1. This farbrengen is connected with a Yahrzeit. On that occasion the soul of the departed ascends to a level higher than its previous station. This ascent, in turn, helps elevate all of those who through learning his Torah (and or at least through hearing about the soul’s life and achievements) share a connection with him.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything we see or hear has to have a lesson for us in the service of G‑d. The Jew’sultimate purpose in life is to serve G‑d. We can accept this not only from the standpoint of faith but also with understanding. When a Jew considers the purpose of his existence, he understands that he should use his life for something more than eating and drinking (even when the eating and drinking is done in a Kosher manner). He feels that a man, (and surely a Jew) should not content himself with that as a goal. He appreciates that the purpose of his creation is to in some way make the world better than it was before. The Torah serves as a guide, teaching us what should be achieved, how it can be achieved, and what pitfalls one must be wary of. By following its directions, the world will become better, finer, and more beautiful than before. The very word “Torah” means lesson. Torah serves as a light, illuminating the path of a Jew, showing him his mission and how to carry it out, making him aware that he was sent on the mission by G‑d Himself.

Since the world was created by G‑d and is controlled by G‑d, of follows that every Jew is able to carry out the Torah mission he is charged with. G‑d who controls the world, would not demand a mission to be completed unless He had given the full potential for it to be carried out. The challenges we are faced with are merely trials, tests for us to prove ourselves to be a “wise and understanding nation.” G‑d wants us to appreciate, from our own perspective, the need to look into Torah and the Shulchan Aruch for direction on how to guide our daily lives. We are not forced to accept that perspective. We have been given free choice. However, when we intelligently evaluate what takes place in the world around us, and when we look for the soul of everything, and likewise when we see what our own soul demands, we will channel our behavior according to the directives of the soul.

The above holds true when we gather together (particularly when the purpose of that gathering is connected with a Yahrzeit).1 We must recall the departed person’s life, what he went through and what he accomplished, the activities he carried out and their effects; including those effects which continue today.

The basis of the lesson is the Talmudic statement “Ya’akov, our forefather, did not die. Just as his descendents are living, he, too, is alive.” When we see that even after his passing an individual’s efforts are still producing fruit (and that the present products will themselves produce more) then we see a true sign of life. He is truly “alive.” In Rav Levi’s case, his life was directed towards performing good deeds, and even now those efforts are still producing good deeds. Therefore, he can truly be considered alive.

When Jews gather together in connection with this Yahrzeit, each one will strengthen his colleagues, and they will together make new decisions that will bring about more good deeds according to the Torah’s guidelines. These activities will in turn bring about peace in the world — peace between each individual’s G‑dly soul and animal soul, peace between all things that are in conflict. Then, through the transformation of darkness into light, we will be able to serve G‑d with both our desires — both body and soul. Even the body and material things will follow the directives of the soul and spirituality. In fact, this is the only way to achieve true happiness. There is no way the soul can give in to the body for an extended period of time, and be happy. The soul is a “part of G‑d from above.” Just as G‑d is eternal, so is the part of G‑d in every Jewish soul.2 Therefore, even though momentarily the Jew may make concessions to his Yetzer Hora, even allow it to gain control, his true desire is only to carry out G‑d’s will. This is the only path to true joy.

When we show our love for G‑d he will respond with love for every Jew. This is particularly appropriate at the present time — only a few days before the month of Elul. The name “Elul” is a Hebrew acronym for the words which mean, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Our service in this month prepares us to be inscribed for a good and healthy year, a year in which Moshiach will come and lead us to the complete and ultimate redemption.

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2. The Previous Rebbe instituted the custom of learning daily a section from the Torah portion of the week. Each Torah portion is divided into seven aliyahs and each aliyah is studied on the corresponding day of the week.3 This custom is connected with the Alter Rebbe’s statement “one must live with the ‘times’ — with the Torah portion of the week.” In this manner each day becomes full with life, for the Torah is the source of true life.

The aliyah connected with today begins with a description of the ultimate perfection in creation — “the place in which G‑d chose to let His name dwell,” — the place where G‑d chose to reveal G‑dliness, holiness, and miracles. In general this refers to Jerusalem, more particularly to the Bais Hamikdosh. Then the verse continues describing the offering of the sacrifices and the subsequent rejoicing together with one’s family. The day of offering a sacrifice was considered a Yom Tov for every Jew. It brought him great joy,4 which was enhanced by the fact that he could sit together with his family, his, sons and daughters.

This concept can be applied to the present occasion. Many Jewish children have assembled here. They possess great powers, as the Psalms proclaim, “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, You have established the strength to destroy your enemies and those who seek revenge.” Now in various circumstances throughout the world, particularly in Israel and Jerusalem, the Jews need special blessings from G‑d. These blessings must be given in full measure, free from difficulties and bring true joy.

Therefore, it is appropriate that the children recite the Twelve Verses of Torah and Statements from our Sages. This will thwart the plans of our enemies and hasten the future redemption. Then we will proceed with “our youth and our elders, our sons, and our daughters” with true joy to Jerusalem and to the Bais Hamikdosh.

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On many occasions, the great quality possessed by young children’s study of Torah is lauded. The Talmud explains, “theirs is a voice untainted by sin.” In that connection, the Talmud continues, “one should not interrupt the study of younger children even to help in the building of the Bais Hamikdosh.” Even though G‑d’s presence is revealed in the Bais Hamikdosh, there is something even more important that that — the study of younger children. How can that be? How can anything be more important than establishing a resting place for G‑d? Why shouldn’t the younger children leave their studies and try to help in the effort?

However, the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh has to be in a manner that G‑d wants, that will befit “My resting place.” Therefore, when erecting the sanctuary in the desert, Moshe Rabbeinu prayed, “May it be G‑d’s will that the Shechinah on the York of our hands.” Building the Bais Hamikdosh means building “the sanctuary of G‑d, established by Your hands” — the study of Torah by young children brings about spiritual influences that are necessary for the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh. In order that the Bais Hamikdosh be elevated to the highest degree possible, it is better that younger children learn Torah and not help build the Bais Hamikdosh. The spiritual power brought about through their study will bring about a greater revelation of G‑d’s presence.

In this vein, the Previous Rebbe spoke at great length about how counselors and teachers have to provide a living example of how to behave in our daily life for Torah, is “the Torah of life and Torah of truth.” By providing this example of living by Torah law, they will influence the children to “speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk in the road, when you lie down and when you arise.” This will negate all obstacles to the building of the Bais Hamikdosh, for “out of the mouths of babes...you established strength...there is no strength other than Torah.

The power of children’s Torah study is further explained in the Midrash, which states that when “the doors of the shuls and the houses of study were locked and an attempt was made to prevent Jewish children from learning Torah, Isaiah the prophet5 replied that he would not be fazed, become sad or depressed. Rather, he declared “I and the children, who G‑d gave me to be signs and wonders in Israel” will together insure the maintenance of Torah.

Likewise, today there are those who lock the doors of the shuls and the houses of study. They don’t let the shuls stay open, they don’t let Jews daven inside of them in a manner that G‑d wants. They also close the houses of study and prevent children from learning Torah in a manner that leads to Torah’s complete fulfillment: Torah study based on the love of G‑d and fear of G‑d.

Those Jewish children who attend public schools are allowed only one hour of Torah study a week. Now there is a Jew who is not embarrassed to say that he wants to take this opportunity away from those children. We need not worry. His opinions have no chance of success, may he do Teshuvah soon.6 However, we must realize that the Jewish education of every Jewish child is of the most importance. It will effect his children and his children’s children. May it be G‑d’s will that all those who have entered their children in public schools, where they can receive only one hour of Jewish education a week, should realize their bitter mistake. Without waiting for next year, they should immediately place their children in schools where Torah is taught with the fear of G‑d.

In this way, all the decrees will be negated. When a child says “Shema Yisroel,” he says it with a full heart. Eventually, this will cause his mother and father to send him to a camp or school where he can learn about Judaism and live Judaism “when he sits at home and when walking on the way” — the way through Golus. Even in this double darkness he will have “a candle lit over his head” illuminating his way and the way for his parents and for the entire world around him.

Then, just as in the redemption from Egypt the children recognized G‑d first, proclaiming “this is my G‑d and I will glorify him,” so too may “the children whom G‑d has given me” negate all the efforts of those who close shuls and houses of study (including those shuls and houses of study that are open but pray and teach in a manner that conflicts with G‑d’s will as expressed in Shulchan Aruch) and then may the prophecy “the shuls and houses of study of the Golus will be (transplanted and) fixed in the land of Israel” be fulfilled with the Messianic redemption, speedily in our days.

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3. The power of Jewish children is also connected with the statement of the Midrash, “if there are no kids, there will be no goats.” However, in order to have “kids”) (young children involved in Torah study) it is necessary to have “goats” (scholars) who can give them an education and ingrain an attribute of Mesirus Nefesh (complete self-sacrifice) into them.7

In Russia when the government closed shuls and houses of study, there were many “goats” (mature scholars) who sacrificed their lives for Yiddishkeit, specifically to insure that shuls and houses of study be kept open. They looked beyond their own cities and saw to it that work should proceed in the surrounding areas. They searched for and trained others to carry on the effort, each one in his own place. In this way, they effected children, and through the children, their parents. They were subjected to tortures and persecutions. The Talmud comments that had Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah been whipped they might have bowed down to the idol; i.e., they were able to withstand a challenge of one moment, but a prolonged test might have broken their resolve. Nevertheless, the Jews of Russia have withstood this challenge for over sixty years.

There are some Jews who have left Russia, who are considered by G‑d to have completed their task of refinement. Their living example of upholding Yiddishkeit is no longer necessary there are they have been allowed to come to a place where it is easier to live a Jewish life without such challenges. Some of them are living in Israel, some elsewhere, some here in the U.S., attending this farbrengen. They are living wonders, the products of the “goats,” Rabbis and community leaders (including Rav Levi Yitzchok) who sacrificed their lives to uphold and strengthen Yiddishkeit.

Their activity continues to bear fruit. Today we see children and grandchildren emerging from Russia who follow Torah. For them, this gathering has a particular meaning. They have the opportunity to witness how Yiddishkeit continues to grow, how today’s youth are more committed to true Yiddishkeit. They will communicate these feelings to their family, friends, and associates who are still in Russia. This knowledge will, in turn, strengthen their Yiddishkeit and encourage them in their tasks of refinement. They will provide living examples of Russian Jews, who in their everyday lives, live as Jews in the full definition of the word, studying Torah and fulfilling Mitzvos. This behavior will lead to success in material things as well. They will enjoy health, together with children and grandchildren — sharing good long lives.

This farbrengen was held in memory of a Jew who sacrificed his life to uphold Torah and spread Yiddishkeit. He has remained there in Russia with a portion of his followers.8 May they be redeemed, and then with the rebirth of the dead, whom he will join, may he proceed to Israel in the ultimate and complete redemption.

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4. To add to the joy of the present occasion, it is customary to conclude a tractate of the Talmud. Such events are customarily celebrated with happiness. This is particularly true when the tractate chosen shares a connection with the subject of a Tzaddik’s Yahrzeit. Some tractates end with the statement “Torah Sages have no rest — not in this world and not in the next, as it is written ‘They should proceed from strength to strength...’“ The tractate Ta’anis also concludes with a statement relevant to the passing of a Tzaddik: “In the future G‑d will make a dance for Tzaddikim and he will sit among them in Gan Eden...”

The tractate of Ta’anis is particularly appropriate for tonight’s occasion. It has a connection with the month of Av, and mentions today’s date, the 20th of Av, explicitly in reference to the wood offerings and also describes the tremendous rejoicing held on the 15th of Av. That rejoicing is the subject of the final Mishnah of the tractate that declares, “In Israel, there were never greater days of joy than Yom Kippur and the 15th of Av.” The Talmud comments on that statement: “The greatness of Yom Kippur is understandable, since then our sins are forgiven. However, what constitutes the unique importance of the 15th of Av?” In reply, the Talmud brings a number of answers.9 Each of these answers (as listed below) brings out and emphasizes the unity of the Jewish people: The reasons the Talmud gives are:

1) The tribes were allowed to marry among each other — showing how the entire Jewish people are one entity.

2) The tribe of Benjamin was allowed to marry women from other tribes. Even though Benjamin had been excluded from intermarrying among the tribes for a valid reason, they were later allowed to intermarry as an expression of the oneness of the Jewish people. This return emphasized how the absence of one tribe did not effect that tribe alone, but rather detracted from the completion of the entire Jewish people.

3) The Jews of the “generation of the desert” ceased to die on that date. Before then, there was a difference made between the generation destined to die in the desert and the generation that was allowed to enter Israel. After the decree was lifted, no such distinction separated one Jew from another.10

4) On that date, prophecy returned to Moshe — during the entire period of the decree, Moshe did not receive any prophecies, despite his own level of refinement,11 as G‑d said to Moshe, “I gave you greatness only for Israel.”12

5) Hoshea ben Elah removed the guards which Yeroboam ben Nevat had placed on the roads to prevent the people of the Kingdom of Israel from making the pilgrimage to the Bais Hamikdosh on festivals. This act broke the barriers separating the two kingdoms.

6) The dead of Betar were allowed to be buried. This showed peace and unity not only among the Jews who are living but also among those Jews who had departed from their physical existence. This unity is connected with burial. “The return to dust” prepares the soul for the rebirth of the dead, uniting it with all the other people who will then arise.

Furthermore, the destruction of the people of Betar came as a result of their sin of rejoicing over the destruction of Jerusalem — an act opposite to the concept of oneness. The granting of permission for the burial of Betar’s dead showed that their sin had been expiated and unity restored to the Jewish people.

7) The completion of the chopping of wood for the altar (see the translation of the farbrengen of the 15th of Av) also brought out the theme of oneness. On the 15th of Av, wood was gathered for all the communal sacrifices of the Jewish people and many of the individual offerings.

8) Also on the 15th of Av “the Priests, Levites, and all those who had forgotten their tribe” joined the family of Zattu ben Yehuda in bringing the wood offering. This grouping was also a sign of oneness.

This emphasis on unity is connected with the statement “from this day, on all who increase their Torah study will have their lives increased.”13 The study of Torah brings about unity among the Jewish people. There are differences between Jews regarding the performance of mitzvos. Some mitzvos are reserved only for priests and others for kings alone. However there is “one Torah for all of us.” In that realm, there is no difference among Jews. Every Jew is obligated to study the same Torah.

Furthermore, the entire Torah is united and interrelated. The Rogatchover Gaon illustrated this concept through the Talmud’s comment on the verse “the soul of the laborer, labors for him” — when one studies in one place, the Torah works for him in another.” Suddenly, in the midst of one concept, it is possible to gain an insight into a seemingly unrelated idea. Why is this possible? Because in fact, the entire Torah is inter-connected. The same principle applies to the statement of Rav Saadia Gaon “all of the mitzvos are included in the Ten Commandments.”

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5. It is customary on a Yahrzeit to quote some of the Torah of the person who has passed away. The Talmud recalls that Rav Yochanan became angry when he saw his student expounding Torah without quoting him. Others noticed his agitation and calmed him, explaining, “Since he is your student, everyone knows that everything he says is from you.” The same applies in our case, since in fact not only am I his student but also his son. Obviously everything I say is his. Nevertheless, it is proper to expound some of his Torah. (Translator’s note: The Rebbe Shlita then elaborated on one of his father’s interpretations of the Zohar).

6. Now is the time to speak about practical action. What can we learn from Rav Levi Yitzchok in regards to our behavior? Rav Levi sacrificed his life for the Jewish people. He remained in Golus with them. His example shows that we must be conscious of the needs of everyone. Similarly, rather than running away first, and leaving his students and followers behind, the Previous Rebbe in World War II had to be forced, against his will, to leave his followers. When he did leave, he came to America and immediately began to show that “America is not different.” Through his efforts he opened the way, making it easier for others.14

At that time, there were certain leaders who fled, leaving their students behind. These same individuals are now in power in Israel. Their decisions are endangering the future of the entire Jewish nation. There, the situation can be described as one of Pikuach Nefesh, threat to life. In such a case, the opinion of Rav Yosef Karo is clear. Arms must be taken up and the land defended. In such cases, Torah laws requires judgments to be made by experts in that particular field. In the present matter, giving land is directly against the opinion of all the military experts. How can these “leaders” ignore this threat. It is only because of bribery. Everyone knows that they have received money. Surely, they used it in a Kosher manner. Still Shulchan Aruch would label this as bribery and make those individuals unfit to render judgment.

Why do I shout out? I don’t know if shouting out will help. However, I am not shouting out because of an intellectual reason, but because it hurts. Someone asked me why don’t you consider so and so’s opinion or the idea of so and so? I answered that my basic childhood training taught me that when it comes to a question of a threat of life, one cannot be silent. The Shulchan Aruch clearly states that in a question of life one cannot be silent. G‑d helped me, without my own choice or will to be the first born of a father who was the Chief Rabbi of Yakatrinaslov. In those days many of the replies and debates had to be held in the Russian language and I was given the responsibility of dealing with those matters. Then, sixty-five years ago, I was trained not to relax, and wait to be addressed with titles of honor. To sit quietly — I don’t hold from such behavior. I cannot hold from that. I was not trained or brought up in that manner. I will remain true to that training. When a question of threat of life is brought up, I cannot remain silent (even when I know that afterwards so and so will tell Lashon Hora (slander and gossip) about me). I refuse to change the approach that my father and father-in-law left me. I will not take into account the dishonor received or even the harsh decrees of the Gentiles.

People ask: Why do I get involved with Gentiles? The answer is: I follow the Previous Rebbe’s example. He could have shunned involvement with non-Jews (and with Jews who behave as non-Jews). He could have locked himself up and learned with his family or small group of followers. Or he could have ran away as others did (who did so without embarrassment and by doing so lead others to make the same mistake). However, the Previous Rebbe didn’t leave Russia until the Russians forced him to do so by imprisoning him and all those who came into contact with him. At that point, he could no longer spread Torah and was forced to leave. Furthermore, even after he left he maintained contact with those who had remained. By doing so, he brought up hundreds of Jews who follow Torah and Mitzvos with Mesirus Nefesh for Yiddishkeit. He was not afraid of non-Jews, of Jews that behaved like non-Jews or the Yetzer Hora, the non-Jew within our hearts.

Practically a lesson can be taken from the fact that Rav Levi Yitzchok lived and remained in Golus (Exile). The Talmud explains that Golus is more difficult than death.15 His life is a lesson even for those Jews who are found in countries of freedom where no obstacles stand against their study of Torah and fulfillment of Mitzvos (on the contrary, they receive honor for such efforts). Despite the opportunity they should “exile themselves to a place of Torah.” Even if we live in a Torah center, we must accept exile. If not, we will not be successful in Torah study.16

There are some individuals to whom this entire concept is foreign. They don’t understand. Their parents are G‑d fearing. They are living in a Torah center. Why should they leave home? On the contrary, they feel they learn better at home.

Nevertheless, Torah says the first step is to leave such an environment. G‑d’s first command to Avraham was “Lech Lecha — Leave your country, your native land, and father’s house.” Chassidic thought explains that “country” refers to our personal will, “native land” to our habits, and “father’s house” to what others have taught us. The first step in Torah is to break our nature — to give up our will. (This does not mean to annihilate our will. On the contrary, the will remains and even becomes stronger, but its basic thrust changes and is directed towards G‑d.) Then we become G‑d’s servants.17 Even though we are living in a generous country, we have to break our nature.18 The Talmud says that breaking one’s nature means that one who is used to learning a concept a hundred times, must learn it one hundred and one times. Not necessarily two hundred times — even one hundred and one is beyond our nature.

This is the lesson from the 20th of Av. Practically this lesson must be actualized through the previously mentioned campaign to increase Torah study.