The Parallel Between Yud-Tes Kislev and Circumcision

Among the concepts which my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, shared with regard to Yud-Tes Kislev is the following:1Yud Kislev marks the birth of a chassid, and Yud-Tes Kislev is the bris (circumcision).”

The connection between Yud-Tes Kislev and a bris can be understood based on the concept that the mitzvah of circumcision contains three dimensions:2

a) the actual act of circumcision cutting the foreskin;

b) the fact that as a result, a person remains circumcised;

c) that he is no longer uncircumcised.

As explained, the realization of only two of these dimensions is not enough; the halachah requires that all three be completed. These three dimensions have parallels in our Divine service. “Being circumcised” refers to our efforts to “do good,”3 revealing and expressing the good which every Jew possesses. “Not being uncircumcised” refers to “turning away from evil,” not being under the authority of “the uncircumcised one,” i.e., the yetzer hora.4 And both these dimensions must come through effort as alluded to by the act of circumcision itself.

These concepts enable us to appreciate the statement of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, that “Yud-Tes Kislev is the bris.” Yud-Tes Kislev is the time when the teachings of Chassidus emerged victorious and were “redeemed in peace.”5 It is the Rosh HaShanah of Chassidus.6 And thus, each of the three dimensions of the mitzvah of circumcision reflects a fundamental thrust in the teachings of Chabad Chassidus.

Chabad Chassidus mandates that all the good which a Jew achieves be accomplished through toil. No one should be satisfied with good that comes effortlessly. To cite a well-known story:7 A chassid once came to the Tzemach Tzedek and asked him to bless his grandson with a good memory. He asked that the child “remember everything he sees and hears from the Rebbe and the chassidim, so that without effort he will be G‑d-fearing.”

The Tzemach Tzedek answered him: “For 50 years, my grandfather (the Alter Rebbe) and my father-in-law (the Mitteler Rebbe) have worked so that Chassidim will come to the fear of G‑d through painstaking toil, and not merely achieve fear of G‑d effortlessly.”

This is the fundamental difference between Chabad Chassidus and the Chassidic approaches prevalent in Poland.8 Chabad holds that it is not enough to rely on the Divine service of the tzaddik , expecting his service to elevate his followers. Instead, everyone should and must toil in his Divine service with strenuous physical and spiritual effort, as it is written:9 “Man is born to toil.” This parallels the act of circumcision.

Chassidus requires that Yiddishkeit and Torah be spread everywhere, and that efforts be made on behalf of our fellow Jews. As the Rebbe Rashab stated:10 “A chassid is one who commits himself to seek out his colleague’s welfare.” This is the parallel to being circumcised in our Divine service.

Frequently, circumcision is associated with the heart,11 the seat of our emotions. Our hearts should be circumcised, i.e., they should be permeated by good. The good each of us possess will then be revealed, and we will show concern for the welfare of all Jews.

One of the objectives of Chassidus is the altering of the natural thrust of our emotions. As the Alter Rebbe stated:12 “The entire motive of Chassidus is to change the nature of one’s emotional qualities.” This rising above one’s natural, inborn tendencies is the parallel to not being uncircumcised.

An Inner Bond

Another fundamental concept associated with circumcision is that the holiness of the soul the connection a Jew shares with G‑d enters the body and is internalized through this mitzvah. Therefore the Alter Rebbe rules13 that the mitzvah of circumcision marks “the entry [i.e., an internalized connection] of the holy soul” into the body of a Jewish child. For this reason, from circumcision onward, a child is assured a portion in the World to Come.14

This is also one of the fundamental dimensions of the Chabad approach; Chabad requires an inner bond.15 The three dimensions of Divine service alluded to by the mitzvah of circumcision must not be observed in a merely superficial manner, empowered by our potential of faith, but instead must be internalized. First, they must permeate the intellectual powers chochmah, binah, and daas of the G‑dly soul and ultimately, they must permeate the intellectual powers of the animal soul, and even our brains, the physical organ associated with thought. This reflects the entry of the soul of holiness into the physical body, and the subsequent inner bond.

First Stages

The bris is only the beginning of the connection between the G‑dly soul and material existence. Nevertheless, based on our Sages’ statement,16 “All beginnings are difficult,” it is possible to explain that the soul’s first entry into the body confers additional power, and affords an advantage17 not present in the more developed stages of the soul’s entry that accompany a child’s education in Torah and mitzvos. Indeed, it surpasses even the complete entry of the soul that takes place at the time of a child’s Bar Mitzvah.

May it be G‑d’s will that the days preceding Yud-Tes Kislev, which represent birth and the preparation for the bris, serve to prepare us to study Chassidus and follow the paths of Chassidus, and to do this with happiness and gladness of heart.

(Adapted from a letter from Yud-Beis Kislev and Sichos Yud-Tes Kislev, 5722)

Hearing A Child’s Cry

Everything which takes place is ordained by Divine providence.18 The present year marks 15019 years since the passing of the Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad -Lubavitch approach. Indeed, the dinner of Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim is being held on his yahrzeit, 24 Teves. 20 Surely his life can provide us with a lesson in our Divine service.

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, who transplanted the Lubavitcher yeshivos to America and established them in this country, related many stories about the Alter Rebbe. I would like to choose one which I feel is appropriate for this gathering. This story is characteristic of the approach of Chabad- Lubavitch, and reveals its fundamental thrusts.

At one point, the Mitteler Rebbe the Alter Rebbe’s son and eventual successor was living with his father in the same home. The Mitteler Rebbe lived on the ground floor, and the Alter Rebbe on the second storey. Together with the Mitteler Rebbe lived his family, including one very young infant.

Once, while the Mitteler Rebbe was studying, the infant fell out of his crib and began to cry. The Mitteler Rebbe was so absorbed in his studies that he did not hear the child at all and continued studying without interruption.

Although he lived on the second storey, and was also absorbed in study, the Alter Rebbe heard the child crying. He went downstairs, put the child back in his crib, and calmed him.

Afterwards, the Alter Rebbe admonished his son, the Mitteler Rebbe, explaining that one should never be so absorbed in one’s studies that one cannot hear a child’s cry.

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, expanded on this story, teaching that however deeply one is absorbed in study, prayer, or the performance of positive activities, one must always have an ear open to the cries of a Jewish child. And one must interrupt one’s studies and one’s prayer to soothe the child. Regardless of how important one’s own concerns are, when a Jewish child crys out, one must listen, put one’s own concerns aside and find a way to still the child’s cry.

Times of Spiritual Thirst

This story provides us with a lesson relevant to the present time, and the task facing us. In the last years, one can see Jews and in particular, Jewish children awakening to their heritage and beginning to search for Yiddishkeit. This awakening is felt among 18-year-olds and 20-year-olds, and to a larger extent among 13-year-olds and even younger children. Moreover, young couples with children of four and five have been stirred with a desire to have their little ones experience Yiddishkeit. Furthermore, there is a desire finally, they have realized the truth to give their children genuine Yiddishkeit, not a watered-down version filled with compromises.

Therefore, our obligation has become even stronger. We must provide children with an education based entirely on our Torah, the Torah of life, which brings energy and vitality into our day-to-day experience. The story related above teaches us that regardless of what a Jew is doing and surely Jews are involved in good and important matters, be they associated with earning a livelihood or other things nothing takes priority over the desires and cries of Jewish children seeking a Jewish education. Dealing with this problem and involving oneself in this task is of preeminent importance.

We must strain ourselves to establish and maintain the schools, yeshivos, and chederim which provide children with a genuine Jewish education. We must aim to accommodate the maximum number of children possible. This is painfully necessary, because there are children who are being left in the street because yeshivos do not have the means to open new classes or hire new instructors.

Being Sensitive to the Unuttered Cry

There are, unfortunately, Jewish homes in which the children do not feel a lack, and therefore are not crying. Relating to these children demands a far greater commitment, for the very fact that they are not aware of the need to cry shows how dire is their need of a genuine Jewish education.

This is one of the missions which yeshivos must accept. They must be prepared to enroll children from every sector of the Jewish community, without differentiating between those who come from a home where it is realized that something is lacking, and those who come from homes in which they do not feel a need to cry at all.

Every child, regardless of his background, must be given the most complete Jewish education possible. This will insure that he proceeds down the path of life, happy and satisfied, in material as well as in spiritual concerns.

No Man is an Island

There is another lesson that can be derived from the above story. We have just begun a new year. The new child i.e., the world in this new year appears to have fallen from its cradle; things have gone off track, and it is not known how to correct the situation. This applies with regard to relations between nations, with regard to relations between different sectors of the populace, and with regard to the use of the potential mankind possesses to build the world and make it a better place, instead of destroying things and making the situation worse.21

The above story provides us with an approach that can be applied to forestall two fundamental errors. Firstly, there are times when a person thinks that since he is busy with his own concerns, he needn’t get involved with the world around him, particularly in developments that concern other countries. Today, we see how impractical such an isolationist approach is, and how events that take place in a far-away corner of the world affect everyone’s life, and indeed even one’s personal affairs.

Secondly, a person may look at the situation and despair, wondering “What can I do? How can I change anything”?

This is a wrong tack. The truth is that everyone can bring about change. As explained in the Talmud, in the Rambam s writings,22 and in subsequent works, when a person generates light true light, the light of the Torah and its mitzvos in his own corner of the world, G‑d assures us that the light will spread. Not only will a person’s own life be better and easier, but he will be doing his part in shouldering the burden of the world at large, and bringing it closer to the path of righteousness, justice, good, and holiness. These positive efforts will weaken those forces which lead the world away from peace, away from growth and development, and away from good.

First and foremost in these efforts must be the campaign to strengthen genuine Jewish education for Jewish children wherever they may be found, and in this way, spread the light of the Torah and its mitzvos the lamp of mitzvah and the light of Torah.23 And we have G‑d’s promise that these endeavors will bring good to all those involved.

And these efforts will strengthen the power of good in the world, leading to their ultimate victory the time when the entire Jewish people will merit the coming of Mashiach , who will take the Jews and the entire world out of exile, and bring the true and complete Redemption.

May G‑d grant His blessings to enable us to carry out the above activities in good health, with happiness and gladness of heart. And these blessings will intensify our efforts, enabling them to be carried out on a much greater scale.

This is absolutely necessary. No matter how much larger we make yeshivos, there will always be more children to fill the study halls and classrooms. And this will increase the success of these activities and amplify G‑d’s blessings.

(Adapted from an address to the supporters of
Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim, Lubavitch, 4 Cheshvan, 5723)