Why We Rejoice on the Anniversary of a Tzaddik’s Passing
One of the reasons that the anniversary of a tzaddik’s death is considered a day of rejoicing is that when a tzaddik dies, the purpose of his soul’s descent into a physical body has been accomplished.
To explain: The intent of the descent of the soul to this earthly plane reflects the paradigm of “descent for the sake of ascent.” Through the Divine service it accomplishes while in a body the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvos a soul can ascend to a higher level than that on which it existed before its descent. Although in its non-corporeal state, the soul is “hewed out from below the throne of glory,” and is “pure,” these spiritual heights cannot be compared to the peaks it reaches through its Divine service on the material plane.
When are these peaks reached? At the time the soul completes the mission for which it was sent to the material plane. This is the reason the passing of tzaddikim is considered an occasion for joy. For a tzaddik surely completed the mission with which he was charged in its entirety.
The same spiritual influences expressed on the first occasion an event took place are repeated every year. Therefore a tzaddik’s yahrzeit is a day of rejoicing.
The Uniqueness of the Alter Rebbe’s Passing
Although the reoccurrence of a positive event brings happiness, the happiness produced by a new event is much greater.
With regard to the souls of most tzaddikim, the happiness accompanying their passing is not that which attends a new event, even at the time of their passing. For most souls of the present generation are not “new souls.” They are reincarnated souls, which have lived previously on this earthly plane. Therefore the ascent these tzaddikim achieve at the time of their passing is not a cause for tremendous rejoicing, for it is an event which occurred previously. In their previous lifetimes, they also achieved an ascent at the time of their passing. It is true that after every incarnation, the soul reaches even greater peaks, but since the soul has already experienced an ascent of this nature, the repeated achievement is not a reason for great celebration.
The Alter Rebbe’s soul, by contrast, was “a new soul,” a soul which had never descended to the world before. Therefore his passing was an occasion for joy unparalleled by the passing of other tzaddikim.
As mentioned previously, every year the spiritual influences associated with past events are expressed in the same manner as they were originally. Every year on 24 Teves, the same abundant joy which was expressed at the Alter Rebbe’s passing in 5573 is felt again, and indeed, in a more elevated manner.
With regard to happiness, it is said: “Happiness breaks through barriers.” For happiness enables a person to overcome his limits. May G‑d grant all those who share a connection with the Alter Rebbe the potential to break through the barriers which hamper them, both in material and spiritual matters. May the blessings they receive be expressed without impediment, following the pattern: “His word runs most swiftly.” This includes those who share a spiritual connection to the Alter Rebbe because they follow his paths in deed, speech, and thought, and those who share a genealogical connection, for “a father endows his son…” regardless of the son’s level, simply because he is his son.
May G‑d grant that all of these continue to follow the Alter Rebbe’s paths in thought, speech, and deed in their day-to-day life. In particular, may they learn Chassidus for this is what the Alter Rebbe sacrificed himself for and follow Chassidic customs and paths.
(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Va’eira, 5717)
Without Breaking Anything
The Alter Rebbe owned a silver snuff box which lacked a lid. The reason is that the lid was shining silver, and so the Alter Rebbe would use it as a mirror to see that his head tefillin were properly positioned.
This matter was once discussed in the presence of the Tzemach Tzedek. When it was said that the Alter Rebbe broke the lid off his snuff box, the Tzemach Tzedek objected, saying “My grandfather did not break things. He did not break himself, nor did he break other things.” Rather, the Tzemach Tzedek explained, there was probably a thin shaft connecting the lid to the snuff box, and his grandfather simply removed the shaft.
The Tzemach Tzedek was absolutely positive that the Alter Rebbe had not broken the lid. As he stated, he knew his grandfather would not break even an inanimate object.
All the stories about tzaddikim serve as directives for us in our Divine service. The above story teaches that without breaking anything not oneself, not others, not even an inanimate object it is possible to obtain an article that enables one to adjust one’s tefillin, the intent of tefillin being to subjugate one’s heart and mind to G‑d.
What is the symbolic meaning? That we do not have to break ourselves in order to subjugate our minds and hearts to G‑dliness. All that is necessary is to remove the shaft which ties the G‑dly soul to the animal soul.
For there are times when the animal soul approaches the G‑dly soul and tries to convince it to do something other than what is mandated by the subjugation of heart and mind. The animal soul will say: “Don’t worry, what I’m offering you is within the realm of holiness.” At that time, the connection between the two must cease.
A person must know clearly which advice comes from the G‑dly soul, and which advice comes from the animal soul. Only when one has the proper understanding “the freedom from foolishness” is it possible to adjust one’s tefillin, subjugating one’s heart and mind to G‑d. And this will cause “all the nations of the earth (including the gentile within each person, and the gentile nations at large) to see and fear you.”
(Adapted from Sichos of the 2nd Night of Pesach, 5720)