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In the Midst of the Earth

In the Midst of the Earth

Thirteenth of Nissan — Yartzeit of the Tzemach Tzedek


The Yartzeit of the Tzemach Tzedek is an opportune time for all Jews to study his teachings and to emulate his deeds, thereby effecting salvations “in the midst of the earth.”

The thirteenth day of Nissan marks the Yartzeit of the Tzemach Tzedek, fifth Rebbe of Chabad, who passed away in the year 5626.

A Yartzeit is not a mere anniversary of the passing. The Alter Rebbe writes that at the time of passing of a tzaddik, “all the effort of man, which his soul toiled during his lifetime...becomes revealed and radiates in a manifest way from above...and effects salvations in the midst of the earth to atone for the sin of the generation.”1 That revelation is repeated yearly on the Yartzeit.

The Alter Rebbe further notes that the passing of a tzaddik is such a lofty event that it is compared2 to the sacrifice of the parah adumah.3 Just as the parah adumah cleansed the most severe form of impurity, that which comes from contact with a dead person, so the passing of a tzaddik atones for the most severe sins of the generation. In the Alter Rebbe’s words, it “effects salvations in the midst of the earth”: although revealing transcendent levels of G‑dliness, it atones for sins stemming from even the most base levels of evil.4

For the wondrous revelations of a Yartzeit to be assimilated, Jews must do their part also.5 Their task is to continue in the path trodden by the tzaddik, to carry on his efforts and toil. The blessings from G‑d for material and spiritual plenty elicited by a tzaddik’s Yartzeit must be used by Jews to fulfill the mission of “effecting salvations in the midst of the earth” — transforming the mundane into holiness, evil into good.

A Yartzeit of a nasi, a leader of the Jewish people, has even further-reaching effects. A nasi represents all Jews, for he is an offshoot of our forefather Yaakov, his soul encompassing all souls.6 And his passing does not sever his relationship with his people. Accordingly, the blessings generated by the Yartzeit of a tzaddik are of an especially lofty nature.

Each tzaddik and each nasi possesses qualities unique to him and to his mode of service to G‑d. For a complete appreciation of the Tzemach Tzedek’s Yartzeit, it is important to study his way of service to G‑d and how it may be distinguished from those of others, even those of the other Rebbeim.7 For by studying his Torah teachings and emulating his deeds, we unite with him and “effect salvations in the midst of the earth.”

The Tzemach Tzedek’s activities were myriad, but a common theme was his total involvement with the entire Jewish people. Interwoven in this theme was the concept of unity. Indeed, in Jewish numerology, the word echad,” “one,” has the numerical value of thirteen. And in the teachings and way of life of the Tzemach Tzedek, who passed away on the thirteenth of Nissan, the principle of oneness — unity in Torah and unity between Jews — predominates.

Unity in Torah

The Rebbeim who preceded the Tzemach Tzedek were masters of both the revealed and hidden realms of Torah. The Alter Rebbe, for example, authored major texts in both fields — the Tanya, Torah Or and Likkutei Torah in the hidden, and the Shulchan Aruch and Responsa in the revealed. The Mitteler Rebbe, too, authored many Chassidic texts and a number of works in the revealed field.8

But the study of the revealed and the hidden were separate disciplines, with little interrelation. One may study and become expert in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch without any awareness of Chassidus.9 Similarly, one may study the Chassidic writings of the Alter Rebbe and Mitteler Rebbe without any awareness or appreciation of their stature in the revealed realm of Torah.

Not so with the Tzemach Tzedek. His unique contribution was the open fusion of the revealed and hidden realms. In the midst of a Chassidic discourse of his, a Talmudic discussion appears. In developing an abstract concept in Chassidus, points of Talmudic thought are used. In his teachings, the revealed and mystical realms coexist, united, as one Torah.10

But his contribution to Torah scholarship did not stop there. In the revealed field of Torah he was accepted in his lifetime as an international halachic authority11 even by those not affiliated with the Chassidic movement; and in the mystical, his vast endeavors earned him the appellation “the Rambam of Chassidus.” Like the Rambam, who collected the vast sea of Torah teachings, organized them into a systematic framework and, where necessary, sifted through conflicting opinions to arrive at the halachah, the Tzemach Tzedek collected the Chassidic teachings of his predecessors and where necessary, resolved apparent contradictions.12 He did the same thing in the revealed realm of Torah.

Unity between Jews

The unity in Torah led to unity between Jews. In previous generations, Jewry was split into different camps, with their different approaches to Torah study causing dissension and divisions. Those who occupied themselves only in the study of the revealed realm of Torah were in conflict with those who studied the mystical realm, and those who studied both were yet a separate camp of Jews. But in the Tzemach Tzedek’s times, harmony reigned amongst them and all lived in peaceful co-existence.13 Indeed, all factions of Torah-true Jewry co-operated in strengthening Judaism, even meeting together to further the cause of Torah and mitzvos.

In this area, too, the Tzemach Tzedek took the leading role. His unquenchable love for all Jews and Torah prompted him to champion their cause, even at great personal risk. When the Russian government was considering educational changes that would have been detrimental to a Torah-true education, the Tzemach Tzedek stood firm in the face of tremendous pressure. His mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice, confirmed him as the leader among the Torah greats of the time in the fight for a Torah education for Jews. Even arrest and imprisonment did not deter him.

His concern for all Jews and their Torah education extended to even the most alienated. The Russian government of the day, eager to stamp out the practice of Judaism, instituted its infamous program of forcibly conscripting Jewish children at a young age into the Russian army. There, they were not permitted to practice their Judaism and indeed, were relentlessly subjected to the practice of a foreign faith. Those Jews, drafted for twenty-five years, became known as the cantonists.14

The Tzemach Tzedek spearheaded the work on behalf of the cantonists. Where possible, he arranged that they be saved from conscription.15 For those conscripted, he organized a network of representatives to visit them.

Here, too, his mesirus nefesh for all Jews blazed forth — and brought success, to the extent that even the authorities acknowledged his influence. Many of the cantonists, although torn from their parents at a tender age and bereft of any Jewish education, clung to their faith and refused to surrender their heritage. Once, hearing that the Tzemach Tzedek was near their camp, a group of cantonists pleaded with their superiors that he be allowed to address them. The Tzemach Tzedek’s prestige was such that the notoriously anti-semitic Russian army acquiesced to the soldiers’ plea, and officially requested the Tzemach Tzedek to address the soldiers.16 He delivered a Chassidic discourse entitled Shema Yisroel,”17 wherein he elaborated on the profound bond between Jews and G‑d.

In addition to his own mastery of Torah, the Tzemach Tzedek devoted much effort to disseminating the teachings of Chassidus. And it is in this area that we can observe the fulfillment of the notion discussed earlier, to “effect salvations in the midst of the earth.”

“Effecting salvations in the midst of the earth” is the service of transforming the mundane into the holy, to make the corporeal world a fit dwelling place for the Divine. The ultimate fulfillment of such service — the true “salvations” — will occur in the Messianic Era, when the Third Beis HaMikdosh will be built, for then G‑d will be revealed in the universe.

For such an awesome revelation the world needs to be prepared, and that preparation is the dissemination of Chassidus to all places.18

Because the dissemination of Chassidus leads to the Messianic Era, and the Messianic Era will see the ultimate fulfillment of “effecting salvations within the midst of the earth,” it follows that on the Yartzeit of the Tzemach Tzedek, whose life was devoted to disseminating Chassidus, the ability to “effect salvations in the midst of the earth” assumes particular force.

In his efforts to help Jewry, too, the Tzemach Tzedek personified conduct of the manner of “effecting salvations in the midst of the earth.” When government decrees threatened Jewry, the Tzemach Tzedek traveled to the seat of government in efforts to have those decrees rescinded. He was not content to work through others; he himself went to “the midst of the earth” and there “effected salvations.”

What lesson is conveyed by the Tzemach Tzedek’s Yartzeit, when “all the effort...which his soul toiled during his lifetime...becomes revealed and...effects salvation in the midst of the earth”?

As noted earlier, Jews, to assimilate the wondrous revelations of a Yartzeit, must continue on the path blazed for them by the tzaddik. Each of the aspects of the Tzemach Tzedek’s service to G‑d can be emulated by us.

As he did, we should study the revealed and hidden realms of Torah not as separate disciplines but as one Torah.

As he did, we must disseminate the teachings of Judaism and Chassidus in the “midst of the earth” — that is, to all Jews, even to those on the lowest of spiritual levels, those who are Jews in name only; and with like mesirus nefesh. For as in his times, our era also has its cantonists — those Jews who have never been given the proper Jewish education that is their birthright.19

As he did, we should embark on our task with enthusiasm and alacrity, with zeal and with mesirus nefesh.20

As in his times, we must strive for Jewish unity. Then, together, studying his Torah and emulating his righteous deeds, we shall greet Moshiach.

Sichas 13 Nissan, 5741, 5742

Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 28.
Moed Kattan 28a.
The parah adumah was a red heifer which was burned and its ashes used to purify ritually unclean Jews. See above Beyond Understanding, p. 131ff., for a discussion on the parah adumah.
The term “effects” in the above phrase indicates that the revelation of the salvations penetrates not just the realms of thought or speech but even deed. Further, “in the midst of the earth” refers to the lowest level of corporeality. “Effects salvations in the midst of the earth,” therefore, means that the salvation effected on a yartzeit penetrates to all levels, even the lowliest.
Although the spiritual accomplishments of a tzaddik effect salvation automatically, their full influence is felt when Jews contribute. It is stated in Esther (9:28) that “these days are remembered and kept,” meaning that if auspicious days are remembered properly — relived intensely, with proper preparation — the spiritual effects present on that day will be “kept” — they will occur with full force.
Nasi in Hebrew is an acronym for “nitzutz shel Yaakov avinu” — “a spark of Yaakov, our forefather.” Our sages declared that “the beauty of Yaakov resembled that of Adam, the first man,” which the Alter Rebbe interprets to mean that just as all the souls of the world were encompassed within Adam, so they were encompassed within Yaakov. Further, our Sages have taught that “the nasi is the entire people,” and “he is the heart of the congregation of Israel.”
There is no intention here to compare one tzaddik to another or one Rebbe to another. But if the highlighting of unique characteristics leads to deriving lessons in the service to G‑d — in this case, the ability to appreciate the true nature of the Tzemach Tzedek’s yartzeit and how to emulate his ways — comparisons are permitted.
Of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Mezritcher Maggid, it is primarily the records of their teachings in Chassidus that have been preserved.
This is not to say that the laws in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch do not reflect Chassidic concepts. The point is that one may study the Shulchan Aruch perfectly well while remaining ignorant of any inner meanings. Similarly, although Chassidic discourses would often cite quotations from the revealed Torah, their purpose was to emphasize a point of Chassidic thought.
The same may be observed among the sages of the Talmud. Some sages devoted their studies to the revealed realm only, others to the hidden. Some, Rabbi Akiva for example, applied their efforts to both fields, but even then, they remained separate disciplines. Only R. Shimon bar Yochai broke through the barrier separating the two and combined them into one entity.
In this respect, he was unique among the Rebbeim. Even the Alter Rebbe, author of the Shulchan Aruch Admur HaZakein, did not gain such widespread recognition as a halachic authority in his lifetime.
The Rebbe Rashab is also called “the Rambam of Chassidus(Sefer HaSichos 5690, p. 95), for he, too, resolved apparent contradiction in Chassidic teachings and systematically explained them. It may be posited that the Rebbe Rashab studied the teachings of the Tzemach Tzedek to such an extent that they became part of his very fibre, and thus he, too, became a “Rambam of Chassidus.” The Rebbe Rashab, however, unlike the Tzemach Tzedek, did not do the same thing in the revealed realm. See above Dissemination of Torah p. 47ff., for a discussion of the unique nature of the Rebbe Rashab’s work.
Including chassidim and misnagdim.
For a more comprehensive history of the cantonists and the Tzemach Tzedek’s involvement, see The Tzemach Tzedek and the Haskalah movement.
It was sometimes possible to have a child redeemed from conscription by payment of a sum of money.
Neither the Alter Rebbe nor the Mitteler Rebbe enjoyed such a relationship with the Russian government. Although the Alter Rebbe received official permission to disseminate the teachings of Chassidus, that permission was granted only after many requests and tribulations. The Tzemach Tzedek, in contrast, was requested to address the cantonists.
Published as an addendum to The Tzemach Tzedek and the Haskalah movement.
The Baal Shem Tov once experienced an elevation of the soul to the celestial spheres, and when he came to the abode of Moshiach, he was informed that Moshiach will come “when your wellsprings shall spread forth to the outside” — i.e., when the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings, Chassidus, will be spread everywhere. See above The Beauty Of Pearls p. 65ff., for an analysis of why Chassidus is the proper preparation for the Messianic Age.
In some respects, today’s cantonists are worse off than the cantonists of old, for the latter at least knew they were being forcibly separated from their Jewish heritage, whereas today, many Jews do not even realize their plight.
The Tzemach Tzedek lived in troubled times for Jewry. We, who live now in countries where there is no impediment to the dissemination of Torah, can certainly be successful in our task if we but apply ourselves.
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The life and times of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789-1866)
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