There is a connection between Chapter 5 of Pirkei Avos, which we study today, and the date of the month, the tenth of Tammuz, because the first Mishnah begins: “The world was created by means of ten (Divine) utterances,” and then the chapter goes on to discuss several other topics relating to the number ten. What is the meaning of this connection?

Similarly, since today is the Shabbos before the 12th and 13th of Tammuz, a time when the Previous Rebbe was still in exile, there is an appropriate connection to the concept of exile dealt with in Mishnah 9:

Galus (exile) comes to the world for idolatry, for incest (adultery, immorality), for murder, and for not leaving the earth rest during the Sabbatical year.

In Chassidic philosophy these four transgressions are symbolically related to the three “channels” (headed by the triad: ChessedGevurahTiferes) and to the attribute of Malchus (kingship), of the “other side,” the forces of kelipah.

Idolatry — is the opposite of faith in G‑d. Faith associates with the central “channel” (Tiferes) which rises to Kesser (the crown) — its opposite number is idolatry.

From various Midrashim we understand that incest and murder are associated with the “channel” of Chessed (kindness) of kelipah and Gevurah (severity) of kelipah.

When the Holy One, Blessed be He, offered the Torah to the children of Yishmael they refused it because they could not accept the injunction, “Do not commit adultery.” This was against their natural tendency — unrestrained lasciviousness, the channel of “Chessed of the other side.”

The children of Eisav refused the Torah because of the commandment “Do not commit murder.” This was against their bloodthirsty nature, for they represented “Gevurah of kelipah.” As the Torah describes them — “But you shall live by your sword.” (Bereishis 27:40)

“Land” is always associated with the attribute of Malchus, thus not letting the land lie fallow would symbolically be related to the attribute of “Malchus of kelipah.”

This explains the esoteric aspects of the sins — but what connection do they have with exile? The Torah clearly indicates when the punishment of exile applies: when a person kills someone unintentionally — accidental manslaughter. Exile is not prescribed for any of the four sins mentioned in the Mishnah.

While it is true that the Biblical Law of Exile deals with an individual, and the Mishnaic dictum deals with the community, nevertheless, they appear to be one and the same concept — using the same term, and no doubt applicable in the same instances.

In Talmudic writings we find a further analogy. In reference to an individual the Gemara says, “A disciple who goes into banishment is joined in exile by his master.” (Makkos 10a) Similarly we find that specifically during the time of galus (exile) there is an increase in Torah knowledge; the vast expanse of Talmud vis-à-vis Mishnah was developed in the time of exile. And the Talmud of Babylon is much larger than the Talmud of Eretz Yisrael.

As the Talmud states:

He has made me to dwell in dark places ... refers to the Babylonian Talmud. (Sanhedrin 24a)

As time goes on in the diaspora, more and more understanding of Torah is achieved. This phenomenon is something like the sending of the teacher into exile with the disciple. Thus, the personal exile is similar to the communal exile. So why should communal exile be connected with these four sins?

There is likewise a difficulty in trying to understand the cause of the galus of the Previous Rebbe. When the Rebbe was sent to Kostroma he was clearly being sent into exile. His exile must have had some connection with the classic form of communal exile described in our Mishnah, for the tzaddik suffers for the sins of his generation and as Scripture says: “... he bore our illness, and our pains, he carried them.” (Yeshayahu 53:4)

The problem is that we do not find a particular laxity regarding these four sins, which would have caused such punishment to be meted out. Let us look further.

Shemitah (the fallow seventh year). Most of the Jewish people of the world lived in the lands of the diaspora at that time. The Chassidic communities especially lived predominantly in Europe, where their Torah centers, schools, and students were. Only a few of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov had actually moved to Eretz Yisrael. So the problem of working the land in the seventh year certainly did not apply.

Idolatry. Even among the gentiles the practice of true idolatry had all but disappeared. Islam was accepted by the Rambam to have no connection to idolatry, and even Christianity, which according to Rambam was associated with idol worship, is not true idolatry. As the Shulchan Aruch rules, in modern times the gentiles do not really know the rules of idol worship and they just follow the “custom of their forebears.”

Immorality. We find no evidence of a serious breakdown in morality or modesty in the period under discussion, beyond any earlier period. In the time of the Alter Rebbe there was a breach in the norms of moral propriety in France, but this was not the case in the times of the Previous Rebbe.

Murder. True, World War I and the Russo-Japanese War took place in that era, but relative to earlier bloodshed and compared to the middle ages — even to World War II — it was not impressively over-bloody.

How do these four sins, for which galus is prescribed, connect to the exile of the Previous Rebbe?

The Explanation:

1. Chapter 5 lists several items connected to the numeral ten. The connotation is that ten signifies the completion of the cycles of holiness, for example, the ten Sefiros.

So the first Mishnah begins: “The world was created by means of ten [Divine] utterances” — this shows us the perfection of creation. Even though it would seem that creation is connected with the seven days of creation — the seven attributes — nevertheless, creation still includes the quality and perfection of “ten” — the ten Divine utterances. This connects with the tenth of the month, for the “Tenth is holy.”

2. In the subject of exile there is a difference between the individual and the community.

It would appear from the Talmudic discussion of the exile punishment that in the case of an individual it is considered not to be severe enough — for this reason it cannot expiate intentional murder — only accidental.

However, the community has special preciousness before G‑d, as we see in the case of communal prayer which is not rejected, as Scripture relates: “Behold, G‑d is mighty and despises not any.” (Iyov 36:6) Consequently, communal exile is so much more severe that it can atone for the sins of idolatry, incest and murder.

This brings us to the exile of the Previous Rebbe. Clearly his exile was shared by the community — we all needed him — and as he stressed, “Not I alone was redeemed” — but we were all freed; for “The prince is the whole.” His galus lasted ten days — signifying that his suffering was not something personal but related to Jewish people in general.

Realizing that his galus was connected with the community we can also understand that it was not limited to his time alone as Nasi — it atoned for the sins of all generations. So, although in his generation there was no increase in idolatry, immorality and murder, his exile atoned for the sins of all generations. Now, if only we had been meritorious, his liberation could have ushered in the redemption of all Israel!

It was at a later time that the Previous Rebbe proclaimed the famous call “Immediate repentance, Immediate redemption.” This teshuvah has already taken place — we wait now only for the redemption.

We speak first of the spiritual redemption, in the Divine service of every Jew on every level, to reach the lofty degree of perfect Torah for the highest purpose. Then of course the actual redemption, with our youth and our elders — the unity of the Jewish people.

And as the prophet says: “With their silver and gold,” (Yeshayahu 60:9) physical silver and gold as well as spiritual “silver and gold” — love and fear of G‑d — the source of observance of all Torah and mitzvos.

In this manner we will enter into Eretz Yisrael: “A land constantly under the L‑rd your G‑d’s scrutiny, the eyes of the L‑rd your G‑d are on it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” (Devarim 11:12)

Together with the Previous Rebbe at our head, for “Awake and sing ye that dwell in the dust,” (Yeshayahu 26:19) to greet our righteous Mashiach immediately and truly in our time.