d to
come and receive the Torah, the Gemaratells us that the angels
brought an urgent request to G-d "Give Your glory (i.e., the
Torah) in the heavens." Moshe Rabbeinu was told to reply to them,
explaining why the Torah was needed specifically in the physical
Nevertheless, these two dimensions of the Torah the physical
and the spiritual do exist. Thus, when the Torah talks about civil
law, for example if an ox gores another ox or a person, or if two
people both claim that they found a certain object, or the laws of
adjacent fields, etc. this may be understood in two ways: In terms
of the physical world, concerning the practical legal decision in such
cases, and in terms of its spiritual content. What relevance can oxen,
fields and lost objects have to angels? so each one of these concepts
a field, a slave, an ox, a lost object, etc., all of these concepts have
a spiritual counterpart which is applicable even when the actual laws
do not apply because we do not have the BeisHaMikdash, or because
the incident takes place outside of Israel, but the law in question
applies only in Israel.
The Torah can therefore be studied in two ways in an earthly
way, or in a heavenly way. Let us take, for example, the law of the
Cities of Refuge the arei hamiklat, as they are called in the Torah.
These were special cities which were set aside for a person to flee to
if he killed another Jew unintentionally. There he could find refuge
from the goel hadam, a relative of the dead person, who comes to
avenge his blood.
What is the heavenly, mystical, spiritual counterpart of the City
of Refuge? The Rebbe explains that the entire matter can be
interpreted in a spiritual sense in terms of a person's soul. Who is
the manslaughterer, and who is the victim, and who is the relative
who comes to avenge the unintentional killing?
Each Jew comprises a body, an animal soul, and a G-dly soul.
The latter is referred to in Tanyaas "actually part of G-d Above."
Briefly, when a person has the temptation to transgress (and this is
something we are all familiar with doing G-d's Will or
transgressing G-d's Will) and that person makes the choice of doing
the aveirah(transgression) rather than the mitzvah, he has sort of
sapped the life-force of the G-dly soul. He has robbed the G-dly soul
of some of its vitality. Every time a person does a mitzvahit adds
vitality to the G-dly soul, and every time he does an aveirahhe
weakens the manifestation of the G-dly soul within himself. Then
the yetzer hara*comes before HaShemand says, "You know that guy
there? He just did an aveirah." And he demands revenge. He is
therefore the goel hadam.
When a person realizes that he's done something he shouldn't
have done and I think many of us have experienced that moment
of truth what must one do then? How does one run away and turn
over a new leaf? How does one erase the past?
* The Evil Inclination, the self-destructive impulse to evil.
The solution given by the Torah is to flee to a City of Refuge.
This is the Torah, of which our sages state, "The words of Torah
grant refuge." one can become absorbed into the world of Torah
just as an unintentional murderer could flee to a City of Refuge.
The moment a person realizes that the past was not perfect and that
he can start a new life, he has obligated himself to do so. Age is
irrelevant in this discussion. The important thing is this truth, this
awareness, and the desire to come closer to HaShem. He should
begin to study Torah; he should begin to study Chassidus. But he
must throw himself into the "City of Refuge" completely. For, just as
the goel hadamwas liable to take revenge if he found the murderer
outside of the City of Refuge, so too the yetzer harais liable to take
revenge if he finds the person outside of the refuge of Torah and
mitzvos. In this way, a person can stop worrying about the past, and
focus his energy and concentration on the present and on the
The Rebbe very often repeats a statement of the Alter Rebbe
that "one must live with the parshahof the week." since each parshah
is divided into seven sections the seven aliyos one for each of
seven men who are called up to the Torah on Shabbos, it follows that
each aliyahcorresponds to one of the days of the week. This is also
the way one learns the parshahof the week in the Chumashpart of
Chitas.*However, the Rebbe points out on many occasions that the
message or lesson of the parshahas a whole is contained in its name,
such as Bereishis, Noach, or Nitzavimand Vayeilech.
In some years Nitzavimand Vayeilechare read separately, in
which case the lesson we derive from the parshahis based on only
one of the parshas; in others, they are read together, on the same
Shabbos.Accordingly, the juxtaposition of the two parshasgives us an
additional teaching.
An analysis of the names of these two parshasshows that they
have opposite meanings. The word nitzavimmeans "standing," while
vayeilechmeans "going." Furthermore, nitzavimhas the connotation
not only of standing still, but "standing firm." The root of the word,
nitzav,is different from the word omed. The latter word is used to
indicate that a person is standing, but that he could move at any
second. Nitzav, however, has the connotation of standing rooted
firmly to a spot; it's much more solid than the word omed.
In addition, this Shabbosis ShabbosMevarchim,when we bless the
coming Hebrew month. However, the month of Tishrei is an
exception. Although this is the Shabbosbefore the new month, we
nevertheless do not bless the new month as we do on every other
ShabbosMevarchim. The Baal shem Tov explains that the reason for
the change in custom is that HaShemHimself blesses the month of
Tishrei, and therefore we do not bless it. Furthermore, it is due to
* Chitasis an acronym for Chumash, T ehillim, T anya which constitute the very minimum of
learning one should do daily.
HaShem's blessing this month that we have the ability to bless all the
other eleven months of the year.
ParshasNitzavimis always read before Rosh Hashanah because
one of the features of the parshahis that it alludes to the blessing
HaShemgives to the Jewish people, the blessing that "you will always
stand firmly." You will prevail in your judgment on Rosh
Hashanah, and will merit the blessing HaShemgives the Jewish
people. And just as ShabbosMevarchimblesses the coming month, so
too the shabbos Mevarchimprior to the New Year blesses the entire
coming year. Accordingly, HaShemgives the Jewish people the
blessing that "we will always stand firmly." No matter what happens
to you, you will stand; you will not fall. You may have some rough
moments, but you'll never be destroyed, you will never fall down;
you will always stand, and you will always exist, eternally. You can
see how HaShemkept his word, because no matter what happened
to the Jewish people, we were always able to stand and remain a
nation, and a strong nation.
However, as much as standing firmly in a place has an advantage
to the extent that it even indicates HaShem's blessing to the Jewish
people that we will never be destroyed it also has a disadvantage.
When a person remains in one spot it shows that he is not growing.
on the verse, "I shall make you movers (mehalchim) among these
who stand still (omdim)," Chassidusexplains that "these who stand
still" refers to the angels, who are called omdimbecause they remain
forever on the same spiritual level. This means that they can never
fall. But at the same time it means that they cannot advance either.
They are locked into their spiritual level forever. By contrast,
"movers" (mehalchim)refers to the Jewish people. Although there is a
possibility that the individual may fall (although not the entire
people, as the word nitzavimteaches), nevertheless, we have also
been granted the ability to rise, to advance, to change. In Pirkei Avos
we learn that "one hour of teshuvah(repentance) and good deeds in
this world is worth more than the entire GanEden.*Why? Because
in GanEdenthe soul no longer has the ability to do Torah and
* The "Garden of Eden" paradise. This is where the soul is rewarded after life for its
comprehension of G-dliness in this world.
mitzvos and therefore no longer has the ability to rise to an
infinitely higher level. Although it is on a very high level in Gan
Eden, that level is static. The soul is stationary, in the same way an
angel is stationary. In this world, however, through Torah and
mitzvos, and particularly through teshuvah, a person has the ability to
attain the very highest levels even higher than GanEden.
Accordingly, when Nitzavimand Vayeilechare read together, we
can derive the benefits from the lesson that each of these portions
teaches us: Nitzavimteaches us to stand firm, and never compromise
in matters of Yiddishkeit. Never give in to your yetzer hara. This will
lead to G-d's blessing, as each of us stands firm, and triumphs in his
judgment on Rosh Hashanah. on the other hand, you also have to
go forward Vayeilech. A Jew has to go, but where to? Does he just
run around in circles? No! You have to go from one level to an even
higher level, to grow in holiness. so Nitzavimteaches us that we
must (and will) stand firmly and not fall, and Vayeilechteaches us
that we must (and will) keep on growing and keep ascending in
Awaiting Mashiach
Mashiachis not a theory, or an abstract idea. The Torah
describes him as a very real, live person. This is one of the 13
principles of our faith. The Rambamexplains that anyone who does
not believe in Mashiach, or does not eagerly await his coming, is
essentially a heretic! That is to say, it is not enough to simply
passively await Mashiach,you have to actively await his coming.
A great lecturer, who spoke on the 40th anniversary of the
Rebbe's leadership, made the following interesting point regarding
the matter of awaiting Mashiach. What the Rebbe did to change this
concept of waiting for Mashiach, he said, is something unique.
Those of you who have heard the Rebbe's farbrengensand sichos
know that almost every farbrengenand every sichahends with the
sentiment, "May Mashiachcome now!" The expression, "We want
Mashiachnow," has become a Lubavitch trademark.
There are many different ways of waiting for something, and
there's a world of difference between them. sometimes you wait for
something and really you're dreading it. You really don't want it to
happen, but you know that it is going to happen, and you're waiting
for it. Then you might be waiting, you know you're just waiting.
However, the Rebbe has made waiting something you do with bated
I once heard in a lecture a mashal, an analogy, explaining the
difference between awaiting Mashiach passively, and awaiting
Mashiachactively: When a parent has a sick child, with a fever, let's
say, of 104. The child is very very sick and you're really worried.
"Maybe I should take him to the hospital? Maybe he has something
life-threatening, G-d forbid?" so you call the doctor, and you tell
him the symptoms, and the doctor says, "This is very serious; I'm
coming right away." The mother and father, of course, are very, very
concerned, and all they can think about right now is when that
doctor is going to come and what is the doctor going to say. That
type of waiting is called active waiting; that's not just sitting back
and waiting. There's nothing else on your mind except the waiting.
"of course, Mashiachis going to come one of these days," you
will hear stated. "It's part of the Jewish faith, you know. But we have
until the year 6000. What's the rush?" No, that's not good enough
anymore. We can't just wait. We have to mamash(really) wait. Every
day we should say, "He's not here yet?! What's wrong? He was
supposed to be here by now, it's already Iyar, how come he's not
here?" And if Lag BeOmer comes and Mashiachis still not here
impossible! He's got to be here by Lag BeOmer. By shavuos of
course he'll be with us!
The Rebbe has been working on this since he became the Rebbe
the concept of bringing Mashiachinto our everyday lives. I think
that the Rebbe wants us to understand that we haven't been asking
hard enough for Mashiach. If we had been asking HaShemhard
enough, HaShemwould not withhold him. But HaShemsees that
we're perfectly content without Mashiach,"so ok, if you don't want
him, I can wait."
We have to learn from our kids. You know how kids can get.
They nudj and bother you so much that eventually you give them
what they want, just to get them off your back. Apparently we
haven't been doing that. True, we pray for Mashiachevery day in the
Amidahprayer, but we don't do more than that. But the Rebbe
wants people to beg for Mashiach,and even demand him, until he
The Gemarastates that there are several questions that are asked
of the Neshamahwhen it stands before the Heavenly Court, after
passing away from this world. one of the questions is, "Did you deal
honestly with your fellow man while you were on this earth?"
Another question is, "Did you eagerly await the Redemption?" Did
you wait for Mashiachwhile you were alive?
Let us make sure that we, and everyone we come into contact
with, can answer this question in the affirmative.
It must be emphasized that awaiting Mashiachis not just a good
thing, it is Halachah. As you may know, the Rambam'sYad
HaChazakahis a book of laws. In his introduction to the work, the
Rambamdeclares that everything in it is halachah, Torah law, rather
than commentary or ethics. The Rambam'srulings are largely
accepted as the final ruling. only a relatively small percentage of his
rulings were not accepted by later legal authorities. The rule of
thumb is that unless one of the other major authorities disagrees
with the Rambam, his rulings are law. Now, the final section of the
Yaddeals with the laws of Mashiach. Here the Rambamis regarded as
the final authority, because here he is the sole authority.
Let us now examine some of the text: The Rambamis discussing
what will happen when Mashiachcomes. The first thing is that the
Mashiachwill be a king who will arise and return the kingdom of
David to the way it was in the past, to its original sovereignty. He
will rebuild the Temple and gather the dispersed remnant of Israel.
All of the laws of the Torah will return in his time as they were in
the days of old. sacrifices will again be brought, and once again we
will observe the laws of shemittah*completely. Although we observe
some of the laws of shemittahin Israel today also, we do not observe
all of its laws, since many of them are simply not applicable today.
similarly, the yovel (the jubilee year which follows seven shemittah
years, the fiftieth year), which we do not observe at all now, will also
return with the advent of Mashiach. The Rambamcontinues that
whoever does not believe in Mashiach, or one who believes in him
but doesn't wait for him (that is, he doesn't seem to really care if
Mashiachcomes today or not) not only rejects the prophecies of the
prophets, but in effect rejects the entire Torah and Moshe
What the Rambamis telling us is that the belief in Mashiachis
not an appendage to the Torah, that you can keep the 613 mitzvos
and then there's an optional clause about Mashiachwhich you can
take or leave. Because truly, what difference does the belief in
Mashiachmake to your observance of mitzvos?You can be very G-d
fearing and keep the mitzvosbecause HaShemsaid so, whether you
believe in Mashiachor not. so here the Rambamgives a ruling. This
is not an opinion, this is a law: A person who does not believe in
* The sabbatical year.
Mashiach, or one who does not eagerly await Mashiach, is considered
a heretic as regards the entire Torah. That's how closely the belief
and the waiting for Mashiachis bound up with the entire body of
Yiddishkeitand faith in HaShem.
This is the first thing. Now the Rambamgoes on to show us the
proofs for this: The Torah already declared that Mashiachwill come,
as it says in the Torah itself: There will come a day when G-d will
return all of your captives and he will gather all the Jews from the
entire world, even if they are at the ends of the earth. This is written
not in Chassidusand not in Midrashand not even in the Prophets.
This is part of the Chumash. This has not yet happened.
The Rambamgoes on to quote the section where Bilaam wanted
to curse the Jewish people, but ended up blessing them and
prophesying what will happen when Mashiachcomes. ParshasBalak
implies that there will be two Mashiachs: David HaMelech, who
waged wars against our enemies and unified the Jewish people and
started to build the BeisHaMikdash. (shlomo completed it but David
had a tremendous role in solidifying the Jewish people.) And
Mashiach, who is his descendant, will complete it ultimately at the
end of days.
so we knew as soon as we were in the desert that there were
going to be not one, but two men that were going to be related to
each other by blood, that would both save the Jewish people. For the
remainder of this paragraph, the Rambam cites different passages
that relate to both of the Mashiachs, the first being David and the
second, Mashiach.
The Rebbe often quotes the Chida Rabbi Chaim Yosef David
Azulai who lived in the eighteenth century. He declares that even
if a Jew is not worthy of Mashiach, because his deeds are not as good
as they should be, nevertheless, the mere yearning for Mashiachis in
itself a meritorious activity. In other words, the Rebbe points out
here that even if we are not on the highest level yet of learning or
observance, the mere desire for Mashiachis an extremely important
thing for a person to cultivate, because it is written that when
HaShemsees that the Jews really want Mashiach, He will bring
We thus have a tremendously meaningful and real role in the
bringing of Mashiach. The advent of Mashiachdepends on a
conglomeration of many different factors, but one of those many
factors is, Do the people that live in Mashiach'stime really want him?
If not he can just wait another while. But we cannot wait any longer.
so we have to be a little bit insistent and a little assertive and
demand it.
In a later passage the Rambamstates that it is not good for a Jew
to spend a lot of time trying to understand all of the details in the
coming of Mashiach. He should better put his energy into bringing
Mashiach. In other words, all the speculation will it be like this, will
it be like that, who will do what? is all not really important because
whenever he comes, however he comes, we want him as soon as
possible... and then we'll find out all the details. In the Gemarait
says that there are certain times when Mashiachwill not come, such
as erevShabbos, so as to not distract the Jews from their preparations
for Shabbos. He won't come because preparing for Shabbosis such a
holy thing. Nor will he come on Shabbos, Yom-Tov, and so on.
One time the Rebbe was farbrengingon Shabbos, and he said that
Mashiachcould come now, even before this farbrengenis over. Then
he said with a smile, If you argue that it is Shabbosand Mashiach
cannot come on Shabbos, he or Eliyahu HaNavi will surely be able to
answer the question why he came on Shabbos, and why this is
permissible! First let himcome,and then we'll ask him all the
Miracle of Miracles
There are many, many miracles that are performed for us that
we don't even know about. But when a miracle comes down below
the line, and we can see it happening, as events unfold before our
eyes, that is much more exciting. When the GeulahShleimah, the
final and complete Redemption, takes place (any minute now), we're
going to open our eyes and see the most fantastic miracles that
anybody could ever imagine. The miracles that the Jewish people
will witness during the Geulahwill make YetziasMitzrayim(the
Exodus from Egypt) sound like just ordinary events. The miracles of
the future will be miraculous in comparison with the miracles of the
Exodus from Egypt.
Jewish Pride
The Rebbe maintains that the pride of a Jew in his mission as a
Jew should prompt him not to be shy or unassuming. on the
contrary, a Jew should always be assertive and proud to be Jewish. of
course, a person can go around saying, "I am a Jew, and I am great,"
and feel tremendous conceit, which is directed only to himself, a
"holier-than-thou" attitude. The Rebbe explains that haughtiness
and arrogance are not "Jewish pride." on the contrary, a Jew is
always humble and subservient towards his Creator, and towards his
fellow Jews as well.
However, the idea here is that he should have a sense of
mission, of purpose, and be proud of the mission he has been given
in life to illuminate the world.
About the Holocaust
one of the questions people have asked the Rebbe about the
Holocaust is, whether it is legitimate to even ask questions about it.
After all, one who asks questions about the Holocaust seems to
doubt Divine Justice. But the Rebbe said not only that it is all right;
on the contrary, it shows that the person believes in HaShem.
An atheist or agnostic who doesn't believe that there is a
supreme Being in the world, cannot ask questions. Whom will he
ask? If there's no G-d, then the world is like a jungle, and the lion
has every right to eat a smaller, weaker animal because the fittest
survive. There's no Divine Justice to question. But if you are
troubled by what happened in the Holocaust, and you feel that it
was unjust, unfair, and you ask questions because you can't figure
out how G-d, Who is just and fair, could let such an event take place
that is perfectly legitimate.
In our prayers we ask HaShemfor parnassah, for health, and for
many other things. If what HaShemdoes is final and absolute, there
is no chance for change, so why do we daven?The fact that we can
davenat all means that there is a chance of changing our "fate" and
our lives. Things are not written in stone. one must have faith that
justice will be done, and that the world is not a wild jungle where
anybody can do anything to anybody else without having to answer
for it.
We believe that there must be some G-dly reason why people
have to suffer, die, be killed or hurt. Nevertheless, a Jew has to have
humility and realize that he will never really understand G-d's ways.
He has to have a certain acceptance without demanding that he
A couple of years ago, when I was a teenager, a very strange
thing happened in Crown Heights. A Lubavitcher man was going
home from shul on Friday night and as he was going home, an
"African American" began following him. suddenly the mugger
took out a gun and said, "Give me your money." The Yidsaid, "I
don't have any money; it's Shabbos." The guy flew off the handle
and he said, "Give me your money," and the yidsaid "I don't have
any money." so he said, "ok, so I'm going to kill you." The
mugger was standing just a few inches from his victim, and he shot
him at point blank range. The bullet went into his chin. He didn't
even realize that he had been shot. When he came into the house,
his wife looked at him and saw that he was full of blood. off they
went to the Emergency Room. Miracle of miracles they found
that the bullet had hit his jawbone at such an angle that it just
embedded itself in the bone. If it had been a drop below or to the
side, he would have been killed because it was so close to his neck.
He had an operation; they took out the bullet and he's healthy
and well.
What do we see from this incident? That if a goytries to kill a
person, but he is not supposed to die yet, he won't die. We hear
stories like this day after day: A woman falls from the fourth floor
and nothing happens to her. somebody else would have died. How
come? Because it was not yet her time.
The neshamahis eternal this is one of the foundations of
Yiddishkeit the neshamahis eternal and the body is temporary. If a
Jew is murdered for the fact that he is Jewish even if he is not frum
(pious), but just because he is a Jew then his death is called a
It doesn't have to be dramatic, like being tied to the stake and
proclaiming, ShemaYisrael HaShemElokeinu HaShemEchadas they
light the fire. Even if someone is killed in a terrorist act because of
the fact that he is Jewish, he is regarded as a kadosh, a holy martyr.
He could have been the biggest rasha,but if he met his death
because he's a Jew, he is a kadosh.
This is true of all the six million who died in the Holocaust. We
call them all kedoshim, even those who were not yet observant.
There is a very big difference between something that is sad and
something that is bad. You see, things could be very sad without
being bad. If a child is sad because his new toy broke, it's very sad to
watch him, but it doesn't mean that it is a bad thing, even though it
is sad to see him cry.
The neshamahexists forever. so what happens to the body, to
the person in the long run when you're talking about eternity is
of less significance than what happens to his or her soul. If one
keeps the bigger picture in mind, one will realize that those people
who died in the Holocaust achieved the highest level, even though
the manner in which they died was very sad, very painful.
Captured Souls
The Rebbe explains that in our generation, the vast majority of
Jews who are not leading a Torah life, are in the category of tinok
shenishbah a child taken captive. Let's say that this child later finds
out that he really is a Jew. Now because he was captured as a child,
he never learned a thing about Yiddishkeit. Can you come and start
arguing with him, "Why aren't you wearing a yarmulke(skull cap)?
Why aren't you wearing tzitzis(fringes)? What's wrong with you?"
How can you criticize him? Many Jews in our generation are in the
same category; accordingly, how can you ask, "Why don't you keep
Torah and mitzvos?"
One opinion in the Gemarastates that Mashiachwill come when
all the Yiddenwill keep two Shabbosos. Now, the way things look to us
right now, it seems a little unlikely. However, the misconception is
that this is the only way in which Mashiachcan come. This is not so.
There are two verses which we repeat at the end of the nefilas
apayimprayer: "HaShem, release the Jewish people from all their
troubles! And He will release them from all their sins." This means
that Mashiachis not going to wait for the Jewish people. Mashiachis
not going to sit there and say,
Nu?There is still one Jew there and
I'm waiting, I'm waiting." No! Mashiachdoesn't have to wait until
everyone does teshuvah. Rather, he will come when HaShemsays so.
And these verses tell us that first HaShemis going to release all of the
Jewish people from all of their troubles and anxieties, and then He
will redeem us from all of our sins.
We cannot say whether it is the absence of a complete teshuvah
of all Jews that is keeping Mashiachfrom coming. We don't know
what's keeping Mashiach. By every calculation, Mashiachshould have
been here already. We don't know what's stopping him.
Those of us who happen to be fortunate enough to know more,
cannot bang non-religious Jews over the head and say, "You're going
to get Gehinnom." That's not the way. Furthermore, one should not
say bad things about Yidden. Don't invite evil by saying bad things. A
frumJew would never say, "If you go out without a sweater, you'll get
pneumonia." You shouldn't say such a thing! You say, "Put on your
When a Jew says something, it has an effect. You may not see it,
but it is there. There is a story about the Baal shem Tov in which he
showed his disciples what happens spiritually when one Jew curses
another. one person screamed at another that he was going to tear
him apart like a fish. He told the disciples to form a ring and with
the divine gift of spiritual vision they saw the person actually being
torn apart.
Torah is an inheritance for every Jew, even for those Jews who at
this moment are not behaving properly. Every Jew has an equal
share in Torah. one who sees a flaw in somebody else, actually has it
in himself. If you notice flaws in other people, it's very possible that
this is because you have those flaws.
What's the difference between seeing flaws in a negative way,
and seeing them in a positive way? If a person really wants to do
good, instead of seeing flaws, you see the problem as something that
needs correction. I'll give you an example. There's a tremendous
difference between a mother whose child is having trouble in school
who says "Oy. Maybe the kid should go to a slower class; what can I
do to help my child because he's having a problem?" That's one way
of looking at the situation. Another person says, "Oy. This kid is so
dumb!" They'll just see it as a flaw. somebody else sees it as a
situation that needs correction, so the emphasis is on what can we
do to make things better. But when the situation is only one of
criticism, then we know that it's emanating not from a place of
kedushah, but from the opposite. If you only see how great you are,
you only automatically see how small others are. The greater you
think you are, the smaller you think others are. The smaller you
think you are, the greater you think others are.
All we have to concentrate on now is ahavasYisrael, overlooking
the flaws, overlooking the negative qualities, and just looking at the
positive. Let's work on bringing Yiddencloser, because that is going
to bring Mashiach. Condemnation is counterproductive, and it's also
untrue. The truth about every Jew is that he's a tzaddik. He wants to
become more frum,he wants to do more. The Rebbe points out that
in order to be a heretic, an apikores, you have to first know what
you're defying. Most of the people who are not frum are totally
ignorant of Yiddishkeit. BaruchHaShem, we have a certain chinuch, a
certain hashkafah. But others don't. We must try to bring them to
Yiddishkeit. But cursing them out certainly won't do it. We have to
have ahavasYisrael, and davenfor Mashiach, that's all.
Turning from Evil, and Doing Good
If you want to bring a king into the house and the house is a
mess, you can't decorate it until you clean it up. "Turning away from
evil" is like cleaning up. Then we can "do good" decorate the
house, put the vase on the table, bring the carpet in, and so on.
However, all of this is true when things are normal, when the world
runs along its natural course.
However, we live in a world where the rules are changing. so
close to the coming of Mashiach,that there isn't time left to do
things in the normal good old-fashioned way. You know, you can
cook in five minutes what used to take your great-grandmother a day
and a half. In gashmiyus(the physical world), everything is instant
today. Why is that? Because in spirituality we can't waste time
anymore by doing things the long way. In our generation, we can
start with "doing good."
Even if a person is just beginning in Yiddishkeit, if circumstances
were normal you would say, "I can't teach him Torah yet; let's finish
alef-beis, then go through the Siddur;then we'll go through the
Chumash."By that time, unfortunately, you may have lost the person
you were trying to bring back to Yiddishkeit.
This is the answer to those who ask us why we learn Tanyawith
beginners because it will immediately affect the person, so that
eventually he or she will get what they need.
The world is very confused today. Not only in gashmiyus;also in
ruchniyus(spirituality). There are a lot of things in this world that are
not clear. one of the reasons for this confusion in our life is because
never before has there been a generation like ours. We have no
precedent. Every generation before ours, was like the other ones that
preceded it. In former times, a man knew that he was a man, and
what his duties as a husband and father were. A woman knew that
she was a woman, and she knew what her duties and responsibilities
as a wife and mother were. Today, none of this is clear.
The Rebbe has stated many times that we are the last generation
before Mashiachcomes. We're at the bottom, at the heels of
Mashiach. Mashiachis just around the corner and we are closer than
any generation has ever been. This is a situation that has no
precedent, and therefore it creates a certain uneasiness, and
therefore many people do not know how to behave.
Charity Begins... And Doesn't End
The Frierdiker (Previous) Rebbe used to say that there are three
loves like a triangle: love of G-d, love of one's fellow Jew and love
of the Torah. In the Hebrew: ahavasHaShem, ahavasYisrael and
ahavasHaTorah. None of them can exist without the other two.
Which is the key? From where do you start? You start from ahavas
Yisrael love for your fellow Jew. If you succeed in developing
ahavasYisrael, that will lead you to ahavasHaShemand ahavas
HaTorah. But a Jew who says he loves HaShemand loves Torah but
doesn't care for his neighbors next door, that means there's a
blemish even in his ahavasHaShemand his ahavasHaTorah.
one of the clearest expressions of ahavasYisrael is giving
tzedakah. Tzedakahis not only something done annually on Purim,
and/or before Pesach. It is not only something to be done once a
week before you light the Shabboscandles. People should give
tzedakahevery day. We shouldn't look at tzedakahas a "sometime
event," as if our life is full of many things and once in a while we
give tzedakahalso. on the contrary, the whole reason for your life is
giving tzedakah.
The Baal shem Tov actually spelled it out in what became a
famous quotation: "A neshamahmay come down from heaven and
live in this world for seventy or eighty years, in order to do a Jew a
single favor in physical things or in spiritual matters." What does
that teach us? That all of the other things you did in your life,
whether you got a job or you went to school, or you got married or
whatever else you did, all of these might be the minor things of your
life. The main thing that your neshamahcame down for, was to do a
certain favor for a Jew, physically or spiritually. When you
internalize this idea, you change your whole outlook on life. When
you go out to work or shop, or whatever, you're not only thinking
about what you have to accomplish that day, according to what is
written on your "to do today list." Rather, you have to remember
that the real reason for going out, to walk or to shop or just to go
about life, is to look for opportunities to do tzedakahfor a fellow
Now tzedakahdoes not only mean giving money to a person
who's dying of hunger. That's one form of it, but it's not the only
form of it. Tzedakahalso means giving something to another Jew that
he doesn't have and needs, and that you have. It can also be
acknowledgement; it can be a listening ear, encouragement,
sympathy, and so on. If there is something another person truly
needs, and you have the capacity to give, this falls under the category
of tzedakah.
When you think of it in that way, then you don't just wait until
somebody comes over and taps you on the shoulder, or knocks on
your door and says, "I'm collecting for a yeshivah," and then you give.
You don't just wait until somebody finds you, and say, "Oh, I can't
get out of this one so I'll just write him a check and get rid of him."
You think, "Where can I find somebody that needs tzedakah?" You
look around for opportunities to do tzedakah, whether physical or
There's a verse in Tehillimwhich states, "A man goes out to his
task and works until evening (adei erev)." The simple meaning is
the rat race. But that is not what it really means. The word erevin
Hebrew could have two meanings, "evening," and "sweet" (arev).
Thus, according to the Baal shem Tov, the verse means that a
person goes out to his avodah, to his spiritual work, in order to
transform bitterness into sweetness. In other words, a Jew looks
for opportunities to sweeten the world and make it more pleasant.
How does he or she do that? By seeking out opportunities where
things that seem bad can be transformed into things that seem
If somebody comes your way and seems very tired or very hungry
or very sad, you could say, "oh, isn't that terrible that in this world
there are people that are so sad. oh, tsk, tsk, tsk. It would be nicer if
everything was happy." But then you could say, "one minute, this
sad person lives near me, and by hashgachahperatisI know about it,
so maybe there is something I should do about it." If you go in to
visit that neighbor and you bring some joy into her life, which you
can do in various ways, then you've taken an opportunity to
transform bitterness into sweetness. HaShemprovided us with sick
people not that we should say, "oh, it's so terrible that there's
sickness in the world, I wish there would be no sickness." If you
know a sick person, why don't you go visit them?
Bikur cholimis also a form of tzedakah. It is written that when
you visit a sick person you take away with you one-sixtieth of their
illness. our job is to work until the bitterness becomes sweetness,
and the darkness light. We do not just work until it becomes dark
and then punch the clock and say, "OK, I'm finished. It's night."
We have to make the night into day, and then we are finished.
When we have taken these opportunities for badness and made
them into goodness, then we can go home. Then we have completed
our task, our lifetime task.
Every year that we live and every day that we live, HaShem
sprinkles throughout our lives opportunities to do tzedakahin very
many ways. We have only to realize that everything else we're busy
with is really superficial, compared to this.
However, sometimes people get so busy doing chessedfor other
people that they forget about their own families. You see this very
often, these busy, busy people who are always on the phone with
other people, and their children are what they used to call emotional
orphans. You know they have mothers, theoretically, but the
mothers are never there for them. The mothers are always running
around doing mitzvosfor everybody else. Be aware that tzedakah
doesn't mean only to strangers. It starts first and foremost in your
own home. Because if your husband needs something or if your
children need something, that is your first duty of tzedakah.
somebody told me a joke about a guy who came home from a
farbrengen. His wife said, "Nu, tell me something that the Rebbe
said." "The Rebbe spoke a lot about ahavasYisrael, so I have no
time to talk to you now. I must go out and do ahavasYisrael to
somebody." Here's your wife, can't you have a little ahavasYisrael
for your own wife? Must all the love for a fellow Jew be directed to
people outside of your family? The fact that this is your husband
and these are your children, is also significant. It's HaShem's way
of telling you that these souls which happen to be in your very
own house, are the first addresses of tzedakahbefore you do for
To tell you the truth, I find this a very big issue in my own life,
because taking care of the needs of your family is so time
consuming. They can fill your entire life so that it's very hard to
know where to put your energies. But we must remember that this
striving should be a continuing struggle; we should never forget
about our family. on the other hand we must teach our family the
importance of taking care of people other than the family. We
should only thank HaShemthat we are involved in these struggles
and not others.
one of the interpretations of the words bechol meodechain the
Shemais bechol mamonecha with all your money. You have to love
G-d with all your heart, soul, and money! What a strange
interpretation. Our sages explain that this is because there are
people whose money is more valuable to them than their life. This
can only happen when a person was nurtured in a family that didn't
give tzedakah. Because when a family gives tzedakah, then people are
inculcated in infancy that there's a wheel of fortune that turns, and
HaShemis up there turning it. When you have the money you give
to those that don't. And if you don't have the money, it's your turn
to take. It's not pleasant, but you know that things change. Who
says that I'm the one to always go up and never go down?
When is a Jew tight-fisted? When he thinks that all the money
that he earns he really earns and he deserves and it's MINE! You
know, if it's mine, why should I give it to you? What did you do to
get my money? But if you make a proper calculation as to whether
you really deserve the money, you will realize why you ought to share
it with others. Ask yourself, "Did I do everything that HaShemis
asking of me?" obviously not, and still HaShemis so generous, he
gives me my salary. so then you say, "Tzedakah, I've got to give some
to others." Think about someone else, and you will be doing
yourself the biggest service you can!
There was a woman whom the Gemarasingled out as
extraordinary in her observance of the laws of modesty tzniyus. Her
name was Kimchis. The Gemaratells us that this woman was so
careful about her tzniyus, that the beams of her house never saw her
hair. she had her hair covered even in her house. Even though there
are times when a married woman may uncover her hair, she was
extra careful and she kept her hair covered all the time. Because she
was extra cautious, the Gemaratells us that she had seven sons and
each one of her seven sons in turn became a KohenGadol (High
Priest). Many women had the merit of having one son become a
KohenGadol, but she had seven sons reach this holy position.
Kimchis could have said, as any Jewish woman could say today,
"Who needs sons that are KohanimGedolim?What's wrong with sons
that are just regular Kohanim?That's nice enough. What's wrong
with sons that are just Jews? Do I have to be so special that my
children will be KohanimGedolim?Do I have to exert myself in the
chinuchof my children that they should be extraordinary Jews?"
since the Gemaratold us this story in praise of Kimchis, it
means that the Torah is giving us the message that we have the
ability to raise our own children, or the children that we come in
contact with if we don't have children of our own, to achieve the
level of KohanimGedolim. Do not be satisfied with less. Always strive
for the highest. Just as in physical things, you would never say to
your daughter, "Well, as long as you have something to wear, who
cares if it's old and patched and faded. You know, it's a skirt." No,
you want them to have something stylish (but modest!); something
nice. similarly, as regards food: Do we just throw down an old piece
of bread and say, "Come and eat, dinner's ready." No, we want to
make it tasty. so why is it that in spiritual things we're willing to
settle for the second best or the third best? We should always learn
from Kimchis and strive to make our children KohanimGedolimand
not just regular Kohanim. The Rebbe said that if a woman really
exerts herself and really in her heart tries to do this HaShemwill give
her a berachahthat she should merit to raise children who are truly a
source of blessing to the Jewish People.
The Indivisible Essence
The Baal shem Tov taught that when you grasp part of the
essence, it's as if you are holding onto all of the essence. For
example, if a person is falling, and you have to save the person, it's
enough to grab onto his hand because once you've grabbed onto his
hand, you've got the whole thing. You don't have to grab onto his
entire body. Therefore, the Baal shem Tov taught that it is
important to get hooked onto even a part of something, because
once you are connected to a part, you already have the whole. The
same is true of Torah and mitzvos. of course, one cannot decide to
keep only some part of Torah and mitzvos, while ignoring the rest.
This is obviously not the intention. Rather, it is like that question
one sage of the Talmudasked another, "What mitzvahwas your
father particularly careful with?" It is as if he was asking, ""What was
his favorite mitzvah?" although he obviously kept them all. In this
sense, it's important to grab some of the Torah and some of the
mitzvos. In this way you are connected to the greater whole.
Highest and Lowest
There's a concept in Chassidusthat the higher something is the
lower it can fall. Chassidusexplains that everything in this world has
a root in the upper worlds. There is no object or concept that exists
in our world that doesn't have a correlating spiritual source. The
lower something is, the higher its source.
The intimate relationship between a man and woman is
regarded by the world as something lowly, an animal instinct which
must be fulfilled. However, in Yiddishkeit, the power to have children
is called a revelation of Or EinSof, the Infinite Light, because this is
the only area in a human being's life where one can do something
infinite. Everything else that we do is finite, but when a couple has
an intimate relationship, with HaShem's participation, they can
create a child, something which will have eternal ramifications.
This act has a very, very high source because only in this
situation is a person akin to HaShem. Because this act has fallen so
low in many people's estimation, it teaches us that the source is very
high. If its source wasn't so high, it could never have fallen to such a
low level. HaShemgives us free choice to sanctify it or vulgarize it.
If somebody finds that they have cravings or violent tendencies
or gravitations or pullings to bad things, it doesn't mean that the
person is bad: just like they have very strong desires or passions for
evil, it means that they have an exactly opposite corresponding
power to do good. They may not know it, it may be dormant, but if
you have a big yetzer hara, it means you have a big yetzer tovtoo.
Until Mashiachcomes we have to struggle with the yetzer hara. That
is unfortunate. But it gives you the opportunity to rise above and
reach a much higher level. This is very hard work. It isn't easy for a
person to overcome his yetzer hara. But it's certainly worth the effort.
The Rebbe gave many, many sichosabout the name Yosef. Yosef
means to add, to increase. When Rachel gave birth to Yosef she
immediately said, "May HaShemadd to me another son." In other
words, her first reaction to having this son was that she should have
another son.
one can increase and add to the Yiddenof this world in two
ways. one way is to give birth to another Jew, to add another Jew.
But there are many, many Jews, we all know some of them, who do
not consider themselves part of the Jewish nation. The fact that they
are Jews is a very minor fact in their life. Now when you meet such a
person and you make them aware of the specialness of being a Jew,
and that fact all of a sudden acquires importance, it's like adding
another Jew. until now that person didn't feel that he counted as
part of the Jewish Nation. Now, because of your help, you added
him in. That is the idea of Yosef.
Leaders and Followers
Moshe Rabbeinu was the archetypal leader. Unfortunately, we
live in a world where every country, and almost every city, has a
leader who is not a true leader. They are followers. They do what the
people want, not necessarily what ought to be done. Our sages state
that one of the possibilities regarding the spiritual state of the world
when Mashiachcomes is described by the phrase, Pnei hador kipnei
hakelev "The face of the generation is like the face of a dog." "The
face of the generation" means the leaders and representatives of the
generation. Why do they have the face of a dog? If you have ever
watched a dog, you will have seen that it generally runs ahead of its
master, but it keeps looking back over its shoulder to see which
direction its master is going in. At first glance, the dog looks like the
leader, but it soon becomes clear that it is just following ahead of
its master. The same is true of most of today's leaders. They keep a
very watchful eye on what the public wants, and they mold their
principles and policies accordingly. Thus they reveal what they really
are... followers, not leaders.
What are the characteristics of a true leader? The Rebbe says
that if we want to see an example, let's look at Moshe, because
Moshe has the qualities of true leadership. One of those qualities is
true devotion to the people to the point that the leader becomes
subservient, in a sense, to the people although not in the way
mentioned above, by looking over his shoulder to see what they
want. When the Jewish people committed the sin of the Golden
Calf, HaShemtold Moshe, "Go down [the mountain]. Your people
has sinned." Rashi comments, "I gave you greatness only for the sake
of the Jewish people." Now go down from your lofty spiritual level
and bring them to repentance. subsequently, when pleading with
HaShemto forgive the Jewish people, Moshe Rabbeinu declared, "If
You will not forgive them, erase me from Your Book [the Torah]."
This was total devotion and dedication to the Jewish people.
similarly, when the spies sinned and discouraged the Jewish people
from going into Israel, and the entire generation was punished by
being prevented from going into Israel, Moshe declared, "I'm not
going either." Although the ostensible reason that Moshe did not
enter Israel was because he hit the rock instead of talking to it, the
Rebbe explains that Moshe was so powerful that if he had really held
out, "I'm not budging until You let me go into Eretz Yisrael,"
HaShemwould have let him in. He would have accepted Moshe's
teshuvah. But he chose not to do this out of his devotion to the
Jewish people. He would rather remain in exile, with the rest of the
Jewish people, until the final Redemption, when all Jews will be
brought to Israel. This is the sign of a true leader.
Traindrivers and Astronauts
Today was the annual N'shei Chabad [Lubavitch Women's]
Convention which is held every summer in the month of Av. [since
the passing of RebbitzinChaya Mushka, the Rebbe's wife, it is now
held on her yahrzeit, the 22nd of shvat. This date is the day before
Nechoma's yahrzeit. ed.] I spent the whole day there today from
9:30 in the morning until I came home at about 7:15. And all day
long speeches and speeches. I'm not going to share all the speeches.
I just want to share a couple of little points that were of interest, that
I think you'll enjoy.
one of the speakers gave a very beautiful mashal (parable) that I
want you to know so that you can share it with others. A chassid
should always be a ner leha'ir, a candle to illuminate whatever you
hear you have to share.
Now, in ancient Jewish times, there weren't so many different
ways of being a frumJew. It was kind of straight. This was the path.
As the years went on, towards the end of galus, and particularly in
our day, there are many, many different streams of Yiddishkeit, many
different paths. And it seems like everybody is legitimate. Each one
claims to be the right way. And it can get very confusing. This lady
gave the following mashal to explain the situation: Imagine that
there's a train going on a journey. The objective of the train is not to
travel the railroad tracks. Rather, the idea is to get to the next
station. The train wants to go someplace. When you're riding on the
train, when you're in the middle of the journey, all you can see is
those two tracks that your train is riding on, and all around you are
fields and forests. However, as the train progresses and gets closer to
its destination, all of a sudden, more tracks start appearing, and the
closer the train gets to its station, the more different tracks you see
converging from different directions. The driver has to be very
experienced to know how to bring the train from his track and turn
to get to the one that will bring him near the platform. If he misses
that turn, the train's just going to keep going and it'll never get to
the station where the people have to get on or off, etc.
What is the nimshal?What does this teach us? That we are now
heading towards the time of Mashiach'sarrival. That's the final
destination, the terminal where everybody has to get off. The closer
we get to the station, the more we have different tracks converging.
How do we know which is the right track? We have to rely on the
driver, and we will come to the right terminal.
The multitude of paths and the multitude of ideologies in our
generation, instead of confusing us, should really convince us of the
importance of following a tzaddik, following a leader who can guide
us, because otherwise it is very easy, as we all know, to get influenced
by wrong ideas and get lost.
Another speaker explained that the Rebbe is always telling us to
learn a practical instruction a hora'ahin avodasHaShem from
everything in the modern world. Today we live in the space age. We
have astronauts and we have satellites and so on. so these things can
be understood as a mashal to teach us something in our own lives.
satellites and astronauts are far, far away in outer space. In order
for their journey to be successful, they have to be in constant touch
with the control tower down here on Earth. And without getting
explicit instructions every moment, they would just be lost forever.
In the same way, we are alone, a little rocket ship in this big, big
universe and in order not to get lost, we also have to be in constant
communication with the control tower.
Minchah of Shabbos
There is a verse which we recite in the Minchahprayer on
shabbos, "Who is like the Jewish people, one nation on earth?" This
means that the Jewish people are unique. There is no other nation
like us in the world. That is the plain meaning. But the Alter Rebbe
explained the verse according to Chassidus: Earth has the
connotation of earthiness, low physicality. As the Alter Rebbe
explains, it means that AmYisrael, draws HaShem, Who is One, into
this earthly world.
sometimes you may think that a person who is very involved in
gashmiyus, forgets about ruchniyus. But the Jewish people are unique
they can spend their whole day in the field plowing, or working in
a shoe shore, or whatever, but they don't forget to davenMinchah.
The Alter Rebbe concludes by saying that HaShemmakes
physicality from spirituality, gashmiyusfrom ruchniyus, and we have to
make from gashmiyus, ruchniyus.In other words, when HaShem
created the world, He took spirituality and made from it an earth, a
world. What do we do? The opposite. We take the physical things of
the earth and transform them back into ruchniyus. How? By serving
guests around your table, you've made the table into a mitzvah. You
can't serve a guest on the floor, not in Israel. Maybe in other
countries, yes, but we need our tables to serve our guests. Around
the table you talk Torah. You sanctify the world by taking the skin of
an animal and you write a mezuzahon it; you buy a garment for
Shabbos. Anytime you use something from the world for the sake of
HaShem, you're making gashmiyusinto ruchniyus.
N ittel
I couldn't prepare my shiurlast night because it was nittel (the
eve of the 25th of December). In Israel we're not so conscious of the
Gregorian calendar. Those of you who come from the west know
that the night before December 25th is a big holiday among the
goyim. Many religious Jews do not learn Torah on that night. This is
one of the reasons that it is called nittel meaning "take away."
Because we do not learn Torah on that day, it has no real substance,
since it is only the Torah which defines reality. In the future, when
Mashiachcomes, they're going to have to rewrite the calendar,
because the present singificance of the 25th of December will no
longer exist.
Now when a Jew learns Torah, you may say, "oh, he learned a
little Chumash. so what's the big significance?" Don't underestimate
yourself. A Jewish Neshamahis extremely powerful, whether the
person is a big tzaddik or just a plain, ordinary Jew. Every Jew is very
powerful. When a Jew sits down to learn Torah, even if it's just
sitting down and reading a Torah-based book, that Jew has a
chemical effect. When you take two chemicals and put them
together, zap something happens. When you combine a Jew with
Torah it has a great effect. You may not see it. Everything still looks
just the same. But that's because you're looking with your finite,
physical eyes. But in the spiritual realms, any time a Jew, man,
woman or child, learns any amount of Torah, it has a ripple effect in
all of the worlds, this world as well as in the World to Come. This
combination of the Jew studying Torah gives strength to whatever is
happening in the world, just as when a Jew transgresses, G-d forbid,
it causes a blemish in all of the worlds.
All of the above is just a brief and superficial comment. To
understand these things better, I would recommend that you read
Tanya, because in Tanyathese concepts are dealt with in depth.
I grew up in a Lubavitch house, and probably because chassidim
are more mystical and more spiritual, this custom of refraining from
studying Torah on nittel night is more strictly observed than among
other groups. Now although the reasons for not learning Torah
until midnight that night are very mystical, and we don't understand
them, there's a concept in Yiddishkeitknown as kabbalasol
accepting the yoke of Heaven, even if we do not understand
Although we refrain from doing overt learning, most of us can
find enough to keep ourselves busy, with all the laundry and the
While we are on the subject, we might as well make mention of
forms of entertainment, particularly for kids. If you ever go to the
toy store and take a look around, you will see for yourself that the
kinds of toys that are sold today are mostly really stupid. You can
spend a lot of money on a dumb toy, and it doesn't ever get smarter.
Neither do some people they spend so much money for a toy
that's so stupid.
But there are toys that are smart toys. What is the difference
between a smart toy and a stupid toy? A stupid toy is something that
doesn't require any intelligence. stupid toys are like television you
can sit in front of it glued to the screen for hours and hours on end
and then at the end you say, "Did I get more intelligent? Did I get
more knowledge? Did it sharpen my mind?" Nope. The more
television, the duller the mind becomes. Why? Because it does not
demand any input from you. It is totally passive. Certain things
exercise the mind. Just as the more you do pushups, the stronger
your arms will become, so too with the mind. When a person is
occupied with mental activities that exercise the mind, it makes the
mind sharper and more powerful.
The Rebbe spoke a lot about chess. Chess is in the category of
games that not only require knowledge to play, especially to win, but
they also sharpen the mind for learning Torah. so therefore the
Rebbe said that a good pastime on the night of nittel is to play chess.
Once, a famous chess-player came to the Rebbe and the Rebbe
explained to him what we can learn in the service of G-d from the
game of chess. [This has been printed in Hebrew in Yemei Bereishis.
ed.]. so on nittel you can play chess. This is different from the
concept of leisure, lying on the beach and soaking up the sun. That's
a waste of time, and I don't think you can learn anything about
serving HaShemfrom it.
Woman: Mainstay of the Home
The role of a woman is even more important than the role of a
man. When HaShemgave us the Torah He first commanded Moshe
to "Tell it to the women," and only then, "Command it to the
men." HaShemfelt that if the women wouldn't accept the Torah
then it wouldn't help to give it to the men.
A woman as a mother and wife is called an akereshabayis. This is
usually translated as "housewife," but that's only common usage.
The real root of the word akeresis from the word ikar which means
"main." In other words, akereshabayismeans that the woman is the
main one in the house. The woman sets the tone of the home as far
as the chinuchof the children is concerned. It's very clear that if the
woman is not attuned to the values of Torah, it won't help very
much if the husband is. Because the key to the atmosphere in the
home is certainly in the woman's hands. Young girls should be
encouraged to see themselves in their future roles as akereshabayis.
The training for being an akereshabayisstarts, of course, while the
child is still small.
The Rebbe has often quoted the Gemaraabout the superiority
of women over men as far as giving tzedakahis concerned. If
somebody asks a man for tzedakahhe'll write him a check, he'll give
him some money. But women are famous for inviting people in to
eat something. This is a very feminine thing. We understand the
importance of a cup of coffee along with the check. Women are
much more likely to think of such a thing than a man. A woman
will naturally be concerned whether a person is hungry, because
women are generally much more down to earth than men, and so
her tzedakahis immediately appreciated, whereas if somebody's
starving and you give them a check, they can't eat the check. It's not
going to help them if they have to go cash the check, and go find a
restaurant that is open and kosher. until they manage to find a
place to use that money to put the food into their stomachs, it'll
take maybe an hour, whereas she is giving them the food right away.
The Rebbe has also spoken about the kitchen of a woman he
called it the beishatavshil, the house of cooking. The woman's role of
providing meals for her family is a thing that is permeated with
kindness because a woman cooks for others basically. We all know
that when the family's away we don't cook very much. For ourselves
we don't need too much. Who do we cook for? Our husbands, our
kids, our guests. For ourselves we'd be happy with simple fare. so
the woman's whole essence is doing for others and it's symbolized in
the kitchen where she does much of her work as an akereshabayis.
12 Tishrei
Planting a Seed
Weareassuredbycovenant that anywide-rangingeffort and labor [in
outreach] pursued wiselyand withfriendshipis 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 ahavasYisrael, then you have a guarantee not just a
possibility or a probability, but a covenant that you will meet with
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 HaShemsees 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
Yeshivahstudent with a beard and peyos. Yeshivahstudents go on
shlichusin 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
* "From Day to Day" a book of aphorisms from the Previous Rebbe, compiled by 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 Yeshivahstudent) 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
HaShemhas 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
1 Cheshvan
Where to Find Your Sparks
TheRebbemyfather told someoneat yechidus: ever sinceG-d toldour
father Avraham, "Gofromyour land etc.," andit is thenwritten, "Avram
kept travellingsouthward," wehavethebeginningof themysteryof beirurim.
By decreeof DivineProvidenceaman goesabout histravelstotheplace
wherethe"sparks" that hemust refineawait their redemption.
Tzaddikim, whohavevision, seewheretheirbeirurim await themand
gotheredeliberately. As for ordinaryfolk, theCauseof all causes, thePrime
Mover, bringsabout variousreasonsandcircumstancesthat bringthese
peopletothat placewhereliestheir obligationtoperformtheavodah of
Beirurimin Chabadterminology 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 shlichusbut
you, because your neshamahis unique. No one else in the world has
your neshamahwith its particular composition. Now in the course of
your life, it is important for your particular neshamahto 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 Chassidusreveals to us. so
when HaShemcreated 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
HaShemwants, then you elevate it from being neutral to having a
connection with holiness. And that is called avodashabeirurim 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 Tehillimof 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 berachahis 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 mezuzahon 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 BaruchHaShem?
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 shiurin your
car at that time; nor did you stop to davenor do a mitzvah. However,
there are certain mitzvosthat are called constant mitzvos. For
example, ahavasHaShem, 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 mitzvoslike
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 HaShemdriving 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 Tehillimor
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 Avinuleft 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
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
24 Cheshvan
Life's Ups and Downs
In material matters, oneshouldlook at someonewhosesituationis
lower thanone'sown, and thank HaShemfor Hiskindness. Inspiritual
matters, oneshouldlook at someonewhois abovehisown level, and plead
withHaShemto givehimtheproper understandingin order tolearnfrom
that person, andthepower and strengthtorisehigher.
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.
HaYomYomtells 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
HaShemthat 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 Chassiduscomes
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 ahavasYisrael is to
see how another Jew is superior to you, not the opposite. When you
see a person, HaShemshowed 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.
25 Cheshvan
Why This Address?
DivineProvidenceleadseveryonetohis placeof residencefor the
purposeof strengtheningYiddishkeit and disseminatingTorah. Whenyou
plowandyou sow, thingsgrow.
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.
26 Cheshvan
Better than a Thousand Sighs
Thetruewayistoknowone'scharacter, trulyrecognizingone'sown
deficienciesand one'sgoodqualities. And whenoneknowshis deficiencies,
heshould correct themwithactual avodah, andnot satisfyhimself merely
with bemoaningthem.
There's no chochmahin 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, "Oyveyis me!" The reason HaShemgave you understanding
about your shortcomings is so that you can do something; because
you have the power to do so. HaShemnever 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 canrewrite
your lifescriptand 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 HaShemknows 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!
16 Kislev
Mind and Heart
A fundamental principleof Chabad philosophyisthat themind, which
byitsinnatenaturerulesover theheart, must subordinatetheheart toG-d's
servicebyutilizingtheintellectualization, comprehensionandprofound
contemplationof thegreatnessof theCreator of theuniverse.
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.
Chassidusmakes the basic assumption that a Jew knows
intrinsically and gravitates towards what's right. HaShemwill guide a
normal person who is honest and sincere, but lacking knowledge, in
the way that he should go.
5 Teves
On Being a Heel
WhenMashiach comes, wewill seethesuperiorityof hodaah
(acknowledgment, belief) and temimus(earnestness, sincerity) in everyone's
purebelief inG-dandinHisTorahand mitzvos. Talmud namely, human
comprehension, evenonits highest level is limited. But hodaah belief
isan unlimited feeling. Mashiachwill explainthesuperiorityof simplicity
earnest divineservicethat springsfromtheheart.
There is a law in the ShulchanAruchthat 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 erevShabbos.
That's what happens on erevShabbos: everybody's hyper, everybody's
rushing, everybody's nervous. That little detail makes a difference in
the entire ruling.
The period before Mashiachis 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 HaYomYom, the Rebbe says the main thing used to
be to try and serve HaShemwith seichel,with one's intellect. In other
words, to try to reach as high an understanding of Yiddishkeitas you
can, then serve HaShemwith 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 Chassidusthe heel symbolizes the idea
of kabbalasol, receiving the yoke not making one's decisions as the
result of a rational process, but following submissively.
Chassidusexplains 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 kabbalasol.
That's a thought from HaYomYom, and although it sounds
simple, it's not so easy to live like that. These things from HaYom
Yomare easy to say and hard to do.
14 Iyar
You Haven't Missed the Boat
Thethemeof PesachSheni isthat it is never toolate. It isalways
possibletoput thingsright. Evenif onewas tameh(rituallyimpure), or one
wasfar away, and evenina caseof "lachem," whenthis(impurityetc.) was
deliberate nonethelesshecan 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, Chassidusalways 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 BeisHaMikdash,
when sacrifices were brought, on the eve of Pesach, on the 14th of
Nissan, there was a special sacrifice offered the korbanPesach, or
the Paschal lamb. Now the Halachahstates 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 mitzvahof 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 HaShemsaid, 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 sukkahon time. It's only for this holiday that
we have the chance to do it over.
Chassidustherefore 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 BeisHaMikdash, nevertheless, he always has
the opportunity to correct the situation. This message is eternally
relevant to each and every one of us.
26 Iyar
Rebuke that Comes from a Good place
Thecommand, 'You shall rebuke," is precededbythewords'You shall
not hateyour brother," for thisisa preconditionfor therebuke. TheTorah
continues, "...andyou shall not ascribesintohim," for if therebukewas
ineffectual,youarecertainlytheoneresponsible, for yourswerenot words
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 mitzvahl" But Chassidussays that you
have to examine this mitzvahin 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. HaShemdid 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 mitzvosthat 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 mitzvahprecedes the other.
In our case, the verse describing the mitzvahof 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 shtechhim, to jab him. The prohibition against
hating your fellow Jew in your heart precedes the mitzvahof
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
But this is not the end of the story. The verse which follows the
mitzvahof 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 ahavasYisrael, 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.
4 Sivan
Shavuos: A Good Time to Start Studying Chitas
Shavuosisan opportunetimetoachieveeverythingin improvingTorah-
studyand avodahmarkedbyfear of G-d, and alsotostrivein teshuvah
concerningTorah study, without interferencebytheAccuser just likethe
timeof soundingtheShofar onRoshHaShanahandtheholydayof the
Fast of YomKippur.
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 teshuvahand 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 Chassidussays about
shavuos, it becomes an entirely different story. shavuos is the
marriage of HaShemand Bnei Yisrael. Accordingly, in a sense it's the
greatest Yom-Tovof all. The reason that it's only one day (yomechad),
or two in chutz laaretz, in the Diaspora, is not that it's minor, but
because it symbolizes the unity, the oneness, the echadof HaShem
and Yidden.
HaYomYomcontinues 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-Tovof 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 yirasshamayim(Fear of Heaven) and
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 yomrevi'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 bayomharevi'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 bayomharevi'i nitlu hameoros, nitluspelled 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 Chitasis a three-part daily shiurthat the Rebbe
Rayatz instituted. He advised that everybody, even women, should
undertake them. The chesstands for Chumash, the first tavstands for
Tehillim, and the second tavstands for Tanya. The way one studies
them is this: The weekly portion in Chumashis divided into seven
parts the seven aliyosto which men are called during the Reading
of the Torah on Shabbosin shul.There are also seven days of the
week. Accordingly, studying the Chumashof Chitasmeans that every
day of the week you learn that aliyahpart 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 Tehillimis one
thirtieth of the Book of Tehillim. The Tehillimhas 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 Tanyathere is a schedule that divides
the Tanyainto 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 Chitasis a channel through which
health and many good things accrue to the person who says it.
Now these three things, Chumash, Tehillimand 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 Tehillimis related
to shavuos? Right. David HaMelech was born and passed away on
Tanyabecause, even though Tanyawas 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 hashgachahperatisand 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 Tanyain
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 Tehillimare 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 Tanyais 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 neshamahof a person does not
depend on his brain. The brain, which is the seat of the intellect,
and the neshamahare 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 neshamahis 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 Chumashor the
Tehillimor the Tanya. But it keeps their neshamahfit and healthy.
Come on now, let's make that resolution!
30 Sivan
Divine Discontent
TheAlter Rebbe'sresponsetoabrilliant youngmanwhowasfamedfor
hisintellectual gifts, at hisfirst yechidus(aprivateaudiencewith the
Rebbe)...: Spiritual and physical areantithetical in their veryessence. A
superior qualityinthephysical realmisa deficiencyinthespiritual.
In material matters, a personwho is content withhis lot is an
individual of thehighest quality. Through avodah, a personwhohas sucha
trait, withadditional work on himself, can cometothehighest levels. In
spiritual matters, however, to besatisfiedwith one'slot is theworst
deficiency, and makesoneregressand 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 middahthis is, that he is content and does
not seek more than he has." What HaShemgave 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.
26 Tammuz
Learning and Davening
In Torah studythepersonis devotedtothesubject that hewishesto
understandand comestounderstand. In daveninghis devotionis directedto
that whichsurpassesunderstanding.
In learningTorahaJewfeelslikea pupil withhis master;in davening
likea childwithhis 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 daveningthe 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. Daveningis 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, HaShemis the teacher since the Torah is His
word, and we are the students, whereas in daveningthe 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 daveningand 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 davensand never learns is not a full Jew. A Jew who only learns
and doesn't davenis also not a full Jew.
27 Menachem Av
Taking Stock
Themonthof Elul isthemonthof reckoning. Inthematerial world, if a
businessmanistoconduct hisaffairsproperlyand with great profit, hemust
periodicallytakean accountingand correct anydeficiencies... Likewisein
thespiritual avodahof servingG-d. Throughout theyear all Israel are
occupiedwithTorah, mitzvosand [developing] goodtraits. Themonthof
Elul isthemonthof reckoning...
Even though this quotation from HaYomYomis in the month
of Av, it was written for the Shabboswhich 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 cheshbonhanefesh. The entire year a Jew is involved in
Torah and mitzvosand middostovos, 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 begashmiyusand 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!
28 Menachem Av
Alternative (Spiritual) Medicine
Therearetwogeneral approachesin healinga bodilyillness: (a) Toheal
the particular organor facultythat is defective, sick or weak;(b) to
strengthenthehealthyorgansand facultiessothat theymay overcomeand
heal thesick organor faculty. Theparallelsin illnessesof thesoul arethe
twoapproachesin serviceof G-d teshuvahand 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 shmirashalashon guarding
your tongue with workshops and classes and seminars and so on.
somebody asked a certain Lubavitcher Rabbi why it is that Chabadis
not involved in this movement. shouldn't they be in the forefront
of this worldwide shmirashalashon, anti-lashonharacampaign? so that
Rabbi wrote a three-part essay on the subject. The gist of this essay
was that shmirashalashonis a defensive approach, a negative
approach; you're involved with doing away with a transgression. You
get preoccupied and involved with not talking lashonhara. In
contrast, the chassidic approach to dealing with this problem is to
increase one's ahavasYisrael, a subject the Rebbe always talks about.
Through ahavasYisrael 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 shmirashalashon. 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,
Chassidusalways stresses the positive approach, ahavasYisrael being a
recognition of the beauty of every neshamah, as the Alter Rebbe
writes in Tanya,Chapter 32. AhavasYisrael on a deeper level means
realizing that you are connected to all Jews, since all Yiddenare part
of HaShem. In short, if a person is preoccupied with ahavasYisrael,
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
29 Av
Going Up the Down Escalator
Theremust beavodahbyone'sown efforts. Thereissomethingsuperior
about beingtakenbythehandandled; it ismorepreciousthough, whenone
makesone'sown endeavors.
This reading from HaYomYomfocuses on the difference
between the approach of Chabad Chassidusand some other
approaches. ChabadChassidusvery 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, avodahmeans 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 mitzvahof
neirosChanukah: 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 mitzvahin 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 HaShemis 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 avodahis never
stop. The Rebbe says the concept of vacation or retirement is foreign
to ChabadChassidus.
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 hashgachahperatis, 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
ChabadChassidus. ChabadChassidussays 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 avodahmeans. 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.
1 Elul
Time for Extra Vitamins
WhentheTzemachTzedek wasnineyearsold, theAlter Rebbetold
himthefollowing: I receiveda directivefrommyRebbe(theMaggidof
Mezritch) whoreceivedit fromhisRebbe(theBaal shem Tov) inthename
of hisRebbe(AchiyahHaShiloni. TheBaal shem Tov wastaught bythe
soul of AchiyahHaShiloni, wholived thousandsof yearsearlier, duringthe
timeof KingDavid. Hewasoneof the48 Prophets, anda transmitter of
thesecretsof theTorah. Accordingtosomeauthoritieshewasthemaster of
EliyahuHaNavi). Thisistheteachingthat was transmitted: Fromthe
seconddayof Rosh ChodeshElul until YomKippur, wearetosaythree
chaptersof Tehillimeveryday, and then, onYomKippur, 36 ninebefore
Kol Nidrei, ninebeforegoingtosleep, nineafter Mussaf, and(thelast) nine
after Neilah. If onedidnot start sayingTehillimontheseconddayof Rosh
Chodesh, oneistostart withtheTehillimof theparticular dayon whichhe
realizeshis omission, and completethemissingTehillimlater.
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 TzemachTzedek 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 mesirusnefeshso that
ChabadChassiduscould 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 TzemachTzedek.
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 Tehillimto your daily schedule in Elul? You have to know that
Tehillimis something that in the past was associated with very
simple, plain people; all that people who did not know how to learn
Gemaracould do was say Tehillim. However, the Baal shem Tov
taught that when simple folk recite Tehillim, this is often dearer to
HaShemthan the Torah learning of great scholars, because it comes
from the heart. Tehillimis always associated with the heart of the
Jew. When you say extra Tehillimduring 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 cheshbonhanefesh, 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 segulahfor this period.
Dedicated to the memory of
Ne choma Gre i s man
one of the pioneer shluchos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Eretz Yisrael
who passed away at an early age on 23 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.