1. The previous Rebbe instituted that a farbrengen be held on every Shabbos Mevorchim. Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat has particular significance in this respect, for two reasons. The twelve months of the year correspond to the twelve tribes, with the month of Shevat corresponding to Yosef — and the previous Rebbe’s name is Yosef. Secondly, the previous Rebbe passed away on the tenth of Shevat, thereby further emphasizing his connection to this month.

On Shabbos Mevorchim Jews bless the coming month, and thus it is connected with everything in the month. On Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat, therefore, a connection to the previous Rebbe, whose yartzeit is the tenth of the month, is already in force.

Consonant to the Alter Rebbe’s directive that a Jew must “live with the times,” meaning to live according to the lessons from the weekly parshah, we must derive a lesson from the parshah read on Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat this year — parshas Va’eira.

“Va’eira” means “I appeared [to the fathers],” referring to the revelation of G‑d to the forefathers. This teaches that for a Jew, deed alone is insufficient; his service to G‑d must also incorporate the idea of “I appeared.” That is, cognition can be in two ways: hearing or seeing. The latter is far superior to the former, for it establishes the truth beyond all doubt. “I appeared” in terms of a Jew’s service to G‑d means that a person is cognizant of G‑dliness to the degree that it is as if he sees G‑d [in Chassidic usage, “re’iyah d’Chochmah”). It is not just an intellectual comprehension (similar to hearing), but a visual recognition, beyond all doubt. It is the ultimate level in comprehension.

Although in service to G‑d deed is most important, for even with the loftiest kavvonos (thoughts, contemplation on the meaning of a mitzvah) a person has not fulfilled a mitzvah without actually doing it, nevertheless, a Jew’s service should also incorporate understanding and comprehension — “I appeared.” Every Jew is a descendant of Avraham, Yitzchok and Ya’akov, and deed alone is insufficient for a person with such distinguished forebears.

But, we could ask, what relevance does the fact that G‑d “appeared to Avraham, Yitzchok and to Ya’akov” have to us? The answer is provided by Rashi, who, on the words “I appeared,” comments, “I appeared to the fathers.” Avraham, Yitzchok and Ya’akov were not just individuals; they are the fathers of every Jew. And “the deeds of the fathers are a sign to the sons,” “sign” meaning both an indication of which path to follow, and also the granting of the necessary strength to follow that path. Because the idea of “I appeared” was present by the fathers, it is a “sign” that it applies also to the sons. As explained in Torah Or on our Sages’ saying that “The name ‘fathers’ is given only to three”: “the level of the fathers is a heritage to their sons after them in every generation ... [Therefore] the level of the fathers should be present in every person, for they are the source and root of all the souls of Israel.”

Further, the term “fathers” was bestowed on Avraham, Yitzchok and Ya’akov not just because they were of a very lofty nature, but specifically because they were the fathers of the sons. Thus, the reason why the idea of “I appeared” applies to the sons is not only as a result of it being present by the fathers, but the reverse: G‑d appeared to Avraham, Yitzchok and Ya’akov precisely because they are the fathers — i.e., so that they would pass on this idea to their sons as an eternal heritage. In the words of Scripture: “I have known him so that he shall command his sons and his household after him ...”

This then is the lesson from parshas Va’eira. Every Jew’s service can and should be in the manner of “Va’eira” — knowledge of G‑d in a manner of seeing — since every Jew possesses the level of the fathers.

We can go further: Rashi further on (6:9) brings an interpretation of the Rabbis concerning G‑d’s answer to Moshe’s complaints against Him. Rashi writes: “The Holy One blessed be He said to him, ‘Alas for those who are lost and are not found. I must mourn over the deaths of the fathers ... [ for] they did not criticize My methods ...” Torah, in telling us this, surely did not mean to relate Moshe’s deficiencies compared to the fathers, but rather to inform us of the lesson it contains. Every Jew can reach the level of the fathers, which in this case is not to entertain any critical thoughts about G‑d.

Since Rashi brings this interpretation, and Rashi’s commentary is intended even for a five year old, it follows that everyone, even a child, can reach the level of the fathers. The reason? For they are his fathers (as elaborated on above).

Of course, a child cannot compare himself to Torah greats (and certainly not to Moshe Rabbeinu); yet, since he is a son of the fathers, their heirs, it is demanded that he act as the fathers acted.

Although it seems difficult to understand how a five year old can reach the level of the fathers if Moshe Rabbeinu did not, nevertheless, it is explicitly stated in Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu that it is so. It says that every Jew can merit to have the Divine Spirit rest upon him, and that “every Jew is obligated to say, ‘When will my deeds reach the deeds of my fathers, Avraham, Yitzchok and Ya’akov?’“ We see, then, that a Jew can reach the level of the fathers not just in terms of the soul, but in actual deed — “when will my deeds reach the deeds of my fathers”? And the ability to do this is because they are “my fathers.”

This will be properly understood by first explaining another concept. Our parshah talks of Moshe’s mission to take the Jews out of Egypt. The preparation to this mission is, “I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchok and to Ya’akov as G‑d Al-mighty, but I was not known to them by My name ‘L‑rd.’“ Rashi explains that this means, “I was not recognized by them by My attribute of truth, because of which My name is called “L‑rd.” The fathers, in other words, knew Him only as “G‑d Al-mighty;” to Moshe Rabbeinu, however, G‑d said,

“Therefore say to the children of Israel, ‘I am the L‑rd.’“ That is, G‑d’s name as ‘L‑rd’ was revealed to and through Moshe.

The name “L‑rd” is infinitely loftier than “G‑d Al-mighty,” as Rashi writes, that “L‑rd” is the “attribute of truth.” And this was revealed specifically through Moshe, not the fathers, who did not recognize G‑d by His attribute of truth. Why, then, does Torah simultaneously emphasize the greatness of the fathers compared to Moshe — “Alas for those who are lost and are not found”?

Rashi alludes to the answer in his words, “I appeared to the fathers.” There are two things stressed here:

1) As explained above, that G‑d appeared to them, and because they are the fathers of all Jews, every Jew also possesses this concept.

2) “I appeared to the fathers” happened in the past. When, therefore, a new mission is required for the present time, a service like that of the fathers in the past is insufficient, and a new service is necessary.

True, the new mission is performed with the strength bequeathed by the fathers. But since it is a new mission, it existed only in potentia in the case of the fathers, whereas now it has to actually be carried out.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s mission stressed both these points.

1) It was a new mission not present in the fathers’ days — to take the Jews out of Egypt, and in consonance with it, the revelation of the name “L‑rd,” leading up to the ultimate revelation at Mattan Torah.

2) This new mission is fulfilled with the strength bequeathed by the fathers, and Moshe Rabbeinu thus needed to reach their level. G‑d therefore told him, “Alas for those who are lost and are not found,” to inspire him to “find” the level of the fathers within himself.

In greater clarification: G‑d’s command to Moshe, “Therefore say to the children of Israel, ‘I am the L‑rd, and I shall take you out from under the burden of Egypt,’“ is a new mission that was not in the fathers’ days — for 1) “by My name ‘L‑rd’ I was not known to them,” and 2) there were no Jews enslaved in Egypt.

The service that was in the times of the fathers is therefore insufficient for this new mission, and it is certainly not enough to rely on the fact that one is a son of the fathers — for this has no relevance to the actual deeds which one must now engage in (in our case, taking the Jews out of Egypt).

This mission must be carried out by Moshe specifically, for the fathers are not now present. If the fathers were alive now, the mission might be given to them. But since they are not, it must be carried out by Moshe, who, being together with Jews in Egypt and seeing and feeling their anguish, is the right person to carry out the mission. This is particularly so since Moshe himself suffered the exile: he was forced to flee from Egypt where he lived with his family and the rest of Jewry, and to dwell in Midian for forty years. In Midian itself, Moshe, whose belief in G‑d was unparalleled, lived with Yisro, a priest of idolatry who had served every idol in the world! We can easily imagine what anguish Moshe suffered as a result.

Because Moshe himself suffered from the exile, he was the appropriate one to carry out G‑d’s mission to take the Jews out of Egypt. And therefore G‑d emphasized to him that this mission was not present in the days of the fathers — for “by My name ‘L‑rd’ I was not known to them” — whereas to Moshe G‑d said, “Therefore say to the children of Israel, ‘I am the L‑rd.’“ The result would be “I shall take you out from under the burden of Egypt.”

On the other hand, Moshe had to know that the strength to fulfill this mission came from the fathers — “I appeared to the fathers.” For since the fathers are the “root and source of all the souls of Israel,” all types of service of all generations were given to the fathers. However, this was in two forms: service which the fathers actually performed; and that which existed only in potentia, which their sons afterwards actually carried out.

The revelation of “I appeared to the fathers” therefore encompasses both “G‑d Al-mighty” and “L‑rd.” Scripture tells us that “G‑d Al-mighty” was actually revealed to the fathers, whereas “L‑rd” was only in potentia (“By My name ‘L‑rd’ I was not know to them”). But afterwards it came the time for the name “L‑rd” to actually be revealed -to the sons (“Therefore tell the children of Israel, ‘I am the L‑rd”).

Because the strength to fulfill his mission comes from the fathers, Moshe needed to arouse the level of the fathers within him. G‑d caused this to happen by telling him, “Alas for those who are lost and are not found.” When G‑d told Moshe that he hadn’t reached the level of the fathers (not to criticize G‑d’s methods), he of course endeavored to reach their level. As a result, the level of the fathers that was within Moshe was revealed (i.e., was “found”).

Moreover, because at first the level of the fathers was “not found” in Moshe, and only afterwards did he “find” this level, this revelation was in the manner of “the superiority of light which comes from previous darkness.”

The lesson from parshas Va’eira, then, is that a Jew’s service should not be just in deed, but also in the area of comprehension in the manner of seeing the truth. The strength to this comes from the fathers, for each Jew is a direct “son” of the fathers, connected to them without any intermediaries.

2. There is another element present in Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat this year. It falls on the twenty fifth of Teves, and therefore erev Shabbos is the twenty fourth of Teves, the yartzeit of the Alter Rebbe. The Talmud states that “he who toils on erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos,” and therefore the “eating” on this Shabbos is connected with the service (“toil”) of the twenty fourth of Teves.

Although the idea of “toil on erev Shabbos” can be broadly applied to the whole week — meaning one starts to prepare for Shabbos from the beginning of the week — nevertheless, the specific meaning is Friday. This is emphasized by the halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 378:8) that a person may run in the public thoroughfare before nightfall on erev Shabbos, for he is involved in the needs of Shabbos. If “toil on erev Shabbos” meant the whole week, then this halachah would apply not just to erev Shabbos before nightfall, but to the entire week. But because the principal preparations to Shabbos are made on Friday, one who runs on erev Shabbos before nightfall is presumably running for the needs of Shabbos.

The reason the principal preparations are on Friday is because having hot, fresh food adds to the delight on Shabbos. Thus, even today, when one can prepare food earlier in the week and store it in a refrigerator or freezer, the importance of having fresh food demands that the food be prepared on erev Shabbos.

To return to our main point: the eating on this Shabbos comes about through the toil and preparation of erev Shabbos, the 24th of Teves. It is therefore appropriate to derive a lesson from the portion of Tehillim recited on the 24th of Teves. It is chapters 113-118, which comprise the whole Hallel.

Hallel is associated with parshas Va’eira. The book of Tehillim, and Hallel in particular, is the idea of songs and praises to G‑d, authored by King David, the “Sweet Singer of Israel.” King David is called “David, King Moshiach,” for through him the future redemption will come — and in parshas Va’eira we find four terms of redemption — “I shall take you out,” “I shall deliver you,” “I shall liberate you,” “I shall take you,” and the fifth term which refers to the future redemption -”I shall bring you to the land.”

The Talmud states that it is not good to recite Hallel every day, for since Hallel is associated with the idea of a miracle, the recital of it every day would mean that one does not recognize the special nature of a miracle.

Since Hallel is said on the 24th of Teves (as the daily portion of Tehillim), it follows that the idea of a miracle is present. Although it is not said with a blessing, the saying of “Yehi Rotzon” after reciting Tehillim is similar to a blessing. Moreover, the non-recital of the blessing indicates that it comes from a source so lofty that it cannot be drawn down through a blessing. This teaches that every Jew can reach a level such that even on a weekday he possesses the concept of a miracle.

In greater clarification: The Midrash Tehillim states that King David requested of G‑d that “May the words of my mouth be acceptable — may [Jews] read them and receive reward for them as [if they engaged in the study of] Nega’im (plagues and leprous diseases) and Oh’holos (impurity resulting from proximity with the dead).” The obvious reason for mentioning “Nega’im” and “Oh’holos” specifically is because they are profound areas in Torah. But if only because of this, King David could have mentioned “monetary laws,” about which our Sages said, “One who wishes to become wise should engage in the [study of] monetary laws.”

We can therefore posit that “Nega’im”‘ and “Oh’holos” emphasize another matter: That the Torah affects worldly matters, even the very lowest — “Negaim,” which came into being after the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, and “Oh’holos,” the most severe form of impurity. Through studying these concepts in Torah, a Jew elevates the lowest matters in the world.

This is what King David meant by “May they read them and receive reward for them as ‘Nega’im’ and ‘Oh’holos”: through reciting Tehillim, the world is refined and elevated, similar to the elevation achieved by the study of “Nega’im” and “Oh’holos.” As we see in the case of the recital of Hallel, that it affects the world — for Hallel is recited over a miracle (a change in the world).

The recital of Tehillim is relevant to all Jews, even the simplest. Indeed, the reciting of Tehillim by simple Jews has a certain advantage over Torah study. The Baal Shem Tov once showed his disciples the greatness of the recital of Tehillim by such Jews, to the extent that the disciples envied them, and wished that G‑d would help them (the disciples) to serve G‑d in such a manner.

Now, the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples certainly studied Torah in the best way possible. Yet, because the recital of Tehillim by simple Jews has an advantage over Torah study, they envied them. Thus we see that the above lesson from the portion of Tehillim recited today is relevant also to simple Jews.

3. As is customary at the farbrengen commemorating the Alter Rebbe’s yartzeit, we shall explain a concept associated with the teachings of the Alter Rebbe.

The principal works of the Alter Rebbe, which have been disseminated to and accepted by all sections of Jewry, are the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch. Indeed, the Alter Rebbe is known by Jewry as the “Author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch.”

One first studies the Shulchan Aruch — to know what to do in everyday life (e.g. laws of rising in the morning, washing the hands) — and then one learns Tanya, which explains the path of service to G‑d one should tread. There is, however, reason to say that one should learn Tanya even before the Shulchan Aruch. The very first thing one does upon awakening is to recite Modeh Ani — “I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.” And Modeh Ani expresses the concepts explained in Tanya: “Your faithfulness is great” — the idea of faith and belief; “living and eternal King” — the renewal of creation ex nihilo every moment; “I offer thanks to You ... King” -recognition of G‑d as one’s King, the idea of service in general.

We can therefore posit that the beginning of Tanya is alluded to in the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch. The beginning of the Shulchan Aruch states, “Yehudah ben Teima says: Be bold as a leopard (“nomar”), light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father (“Avichah”) in heaven.”

The beginning of Tanya is the word “Tanya.” And we can posit that the letters comprising this word (TaNYA) are the first letters of the principal words in the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch (i.e. the words which express the content of the beginning of Shulchan Aruch). Those words are “Teima,” “Nomar” (eagle), “Yehudah” and “Avichah” (your Father). Let us examine each word.

“Teima” is also cognate to the word “amira,” which means “saying.” That is, a Jew must constantly be repeating this concept.

“Nomar,” to be light as an eagle, is the first concept enunciated by Yehudah ben Teima, and therefore all the rest of his words are alluded to in it.

“Yehudah,” the name of the author of this saying, expresses the content of the saying, which is similar to the idea of “I have placed the L‑rd before me always,” for the letters of the word “Yehudah” contain all the letters of the name “L‑rd” (in Hebrew).

“Avichah” (your Father) is the conclusion of this saying, for the purpose of being as bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, etc., is to “carry out the will of your Father in heaven.”

Consonant with the rule, “the beginning is rooted in the end,” there is a connection between the beginning and end of the Shulchan Aruch. The conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch talks of the prohibition to muzzle an ox when it is treading grain, and the prohibition to forbid an employee in a vineyard to eat thereof, for Scripture states: “When you come into your fellow’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes as you desire.” The Shulchan Aruch states: “A worker who is employed by a non-Jew ... is prohibited to eat of that he works without the knowledge of the non-Jew — as he is wont to do when employed by a Jew — for it states, ‘[You may eat of the grapes of] your fellow,’ and not of a non-Jew.”

The reason the Shulchan Aruch ends with this halachah is that “The whole Torah was given to make peace in the world.” This is achieved when a non-Jew sees that a Jew deals honestly and righteously — similar to the above halachah, that whereas a Jew may eat of a Jewish employee’s produce without his knowledge, he may not eat of a non-Jew’s!

There is a connection between this and the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch, which is: “Be bold as a leopard, which means not to be ashamed before scoffers.” “Scoffers” refers mainly to non-Jews, and through following the above halachah of not eating from a non-Jewish employer’s produce without his knowledge, the non-Jew not only is not a scoffer, but he will be astonished at the Jew’s righteousness.

Furthermore, the Alter Rebbe, at the beginning of the above halachah, writes: “It is forbidden to say to a non-Jew, ‘Muzzle my cow and use it to tread your grain or to do other work for the non-Jew, although the Jew ... derives no benefit from this ... But it is permitted to tell him, ‘Muzzle your cow and tread your grain with it,’ for a non-Jew is not commanded about [the prohibition against] muzzling.”

In these words of the Alter Rebbe, it is explicitly stated that permission to tell a non-Jew to muzzle his own cow is because “the non-Jew is not commanded about [the prohibition against] muzzling.” If the non-Jew were so commanded, it would be forbidden to tell him to transgress and to muzzle his cow.

It thus follows that in something which a non-Jew is commanded about, it is a Jew’s duty to convince him to follow that commandment. This is associated with that which we have been talking about recently, that Jews are obligated to convince non-Jews to observe the Seven Noachide Laws. And when Jews evince interest in non-Jews’ welfare, and explain to them the necessity for observing the Seven Noachide Laws, non-Jews have respect and honor for Jews — the opposite of being “scoffers.”

The idea of “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading grain,” can be explained homiletically. A soul’s descent to this world to do its work, especially in the time of exile, is similar to work in a “field.”

This service is similar to that of an “ox,” which possesses great strength. The command, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading grain,” means that when Jews are in the middle of service to G‑d in this world, G‑d must give them all their worldly needs (for the “field” is the place of a Jew’s work, as above) — consonant to the Torah’s command, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading grain.”

This is the claim of Jews against G‑d: We are in Your mission, working in the “field.” How, then, is it possible that because of the hardship of the exile Jews should lack anything of their material needs? In Your Torah it says the opposite — “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading grain.”

May it be G‑d’s will that very soon Jews, together with G‑d, go out from the “field” (exile), and go to G‑d’s capital city, to His palace, and therein to His innermost room, to the place where “Israel and the King are alone.”

* * *

4. We spoke previously that the 24th of Teves this year is erev Shabbos. We shall now concentrate on the Torah portion of the 24th of Teves, the sixth section of parshas Va’eira. The beginning of this section (8:19) states: “I shall make a distinction between My people and your people; tomorrow this sign shall take place.” It ends with the words (9:16), “Indeed, for this reason I have let you live, to show you My power, and so that My name will be proclaimed throughout the earth.” Both these verses are associated with the Alter Rebbe.

The quintessence of the Alter Rebbe is alluded to in his name, “Schneur,” which means “two lights” — the light of the revealed part of Torah (nigleh”) and the light of Chassidus. This was the principal achievement of the Alter Rebbe — to synthesize Chassidus with the exoteric. In other words, that even Chassidus, the esoteric, should be revealed — “Your wellsprings shall spread forth to the outside.”

The Rebbe Rashab said that the principal expression of “Your wellsprings shall spread forth to the outside” occurred after the Alter Rebbe was liberated from imprisonment on the 19th of Kislev. Thus the liberation of Yud-Tes Kislev (19th of Kislev) represents the quintessence of the Alter Rebbe, and it is connected to the Torah portion of the 24th of Teves (the Alter Rebbe’s yartzeit).

The beginning of the portion is “I shall make a distinction” — in Hebrew, “p’dus,” which literally means “redemption” — which is its connection to the redemption of Yud-Tes Kislev. Moreover, the verse, “I shall place a distinction between My people and your people,” indicates that at that time “My people” (Jews) and “your people” (Egyptians) were together in Egypt — and therefore a distinction, a separation, was necessary. So too in the redemption of Yud-Tes Kislev; it took place in exile, when a separation is necessary between “My people” and “your people.”

On the other hand, even in such a state of affairs, a “p’dus” is effected. Not only are “My people” separated from “your people,” but there is a complete and total distinction between them.

The verse then continues, “tomorrow this sign shall take place” — which concept also was present in the liberation of Yud-Tes Kislev. The Alter Rebbe was informed of his release on Tuesday, but was actually released only on Wednesday — “tomorrow.”

The conclusion of the portion states, “Indeed, for this reason I have let you live, to show you My power, and so that My name will be proclaimed throughout the earth.” This too is associated with Yud-Tes Kislev, as the Alter Rebbe himself writes: “For G‑d has done wonders and greatness in the earth ... who has been magnified and sanctified in the eyes of all the princes and all the peoples in the king’s domains, that also in their eyes the thing is very wondrous, and they said about this, ‘It was from G‑d, it is wondrous in our eyes.’“