1. It is often explained that the twelve months of the year correspond to the 12 tribes of Israel. This concept can be explained as follows: Since the world was created “for the sake of Israel,” it is logical that time, a fundamental element of the creation, is divided into the same number of components as the Jewish people. Thus, the two final months of the year are related to Yosef and Binyamin, the final two sons born to Ya’akov. The connection of the month of Adar to Binyamin is emphasized by the fact that Mordechai, the hero of the holiday of Purim, the central aspect of the entire month of Adar, is described as “Ish Yemini,” a member of the tribe of Binyamin.

In previous generations, there was a need to search for a connection of the month of Shevat to Yosef. However, from the year 5710 and onwards, the connection became clear. The “yartzeit1 of the previous Rebbe whose first name was Yosef, falls in the month of Shevat, on the tenth day, (as it is written: “and the tenth will be holy”). According to Chassidus, a name is related to an object’s essential life-force. Similarly, the Arizal has explained that the name which parents give their children is not a matter of coincidence. Rather, G‑d places in their mouths the name which that soul must be given. This is particularly true in the case of the previous Rebbe, whose name was given by parents who were aware of Torah’s mystic secrets.

Furthermore, the name given to him, Yosef, characterizes the spiritual service he fulfilled throughout his lifetime. The Torah teaches that Rochel named her son Yosef in the prayer: “Yosef Hashem li ben acher” — “that G‑d would, add to me another son.” The word “another” — “acher” — is unnecessary in the verse. Her prayer would have had the same meaning without it. Hence, Chassidic thought explains that it comes to teach us a lesson concerning Yosef’s service. His efforts were concentrated on working with acher — the others — and making them sons, i.e. taking those estranged from their Jewish roots and bringing them back into connection with their Father, the King. This thrust can be seen in every phase of the previous Rebbe’s life’s work.

Though the open and revealed connection to Yosef came about in 5710, it must be understood that even before then, there was a connection between the month of Shevat and Yosef. That connection can be explained as follows: The unique aspect of the month of Shevat is Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat, the New Year of Trees. Furthermore, since Rosh Chodesh includes within it the potential for all the days of the month to come,2 Rosh Chodesh Shevat and the entire month that follows are related to the concepts alluded to by the New Year of the Trees.

The New Year of the Trees has a close connection to man’s service. Indeed, commenting on the verse (Devorim 20:19): “Is a man a tree of the field?” our sages explain that “the tree of the field” refers to the sages.

Developing that relationship, we can see a concept to be learned from the New Year of the Trees that applies to all men. The central aspect distinguishing the plant kingdom is the potential for growth.3 Though animals and men also grow, in no way can their growth be compared to that of plants. Each day, one can see how a plant has grown larger than the day before.

On this basis, we can understand the connection between Shevat, a month related to growth as emphasized by the New Year of the Trees and Yosef. The name Yosef means “to add,” and thus, both concepts of Shevat and Yosef have a common bond.

The previous Rebbe emphasized that no concept should be left in the theoretical realm, but rather brought down and applied in the realm of action. Thus, Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat, a time when blessing is drawn down for the entire month, is an appropriate time to take upon ourselves resolutions to carry out the service exemplified by the previous Rebbe — we should work to carry out these resolutions and bring them to fruition.

The service of making an “other” into a “son” can be seen in the example of the first Yosef as well. “Yosef was the ruler over the entire land. He was the one who rationed out food to all the people.” He was responsible for giving all the dwellers of the land of Egypt and Canaan4 their sustenance. Even though, as our sages teach, “the actions of the Egyptians and the Canaanites were more disgusting than those of all the nations,” Yosef sustained them in a time of famine.

Furthermore, it cannot be said that Yosef did not recognize the lowliness of their behavior. On the contrary, he was the one who labeled Egypt as “the nakedness of the land.” Furthermore, he personally suffered from the faults of both lands, as he declared: “I was stolen from the land of the Hebrews, and here, (in Egypt) I did no wrong to warrant my being placed in this pit.” Nevertheless, despite these factors, he was willing to sustain the Egyptians and the Canaanites throughout a severe famine.

Thus, it can be understood that if Yosef would extend himself to relate to such lowly gentiles in this manner, surely it is proper to relate to Jews in this manner. When a Jew is on a level where one must work to make him a son and if not, he will remain an ‘other,’ estranged from his Jewish heritage, he should be approached with love, as emphasized by the example of Yosef. Needless to say, anger or other feelings of that nature should not be shown to him. Though the “entire world is full of G‑d’s glory,” nevertheless, G‑d left aside both the higher and lower worlds and bestows His Kingship over His people Israel, and in particular, over every particular Jew. Hence, there is no need to be concerned about the other Jew’s level. If G‑d chooses him, despite his level, surely, we humans should relate to him with love.5 This principle is emphasized in Tanya: chapter 32, which explains how one must love the creatures and bring them close to Torah, drawing them close with strong cords of love.

When the “yetzer hora” tries to persuade a Jew that because of his love for his fellow Jew, he should speak to him sternly, chastising him with harsh words, until he rectifies his behavior, he should look at the example of Yosef and then he will realize how one must relate to his fellow Jew with love. Not only will nothing be lost from such an approach, on the contrary, it will accomplish its objective easier and faster.

Thus, to return to the lesson that can be learned from Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, the service of making the other into a son must be carried out in a manner in which one grows and adds from day to day, as our sages declared: “The righteous have no rest, neither in this world or in the world to come.” They are constantly in a — movement of growth. Even though this service is appropriate throughout the entire year, it should be emphasized in the month of Shevat. Thus, on Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat a special blessing is drawn down giving the potential for such service.

May it be G‑d’s will that the above be expressed in deed and action and through that service we will merit all G‑d’s blessings.


2. The above applies to Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat every year. Since, as the Baal Shem Tov taught, a Jew should learn a lesson in the service of G‑d from everything he sees or hears, it follows that there is a particular lesson that can be learned from the day on which Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat falls each year. This year, Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat falls on the 23rd of Teves, the day before the yartzeit of the Alter Rebbe.6 Furthermore, there is a close connection between the Alter Rebbe’s passing and the 23rd of Teves. The Alter Rebbe passed away Motzoei Shabbos (Saturday night) of Parshas Shemos at 10:30 in the evening. Thus, though on one hand, the 24th of Teves had already begun, nevertheless, it is still possible to call the night, the night of the 23rd of Teves. Indeed, we find such an expression used by the Tzemach Tzedek in one of his texts. Thus, today, the 23rd of Teves, Shabbos Parshas Shemos is closely related to the Alter Rebbe’s passing.

The significance of the yartzeit of a tzaddik is explained by the Alter Rebbe in two letters, (chapters 27-28) printed in Iggeres Hakodesh in Tanya.7 There, the Alter Rebbe writes that at the time of one’s passing, “all the service carried out by a person during his lifetime ... is revealed and shines from ... above to below ... and brings about salvation in the midst of the earth.” Thus, it follows that on the day of the Alter Rebbe’s passing, the potential is granted to advance in those aspects of the service of G‑d in which the Alter Rebbe was involved.

On the surface, it is difficult for men of our stature to determine the main areas of service of such a spiritual giant as the Alter Rebbe. Nevertheless, within the works of the Rebbeim we can find answers to that question.

The previous Rebbe once quoted a story centering around a dream of the Mitteler Rebbe in which the Alter Rebbe explained that his service was that of making “baalei teshuvah.” Thus, the service of the Alter Rebbe is related to the concept described above concerning Yosef: to make from an “other” a son.

On another occasion, the previous Rebbe explained that the fundamental character of the Alter Rebbe’s service could be understood from his very name — Schneur — which in Hebrew means “two lights.” The Alter Rebbe revealed two lights — the light of “nigleh” — the revealed aspect of Torah and the light of “nistar” — the esoteric aspect of Torah, the teachings of Chassidus. Furthermore, the two lights were combined in one word, alluding to the fact that both aspects of Torah study were fused together as one. When one learns nigleh, it is obvious that one has studied Chassidus and when one learns Chassidus, it is obvious that one has studied nigleh. Thus, on the Alter Rebbe’s yartzeit the potential is granted for each Jew to fuse both aspects of Torah study together in his service of G‑d.

3. The concept of the fusion of the study of nigleh and Chassidus can be further understood through the development of the following idea.

In the beginning of the laws of Talmud Torah, the Alter Rebbe explained the order of study for one’s entire lifetime. First, one must begin by teaching the child the letters; afterwards, how to read the Torah, afterwards, Mishnah; afterwards Talmud; to the point where the student can “probe the reasons brought by the sages, deriving one concept from the understanding of another.” The Alter Rebbe writes: “Regarding the latter level, our sages declared: ‘... at forty, one attains understanding.’“ Similarly, “at that age one should study the works of our sages, their parables and allegories which are based on the verses of the Bible which was called Aggadah.” Thus, it appears that the Alter Rebbe relegates the study of Aggadah (in which the study of Chassidus is included) to an advanced age — 40 — or at least past “bar-mitzvah.” As explained above, the study of Chassidus and nigleh should be fused into one, and each should have an effect on the other: How can that be accomplished during the lengthy period of time in which the child is not taught Chassidus?8

The answer to this question can be derived from a story related by the previous Rebbe concerning his own education. The previous Rebbe explained that when he was first taught “aleph beis,” his teacher showed him the letters as they appear on the title page of the Tanya (i.e. pointing to the word aleph in the word Tanya, etc.). On the surface, this practice is difficult to comprehend. The Tanya is a text that speaks about G‑d and the service of G‑d: What relation does it have to a child learning aleph-beis?

However, the two questions can be used to answer each other. The reason aleph-beis is taught from Tanya is to emphasize and make clear to the child that the very first stages of his study of Torah are connected with Chassidus. Even before the child is shown the “beis” in the word “bereishis” which begins the Torah or the “aleph” in the word Anochi which begins the Ten Commandments, he is shown the aleph-beis in a Tanya.9

Thus, even though the child does not understand the Tanya, it has an effect on him. Indeed, the impression left by sight is much more powerful than the impression made through understanding. Thus, from the beginning of the child’s education, he is being influenced by Chassidus.

This concept is related to another principle mentioned in Chassidic thought. In previous generations, Kabbalah was hidden, held back even from the Torah sages. Only in later generations, from the age of the Arizal and onward, has it become a ‘mitzvah to reveal this wisdom.’ Furthermore, it was not until an even later period, the time of the Alter Rebbe, when this realm of knowledge was revealed in a manner of Chabad: wisdom, understanding and knowledge. On the surface, this process seems to run contrary to the spiritual levels of the generations. In the generations when the Jews were on a high spiritual level, they were not granted this knowledge and only, as the spiritual level of the generations descended, was this knowledge spread widely.

However, it is precisely in these later generations that the greater light is necessary. In order to counterbalance the great descent, it was necessary to reveal greater light, to reveal the inner aspect of Torah, the Torah of Chassidus. The Alter Rebbe explained this concept with a parable of a king’s son who was deathly ill. To cure the son, it was necessary (and the king willingly agreed) to take the most precious jewel in the crown of the king (i.e. the deepest teachings of the Torah), grind it, and make it into a medicine for the king’s son.

However, Chassidus was not revealed to those on a low spiritual level alone. Rather, it was revealed to the entire Jewish people. In fact, those to whom it was first revealed were the leaders of Israel and it was through their efforts that “the wellsprings of Chassidus were spread to the outer reaches.” Through that service, we will merit the true and complete redemption led by Moshiach and the fulfillment of the prophecy: “... and those who dwell in the dust shall arise and rejoice,” including the Alter Rebbe and the previous Rebbe. May it be speedily in our days.

4. Since this is the eve of the Alter Rebbe’s yartzeit, it is proper to develop a point mentioned in the Alter Rebbe’s teachings, fusing nigleh and Chassidus together as explained above.

The Alter Rebbe begins his Laws of Talmud Torah (the first text he authored that was published) as follows: “Even though a child is free from the obligation to fulfill all of the mitzvos, and furthermore, according to the dictates of the Torah, his father is under no obligation to train him to do mitzvos, that being merely a Rabbinic edict; nevertheless, the study of the Torah is a positive command of the Torah upon the father,” i.e. he must teach his son even though the son himself is under no obligation to learn.

This passage raises a number of questions: 1) Why does the Alter Rebbe begin his text by stating that a child is free from all obligations concerning mitzvos? On the surface, it would have been more appropriate for him to begin: “It is a positive command upon a father to teach his son Torah.” Why did the Alter Rebbe begin with the negative?10 2) Furthermore, the Hebrew expression for “even though” is “af alpi.” The Midrash teaches that beginning one’s statements with the word “af” is a bad omen. If so, the order suggested above would have a second advantage. Not only would it state the positive obligation of the study of Torah first, it would also avoid the bad omen connected with beginning with the word af.

The answer to this question can be derived from the Alter Rebbe’s explanation of the word af in the verse: “All that is called by My Name, indeed it is for My glory that I have created it, formed it and even (af) made it.” The Alter Rebbe explains that the verse lists three levels of spiritual existence — Beriyah, Yetzirah and Asiyah (created, formed and made) and the word af in the above verse alludes to a fourth level above those three. Nevertheless, the fourth level is alluded to in connection with the world of Asiyah, for this level is revealed in that world.11 Even though the word itself is a symbol for the forces of ‘kelipah,’ it is used to allude to the fourth level, for it is through the service of refining material things whose source is from kelipah that the fourth and higher level is revealed in this world.

Similarly, the Midrash Koheles comments on the verse: “Even (Af) my wisdom stood by me.” “The wisdom I learned in ‘af’ stood by me.” The same principle is explained by the Rambam in his Introduction to the Mishnayos. He writes: “The only wisdom that will be maintained is wisdom that is gleaned through labor and struggle, when one fears the teacher ... as the Midrash explains ... ‘the wisdom I learned in af stood by me.’ Therefore, our sages commanded one to cast one’s awe upon the students.”

Based on the above, we can understand that the Alter Rebbe began his Laws of Torah Study with af in order to allude to this approach to Torah study. Thus, from the very beginning of a Jew’s study in Torah, his father will train him to labor in the study of Torah and to sit in awe of his teachers.12

Even though the above applies to the study of a small child, it is relevant to all of us, for in comparison to the higher levels of Torah study, we are all young children beginning to learn. No matter how high one’s level, one must always seek someone from whom one can learn and in relation to that level of learning, one has to view himself as a child and apply himself with labor and effort to that study.

However, just as one must seek to be a student, one must also be willing to be a teacher and teach those on a lower level. This applies regardless of one’s own level. Every Jew has something he can teach another person.13 Furthermore, through teaching another individual, one will reach a higher level of understanding oneself. This principle was explained by the Alter Rebbe in his preface to the Tanya, bringing the verse: “G‑d will illuminate the eyes of them both,” to support the idea. From that verse, it can be understood that through this approach a light that transcends both the student and the teacher is revealed. Indeed, the teacher himself gains more than he gave the student.

The principle of beginning with of relates to the concept explained above that the Alter Rebbe’s service consisted of making baalei teshuvah. ‘Af’ as explained above implies the transformation of the darkness of this material world to light. Similarly, a baal teshuvah goes through a process of transformation, turning his sins into merits. This principle is related to the service in the time of exile, and thus, to the portion of the week Shemos, which describes hardships of the exile in Egypt, for the purpose of exile is the transformation of darkness to light. May we merit this soon with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.