1. Today is Rosh Chodesh Shvat. This date is specifically mentioned in the Torah, in the Book of Devorim where it states: “In the eleventh month on the first day of the month, Moshe began to explain the Torah.” Today, we also recall the Yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe which is on the tenth of Shvat. Both incidents are related to Rosh Chodesh, because the Rosh (literally the head) of the month includes within itself all the days of the month.

The inclusion of Yud Shvat (within Rosh Chodesh), as an important event of the month, is a relatively recent innovation. This leads us to a paradox; for within Torah there is both constancy and innovation.

Torah is G‑d’s wisdom. Since, “He and His wisdom are One,” and “(Behold) I, G‑d, have not changed,” it would appear that Torah should remain constant and completely unchanged. How then could it be possible for us to implement any innovation in the study and observance of Torah?

On the other hand, we are told that innovation is necessary. In the Zohar it is explained that each person is obligated to bring out new ideas within Torah. The Alter Rebbe expands on this in Hilchos Talmud Torah where he explains that at every time and in all situations a Jew is obligated to find and apply new Torah concepts (if it is within his capabilities); if he does not do so, he is not even fulfilling his obligation for Torah study.

Innovation is also a continuous process throughout the world. The world is constantly being recreated from nothing; we see this in our daily prayers in which we praise G‑d for “renewing each day, continuously the work of creation.” The world was created for the purpose of Torah (note Rashi’s commentary at the beginning of Bereishis), as it states in the Zohar “G‑d looked into Torah and created the world.” Therefore, we conclude that the constant innovation within physical creation should be paralleled by innovation within the spiritual realm which affects and directs the physical world.

This paradox is resolved at a level which transcends both change and consistency, at the level of G‑d’s very essence. It is this level that is the source for innovation. This level of G‑dliness is connected with the Torah.1 Hence, the potential exists for a Jew to develop new Torah concepts. Then, as mentioned above, through the Torah, the power of innovation is drawn down into the world at large.

Hence, in each generation new aspects of Torah are brought out. This pattern can be seen in the fundamental relationship between Torah and the world. Torah is “His (G‑d’s) delight.” It is “hidden from the eye of all living things.” Nevertheless, it became enclothed within creation, resulting in an entire world being created for the sake of the Torah. This itself was an innovation. From that time on, each generation brought out new aspects of Torah. Not only in the previous generations, described by the Talmud as “angels” were new ideas discovered but even in the later generations, described as “men,” the principle “every concept authored by an experienced student was given to Moshe on Mt Sinai” applies. Even in the present generation, there are new concepts being developed.

We now see how this applies to Rosh Chodesh Shvat. In the previous generations, the first of Shvat was only connected to Moshe’s explanation of the Torah. However, in our generation another element was introduced, the Yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe. On a Tzaddik’s Yahrzeit “all the service of the man for which his soul labored in his life...becomes revealed and shines ...causing salvation in the depths of the world.”

There is a connection between these two aspects: Rashi (Devorim 1:5) comments that Moshe explained the Torah in seventy languages. That explanation dealt with “Nigleh,” the revealed aspects of Torah. The Previous Rebbe made an additional contribution; he explained “Pnimiyus HaTorah,” Torah’s inner aspects, the teachings of Chassidus in “seventy languages.” He worked “to spread the wellsprings of Chassidus outward,” giving each individual the opportunity to understand in his own “language,” within the framework of his own experience and understanding.

Furthermore, Moshe Rabbeinu’s translation of the Torah into seventy languages corresponded only to the degree with which the languages were connected to the Jewish people. The Previous Rebbe’s translation however, was related in the languages as they are applied as separate entities, distinct and apart from the Jewish people.

To fully understand the above statement a fundamental question must be answered. Why did Moshe Rabbeinu have to translate the Torah into seventy languages? At that time, the entire Jewish people were familiar with Hebrew. They were living together in one place. Furthermore, they were on a higher spiritual level, “there was not one of them who had a heavenly decree against them.” However, since all of the seventy languages and all seventy nations, are included within the Jewish people and the Jewish language. For example, in the Torah there are phrases which are from other languages, such as ‘Yegarsahadutha’ (Bereishis 31:47).2 Similarly, the seventy children of Ya’akov are the source of the seventy nations of the world. Moshe translated the Torah on a level that corresponded to the source of the seventy nations and languages. The Previous Rebbe has translated Chassidus into other languages in a manner which corresponds to the non-Jews’ level of understanding.3 Hence, his efforts can be described by the expression “spread the wellsprings of Chassidus outward.” He took the “wellsprings” of Chassidus, the deepest mystical secrets of Torah and had them translated and thoroughly explained in the seventy languages of the world.

Thus, we can see various different levels in the service of “spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus outward.” In general, this service began in the time of the Baal Shem Tov, more particularly it began in the Alter Rebbe’s generation, and specifically after his arrest and release from prison. We see yet another stage of “spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus outward” which began in the generation of the Rebbe Rashab. However, the generation of the Previous Rebbe, the seventh generation, of which it is said “all seventh are dear” began a new stage in which the “wellsprings” reached outward, to a point where they are comprehensible even to those who (for the time being) are removed from the Jewish way of life, in the languages and context of their understanding.

The above produces a practical lesson. Beginning with the first of Shvat we must add more strength and effort to spread (not only Nigleh, but also) “the wellsprings of Chassidus outward.” We must reach out to a Jew who is at the moment separate from his Jewish roots and immerse him in the wellsprings. We must speak to him in his language and in a manner that he, too, can understand.

Thus, we will prepare for the Messianic redemption. In this generation, all the good deeds of the previous generations are collected, thus producing a great treasure of good deeds.4 Therefore, we will merit the fulfillment of the prophecy “as in the days of your exodus from Egypt I will show you wonders,” with the coming of Moshiach.

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2. The Previous Rebbe’s innovation, the translation of the teaching of Chabad Chassidus into seventy languages, evoked the protests of some critics. They could not understand how and why the Torah’s deepest secrets should be translated into foreign languages and disseminated publicly, in the newspapers and in similar popular media.5

A refutation of their argument and the nature of the translation can be understood in terms of the Talmud’s description (Megillah 9a, Sofrim 1:8) of the translation of the Torah into Greek. The Talmud relates that “King Ptolmey brought together seventy two elders and placed them in seventy two separate rooms ...he went into each one of them and ordered ‘Translate the Torah for me...’ G‑d prompted each one of them and they all conceived the same idea.” The translation of the Torah into Greek is also mentioned in the tractate Sofrim (1:7-8).6 There the Talmud explains that “the day of the translation was as grievous for Israel as the day on which the golden calf was made, since the Torah could not be accurately translated.”

The meaning of this statement can be appreciated by comparing it to another case in the Talmud where the same expression is used. In the tractate of Shabbos 17a, the Talmud relates how once the students of Bais Shammai (the house of Shammai) outnumbered Bais Hillel. Different questions of Torah law were discussed. “On that day Hillel sat submissive before Shammai, like one of the disciples, and it was grievous to Israel as the day the golden calf was made.”

In this context, we see that the expression “as grievous to Israel...” is not a sign of total condemnation. Shammai was a great sage. He had received, together with Hillel, the teachings of the masters Shemayah and Avtalyon. Furthermore, the students of Hillel would also mention the opinion of Bais Shammai before their own opinion (Eruvin 13b). In view of Shammai’s stature, it is obvious that the intent behind the statement could not be totally pejorative.

This interpretation is further emphasized by Rashi’s commentary that explains that the grievousness of that day resulted from the submission of Hillel who was a Nassi (leader of the Jewish people) and a humble person. This statement also prevents us from interpreting the statement about the day the golden calf was made as a total condemnation. King David and King Yehoshafat both showed great honor and respect to the Torah, irregardless of their own high position. Likewise, despite his humility, Hillel would not have submitted to Shammai if by doing so he would have diminished the honor of the Torah. In that light, the submission of Hillel does not appear to have the negative connotation attributed to the golden calf.

The explanation of the above demands a precise interpretation of the Talmud’s phraseology. The day the golden calf was made did not in itself represent a calamity for the Jewish people. The golden calf was made on the 16th of Tammuz. Then, Aharon declared, “Tomorrow will be a festival unto G‑d” (Shemos 32:5). He hoped that in the interim the Jewish people would do Teshuvah or Moshe would return (note Rashi), and in fact the next day would be a festival for G‑d.

Hence, “the day of the making of the golden calf” is not at all similar to the day the golden calf was worshipped. On the former date, it was not clear that the golden calf would be worshipped as an idol. In fact, the source for the desire that prompted the Jewish people to ask for the golden calf was legitimate. They thought Moshe had perished and they wanted an intermediary, someone like Moshe, who would help maintain their connection with G‑d.7 [The need for an intermediary is mentioned in the Torah (Devorim 5:24). There, the Torah relates how at the time of the Giving of the Torah the Jewish people asked Moshe “You go near, and hear all that the L‑rd our G‑d shall say; and speak to us...and we will hear and do it.” “And the L‑rd heard the voice of your words” and responded “all that they have spoken was well said. Oh that they had such a heart as this...forever.” Moshe had served in this role and his absence caused the Jewish people to look for a replacement.]

However, despite the possibilities for good that existed, the day that the golden calf was made represented a difficult challenge. When the Jews did not overcome the challenge, a grievous sin resulted.8

Within this context, we can understand the comparison of the translation of the Torah into Greek to “the day the golden calf was made.” The Talmud explains that it is impossible to translate the Torah in a complete manner. Hence, the translation represented a challenge. The translation allowed for the possibility of misunderstanding and eventually to the denial of G‑d’s Oneness. For example, the very first statement of the Torah “Bereishis Borah Elokim” could be translated as “Bereishis (the beginning) created G‑d.” Therefore, when the sages translated the Torah for Ptolemy they changed the text to read “G‑d created in the beginning.” Just as on the day the golden calf was made, it was possible that either good or bad would result, when the Torah was translated, there were two possibilities. Had the Torah been translated without emendation, the potential to deny G‑d’s Oneness would have arisen. However, the seventy two sages received “Divine inspiration” and were able to compose a translation that did not leave room for such a possibility. Aharon was not able to motivate the Jewish people to overcome the challenge of the golden calf. In contrast the seventy two sages were able, with G‑d’s help, to respond to the challenge they were faced with.

A similar interpretation can explain why the day on which “Hillel sat submissive before Shammai was as grievous to Israel as the day on which the golden calf was made.”

Hillel and Aharon followed similar approaches. Aharon was “a man of kindness.” He “loved peace and pursued peace, loved the creations and brought them close to Torah.”9 He viewed everyone with the perspective of kindness. Hence, even when he saw the Jewish people making the golden calf, he felt that it would bring about “a festival unto G‑d.” Similarly, Hillel’s humility motivated him to descend and approach everyone on their level. He would look at every individual, regardless of his stature, with kindness. What motivated Hillel to this approach? He saw that the soul of every Jew has descended from “a high peak to a deep pit.” Hence, he felt it necessary to bring kindness down to everyone’s level. He followed the principle “educate the child according to his way” i.e. a way that is appropriate and fitting to him.

Shammai, on the other hand, operated from the perspective of truth. That perspective caused him to take the severe opinion. [He would not adapt and relate to a person within the context of his own perspective. Rather, he would force the person to change and adapt his perspective to the truth.] That approach would not allow for the maintenance of the world.

The contrast between these two approaches corresponds with a concept expressed by the Alter Rebbe in the text “Nefesh Hashfelah.” There, he quotes the Midrash which states “truth said do not create (the world), kindness said create” and explains that even if kindness is false, that falsehood is necessary in order to maintain the world.10

According to this principle it would appear that our behavior should follow Hillel’s example. At this point, a question arises. What would happen if it would appear to us that according to the wisdom of Torah, we should follow the opinion of Shammai. To counter such an argument Rashi explains that Hillel possessed two advantages. He was humble, i.e. he followed the approach of Aharon. He was able to descend and relate to each person at his level and perceived that even if a golden calf was made today — “tomorrow” could be a festival to G‑d. Furthermore, he was a Nassi and Halachah followed his opinion. According to the order of creation, his approach was necessary to maintain the world.

The day on which “Hillel sat submissive before Shammai was as grievous to Israel as the day the golden calf was made” because it allowed for the possibility that the following day would follow the same pattern and then the Halachah would be established in a way that the world could not bear. Halachah must be determined by the attribute of kindness (the quality showed by Aharon and Hillel) and the decisions made on that one day reflected the opposite qualities. Hence, that day paralleled “the day the golden calf was made.” A challenge to the proper approach to Halachah was made.11 However, in this case the challenge was overcome, for in the following days the power to establish Halachah was returned to Hillel.

The approach of kindness practiced by Aharon (and also by Hillel) had an effect on the world. Had the Jews not sinned, the following day would have in fact been “a festival for G‑d.”12 Furthermore, Aharon’s approach was able to postpone the sin for one day and allow the Jewish people to complete a full forty day period of G‑d’s “good will” (Rashi Shemos 33:11). Also, it influenced Moshe, whose approach was that of truth (in a manner similar to Shammai), to change his approach and ask G‑d to forgive the Jewish people.

According to the above we can understand why Chassidim cried when they heard the coming of Moshiach is dependent upon the service of spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus into the outer reaches. That service represents a tremendous challenge. Therefore, they cried. However, through this service, “a holiday for G‑d” was brought about. It was successful and caused an increase in holiness. Similarly, the Previous Rebbe’s efforts in translating the teachings of Chassidus into “seventy languages” represented a severe challenge. It too succeeded and brought about a “holiday for G‑d.”

The above must produce a practical lesson. We must work to “spread the wellsprings of Chassidus outwards.” We must look at every Jew, even one who is estranged from his Jewish heritage, just as Aharon viewed the Jewish people at the time of the making of the golden calf. This service will bring about the coming of Moshiach who will redeem us and “lead us upright to our land” in the near future.

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3. Trans. note: The Rebbe Shlita mentioned the custom among Chassidim to study each week the Ma’amarim in Torah Or and Likkutei Torah that are included under the heading of the weekly portion. The Rebbe stressed the importance of that custom, advising that one should try to learn as much of “the Chassidishe parshah” (Torah Or & Likkutei Torah) as possible weekly, with learning at least a few lines in depth.