Watch: Reb Yoel On Yud Shevat

Watch: a short lesson by Reb Yoel Kahn on Yud Shevat with English subtitles and transcript.

Watch a short lesson by Reb Yoel Kahn on Yud Shevat with English subtitles and transcript.

Scroll down for the English transcript.


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Yud Shvat is the yahrtzeit of the Frierdiker Rebbe and, more importantly for us, it is the beginning of the leadership of our Rebbe. I wanted, first of all, to discuss the connection between the Rebbe, a leader of the Jewish people, and all Jews.

Regarding the commandment of parah adumah Hashem said to Moshe Rabbeinu, “To you I reveal the reason of parah adumah…” Parah adumah is the type of commandment described as a chok, suprarational, and amongst chukim themselves it is the most counterintuitive. Nevertheless, Hashem told Moshe, “To you I reveal the reason of parah adumah…”

There is a certain advantage in chukim that mishpatim (rational commandments) do not have. Observance of chukim better expresses kabbalas ol, acceptance of Hashem’s unquestioned authority, which the observance of understandable mishpatim does not express to the same degree.  

It is seemingly impossible to say that Moshe was in any way lacking the concept of chok. But since Moshe knew all the reasons for all the mitzvos, including that of parah adumah, it would seem that he was lacking the particular advantage of a chok, the full expression of kabbalas ol malchus shomayim. How can he have achieved kabbalas ol if he wasn’t lacking any understanding?

There is a maamar from the Rebbe, beginning Zos Chukas Hatorah (5729), where he discusses the spiritual stature of Moshe Rabbeinu. It’s a difficult and very deep maamar, and he describes Moshe Rabbeinu’s lofty reach, atik and pnimius atik, to the very highest of levels. After describing all these very lofty heights reached by Moshe, he says that none of them exemplify Moshe’s most essential characteristic. Moshe’s most essential characteristic is that he is a shepherd of the Jewish people, a ro’eh yisrael, and the essential being of a true shepherd is the sheep of his flock. If his flock is lacking anything then it is his loss too, for they are his true being.

The Rebbe further explains that this does not simply mean that the shepherd cares for his flock so deeply that when they are lacking something it as if he is lacking something. That’s not what is meant here. Rather, their loss is actually his loss. It’s not that he is so deeply sympathetic to their loss and pain that it is as if he suffers their loss, he actually suffers a real loss.  

What does this mean? Moshe, we know, was a rich man, both physically and spiritually rich, how could he be missing anything? Because his essential being is the Jewish people, anything that they are missing is a loss to his very own self.

This is also how Moshe achieved the particular advantage expressed through the chukim. Even though he knew all the reasons, including the reason for parah adumah, if the Jewish people did not know the reason, and for them it was an unfathomable chok, then for Moshe too it was a chok.

Accordingly the Rebbe also explains what is said regarding Yud Tes Kislev, that after the Alter Rebbe was released from imprisonment in Petersburg he reached a higher level than he had reached previously. The explanation given for this is that light is brighter when it comes after darkness. The question is, was there ever really darkness for the Alter Rebbe? The whole ordeal could only be conducted with his agreement. The story is well known, that they were traveling on Friday, at midday he told them to stop, the officers did not want to, and the wagon stopped of its own accord. The axle broke and they couldn’t travel further. He consented to the imprisonment. When a person is imprisoned by his own volition, there is no darkness. The darkness is only a superficial darkness, but the high level reached afterwards was a real ascent. How can such superficial darkness be the reason for such a great ascent? 

The explanation is as follows: For the Alter Rebbe there was indeed no darkness, but for Chassidim and for the Jewish people there was a very real darkness – the Rebbe is sitting in jail! For them there was darkness, and his essential being is them. If so, when there is darkness for the Jewish people there is real darkness for him too. Again, this does not mean that because they were in pain his sympathy was so great that it was as if he too was suffering. On the contrary, the fact that he had such wondrous ability and spiritual stature is all external, what the Jewish people are lacking is his essence. The darkness is his.

All this illustrates one facet of the relationship of the Rebbe with Chassidim; the degree to which the Rebbe is influenced by Chassidim. Whatever they are lacking he is lacking too. Now I want to illustrate a second, opposing, facet, the degree to which the Jewish people are influenced by the Rebbe.

* * *

Our Connection with the Rebbe

There is a sefer called Kehillas Yaakov (by Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Yulas, a disciple of the Ropshitzer Rebbe), where it is written that the word nosi (נשיא) is an acronym for nitzutzo shel yaakov avinu, a spark of Yaakov our forefather. What is the significance of Yaakov specifically? Why not Avrohom or Yitzchok?

In a sicha the Rebbe explains that there is a difference between Yaakov and the other forefathers. One of Avrohom’s sons was Yishmoel. In other words, Avrohom’s holiness had certain boundaries within which it spread and beyond which it did not spread. Although it says specifically Yitzchak “will be called your offspring,” Yishmoel was also Avrohom’s son, and yet the holiness of Avrohom did not continue through him. Similarly, one of Yitzchak’s sons was Eisav. But when it comes to Yaakov there is no such limitation. All of Yaakov’s sons retained his holiness. Anything connected to Yaakov assimilates his holiness.          

That’s why we describe the leader of the generation as a nosi, a spark of Yaakov Avinu. The quality of a nosi entails that his own qualities will be passed on to anyone who is connected to him.

When you have tangible example of something you understand it better. Personally, I’ve thought many times of an episode that happened in the summer of 5710 (1950). I received a letter from my father about a distant relative of ours by the name of Yitzchak. He had drifted far away from yiddishkeit, and was in a very detrimental situation. My father asked me to request a blessing from the Rebbe for his spiritual welfare.  

I went into the Rebbe’s room, and the Rebbe asked me, “How old is this individual?” I started to think, and the Rebbe said, “I’ll tell you why I’m asking.” The Frierdiker Rebbe had visited Eretz Yisroel in 5689 (1929), and the Rebbe wanted to know if the Frierdiker Rebbe had seen this relative of mine. That’s why he asked how old he was. I said that I know he was in the presence of the Frierdiker Rebbe. The Rebbe thought for a moment and then said, “Since it is so,” since the Rebbe saw him, “certainly everything will be in order.” A few weeks went by and then some incident occurred and this individual returned to the Jewish way.  

What do we see from this? The power of the Rebbe’s glance, I don’t recall the exact words the Rebbe used to refer to the Frierdiker Rebbe, but the gist of it was “since the Rebbe saw him, certainly everything will be in order.”

Of course, it wasn’t only that the Frierdiker Rebbe saw him, but what the Rebbe himself said that also had a great effect. But what the Rebbe said is very noteworthy.

Earlier I mentioned the idea, in connection to chukim, that Chassidim have a powerful effect on the Rebbe, and then there is the effect that the Rebbe has on Chassidim.

It is important to know one thing; none of this excludes Chassidim who were born after Gimmel Tammuz. There are things in which the Rebbe invested himself, both physical things and spiritual things. I’ll come back to the specifics in a moment. But it is through these things that we become connected to the Rebbe.

* * *

The Way to Connect

It is said that tzaddikim are comparable to their Creator. Regarding the connection between the Jewish people and Hashem there are three components, Torah, avodah and gemmilus chassadim.

Torah means simply to learn Torah. As the Gemara says, “ana nafshi kesovis yehovis,” Hashem wrote his very self into his Torah, and therefore through learning Torah we attach ourselves to Hashem. Then there is gemmilus chassadim, which is a general term for all mitzvos; by following Hashem’s commandments we connect ourselves to Hashem.

Then there is a third thing. In general, each component has particular advantages that the other doesn’t have. Torah has advantages over mitzvos, and mitzvos have advantages over Torah. But there is a third thing, avodah, which today refers to avodas hatefilladavening. What is tefillah? Simply speaking, according to halachah, the Rambam says that when a person is lacking something he must ask Hashem to provide it. That is davening.

Which of these three components best expresses our relationship with Hashem? If we look at it superficially it seems that when you learn Torah or perform mitzvos you are learning Hashem’s Torah and performing Hashem’s mitzvos, whereas when you daven you are asking for your own personal needs. The individual is missing something and requests that Hashem should fill the deficit. But it is not so. In a certain respect, tefillah, which means attachment, better expresses the relationship we have with Hashem. When you perform a mitzvah or learn Torah it is not you, it is Hashem’s commandment, Hashem’s Torah. But tefillah is what is bothering you, there is something on your mind, something that bothers you, and you express the personal hope that Hashem will fulfill your request. This is a far more intimate attachment.

Tzaddikim are comparable to their Creator, and all these three things apply to our relationship with the Rebbe. There is the concept of learning the Rebbe’s teachings. What would be better than studying something from the teachings every day. Not just from time to time. On Shabbos there is of course more time, but even during the week, five minutes or ten minutes each day, the point is it should be permanent. Learn a sicha, a letter or a maamar, each according their own measure, every day.

Further there is the concept of mitzvos; there are the Rebbe’s directives, chitas and Rambam, irrespective of the level of understanding, it is important to fulfill the Rebbe’s directives. Likewise there are the directives to go on mivtzoim and act as a shliach.

But then there is another thing. When a Jew is bothered by something, he knows that he has where to go. He has who to ask. Now, the situation is the same as it was before Gimmel Tammuz, there is no difference. When something is bothering you, know that the Rebbe is interested in you, and when you read your note or pidyon the Rebbe listens and it touches every fiber of his soul. When a Jew has pain, the Rebbe experiences that pain. And like we said before, it doesn’t mean that he feels pain only as if he had experienced the loss, [rather that it is his own pain]. And the Rebbe davens on the person’s behalf. And when he returns a second time to relay the good news that the situation has improved, that the Rebbe’s tefillos helped, the Rebbe derives pleasure. This is a relationship, an intimate relationship.

Apart from what we mentioned earlier, that the Rebbe invested himself in his teachings, the Rebbe also charted a path; he is a guide in a very simple sense. There are maamorim, and one can think that there are difficult maamorim, deep maamorim, lofty levels are discussed, and the same might be said of the sichos. But then there are the Rebbe’s letters. The letters are literally a guide for every Jew. The Rebbe gave these letters to be published as guidance about how one should conduct himself, when he has a problem there is a published answer. There is no issue that the Rebbe’s letters do not address and tell us what to do.

The more we attach ourselves in all three areas – learning the Rebbe’s teachings, fulfilling his directives and cultivating our personal relationship, the awareness that he is our Rebbe, not only collectively but each individual’s personal Rebbe – the quicker will come “vehokitzu veranenu shoichnei ofor,” with the geulah very speedily.

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