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Let�s touch briefly on the pertinent question of honoring parents who are not yet acquainted with Torah and mitzvah observance.[1]

Submission

If honoring one�s parents stems mainly from gratitude towards those who �brought him into the world and they exerted themselves in various efforts when he was a child� (Sefer Hachinuch), then this reason is certainly valid in this case too. Even if you happen to be very remorseful about the secular education you absorbed at home, you must still be eternally thankful to your parents for even bringing you into the world and showering you with so much warmth and love. Even if you are a great rabbi and they are simple folk, keep with that point of submission that knows how to be thankful for life�s basic necessities.

Separation

If honoring one�s parents stems mainly from the importance of our heritage (Abarbanel), then one�s relationship with one�s parents in these circumstances becomes more complex. Feeling resentful might seem a justified sentiment to harbor against those who brought you up detached from your Jewish heritage (even if they did it unintentionally, as captives in their non-Jewish environment). However, the truth is that your parents still brought you up to be a decent, upright, mature and responsible person. With regards to the mitzvot between man and his fellowman, your parents may even excel more than some others who have a �religious� outward appearance. It is this unrelinquishable heritage that they granted you (and who can judge which is more important in God�s eyes�the mitzvah to �love your fellowman as yourself,� or other mitzvot like keeping Shabbat and donning tefillin?) Although a differentiation needs to be made between positive heritage (as in good character traits) and negative heritage (secular education etc.), nonetheless, the good always comes to the fore. If we check carefully, we might even discover that your becoming a ba�al teshuvah (returnee to God and His Torah) was not despite your parents but because of them�

Sweetening

However, the most profound reply is in the explanation that perceives parents as God�s representatives on earth (Nachmanides). Despite everything else, at the innermost point of perspective�without taking into consideration how your parents chose to live their lives�God chose to bring you into the world via them, and to reveal Himself to you in the form of your father and your mother. This reason is one that is capable of healing and sweetening any complex relationship in a family. Because once a lost child reveals God, he goes back to take a deeper look at his parents and reveals a new aspect that immensely deepens his love for them.

Summarized from the first chapter of the book, The Mitzvah of Honoring One�s Parents (�ִצְ�ַת �ִּ��ּ�ּ� ��ֹרִ��)



[1] According to Maimonides� ruling (Hilchot Mamrim 6:11) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deiah 240:18), the obligation to honor one�s parent�s is even regarding wicked parents. See also the Talmudic Encyclopedia entry on honoring one�s parents; Responsa Yabiya Omer part 8, Yoreh Deiah 21.

For Part 1, read �The Rabbi and the Emperor�

The French Revolution, and the Enlightenment that fed the entire development of the modern world, is about to reach its end.

Fleeing from the Serpent

Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s decision to flee from Napoleon is reminiscent of Moses� reaction to the serpent at the Burning Bush in the Torah portion of Shemot (the last portion that was read in Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s lifetime). God told Moses to throw down his staff. When it suddenly turned into a snake, Moses immediately, �fled from it��an instinctive human reaction to an encounter with a snake!

Before Moses� rendezvous with this snake, the previous appearance of a serpent is in the Torah portion of Bereishit, where, together with Adam and Eve, it appears as one of the main characters in the Garden of Eden. There, the snake does not appear as a physical enemy to mankind but as a spiritual enemy�one that seems to have man�s best interests at heart. But instead of the unassuming animal that it pretends to be, it is representative of the persuasive evil inclination. The snake�s smooth-tongued honey-sweet promise is that, �you shall be like God, knowing good and evil.� The snake�s primary intention is that mankind no longer be subservient to God.

From a deeper perspective, the secret of the snake�s lure is in its wrapping of a pseudo-logic puffed up by man�s ego (when the serpent suggests that Adam and Eve adopt a self-consciousness that is separate from God, instead of the Divine consciousness that they had been immersed in previously).[1] The emphasis here is that this is faulty logic, because a rectified inner intellect does not propose heresy nor self- aggrandizement, but stands in humility and wonder before God.

However, Eve did not stand up to this seductive package of both heresy and desire, and the rest is history� What should Eve have done? She should have fled in order not to be tempted by the clever claims of that inciter to sin. Like Rabbi Shneur Zalman, we need to simply block our ears and not even sit down to a �peace-talk� to hear his propositions (even if our only intention is to argue against them). Perhaps Rabbi Shneur Zalman learnt this tactic from the Almighty himself, who, after the sin, did not give the serpent a chance to defend himself before passing judgment on it. Since then, mankind has developed a natural instinct to flee from snakes (this is true of any form of seduction). So, Moses was right when he fled from the snake. This teaches us that you should not believe the snake even if a moment before it had been an innocent staff in your hand. As the teaching goes, �[even to] the best of snakes, [you should] smash its brain.�[2] That is, unless you have an explicit command and Divine assistance that paralyzes the snake, and turns it back into a staff!

The model example of someone who withstood a test, and was not seduced to eat from the forbidden fruit, was the righteous Joseph. Joseph�s test with Potiphar�s wife is the epitome of seduction in the Torah, and Joseph�who identified the serpent hissing before his very eyes�took the correct step: �and he fled and went outside.�[3] This is exactly what Moses did when he saw the snake. In fact the word �and he fled� (�ַ�ָּנָס) appears only in these two contexts in the Torah: the first in reference to Joseph, and the second in reference to Moses. Regarding Joseph, the temptation was also accompanied by heresy. Even though this wasn�t verbalized, Potiphar�s wife�s implicit message to Joseph was: �There is no judgment and no Judge, so why should you take into consideration the ancient convention that adultery is forbidden. Only you and I are present, we are free people and we can do as we like.� Joseph�s response was, �How can I do this greatly evil thing and sin to God!?�[4]

Napoleon�s proposition to the Jews�the Enlightenment and the emancipation that were born then�was the serpent�s venom in its modern incarnation. After generations of darkness under oppression by the countries where Jews lived, after oppressive laws and annihilation, poverty and torture, hatred and rejection, the non-Jewish nations finally offer us a new, welcoming face (from their point of view, this was a step in the right direction). With a seductive hiss they say, �You no longer need to be a �nation that dwells alone.�[5] Come along with us and we will become a united nation, and instead of the old God who oppressed you, let�s coronate mankind and his intellect as the ruling power.�

This is why Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s initial, healthy reaction (like Joseph before him) was �and he fled.� Although there are select individuals who need not fear their personal welfare against the Enlightenment,[6] nonetheless, for the general public who guarded their Yiddishkeit throughout the generations, there was a definite danger that their natural Jewish sincerity will be threatened. In particular, the greatest danger is for the young children (Joseph was also a youth at that time, a teenager of seventeen). Jewish education needs to be purely holy and not a game with dangerous vipers.

Since everything that happens in the world is Divinely ordained, an allusion can be found for this idea in Napoleon�s name. As mentioned above, the tzadikim already found an allusion in the first letters of Napoleon�s name to the fact that �he will surely fall.�[7] Now, we will complete this allusion by referring to the last three letters of Napoleon�s name (on, ��ֹ�), which is a reference to the ego which boasts by saying, �I will rule.�[8] This can also be seen as a reference to Potiphar himself, who was �a priest of On.�[9] The ancient Egyptian culture worshipped On (i.e., power worship, like Pharaoh who idolized himself). A synonym for �iniquity� (�ָ�ֶ�) is also spelled with the same letters, as in the phrase, �The wicked shall give up his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts, and he shall return to God.�[10] This suggests that beneath the highfalutin words of liberty and fraternity, there are also �iniquitous thoughts� that burst out murderously like a fatal snake-bite. It is remarkable to read the words Rabbi Shneur Zalman, wrote to his chassid who spied for the Russians, Rabbi Moshe Meisels, regarding the comparison to the two sides in that war:

The main essential point of the enemy [Napoleon] is in two things: 1. Anger and murder�senselessly disposing innumerous souls�and the power of victory to the extent of self-destruction and annihilation. 2. The pride and gall to depend entirely on his own strength and courage, the power of wisdom and war tactics and organization, and on the power of his success. Of this the verse states, �If you rise like an eagle [from there I will bring you down, says God].�[11]� For anyone who boasts and relies on his own power, saying, �My strength and the power of my hand [has made me successful]�[12] and dismisses providence, faith and trust in God� the Almighty will humble him in the most humiliating way and fell him�

Yet, in direct contrast to this, is the essential aspect of loving-kindness and goodness� From loving-kindness stems the trait of lowliness and complete selflessness (not sensing his own strength and power of his hand), because even if he has done great things and excels and is successful, he never attributes it to his own power[13] at all. Quite the opposite, it is as clear as sunshine to him that this is not his own power, because he knows and realizes well that no one can succeed with might. Neither with horse-power nor with intelligence since it is God who is essentially fighting the war� This level is clearly apparent to anyone who has a little acquaintance with our majesty, the Czar and all his consultants and ministers. We have seen his great faith in God and his humility and lowliness, and even now, he does not attribute this to his own strength, but only to God Himself, as everyone knows�

This is how Rabbi Shneur Zalman argues in a profoundly intellectual way why the French�who were confident in their own power and wisdom�would lose the war. Indeed, it is a well-known fact that it was Napoleon�s arrogance that subsequently brought his downfall.

Catch Him By His Tail!

The end result was that Napoleon was defeated and fled Russia by the skin of his teeth with the remnants of his army (although Rabbi Shneur Zalman paid ten years of his life for it, as explained in Part 1). In contrast, although the conditions for Western European Jewry still worsened during that era, the Russian victory offered a precious reprieve for Eastern European Jewry that lasted until the Enlightenment reached them.

From there, let�s skip to the new stage we have reached today. Above, we mentioned that Moses fled from the serpent, but God taught him that the goal is to catch it: �And God said to Moses, extend your hand and grasp its tail. And he extended his hand and caught it, and it turned into a staff in his palm.�[14] Normally, we say to kill the snake by bashing its head, as God said to the snake, �He [man] will crush your head.�[15] But here, the allusion is that when we reach the end, the serpent�s tail, we will succeed in catching the snake by its tail. At that time, not only will we hold onto the snake, but we will fearlessly control it as well!

How will this happen? One great principle in the Torah�s inner dimension states that every �husk� exhausts itself, eventually falling and dying. The French Revolution, and the Enlightenment that fed the entire development of the modern world, is about to reach its end. More exactly, the evil side of it is gradually exhausting itself completely. The attempt to place mankind on a Divine pedestal, to worship human intellect and success, and to use it as the only gauge for truth and judgment, is gradually losing its appeal. After shattering all the old myths, the statue of mankind who coronated himself is crumbling to dust. So much so that in today�s post-modern world (or perhaps, post-post-modern) we are hearing completely different tunes than what were heard during the French Revolution.

Now, in our generation in particular, we are witnessing a vast upheaval. Since the Enlightenment, traditional Judaism has been on the defense, and even receded in a constant process of retreat. Many communities fell captive to the winds of the Enlightenment, and it seemed traditional Jewish observance was being cast away by this self-confidence wave of secularism. At the time, it appeared that this trend would continue; showing religious observance to be something outdated and irrelevant. Yet amazingly, a generation of teshuvah (returnees to God and His Torah) has arrived, and the serpent once again lies helpless to the �hand of Moses� in our generation.

At the final showdown, the serpent itself will become a Divine staff. All the beauty and symmetry, all the wisdom and intelligence that has been discovered since the French Revolution, will be refined and brought under the auspices of holiness: �And an infant shall play over the hole of a snake, and over the den of an adder a weaned child shall stretch forth his hand. They shall neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mount, for the land shall be full of knowledge of God as water covers the sea bed.�[16]

Which Contendent Is Alexander?

We will conclude with an interesting anecdote that is related to Napoleon and the Czar of Russia. Napoleon reported that he saw the figure of a red-headed Jew who went out before him in battle; and in his merit, he knew that he would win the battle. However, at the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon�s final defeat, he no longer saw this figure before him. Chassidim say that this figure was Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Riminov, who was indeed a redhead. The Battle of Waterloo took place on the 10th of Sivan 5575, less than a month after the passing of Rabbi Menachem Mendel, Napoleon�s spiritual advocate, on 19th Iyar.

This story echoes the well known episode about Alexander III of Macedonia (�Alexander the Great�) who, when he met Shimon Hatzadik (who approached to appease him), behaved as follows: �[Alexander] descended from his carriage, and bowed down to him [Shimon Hatzadik]. They asked him, �A great king such as yourself bows down to this Jew?� He replied, �[The presence of] his image [causes me to be] victorious in my battles.�[17] Alexander is acknowledged favorably in Jewish tradition, and as a result of his positive attitude towards the Jews, many Jews were named after him.

In fact, there is great similarity between Alexander of Macedonia and Corsican Napoleon. Both of them were talented military generals who were devoted to education and esthetics; and both succeeded in ruling an expansive or global empire in a relatively short time. The sages enumerate Alexander the Great as one of the ten kings who ruled the world from �one end to the other.� (The next in line for this title is Mashiach, followed only by God Himself.)[18] Any great king who has followed Alexander (before the coming of Mashiach) purports to follow in his wake as his new edition. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Riminov validated this comparison of Napoleon as the Alexander of his times by praying for him to be victorious in his battles, and thus appearing in a vision before him during the war. However, Rabbi Shneur Zalman ruled in favor of Czar, whose name was Alexander. Of this Rabbi Shneur Zalman held that �Our Master Alexander� is the one who inherited the spark of Alexander the Great in that generation, which is why he won the war.

Alexander represents the desired meeting ground between the Jewish People and the nations of the world. He is able to truly appreciate the sanctity of the Jewish People, unlike his successors, such as the evil Antiochus. Shimon Hatzadik was able to refine Alexander�s good spark, so much so that his name has become an accepted Jewish name. Shimon Hatzadik is the successor of Yosef Hatzadik (the righteous Joseph), however here he did not come up against a temptation that he needed to flee from, but achieved the correct balance in his meeting with a foreign nation as in the prophecy: �And I will make you as a covenant of peoples and a light unto the nations.�[19]

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi determined that the Russian Czar was the true Alexander who had to defeat Napoleon, thus �consuming� Napoleon�s own spark of Alexander, and implanting it instead into the Czar�s Alexander.

Dedicated to our dear friend, Alexander Levin,

may he continue to serve the needs of the Jewish People and the Torah



[1] See our article The Tree of Consciousness in our book (in Hebrew), The Inner Dimension (���� �פנ���).

[2] Yerushalmi, Kiddushin ch. 4, h. 11. Based on the verse from Genesis 3:15.

[3] Genesis 39:12.

[4] Ibid 39:12.

[5] Numbers 23:9.

[6] They can enter safely and leave safely like Rabbi Akiva in the Pardes; eating the fruit of the pomegranate and discarding its skin.

[8] I Kings 1:5.

[9] Genesis 41:45; Rashi ad loc.

[10] Isaiah 55:7.

[11] Obadiah 1:4.

[12] Deuteronomy 8:17.

[13] For some fun, �own power� could be seen as a pun for �own on� (��ֹ� ��ֹ�) according to the explanations brought here.

[14] Exodus 4:4.

[15] Genesis 3:15.

[16] Isaiah 11:8-9.

[17] Yoma 69a.

[18] Pirkei D�rabbi Eliezer, ch. 10.

[19] Isaiah 42:6.

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alter_rabbi

Two-hundred-and-one years ago, on Motzei Shabbat (the night following Shabbat), 24th of Tevet 5573, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi passed away. He was the author of the Tanya and a code of Jewish law. He did not die of old age on his bed at home, but while on a hasty escapade that took place in the height of the severe Russian winter.

What connection is there between Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and Napoleon Bonaparte? These two figures, whose lives seem so far removed from one another, lived during the same era. In fact, the clash between them was perhaps the real war that took place behind the scenes of the French Revolution.[1]

In his boundless thirst for power, after conquering almost all of Europe, the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, set out on a huge war expedition and invaded Russia in the summer of 5572 (1812). As the French invaders where approaching Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s town, he transported his entire family in wagons, and fled with them into the depths of Russia. This was a last resort to avoid surrendering to the French rule. His concern for the fate of the Jews, together with the perils of the hazardous journey, cut short Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s life.  His descendants even said in his name that these events shortened his life by ten years.

Throughout the war, Rabbi Shneur Zalman expressed unwavering fidelity to the Russian authorities. He fervently prayed for the health of the Czar. Moreover, he kept contact with senior commanders of the Russian military and procured vital information for them regarding the location of the enemy forces and their upcoming plans. The Russians, for their part, accredited his role in their victory.[2] One of his greatest followers even endangered himself by spying on behalf of the Russians from within Napoleon�s closest command! It is a well-known fact that Napoleon attributed great importance to Jewish leaders, and it is related that he expended effort to meet Rabbi Shneur Zalman in person. However, Rabbi Shneur Zalman for his part made every effort to avoid any meeting with Napoleon. He even took pains to ensure that none of his personal belongings would get into Napoleon�s hands.

Praying for the Welfare of the Kingdom

Before we explain this peculiar battle in which one side wanted to meet the other, but the other side fled like wildfire from meeting him, let�s first ask why Rabbi Shneur Zalman was so adamantly pro-Russian? It�s not as if under the auspices of that Russian �bear� we got to taste much �honey�; neither before Rabbi Shneur Zalman, nor after him�

The simple reason for Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s choice was the golden rule of thumb that Jews have adopted wherever they wandered in the lands of the Diaspora: remain loyal to the ruling power. This was already true in the times of the Prophet Jeremiah, who warned the exiles in Babylonia, �And seek the peace of the city where I have exiled you and pray for it to God, for in its peace you shall have peace.�[3] Similarly, the sages teach us to, �Pray for the peace of the kingdom.�[4] This is why prayers for the welfare and success of the ruling powers and the king were instituted as part of the siddur (Jewish prayer book).This is also why we want the country we live in to be successful, even though it may appear spiritually dark.

However, Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s decision to prefer the Czar over Napoleon had broader considerations. Rabbi Shneur Zalman resolved that the Jews would benefit most by continuing to live under Russian rule rather than under French rule.

Subjugation is better than Emancipation

Let�s read Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s own justification to his follower who spied on behalf of the Russian army:[5]

If Bonaparte wins, the Jewish People will become more affluent, and they will be more respected. But their heart will be separated and distanced from their Father in Heaven. However, if our master, Alexander, wins, although the Jewish People will become poorer, and they will be more humiliated; nonetheless, the Jewish heart will connect and cling to their Father in Heaven.

On the scales were two possibilities, each one worse than the other. This was a historic junction between the old medieval world and a promising new one. The French Revolution professed to announce the end of feudalism and the oppressive rule of Christian theocracy, and an end to ignorance and superstition. In their place, it promised to bring �liberty, equality and fraternity� to humankind, and an industrial revolution that would change people�s lives. Napoleon�s conquests spread this new spirit of emancipation to the entire world. Breaking down all the old conventions and partitions brought promise to the Jews in its wake�the day would come when they would have equal rights, and could merge into a modern world without racial discrimination. Indeed, with this goal in mind, Napoleon advocated the rights of the Jews under his rule.

Let�s suppose that all these promises would indeed be realized. Would this new world be a better place for Jews? Retrospectively, we know very well that, alongside emancipation and the improved conditions under which the Jews lived in the West, there followed a corresponding decline in Jewish observance. This forms a sad equation: equal rights for the Jews plus more secular education equals leaving traditions behind. Additionally, a weakening of Torah and mitzvah observance often leads to complete assimilation, God forbid. This was the danger that emancipation held in store for the Jews. Torah giants of all kinds identified this hazard, and they were all wary of it. They wanted neither the honey nor the sting of emancipation.

On the other hand, �our master Alexander,� the Russian Czar, represented the old world, and medieval times at their peak. Rabbi Shneur Zalman was under no delusion: the Czar�s rule had been and would be bad for the Jews: �the Jewish People will become poorer, and they will be more humiliated,� but Judaism would flourish. While materially they would remain poor, spiritually it would be beneficial for the Jews. The walls of the ghetto, the hatred and the alienation would guard the Jewish community well against the winds of assimilation, and the heretic spirit of the enlightenment would not easily penetrate the Jewish fortresses.

One explicit source for Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s decision in favor of the Russian Czar can be found in the Midrash regarding the Covenant Between the Pieces. Abraham received the announcement that his descendants would undergo a long and cruel exile: �And they will enslave them and torture them for four-hundred years.�[6] On this verse, the sages state that the Almighty told Abraham to choose how his descendants should be punished if they do not follow the Torah. The two options were either Hell or being oppressed by the non-Jews, �Abraham sat and pondered that entire day, which should I choose, Hell or the non-Jews?� For Abraham, the archetypal soul of love, the choice was a very difficult one. But in the end, he decided that oppression was preferable. This was the only way to guard the special character of the Jewish People, and the only way to preserve its eternal existence.

Nonetheless, the matter of who to side with was a great controversy among the Chassidic masters of the time. In contrast to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, there were those who said that it would be better that the French win the war. Their hope was that this was the War of Gog and Magog that would overturn the world and bring the redemption (even if there would be great suffering involved). This was the viewpoint held by the Maggid of Kaznitz and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Riminov. Although some small-minded people might ask, �who asked them?� We know that God�s Providence takes into consideration the opinions of the tzadikim. Therefore, there was definite competition between Rabbi Shneur Zalman, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Riminov and his colleagues, concerning whose opinion would be accepted in Heaven, and whose prayers would be the most effective. According to Lubavitch tradition, the spiritual battle that determined the outcome was on Rosh Hashanah 5573, since on Rosh Hashanah the verdict is given in Heaven for the entire year. On that day, Rabbi Shneur Zalman made haste to sound the shofar (ram�s horn) in the early hours of the morning, intending to signify Napoleon�s downfall (preceding the other tzadikim who lingered over the spiritual preparations before blowing the shofar). Then the tzadikim sensed that the decree had been decided in the Heavenly tribunal that Napoleon would fall.[7]

The far-sighted will realize that Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi was not a lone fugitive on the battle field. Not only did he assist the Russians on the tactical plane, he and his colleagues literally headed the battle and determined the most crucial strategic processes.


[1] Main and recommended sources: the book, Beit Harabi; Igrot Kodesh (the Alter Rebbe, the Mittler Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek) p. 150; 237-247; Reshimot IV p. 24; article by M. Ziggelbaum in Beit Mashiach magazine, 28th Av 5752; Yitzchak Alphasi, Bisdeh Hachasidut p. 249-260,

[2] A letter sent by Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s wife, after her esteemed husband�s passing, has recently been published (Segulah journal, Av 5770 edition) in which she mentions this fact, �the military officers used him [Rabbi Shneur Zalman] to locate the camps of the enemy forces and as a result of his successes in this field, he merited a medal from the military secretariat.�

[3] Jeremiah 29:7.

[4] Avot 3:2.

[5] See different versions in Igrot Kodesh (Rabbi Shneur Zalman), noted in footnote 1.

[6] Genesis 15:13.

[7] Although the accepted opinion is that the Maggid of Kaznitz was pro-Napoleon, he apparently changed his mind towards the end of the war. One tradition states that during the Torah reading of Parashat Yitro, he interpreted the words, �You will surely wither� (נָ�ֹ� תִּ�ֹּ�) to read the similar sounding, �Fall, Napoleon� (נַפּ�ֹ�ִ���ֹ� תִּ�פּ�ֹ�). Another tradition holds that he said this on Purim with reference to the words in Megillat Esther �You will surely fall� (נָפ�ֹ� תִּפּ�ֹ�). Both these occasions were after the passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman.

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Careful! Up to Mischief

2459NewScib

Which would you prefer, a �rebellious� child, or a �good� child? Most parents and educators would choose the good, well-behaved and polite child who does everything he is told and behaves as expected of him. Who needs the trials and tribulations of the rebellious child?!

But, a seasoned educator may well prefer a rebellious child. He knows that this kind of child is a great challenge, but he also knows that beneath the rebellious shell hides a special soul. A sharp-witted Chassidic saying states, �If he does no harm, he will do no good!� Meaning that if the child does no harm as a youngster, when they grow up they may just be like everyone else�

The Days of the Rebellious

So why are we talking about rebellious children now? Because we are now in the period that is referred to as â��the days of the rebellious,â�� or in Hebrew, â��shovavim.â�� In Rabbinic literature, a custom is mentioned to fast and repent during the weeks of the first six Torah portions in the book of Exodus.[1] The initial letters of the names of these six portions in Hebrew spell out the word â��rebelliousâ�� (ש×�×�Ö¹×�Ö¸×�Ö´×�×�; shovavim). Later, Kabbalists, headed by the Holy Arizal, authorized the custom of fasting and repenting while revealing the allusions and profound meditations that abound during this time period.[2] However, as the generations pass, the practice of fasting has gradually diminished, as the great Chassidic masters since the Ba’al Shem Tov have instructed. Nowadays, the recommendation is to donate charity abundantly instead of fasting, since money is a personâ��s â��energy,â�� and giving it away is considered to be like a physical fast. In addition, many communities have the custom of saying extra prayers during this time period, especially Psalms (which are always a good thing to say).

In modern Hebrew, the word shovav (ש×�×�Ö¹×�Ö¸×�) has taken on the connotation of â��mischievous,â�� which sounds quite playful. However, in its Biblical context, the word means â��rebellious,â�� which does not have a positive connotation at all. Indeed, as we must work to appreciate the genuine meaning of any Hebrew word, when we look at the various forms of this word in the Torah, we discover that it certainly is a negative adjective. Examples of this negativity can be seen in the verses, â��He went rebelliously following his heart,â��[3] â��Return, rebellious sons,â��[4] etc… The scriptural rebel does not just play childish pranks; he is mutinous, licentious and defiant.[5]

The days of shovavim are dedicated to rectifying sin, and to repenting for our rebellious behavior. In particular, this refers to the sin of �the flaw of the covenant� (i.e., illicit sexual behavior), beginning with the promiscuous thoughts that contaminate the mind through a sense of sight that wanders around unchecked, culminating in complete physical arousal (God forbid). The gravity of this sin lies in the fact that our ability to achieve our God-given potentials are �lost� during the process. However, it is clear that this flaw can be rectified, as we read in the Torah portions of these weeks how the entire Jewish nation was indeed lost under the Egyptian bondage. Yet, as the Jewish People left with �great possessions,� and redeemed all the holy sparks that were in captivity, so too we can reclaim the sparks of achievement lost by this sin.

Although, in its particular sense, this sin relates more to men than to women, in its more general sense, this flaw exists in women too. �Covenant� refers to a genuine connection between souls, and when a woman does not make a single, faithful alliance with one man, but explores other options in thought, speech or action, she damages her part of the covenant.

Enough with Playing Around

What rectification can there be for this type of evil mischief?

At first glance it appears that the rectification is quite simple: just pull back to the other direction. If until now you have been a mischievous rebel, from now on, you must get back into line, accept the yoke of discipline and begin to �behave nicely.� Although children have something mischievous about them, they must finally grow up and realize that licentiousness is not the goal. There are laws and there is a Judge, there is justice and truth; and the time has come for a person to take control of himself and begin doing what should be done and not what he feels like doing.

This can be appreciated well in the context of �doing teshuvah� (i.e., returning back to God and His Torah). Many Jewish people can testify how they lived for years in this �rebellious� way, doing what they liked and never listening to anyone who told them to do otherwise. Such people may have believed that they need not observe the Jewish traditions that they could not comprehend. But then, the day arrived and our no-longer-juvenile delinquent suddenly realized that the very same ancient Torah that his grandfather studied in yeshivah, and those very same mitzvot that his grandmother devoted her life to, are not an outdated museum piece that has become obsolete. Ours is a living Torah that never ages; a true Torah whose finest accents conceal the most profound wisdom. At that point, he took himself in hand and realized that until now he had lived a hollow life, a life of rebellion that offered an imaginary sense of freedom and pleasure but was irresponsible and immature.

The Good Rebels

But, although changing to a religious lifestyle is a long way along the road of teshuvah, the ultimate rectification is yet to come. We have already mentioned that a mischievous child contains a special treasure of potential. Their energy and astuteness are precious assets that cry out for a guiding hand. Does doing teshuvah mean completely suppressing all mischievousness and rebelliousness? Does it mean that we all become insipid, obedient automatons, without any spark of daring and defiance? Unfortunately, ba�alei teshuvah do suffer from this type of negative image, but the time has come to release ourselves from it. The time has come for all rebels to make good mischief and they are all invited to transform their rebelliousness into holy mutiny.

When we look more carefully at the abovementioned verses that refer to rebels, we see that they do have a positive side. For instance, the verse, �Return, rebellious sons,� concludes with the phrase, �I will heal your rebelliousness,� meaning that there is a cure for rebelliousness. In fact, the word �rebellious� (ש��ֹ�ָ�) is from the same root as �return� (ש��ֹ�), which is the root of teshuvah (תְּש��ּ�ָ�). This root almost always appears in a very positive context, as in the verse, �Return rebellious sons� (ש��ּ��ּ �ָּנִ�� ש��ֹ�ָ�ִ��) in which the two words appear in conjunction with each other. Teshuvah transforms the rebel into a good mutineer.

This means that someone who has a rebellious personality does not need to suppress the vital energy that burns inside him. The rebel is astute and quick. He has courage and audacity. But now he must behave with �holy boldness,� as the mishnah states, �Be as bold as a leopard� to perform the will of your Father in Heaven.�[6] We need to make use of all our faculties and talents and with wisdom and insight harness them to serve God. Indeed, the most essential principle of Judaism is �accepting the yoke of Heaven.� In contrast, licentiousness is referred to as �throwing off the yoke,� and in Chassidic thought is considered the archetypal sin of impurity.

Once an individual has submitted and accepted Heaven�s yoke upon him, he reveals that this type of yoke is fun! Within the framework of Torah and mitzvot there is a very broad scope for active personal initiative. And yes, there is even room for the added �spice� of mischievousness and rebellion. So, for example, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson instructed a ba�al teshuvah (returner to Judaism) whose name was Nimrod (נִ�ְר�ֹ�; meaning �Let us rebel�), that there was no need for him to change his name. Despite the fact that the Biblical Nimrod was the image of a negative rebel who rebelled against the Almighty, the modern Nimrod must now utilize this quality of rebelliousness positively and rebel against the counterfeit conventions of the world at large.

Responsible Rebellion

A successful rebel has freedom of thought and is quick, assertive and pragmatic. All these qualities are something that we require�like the air we breathe�regarding all that relates to the rectification of the public face of the Jewish People. Only such a positive rebellious nature can help us shake off the fetters of an alienated establishment, and the foreign husks that encase us. Only a positive rebel can initiate the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel that we desire. We are in dire need of such holy rebels, who can �overturn the world� and transform us all into genuine ba�alei teshuvah (returnees). However, it must be stressed that our good rebel must act out of a sense of mutual responsibility for the entire Jewish People.[7]

In conclusion, let�s remember that we are in the year 5774, which, as explained elsewhere, is an allusion to the holy boldness and audacity that is required to breathe new life into the world.[8] For this we pray that all rebels will become ba�alei teshuvah and will utilize their rebelliousness to benefit the entire Jewish People and the whole world.

from Rabbi Ginsburgh�s classes of 27th Shevat 5772 and 16th Tevet 5774



[1] Sefer Haminhagim Tirna (Purim); Leket Yosher (p. 116); Levush Orach Chayim 685.

[2] See Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 685:1.

[3] Isaiah 57:17.

[4] Jeremiah 3:22.

[5] See the root shin-vav-bet (ש×�”×�) in Radakâ��s Sefer Hashorashim, there he enumerates three principles, the third of which is rebellion.

[6] Avot 5:20.

[7] In Hebrew, �shoulder� (ש�ֶ�ֶ�), the seat of responsibility, has the same numerical value as �rebels� (ש��ֹ�ָ�ִ��). �Shoulder� (ש�ֶ�ֶ�) is also the name of the city of Shechem (ש�ְ�ֶ�) where all the Jewish People became responsible for one another. It is also the city where Joseph is buried. Joseph in particular was one who was bold enough to reject worldly pleasures for holiness and he also took care of his brethren and led an entire country through difficult times.

[8]  תשע� � Year of �Holy Boldness� (עַ��ּת �ִּקְ��ּש�ָ�)

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Penta-Pyromantics

The five revelations of light that Moses received in his vision correspond to five Divine revelations that became potently manifest in the secret of the burning bush. By meditating upon the five interpretations of the burning bush symbol we reveal how Moses incorporated five souls into his one soul in order to redeem the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

An Illuminating Correspondence

After killing an Egyptian officer, Moses fled Egypt to escape Pharaoh�s wrath. At the age of eighty years old, working as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro, he led his herd through the wilderness and saw an incredible sight�a burning bush that was not consumed. When Moses deviated from his path to take a closer look, God spoke to him directly out of his first prophetic vision.

The word �bush� (�ַסְּנֶ�) appears five times in three consecutive verses in this account of Moses� prophecy at the beginning of the book of Exodus. This five-fold appearance of one key word in three consecutive verses suggests a parallel between the concept of the burning bush and the word �light� (��ֹר) which also appears five times in three consecutive verses in the account of creation that begins the book of Genesis.[1] Light was the first entity that the Creator created and here, Moses� first prophetic vision is also a revelation of light in the form of an inexplicably unquenchable fire.

Moreover, the Torah, is one unit that contains five books and is referred to as �light.�[2]

One way to interpret this correspondence is alluded to in the sages� teaching that God hid the original light of creation and set it aside for the righteous individuals in every generation. Thus, Moses, as a righteous individual in his generation, was privileged to experience the five lights of creation that correspond to the five times the word �bush� (�ַסְּנֶ�) appears in his prophetic vision.

In addition to its appearance five times in one Torah section, one unique attribute of the type of thorn bush that Moses saw in his vision is that it had five leaves emerging from one common source.

Five Souls, Five Sefirot

The sages teach us that three leaves of the myrtle shrub represent the souls of the three Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the archetypal souls whose merit had stood for the Jewish people until Moses received his vision. The five leaves of the thorn bush that Moses saw revealed and prepared him for the fact that the Jewish people would be redeemed in merit of his and his brother Aaron�s additional two souls.

It is clear that the sages allude here to the fact that the number five is closely related to the secret of the Exodus from Egypt.

In Kabbalah, the three Patriarchs together with Moses and Aaron correspond to the five primary emotions of the heart as they appear in our service of the Divine: love of God; standing in awe of God; compassion for others; and confidence in Godâ��s power to help us succeed. The fifth attribute of the heart is sincerity, which applies to persevering in our service with devoted dedication and simplicity, always acknowledging God’s presence in every avenue of our lives.

The symbol of five leaves exuding from one source taught Moses that he would need to incorporate the attributes of each of the five souls in his one soul in order to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt.

Five Interpretations

Just as the word �bush� (�ַסְּנֶ�) appears five times, so there is a complete spectrum of five principal interpretations that the Midrash[3] offers to explain Moses� vision of the burning bush.

  1. The first interpretation is that the bush represents all of reality and the fire represents the revelation of the Divine that encompasses everything. The Midrash explains that the reason why God revealed Himself to Moses in such a lowly shrub was to emphasize the fact that even the lowest of creations is a revelation of the Divine. The parallel terminology of the Zohar is, �there is no place that is vacant of Him.�[4]

This teaching corresponds to loving-kindness, the attribute associated with Abraham, the first soul who Moses had to incorporate into his own soul. Abraham was the first individual who taught true monotheism to the world by teaching that God is omnipresent. This fundamental teaching of omnipresence arouses an inherent attraction in the soul and a desire to come closer to God. This corresponds to love of God, the first of the five emotive powers of the soul mentioned above.

  1. In the second interpretation, the bush represents the Jewish people suffering in exile, while the fire represents the Divine Presence that experiences the pain of exile together with them. The concept of pain and suffering derives from the second emanation of the heart which is awe. In this vein, the sages interpret the symbol of the burning bush to be a revelation of the fact that God participates in our pain and experiences it together with us, as the verse states, �In all their suffering, He suffers.�[5]  The knowledge that God is together with us in our suffering is the key to our faith that He will eventually redeem us.

This idea relates in particular to our patriarch, Isaac, in whose merit we will eventually be redeemed from exile.[6]

  1. The third revelation of the bush is the paradox of coexisting opposites. The bush represents nature, while the fact that it is not consumed by fire represents the supernatural phenomena that miraculously coexist within nature. Once Moses became aware of this paradox he was drawn to inspect it. In fact, the Midrash explicitly states that Moses took five steps towards the bush, a fact that upholds the connection with the number five, stated above.

For something to be considered beautiful, it must include two or more attributes that blend together harmoniously. Thus, to perceive two opposites that exist simultaneously is to experience beauty. In the soul, the attribute of beauty manifests when one soul takes active compassion on another, merging with the other individual in empathic harmony.

Here, Moses� curiosity reflects, in particular, the attribute of Jacob, who of all the three patriarchs was a �scientist.� Jacob meditated on Laban�s flock of sheep and experimented with them until he discovered the Divine secrets that governed their ability to reproduce. This type of Divine curiosity to examine and understand the wonders of nature is a way to approach God that reflects the sefirah of beauty.

  1. The fourth of the five attributes is the one that corresponds in particular to Moses who is associated with the sefirah of victory, or eternity (נֶצַ�). The idea of something being consumed relates to the law of entropy which reflects temporality. In this case, however, Moses saw that although the bush was in a state of active combustion, nonetheless, it was not consumed.

Here, the fire no longer symbolizes Divinity, but is a symbol of the profane fire of the Jewish people�s servitude in Egypt that should naturally consume them, God forbid. According to this interpretation, the message that the burning bush held for Moses was, �I, God, have not changed, and you, the children of Jacob have not been consumed.�[7] The literal reading of this verse relates to the fact that the attempt to consume the Jewish spirit in this way would never succeed because the Jewish people are eternal.

  1. The fifth interpretation teaches us that the particular type of bush that Moses saw in his vision was barbed with sharp thorns. Yet, like a rose bush, it also produces beautiful flowers with a fragrant aroma. The rose bush symbolizes the Jewish people, who have great tzadikim (righteous individuals) but also has the greatest wicked individuals, more so than any other nation. Expounding the verse, �And he saw and behold, the bush was aflame with fire, but the bush was not consumed,�[8] the Zohar[9] reveals that God showed Moses how the thorns, representing the powers of evil, fueled the fire, but the branches, the fruit and the leaves of the bush were not burnt.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad movement, taught that this interpretation offers a far more profound insight into the abovementioned verse, â��I, God, have not changed, and you, the children of Jacob have not been consumed.â�� He stated[10] that the bush represents the Jewish soul, and the fire represents oneâ��s meditation upon God’s essential transcendence, which is above physical reality that is constantly changing. When meditating upon this thought and integrating it, we would expect the soul be overtaken by the experience of God’s changelessness, so much so that it leaves the body altogether. However, this would result in the death of the body on earth, which is something that God does not want to happen. Indeed, the burning bush alludes to the fact that the soul is never consumed.

The Jewish soul �runs� in its aspiration to become a part of God even to the extent of leaving the body but is concomitantly committed to remain in the physical realm to make this earth into a dwelling place for God. This commitment is the prerequisite for the soul to return to its physical abode. Yet, by rising in its meditation towards the Divine, the soul is actually refined by the fire, which consumes every evil thorn that is attached to it.

This idea reflects the service of Aharon, the High Priest in the Temple. Aharon was the soul who approached God most closely in the Temple services. Similarly, it is the service of the kohanim (priests) in the Temple that ultimately facilitates the dwelling of the Divine Presence in our mundane, physical world.[11]

In this way, by integrating the attributes of five souls that manifest in these five interpretations of Moses� vision, he merited to redeem the Jewish nation from the Egyptian bondage.



[1] Genesis 1:3-5; see Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 19.

[2] Megillah 16b.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 70.

[5] Isaiah 63:9.

[6] Shabbat 89b.

[7] Malachi 3:6.

[8] Exodus 3:2.

[9] Zohar 5, 274b.

[10] Likutei Torah, Shlach 45:3.

[11]   The souls of Aaron�s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, were consumed by this fire when they voluntarily entered the Temple to offer incense, against God�s command.

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x stairs

The Jewish year begins ceremoniously with the shofar blast of Rosh Hashanah (New Year), and continues to reach new climaxes with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles) and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah). Despite a certain drop in energy during the month of Cheshvan, when there are no festivals, the scent of the festivals continues to accompany us until we move on to the third month of the year, Kislev. Kislev is illuminated by the Chanukah candles, which shine through the end of the month and include the beginning of the month of Tevet. The Chanukah candles symbolize the end of the light that shines from the festivals with which the year began. Then, we reach the month of Tevet and the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, the first of the fasts that commemorate the destruction of the Temple.[1]

The Tenth of Tevet marks the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem�then we begin to realize that there are dates in the Jewish calendar that are not such happy occasions�

The Lowest Descent

We might say that the Tenth of Tevet is the lowest descent. On Rosh Hashanah everything is pristine and clear, initial and pure, as if we stand on a mountain peak, breathing in deeply the fresh mountain air. Then, our prayers are at the highest possible level, as we pray to God, �Rule over the entire world with Your glory.�[2] But, it is difficult to stay at the summit of this spiritual mountain, and after the festivals we naturally begin to descend. The great lights gradually disappear, the feelings of holiness and spiritual uplifting wear away and it seems that we lose the spiritual energy that we acquired at the beginning of the yea, r. The completion of this process is symbolized by the number ten, which always represents an end point. This is seen quite simply from our ten fingers, or in the decimal system where the number ten is the final number. In fact, the Tenth of Tevet is tenth from two directions: it is the tenth day of the tenth month (when we count the months from Nisan). Some years, as in this year 5774, the Tenth of Tevet actually falls on the one-hundredth day of the year and one-hundred is ten squared (102). So, we have descended all ten levels and reached rock-bottom. It seems appropriate then, that the Tenth of Tevet represents the entire process of destruction, since it was on this day that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, began a siege on Jerusalem�the beginning of the end of the first Temple.

Chassidut teaches us that every phenomenon on the national plane is also reflected on the personal plane. This is why the Tenth of Tevet should be explained not only with reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in their literal context, but also to the events that occur in our psyches. Once we have constructed the Temple in our souls, the physical Temple on Mt. Moriah will also be rebuilt. The same is also true from the opposite perspective: once the Temple is rebuilt, the light of the Divine Presence will illuminate our hearts, as the verse indicates, �And they shall make for Me a Temple and I shall dwell within them�� �within them� in the plural, meaning that God will dwell within the Jewish People. [3]Every one of us has an inner Jerusalem in our heart�an inner point of perfect fear of Heaven.[4] This point of Jerusalem within our hearts is aroused on Rosh Hashanah, but gradually disappears, until the lights are finally extinguished on the Tenth of Tevet. Parallel to this on the national scale, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple are the climax of the connection between the Jewish People and the Almighty. Yet, we see that immediately following the dedication of the first Temple by King Solomon, a process of spiritual descent began that ended with the siege and the Temple�s destruction. In recent years, it has also become the practice to mention the dreadful Holocaust, which we cannot imagine any night darker than its black shadow.

When Descent becomes Positive

So, what is the purpose of this descent? Why do we fast on the Tenth of Tevet? Is it to wallow in sadness and depression, just to shed tears over reaching a low point? Not at all! A fast day is a day that arouses us to rectify the situation from below, as Maimonides[5] writes:

There are certain days when all the Jewish people fast because of the troubles that took place on them. [This is] to arouse the hearts and to open the paths to repentance and this should remind us of our evil deeds and those of our ancestors, which were no better than our own deeds, so much so that that they brought upon them and upon us these troubles. Because, by remembering these things, we will return to do good�

Since every fast is intended �To arouse the hearts and to open the paths to repentance,� let�s note the type of arousal that is especially suited to fast of the Tenth of Tevet. We have already seen that the fast of the tenth month is a phase of descent and we can learn from this that we must find the particular path to repentance that we have access to on this day. The key is to transform the descent itself into something good. How can this be achieved?

Intermingled with any emotional state of arousal is something superficial and not completely authentic. When our heart beats with enthusiasm and strong feelings throb within us, there is always a sense of self that feels these emotions and often they are not one-hundred percent authentic. These emotions usually include a touch or more of wild imagination, or an attempt to reproduce something that is not genuinely our own. They may well be accompanied by self-excitement, to a certain extent, which produces an artificial experience of spiritual ecstasy. Within such a dream-like uplifting atmosphere, one floats somewhere above the ground and above one�s own character. Many of the lights that we reach in this state do not become our own personal acquisition. In order to make them our own, we need to descend with them to the lowest possible level, to surrender our spiritual ecstasy, put aside our imagination and remain somewhat �dry.� When we succeed in doing so, we reach the most profound level of our inner selves that is the essential �me� without any embellishments. A process of descent such as this is the true healing of a person�s soul, a sort of �psychological diet,� that disposes of all the excess fats and reveals our strong, healthy bones and essence. So, after the first one-hundred days of loving-kindness in the year we must complete our psychological diet by fasting on the Tenth of Tevet. Instead of a negative fall, we need to descend to a positive level at which we succeed in bringing down all the grand lights that we experienced previously to the ground-level of our souls. On the Tenth of Tevet we must return to God in a way that does not anticipate great lights. We just need to descend to mundane reality and to the essential level of the soul and simply begin to serve God from that level.

On the national level, Jerusalem was rebuilt and the Temple dedicated, with a magnificent beauty that has no counterpart. But retrospectively, it became clear that some of the great lights were not completely integrated by the nation�s inner essence. This is why it was necessary to go through a penetrating clarification process, as all the prophets cautioned. They were sent to return the Jewish People to the Almighty and they warned that the Temple should not be related to as a security certificate that is complete in itself and does not require any other service. In this context, the message of Tenth of Tevet is to work on the positive process of bringing the great spiritual lights into the world and realizing them in reality. Indeed, the sages describe the dwelling of the Divine Presence in the Temple as a positive descent: �When God created the world He desired that He have a dwelling place in the lower worlds.� [6] Sin banishes the Divine Presence from earth to heaven, while the good deeds of the righteous reconstruct the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Temple, and succeed in bringing the Divine Presence down into the very lowest realms.

The exile of the Divine Presence from the Temple is described as the ten journeys that the Divine Presence traveled as it rose from the Holy of Holies in the Temple, until reaching its abode in the heavens. [7]The redemption is a renewed descent of the Divine Presence to the lowest reality; quite literally, as it is called, �A dwelling place in the lowest worlds.�

An Easy Fast

The Prophet Zachariah announced that all fast days that commemorate the destruction of the Temple will turn into joy and happiness, �The fast of the fourth month [17th Tamuz] and the fast of the fifth month [9th Av] and the fast of the seventh month [Tzom Gedaliah, 3rd of Tishrei] and the fast of the tenth month [10th Tevet] will be for the House of Judah joy and happiness and festive times.�[8] Even while we fast and mourn, we can already sense the future joy that is hidden in these days. In fact, these days were intended to be joyful from the beginning, �The end of the deed is in the original thought.�

In practice, the Tenth of Tevet is the easiest fast, because it falls during the shortest winter days. This is especially true this year (5774) when it falls on a Friday when we are busy preparing for Shabbat and hardly feel the fast at all. This indicates the simplicity with which we can transform this fast and sweeten it, by joining Friday to the Shabbat, which is �a taste of the World to Come.� By perceiving the destruction at its initial point, we can transform the negative descent into a positive descent, bringing the Divine Presence down into this lowest world.

Kingdom in Kingdom

According to Kabbalistic wisdom, we can easily perceive the abovementioned descent as a positive concept. In Kabbalah, the creation of the world is described as a long, complex, and complicated evolutionary process of descent from the infinite, spiritual Divine light down to depths of mundane reality in the world as we know it. The basic system that runs through this process is the fabric of the ten sefirot, of which the tenth and lowest is the sefirah of kingdom. Within the sefirah of kingdom exists an interinclusion of all ten sefirot, so all the sefirot are in fact finalized by �kingdom in kingdom,� which is the tenth of the tenth, exactly like the Tenth of Tevet, the tenth day of the tenth month.

Yet, although the system of the sefirot descends to the sefirah of kingdom, the lowest of them all, nonetheless, the descent is not one of negative decline and deterioration. On the contrary, it strives to fulfill God�s desire to reach the lowest point to which it is directed. The entire evolution of the spiritual worlds was intended to reach the lowest point, to reveal God�s kingdom within our superficial mundane reality that seems foreign to spirituality. The ultimate aim is to reveal God�s kingdom in all the levels of the world and in the consciousness of all creations. Then �God will be King over the entire world. On that day God will be one and His Name will be One.�[9] The extension of His kingdom in all His creations is a positive descent. Moreover, the root �to descend� (�ר�) also refers to, �government and kingdom,� (as we find in various Torah verses). [10]

God�s kingdom is not just an abstract idea or merely a matter of acknowledging God�s sovereignty in our hearts. God�s kingdom appears in a very concrete garb, in the form of the kingdom of Israel. When the Jewish People is united in the Land of Israel under a rectified rule that follows the Torah, it becomes the Kingdom of Israel that serves as a throne to God�s kingdom in the world. This idea becomes apparent from the verse that refers to King Solomon, �And Solomon sat upon God�s throne as king.�[11]

The correct blueprint for constructing the kingdom of Israel appears as a three-stage process:[12]

  1. Rectifying leadership to the extent of coronating a king of Israel. He must be a righteous king who cares for his people, a descendant of King David, whose success will prove that he is the Mashiach.
  2. Victory over all enemies: this stage of war will culminate in the victory over Amalek, the archetypal enemy of the Jewish People, which will essentially be internationally eliminating all evil from the world.
  3. The construction of the Temple, reaching a golden age when the Divine Presence resides within the Jewish People, and through them, reaches the entire world.

The three dates that commemorate the destruction parallel the three stages of this process:

  1. The Tenth of Tevet, with the beginning of the siege over Jerusalem saw the nullification of Jewish kingdom in Israel.
  2. On the seventeenth of Tamuz, a hole was breached in the fortress that surrounded Jerusalem and the war spread to every corner.
  3. The remnant of the military ability crumbled on the Ninth of Av, when the Temple itself was destroyed.

Here too, our task is to transform the fast days to joy and happiness, therefore:

  1. On the Tenth of Tevet, the day of the tenth sefirah, a day when the Jewish kingdom was annulled, it is our task to reinstate the kingdom of Israel, by uniting the People around a rectified leadership that follows the Torah. This rectifies the descent, beginning from below, from the first and most fundamental level of rectifying the state�s leadership.
  2. On the Seventeenth of Tamuz we confront the military aspect of things, when it becomes apparent that Mashiach will be triumphant, without one battle and without shooting even one bullet (as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught).
  3. On the Ninth of Av, we are occupied with the reconstruction of the Temple which is a heavenly seal that results from our own work, �With fire You did ignite it and with fire You will reconstruct it in the future.�[13]

Adapted and Translated from the article entitled �The Fast of the Tenth Month, from the book, Maayan Ganim (�ע�� �נ��), Vol. Bereishit (�ר�ש�ת)


[1] The Fast of Gedaliah (3rd Tishrei) precedes the Tenth of Tevet in the calendar, but chronologically speaking, the Fast of Gedaliah was the fast that culminated the destruction.

[2] Rosh Hashanah prayers.

[3]  Exodus 25:8. Reishit Chochmah, Sha�ar Ha�ahavah ch. 6.

[4]The main letters of the words, �inner fear of Heaven� (�ִר�ַת ש�ָ�ַ�ִ� ש�ְ�ֵ�ָ�) are an acronym for �Jerusalem� (�ְרֻש�ַ�ַ�).

[5]Hilchot Ta�anit 5:1. .

[6] Tanchuma, Naso 16.

[7] Rosh Hashanah 31a.

[8] Zachariah 8:19.

[9]  Zachariah 14:9.

[10] E.g., Genesis 1:28; Numbers 24:19.

[11] I Chronicles 29:23.

[12] Maimonides, Hilchot Melachim (Laws of Kings).

[13] From the addition to the standing prayer (amidah) on the Ninth of Av.

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The Dreidel Spinner

gold dreidel 2x3

If we were to do a survey to find out which is the most favorite Jewish holiday, Chanukah would probably reach the top of the list. Children and adults alike enjoy basking in the special light that envelops us and warms the heart during this beloved festival.

What is it that is so attractive about Chanukah? It seems that it is the warm family atmosphere and special traditions that surround the festival. The sweetest childhood memories are aroused as the family sits around the table, playing dreidel with the delicious aroma of latkes frying in the kitchen� So, let�s spin around and get into the Chanukah mood.

The Final Festival

From the perspective of Jewish law, Chanukah is actually the least festive of all festivals. In fact, it is not even clear that it should be referred to as a �festival� at all. There is no prohibition against working on Chanukah, and there is no obligation to eat a festive meal or to wear festive clothing�there is just one single mitzvah: to light Chanukah candles. Aside from that, there is one addition that we add to our prayers (עַ� �ַנִ�סִ��) but, even if we forget to say it, there is no need to repeat the prayer. Yet, although the Rabbinical obligations are scarce, there is an abundance of customs that are part and parcel of the Chanukah tradition.

Historically speaking, Chanukah is the final festival that was added to the Jewish calendar. [1] First is Shabbat, which is rooted in Creation, followed by the entire cycle of festivals that are mentioned in the Torah. Next came Purim, which was added at the beginning of the second Temple era�a festival that is validated by the Prophets and whose story appears as one of the books of Tanach. Finally, Chanukah is unique in the fact that it is a festival that was entirely authorized by the sages of the Oral Torah. However, even in the Mishnah it is hardly mentioned, and even then, just anecdotally. What this means is that Chanukah is a festival that has been nurtured as a Rabbinic injunction from below, unlike the other festivals which were God-given. This is why Chanukah has such a special place in the Jewish heart, and has even been referred to as representative of �the Jewish spirit.�

Chanukah Customs

There are various levels to the concept of a custom. There are some customs that have been set as obligatory in Jewish law, and a whole line of customs that include some that are non-obligatory recommendations or merely suggested practices. At the bottom of the scale of priorities, we can usually find those customs that relate to food, which are hardly mentioned at all in Rabbinical literature. Although there are some Jewish delicacies that are commonly eaten on certain occasions, nonetheless, Jewish law does not obligate the consumption of most of them at all. However, the aroma of the Jewish kitchen is definitely a central component of Jewish life and whichever community you belong to, the traditional foods have absorbed a spiritual significance that adds to their flavor.

Regarding Chanukah, the tradition to eat dairy foods is mentioned in Rabbinical literature [2] and doughnuts are also an early custom. [3] Latkes are also mentioned as a custom that tzadikim (sing. tzadik, righteous person) and their chassidim (sing. chassid, followers of a Chassidic leader in this context) made into an annual ritual. [4]

Yet, although Jewish tradition has made its way into the kitchen, it is unusual to find it stamped on games� There might be some people who sing and play music as they watch the Chanukah candles twinkle in the foreground, there are obviously others who study Torah while the candles are alight, and there are certainly those who silently meditate on the flickering flames. But, at best, playing with a spinning top seems to depart completely from the realm of sacred customs into the mundane realm of the secular. At its worst, there are sources that rebuke and chastise those who sit around playing cards on Chanukah�the type of game that begins with light-headedness and ends somewhere we certainly do not want to go. [5]

Yet, in fact, on Chanukah we do adopt game theory. Playing the dreidel is an ancient custom, which some of the greatest Chassidic tzadikim were fond of, and they even found significant allusions in the game to profound spiritual insights. [6]

The most famous source in this context is in Bnei Yissachar, written by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Midinov, who wrote: â��Here you will understand how our fathersâ�� traditions are Torah, since the custom is that on Chanukah, the youngsters play with a cube of wood which has the letters gimmel-shin-nun-hei (×�שנ”×�) written separately on each side, and this wooden cube spins around its central axis [he then explains that this alludes to the four kingdoms who have suppressed the Jewish People throughout history, and in the end all of them will be annulled to the central point, which is the Jewish People.]â��

In the same context, a story is told of the author of Bnei Yissachar, who arrived at the home of one of Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein, a Torah giant who was not a Chassid. After discussing Torah ideas together for some time, Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein was impressed by his guest�s knowledge, and he asked him his name. The guest replied, �My name is Tzvi Elimelech, and I am from the city of Dinov. Rabbi Yaakov then said, �If so then it is you who wrote the book Bnei Yissachar and wrote the reasons why we use a rattle on Purim and play the dreidel on Chanukah?!� and he laughed. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech nodded his head and said, �I am he� and he too laughed, and they both laughed together�

Laughter and Games

Having laughed heartily, we can now ask in all seriousness, why did Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech laugh? Did he not take seriously what he had written in his book? The profound reason is because Jewish customs are rooted in a very high source. Let�s explain this as it is taught in Kabbalah and Chassidut.

The highest source of the Torah lies in a hidden level, elevated far beyond anything we can know, way back when God �initiated His desire� to create the world. As the lofty desire to create the world was instigated, the Torah�also a primordial creation, �Torah preceded the world� [7]�rose and spread before God. This is how God �looked into the Torah and created the world� [8] using it as a precise blueprint for His creation. This is where the power lies in the Torah�s obligatory laws that were given to the Jewish People. Every clause of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) has its roots in the most exalted holy source, and represents a Divine truth from which we cannot divert.

But, even higher than the point where God�s desire to create the world was initiated, is a level that is referred to in Kabbalah as �the Delights of the King in Himself.� There it is as if the Almighty amused Himself with His Infinite Light, without any urge to create the world and without any reality of there being �another.� Yet, amazingly, this exalted level is reflected as the non-obligatory customs we keep, right here in our lowest mundane reality. Those Jewish customs that have been sanctified by the power of tradition, and which bring such a good flavor and such an attractive light into our Jewish lives, in a mysterious way stem from that level at which God delights in Himself. So it is that we too, the Jewish People whose souls are �literally a part of God above� [9] rejoice in our Jewishness, embellishing it with buds and flowers, customs and games. This is how we can explain how the laughter of the two tzadikim in the story above is an echo of those very same Delights that the King delights in Himself; laughter and fun expressed by a game of fun.

Historians might research the source of the Chanukah dreidel game, and where it first appears, but for us the historical sources are not really relevant, because, at some stage, this game has been legally �converted.� We believe that it has spun to our doorsteps by Divine Providence as a dearly loved tool to reveal the sweetest Torah secrets.

God Doesn�t Play Dice (He Plays the Dreidel�)

So, let�s continue to have fun with the Chanukah dreidel.

The classic dreidel is made of a cube with a cone-shaped pointed base. While the dreidel is spinning, its square sides are obscured until it appears circular. We can see this as an allusion to the Hasmonean�s victory over the Greeks, which was a victory of the Jewish worldview over the Hellenistic culture. Greek wisdom believed that the human intellect can create a complete, perfect worldview. One might say that the mind of a Hellenistic perceives the world as square with straight lines. A mind with this perspective compartmentalizes, analyzes, divides and defines limits. But, even though nature itself is more like a circle and has no squares, as the sages taught, �There has never been a [natural] square since the six days of Creation,� [10] the intellect tends to square off the circle. Science measures the infinite cycles of nature, measuring them and explaining them through set laws and patterns, until it seems that nature, like the human mind, is �square.�

The Greek-scientific mind cannot accept that there is anything beyond a square. So much so that when modern science revealed a phenomenon that is rationally unexplainable, one of the greatest scientists reacted by saying, �God doesn�t play dice.� [11]

However, Jewish wisdom knows something that Greek wisdom can never fathom. With all due respect to the inquisitive mind, which can reach phenomenal achievements in every scientific field, there is a higher force than nature, which spins the world that is so familiar to us and so apparently explainable.

In Kabbalistic terminology, God�s light is enclothed within the limited world that is run by the laws of nature. This is God�s immanent light that �fills all worlds� and behaves logically by following the rules of the game without any deviation. But, beyond the light that fills all worlds is a Divine light that �surrounds all worlds.� This is God�s infinite light (as opposed to His immanent light which is contained within the finite vessel of the world). One might say that beyond the various planetary systems that apparently set the world in motion through fixed laws is a hidden inner system that turns the world around on a different axis. This system of surrounding light is where miracles sometimes trickle through to our world, like the drops of oil from the small jar that the Hasmonean�s found in the Temple, which obstinately stayed alight for eight consecutive days.

So, yes, God does play �dice�! He spins the cube-shaped dreidel and turns it into a circle, revealing the great circular power that spins the world, and with each spin, He instills more and more miracles into the natural world. Even if the miracle is mysteriously hidden behind nature�s mask�in the guise of historical or scientific events�we can still open our eyes and reveal that a great miracle happened.

Spinning the Light of Mashiach

Finally, we will mention that the four letters that appear on the dreidel�s four sides are the initial letters of �A great miracle happened there [i.e., in the Holy Land].� These four letters spell out the word �To Goshen� (�ֹש�ְנָ�), which appears in the Torah portion of Vayigash in the verse, �And Judah he sent before him� to Goshen.� Indeed the Chassidic masters have added another allusion to this by calculating the numerical value of these four letters, which equals 358, the numerical value of Mashiach (�ָש�ִ��ַ), explaining that Mashiach�s light descends to the world on Chanukah. [12]

In recent generations, the trend in Israel has been to change the letters on the dreidel to nun-gimmel-hei-pei (× ×�×�”פ), which are the initials of the phrase, â��A great miracle happened here.â�� But, if anyone expected to evade the messianic connotations of the dreidel by doing so, they have been unsuccessful, because the numerical value of these four letters is 138, which is the value of Menachem (×�Ö°× Ö·×�Öµ×�) one of the possible names of Mashiach and also the value of Tzemach (צֶ×�Ö·×�)â��which literally means, â��plantâ��â��as the verse states, â��A man, whose name is Tzemachâ�� [13] and as we pray three times daily, â��Speedily grow the plant of David, Your servant.â��

For more on the Dreidel�s hidden meanings, read our article here


[1] Another, later addition to the Jewish calendar is Lag Ba�omer, which is not even considered a festival.

[2] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 670:2 (Rama).

[3] Responsa from Rabbi Maimon, father of Maimonides (Rambam) printed in the booklet Sarid Ufalit and quoted in the book, Nitei Gavriel Chanukah, p. 311.

[4] See Hayom Yom for 28th Kislev.

[5] Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that each of playing cards typically used has a kelipah or impurity to them, Kedushas Levi, Chanukah â�� “Yadua.â��

[6] See Sichot Moharan 40; Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Shutafim Bakarka 5 and the source mentioned in Nitei Gavriel, Chanukah p. 306. This is also similar to Lag Ba�Omer, when the custom is to play with bows and arrows, a game that at first glance is reminiscent of negative figures of hunters in the Torah, Esau and Ishmael.

[7] Bereishit Rabah 1:4.

[8] Ibid 1:1.

[9] Tanya ch. 2

[10] Jerusalem Talmud, Ma�asrot 5:3.

[11] A quote attributed to Albert Einstein, brought to express his opposition to Quantum Mechanics; mentioned several times in our book �Lectures on Torah and Modern Physics� to explain the dynamics between determinism and free-will.

[12] Mentioned in the name of Rabbi Pinchas of Karitz, Imrei Pinchas, Shabbat U�moadim 222.

[13] Zachariah 6:12.

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Rabbi Shneur Zalman coined the phrase, �living with the times� which means to live life in the light of the weekly Torah portion; and to see it as an indicator for all that happens to us throughout the week�both on a personal and national level.

Indeed, the date when Rabbi Shneur Zalman was released from prison usually falls during the week of the Torah portion of Vayeshev, which relates how Joseph was imprisoned in the Egyptian jail. Joseph is the most prominent righteous Biblical figure who was sent to jail. Since Joseph and until today, there is a long list of exemplary Jewish figures who have undergone similar experiences, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman is the most prominent of them all.

As explained in Part 1 of this article, Rabbi Shneur Zalman did not satisfy himself with quietly returning home after he left the prison. Just like the righteous Joseph who removed his prisoners� clothing and instantly donned the royal robes as Pharaoh�s second-in-command, Rabbi Shneur Zalman turned the entire episode of his imprisonment into a springboard to increase his efforts to spread the wellsprings of Chassidut.

It is not difficult to identify another similarity between the two figures. Apart from the title �Righteous� that Joseph deserved and received, Joseph was also a remarkably wise man whose Divine wisdom astonished even non-Jews. So too, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was a righteous and wise figure who impressed even the Russian interrogators with his wisdom.

Fleeing Outside

Let�s now continue to �live with the times,� and join up with the righteous Joseph as his righteousness came to the fore. The climax of the description of Joseph�s righteousness comes after Potiphar�s wife attempted to seduce him, in the verse, �And he left his garment in her hands and he fled and he exited outside.� [1] Running away and leaving the house was the hardest part of withstanding the test, and once he was outside, the worst was already behind him.

We might say that Joseph succeeded in fleeing outside of this world. Potiphar�s wife was the crème de la crème of Egyptian culture, and high society at its best. For Joseph, she represented all the irresistible temptations that the world has to offer. �The eye perceives and the heart desires�� usually the eyes are captured by all the delicacies of the world and the heart is gradually tempted towards them. But, Joseph succeeded in being faithful to his father�s home and ignored the demands of the physical world by simply leaving it for another world.

How did Joseph do this? To be sure, he must have had a great deal of will-power. But, behind the scenes lies a profound wisdom, a complete world view, which both knows how to laugh at the world and simultaneously flee from it. It is Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch [2] who reveals this secret to us, quoting the sages� words (also mentioned by Rashi), stating that Joseph almost failed the test, had it not been for the appearance of his father�s image before him at the very last minute. [3] Rabbi Dov Ber explains that a truly righteous individual, a tzadik, knows that every phenomenon in the world is rooted in holiness. Even those absolutely evil phenomena that we are commanded to flee from like we flee from fire, have in them a �spark� of holiness that has fallen from upon high and has descended to be cloaked in this evil garb. Joseph saw before him a temptress, who attempted to wile him away from sanctity by the power of her beauty. But, Joseph knew that this was impure beauty with evil intentions, and he reminded himself that this false beauty covered a fallen spark of sanctity, and was nothing more than a false replica of true and holy beauty. He knew that true beauty and harmony of the correct blend of pure and holy attributes are those represented by his father Jacob.

This is how Rabbi Dov Ber interprets the midrash that Jacob�s image appeared to Joseph and saved him from being lured into Potiphar�s wife�s net. Joseph succeeded in �elevating the attribute to its source,� and instead of looking at the woman�s external beauty, he clung to the inner dimension of beauty that lies beyond the world we live in�a material world that threatens to dazzle us with superficial beauty. In other words, by disassembling the situation into its primary components, Joseph succeeded in annulling these temptations, and redirected them to the path of holiness.

Out of this World

The word �outside� (�ַ��ּצָ�) is familiar to us from another Biblical context. If we go back, we find that the original appearance of this word is with reference to Abraham, as the verse states: �And God took him outside and said: Please gaze at the sky and count the stars, can you count them? And He said to him: This is how your offspring will be.� [4]

Where did God take Abraham �outside� to? Rashi states:

Literally this means that He took him out of his tent to see the stars. But, the homiletic explanation [i.e., the Midrash] is that He said to him, �Go out of your astrology where you saw in the stars that you will never have a child. Abram does not have a child, but Abraham will have a child� Another explanation is that He took him out of this world and elevated him above the stars, and this is the meaning of the verb �to gaze� (�ַ�ָּ�ָ�)�[to look] down from above.

The first homiletic interpretation is that, in his great wisdom, Abraham reached the clear conclusion that he and Sarah would never have children. But, God took him outside of this world view. In modern vernacular, the implication of the second interpretation, �out of this world� is �out of the cosmos,� which resembles infinity; but in truth is finite and also follows the limitations of the laws of nature. Abraham�s initial faith in God could not completely ignore those limitations, because, after all, he realized that God created a finite, limited system with its own set of laws. However, God showed Abraham that he can leave this world completely, and rise beyond any limitations, in order to create the world anew (as it were). Abraham�s reaction to this revelation is �And he believed in God,�[5] this was the birth of pure Jewish faith which believes in the ability to defy the laws of nature.

So, both Abraham and Joseph went �outside,� and their exits complement one another. Abraham confronted idolatry, and he brought the world the light of belief in one God which provides us with a precedent that teaches us how to leave this world and redesign it. Joseph was confronted by adultery, and instructed us how to discover our inner power to overcome the evil inclination and leave this world of temptations. Both of these aspects are explicitly stated by the sages in the verse, �Do not follow your hearts and your eyes��[6] ��After your heart,� refers to heresy and �After your eyes� refers to contemplating sin [i.e., promiscuity].� [7]

A Leverage Point

What happens once we have succeeded in going outside, beyond our regular worldview, and accepted the fact that the Almighty�s omnipotence goes far beyond the laws of nature that He Himself set? The answer relates to the ability to overturn our perspective of the world in order to achieve the outcome that God desires.

Abraham began within this world. He recognized his Creator and progressed further and further in his faith, until he reached the summit of leaving this world. Similarly, the righteous Joseph was immersed in Potiphar�s home and was almost completely swallowed up by it, until when put to the test he succeeded in fleeing and stepping outside, beyond his limits. But, as we realign our perspective of Abraham and Joseph with the same implausible viewpoint that is �out of this world,� we suddenly discover that that same viewpoint is actually hidden deep within this world. From this perspective, the entire world is nothing but an exterior shell that hides the awareness of Godliness.

For a Jew with a focused perspective, the inner dimension is the world we know, and everything beyond it is on the outside. This includes the world of faith and Torah, the World to Come and many other possible worlds. But, the truth is that a Jew can also look at this world as an �external� entity that his soul has been sent to. This idea is expressed in the sages� statement, �This world is like a corridor that leads to the World to Come.� [8] Indeed, there are those who truly feel that they are just momentary visitors in this world, or, more precisely, they are just emissaries whose task it is to disseminate the Torah�s secrets out here, in this world.

Archimedes said that if he had a leverage point beyond the planet earth, he would be able to move it away from its orbit. Abraham�s and Joseph�s escape from this world teach us that every Jew has a leverage point such as this, not just beyond the planet, but beyond the cosmos as well. He can therefore be �released� from the world, leave it, and then return to it from a completely new perspective. So, we can perceive the world either as �inside� or �outside,� like a piece of clothing that can be turned inside-out, as Joseph apparently left his own garment in Potiphar�s wife�s hands.

Returning to the account mentioned in Part 1, Mashiach told the Ba’al Shem Tov that he will come â��when your wellsprings disseminate outwards,â�� and the most literal explanation of these words is that the wellspringsâ��of faith and the inner dimension of the Torahâ��will burst outside from inside each of us. The world outside is like a field of action that we must go outside of ourselves in order to reach. This power to go outside stems from Abrahamâ��s and Josephâ��s power to go outside, beyond the limitations of this world. At first, they exited the world, dissipating its material lure, and loudly proclaimed, â��There is none else besides God!â�� Once they stepped out of this world, they realized that their true place is beyond the world; the same place where every Jewish soul is carved from. From  outside the world, we then turn to face the world, in order to join the outside to its inner source .

On the one hand, our pillar of faith has the ability to annul all of reality, to elevate everything to its source and root by closing our eyes and loudly proclaiming, �Hear o� Israel� God is one.� The second pillar of Torah and Chassidut is the realization that we have control over the leverage point beyond the world that Archimedes coveted, and we can �overturn the world� by disseminating the innermost wellsprings into the outermost places. This is the ability to bring about the genuine and complete redemption that we yearn for, together with the arrival of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, speedily and in our days.

From 19th Kislev farbrengen, Joseph�s Tomb, 5751


[1] Genesis 39:12.

[2] Magid Devarav Leyaakov, 18 (and elsewhere).

[3] Sotah 36b.

[4] Genesis 15:8.

[5] Ibid 15:6.

[6] Numbers 15:39.

[7] Berachot 12b.

[8] Avot 4:16.

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Anyone who is released from prison must thank God. But, only under very special circumstances does such an event become a festive day that is noted for generations on the calendars of hundreds of thousands of people. However, this is the case with 19th of Kislev, the day on which the founder of Chabad Chassidut, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was released from prison more than two centuries ago. This date was not only instituted by Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s devoted followers, but Rabbi Shneur Zalman himself even saw the episode of his captivity and subsequent redemption as an event of national importance.

The Generation of Pioneers

Historically speaking, the generation that preceded Rabbi Shneur Zalman marked the appearance of Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov, who illuminated the skies of Judaism with the new-old light of faith in God and universal love. In a letter to his brother-in-law, Rabbi Gershon Mikitov, the Ba’al Shem Tov wrote about a wondrous vision he experienced, in which he saw himself wandering through the upper realms (in a â��soul elevationâ��) until he reached the Hall of Mashiach. The Ba’al Shem Tov asked the Mashiach, â��When will my master come?â�� and Mashiach answered, â��When your wellsprings will disseminate outwards.â�� This is whyâ��openly and unabashedlyâ��Chassidut is a â��messianicâ�� movement. The very fact that it has already spread and disseminated is a significant step towards the ultimate redemption. But the goal of â��Your wellsprings will send out rivulets of water in the streetsâ��[1] did not happen overnight. Although the Ba’al Shem Tov had a group of students, and his influence reached crowds of simple Jewish folk, nonetheless, during his era there was not yet a movement of any significance that would ensure its dissemination.

The next stage of Chassidut can be compared to focusing sunrays onto a powerful lens. Like a mighty magnet, the Ba’al Shem Tovâ��s greatest student, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch, attracted a group of unsurpassed spiritual giants. It is enough to mention names such as Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk, Rebbe Zusha of Anipoli, Rebbe Mendel of Vitebsk, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Rabbi Nachum of Tchernobel, Rebbe Shmelke of Nikolsberg, Rebbe Pinchas, author of Sefer Haflaâ��ah, the Great Rebbe Aharon of Karlin, Rebbe Shlomo of Karlin and Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in order to prove how Rabbi Dov Berâ��s meager study hall was actually one of the â��lionsâ�� dens and the mountains of leopards.â��[2] Rebbe Dov Ber himself sat hidden at homeâ��even physically, because of his difficulty to get around due to his crippled legsâ��and taught profound Torah teachings which at first were comprehensible only to the choice few who surrounded him. But, it was clear to all his wondrous group of students that this needed to be expounded, in order to fulfill the vision of â��Your wellsprings will disseminate outwards;â�� i.e., to conquer more regions in the Jewish world and bring them the light of Chassidut. Then came the next stage, which clearly saw a growing movement that swept many into its wake by a surge of activity. But, as the movement grew, its opponents began to rear their heads. Some of the opposition developed because of an innocent hesitation towards encouraging any new sects in general. However, some of the opposition was an ugly attempt to undermine the movementâ��s development, initiated by provocative warmongers.

Two Lights

But before the opposition began, let�s take note of the figure of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the youngest of the Magid�s students, but one of the most prominent. Just as his name, Shneur (ש�ְנֵ���ֹר) suggests in Hebrew, he had two lights (ש�ְנֵ� ��ֹר). On the one hand, he stands at the top echelon of Talmudic giants and scholars of Jewish law throughout the ages, as one can see from his version of The Code of Jewish Law, which he rewrote, and is named after him �The Rabbi�s Code of Jewish Law� (Shulchan Aruch Harav). This was the light of the revealed level of the Torah, �Torah is light.�[3] On the other hand, without any contradiction at all to his genius in the classical Torah subjects, he was also well-versed in the light of the Torah�s inner dimension, its secrets and its mysteries.[4] In an abundance of Chassidic discourses, he elucidated the hidden wisdom of the Torah and explained it in clear language. Without altering the original language used in Kabbalah, he added to it a Chassidic clothing that relates to the human soul and to God�s service, making the Torah�s secrets accessible to every one of us. Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s crowning glory in the inner dimension of the Torah is the Tanya. This is how Rabbi Shneur Zalman �stitched� these two lights together, and joined the two occupations that had previously been considered completely separate into one.

The significant advancement Rabbi Shneur Zalman made in disseminating the wellsprings of Chassidut, especially with the publication of his seminal work, the Tanya, aroused opposition. As a result of false charges and libel by other Jews, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was accused of conspiring against the Russian Czar, and sent to prison.

Now that we have mentioned the charges made against Rabbi Shneur Zalman, we see that they were not against him as an individual, but against the entire movement he represented, beginning with the Baâ��al Shem Tov.[5] But, devoted to the Ba’al Shem Tovâ��s approach of seeing how every event that transpires is rooted in Divine providence, Rabbi Shneur Zalman interpreted the case on a universal level. He understood his physical imprisonment in this world as a reflection of a spiritual confrontation, â��a prosecution from the Heavenly Court.â�� He saw that the Chassidic Movement was being put to the test to see whether or not the time had truly come to disseminate the wellsprings to the world at large; and whether the Jewish nation was ready to be aroused to step out of the coma of exile and greet Mashiach.

From here we see that the good tidings regarding Rabbi Shneur Zalmanâ��s release were not just a verdict that had been passed by the Czarâ��s officers who cleared him of treason. As the Talmud states, â��The kingdom of earth is an illustration of the kingdom of the Heavens,â��[6] meaning that in the Heavenly court Rabbi Shneur Zalman was also acquitted, as if to say, â��Continue your endeavors to spread Chassidut!â�� Indeed, the greatest lesson that Rabbi Shneur Zalman took from the episode was to disseminate Chassidut even more than before. The Chassidic tradition even relates that while he was imprisoned, the souls of the Ba’al Shem Tov and Rabbi Dov Ber appeared to him. Rabbi Shneur Zalman asked them whether he should continue disseminating Chassidut or to adopt a â��lower profile.â�� Their reply was that he should continue to teach, and at an even greater pace! The hidden spring of the Torahâ��s inner dimension began to trickle out, but encountered a daunting dam and its ability to continue its flow was shaded in doubt. But as soon as the barrier was removed, water could gush out with even greater force, and Chassidut could succeed in reaching more areas.

Exactly twenty-six years before Rabbi Shneur Zalman was released from prison, he had stood beside the bed of his great Rabbi on the last day of his life in this world. Rabbi Dov Ber suddenly turned to his favorite student and said, �Zalman�ev, today is a festive day (��ֹ� ��ֹ�) for us.�[7] On the day when a tzadik passes away, all his days on earth gather together and become a huge pillar of light that continues to illuminate the coming generations (even more than during his life, while his soul was still connected to the limitations of his physical body). This is why the 19th of Kislev is a festive day for Rabbi Dov Ber; it was his own �day of celebration.� Yet, by the same token, it is also his student�s, Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s festive day. Rabbi Shneur Zalman�s release from prison is not only a tiding of redemption for his Rabbi and the student together, but also for every Jew, wherever he happens to be, because these figures are �universal souls� who influence all of us, even if we are not aware of it.



[1] Proverbs 5:16.

[2] Song of Songs 4:8.

[3] Proverbs 6:23.

[4] �Mystery� (רָ�) has the same numerical value as �light� (��ֹר).

[5] Who Rabbi Shneur Zalman referred to as his spiritual �grandfather.�

[6] Berachot 58a.

[7] There is a fascinating source for the Magid�s words: One of the Tosfot wrote an outstanding book that is called �Questions and Answers from Heaven.� This book is a collection of questions that he asked, with replies that were transmitted to him in a Heavenly vision. One of the questions there (siman 5) relates to the date of the 19th of Kislev, and in the reply he was told, �Today is a day of good tidings� (without any additional explanation). The essence of this day of good tidings only became known a few centuries later (see also Rabbi Margaliot�s note there, cited in the name of the Mishmeret Shalom).

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checkmate

Since the time of the kings of Edom until today, the World of Chaos is in a state of instability and prefers to wallow eternally in the swamp of bachelorhood�

Kings without Queens

In any good story about a king, one might suppose that there is also a queen. It just doesn�t seem fitting for a king to be single. But, there is at least one place in the Torah where kings did not follow this basic protocol.

�And these are the kings who ruled in the Land of Edom before there ruled a king of the Children of Israel.� Towards the end of the Torah portion of Vayishlach, the Torah enumerates the eight kings of Edom and describes how, one after the other, each of them rises to power at the other�s expense: �And there ruled in Edom Bela ben Be�or� and Bela died and after him ruled Yovav ben Zarach from Botzrah. And Yovav died and after him ruled Chusham from the land of the Teimani�� One after the next, the Torah describes how each king of Edom dies and the next one rules. Yet, of the eight kings, seven apparently had no queen by their side, and only with reference to the eighth and last king does it mention his wife�s name: �And after him ruled Hadar � and his wife�s name was Meheitavel.� This seems to imply that all the other kings were bachelors, or at least did not have a marriage worth mentioning.

In order to understand this phenomenon, we need to first understand why the Torah even mentions these kings. Taking a literal approach, the Ramban [Nachmanides] [1] interprets that from here we learn that Isaac�s blessing to Esau was realized, �Upon your sword shall you live.� [2] These kings of Edom were Esau�s descendants, and they conquered the kings of Seir who had ruled before them. But, beyond this literal interpretation, there are many more hidden facets to this episode, which can be accessed by studying the esoteric teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidut. There it becomes clear that this passage conceals some of the Torah�s deepest secrets.

Chaos Comes before Rectification

Rabbeinu Bechaye writes:

From a Kabbalistic perspective, �And these are the kings who ruled in the Land of Edom� is a hidden reference to the world that the Almighty created with the measure of judgment before He created this world, and before He revealed His Majesty in this world� For He created worlds and destroyed them until He created [our world] and included�the attribute of compassion, and I cannot explain this because these are eminent, secret matters that are of utmost significance.

However, those ideas that were ambiguous and obscure in Rabbeinu Bechaye�s era, [3] were explained two centuries later by the Holy Arizal and continued to come to light in the Kabbalistic literature that followed, and later, in Chassidic literature.

In short, the kings of Edom are a reference to the World of Chaos that preceded the World of Rectification. In Kabbalah, the creation of the world is described as a spiritual process of God�s infinite light descending until it reaches the physical world as we know it. During this process, the World of Chaos was created, which did not endure for very long, but �broke and died.� This is the meaning of the sages� saying that �God creates worlds and destroys them.� [4] The World of Rectification was created to replace the World of Chaos that broke.

The World of Chaos is described as points of light that emanated, one after the other from their supreme Divine source (referred to as �Primordial Man�), however each one of these lights broke and died as soon as it protruded, because the vessels were unable to contain the lights. This is the traumatic event referred to in Kabbalah as the �Breaking of the Vessels� (ש�ְ�ִ�רַת �ַ�ֵּ�ִ��). This is the secret of the recurring phrase �And he ruled� and he died,� which is stated with reference to the first kings of Edom. Each king represents a light that radiates out and immediately shatters. In contrast, we note that the Torah does not mention that the eighth king, Hadar (who again, is the one who is married) died. Kabbalah therefore explains that he represents the initiation of the World of Rectification.

To make these ideas somewhat easier to digest, we can explain that this does not only refer to primordial events from the distant past. God renews the act of creation every single day, so any description of what happened at creation is, to a certain extent, what is happening at the more profound levels of reality all the time. For instance, the service that we need to do in this world is to refine lost sparks. These lost sparks are the fragments that fell and scattered from the broken World of Chaos.

This means that in the same way that the spiritual world began with chaos, so too does every physical phenomenon also begin with a state of chaos before it reaches its ultimate rectification. This we can perceive from the very beginning of the Torah, first �And the earth was chaos� [5] and only afterwards, �and there was light.� [6] This order can be identified in many general ideas in the Torah, for example: darkness preceded light; animals preceded human beings; the six days of creation preceded the Holy Shabbat; Esau preceded Jacob; the kings of Edom �before there ruled a king of the Children of Israel�; the seventy nations of the world appeared on the stage of history before the Jewish people; and the dark reality of exile precedes the final redemption. The sages succinctly state the rule that, �First is darkness and light follows.� [7] To use another Kabbalistic phrase that describes this phenomenon, �The [inedible] husk precedes the [edible] fruit.� One of the reasons why things need to appear in this way is that the husk guards the fruit, allowing it to safely develop to maturity.

The Power of Chaos

What is it that caused the kings of chaos to break and die? In the language of Kabbalah, in the World of Chaos there were �many lights and few vessels.� This means that each light appeared at the peak of its power and aspired to overtake the whole stage, flooding it with its own hue. In the context of the kings, this phenomenon is described as each king saying, �I will rule.� Each king came with the full extent of his force and said, �I am here and only me!� Such a powerful chaotic force as this �breaks the vessels,� in both the literal and the esoteric sense of the phrase. The vessels are intended to contain the light�which is initially spiritual and elusive by nature�and bring it to effect as a tangible reality. But, when the light enters these vessels with great intensity, the vessels are unable to endure the pressure. Instead of containing the light, they burst and shatter.

For this very reason, the lights of the World of Chaos cannot live in peace with one another. One king can only appear after the death of his predecessor because, �No kingdom can touch another kingdom, even by a hair�s breadth,� [8] and �two kings cannot reign with one crown�[9]�especially not kings like these, whose inflated egos aim to conquer territory for their own purposes and extend beyond their own boundaries. When egoism is unbridled, just having someone else in the vicinity seems like a threat to the person�s existence.

By contrast, in the World of Rectification, �there are few lights and many vessels.� The lights appear in a smaller, more refined and more restrained version. Since the lights do not appear with such high intensity, they do not break the vessels with their force. The lights succeed in uniting with the vessels, reaching a state of stable existence that does not break. This is why in the World of Rectification all of the lights� despite their obvious dissimilarities�are present simultaneously, and there is no need for one to �die� before another appears. Peace reigns in the World of Rectification because these different lights do not appear as individual protrusions, but are relatively annulled to their source. This type of peace is referred to as �a vessel that holds blessing� and this is how all the lights combine into one harmonic system that becomes a complete �persona.�

From Bachelorhood to Married Life

Chassidut teaches us how the most profound secrets of Kabbalah are reflected in the human psyche, as the verse states, �From my flesh I will perceive God.� [10] With regards to the subject under discussion, being single is considered relatively �chaotic,� while married life is considered to be a World of Rectification.

This idea comes to the fore in the case of someone who remains single because they are psychologically trapped in a culture that does not encourage them to extricate themselves from singledom, and create a genuine, lasting marriage. Often, these are people who have a lot of �light,� they want to achieve many things, to advance, to get rich and conquer new horizons; they have big ideas and a great desire for self-actualization. However, their problem is that in their world there is only one person�them and themself alone. This is a typical �I will rule� phenomenon in which the person�s individuality does not allow them to let anyone else into their world, except as an object to be exploited for their own interests.

This is why the Torah does not mention that the first seven kings of Edom had wives. �Kings� of the World of Chaos are essentially unable to live their lives in a genuine marital relationship. The most that can be expected of them is to create a profitable business partnership. Only the eighth and final king, Hadar, who represents the beginning of the World of Rectification, was really married. Therefore, only Hadar did not die, because just as in a game of chess the King without the Queen is unable to run long distances, so too, without nurturing our partnership for life, �stale-mate� may be the most likely outcome, and �check-mate� is only a few moves away.

When someone is totally self-oriented, they live in a foreign, cold and distant world, unable to make true contact with their (potential) spouse. In order to improve this they must undergo a process of self-rectification, which begins by breaking all their present misconceptions. The first step to this process is to pay attention to the fact that somewhere deep inside, lurks the belief that �I am all and there is none besides me��a thought that leaves no room for anyone else to step inside. This type of stubborn egotism believes that all other people were born to serve this individual�s ego. Once this facet of narcissism has been pinpointed, the individual will understand that they need to turn down their headlights, out of consideration for anyone approaching them, so as not to �dazzle� them with their own energies. Lowering the intensity of their ego allows the individual to listen to others� voices. In other words, instead of expecting Prince, or Princess Charming, to capture their heart, it would be better to open their own heart by taking an attitude of selfless concern towards those they meet.

The process of developing from chaos to rectification is liable to be accompanied by a critical breakage point. This is experienced as a sense of surrendering one�s self-image, which may feel like psychological suicide to a certain extent. But, this predicament is worthwhile, because when we turn towards the other and begin to nurture a warm, loving relationship, together we construct a wide vessel that can contain the lights of both partners in the most harmonious combination. When two people build together such a loving, considerate relationship, their energies resonate with each other, and the integration of their lights comes to fruition as a complete �persona� in the form of a warm Jewish home and family.

For further reading see our book in Hebrew, Ahavah (Love), in the chapter on late bachelorhood. 


[1] See Ramban�s commentary to Genesis 36:30.

[2] Genesis 27:40.

[3] Rabeinu Bechaye wrote his interpretation on the Torah in the mid 14th century.

[4] Kohelet Rabah 3:11.

[5] Genesis 1:2.

[6] Ibid 1:3.

[7] Shabbat 77b.

[8] Berachot 48b.

[9] Rashi, Genesis 1:16.

[10] Job 19:26.

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