1. Chof MarCheshvan (20th of MarCheshvan) is the Rebbe Rashab’s birthday. It is particularly relevant to us, for the previous Rebbe, our generation’s leader, was his successor — he “filled his place.” But because Torah commands to increase in sanctity, a successor not only fills the place of his predecessors, but also possesses extra dimensions peculiar to himself.

“Filling the place of his forebears,” as the Talmud (Kesuvos 103b) expresses it, does not therefore exclude the possibility of rising higher in sanctity — higher even than his predecessor (although to “fill” a place seems to imply that the successor is no more (and no less) than the predecessor). For “place” — meaning one’s level and spiritual standing — is a relative term. When a person rises in his service to G‑d, he has enlarged his “place” — and thus not only does he fill his previous place, but now fills a new place.

To elaborate further: To ascend in sanctity means that a Jew, notwithstanding how notable his present achievements, must not remain satisfied with that, but most progress further. This applies particularly to Torah scholars, of whom it is said (Berachos 64a): “Torah scholars have no rest either in this world or in the world to come, as stated ‘They go from strength to strength.’“ Although their previous service was in the manner of “strength,” they nevertheless progress further, constantly rising — they go from “strength” to a yet loftier “strength.”

Such a progression is not a step by step process, with each successive level higher only relative to the previous level. Instead, true progress is when a leap of infinitive dimensions is made to the next level. One thus goes from one infinite level to yet a higher infinite level.

If the above applies to all Torah scholars, it certainly applies to a leader. Not only does he fill his predecessors’ place, but, because his service is in the manner of going from strength to strength, he brings extra dimensions to his position. And, as noted previously, this does not contradict the notion of “filling the place of his forebears,” for he constantly enlarges the “place” he occupies — and fills that new place. Thus, if a Jew has filled his original place so completely that he can add nothing more, he has the ability to enlarge his place and fill the new position.

Eretz Yisroel is an example of this. The Talmud (Gittin 59a) states: “Eretz Yisroel is called ‘land of the deer.’ Just as the skin of a deer cannot hold its flesh (i.e. after it has been flayed and the skin contracts, it cannot again be made to cover the body), so Eretz Yisroel, when it is inhabited, expands.” That is, when Eretz Yisroel is completely full with no room for more people, it expands and can therefore hold more.

This happens because Eretz Yisroel is connected to Judaism, to G‑d Who is infinite — and thus it can always expand further. So too Jews can always enlarge their “place,” and then fill the newly expanded place.

The previous Rebbe, then, besides filling the Rebbe Rashab’s place, also enlarged and broadened his position. Nevertheless, the basis and strength for the service of the previous Rebbe (our generation’s leader) in such a manner is the fact that he was the successor and filled the place of the Rebbe Rashab. And because this is so, the Rebbe Rashab’s birthday has relevance to us.

2. In the light of the above, the Rebbe Rashab’s teachings and concepts must influence each and every one of us. “Torah scholars,” we noted previously, “have no rest in this world or in the world to come” — and therefore all the concepts associated with the Rebbe Rashab are constantly being elevated. And because “the body follows the head,” the constant elevations in the Rebbe Rashab’s concepts must result in the elevation of every Jew’s service.

His birthday has a special effect, for then the ascent is loftier than on the rest of the year. On a birthday, a person’s “mazal prevails,” “mazal” referring here to the root of the soul, the level which transcends its revealed powers. It is the level of “ayin” (“nothing”), a level so lofty that it is infinitely higher even than the level of “chochmah.” Although the source of “chochmah,” it is so removed from it that it cannot be perceived as its source. It is so lofty that it cannot be understood at all; and therefore is called “ayin — nothing.”

Nevertheless, this level is termed “mazal,” cognate to the term “nozel” meaning “drip” or “flow.” It indicates that despite its lofty level, it “flows” down, and is revealed to a Jew. Thus, although it is “ayin” to non-Jews — i.e. incomprehensible, in regards to Jews it is “mazal” — it is drawn down to and affects every part of a Jew’s existence.

Furthermore, this mazal “prevails” on a birthday. The term “prevails” implies strength and vigor, meaning that the level of “mazal” is drawn down in great strength and in amount.

Moreover, the term “prevails” in Hebrew is “gover,” similar to the term “misgaver” in the phrase “mayon hamisgaver” — “a fountain which flows with an ever-increasing strength.” This teaches that although the flow from the level of “mazal” is downwards, to below, into temporal-spatial limits, nevertheless, when a Jew utilizes this flow, it continues to flow “with an ever-increasing strength.” And, since the previous Rebbe said that the Rebbe Rashab “will not desert the sheep of his flock,” it follows that the idea of “his mazal prevails” affects also his flock.

This is the special strength granted on the 20th of MarCheshvan, the Rebbe Rashab’s birthday. The chaotic times in which we live seem to preclude the ability to “go from strength to strength” in service. It seems that it needs all one’s ability just to remain on the level on which one is. Indeed, the Alter Rebbe wrote more than one epistle (Iggeret HaKodesh, epistles 16 & 30) in which he encourages his readers not to be affected by the “hardships of the times.”

The answer is that since one is commanded to ascend in sanctity and to go from strength to strength, the necessary ability to do so is certainly bestowed. Moreover, said the previous Rebbe, when a Jew resolves to do something that at the moment is beyond his abilities, G‑d opens up “new channels” for him to enable him to carry out his resolve.

The above is true of the year in general. On the birthday of a leader, the demand to go from strength to strength assures a new, bolder form. On the birthday of the Rebbe Rashab, his “mazal prevails,” meaning his soul’s root (“mazal”) is revealed and drawn down in ever-increasing strength (“prevails”). Although this is something that is so lofty as to be totally beyond us, we do not need to open up “new channels.” The necessary channel is already prepared to draw down the above revelation to every Jew who is informed that today is the Rebbe Rashab’s birthday. In the words of the previous Rebbe: “Stand ready all of you” — to receive those things prepared for you “like a table spread and prepared for eating before a person.”

The above lesson must be translated into deed, into the details of man’s service to G‑d. The Rebbe Rashab and his successor, the previous Rebbe, wrote many times concerning these details, which in general comprise the threefold strand of Torah, prayer, and deeds of loving kindness.

This means that each and every one of us must increase — qualitatively and quantitatively — in Torah study, both the exoteric and esoteric aspects. And, as was the intention of the Rebbe Rashab in founding Tomchei Tmimim, the exoteric and esoteric aspects must be learned as “one Torah,” a single, whole entity. This must be in a progressively increasing manner — “from strength to strength,” “his mazal prevails.”

The increase in prayer must likewise be with strength and vigor (“prevails”) — meaning that prayer must follow contemplation and concentration on G‑d’s greatness and man’s lowliness. And so with the third strand, deeds of loving kindness.

A further element is introduced by this year being a leap year, which contains more days than a regular year. Moreover, a leap year itself can be of three possible lengths: 1) 383 days; 2) 384 days; 3) 385 days. This year has the greatest possible number of days — 385 — indicating it is a “whole year,” full and perfect. And because each day has its own unique service, it follows that this year contains the greatest number of concepts possible.

A leap year, furthermore, is enacted by adding an extra month — Adar. Although there are legal differences between the first and second Adar, nevertheless, their central theme is the same — and therefore both bear the same name: Adar. The theme they share is Purim, and the central idea in Purim is the idea of Ahavas Yisroel — which is expressed in its mitzvos: “Sending gifts each person to his fellow” and “gifts to the poor.” Thus a leap year, which consists of an extra Adar, emphasizes the idea of extra strength and vigor (“his mazal prevails”) in the third strand of deeds of loving kindness.

May it be G‑d’s will that all of the above words bear fruit in actual deed, which will hasten the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach. The redemption can come either “in its time” or in the manner of “I will hurry it.” We beseech G‑d that it be in the latter manner, the idea of strength and vigor — “his mazal prevails.”


3. The Alter Rebbe taught we must live with the times, meaning we must live according to the lessons derived from the weekly parshah. Chof MarCheshvan, the date of which is fixed according to the day of the month (20th of MarCheshvan), can each year fall out on different days of the week, and the parshah read then can also differ from year to year. This year Chof MarCheshvan is the fifth day of the week, Thursday, and the weekly parshah is Chaye Sarah.

Today’s portion of Chumash (the fifth section of Chaye Sarah), contains a verse associated with the unique aspect of the service of MarCheshvan vis a vis the service of Tishrei, the preceding month.

The letters of the word “Tishrei” form the word “reishis,” “beginning” or “head.” It corresponds to “Yisroel,” the letters of which form the words “Li Rosh,” “to me is the head.” The service of MarCheshvan is that of “Ya’akov went on his way.” Of the two names given to the Jewish people — Yisroel and Ya’akov — “Yisroel” is the name which confers distinction (“head”), whereas “Ya’akov” is less distinguished, stemming from the root “eikev,” meaning “heel.”

These two names, and their corresponding service in the months of Tishrei and MarCheshvan, are expressed in a Jew’s actual conduct. A Jew’s service, which is that “I was created to serve my Maker” is divided into two general categories: 1) Torah study, associated with a person’s “head,” the level of “Yisroel” within a Jew; 2) The performance of mitzvos, deed, (“great is study for it leads to deed”) which is associated with the “heel,” the level of “Ya’akov” in a person.

The above two aspects parallel the difference between MarCheshvan and Tishrei. Tishrei is the idea of Torah, as we see that one of the reasons for blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is the shofar blown at Mattan Torah. MarCheshvan is the idea of actual deed — not only mitzvos, but also man’s mundane pursuits, sowing and harvesting. Indeed, “Mar” (in the name MarCheshvan) has the meaning “drop,” referring to rain drops — which is necessary for growing food. It is particularly applicable to the month of MarCheshvan, especially beginning from the seventh of the month, for then one begins to ask for rain (Ta’anis 10a). Thus the idea of MarCheshvan is that then the service of “Ya’akov went on his way” starts — actual deed, sowing and harvesting.

Parenthetically, besides the seventh of MarCheshvan marking the start of the service of “Ya’akov went on his way,” it is also associated with the completion of the month of Tishrei. The fast of B’hab (the fast on Monday, Thursday and again Monday after Yom Tov) does not start until the first quarter of the rain season. The Shach (Yoreh Deah 220, subsection 31) writes that, “Since the first quarter is the seventh of MarCheshvan ... it follows that the fast of B’hab is never fixed before the seventh of MarCheshvan.” Thus the fast of B’hab is associated with the seventh of MarCheshvan.

What has this to do with Tishrei? The fast of B’hab is “because we are afraid that perhaps, because of the feasting and joy of the festival, one may have come to transgress ... therefore we fast to repent and atone.”

In our case, then, the fast of B’hab is to rectify any omissions in the service of Tishrei. Since “the fast of B’hab is never fixed before the seventh of MarCheshvan,” it follows that the seventh of MarCheshvan has the special ability and strength to rectify and complete the service of Tishrei — and therefore the fast of B’hab is kept only after the seventh of MarCheshvan.

The greatness of the seventh of MarCheshvan in this respect can be understood by analyzing the recital of tachnun, the confessional prayer, which is recited after Shemoneh Esreh. A Jew, before prayer, is on a level inferior to that after prayer, and therefore it would seem that the confessional prayer should be recited then, not when a person has already passed through the various refining stages of prayer, especially the Shemoneh Esreh when one loses his own ego.

But it is precisely when a Jew is on the highest level that he realizes his true status — that he still has a long way to go. As long as he still retains his own egocentric existence, he may fool himself into thinking that his spiritual situation is good. Once he has nullified his ego — in Shemoneh Esreh, when he is as a servant before his master” — he is able to objectively examine and measure his worth, and will realize that much is left to be desired. And then he can confess his sins properly when reciting tachnun.

In greater clarification: The above does not mean that a Jew, after the self-nullification of Shemoneh Esreh, now realizes the imperfections that existed beforehand. We are talking of a Jew whose service is perfect, without any imperfections. But now that after prayer he has reached a higher level, matters which on his previous level were complete are now deficient compared to the higher level.

Tzedakah is an example of just such a concept. A person must give an amount of tzedakah commensurate to his wealth (a tenth or fifth). When he becomes wealthier, the sum he used to give no longer suffices (although previously he completely fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedakah with such a sum). Now that he is wealthier, the previous sum is no longer a tenth or a fifth.

So too with one’s spiritual status. When one reaches a higher level, his previous mode of service becomes deficient, although on his previous level it was considered a perfect service.

We find a similar phenomenon in the Talmud (Chagigah 5b), which relates the story of a person who conversed in signs before a king, and was punished with death. The death penalty is meted out for such conduct only when one is in front of a king; but when not in the kingly presence, such conduct is not only permissible, but to conduct the king’s business, even stronger conduct is necessary. Thus we see that while such conduct outside the king’s presence is perfectly all right, in front of the king it is not only a deficient mode of conduct, but is punishable by death.

This lends understanding to the saying that a person should be “all his days in a state of repentance.” If a person truly repented yesterday, to the extent that “the Knower of secrets testifies that he will never return to that sin,” and he becomes “dear before G‑d as before the sin,” why need he repent once again today (“all his days in a state of repentance”)?

The Alter Rebbe answers (Tanya ch 29) that “the principle concept of repentance is in the heart, and the heart has many levels and degrees...” Thus, although a person repented properly yesterday, today, when his spiritual state receives a new revelation, yesterday’s repentance is insufficient, and new repentance is called for.

Now we can understand the greatness of the seventh of MarCheshvan. When a Jew achieves the ultimate in service on the seventh of Tishrei, he possesses the concepts of Tishrei together with the beginning of service of “Ya’akov went on his way” in actual deed. And he then realizes that he must repent. For on this lofty level, those things which in Tishrei were perfect are now considered deficient.

To return to our main point, that a verse in today’s portion of Chumash is especially associated with the service of MarCheshvan — the service of “Ya’akov went on his way.” The parshah talks of Eliezer’s mission to Choron, and today’s portion states that Eliezer said “and the L‑rd has made my path successful.” Eliezer was sent on his mission by Avraham, similar to the service of “Ya’akov went on his way.”

There are several aspects to the success experienced by Eliezer. Eliezer was successful in his mission without really having to do anything, teaching that when a Jew sets forth on his service of “Ya’akov went on his way,” success is assured even before he begins. Moreover, “success” denotes that the result is infinitely greater than the efforts made to assure the success. Furthermore, it says “and the L‑rd has made my path successful,” and “L‑rd,” in contrast to the Name “G‑d,” refers to G‑d as He transcends all limits. Further still, it says, “and the L‑rd,” and Rashi comments (Bereishis 19:24) “Wherever it is stated ‘and the L‑rd,’ it refers to Him and His court.” That is, not only does the Heavenly Court not interfere, but it helps a Jew to achieve success in his mission.

The lesson, then, from Chof MarCheshvan this year (to be applied to all other years also) is: On an auspicious day such as this, when the Rebbe Rashab’s “mazal prevails,” each Jew must undertake good resolutions in regard to following in the path blazed by the Rebbe Rashab — which includes following the directives of his successor, the previous Rebbe.

4. In addition to the above lesson from the fifth day of parshas Chaye Sarah, there is also a lesson to be derived from the fifth day of the week in general (unassociated with the weekly parshah). This year, the day of the week on which Chof MarCheshvan falls is especially auspicious, for it is the same day of the week as the first day of Rosh Hashanah, first day of Sukkos, and Shemini Atzeres.

The Talmud (Shabbos 156a) explains that the particular day of a week on which a person is born has an effect on the person’s personality. It states that “He who was born on the fifth day of the week will be a doer of kind deeds. Why? Because on this day fish and fowl were created” (and Rashi explains that “Fish and fowl do not have to work for their food, but are supplied by G‑d’s kindness”).

Chassidus explains that all the concepts enacted during the six days of creation are repeated every week. Thus the unique concept of each day of creation has an effect on the character and personality of a person born on that day. Because G‑d’s kindness is emphasized on Thursday (when fish and fowl who live by G‑d’s kindness were created), a person born then will be a doer of kind deeds.

What does this teach us regarding Chof MarCheshvan, which this year is on Thursday? We explained previously that Chof MarCheshvan in general teaches that we must increase in all those things demanded by the Rebbe Rashab, which in general are Torah, prayer, and deeds of loving kindness. One can do this in the manner of discharging a duty, and when discharged, his service has ended. That Chof MarCheshvan is on Thursday teaches that one’s service in the above should be in a manner of “kind deeds.” Even after discharging his obligation, he continues to go beyond his strict duty. And this itself is in a manner transcending all limits (as Rashi writes, “G‑d’s kindness” — and G‑d transcends all limits).

The above applies to all matters of Torah and mitzvos, the three areas of Torah, prayer, and kind deeds. Special emphasis is given to the area of kind deeds themselves — both literal deeds of kindness and spiritual deeds of kindness — the dissemination of Torah and mitzvos to others.

A further point is that the Talmud (Kesubos 5a) states: “A maiden is married on the fourth day of the week, and the marital act takes place on the fifth day (i.e. Wednesday night which belongs to the fifth day), because on it (the fifth day of creation), the blessing for fish was given.” That blessing is “be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters.”

Although the blessing of “be fruitful and multiply” was also given to man on the sixth day, which is loftier than the blessing to the fish, nevertheless, in one respect fish have an advantage. Our Sages, on the verse “Let them multiply like fish in the midst of the earth,” state (Berachos 2a): “Fish in the sea are covered by water, and the evil eye has no power over them.” Thus the blessing given to the fish have a unique feature, as our Sages have said (Ta’anis 8b): “A blessing is found only in something on which the evil eye has no dominion (‘something covered from view’).”

The connection, then, to the above noted idea that Thursday is the concept of kind deeds — the kindness of G‑d Who transcends all limits — is that the blessing to fish is also one that transcends all limits (‘let them multiply like fish”).

This has relevance to man’s service to G‑d. That “fish in the sea are covered by water” means that they have no existence independent of the water, and are in a constant state of self-nullification to the sea. So too with a Jew: When he is in a state of self-nullification, his service transcends all limits, for he goes not with his own power, but with G‑d’s strength.

The above explanation concerning the blessing to the fish has special relevance to our generation. The above quoted Talmud is a continuation of Rabbi Yochanan’s statement that “I come from the seed of Yosef, over whom the evil eye has no power.” The proof to this statement is the verse “Let them multiply like fishes in the midst of the earth,” which was the blessing given to Yosef’s sons.

The name of the leader of our generation, the previous Rebbe, is Yosef; and since “the body follows the head,” the above concerning the blessing to the fish is particularly associated with our generation.

In practical terms: When preparing to perform one’s service — spreading Chassidus, etc. — in a manner transcending all limits, one need not fear the “evil eye” (i.e. fear what others will think), for “I come from the seed of Yosef over whom the evil eye has no power.”

When, therefore, a Jew disseminates Chassidus as one who is of the seed of Yosef, his results will “multiply like fish in the midst of the earth:” even in the “midst of the earth” — concealments of G‑dliness — he will have success greater than what would be possible without these concealments (“multiply like fish”), “as the superiority of light is over darkness, and the superiority of wisdom over folly.” In the words of Scripture: “as they oppressed them, so they proliferated and spread!”

Since “the seed of Yosef,” beginning with “Yosef” himself (the previous Rebbe), have gone through so much oppression, the idea of “as they oppressed them so they proliferated and spread” certainly applies. “They shall multiply like fish” — both in regard to material matters, and certainly in those matters in which “Yosef” took special interest — the dissemination of Judaism and Chassidus.

The lesson in practical terms, then, is that not only does one disregard the oppressions, the scoffing remarks, etc., but instead “they proliferated and spread.”