1. Today’s date, the 19th of Tammuz marks the bris (the circumcision) of the Previous Rebbe. It is also one of the first days of the period referred to as Bein HaMetzorim (“between the straits”), the three weeks between the fasts of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. Since everything (particularly, important events in the life of a Nasi) is controlled by Divine Providence,1 a question arises. A bris is a great celebration. Why did the Previous Rebbe’s bris fall during these three weeks which are characterized by the mourning over the series of great catastrophes which effected our people, among them, the destruction of the Temple?

This question can be resolved as follows: Though the period of Bein HaMetzorim is connected with a great descent, tragedy, and catastrophe, this descent is for the sake of an ascent. It is intended to enable us to reach a rung higher than experienced before the descent. The concealment brought by the exile should spur us to higher levels of service than existed before the exile. This transforms the darkness into light, revealing a higher quality of light. Thus, this descent will lead to the ultimate redemption, a redemption which will not be followed by exile and we will reach higher peaks than in the period when the Beis HaMikdash was standing.

Not only is the intent of Bein HaMetzorim (which is symbolic of the descent and the exile) for the good (the ascent), the inner truth of these days themselves is a higher level of good. This is evident by the fact that these days begin and conclude with a communal fast, “a day of will unto G‑d” which expresses G‑d’s great love for the Jews. Therefore, ultimately, these days will be transformed in days of rejoicing and celebration.

At present, however, this greater good is hidden so that this great revelation will be brought about by the service of the Jews. Our refinement of the world makes the world a receptacle and a vessel fit to accept this great good. We transform the exile (גולה in Hebrew) into redemption (גאולה) by adding an alef (א) which stands for G‑d, Alufo shel olam, “L‑rd of the world.”

This concept is brought out by the Tzemach Tzedek who explains that the concept of Bein HaMetzorim has a positive implication: The service of a Jew in the “straits” of exile draws down a revelation from a level in G‑dliness that transcends intellect entirely. This relates to the verse “Out of the straits, I called to G‑d; with abounding [relief], G‑d answered me.” It is the calling “from the straits,” that awakens G‑d’s abundant relief, i.e., a response from G‑d’s essence. Immediately after the Jews call, G‑d responds. Indeed, He responds even before we call as we recite in the blessing, Aneinu, “Before they call, I answer.”2

The positive dimensions of Bein HaMetzorim are revealed on the Shabbasos during which the attitude of sadness and mourning may not prevail. Shabbos is referred to as “the day of your rejoicing.” It is a day of pleasure, to be expressed in fine food and drink. Thus, it is a time when the good of Bein HaMetzorim can be revealed. Indeed, the aspect of happiness and pleasure is revealed to a greater extent on these Shabbasos because of the contrast to the attitude of mourning that prevails during the week.

Furthermore, not only do the Shabbasos of Bein HaMetzorim stand above the prevailing mood of mourning and sadness, they provide the potential to transform the nature of these days and reveal the hidden good which they contain.

A similar concept an be explained in regard to the Previous Rebbe’s bris. It does not run contrary to the prevailing mood of Bein HaMetzorim. Rather, it reveals the true nature of Bein HaMetzorim, that these are days of happiness and joy. A bris marks “the beginning of the entry of the soul of holiness” into the body and therefore, is marked by great rejoicing. This rejoicing has the power to reveal the inner joy which is latent within the Three Weeks.3 Therefore, it comes at the beginning of this period.

There is greater emphasis on the above concept this year when the 19th of Tammuz falls on a Shabbos since, as explained above, the Shabbasos of Bein HaMetzorim are also connected with the concept of happiness. This is further enhanced by the fact that this Shabbos is associated with Parshas Pinchas. Pinchas is identified with the service of transforming darkness into light as the Torah relates: “Pinchas... has turned My wrath away from the children of Israel by being zealous for My sake.” Pinchas’ act generated great divine joy as evidenced by the reward he received, priesthood. Also, our Sages identified Pinchas with Eliyahu who will announce the Messianic redemption.4

2. The concept that a higher quality of light comes from the transformation of darkness provokes a general question: Why did G‑d structure the revelation of light in this fashion? Why is the higher quality of light revealed only when darkness is transformed. True, this pattern expresses G‑d’s desire that the revelation be “earned” by the Jews through their service of overcoming the difficulties which the darkness causes. G‑d, however, is unlimited and could have found a way which is not associated with concealment and pain for the Jews to express their service of Him.

A related question can be asked regarding the chapter of Pirkei Avos studied today, the sixth chapter, referred to as Kinyan Torah (“The acquisition of Torah”). All the teachings of this chapter emphasize the importance of Torah study. Nevertheless, the final teaching of the chapter states: “All that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory as it is stated:... ‘The L‑rd shall reign forever and ever.’ ” Why does the chapter conclude with such a teaching? The importance of the world — even as it exists in its most complete state — is superseded by the importance of the Torah, G‑d’s wisdom and will.

These questions can be resolved as follows: The ultimate goal of Torah and the ultimate goal of the service of the Jews is to be revealed and appreciated within the context of the world whose very existence involves the concealment and veiling of G‑dliness. When these qualities are revealed within this world and, in particular, within its lowest aspects, the darkness of the exile of Bein HaMetzorim, the ultimate of the unity shared by G‑d, Torah, and Israel is revealed for there will be no situation or state which is not permeated by this oneness.

Within this context, we can understand the message of the fifth month (Av) in comparison to the fourth month (Tammuz) and the third month5 (Sivan). As mentioned in the previous farbrengens, the number three represents drawing down influence from above, i.e., G‑d’s revelation of Torah to the Jews. The number four refers to service of the Jews within the context of this world6 on their own initiative.7

The number five refers to an even greater descent as obvious from the severities of the mourning practices observed during this month.8 This, nevertheless, represents the most complete level of service, bringing the influence of holiness down to the lowest levels. Also, it brings the highest revelations.9 Thus, the level of yechidah, the highest of our soul potentials is the fifth level of soul and Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, is a day of five prayer services.

Thus, through the transformation of the fifth month, we can reach even higher levels than through the service of the third and fourth months. The service of the third and fourth months is contained within the context of the four spiritual realms, the order of existence. The service of the fifth month extends beyond that order, reaching a level of absolute unity.

3. The above concepts — circumcision and the uniqueness of the fifth level of service when compared to that of the third and fourth — are also related to the Previous Rebbe’s name, Yosef Yitzchok.

Circumcision — though also one of the 613 mitzvos — has a unique and general importance. It represents the bond and covenant that connects G‑d to the Jewish people. Thus, since in Rashi’s words, “A Nasi includes everyone,” the bris of a Nasi reflects the connection shared by the Jewish people as a whole with G‑d. Thus, we see that the two personages represented in the Previous Rebbe’s name: Yosef and Yitzchok are both connected with the concept of circumcision. Yitzchok was the first to be circumcised at the age of eight days and Yosef10 forced the Egyptians to circumcise themselves.

The connection these two figures share with circumcision is representative of two different paths in the service of G‑d. Yitzchok represents the complete and total connection a Jew shares with G‑d, a connection that permeates his entire being as evidenced by “the covenant in your flesh.” Thus, Yitzchok was “a perfect burnt offering.” His service was only in the realm of holiness and, therefore, he never left Eretz Yisrael. When he thought of descending to Egypt, G‑d explicitly commanded him not to do so for his service was above the boundaries and limitations of this world.

In contrast, Yosef’s service centered on the extension of the covenant with G‑d within the context of this world. Hence, he forced the Egyptians, the lowest of all the nations of the world, to become circumcised. In this manner, he brought holiness into the lowest levels of the world.11

Since his service was pointed in this direction, Yosef — in contrast to all his brothers and the Patriarchs — himself suffered exile. Nevertheless, wherever he was forced to be, whether in the house of Potiphar or in prison, he was given authority. Ultimately, he was given dominion over all of Egypt and using this authority, he had the entire population circumcised.

This service is alluded to in the prayer Rachel made while naming Yosef, “May G‑d grant (Yosef) me another son.” Chassidic thought explains that this implies that Yosef has the power to transform “another,” those who are alienated from G‑d, into “sons.” Similarly in the present context, Yosef has the power to transform the elements of worldly existence, refining and elevating them.

The ultimate level of service is the fusion of both services, uniting the covenant between G‑d and the Jews (Yitzchok) with the covenant between G‑d and the world (Yosef). The most complete level of the covenant established by Yitzchok is seen when the perfection of the Jews is perceived in the world at large. This involves setting a standard of perfection while living in an environment which is blemished. This elevates the service of Yitzchok to a level above the rung on which it would otherwise be.12

Conversely, the covenant of Yosef requires that previously, one carry out the service of Yitzchok. To state the concept in halachic terms, only a person who himself is circumcised can circumcise others. To establish a covenant between G‑d and the world, one must first fulfill the service of the essential covenant between G‑d and the Jews.13 Indeed, the covenant established in the world at large is merely an extension of that relationship. Furthermore, Yitzchok, who is connected with joy — the very name means “will laugh” — allows the service of Yosef to be carried out with pleasure. The combination of these two services reflects the fifth level mentioned above.

This concept is alluded to in the word bris (circumcision). [In Torah numerology, it is an accepted practice to add one to the numerical equivalent of a word to include the bonding power that unites all the letters of the word.] When this is done with the word bris (ברית), the numerical equivalent is 613. Alternatively, the letters bris (without including the bonding factor) represent 612 mitzvos. Since the bris itself is a mitzvah, there is a total of 613 mitzvos.14 Thus, a bris represents the totality of the connection between the Jews and G‑d.

To relate the above to the Previous Rebbe: He was born on the 12th of Tammuz. Immediately, at birth, he was granted the highest potentials. The revelation of these potentials began, however, at his bris which represents the entry of the G‑dly soul at which time he was given the name Yosef Yitzchok, representative of the two services mentioned above.

Since every Jew contains within his soul a spark of the Nasi, these two services are relevant to every Jew. Each one of us must strengthen his connection to G‑d as expressed in the service of Torah and mitzvos (Yitzchok) and must extend that connection throughout the world at large (Yosef).

There are some who think that they should devote themselves primarily to the service of Yitzchok, i.e., their own spiritual refinement. They must realize that their service in the world (Yosef) should also be carried out with energy and pleasure (Yitzchok as it relates to laughter). Conversely, there are those who see their goal as service within the world (Yosef) and ignore their own refinement (Yitzchok). They must realize that their service in the world at large must be an outgrowth of their inner spiritual service.

To relate the above to practical directives: It is necessary to strengthen the study of Torah (Yitzchok) — in particular, the study of Chitas (Chumash, Tehillim, and Tanya) as instituted by the Previous Rebbe — making it an “eternal covenant.” Similarly, this service must involve a permanent change in the world at large (Yosef) which is expressed through the activities of “the year of construction” in which houses of Torah, prayer, and Tzedakah are being built.

As mentioned, $100 will be given from the Previous Rebbe’s funds as participation in these efforts. This is connected with the 100 blessings including the ultimate blessing, the coming of the Messianic redemption.