1. “A1 Jewish custom is Torah,”2 and the customs of chassidim in particular are an entire Torah. We Chabad chassidim have a custom handed down from the Alter Rebbe’s chassidim, that before and after Maariv on Yud-Tes Kislev we exchange the festive greeting, Gut Yom-Tov! We do the same whenever chassidim meet, whether in shul or on the street, throughout those 24 hours.

It is also customary among chassidim to immerse in a mikveh before Shacharis on Yud-Tes Kislev, in keeping with the custom handed down by the earliest chassidim, citing the Baal Shem Tov – that one immerses in a mikveh before the beginning of Shabbos or Yom-Tov, and also on the morning of Shabbos and Yom-Tov. The early chassidim regarded the Shabbos morning immersion as a segulah, a spiritual empowerment, to enrich one’s davening with meditation and with an aroused desire to cleave to one’s Source.

The elder Chabad chassidim have a tradition from the Alter Rebbe’s earliest chassidim – that relating to Yud-Tes Kislev as a Yom-Tov is a basic element in revealing the joy of that day, which the Alter Rebbe drew down by his self-sacrificing endeavors for instituting the customs of Chabad chassidim.

This may be understood by considering the wording of the blessings.3 Each of the berachos comprises two parts: (a) the opening words, “Blessed are You, G‑d our L‑rd, King of the universe…,” which are common to all berachos; and (b) the specific continuation, such as, “…Who creates the fruit of the earth,” or “…Who creates the fruit of the tree,” or “…by Whose Word everything came into being.” The first part of each blessing means that our strength and our vitality4 – that is, the King of the universe – is the vitality of everything that He has created. This blessing empowers Jews, by their avodah of beirurim, to elevate all kinds of material entities, thus enabling them to become vessels that can properly contain the revelation of Elokus, Divinity. This form of service in turn elevates [the physical world] to a level that is even higher than the most lofty of worlds, the World of Atzilus, and even beyond that – to the truly infinite realms of the Ein Sof.

2. The ten niggunim of the [Alter] Rebbe should be assembled and carefully memorized, so that they will be sung in an orderly manner. And may G‑d grant his blessing that we, Chabad chassidim, should sing them with inward sensitivity.

3. On Yud-Tes Kislev, 5646 (1885), my father was in Yalta,5 and so was R. Shneur Zalman Slonim from Chevron. On the eve of Yud-Tes Kislev they studied together. There were almost no chassidim in that region, just a few Torah scholars who lived there. They had possibly heard about this Yom-Tov, but they had no connection to the teachings of Chassidus.

At the time I did not understand what my father and R. Shneur Zalman were studying, though there were subjects here and there that I did grasp, to the extent of my understanding at that age.6 [One of those subjects was the following.]

When Yaakov Avinu with his little bundle of merchandise7 left the company of Lavan, a step in which the Torah and Chassidus perceive the mystical principle of beirurim,8 he took along a number of souls that he would teach, and set out to sift and elevate the Divine sparks hidden in Eisav.9

Eisav personifies the cauldron of hurdles and obstacles that galus sets up in order to hinder the avodah of studying Torah and observing mitzvos.

Yaakov Avinu personifies the attribute of Tiferes in the World of Atzilus – the beauty of Atzilus.10 Avraham Avinu personifies the attribute of Chessed in the World of Atzilus, which [likewise] belongs to the level of Atzilus, and [likewise] represents the beauty of Atzilus. However, the attribute of Chessed has a handicap: it desires to radiate Chessed to all comers, [indiscriminately]. Thus we find that Avraham Avinu, [the personification of Chessed,] tells G‑d, “If only Yishmael would live in awe of You!”11 True, he would live a life of awe – but he would still be a Yishmael, “a wild man.”12

Yitzchak Avinu personifies the attribute of Gevurah in the World of Atzilus. His connection with Elokus is intense and insistent. He sees positive qualities in everyone – even in Eisav, and he blesses him.

And since Yaakov Avinu personifies the attribute of Tiferes in the World of Atzilus, he blends Avraham’s love with Yitzchak’s intensity. With that beauty he takes his leave of the World of Atzilus and hits the road, heading for wherever Jews live – in all the towns, villages and wayside inns in the material world.

When he set out with his bundle of merchandise to elevate and refine the material things in the practical World of Asiyah, he prepared himself in three ways – for prayer, for offering a gift, and for battle.13 Each of these three also contains the other two: there could not be a gift alone without prayer and without being prepared for battle; there could not be prayer alone without a gift and without being prepared for battle; and there could not be a battle alone without a gift and without prayer.

4. Applying the above to current world events – that I will leave to the sermonizers...

The Gemara in Tractate Zevachim says that the term doron (“a gift”) signifies an olah, a burnt-offering.14 Now, there are other kinds of sacrifices, too, such as Todah (“thanksgiving offering”), Chatas (“sin-offering”), and Shelamim (“peace-offering”) – yet a doron (a “gift-offering”) must specifically be an olah, a burnt-offering.

The name olah [עוֹלָה, from the root עלה – “to ascend”] reminds a person to lift himself up. That obligation is relevant to people at all levels – to tzaddikim, to beinonim, and also to the kind of person who is spoken of in Likkutei Amarim – Tanya, who has sinned and caused a blemish [in the higher worlds] and has strayed from the path. Everyone is able to lift himself up. This is the [inner] meaning of the above statement that the term doron (“a gift”) signifies an olah – a self-elevation: if there is to be an [acceptable] gift, one first has to be found worthy of being an olah, [the sacrifice of] someone who is lifting himself up. The battle to be fought is a battle against one’s Evil Inclination,15 at the practical level. Everyone ought to extricate himself from the mire.

5. “In his own eyes, a man’s path is straight.”16 One sees all kinds of things in others, though not in oneself. One sees another’s failings. [A person tells himself, for example:] He’s got plenty of time. He’s being supported by his children, so he can take the time to read a few chapters of Tehillim before davenen, and then the regular daily reading of Tehillim after davenen.” For himself, that same person finds excuses: He has no time. He has to make a cup of tea, he has to visit the store to buy butter for his breakfast – and in his eyes, these are all essentials. He hasn’t got the sensitivity to consider that one could possibly even manage without them! Instead, the list of excuses grows longer. He’s lying in the mire and doesn’t want to clamber out of it. In fact he delights in it. It’s an Aishishoker17 instance of “the grace that every location has in the eyes of its inhabitants…”18 What a foul pity on such a person!

6. There were once two brothers. One of them, a pauper, was a chassid of the Alter Rebbe, and the other, who was not a chassid, was wealthy. When the time came for the poor brother to marry off his daughter, he traveled out of town to ask his rich brother Tuvia for some help. His host greeted him warmly, invited him to stay for a few days, and gave him a guided tour of his many rooms – in this room he slept, in that room he ate, in a third room he received visitors, in another room people waited to be received by him, and so on.

The chassid was amazed: “I don’t understand how in his own home, a person can have his mind scattered in so many directions! Listen here, Tuvia: I need fifty coins to marry off my daughter. Let me have them, and I’ll go my way.”

Hearing this, the wealthy brother pleaded so hard that he should stay a little longer, that his guest finally agreed. Sure enough, however, the host resumed his complacent spiel about his wealth – but also released a sigh.

So the chassid asked: “If you’re so wealthy, why are you sighing? Here, let me tell you why. A certain animal, which shall remain unnamed, lies in the mire up to its nostrils – and sighs that the mire only comes up as far as its nostrils, and not over its head…”

7. One of the prominent chassidim in Shklov was a wealthy and level-headed man of distinguished lineage, who was well versed in nigleh and in Chassidus. One day, after the wheel of fortune aborted his wealth, he visited the Alter Rebbe and bemoaned his sorry state.

The Alter Rebbe responded: “You’re talking about everything you need. About what you are needed for, you say nothing…”

Hearing those intense words, the chassid fainted on the spot. In fact he had to be carried out of the room by Zalman, the Alter Rebbe’s attendant, with the help of another young chassid.

8. American Jews in general, and rabbis and yeshivah heads in particular, will (with G‑d’s help) eventually recognize the light that the students of the Lubavitcher Tomchei Temimim in America will diffuse in this country. The rabbis will come to realize the lost time during which they overslept, and will start being proactive in the dissemination of Torah study in a spirit of the awe of Heaven.

Ashreinu, umah tov chelkeinu! “We are fortunate! How good is our portion!”19 How good is the portion of Anash, the chassidic brotherhood, and “how pleasant is the lot” of the rabbis and the supporters who have played a part, with G‑d’s help, in nurturing the students of Tomchei Temimim in America, as in the Russian and Polish galus of the Old Country.