The Rebbe teaches us to regard a birthday as more than a pleasant opportunity to look back on past events. It is a time for introspection,1 an occasion to step back and think about one’s purpose in life and to make resolutions to advance those goals.

When a chassid thinks in such terms, his spontaneous reaction is to look to the Rebbe for guidance. Not that he is shirking the burden of making his own decisions, but by drawing on the power of the Rebbe’s insights, he is able to make wiser and more productive choices for his own future.

The above takes on more significance when a person embarks on a new decade. Again, looking to the Rebbe, we see the Yud-Alef Nissan farbrengens of 5712, 5722, 5732, and 5742, as landmark occasions when the Rebbe spoke about multi-dimensional goals and issues.

In particular, with regard to the attainment of 60, the age which the Mishnah2 describes as the age of sagacity, on Yud-Alef Nissan, 5722, the Rebbe devoted much of the farbrengen to describing the significance of that age.

In an effort to communicate the insights of that farbrengen, we chose three formats:

a) an essay which telescopes several points of the sichos , adapting their form of presentation to one more readily understandable by an American audience. To augment the development of the concepts, we have also added points from the sichos of Yud-Alef Nissan, 5732, and Chof Av, 5740.

b) a Talmudic dissertation. The Rebbe noted that the Talmud mentions Rav Yosef making a feast for scholars on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. Nevertheless, we do not find other Sages marking that occasion in such a fashion, nor is the custom recorded in the Shulchan Aruch or other codes of law. The Rebbe explains why Rav Yosef held such a celebration, and why the other Sages refrained from doing so.

c) a maamar. The Rebbe had the Rebbe Rashab’s maamar Acharei Mos, 5649, published for Yud-Alef Nissan, 5722. That maamar, long a Chassidic classic, had been available previously only in mimeograph, and on the occasion of his birthday, the Rebbe had it formally printed as part of the treasury of Chassidic texts.

At the farbrengen that night, he reviewed that maamar in his own words, adding insights from all the other Rebbeim and appending explanations of the significance of the age of sixty in particular, and of advanced age in general.

The Rebbe explained that our Divine service must be a flux between ratzu, a yearning to come close to G‑d, and shuv, a focus on creating a dwelling for G‑d within the context of our mortal environment. The ratzu should be all-consuming, for the idea that one can come close to G‑d should inspire a person to seek a complete bond.

The shuv which follows should come as a result of a commitment to G‑d’s intent. It should not be that the person’s ratzu is lacking, and therefore he is able to follow it with the grounded approach of shuv. Instead, there should be no limits to the ratzu, and yet, because the person is dedicated to fulfilling G‑d’s will, he is motivated to shuv, and endeavors to fashion a dwelling for Him in this world.

This implies that the person’s ratzu is characterized by bittul, selflessness. The person does not desire closeness with G‑d to satisfy his own personal yearning; he is not concerned with his own self at all. And because he is not concerned with his own self, his ratzu can be followed by shuv.

To illustrate this principle, the Rebbe refers to the Talmud’s description of a mystic experience underwent by Rabbi Akiva and his students. The students all suffered negative consequences. Rabbi Akiva, by contrast, “entered in peace and departed in peace.” He did not seek mystic experience as a goal in its own right, but rather a medium to depart in peace, to enhance his appreciation of his worldly experience.

To explain Rabbi Akiva’s approach, the Rebbe focuses on the instruction he gave his students: “When you reach the stones of pure marble, do not say: “Water, water.’”

The “stones of pure marble,” the Rebbe explains, refer to the parsaos, the dividers that differentiate one realm of existence from another. Such dividers are necessary, for to bring a material realm of existence into being, the higher and more refined planes of existence must be given limits. There is, however, G‑dly influence which flows from the higher levels to the lower ones. Moreover, there is no genuine separation between these realms; the distinctions involve only the externals.

The revelation of G‑dliness in our world is dependent on our Divine service. For the way G‑d responds to man mirrors the way man approaches Him. When man approaches G‑d in a selfless manner, G‑d grants abundant blessings, empowering a person to expand the scope of his service of shuv and fulfill his mission of making the world a dwelling for Him.

May our focus on the Rebbe’s teachings spur us to shoulder the mission which he has charged us: To make ourselves and the world conscious of the Redemption and create an environment where this ideal can be manifest.

Sichos In English

4th Day of Sivan, 5758