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Yahrtzeit Observances

Yahrtzeit Observances


Editor's note: The following is a free translation of a public letter written by the Rebbe shortly before the first yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) of his father-in-law and predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch, in which the Rebbe directs the chassidim on how to observe the yahrtzeit, Chassidim observe the customs of the yahrtzeit on the date of the Rebbe's passing, in accordance with the customs instituted by the Rebbe for the yahrtzeit of his father-in-law and predecessor chassidim today follow these customs on the Rebbe's anniversary of passing, on the Third of Tammuz. The letter is dated Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5711 [January 8, 1951].

By the Grace of G-d
Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5711
Brooklyn, N.Y.

To the members of our community, the Temimim1, and to all who are bound or in any way connected with my revered father-in-law, the saintly Rebbe, of blessed memory,

G-d bless you all.

Greeting and Blessings:

In response to the many requests for a detailed schedule for the upcoming Tenth of Shevat, yahrtzeit of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, hareini kaparat mishkavo2, I hereby suggest the following3:

On the Shabbat before the yahrtzeit, each should try to be called up to the Torah for an aliyah.

If there are not enough aliyot, the Torah should be read a number of times in different rooms. However, no additions should be made to the number of aliyot per reading4 .

The one who is honored with Maftir5 should be the most respected convergent, as determined by the majority; alternatively, the choice may be determined by lot.

The congregation should choose someone to lead the prayers on the day of the yahrtzeit. It is proper to divide the honor, choosing one person to lead the evening service (Maariv), a second to lead the morning service (Shacharit), and a third – the afternoon service (Minchah). In this way a greater number of community members will have the privilege.

A yahrtzeit candle should be lit that will burn for the entire twenty-four hours. If possible, the candle should be of beeswax6.

Five candles should be lit throughout the prayer services7.

After each prayer service (in the morning service—following the reading of Psalms), the one leading the prayers should study (or at least conclude the study of) the following selections from the Mishnah: Chapter 24 of Keilim and chapter 7 of Mikvaot. He should then recite the mishnah "Rabbi Chananyah ben Akashya...," followed silently by a few lines of Tanya8, and Kaddish deRabbanan.

After Maariv, part of the discourse (maamar) entitled Basi LeGani, which the Rebbe released for the day of his passing, should be recited from memory. If there is no one to do this from memory, it should be studied from the text. This should be continued after Shacharit, and the discourse should be concluded after Minchah.

Before Shacharit, a chapter of Tanya should be studied. This should also be done after Minchah.

In the morning, before prayer, charity should be given to causes associated with our Nasi, my revered father-in-law, of sainted memory. Donations should be made on behalf of oneself and on behalf of each member of one's family. The same should be done before Minchah.

After Shacharit and the recitation of the maamar, each individual should read a pidyon nefesh9. (It goes without saying that a gartl10 should be worn during the reading.) Those who have had the privilege of being received by the Rebbe in yechidut11, or at least of seeing his face, should—while reading the pidyon nefesh—envision themselves as standing before him. The pidyon nefesh should then be placed between the pages of a discourse maamar or other pamphlet of the Rebbe's teachings, and sent, if possible on the same day, to be read at his graveside.

In the course of the day one should study chapters of Mishnah that begin with the letters of the Rebbe's name.

In the course of the day one should participate in a chassidic gathering (farbrengen).

In the course of the day one should set aside a time during which to tell one's family about the Rebbe, and about the spiritual tasks at which he toiled throughout his life.

In the course of the day, people (to whom this task is appropriate) should speak at synagogues and houses of study in their cities and cite a saying or an adage from the Rebbe's teachings. They should explain how he loved every Jew. They should make known and explain the practice that he instituted of reciting Psalms every day, studying the daily portion of Chumash with the commentary of Rashi, and (to appropriate audiences) studying the Tanya as he divided it into daily readings throughout the year. If possible this should all be done in the course of a farbrengen.

In the course of the day, people (who are fit for the task) should visit centers of observant youth — and, in a neighborly spirit, should make every endeavor to also visit centers for the young people who are not yet observant — in order to explain to them the great love that the Rebbe had for them. It should be explained to these people what the Rebbe expected from them, his hope for them and the trust that he placed in them that they would ultimately fulfill their task of strengthening Judaism and disseminating the study of Torah with all the energy, warmth and vitality that characterize youth.

* * *

If prevailing conditions allow, all the above should of course be continued during the days following the yahrtzeit, and particularly on the following Shabbat.

* * *

May G-d hasten the coming of our Redeemer, and then "Those who dwell in the dust will awaken and rejoice." And our Nassi among them will give us wondrous tidings, and lead us along the path that leads up to the House of G-d.

[Signed:] Menachem Mendel Schneerson

1. Students of Tomchei Temimim, the Lubavitch network of yeshivot.
2. "May I be the atonement of his rest" - traditionally added to the mention of one's parent or teacher within a year of his or her passing.
3. This footnote appears in the original: See also my father-in-law's letter about the first yahrtzeit for his father, the Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of blessed memory (printed in Chachmei Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, p. 33).
4. This footnote appears in the original: This, in accordance with my father-in-law, the Rebbe's instruction in the name of his father. See responsa of Tzemach Tzedek, Orach Chaim, section 35. (Editor's note: In certain communities, it is customary to add to the original number of individuals called to the Torah, when the need arises, by breaking up the reading into smaller segments. It is not, however, the custom of Chabad to do so, as per the above sources.)
5. The last person to be called to the Torah, who also reads the selection from the Prophets.
6. This footnote appears in the original: In Hebrew, the word sha'avah (beeswax), is an acronym for the phrase (Isaiah 26:19) "Those who dwell in the dust will awaken and rejoice."
7. This footnote appears in the original: See Kuntreisim for Nissan 2 in the years 5708 and 5709.
8. This footnote appears in the original: Such was my father-in-law, the Rebbe's custom.
9. Literally, "Redemption of the Soul" -- a chassid's request to the Rebbe to intercede On High for his soul.
10. Belt worn during prayer.
11. Private audience.
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