1 1. Sefirah2 means “counting,” and counting has three aspects: the beginning of the count, the name of each number (one, two), and the number as far as which one counts. The daily count begins on the Second Night of Pesach at Maariv time, when every day begins; the names of the numbers run from one to forty-nine; and the fiftieth day, seven weeks later, is the festival of Shavuos. The mitzvah is “to count days” and also “to count weeks.”3 Thus we say, “Today is [so-and-so many days], which are [so-and-so many weeks of the Omer].” Each day is linked to one of the seven middos, from Chessed through Malchus, and each week is linked likewise – the first week to Chessed, the second week to Gevurah, and the third week to Tiferes.

2. Both the day of Lag BaOmer [which is the fifth day of the Sefirah-week] and the week of Lag BaOmer [which is the fifth week in the sequence of seven Sefirah-weeks] have the same number as [the fifth Sefirah,] the Sefirah of Tiferes.4 This means that the passing5 of a tzaddik is really the highest possible ascent, in the wake of all that the descent and revelation of their souls accomplished in This World. This applies particularly to the soul of a tzaddik, such as the soul of Rashbi, R. Shimon bar Yochai, the day of whose ascent6 generates all kinds of blessings, both spiritual and material.

An element of Tiferes is present in all of the Ten Sefiros, which divide into three major levels: Chabad (Chochmah, Binah, Daas), Chagas (Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferes), and Nehim (Netzach, Hod, Yesod). This explains7 the teaching of the mishnah:8 “What is the right path that a person (adam) should choose for himself? – That which is honorable to himself and brings him honor from others.” For a person (adam) comprises seichel (intellect), that is, Chabad, and middos (emotive attributes), that is, Chagas and Nehim. Now, seichel-Chabad and middos-Chagas are intrinsic soul-levels,9 which can remain latent, unrevealed, whereas the attributes called middos-Nehim are in a state of diffusion, and they are present in everyone.

On the heavenly plane, the Sefirah of Tiferes differs from all the other Sefiros. Thus it is taught [in the Kabbalah] that Tiferes ascends as far as Kesser, and is drawn [downward] into the Sefirah of Malchus. This means that the Sefirah of Tiferes unites the lowest Sefirah with the highest Sefirah, such that the highest Sefirah appreciates the value of the lowest Sefirah, and the lowest level senses the value of the highest level.

In the present era, when the forces that obscure Divinity are so potent, all Jews, but especially chassidim – who engage in the teachings and avodah of Chassidus – are given powerful and intense help from Above to succeed in their avodah. And in the merit of Rashbi, may G‑d grant generous blessings with regard to children, health and livelihood, so that people will be able to engage in Torah and avodah in a plentiful environment.

3. When a Jew goes from one place to another, that move has a specific purpose that was ordained by Divine Providence. Everyone is familiar with the stance of our mentor, the Baal Shem Tov, regarding hashgachah peratis10 – that when a little leaf that has fallen from a tree is blown from one place to another, that move was ordained by Divine Providence for a particular purpose. In fact every circumstance of every created being, regardless of whether it is inanimate or vegetative, animal or human, is pre-ordained by Divine Providence for a specific purpose.

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Chassidus is the radiant light that illuminates the eyes of the mind and fortifies the heart, so that knowledge crystallizes into action. This in turn lights up one’s home and the street outside. And this is the aim of a chassidisher farbrengen – to wash out one’s eyes with tears born of meditation, to perceive one’s own flaws, and to cherish the toil that they require.

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4. A well-known teaching of the Sages11 relates that as Avraham Avinu journeyed about from one country to another and observed that people were engaged in eating and drinking and living a life of physical pleasure, he would say, “I shall have no part in this country!” However, when he came to a place where people were engaged in sowing grain and settling the land, he said, “If only I could have a part of this country!” So G‑d promised him, “To your offspring shall I give this country.”12 Here in America, people engage in settling the land, so this is the place in which one must accomplish things in Torah and avodah, and that will be “for your offspring.” If we sow, the earth will produce. We must plow, and we must sow chadarim and yeshivos, and with G‑d’s help, there will sprout fine fruits, and then – the fruits of those fruits.

5. The accepted norm in this country is that one must become an earner, starting from childhood. Children, regardless of whether they are born into poor or rich social strata, want to secure their financial future in their old age. That way, when working becomes difficult, they’ll be provided with all the essentials. Their concern also includes the need to secure a resting place, as they call it in this country, after their hundred and twenty years have elapsed. The routine here is that everyone, whether rich, middle class or poor, is a member of a certain [burial] society, which is obligated to provide him with a funeral and a resting place. However, the mere fact that a person secures for himself a place for his body to be buried does not yet guarantee that that spot will in fact be a resting place, because that is when the real trouble just begins. The thought of being welcomed [to the Place of Silence] by the first lash administered by the presiding angel Dumah is enough to make one shudder.

It is not my function to depict the suffering of Gehinnom, nor the spiritual pleasures of Gan Eden. Nevertheless, it is most important to explain publicly, so that every individual should clearly know, that This World is the place where one secures a place in Gan Eden or in Gehinnom. Every Torah scholar – including rabbanim, roshei yeshivah, and especially yeshivah students – is obligated to rouse old folk and young people, to describe the current spiritual atmosphere in approachable terms, and to explain the kind of spiritual state to which one ought to strive.

It was standard practice in the Old Country for elderly people, whether scholarly or not, to hand over the running of their business affairs to their children, so that they could devote themselves to studying Torah and davenen. Even those who were really unlettered found themselves areas in Torah to which they could devote their time, each according to his personal situation. In fact, if someone was unable to pass on his affairs, it made him sore at heart. Why are things different here? Out of ahavas Yisrael, one ought to admonish them, show them the truth, and open their eyes.

6. The festival of Shavuos13 is the time of the Giving of the Torah. The Torah is a gift, and a gift should be treasured and loved, craved and yearned for. In other words, one ought to set aside fixed times for study sessions. It can happen that a person allows weeks and months to go by without taking a Torah book in hand. He seeks to discharge his obligation to study Torah by reciting the daily prayers, whose quoted verses allow one to [technically] discharge that obligation. But after all, at that time he is simply reading prayers, whereas in addition he should really be setting aside regular time slots for Torah study.

7. Today is Lag BaOmer, the hillula of Rashbi, who said14 that if there was someone who would take responsibility for anything that had been done [by anyone] until his time, he would take responsibility for the period from his time until the Coming of Mashiach.And our classical sources15 state that the hillula of a tzaddik, the day of his histalkus, is the time of his loftiest elevation. At that time he attains his ultimate perfection.

Moreover,tzaddikim resemble their Creator.”16 Elsewhere, it is written that tzaddikim resemble Him Who formed them.”17 It is not written that tzaddikim resemble the Holy One, blessed be He, because this teaching speaks of the Divine light and vitality which is vested in every single world including this material world, and which the tzaddikim draw down by their avodah.

Now, Rashbi promised that he would take responsibility until the Coming of Mashiach, and we live at a time in which great strength is called for. Everyone possesses lofty powers, but they have to be revealed. May G‑d grant physical strength so that we can carry this bitter yoke, and in the merit of Rashbi, who made the above statement, may G‑d grant all Jews, wherever in the world they may be, an abundance of life and blessing with regard to their children, their health and their livelihood.

8. It used to be the custom of chassidim to sit down to farbreng together on Lag BaOmer evening between Minchah and Maariv.The routine of that day’s avodah began with due preparation for davenen,18 then the measured avodah of davenen, followed by a session of Torah study. As the Alter Rebbe writes in Likkutei Torah,19 studying after davenen infuses the whole day with vitality and power. The impact of a person’s davenen is thus felt throughout the day, keeping him humble. After studying one has to eat something – whatever G‑d’s help provides, say bread and water. By then it’s time to lie down for a rest, so it works out that the farbrengen starts close to evening.

Three comments of R. Hillel of Paritch on this subject have been handed down. Firstly, [with regard to which activities may be begun before davenen, the halachah] distinguishes between Minchah and Maariv.20 Although the Shulchan Aruch does not deal with this at length, R. Hillel stated as a halachic ruling that it is permitted to sit down to farbreng before Maariv. Secondly, the law distinguishes between the case of an individual and the case of a group.21 Thirdly, the central aim of davenen is to give rise to a pleasant sweetness Above – and this is accomplished by a farbrengen.

9. There is a difference between Shacharis and Arvis [i.e., Maariv]. Arvis comes at a time of darkness and obscurity, which must be transformed into areivus, pleasant sweetness Above.22

10. There are two alternative ways [by which a soul can become fused with Elokus]: either by means of knowledge, or by means of temimus – simple, artless faith.

There is a classic adage, “If I knew Him, I would be Him.”23 Now, what can be the meaning of “I would be Him?” After all, a spiritual being cannot become materiality, and a material being cannot become spirituality. True, when the Prophet Eliyahu ascended heavenward24 he became a spiritual being,25 and conversely, when the angels descended to this world26 they became material and palpable.27 Here, however, “I would be Him” means becoming one with Him. And this fusion can be attained either by means of knowledge, or by means of temimus – simple, artless faith.

11. According to a tradition handed down by our Rebbes, praying at the resting places of tzaddikim28 is appropriate at any time. This, too, can take place in either of two ways – by understanding the significance of this practice, or by simple temimus. [The mystical significance of certain specific distances that relate to this subject – 50 cubits, ten cubits and four cubits – are explored in the Kabbalah.]

12. The speech in every country has its distinctive vocabulary, and from it one can learn about the nature of that country. With regard to testing the sharpness of knives to be used for shechitah, the Gemara29 speaks of “testing by the tongue” and “testing by the fingernails.” Metaphorically, this means that one can tell what a person is like according to his tongue,30 or according to his fingernails…31

When I was in the Holy Land, I heard people expressing themselves thus: “I just visited Rashbi and now I’m going to R. Elazar”; or, “I’ve visited R. Chiya and now I’m going to R. Akiva.” If someone uses such expressions out of temimus, that is like real hishtat’chus.

13. Today is the hillula of Rashbi, and “his lips murmur in the grave”32 – concerning what is being said and how it is being said. Moreover, he is arousing Divine mercy for every individual’s children, and health, and an ample livelihood.

14. (Before the Rebbe began to deliver the maamar beginning VeAhavta, which is continuous with his previous maamarim, he said:)

The task of R. Hillel of Paritch, in Malorussia,33 was to bring the local Jews close to the service of G‑d. They were really unlearned, and the maamarim that he delivered were really profound, so as soon as he started, they would appeal to him: “Rebbe, the Chassidus that you are delivering is good only for intellectuals, not for us!”

And R. Hillel would answer: “Why should you think it’s not for you? It’s specifically for you, for your souls. Your souls understand it all!”

15. It is written, “If there is [a redeeming relative closer than myself], let him redeem you, [but if he does not want to redeem you], then I shall redeem you myself.”34

[Having quoted this passage, the Rebbe adds:] This verse relates to our era: “…then I shall redeem you Myself (Anochi)!”

On the festival of Shavuos, the time of the Giving of the Torah, the Anochi [Havayah Elokecha – “I am the L‑rd your G‑d,” which is read on that day] is felt within every Jew. Every single Jew has a Shem Havayah – the Divine Name – in his soul.35 After due preparation, the Torah Reading of Anochi Havayah Elokecha recharges the Shem Havayah in his soul. That preparation is Lag BaOmer.

This is hinted at in the opening words of the above-quoted passage, which can be translated, “If there is good, let it redeem you.” If a person stops to think, he will see that every individual, even if he is (G‑d forbid) suffering, is duty-bound to thank the One Above for the unearned kindness that he is being shown. It is written,36 Kol haneshamah tehalel – “Let every soul praise!” [Since neshamah means “soul” and neshimah means “breath”], the Sages interpret: Al kol neshimah uneshimah… – “For every single breath, offer praise!”37 This applies particularly in our present situation, thank G‑d. True, one would want things to be better, but thank G‑d for what we have.

Stopping to consider the above is a fine preparation for the festival of Shavuos. At that time, hopefully, uge’alticha Anochi. [Literally, this means: “then I shall redeem you.” Here, however, reverting to the beginning of this section, the Rebbe interprets:] On Shavuos, hopefully, the Anochi in one’s soul will be redeemed [from its unfelt latency] and will surface.