Chof Menachem Av, 5746 (1986)

Chof Menachem Av, 5746 (1986)

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1. “We begin with a benediction” is the salutation of the Alter Rebbe at the beginning of Iggeres Hakodesh. The Oral Torah, too, begins with blessings since the first tractate is called “Berachos — Blessings.” Our sages have also taught that the Torah begins with the letter “bais” because it is the initial letter of the word “berachah” — blessing.

Normally we think of blessings as the good fortune which radiates and affects a certain person, place or thing. The “perfect benediction” would be goodness that spreads and encompasses all places and things, including something far from the source, or opposite the theme, of the blessing. In such a case the negative phenomenon would be converted into a blessing, and the source of the blessing would have to be from a higher level — the source of blessings. Sometimes it is even necessary to engender blessings from a source above the source of blessing.

When the blessings stem from so lofty a source, they will obviously be true and complete. At the usual source of benediction there is a chance that,

The upper hand will go from one to the other. (Bereishis 25:23)

When its source is loftier, it will be an eternal blessing, never giving way to any other condition.

In the case of redemption we are familiar with these two possibilities. There may be a redemption which will be followed by further exile, and then there is the ultimate, true and eternal redemption to which there is no “after which”!

In today’s farbrengen our opening benediction is one which must reach to the point of changing a negative aspect to a blessing. Commemorating as it does the day of passing of my late father, it represents a case of non-blessing. As the Gemara says:

The death of the righteous is put on a level with the burning of the House of our G‑d. (Rosh Hashanah 18b)

Despite this negative aspect we are accustomed to gather for a farbrengen on the Yahrzeit days. Now, when Jews gather with Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity, it provides a conduit for G‑d’s blessings: “Bless us our Father all together as one.” For G‑d is pleased when we gather in unison.

The farbrengen itself also has aspects of happiness: singing, words of Torah, good resolutions to be carried out in observing mitzvos. As such, the blessings we engender must be of a lofty nature.

The custom of gathering for a farbrengen on the day of a Yahrzeit of a tzaddik is in keeping with the theme of such a day as described in Iggeres Hakodesh:

All his doings, his Torah, and the Divine service which he served all the days of his life...become revealed and radiate in a manifest way from above downwards at the time of his passing...and effects salvation in the midst of the earth. (Iggeres Hakodesh ch. 27-28)

Consequently, every year on the day of passing it is an opportune time to effect salvation.

This bears some further elucidation: “In the midst of the earth” refers first to a particular individual among the Jewish people who are alluded to as people of the land; “For you shall be a land of delight” (Malachi 3:2).

“Salvation” — no plain blessing or mere success — but “salvation”; emerging from all negative situations, to the ultimate nullification of all things opposing salvation.

“Effects,” the Hebrew term “poel,” alludes to the lowest common form of action — to tell us that everything must reach the state of corporeal action.

Should there be any reservations concerning the observance of a Yahrzeit at a happy farbrengen, it is customary to complete a tractate of Talmud at such a gathering. In that case the joy is observed in association with the completion of the Gemara. Having spoken of blessings we will say the siyum on the tractate of Berachos which is the first tractate of the Talmud, and as such, we will also connect it with the closing sections of the Talmud. We will also seek an aspect of blessing which epitomizes and emphasizes the ultimate blessing — one that was converted from non-blessing to blessing.

In Torah itself we also find this aspect of converted blessing. The Pentateuch concludes with the portion of “Berachah,” just as the Torah begins with the letter “bais” (for berachah). The last verse in the Torah states: “...that Moshe did before the eyes of all Israel,” to which Rashi explains that the verse is referring to Moshe’s decision to break the first Tablets when he saw the Jewish people worshiping the Golden Calf. The Holy One, Blessed be He, later thanked Moshe and blessed him for his presence of mind.

This blessing was certainly a classic case of a blessing which represents the conversion of bad to good.

The first Tablets were the “handiwork of G‑d,” when they were broken, it represented a tragic event similar to the destruction of the Temple and similar to the death of the righteous:

The death of the righteous is as grievous before the Holy One, Blessed be He, as the day on which the Tablets were broken. (Rashi, Devarim 10:7)

Yet, the negative phenomenon was transformed and when, at the close of the five books of Moshe, the Torah singles out the qualities of Moshe our teacher, listing all the wonders and miracles, and missions etc., it concludes “that Moshe did...” his crowning accomplishment. What was it? He broke the Tablets and G‑d thanked him for it! And the thanks which Moshe received came from the loftiest source, above the source of blessings, and it was then incorporated in the conclusion of the Torah, embodied in the words “before the eyes of all Israel.”

This “converted” blessing is clearly discernible by everyone and is analogous to the blessing of the day of passing of a tzaddik; there, too, it “effects salvation before all Israel.”

The close of the tractate Berachos deals with the subject:

Torah scholars increase peace in the world ...the L‑rd will give strength to His people; the L‑rd will bless His people with peace (Tehillim 29:11). (Berachos 64a)

The subject of peace is synonymous with blessing, as the final mishnah of the Talmud states:

The Holy One, Blessed be He, found no vessel that could contain blessing for Israel save that of peace, as it is written, “the L‑rd will bless His people with peace.” (Uktzin 3:12)

The true blessing of G‑d is infinite. When, however, the blessing must be absorbed by the recipient, in this case, the Jewish people, it must be metered according to their ability and level — only then will it be a true blessing for the recipient.

If the blessing is too great, human beings cannot benefit from it. For this purpose G‑d, as it were, needs a vessel to absorb and catch the blessings for the Jewish people. Therefore, that vessel, peace, assumes the role of true blessing in the eyes of the recipients.

Consequently, the conclusion of the entire Talmud deals with the subject of “peace” as it is bound with the subject of blessing — “the vessel which holds the blessing.” This then effects a connection of the beginning of the Talmud with the end.

In the case of the final Gemara section of Talmud (vis-à-vis the final mishnah) we may also find the aspect of berachah.

At the close of the tractate Niddah, which is the last tractate for which we have Gemara as well as Mishnah, we find:

It was taught by Eliyahu: whoever studies Torah laws every day is assured of life in the World to Come, for it is said: “Halichos (the ways of the world) are his” (Chabakuk 3:6). Do not read halichos but halachos (Torah laws). (Niddah 73a)

Rashi and Tosafos both concur that this statement concludes the final chapter of Gemara Niddah, although it is clearly an extraneous subject, added at the close, just to conclude the chapter with an upbeat, optimistic subject.

Since without this teaching of Eliyahu the close of the tractate would not have been optimistic, by adding this “good” subject the editors clearly reached out for a greater good to transform the otherwise “unhappy” ending. It thus transforms the otherwise negative aspect into a blessing and thereby concludes all of the Talmud with the good blessing.

At the close of Berachos we can also discern the aspect of changing the negative to a blessing. Being the first tractate which discusses this subject of peace it lists many verses dealing with peace, among them the verse:

Those who love Your Torah have abundant peace, and for them there is no stumbling. (Tehillim 119:165)

Now, although it speaks of peace and no stumbling, it still ends with the word “stumbling,” a negative term! Following this, the Gemara goes on to say “The L‑rd will bless His people with peace.” In other words, it adds the blessing of peace as a final transformation of all negative forces to the good.

Similarly, in the last mishnah of the Talmud there is a scholarly discussion as to why the last dictum is the one quoted by R. Shimon b. Chalaftah concerning the “vessel for blessing.” It turns out that there, too, the choice of the editor of the mishnah hinged on the desire for a good, happy ending — again a case of converting the less optimistic to the joyous complete blessing.

The subject of a Siyum — completion — itself, at first glance, also seems to be a negative endeavor. If Torah is our life — how can you conclude or stop the study of a particular subject in Torah? The truth, however, is that a siyum is only the conclusion of a cycle which allows you to move on to a higher cycle of continuous study. In the concluding formula recited at the celebration of the completion of a tractate we say:

Just as You assisted me to conclude this tractate, so too, please help me to begin the study of other tractates and other books.

In fact, the word “hadran” (used in the conclusion formula) means “conclude,” but it also means “come back again.” Thus the end of a cycle can also be the harbinger of greater cycles to come. This is similar to the day of passing. Physical death is the conclusion of the physical “life cycle” of a person — it would seem to be the opposite of blessing — and yet, its true purpose it to allow the neshamah to rise to an infinitely loftier state. As a result of which we too will have “salvation” here on earth.

This aspect is reiterated when we connect it with the Siyum on Talmud as discussed above.

May G‑d grant that we will very soon see the fulfillment of the promise:

Arise and sing you that dwell in the dust. (Yeshayahu 26:19)

When all the righteous will arise, and among them my father, and Moshe and Aharon, and then our righteous Mashiach will teach Torah to all the people. This will all be effected by our Divine service of Torah and mitzvos during the galus.

May it be a complete redemption with the complete nation, and the complete Torah and the complete land — expanded — and may this lead into the new year and become a year of redemption with all the blessings according to the aleph-bais:

A year of light;

A year of blessing;

A year of redemption;

A year of cheer;

A year of majesty and splendor;

A year of good convocation and

A year of great merits;

A year of good long life — body and soul;

A good year, a good and sweet year;

A year of great destiny;

A year of good economy;

A year of study with great success;

A year of kingship; “and kingship will be the L‑rd’s” (Ovadiah 1:21). “Who are called kings? the rabbis” (Gittin 62a);

A year of great miracles;

A year of Divine assistance;

A year of strength;

A year of redemption; “He has redeemed my soul in peace” (Tehillim 55:19); A year of the complete salvation through our righteous Mashiach;

A year of jubilation; a year of charity; “The Holy One, Blessed be He, showed mercy with Israel by scattering them among the nations” (Pesachim 87b). We should merit to see the “charity” of the galus, as it says,

O L‑rd I will praise You because You were angry with me. (Yeshayahu 12:1)

For, after all, this is illogical, by right the Jew should cry out, “How long?” and in this way he will speed the redemption and we will reach the promise: “I will lead you with your heads held high.” A year of walking upright;

A year of exaltation;

A year of joy and rejoicing;

A year of Torah, teshuvah, prayer. “They shall proclaim the praises of the L‑rd” (Yeshayahu 60:6), with joy and glad hearts.

* * *

2. Having discussed the lofty quality associated with the yahrzeit of a tzaddik, we may now direct our attention to the phenomenon of death in general, even as it regards the descendants of Noach.

The difference between Jews and non-Jews expresses itself in relation to Torah observance. The Jewish people are required to observe 613 mitzvos of the Torah and the gentiles of the world are required to fulfill merely the Seven Noachide Laws.

This is no small responsibility, for it is an essential ingredient in creation. As the prophet expresses the purpose of creation:

He did not create it a waste land, He formed it to be inhabited. (Yeshayahu 45:1)

How? By establishing stable, humane, just societies based on the Seven Noachide Laws.

From the time of Matan Torah this also became an obligation for Jews to encourage and influence gentiles to observe the Seven Noachide Laws, as the Rambam rules:

Moreover, Moshe, our teacher, commanded us by Divine ordinance to compel all human beings to accept the commandments enjoined upon the descendants of Noach. (Laws of Kings 8:10)

Those who come in contact with non-Jews should use their good offices to encourage them to study and fulfill the Seven Noachide Laws. One who has contact with upper echelon circles, in the capital city, with people of influence, should not be satisfied with influencing only his local neighbors, but he should utilize his unique position and potential to influence a broad circle of people. Let him disseminate the Seven Noachide Laws far and wide.

Such activities will enhance his own personal fulfillment as well as effect the perfection of the whole world. That perfection will come with the revelation of our righteous Mashiach:

He will prepare the whole world to serve the L‑rd with one accord as it is written: “For then I will turn to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the L‑rd to serve Him with one consent” (Tzephaniah 3:9). (Laws of Kings 11:4)

Influencing the nations of the world to recognize G‑d and accept the Seven Noachide Laws is a fitting preparation for that future state, when “kingship will be the L‑rd’s.”

In addition to the Seven Noachide Laws there are other subjects in Torah which non-Jews may relate to, such as matters which fit into logical patterns and certain universal truisms — and most especially — those subjects which foster the goal, “He formed it to be inhabited.”

We find an example of this approach in the rules of mourning. The Rambam writes:

Whoever does not mourn the dead in the manner enjoined by the rabbis is cruel. (Laws of Mourning 13:12)

On the other hand, we find:

One should not indulge in excessive grief over one’s dead,...for that is the way of the world, and one who frets over the way of the world is a fool. What rule should one follow in case of bereavement? (The rule is) three days for weeping, seven days for abstaining from cutting the hair, etc. (Ibid.:11)

There are also aspects of mourning which continue till the end of the year. After the year the Holy One, Blessed be He, gave us the nature that “the deceased is forgotten from the heart.”

Since these matters are related to “inhabiting the world” it follows that they apply also to the descendants of Noach.

When the Noachides were commanded to believe in G‑d, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, this faith included the principle that G‑d is just, and “righteous and moral is He” (Devarim 32:4).

What then do we do with phenomena that seem to contradict this axiom? How do we explain, “You are just O L‑rd and upright is Your judgment” (Tehillim 119:137), when we see injustice in the world?!

We must explain these paradoxes and contradictions so that the Noachide will comprehend G‑d’s ways.

In this framework there is a particular subject in which the Noachide may ask a powerful question. The Holy One, Blessed be He, created man, and “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d].” How is it possible for G‑d to do an action opposite the creation of life — the phenomenon of death?! The Torah of truth must provide an answer also for the Noachide who is perplexed by this problem.

In approaching this paradox we must first follow the axiom that every descent, including the ultimate descent of death, is for the purpose of rising even higher.

When a non-Jew fulfills his purpose on earth by observing the commandments ascribed to him and also influences others in his sphere of contact, and if this endeavor in life is sincere and complete to the best of the individual’s ability, he then completes his mission during his lifetime. As a result then;

The Holy One, Blessed be He, does not deprive any creature of the reward due to it. (B. Kama 38b)

Surely this person who has fulfilled his mission will be rewarded. If so, the descent of death must be understood merely as a temporary descent to enable the individual to rise to a higher spiritual state, where he/she will be able to receive the full reward for his/her good life.

There are other phenomena that happen in the world which leave us bewildered. They make no sense and make us wonder why G‑d allows these things to happen. Turning to the arena of human relations, in recent times we have seen shocking occurrences among the nations of the world — wild crimes perpetrated by man against man which never happened in the past.

Among the Jewish people also we have witnessed illogical activities, against human intellect and certainly in opposition to the mentality of the G‑dly soul. These actions are an affront to the rules of Torah governing such areas as slander, evil gossip, and the expression of imprecations, against other Jews. Such lowly conduct is strongly disparaged and prohibited in the Gemara — and it is compared to the vilest of crimes.

Yet, even in the face of such disgusting behavior we must find an explanation how the apparent descent is really for the purpose of ascending.

One of the signs of the pre-Messianic times is described for us in the book of Daniel:

They will be selected and clarified, and many will be refined; and the wicked will act wickedly and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand. (Daniel 12:10)

This means that in those last days the confusion in the world will be “cleared up,” and everyone will see who are the wicked, who will not understand, and who are the wise, who shall understand.

The wild conduct which we witness these days is part of this process. And even those, who as it turns out, are truly among the “wicked” will also benefit from this phenomenon.

An illustration of this idea may be found in the explanation of the different values of the Chatas (sin) offering and Asham (questionable — sin) offering. Why must the minimum Asham be worth 48 times as much as the minimum Chatas? The answer. When one is not sure that he committed a sin he will never repent. For this reason the Torah imposes upon him a severe penalty to jolt him to the realization that he must repent even for questionable sins. The basic rule must be kept in mind — a sacrifice brings atonement only when accompanied by genuine repentance.

When, in the pre-Messianic days, “They will be selected...clarified and...refined,” all questions and unsureties will be clarified, this will lead them to the realization that they are wicked and they must repent. In this way their own outbursts will be the key to their self-realization and repentance.

Among those who need this “filtration” process are some whose minds are not only clouded and unclear, but, who also stubbornly continue to travel their misguided paths as they drag their followers and students along with them. It is of course much harder to make amends when you have also caused others to err.

Yet, by virtue of the promise:

That none of us be banished, (II Shmuel 14:14)

we must be optimistic that the process of clarification will help also those who were dragged along that they, too, should repent. For now the truth has been refined and all can see what he really is and what he really stands for.

Hopefully, all those who are in this situation will see the truth and hoist themselves out of their messy states and do what is necessary to rectify the problem.

Thus, we see that a good result may be expected even from these negative phenomena.

3. When we use the term berachah — blessing — we are alluding to a revelation of greater goodness than is normally present. By its nature of existence every individual thing or person receives life-force and benevolence. We sometimes refer to this as “the daily burnt offerings according to their order” (see Siddur). When one is blessed with a “blessing,” it draws down additional benevolence from the source of blessings, analogous to the “Mussaf offerings.” It emerges from the hidden to the revealed.

Every person is compared to a “whole world,” and “whatever the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in the world, He created a parallel also in man” (Avos deRabbi Nason, ch. 1). Therefore, the subject of blessing must also express itself in this manner also in the life-force of man, it should constitute an addition to the normal life of a human being.

As such, it is especially prevalent in the case of a child and infant. At birth, an infant has 248 organs and 365 arteries, including hair and fingernails. When the supernal blessing is subsequently renewed the child grows and develops; a phenomenon which is most evident and apparent by infants and small children, who are continually growing.

Now consider school children. Our sages tell us:

The world endures only for the sake of the breath of school children. (Shabbos 19b)

You can imagine how lofty the blessing which they receive must be. Their special preciousness is so great that they are also referred to as G‑d’s “anointed ones.”

“Touch not My anointed,” refers to school children. (Ibid.)

Although Rashi explains that it was customary in those days to anoint small children with oil and therefore they were referred to as “My anointed,” the term still carries the connotation of being connected to Mashiach, and perhaps for this reason we must not interrupt the studies of school children to build the Beis HaMikdash. Since their study is associated with bringing Mashiach — it is their study which builds the Beis HaMikdash!

On the subject of blessings there can be a state of the initial expression of blessing; this is the condition of the blessing of the young school children. The full blessing will come after the age of bar/bas-mitzvah when he/she will become responsible for all Torah and mitzvos.

It is during that age span when the children are younger than bar/bas Mitzvah (when their G‑dly soul is not yet fully revealed) that the children must be inculcated with faith and prayer. This is symbolized by the Mishnaic dictum concerning the reading of Shema in the evening — before the light of day (bar-mitzvah).

In the case of non-Jews this aspect expresses itself in proper education which will train small children to grow up and observe the Seven Noachide Laws. To this end it is so important that in public schools the children be granted the opportunity for a “Moment of Silence.”

This means that the teachers will have no influence over the context of the “Moment of Silence,” rather, the child will ask his/her parent what to meditate on during the “Moment of Silence.” The parents will tell their children to think about the Creator, that He is the Master of the world and is concerned with the actions and deeds of every person. And, that He stands over this child and directs his life, as well as the lives of his friends and his parents.

When the child contemplates these thoughts his regular conduct and behavior will improve and will be compatible with a habitable world, so that when he grows up he will continue to act properly.

As a result of instituting this “Moment of Silence” in the public school systems, the authorities will save steps in their search for ways of dealing with all the serious problems in the schools. The more serious and shocking problems will be solved as well as the less serious problems, which in these troubled times leave so many children permanently hurt and scarred by their negative experiences in the school world.

Now is the time to work on this matter as we are soon approaching the start of the new school year.

In several areas pilot projects have been set up to allow the “Moment of Silence” and this will make the crusade much easier. The local school authorities and public opinion must be mobilized to push the politicians and officials to approve “Moment of Silence” options in local public schools. Then the parents should be mobilized, through advertisement, to encourage their children to utilize the “Moment of Silence” for intelligent and spiritual improvement.

Jewish children have a special role in the crusade. During the course of the day even yeshivah children meet other non-Jewish children in the streets — or, (sorry to say) in public schools.

These Jewish children have the responsibility to influence the other children to believe in G‑d by showing them a good, living example of how a child should act to make the world a just society — and also a holy place. In the Bible, which is even read in public schools, the Jewish people are called a “Holy Nation.” When the non-Jew sees the Jewish child with a yarmulka on his head and that he eats only kosher food and says a blessing even before taking a drink of water, he is moved by genuine curiosity to inquire about this conduct. When the Jewish child is asked for an explanation of what he said, he explains that everything is created by G‑d and that before enjoying G‑d’s bounty we must thank and bless the Holy One, Blessed be He, for giving us the water to quench our thirst, etc.

In this way the gentile child will also learn that all things come from G‑d and therefore he should conduct himself in a fitting manner. This approach will bring great success to the Jewish school children, many times over, and the children will demand more and more aspects of Yiddishkeit from their parents — more and more Torah and mitzvos and the increase of holiness in the home from day to day and hour to hour will be more tangible.

Let us connect this with a joyful melody and saying LeChaim. Certainly the counselors will give each child “LeChaim” and likewise the song should be sung in an organized fashion and may this bring “Mashiach Now!”; and the Beis HaMikdash should be built speedily in our days.

Just as in the days of the Exodus all the hosts of G‑d left the galus, especially the children who were the first to recognize G‑d, so too now — may it be speedily and with joy and gladness.

* * *

4. This week’s Torah portion is Re’eh, which means to see. Seeing something is always a stronger experience than just hearing about it — and Re’eh teaches us that in all areas of Torah and mitzvos we must really see the reality and truth of our action. When we do a mitzvah it should be as if we see the revelation at Sinai right now.

Since the soul truly sees the Sinai experience, our sages could honestly tell us:

Every day the Torah must be like a new experience. (Rashi)

From the earliest age a child must be trained to fulfill Torah and mitzvos. It is especially true in the education of children that practice is of the essence. (Let him actually see the revelation at Sinai.)

In today’s reading portion of Chumash the Torah speaks of the mitzvah to bring the second maaser (tithe) to the Beis HaMikdash, and it then goes on to speak of the future Beis HaMikdash, closing with the words:

Since you will be doing that which is good and morally right in the eyes of G‑d your L‑rd. (Devarim 12:28)

In other words, the construction of the Third Beis HaMikdash depends on our action and good deeds.

So, when the school child asks, “Since in the time of the diaspora we do not see G‑d’s miracles and wonders — how can we expect to function in a manner of seeing the revelation at Sinai?” he must be given an answer.

The answer is that through our good action in the time of the galus we will bring about the fulfillment of the promise and the revelation of G‑dliness.

There is another subject pertinent to school children. In the Holy City of Yerushalayim, today a siyum — completion — of a Sefer Torah for Jewish children was conducted near the Western Wall and then, the program was continued in the synagogue of the Tzemach Tzedek in the old city of Yerushalayim.

I want to stress that as soon as a child is born it is proper and good to arrange for a letter to be written for him/her in a Sefer Torah scroll. And this share in the Torah should be bought and not be taken gratis. This will generate spiritual and physical life to that child and his letter in the Torah will bring him much success and benediction. This also unites him with all others Jews now, and through all the generations.

And, as you must love your neighbor as yourself, you should also influence others to do the same in regard to the letters in the Torah and all Torah and mitzvos.

May this all bring the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach. And we will come on “clouds of heaven” to our Holy Land, to Yerushalayim the Holy City, to the Temple Mount, and the Beis HaMikdash, speedily and truly in our days.

A free translation from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
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Translated excerpts of talks delivered by The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, at his periodic public addresses.
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