Gut Yom-Tov!

The festival of Purim commemorates the salvation of the bodies of the Jewish people, which everyone recognized as a Divine miracle.

Ever since the first redemption, which was from Egypt, G‑d has granted us numerous miracles, for the salvation of individuals or families or entire cities or entire countries. However, only in two cases did a wondrous redemption embrace the whole of the Jewish people – the miracle of Purim, in which the Jewish people were saved throughout the 127 provinces of the empire of Achashverosh in the year 3404 after Creation,1 and the miracle of Chanukah in Eretz Yisrael, in the year 3622 after Creation.2 What those two miracles have in common is that they were both recognized by all the nations of the earth and thereby brought about a Kiddush HaShem, a worldwide Sanctification of the Divine Name. They differ in that the miracle of Purim saved the bodies of the Jewish people, whereas the miracle of Chanukah saved the spirit and soul of the Jewish people.3

* * *

Every salvation follows a time of misfortune, and every such misfortune befalls the Jewish people in punishment for certain sins. Their resultant repentance not only frees them from that punishment, but also brings them salvation. It is obvious that the distressful punishment is proportionate to the sins, and the gratifying salvation is proportionate to the repentance.

* * *

The gratifying salvation of the miracle of Chanukah followed the distressful punishment at the hands of the Greeks, which had been caused by our people’s sins in the era of the Second Beis HaMikdash.

Even though the Second Beis HaMikdashlacked certain things that had been present in the First Beis HaMikdash,4 its first 180 or 190 years were a happy period for the Jews of that time.They began to socialize with the neighboring nations, and especially with the Greeks, among whom they found certain scholars.5

The Patron Angel of Scholarship6 presided over Greece.7 This caused Greece to become powerful because, [paradoxically,] kelipah is empowered by nurture from the holy “side” of the universe. This we see in the teaching of the Zohar8 concerning the spelling of שֶׁקֶר – sheker, which means “falsehood.” The basic letters of שֶׁקֶר, namely, kuf and resh, belong to the sitra achra, the evil “side” of the universe, but they cannot alone create שֶׁקֶר, “falsehood,” without co-opting the holy letter shin (“a letter of truth”) to join them.

As we were saying, within a few years there was an assimilationist movement. This pleased the Greeks, who for over twenty years conducted friendly relations with the Jews, tearing them away from the Torah and the mitzvos and from G‑d. They “defiled all the oils in the Sanctuary,”9 all that was cherished and holy to the Jewish people. Their aim was not to rule over the wealth of the Jews or their bodies, but only to “defile all the oils in the Sanctuary,” to disconnect them from their faith. Their mission, as the Sages express it,10 was to urge the Jews: “Inscribe it on the horn of an ox that you have no share in the G‑d of Israel!” With mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice, Jews remained faithful to the Torah and the mitzvos, but some, [the Hellenizers,] remained closely enmeshed in Greek society, ignoring the warnings of some truly outstanding Jewish leaders.

In response to this sin, G‑d brought about a momentous punishment: for five years the wicked Antiochus disrupted the daily service in the Beis HaMikdash. He installed an idol in the Sanctuary, desecrated whatever was holy in Yiddishkeit, terrorized and annihilated tens of thousands of Jewish families, and exiled thousands of Jews to be sold as slaves.

* * *

Those misfortunes roused the Jewish heart. The eternal, deep-seated Jewish nucleus surfaced. It cried out with teshuvah, and with self-sacrifice for the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. Men and women, old and young, allowed themselves to be killed and burnt for Kiddush HaShem, in sanctification of the Divine Name.

With their hearts open and responsive, the Jews of that time now listened to the sages who explained the cause and the meaning of their punitive suffering for desecrating Shabbos, eating treifah food, and neglecting the laws of family purity. In the course of their teshuvah, the education they gave was such that even young children chose to be killed as faithful Jews, rather than to save their lives by faking prostration to an idol by picking up something from the floor in front of it. This was the case with Chanah and her seven sons.11

* * *

The Jews all responded to the call of Mattisyahu the Kohen Gadol: “Whoever is for G‑d, join me!”12 They rallied to the holy banner – “Who is like You among the mighty, O G‑d!”13 – whose Hebrew initials spell מַכַּבִּי, Maccabee. And with the timeless proclamation of Shema Yisrael – “Hear, O Israel, G‑d is our L‑rd, G‑d is one”14 – they overcame the enemy’s mighty army.

Thus, with the unity of “one nation on earth,”15 and with self-sacrifice for the Torah and its mitzvos, they were granted the power of HaShem echad, the one G‑d, and overcame the fierce suppressor of their faith. They sanctified the Beis HaMikdash afresh, and resumed their observance of the unique Torah that G‑d gave us.

To summarize: The Jews of that era sinned by fraternizing with the Greeks, studying their culture, desecrating Shabbos and the festivals, eating treifah food, and failing to observe the laws of Jewish family purity. The blow of retribution was the physical destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the slaughter [of many thousands], and slavery in exile. Teshuvah and mesirus nefesh brought about the wondrous G‑dly salvation – the miracle of Chanukah.

* * *

In the year 3392 after Creation, during the Babylonian exile, the Jews were dispersed in many lands, including those ruled by Achashverosh. Over fifty years had passed since the Destruction of the [First] Beis HaMikdash. They were torn away from their home, where they had witnessed the miracles in the Beis HaMikdash and had heard the words of the Prophets. In some of the countries in which they were now scattered they were maltreated; in others, their contributions to society were recognized and they were treated accordingly.

* * *

Achashverosh was by nature fickle, arrogant, wise in his own eyes, and short-tempered. He was a mixture of good and evil, wisdom and foolishness, all together. Thus the Sages express both opinions (Megillah 12a): “He was a clever king” and “he was a foolish king.”In the times of his father Daryavesh (Darius), and also in the early years of his own reign, the Jews in his provinces made a comfortable livelihood. As time went on, for business reasons and through their business contacts, they lost touch with their life of Torah and mitzvos, merged into the surrounding culture, and sought luxury. Their Shabbos became more like a weekday, their kashrus became more lax, their family life became coarser.

They forgot that they were the chosen nation, they took lightly the fact that G‑d “chose us from all the nations and elevated us above every language,”16 and began to live an unbridled and carefree life like the nations around them.

Mordechai the Jew and the Prophet Malachi warned them that G‑d would not tolerate this lifestyle, and that it would not go unpunished. They warned the assimilationists that if His fury were to be released, they would not be saved by their gentile friends nor by their wealth, and they cited G‑d’s statements in the Passages of Rebuke.17 Unfortunately, however, their gross and unharnessed hearts did not allow them to heed these honest words. Even though Mordechai was one of the most respected personages in the royal court, his message urging the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos was of no avail.

* * *

Achashverosh had conquered many countries, and his Jewish citizens, having contributed to his war effort, were rewarded monetarily as well as by expressions of gratitude and by government posts.

One of the people whom Achashverosh co-opted to his royal council was an individual of lowly birth, a barber in a bathhouse,18 by the name of Haman the son of Hamdasa. An ambitious, arrogant and deceitful individual, he managed to sneak his devious way into the company of the king’s advisors.

On his victorious return from a major battle, Achashverosh hosted mammoth feasts for all of his citizens. The Jews, too, were invited by the organizing committee, who had been instructed to provide every guest with the menu and the liquor that he had ordered. These feasts of treifah delicacies with their wild debauchery vulgarized the Jews even more. Disregarding the nearing approach of the Era of Redemption, as foretold by the Prophets, they laughed off their warnings and mocked them insolently. They had been intoxicated by their wartime earnings and by the king’s letters of gratitude. They lived in the biggest and fanciest palaces, and enjoyed their free life – without Shabbos, kashrus, mikveh, tefillin, and so on – and relished their earthly and fleshly life to the utmost.

They shamefully rejected every moralistic word. It was the kind of era in which it was “the judged who judge their judges.”19 The wealthy, with the illusory security promised by their wealth, not only scorned the observant Jews and the rabbanim, but made their lives miserable.

* * *

Five years had passed since that harsh day on which Achashverosh put his wife Vashti to death. In the meantime Esther had been appointed queen and, in keeping with Mordechai’s directive, no one knew her family background or her nationality. During that time, some of the Jewish citizens lived a luxurious life that was untrammeled by Torah and mitzvos such as the restrictions of Shabbos and kashrus, just like the other nations around them, desecrating Jewish morality.

* * *

At that time, Mordechai had extensive responsibilities as a leading Jewish personality in the capital city of the king’s 127 provinces, and maintained contact with all the observant Jews throughout the Diaspora as well as with those in Eretz Yisrael. Yet despite his high office in the royal palace, he dedicated himself to education. As a true Jewish leader, he appreciated that this was the very foundation on which Yiddishkeit rests, and therefore established chadarim in which devout and devoted teachers implanted a belief in G‑d, a love of Torah, and self-sacrifice for Yiddishkeit. While the assimilationists were engrossed in their life of lighthearted luxury, Mordechai and his melamdim supported great numbers of people who studied Torah and observed its mitzvos. The livelihood of the adults was attended to, and they saw to it that their children should receive an education similar to what they themselves had received, even when Haman’s decree put their lives at risk.

In the course of ten years various circumstances enabled Haman, as if aided and abetted by Satan, to finagle his way into the ruling circles. His way there was smoothed by his stupendous and growing wealth, for the rich treasures that he had found20 boosted the royal treasury. And since his lineage was lowly, the king expressed his appreciation by providing him with what he most yearned for – honor. He duly appointed him Grand Vizier, and decreed that everyone, including the most influential ministers of state, must kneel and prostrate themselves before him. That was enough to humor even the pride of Haman.

* * *

The term that properly describes Jewish lineage is Ivri – “Hebrew.” Thus we read,21 “The survivor came and told Avraham the Ivri,” and that is how Jews defined themselves from that time on. That name indicates that the Jewish people are descendants of Avraham Avinu, who needs no explanation. He was the first to make mankind aware of the Name of G‑d, Who created the world and directs it by specific Divine Providence, and taught mankind how to serve Him. He pursued this holy mission, undaunted by physical danger.

The title “Ivri” is the Jewish people’s “crown of a good name.”22 It signifies the innate self-sacrifice of Jewish men and women, young and old, for the observance of the G‑d-given Torah and its mitzvos. That observance flourished, in defiance of danger, in all countries, and throughout all the generations, until it weakened in the time of the kings of Judea and Israel. At that time, the healthy thousand-year-old Ivri began to present a changed face. To a certain extent, the Torah-and-mitzvos Ivri received political soil and was recognized as an independent nation.

From the first day, ever since the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were crowned with the title “Ivri,” they were the people of G‑d. The whole world, even Amalek, knew that Jews, the seed of Avraham, were the Chosen People. That phrase means the people of G‑d. However, when the political Ivri came into being, he proclaimed to the world that he was a nation and secured the support of political experts who first of all negated the Torah view in general, and partially exchanged the Torah and its mitzvos for alternative ideologies. In this way, two kinds of Ivri came into being – the Torah-and-mitzvos Ivri and the political Ivri.

We can now understand why the Prophet Yonah did not identify himself by saying simply Ivri anochi (“I am an Ivri”), but specified: “I am an Ivri, and I stand in awe of G‑d in Heaven” (Yonah 1:9), becausein his time23 there already existed two kinds of Ivri – the genuine Ivri and the counterfeit Ivri.

* * *

The desecration of holiness which the counterfeit Ivrim advocated was more than their contemporaries could live with. Accordingly, despite the heartache entailed, they forsook the name “Ivri” and instead crowned themselves with the name Yehudi – “Jew.” Not only does this name24 shake off the political Ivri who serves any kind of idol that can advance his political, anti-Divine agenda. Beyond that, the name Yehudi signifies the stamp of self-sacrifice that is dictated directly by a Jew’s innermost nucleus – der pintele Yid – which urges him to observe the practical mitzvos and to detest all the deceitful conduct of those who deny G‑d and His law and His Torah, and His trustworthy promise to us of the Redemption.

* * *

As one of the royal advisors, Haman had many acquaintances among the political Ivrim. They spent time eating and drinking together, and there were no points of conflict between them. Their Jewish roots were unnoticeable, and he did not know that among themselves they spoke Ivrit. They, too, kneeled and prostrated themselves before that villain, and were not ruffled when his decrees enforced anti-Semitic religious suppression.

Haman could not understand why Mordechai was different from the other Ivrim. After all, he too was a political figure, an extraordinarily proficient linguist who met the highest government officials – so why was he so different from the other Ivrim?

That query lasted only until his underlings explained to him that Mordechai was a Yehudi, as distinct from an Ivri. They explained that “Ivri” was a political term that could include someone who opposed the Jewish religion, or even belonged to a different faith. An identifying name can exist even in someone’s imagination. For example, a person might assume a subjective identity, as if he belonged to a certain country and a certain nation, regardless of his actual religion or lineage. The name “Yehudi,” they explained, describes a genuine Jew who believes in G‑d, and faithfully and energetically observes His Torah and His mitzvos to the point of self-sacrifice.

Haman, who felt so friendly to the political Ivri, now felt an intense hatred to the genuine Yehudi. Only then did he notice that this Jew “neither rose nor stirred” before him.25

Marks of respect can be generated either by the recognition of another’s qualities, or by fear. When recognizing greatness, a person is prompted to rise; when struck by fear, a person trembles. These two reactions are expressed by the words in the Holy Tongue that mean, respectively, “rose” and “stirred.” Haman was incensed by Mordechai’s refusal to rise, but even more, by his refusal to stir – because however stupid and drunk he was, he well understood that the marks of respect that he was being shown were not inspired by recognition but prompted by fear. After all, the king had given him unrestricted license to punish whomever he wanted, in whatever way he wanted.

* * *

Mordechai’s refusal to rise demonstrated his earnest honesty; his refusal to stir demonstrated his faithful trust in G‑d. In that dark and bitter era of exile, when the counterfeit Ivrim had the audacity to claim that they represented the Jewish people, in that era in which Haman was a royal advisor, Mordechai the Yehudi stood firm, blithely and confidently, with G‑d-given strength. Just as Mordechai’s understanding ignored Haman’s wiles and power, so too did Mordechai’s body ignore Haman’s license to punish, and what surfaced was the truly Jewish refusal to rise or to stir out of deference to the ultimate Haman. And it was at that point that Haman’s gross and cruel heart sought “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Yehudim.”26 The very concept of “Yehudi” jabbed and bored into his mind. His Amalekite and Agagite ancestry seethed within him and gave him no rest. With all the power at his disposal, he launched an extermination campaign against the Yehudim, “Mordechai’s people”27 – against the Shabbos-observers. He convinced Achashverosh that they were unproductive and lax in their civic duties, because they were forever claiming that “Today is Shabbos, today is Pesach.”28 Knowing the power of his wealth, he offered Achashverosh 10,000 silver talents in exchange for the bunch of Jews that were scattered throughout the kingdom.

* * *

Even if Haman distinguished between Ivri and Yehudi, intending to eradicate only the Yehudim and not the counterfeit Ivrim, the bootlickers and bowers, his sons and followers made no such distinction. They hated and oppressed the Ivrim exactly as they hated and oppressed the Yehudim. They were shown the door and disgracefully driven out of their high positions. Their free and easy lifestyle did not save them, nor did their flattery and their entertainments. They were robbed of their capital, their gold, silver and jewelry, spat on, and thrown out of their mansions and bereft of all their property. In a word, they were reminded of their long-forgotten and suppressed lineage. There was now a wave of intense suffering for all the descendants of Avraham, Yehudim and Ivrim alike.

* * *

At that critical time, Mordechai focused all his efforts on education. In Shushan the capital city alone, he gathered 22,000 children, who studied Torah and observed mitzvos at the risk of their lives, thereby demonstrating their pride in being Yehudim. In fact all the Yehudim, men and women, old and young, the more learned and the less learned, were armed with this sense of mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice. They all, without exception, were prepared to allow themselves to be slaughtered or burnt, for the observance of the mitzvos of Shabbos, kashrus, family purity and tefillin. As proud Jews, they scoffed at Haman’s followers and religious oppressors.

By this time, the Ivri-Jews realized the truth of Mordechai’s warning years earlier – that they should not rely on their political intrigues and their wealth and their rubbing shoulders with their gentile neighbors. They now realized that with one blast of G‑d’s fury, a mighty politician becomes the greatest fool, and an affluent millionaire becomes a mere pauper. They were left crushed physically, and even more, psychologically.

The sincere and unbending determination of the mesirus-nefesh Jews struck a chord in the pintele Yid, the inextinguishable innermost nucleus, of the souls of the Ivri-Jews, too. They, too, retraced their steps to the trusty Jewish well of life-giving water, the well of belief in G‑d and in His Torah and mitzvos. Many of them shook off the false ideal of being “a Jew without G‑d and Torah and mitzvos.” They broke their links with the political Ivrim and began to observe the laws of Shabbos, kashrus, family purity, tefillin, and so forth. All in all, the spiritual state of the Jews in Shushan, and likewise throughout the 127 provinces, was lit up by that flame of self-sacrifice.

* * *

In the meantime, Haman and his followers went ahead with his wretched plan to eradicate29 all the Jews of the kingdom. Unable to decide on a date, he cast lots, which determined that the best date for this project would be the thirteenth of Adar. Thus it was that in the year 3404, on the thirteenth of Nissan, a royal decree ordained that on the thirteenth of Adar, eleven months later, the citizens of all the provinces of the kingdom were to exterminate all the Jews in their midst.

On the third day of the public teshuvah-initiative, which fell on the first day of Pesach in the year 3404, it was decided in the Heavenly Court that G‑d would provide a salvation for all the Jews of the kingdom.

The next day, while Mordechai was teaching some of his students the laws of kemitzah,30 they caught sight of Haman, the dreaded Grand Vizier, making his way towards Mordechai! Thus was a sight that defies the imagination, because they knew that in eleven months’ time they would all be killed.

[At this point, the Rebbe Rayatz addressed a parenthetical aside to those of his listeners who no doubt recalled how, as teachers in his underground network of chadarim, they had been terrorized by Stalin’s regime:] Jews who spent some ten years in Russia well know how a melamed felt when he caught sight of a “button...”31

Mordechai urged the children: “Flee! Save yourselves from the hands of this villain!” But they all cried out in one voice: “We’re staying with you, whether for life or for death!”32

That heartfelt outcry indicates the degree of mesirus nefesh of that generation.

* * *

Everyone has heard the teaching that the holy day called “Yom HaKippurim is equivalent to Purim.”33 It takes the teachings of Chassidus to make this difficult comparison comprehensible.

Part of the avodah, the service in the Beis HaMikdash, on Yom Kippur required two goats, one to be offered as a chatas, a sin-offering, and one to be sent to Azazel.34 They had to be identical in every way – in color, height and price35 – and the decision as to which should serve which purpose was made by the casting of lots, for such a decision derives from a lofty spiritual source.

Haman knew that G‑d valued the Yehudi-Jews, so he cast lots, hoping that by doing so he would hit upon the most suitable time for his plan. However, he made a big mistake. He did not appreciate the extent to which G‑d cherishes Jews, who are called His children;36 he underestimated the self-sacrifice in a Jew’s heart; he had no conception of the upheaval in Heaven that is sparked by teshuvah and mesirus nefesh.

Ultimately, G‑d brought about the great salvation, the miracle of Purim, to rescue both the body and the soul of the truly Jewish Yehudi.37

* * *

In summary: Some of the Jews tore themselves away from the Torah and its mitzvos and thought that they would become an independent nation, instead of being G‑d’s nation. There had appeared the prototypal, rebellious Ivri-Jew, bereft of faith, Torah and mitzvos, who thereby besmirched the name “Ivri.” In response, the other Jews shook off that name and assumed the name “Yehudi,” which indicates self-sacrifice for Torah values. Haman and his supporters also cast off the Ivri-Jews in disgrace and left them crushed in body and in spirit. As to the Yehudi-Jews, their unbending spirit and self-sacrifice awakened the dormant, innermost spark in the souls of even the Ivri-Jews, who found their way back to Yiddishkeit. This in turn brought about a salvation for them all, and the pure mesirus nefesh of children’s hearts led Haman and his sons to the gallows.

* * *

Concerning the miracle of Purim the Megillah writes:38 “These days are recalled and observed in every generation, every family, every province, every town. These days of Purim will not vanish from among the Jews, nor will the memory of them perish from their descendants.”

There is no need to explain these words; everyone clearly understands what they say. It is important, however, to take note of the repetition of the last two clauses: (a) “these days of Purim will not vanish from among the Jews (Yehudim),” and (b) “nor will the memory of them perish from their descendants.” One should also note that for the Purim miracle to take place, there must be Yehudim, Jews with mesirus nefesh for the Torah and the mitzvos.

What the world is now going through39 should remind us Jews of the era of Haman. It is now being recycled and even refreshed. Some of our people have forgotten that they are am HaShem, G‑d’s nation.40 “They say to G‑d, ‘Depart from us! We have no desire to know Your ways!’ ”41 We have now an Ivri-Jew, with neither faith nor Torah nor mitzvos. People have thrust away and forgotten their own lineage; they have forgotten that we are in exile.

In the time of Haman, those Ivri-Jews welcomed the exile life with open arms and blithesome song. They did not want to know that the time of the Redemption was approaching. As mindless slaves to their desires, they didn’t even want to hear about the Redemption. They laughed off Mordechai’s warnings and Malachi’s prophecies, for it was an era in which “it was the judged who judged their judges.” Whoever had a bit of money addressed Torah leaders with shameless insolence. Only when the crisis arrived did the political Ivri-Jews and the luxury-seeking assimilationists realize how worthless political power proved to be, and how useless was wealth in guaranteeing them security.

* * *

In the current state of world Jewry, everything is as it was in those days. We have our Hamans. (True, Haman was hanged, but his plot still exists. He didn’t manage to execute his plans; today’s Hamans are already able to.) We also have our political Ivri-Jews; we have our luxury-seeking assimilationists who feel secure in their wealth; and we also have, thank G‑d, a certain number of Yehudi-Jews. What we are missing is Mordechai. Moreover, we are suffering in all countries from the malady of “the judged who judge their judges,” but especially in this country. People don’t listen to what their rav has to say; instead, they want him to say what they hold to be right.

In all countries, Jews are in an ocean of woes. The Jews overseas42 are in the midst of a conflagration. We are outside the fire. Many positive things are being done to help our brothers overseas, and people are giving tzedakah – but that isn’t all that has to be done. The main thing to do is teshuvah.

We have to look the truth in the eye and not delude ourselves with vain fantasies. Everyone must understand that the woes now tormenting world Jewry are a call from Heaven – to do teshuvah and to return to Yiddishkeit, to the pureYiddishkeit of Torah and mitzvos. We must cast off and eradicate the foolish delusion that political wiles will help us.

In many countries abroad, the current woes have aroused Jewish hearts. Very many Jews have come to recognize the real intent of this call from Heaven and have begun to observe the Torah and its mitzvos, such as Shabbos, kashrus, family purity, tefillin, and so on.

* * *

Jews must not despair, even in the face of the greatest danger. Even in the present, extraordinarily dire situation, Jews must be steadfast in their hope and trust in G‑d. On no account should we rely only on physical weaponry and mortal strength. May G‑d lend strength to those who are defending the cause of what is right, and we ought to help them by whatever means we can. At the same time, however, we Jews must use our eternal, dependable, and Divinely-promised weapon – “If you walk in My ways…”43 – that is, teshuvah. In plain words, this means observing Shabbos, kashrus, family purity, tefillin, and the mitzvos in general.

* * *

Jews must not despair, nor show weakened morale. We’re speaking at a gathering of chassidim, so let me mention that in the Alter Rebbe’s earlier years, Tikkun Chatzos was observed by a number of people together. Later, as Chassidus spread more widely, it was observed individually. As the Tzemach Tzedek expressed the rationale for this practice, “One ought to cry one’s heart out privately, and then go out to meet the chassidim with a little dance.” Chassidim know that one must not fall into despair. Everyone should recognize the truth, namely, that one should do what he ought to be doing, that he should study Torah, that he should learn Chassidus, that he should daven, and that he should seek to arouse a fellow Jew and discuss teachings of Chassidus with him.

It is written that when Avraham Avinu walked with his son to the Binding of Yitzchak, “the two of them walked together.”44 Even after Yitzchak knew where they were going, the same phrase is repeated: “the two of them walked together.” Now, what did they do during those three days? Obviously, they studied Chassidus, did a little dance, and sang a niggun. A father had a son at the age of a hundred, a son like Yitzchak, and leads him to the Binding with a dance! That is the attitude that should characterize chassidim in particular, and Jews in general – not to fall into despair, but to recognize the truth.

May G‑d provide a complete salvation for the entire House of Israel in the very near future, Amen!

* * *

Our army is the little children who attend their Torah classes45 – children like those whose self-sacrificing outcry brought about Haman’s downfall. Unfortunately, however, there are very few such children in this country, because little attention is devoted to implanting mesirus nefesh. Some of the teachers in the Talmud Torah schools46 are not observant – they do not put on tefillin nor do they observe Shabbos. So how can such melamdim possibly implant faith and mesirus nefesh for Yiddishkeit in those young hearts?

Among the non-Jews, there are people who are upright and have faith. These melamdim, however, turn the children into apikorsim, disbelievers who hate Jewish religion and observance. Every father and mother must realize that the fate of their child – whether or not he is going to remain a faithful Jew – lies in the hands of the melamed. If that teacher desecrates Shabbos and does not put on tefillin, those parents are leading their children (G‑d forbid) to apostasy! A list must be published of the Talmud Torah schools whose teachers are observant, and the other schools in which this is not the case should also become publicly known. Parents who entrust their children to teachers who do not observe Shabbos, tefillin and kashrus are morally and religiously the murderers of those children.

* * *

Pure Jewish children are those whose parents observe taharas hamishpachah, the laws of marital purity. Such children will be able to welcome Mashiach, and will in fact do so.

There are many fathers and mothers who say that they don’t hold that there is an obligation to immerse in a kosher mikveh. [How can they imperil their own children with their own hands? Since Mashiach is the very personification of holiness and purity, how will he tolerate impurity?] Besides, it takes brazen gall for people who are ignorant in Torah scholarship to air their opinions in such matters. If they were to take such a liberty in any other scholarly field without having first studied it solidly, they would be regarded as being out of their minds. In addition, those mothers and fathers are publicizing their own foolishness by arguing that there is no obligation to immerse in a kosher mikveh, when the exact opposite is stated by Rashi and Rambam and by all the tannaim and amoraim and geonim.

* * *

You say that you don’t believe that a Jewish woman is obligated to purify herself in a kosher mikveh. Well, begging your pardon, I’m telling you publicly, for all to hear, that your claim that you don’t believe is a lie. You do believe in that obligation, as well as in the Torah and the other mitzvos, like all Jews. Your claim that you don’t believe is merely a pretext, an unfounded retort. You do believe.

A pure belief in G‑d and in the Torah and the mitzvos is present in every Jew and Jewess, and in you, too, as in all Jews. When a child has a health problem, G‑d forbid, you hurry off to shul to have someone say a Mi SheBeirach; you run to cry out into the Holy Ark: “Master of the Universe! Have pity and heal our child!” Your anguish and your tears break one’s heart, and out of ahavas Yisrael, the obligation to love a fellow Jew, one of course ought to share your pain, and pray that G‑d show you compassion and cure your child. But how can one face Him and make one’s requests, when you don’t want to teach your children His Torah, nor do you want to observe His commandments concerning family purity, Shabbos, kashrus, tefillin, and so on? [You yourselves are answerable for the lives of your children!]

* * *

We are not talking about those who are utterly remote. But there are people with whom one ought to speak and whom one ought to arouse, because Mashiach is already here. “Here he stands behind our wall.”47 There is already rejoicing in a higher world; he has already arrived. Here, however, he is waiting for people to do teshuvah. “Israel [i.e., the Jewish people] will be redeemed only by virtue of tzedakah.”48

* * *

Jewish women should organize in committees called Taharas Bnos Yisrael49 or the like. Their task is to vigorously promote the observance of the obligation of immersion in a kosher mikveh – by means of meetings, lectures, and printed explanations, which will also underline the responsibility that a Jewish woman has for the health of her children. And G‑d will no doubt gladden [them] and [their] husbands by granting them fine and healthy children, and we will all participate in their family celebrations.

* * *

In every single aspect of Jewish life and of the inborn nature of a Jew, we see that the Torah and the Jewish people are one and the same. The Torah tells us the true worth of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people strive to understand the Torah.

* * *

The Gemara, in Tractate Shabbos 55a, speaks of zechus Avos, “the merit of the Patriarchs,” which Tosafos distinguishes from bris Avos, “the covenant of the Patriarchs.” The Gemara comes to the conclusion that not only is the ongoing credit of “the covenant of the Patriarchs” never exhausted, but even the ongoing credit of “the merit of the Patriarchs” is never exhausted.

Though both the covenant and the merit affect the sons and daughters of the Patriarchs throughout all the generations until the Coming of Mashiach, they are distinct from each other. The covenant of the Patriarchs is G‑d’s oath, as it were, to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, that their children and their children’s children until the end of all generations would be the Chosen People, chosen by G‑d to be His people, and accordingly crowned with the holy name, am HaShem, G‑d’s nation. Thus, concerning a time at which a certain threat hovered over the heads of the Jewish people, G‑d said, as it were: “Whether they are this way or that, they are My children.”50 Moreover, “to exchange them for any other nation, that is impossible.”51 That statement expresses the oath which was the covenant of the Patriarchs.

* * *

The phrase zechus Avos, translated above as “the merit of the Patriarchs,” implies an additional meaning: “purification by the Patriarchs.”52 They purified the world by explaining the concept of faith to those around them, and thereby their merit protects their descendants until the end of all generations, in all lands and at all times.

Both the covenant of the Patriarchs and the merit of the Patriarchs are engraved in every Jewish soul, and they find expression in the very nature of every Jew’s character, regardless of his standing or outlook. Within every son and daughter of Israel there exists this pintele Yid, the innermost, indestructible point of his Jewish identity. That nucleus remains pure and clear in all circumstances. Its Divine energy is infinite: it can spark a cataclysmic transformation in one’s life, so that a person who is merely Jewish, an Ivri without Torah or mitzvos, can become the loftiest self-sacrificing Yehudi.

* * *

What I am about to tell you, as a result of over forty years of experience and observation, will reveal nothing novel. I simply want to point something out.

In the course of over forty years of public activity, it has fallen to my lot, in one way or another, to encounter – often in close contact, whether while counseling or while working – people with every kind of outlook and opinion. They have ranged from the most extreme and assertive bourgeois to the most extreme labor leader; from the most meticulous pietist53 to the barely-lightweight observer; from the typical unsophisticated believer to the most outspoken atheist. And in all of them I have perceived the covenant of the Patriarchs and the pure merit of the Patriarchs.

There exists a little trait that everyone sees and knows. When you’re speaking with the most outspoken atheist, or with someone who desecrates Shabbos, or eats treifah food, and the like, and in the course of conversation you mention his parents, then regardless of his atheistic views and his unobservant lifestyle, he becomes captivated by the mention of his family’s lineage. He tells you that he is a son, or a grandson, or a great-grandson, or a nephew, of a certain rabbinic author who once lived in such-and-such a shtetl.

That is the covenant of the Patriarchs and the merit of the Patriarchs that is possessed by every Jew and Jewess.54

* * *

With this “merit of the fathers” one can rouse all Jewish hearts in all countries and in all times. One should speak with every Jew or Jewess until the pintele Yid is awakened and the self-sacrificing Yehudi-soul surfaces. True, among Jews there are people “whose hearts are coarsened like fat”55 – members of the You-Grew-Fat-Thick-and-Gross Club56 – who do not want to listen to what is being said about the Torah and its commandments.

But the truth shatters iron – that is the case when one speaks truthfully from a heart that says “all Jews are comrades,”57 and when one explains that “all Jews are guarantors for one another”58 and that we Jews are all in a ship that is in the middle of a tempest on an ocean of distress, so that when one of us sins against our heavenly Father and thereby drills a hole under his seat, the whole ship is in jeopardy.

People are bashful when it comes to saying such things to someone – but that is far easier than (G‑d forbid!) later seeing him suffer due to a misfortune. In normal circumstances one might wander around near his home,59 but not always can one say what he wants to say. If, however, the house is on fire, people rush in and save whatever they can. Talkers are needed, and if they really and truly cared, they would overcome their bashfulness and rouse the people inside.

* * *

American Jews! (That’s the common phrase, though Jews are all the same to me – Lithuanian Jews, Polish Jews, or whatever. After all, the Jewish people are “one nation on earth.”60 ) I mean, Jews of America! You are doing a great deal for our brothers abroad, and may G‑d accordingly grant you and your families success in all your endeavors. You must know, however, that the calamities that Jews are undergoing overseas are not accidental. They are the result of an edict from Heaven, a punishment for faults in which you, too, have a share – desecrating Shabbos, eating treifah food, marital impurity, and so forth. (I am certain that the Jewish property that has been ravaged overseas was paid for with wages earned on Shabbos, and thatsame money in turn dragged along the kosher earnings.) The tzedakah that you give is not yet the whole story. One also needs teshuvah and prayer, for all three together quash severe verdicts.61

Fellow Jews! Sons and daughters of Israel in America! All categories of people, from the typical worker or householder to the multi-millionaire and Ivri-Jew, are looking with eyes agape and can see what has come of our brothers and sisters overseas. All categories of people there have been crushed.

Do not allow yourselves to be persuaded that this has happened only to those Jews. Do not be deluded into thinking that we Jews can be helped only by mortals and politics. The “wise and understanding people”62 must not allow itself to be influenced by such foolishness. We Jews will be helped by repentance, Torah and mitzvos.

People should do teshuvah. As the Prophet Yonah said, “In forty days’ time Nineveh will be overturned!”63 People must do teshuvah, for we are now in the midst of the throes of Mashiach, which are likened to birth pangs,64 when there is pain, and blood is lost – but then one sees a child. May the One Above grant us strength to endure the present birth pangs, and may we privileged to see the newborn child!

* * *

People ask why G‑d’s fury was poured out overseas in such countries where there were more Torah-observant and G‑d-fearing Jews than in America. These questioners forget that a slap is given specifically in the face. The pious are suffering on account of the others. The promissory note that says that “all Jews are guarantors for one another” is being paid up in lives. And looking at our brethren overseas, American Jews also ought to understand something which – due to the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow – one’s lips dare not utter.

Jews of America and its neighboring countries! You are being summoned by G‑d’s call to repentance. This moment is far more serious than can be imagined. You are being called from Heaven to pay up your ancient debt on the promissory note that says that “all Jews are comrades” and that “all Jews are guarantors for one another” – by observing Shabbos, the dietary laws and the laws of family purity, and by putting on tefillin and fulfilling other practical mitzvos.

It is painfully difficult to say what I have to say. My unbounded love for all Jews makes it exceedingly difficult for me to speak – but on no account may I dishonor the duty that I owe to [that very mitzvah of] ahavas Yisrael. Imagine a man who finds out that he himself has to carry out extremely painful surgery on a brother whom he dearly loves. Yet operate he must, in order to save his brother’s life.

Brother Jews! You are being put to an earnest test. The trial is a great one, and the Evil Inclination with his persuasively evil collaborators is even greater. You imagine that you find it difficult to observe Shabbos, the dietary and marital laws, tefillin, and so forth – but it is preferable to do all of these things out of one’s own free will than to do them (G‑d forbid!) with a broken spirit.

Sons and daughters of Israel! My heart aches on account of various stern expressions that I have been compelled to use in order to speak the truth as it is. In cases such as these that involve danger to life, no matter how difficult or how painful it may be, the truth must be articulated clearly and explicitly. It is my request, a wish from the depths of my heart, that G‑d open your eyes so that you will see the truth and repent in actual practice, as was spoken of above. And then may you and we and all our people be privileged to welcome the Righteous Mashiach with joyous hearts.

* * *

On the eve of the deliverance from Babylonia came the dire decrees of Haman and his downfall, and on the eve of the ultimate Redemption, which will be an all-encompassing deliverance, we have (Heaven preserve us!) these awesome decrees.

May G‑d fortify the understanding of all of us so that we will grasp what formidable danger lurks over our people. May the countries that have (thank G‑d) not been destroyed remain intact, and may their inhabitants be enabled to greet Mashiach in their own unscarred homes. May G‑d grant us the strength needed for proper repentance, which must – and will, with G‑d’s help – bring about the ultimate Redemption speedily and in our own days, Amen.

* * *

(Those present now sang the Alter Rebbe’s Niggun of Four Themes, and then the Rebbe continued as follows:)

[When confronted by a request as to how to deal with a challenge, a Rebbe can respond in a variety of ways, namely:] by advice, by a segulah,65 or by healing.

A chassid once visited the Tzemach Tzedek and complained that no one of Anash ever passed through his remote village, with whom he could send a pidyon66 to the Rebbe. [At this point the Rebbe Rayatz interpolated the following remark:] (People commonly think that a pidyon means money; in the eyes of the Rebbeim, accepting a pidyon nefesh is [difficult to the point of requiring] mesirus nefesh [for the sake of the chassid].) The Tzemach Tzedek answered his chassid: “You’ve got a little river there? So immerse yourself there, and write a pidyon, and sing the [Alter] Rebbe’s Niggun.”

It could well be said that this worked because the Tzemach Tzedek told him to do it – as in the well-known story of the Alter Rebbe. He was once told that the doctors had given up all hope for a certain critically ill patient, so he took a glass of water, said a berachah and drank half of it. The other half was given to the patient, who appeared in the Alter Rebbe’s beis midrash the next morning, and danced there with the chassidim.

* * *

We have a tradition from the Tzemach Tzedek that the Alter Rebbe’s Niggun is sung only at certain times, such as in the month of Elul and the days of Selichos, which are times of teshuvah, and also on Simchas Torah. Singing it on Simchas Torah causes great rejoicing Above. It may also be sung on Purim and Yud-Tes Kislev, but singing it on ordinary weekdays can arouse accusatory voices Above, G‑d forbid.

The niggun of a tzaddik relates to his soul’s faculty of thought.67

Telling a story about a tzaddik connects one to his soul’s faculty of action; relaying a Torah teaching of a tzaddik connects one to his soul’s faculty of speech; singing the niggun of a tzaddik connects one to his soul’s faculty of thought,68 in whatever spiritual world he happens to be at that time.

We don’t know all the kavanos – the Kabbalistic meanings – of the [Alter Rebbe’s] niggun, so we should sing it simply and plainly, and G‑d will no doubt help [by providing for whatever is lacking]. What really matters is that we should not sing it with a specific kavanah, but only simply and artlessly, because the [effectiveness of] a kavanah depends on the manner and quality of a person’s meditation. That is why it is better to sing the niggun simply and artlessly – just as the first stages of avodah in any area should be undertaken simply and artlessly.

* * *

R. Ber, father of Mendel the Meshares,69 once told my father: “I get up at a quarter to twelve at night, I say Tikkun Chatzos, I say Tehillim and Zohar, and I don’t know the meaning of the words in Tehillim just as I don’t know what’s written in the Zohar – but with the same relish70 that I say Tehillim, I say Zohar. I’m a plain wagon driver, but I know that once you harness the horses, things move.”

At a time like the present, we must make use of all available segulos.71 May G‑d grant abundant blessings for children, health and an ample livelihood, as well as an all-embracing salvation for the entire Jewish people, speedily, and in our own lifetime, Amen.

* * *

(At this point the Rebbe delivered the maamar beginning with the words, Ish Yehudi hayah beShushan habirah.72 He then said:)

Eli the Kohen blessed Chanah with the words, “And may the G‑d of Israel grant your request.”73 Now, a person’s body includes his head, body, legs, hair, and also nails – and a person values even his nails. [Likewise,] people’s requests vary, in keeping with what manner of man each individual is. Thus, an ordinary person requests things that are appropriate for him. One individual asks G‑d to protect him so that if he finds himself in the company of people whose conversation includes mockery, slander and gossip, he should not be entrapped in their net. Another individual asks for a heightened understanding of the page of Gemara that he is studying. Yet another asks to become spiritually alive to a G‑dly concept that he has grasped. Thus, the blessing that “the G‑d of Israel grant your request” applies to every individual according to his request.

May G‑d fulfill our requests in the near future, the requests of the temimim in particular, and the requests of the entire House of Israel as a whole, materially and spiritually.