Time as a Spiral

Time is often conceived of as a linear sequence of events; each moment, although connected to the past, represents a new response to reality. In Jewish thought, however, time is seen as a spiral. Its forward progression is modulated by set patterns, recurring cycles that help determine the varying tone and pitch of our weeks, months, and years.

The dual nature of time is echoed in the Hebrew word for “year” — shanah , which is related semantically to the root meaning “repeat”, but also to the root meaning “change”. In other words, the cycle of recurring spiri­tual influences that constitutes a Jewish year is modified from year to year, as new dimensions of those spiritual influences are heard — familiar themes with novel rhythms.

Highlights Within the Cycle

Prominent within the annual cycle are the festivals and fast days prescribed by the Torah and by our Sages and Rabbis. On a practical level, these dates represent a departure from routine. Our holidays are days of joyful celebration, and they are also holy days, beckoning us to inner growth and development. Every holiday represents a different mode of spiritual expression, inspiring a different dimension of our bond with G‑d.

Every holiday has a body and a soul. The commandments and customs of each holiday are its body; the breath of life is infused into this body by the soul of the holiday, the spiritual message it conveys.

Not Only History

Though all the Jewish holidays commemorate events in our national history, they enable us not only to recall these experiences, but also to relive them. At the same time every year, the very same spiritual forces which brought about the event commemorated by a holiday are again potently expressed. Thus the Fifteenth of Nissan, the date of our Exo­dus from Egypt, remains eternally “the season of our free­dom,” and the Tenth of Tishrei, the day on which G‑d forgave the sin of the Golden Calf, is “the Day of Atonement” for all time.

The essays in these volumes are adaptations of the pub­lished talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe  which highlight the respective spiritual messages of the holidays. These essays are intended to show the connection between the historical significance of these days and their eternal relevance to our current divine service.

Holidays of the Future

We have also included essays on the spiritual significance of the communal fast days, for their observance too conveys messages of personal development. Recalling the spiritual deficiencies which brought about the calamities commemo­rated by these fasts is intended to inspire us to turn to G‑d in teshuvah, to upgrade the content of our daily lives and the quality of our interpersonal contacts. Furthermore, these dates too will ultimately be festivals, for in the Era of the Redemption, “all the [commemorative] fasts... will be trans­formed into holidays, and days of rejoicing and celebration.”1

Chassidic Festivals

In 5662 (1901), the urgent communal needs of Russian Jewry detained the Rebbe Rashab in Moscow. He was thus unable to join his chassidim in Lubavitch in celebrating Yud-Tes Kislev, the anniversary of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi’s liberation from prison. By way of compensation for his ab­sence, he sent a historic letter2 to his chassidim in which he refers to Yud-Tes Kislev as “the Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus.”

The Rebbe’s letter resounded not only among his follow­ers,3 but talk of it also spread beyond chassidic circles. A certain scholar mentioned it to the celebrated halachic authority, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, and added mock­ingly, “The Mishnah speaks of only four kinds of Rosh HaShanah,4 and now the chassidim have gone and added a fifth....”

Reb Chaim Ozer replied: “They, at least, are constantly growing.”

Accordingly, this work includes essays on chassidic festi­vals celebrated in the Lubavitch community. However, the potential for growth alluded to by Reb Chaim Ozer has led to such a proliferation of chassidic holidays, that one can liter­ally fulfill the verse,5 “A good-hearted person is always cele­brating.” After careful consideration, it was decided to include only four of the more prominent chassidic festivals: Yud-Tes Kislev, Yud Shvat, Yud-Beis Tammuz, and Chai Elul.

Patterns Within a Greater Cycle

Although each of the festivals conveys a unique message, the fragrance of each one lingers on and flavors those which follow, because they represent patterns within a greater cycle.

Like the cycle of the Jewish year, the composition of this text too synthesizes a variety of contributions, especially those of: Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, who skillfully adapted the texts from their Hebrew and Yiddish originals; Uri Kaploun, whose editorial expertise enhanced their presentation; Rabbi Aharon Leib Raskin, who supplied many of the references; Yosef Yitzchok Turner, who is responsible for the tasteful layout and typography; and Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English, whose piloting and encouragement at every stage of the project transformed it from dream to reality.

In Anticipation of the Ultimate Celebration

In a discussion of the nature of time in his commentary on the Torah,6 the Ramban sees all of history as culminating in the Era of Redemption, “the day which is only Sabbath and repose for all time.”7

We also make mention of the Era of Redemption at the conclusion of every essay in this book. This is not merely a stylistic device in keeping with our Sages’ advice8 to conclude any work with a positive theme. Our decision to conclude with the theme of Redemption reflects the manner in which the Rebbe  has concluded his talks throughout the years, particularly in recent years. And his evoking of the Redemption is not merely a figure of speech: all of his endeavors are directed to precipitating the coming of Mashiach.

May the study of the present work further the fulfillment of that purpose, and hasten the coming of the time when G‑d will “enable us to arrive at other festivals and holidays..., celebrating in the rebuilding of Your city and rejoicing in Your service,”9 with the coming of the Redemption. May this take place in the immediate future.

Sichos In English

Chai Elul, (1993)
Birthday of the Baal Shem Tov (1698)
and the Alter Rebbe (1745)