1. There are two reasons for today’s farbrengen: 1) it is Shabbos; 2) it is Chof Kislev (20th of Kislev). At a farbrengen, Jews gather together and are united. This is also the idea of Shabbos. Although on weekdays an “am-ha’aretz” (ignorant Jew) cannot be relied upon that he separated terumah and ma’aser from his produce, he can be trusted in this on Shabbos. This is similar to the pilgrimages to Yerushalayim when all Jews are believed regarding matters of purity and terumah. Yerushalayim is the “city which is joined together” — “the city which makes all Jews chaverim.” Thus on the pilgrimage to Yerushalayim, all Jews are united (i.e. no difference between them regarding purity and terumah) — which is the idea of Shabbos, and a farbrengen.

Further, Shabbos is also the idea of rest, a state dependent on the absence of jealousy and strife. And such a state of affairs is the idea of Jewry united — again, the same idea as a farbrengen. The theme of unity is also the reason why special efforts are made to have guests on Shabbos.

That all Jews are united on Shabbos — even an am ha’aretz — seems to be a lowering of standards. Similarly, entertaining guests involves trouble in attending to their material needs, which would seem to distract from one’s devotion to Shabbos’s spiritual aspects.

Yet our Sages have said (Shabbos 127a), “Entertaining guests is greater than entertaining the Divine Presence.” We learn this from our father Avraham, who interrupted G‑d’s visit to him to see to his guests. This is puzzling: G‑d is omnipresent, and was certainly always with Avraham. When, therefore, Avraham went to greet his guests, G‑d surely accompanied him. Why then could not Avraham engage in both activities simultaneously — taking care of his guests, and entertaining the Divine Presence? Why do our Sages learn from this episode that “Entertaining guests is greater than entertaining the Divine Presence” — which implies that, because both cannot be done simultaneously, greeting guests comes before G‑d?

This question applies only to Avraham. People of our calibre cannot concentrate on two things at once, and therefore when engaged in taking care of guests, cannot think of entertaining G‑d. Avraham, however, was the “chariot” of G‑d, and, says the Alter Rebbe (Tanya ch. 24) of the forefathers, “all their Limbs were a chariot only for the Divine Will all their lives.” When Avraham was taking care of his guests, his physical hand was simultaneously a chariot for G‑dliness. What contradiction, therefore, existed for Avraham between entertaining guests and entertaining the Divine presence?

Entertaining guests involves physical things: giving them food and drink. Thus, although Avraham remained a chariot to G‑d even while entertaining his guests, his involvement in their physical needs interfered with the spiritual service to G‑d Avraham was capable of — if he did not have to involve himself in physical things. Yet, “entertaining guests is greater than entertaining the Divine Presence,” for it is precisely through involvement in physical things (a “descent”) that one can establish a bond with G‑d closer than through spiritual service. G‑d’s Essence is found specifically in the physical, and therefore service in the physical world (entertaining guests) establishes a greater bond with G‑d’s Essence than purely spiritual service (entertaining the Divine Presence).

The same dichotomy applies to Torah and mitzvos in general. While Torah is “not in heaven,” but specifically on earth, it is simultaneously “longer than earth and broader than the sea” -i.e., it transcends the finite limitations of the world. Mitzvos are performed with physical objects, bounded by precise dimensions; but simultaneously they transcend all limits. The reason: the greatness of the physical, in which G‑d’s Essence is revealed — for only G‑d’s Essence can create ex nihilo (Iggeres HaKodesh 20).

Thus, the “descent” on Shabbos — uniting with all Jews, and physical involvement in entertaining guests — is really a very lofty thing.

2. This is connected with the second reason for today’s farbrengen, that it is Chof Kislev. The above mentioned idea concerning the greatness of the physical is found in Iggeres HaKodesh, chapter 20. It was the Alter Rebbe’s sons who collated and arranged the different epistles of the Alter Rebbe into the fourth section of Tanya, and the number of each chapter is associated with the concepts enumerated therein. Because the greatness of the physical is explained in ch. 20 specifically, it follows that everything associated with this idea — including the entertaining of guests — is associated with the number 20.

This is the connection to the 20th (and 19th) of Kislev. These dates are associated with the redemption that occurred on them, for the redemption marked the beginning of the revelation of Chassidus Chabad. Chabad presents the most profound concepts of the esoteric in an intellectual framework; and the comprehension of such secrets -knowledge of G‑d — by man’s intellect, is a “descent.” It is the same idea as noted above: the greatness that is associated with a “descent.”

Now we can understand the lofty nature of today’s farbrengen: It is Shabbos, and it is the twentieth of Kislev. And the coincidence of these two aspects lends yet further distinction, for Shabbos adds to the greatness of all the concepts of Chof Kislev.

The above connection between the twentieth of Kislev and the liberation of the Alter Rebbe is the inner reason for the custom of holding a farbrengen on motzoei Yud-Tes Kislev, which is the beginning of Chof Kislev (day follows night in Jewish matters). The importance of a farbrengen at such a time is emphasized this year, when Chof Kislev falls on Shabbos — for, as noted above, Shabbos lends distinction to Chof Kislev.

Moreover, Chof Kislev does not fall on Shabbos every year. When it does, its influence must be extended until the next time it happens — just as every festival, although only one day a year, must be extended to the entire year. The farbrengen which is held every year on the night of Chof Kislev should therefore, this year be held with even greater force. Although it is the Rebbeim’s custom to hold the farbrengen on the night of the 19th of Kislev (when the 20th is Shabbos), it was our hope that the chassidim would hold a farbrengen among themselves also on the night of the 20th of Kislev — as every year.

Unfortunately, such farbrengens were not held. The chassidim did not demand of their mashpi’im (spiritual counselors) to hold a farbrengen; and the mashpi’im — whose job is not to wait until asked, but to do it of their own accord — did not farbreng.

We are talking of this not only because it hurts and we wish to announce our displeasure and protest, but principally so that it will not happen again. Further, “nothing is irretrievable,” and thus although a mistake has been made, it can be rectified. Today, Shabbos, the 20th of Kislev, is the appropriate time to rectify the omission of a farbrengen on the night of the 20th of Kislev -and in even loftier manner, “double strength.”

3. This farbrengen serves also as a continuation of the farbrengen held on the night of Yud-Tes Kislev, when we spoke at length about “Mihu Yehudi” — “Who is a Jew.” There is therefore a connection between this topic and today’s date, the 20th of Kislev.

“Mihu Yehudi” — the Israeli law which registers non Jews converted non-halachically as Jews -is a tragedy unprecedented in the annals of Jewish history. It destroys the very fabric of Jewish life and identity. Everyone must do their utmost to eliminate this tragedy. Because it is so vital a matter, it is important to talk of it and protest this law at all times. There are, in addition, special times, which, because of the particular date, it is appropriate to talk of it at length.

Such a date is the twentieth of Kislev. Scripture states (Ezra 10:9-12): “All the men of Yehudah and Binyamin gathered in Yerushalayim within three days; it was the ninth month (Kislev), on the twentieth of the month ... And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them: You have transgressed and have taken alien women ... Now, therefore, confess to the L‑rd, G‑d of your fathers, and fulfill His will, and separate from the peoples of the land and from the alien women ... And all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice: As you have said, so must we do.”

This episode closely parallels the tragedy of “Mihu Yehudi.” The Jews then had brought in alien (i.e. non-Jewish) women into the Jewish nation -just as today non-Jews are registered as Jews! At that time, Ezra the priest managed to convince the people to mend their ways, and they said “as you have said, so must we do.” This was achieved through the gathering being held in Yerushalayim, which is a composite of two words: “Yirah” (fear) and “Sholem” (complete) — perfect fear of G‑d.

The lesson from this is that today, the 20th of Kislev, each of us must arouse the level of “Ezra the priest” in his soul. “Ezra” brings together all the souls powers (“the men of Yehudah and Binyamin”) to Yerushalayim, the perfect fear of G‑d. And then each Jew will raise an outcry about the necessity of rectifying the transgression of bringing non-Jews into the Jewish people -an outcry which will surely succeed in its mission.

May it be G‑d’s will that from now on there will be no need to talk of such tragic events, and only the idea of “Ya’akov dwelled” — “to dwell in peace” — will be present. Rashi (Bereishis 37:2), it is true, interprets the words “Ya’akov dwelled” in a different way: “Ya’akov desired to dwell in peace, but the troubles of Yosef sprang on him. The righteous desires to dwell in peace: G‑d said ‘it is not sufficient for the righteous that which is prepared for them in the world to come, but they seek to dwell in peace (also) in this world?’“ Nevertheless, it is impossible to say that the desire of Ya’akov, the most choice of the forefathers, was totally rejected.

We must conclude that there is another interpretation besides the plain one — that instead of a question it is a statement: “It is (indeed) not sufficient for the righteous that which is prepared for them in the world to come” — and therefore “they seek to dwell in peace in this world;” and their desire is fulfilled. And because Ya’akov’s soul encompasses all the souls of Jewry, we too “dwell in peace.”

There is another lesson to be derived: from today’s Torah portion, the sixth section of parshas Vayeishev. It begins with the words (39:7) “And it was after these things,” continues to relate the episode of Yosef and Potiphar’s wife, and ends with Yosef in prison — “Yosef’s master took him and put him into prison.”

Today’s Torah portion thus deals with Yosef’s imprisonment. What connection has it to Yud-Tes Kislev, which marks the Alter Rebbe’s liberation from imprisonment? But in addition to the Alter Rebbe being liberated on Yud-Tes Kislev, that self-same day saw the conclusion of his imprisonment. That is, during that part of the day of Yud Tes Kislev before he was liberated, the Alter Rebbe was still in prison — and everything follows the conclusion.

A further connection between the two is also drawn from the conclusion of the Torah portion, which states (39:21-23): “The L‑rd was with Yosef ... and gave him favor in the eyes of the keeper of the prison ... and all that he (Yosef) did, the L‑rd made successful.” When the Alter Rebbe was in prison the prison officials likewise saw his greatness, that “all that he did, the L‑rd made successful.”

We find the idea of Yosef’s success related also in Thursday’s Torah portion (39:3), that while in Potiphar’s house, “all that he was doing, the L‑rd made successful in his hand.” The difference between the two is that in the Torah portion of Yud-Tes Kislev (Friday), it relates that Yosef was successful even in prison. Further, in Thursday’s portion it states “the L‑rd made successful in his hand,” which implies that what others actually saw was Yosef’s efforts (“in his hand”), and deduced that it came through G‑d’s strength (“the L‑rd made successful”).

In Thursday’s portion, however, it states only that “the L‑rd made successful,” implying that people saw openly that it was G‑d’s work. This parallels the Alter Rebbe’s liberation, as he himself wrote that all the princes said, “This was from the L‑rd, it is wondrous in our eyes.”

4. [The Rebbe here elaborated on his suggestion given on Yud-Tes Kislev that all Jews say the phrase “I hereby take upon myself to fulfill the mitzvah, ‘Love your fellow as yourself,’“ before the morning prayer, and the phrase “Indeed, the righteous will extol Your Name; the upright will dwell in Your presence,” after praying (after Oleinu). This, the Rebbe said, emphasizes Ahavas Yisroel and Achdus Yisroel (unity of Jews). This has been published as a separate essay. The following are further aspects related to this idea.]

We have spoken of both Ahavas Yisroel (love of a fellow Jew) and Achdus Yisroel (unity of Jews). Some people have asked: Scripture says only “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” What is the source for the idea of Achdus Yisroel?

The source is in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedarim 9:4). It explains the command “You shall love your fellow as yourself” with a parable to “one who cuts meat with a knife and cut his hand. Would it enter your mind to in turn cut the hand which wielded the knife (which cut the other hand)? So too Torah says, ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself.’“

The command “You shall love your fellow as yourself” seems quite self-evident. Why does the Talmud Yerushalmi find it necessary to give a parable, and how does this parable clarify the idea of Ahavas Yisroel?

This parable explains the reason for loving another Jew as oneself. Jews are as limbs of one body, as illustrated in the parable of the person cutting his hand — should one hand cut the other? This is the idea of unity of Jews: not only should Jews love each other (which can be possible even while remaining separate entities) but they are one body.

But if Achdus Yisroel is the reason and cause for Ahavas Yisroel, then the question is reversed: the Torah should have commanded Jews regarding Achdus Yisroel, and Ahavas Yisroel would automatically follow. Yet Torah says, “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”

However, in Torah and mitzvos, principal emphasis is always placed on practical deed, and not on the causes which lead to the deed (feelings and thoughts). In teshuvah (repentance) for example, the mitzvah is to actually confess one’s transgressions; it is not the regret one feels in the heart — although “the principal idea of teshuvah is in the heart.”

So too Torah in general: It deals mainly with the things a person must do and must not do, and not so much with the reasons for them: “we will do” rather than “we will hear.” In Torah study, too, a child first learns about practical deed and not the basic philosophical tenets of faith.

Ahavas Yisroel and Achdus Yisroel are no exception. The former affects actual deed, how to behave with one’s fellow. The latter has nothing to do with deed, but rather with one’s feelings and understanding. Thus, because Torah concentrates primarily on deed, only the command to love one’s fellow is given.

5. Chanukah begins in the coming week, and therefore now is the appropriate time to remind and urge everyone to participate in the Chanukah campaign.

Chanukah is connected to Yud-Tes Kislev and Chof Kislev, for both stress the idea of illuminating one’s environment. The Chanukah lights are lit “at the entrance to the house on the outside,” and Yud-Tes Kislev is the idea of disseminating Chassidus to the outside.

Of the Chanukah lights it is said that “these lights shall never cease.” May it be G‑d’s will that through our efforts in the Chanukah campaign we speedily merit to see the kindling of the lights of the menorah in the third Bais Hamikdosh.