Day 49 of the Omer

עֶרֶב חַג הַשָּׁבוּעוֹת תּקנ"ז אָמַר רַבֵּנוּ הַזָּקֵן תּוֹרָה: וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם הַיּוֹם וּמָחָר גוֹ'. וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם הַיּוֹם וּמָחָר זֶהוּ מִלְמַעְלָה, אֲבָל וְכִבְּסוּ שִׂמְלוֹתָם דאָס דאַרף מעֶן אַלֵיין. דאָס אִיז געֶוועֶן דִי גאַנצעֶ תּוֹרָה. דעֶר צֶמַח צֶדֶק האָט מְבַאֵר געֶוועֶן: וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם אִיז געֶזאָגט געֶוואָרן צוּ מֹשֶׁה'ן, אוּן אִתְפַּשְׁטוּתָא דְמֹשֶׁה בְּכָל דָרָא וְדָרָא, וואָס זֵיי קעֶנעֶן הֵיילִיג מאַכעֶן דעֶם הַיינט אוּן דעֶם מאָרגעֶן, אָבּעֶר מְ'דאַרף דעֶרצוּ וְכִבְּסוּ שִׂמְלוֹתָם — לְבוּשֵׁי מַחֲשָׁבָה דִּבּוּר וְמַעֲשֶׂה, וואָס דאָס דאַרף מעֶן אַליין.

On the eve of Shavuos, 5557 (1797), the Alter Rebbe delivered a teaching [on G‑d’s command to Moshe Rabbeinu a few days before the people were to receive the Torah]:1 “You shall sanctify them today and tomorrow [and they shall launder their garments].” He said: “‘You shall sanctify them today and tomorrow’ is granted from above, but ‘launder[ing one’s] garments’ must be done on one’s own.”

That was the entire teaching. The Tzemach Tzedek pointed out that the command “you shall sanctify” was directed to Moshe. Now, there is “an extension of Moshe in every generation”2 — [and these tzaddikim in every generation] have the power to sanctify one’s today and tomorrow. In addition, however, “they [i.e., the people at large] must launder their garments” — that is, the [soul’s] garments — thought, speech, and action.3 And this, every individual must do himself.4

Living as a Chassid

The festival of Shavuos commemorates both the Giving of the Torah by G‑d and the receiving of the Torah by the Jewish people. And each year on the holiday, we relive both elements.

The above teaching speaks of the preparation we must make in order to receive the Torah, and how even then, we get help from Above. Ultimately, however, to receive the Torah, a person himself must change. He cannot remain on his accustomed level, but must refine his conscious thoughts, his speech, and his actions — the elements of his personality that are under his control. This prepares him for the leap forward he must make to accept G‑d’s Torah.

This task of refinement — of laundering our soul-garments — depends on our own initiative.5 Hence, as the Rebbe Rayatz relates in the sichah that relays the above teaching, when the chassidim heard this charge from the Alter Rebbe, it continued to motivate them throughout the entire festival. It demanded action. They did not break down in tears; the chassidim of that generation did not conceive of tears as genuine avodah. Instead, they set about refining their actual conduct, monitoring and upgrading their thought, speech, and action.