Publisher’s Foreword

Although, as always, the language spoken by the Rebbe Shlita was Yiddish, the invigorating chassidic gathering of Shabbos Parshas Vayeishev (Shabbos Mevarchim Teves) will long be remembered by all those present as “the French farbrengen.”1

Instead of opening his remarks, as expected, with a reference to Chanukah or to the weekly Torah reading, the first words of the Rebbe Shlita were words of welcome which he addressed to a group of Jews from France who had taken up a conspicuous stand on the bleachers against the west wall. They responded by each addressing a LeChaim!2 to the Rebbe, who acknowledged each of them with a nod of the head and the traditional blessing, LeChaim VeliVerachah.3 The vast assemblage, sensing that these Frenchmen were to be, so to speak, the guests of honor at an unusual farbrengen, promptly broke out in the stirring melody of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, sung to the words of HaAderes VehaEmunah.4 And, indeed, this melody was to provide the farbrengen with one of its prominent themes.

It transpires that this was a group of businessmen who are investing considerable effort and resources in underwriting the recent dynamic expansion of Chabad-Lubavitch activities in France. Their foremost beneficiary is the renowned Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah at Brunoy, on the outskirts of Paris. Since its establishment after World War II by a group of chassidim of stature who had found their way out of Stalinist Russia, it has been housed in a picturesque pre-Revolutionary mansion known as Le Petit Chateau. Those cramped and utterly inadequate quarters were recently renovated, and soon, at long last, the Yeshivah will spread its wings in the newly-added functional building that will enable it to cope with its growing responsibilities to French Jewry, to the reawakening European community, and to the earnest students that it is attracting worldwide.

When he founded this institution in 1947, the Previous Rebbe נ"ע wrote in a letter:5 “Baruch shehecheyanu... lizman hazeh! — ‘Blessed [be G‑d], Who has granted us life and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.’ The foundation of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah in France is bringing immeasurable joy and spiritual satisfaction to our saintly forebears in heaven, the Rebbeim of the respective generations.” And, indeed, at the “French farbrengen” described above, the Rebbe Shlita extolled this particular branch of the Yeshivah as being faithful in all respects to the ideals of the illustrious parent Yeshivah, which was founded in 1897 in the White Russian village of Lubavitch.

The essay before us sets out some of the major themes of this unconventional farbrengen, as well as of the farbrengen of the previous week, on Shabbos Parshas Vayishlach, which foreshadowed it by likewise outlining the spiritual tasks facing French Jewry in particular, and indeed Jews everywhere.

24 Teves, 5752 [December 31, 1991]
Yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe

Napoleon: An Ideological Battle

When Napoleon led his armies into Eastern Europe, some Torah leaders6 supported the French forces in the hope that their victory would enhance the status of the Jewish people. The Alter Rebbe, however, supported Czar Alexander I, explaining that Napoleon’s victory would no doubt improve the Jews’ economic and social standing, but would detract from their spiritual commitment and practice. A Russian victory, by contrast, would perpetuate the difficult economic conditions under which the Jews lived, but would also nurture the fruitful spiritual climate of yiras shamayim (“awe of G‑d”) which then prevailed.7

Why was the Alter Rebbe so opposed to Napoleon?8 At the core of the French Revolution lay a disregard for higher authority,9 a disregard which can spur undue self-concern. Such an attitude in turn leads to the pursuit of material pleasure and sensual gratification.

This should not be misinterpreted to mean that Judaism opposes involvement with the material dimensions of our existence. Quite the contrary, the Rambam writes:10

A person may desire... not to eat meat, nor to drink wine, live in a pleasant home, or wear fine clothing.... This is a wrong path and it is forbidden to follow it.... Our Sages directed man to abstain only from those things which the Torah denies him and not to deny himself those [benefits] which are permitted.

At the same time, the Torah does require that our involvement with material things should be motivated by more than a desire for self-gratification. Instead, this involvement should be purposeful in nature and ultimately directed towards serving G‑d.11 For this reason, the Tanya12 identifies all material indulgence that serves only the desire of the body — even that which is necessary for the body’s very existence — as sitra achra, the Kabbalistic term associated with evil.

The latter term literally means “the other side,” and signifies a thrust that is not directed toward G‑dliness. An object or a motive is included in this category, not because it is harmful or destructive, but because it is not directed toward G‑d.13 This is the inherent difficulty in material involvement, for man has a natural tendency to be preoccupied with his own interests and pleasure, rather than with His.

France as a Divine Crucible

Conversely, however, our involvement with material things is necessary to enable us to fulfill a unique G‑dly intent. Chassidus explains. See Sefer HaMaamarim 5702, pp. 67-70 (cited at the beginning of MiGolah LiGeulah, Part I, ch. 2), and other sources. that every element of material existence contains G‑dly sparks which are unrevealed. Through the Divine potential he himself possesses and through the power of the Torah, man can reveal this hidden G‑dly energy invested within the world.

Chassidus refers to this approach to worldly involvement as tziruf — “refinement”. The same word describes the process of smelting ore. In this process, the dross is discarded and the precious metal is retained. Similarly, our involvement in the world requires turning our attention away from our own material concerns and focusing on the G‑dliness within.

The Hebrew word for France, Tzorfas (צרפת), shares the same root as the word tziruf (צירוף), implying that it is intrinsically connected with this mode of serving G‑d. France thus represents two approaches to worldly involvement: the self-oriented approach of seeking material pleasure, and the above-described task of refining the world and revealing the G‑dliness invested within it. Originally, France was associated only with the former approach.

At present, however, the second approach is in the ascendancy. This began with various visits to France by the Rebbe Maharash,14 and later, more frequently, by the Rebbe Rashab.15 In the following generation the Previous Rebbe not only visited France, but moreover sent members of his family there as his emissaries.16 Ultimately, this process reached a peak when the Previous Rebbe, after having settled in America, established various branches of Tomchei Temimim, the Lubavitcher yeshivah, in France.

This final step has brought about a spiritual revolution and renaissance. As a result, many chassidic and other classical Jewish texts have been published in France, and thousands of Jews whose family origins are in other lands have discovered their Jewish roots in that country. Furthermore, we are now seeing Jews who have been raised in France and who have had the unique character traits of that country inculcated into their personalities take the initiative and dedicate themselves to expanding and broadening the activities of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah.

Transmutation of a National Anthem

In this context, a unique miracle of recent times is worthy of attention. Just as every nation has a flag of its own, every nation has a national anthem. France too possesses a national anthem, a melody rooted in the core of the French Revolution, and composed exactly two hundred years ago, on the eve of the French assault on Austria. It was with the chords of this melody that throngs of eager thousands were to celebrate the authority that had been wrested from the monarchy. Thus this melody came to symbolize precisely the self-assertive Napoleonic spirit which grew out of the Revolution, and which the Alter Rebbe opposed.

Several years ago,17 however, this melody was adopted by chassidim and sung together with the words of the hymn HaAderes VeHaEmunah,18 which proclaims G‑d’s universal Sovereignty. Shortly afterwards, certain chords and rhythms of this song were altered.19 Seeking to explain this phenomenon, certain elder chassidim have commented that it is as if France willingly gave over its national anthem to the chassidim. And indeed, it is miraculous that a country should change its national anthem, particularly one related so intrinsically to its history.20 This fact bears testimony to the unique spiritual changes that have transpired in France.

France Becomes a Life-Giving Wellspring

Chassidic thought explains that the intent which motivates our involvement in the world should be two-dimensional in nature. In addition to the service of uplifting the Divine sparks invested in the world, we ought to direct our efforts toward transforming the world itself into a dwelling place for G‑d.21

The first dimension is limited in scope, for the infinite G‑dliness that enclothes itself in our limited world has undergone a process of self-confinement so that this enclothement could be possible. In contrast, the conception of the world as G‑d’s dwelling opens up an infinite dimension. Just as it is in a person’s home that he reveals himself freely, without restraint or inhibition, so too, it is in this world that G‑dliness will be revealed without any constraint.

This dimension will be revealed in the Era of the Redemption. In this context our Sages22 refer to the Mashiach as “the one who breaks through” (הפורץ), as it is written,23 “The one who breaks through shall ascend before them.” This is the task of Mashiach — to break through the finite bounds of the world and reveal how it is in fact G‑d’s dwelling.

Here too we see a connection to France, צרפת, since the letters of its name can be rearranged to form the word פרצת.24 This word provides the verb in the verse, ופרצת ימה וקדמה... — “And you shall spread forth vigorously (Ufaratzta) — westward, eastward, northward and southward.”25 And indeed, France today is fulfilling this verse, disseminating the wellsprings of Chassidus in all directions, and thus preparing the world for the advent of the Redemption.26

Significantly, Tzorfas (צרפת) is also numerically equivalent to 770, the address of the center for the dissemination of Chassidus established by the Previous Rebbe. This number in itself reflects a connection to the Redemption, for it is a multiple of the number seven.27 Our Sages teach that28 “All sevenths are cherished,” and Chassidus explains29 that the preciousness of the seventh in a series is reflected in the Jewish people’s task of drawing the Divine Presence down to the earth, so that it will become manifest here as it was manifest in the Sanctuary.

Today’s Task

The above concepts are relevant beyond the geographic confines of France. For the role of the entire Jewish people and the cosmic reason for their dispersion throughout the world is associated with the process of tziruf — “refinement”.9 Nevertheless, in the present era, this function has been completed. To borrow an expression of the Previous Rebbe’s,30 “We have already polished the buttons,” and completed the task of refining the world with which our people have been charged.

In the present generation, our people have been given a new responsibility — to cultivate the world and prepare it for the coming of the Redemption. This involves “opening our eyes”;31 i.e., broadening our conceptual horizons and realizing that the world in which we are living is far greater than we ordinarily conceive — that it is G‑d’s dwelling.

This realization, and the communication of it to others, will hasten the coming of the time when32 “The exiled host of the children of Israel as far as Tzorfas... will take hold of the cities of the South. And saviors will ascend Mount Zion... and sovereignty will be G‑d’s.”

An Adaptation of Addresses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe שליט"א
on Shabbos Parshas Vayishlach and Shabbos Parshas Vayeishev, 5752 and Other Occasions