1. Reason Can Be the Wrong Reason

The1 avodah of Tishrei - both at the beginning of the month, on Rosh HaShanah, and towards the end of the month, on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah - is characterized by kabbalas ol, the unquestioning acceptance of the yoke of heaven.

The prime spiritual task of Rosh HaShanah2 is the fulfillment of G‑d’s request:3 תמליכוני עליכם - “Crown Me as King over yourselves”; i.e., the acceptance of the yoke of G‑d’s sovereignty.

This theme is also prominent in the Sounding of the Shofar, concerning which it is written,4 מצות היום בשופר - “The mitzvah of this day is the Shofar.” For Rambam writes:5 אף-על-פי שתקיעת שופר בראש השנה גזירת הכתוב רמז יש בו - “Even though the Sounding of the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a Scriptural decree, it does contain a hint, namely: ‘Wake up, sleepers, from your slumbers…!’” Is this not problematic?6 If indeed “it does contain a hint,” indicating a comprehensible reason, then how can it be termed “a Scriptural decree”?

The7 mainstay of even those mitzvos that do have a [stated] reason is not the reason but G‑d’s command, the “Scriptural decree”; they are to be observed not as a result of the reason but as a result of kabbalas ol - because this is what G‑d commanded. Maamarim of Chassidus8 give the following illustration: If we had been commanded to chop wood (an activity with neither a reason nor a hint) we would have done it with the same kabbalas ol as we observe all the commandments - because the core of a mitzvah is the fulfillment of G‑d’s will. In the Holy Tongue, מצוה (mitzvah) shares a root with the Aramaic word צוותא (“together”):9 fulfilling G‑d’s will connects the observer of the commandment with the Giver of the commandments.10

One might add that if a person observes a mitzvah only because of its hinted reason, then not only is he left without the core of the mitzvah, but in addition he is left without the hinted reason. He should therefore observe it out of kabbalas ol, as a “Scriptural decree,” and then its hinted reason will also be his.

The same thinking applies to Shemini Atzeres (and Simchas Torah). Since at this time all the spiritual energy evoked by Rosh HaShanah is internalized,11 this is likewise a time which calls for kabbalas ol, the unquestioning acceptance of the yoke of heaven.12

This is reflected in the rejoicing that takes place on those days.13 Though one’s joy is connected with the Torah, which is something to be comprehended intellectually, the prime spiritual task of these days is not profound study, but the joyful dancing that accompanies the Hakkafos. The table that one circles with the Sefer Torah in hand is not a table at which the most erudite sages convene to plumb its scholarly depths: it is the table upon which its plain letters are publicly read. This preference emphasizes that people are now rejoicing not in their comprehension of it, but simply in the holy letters of which it is comprised. And this artless joy is an expression of kabbalas ol.14

2. Off to a Good Start

The avodah of Tishrei begins the avodah of the whole year. Avodah should begin with kabbalas ol, and the kabbalas ol of the beginning of one’s avodah, in the month of Tishrei, sets the tone for one’s avodah throughout the year - so that every one of its aspects, including those involving intellectual comprehension, will echo this tone.

The same is true of every day’s avodah. It begins with Modeh Ani (“I offer grateful acknowledgment to You…”),15 an opening statement of kabbalas ol which sets the tone for one’s avodah throughout the day.

3. Of Sons and Daughters

A similar theme appears in the building of a Jewish home, with the birth of a son or a daughter.16

In the realm of man’s divine service, these two possibilities each “contain a hint.” A daughter hints at avodah marked by kabbalas ol; as the Sages teach,17 “A worthy wife is one who fulfills the will of her husband.” A son hints at avodah steered by reason.

With this in mind we can understand the statement of our Sages,18 בת תחילה סימן יפה לבנים - “A daughter first is a good sign for sons.” Beginning one’s avodah with kabbalas ol (i.e., “a daughter first”) gives an individual the requisite power (“is a good sign”) for avodah steered by reason (“for sons”).19

This perspective also explains the underlying reason for our custom that soon after the birth of a girl, too, the Mi SheBeirach prayer20 requests that her parents be privileged to bring up their newborn daughter לתורה לחופה ולמעשים טובים - “to Torah, to marriage, and to good deeds.”21 For a daughter connotes kabbalas ol, which lends strength to all aspects of one’s Torah and avodah.

4. A True Soldier Has No Head

The theme of kabbalas ol is also dominant in the attitude of a chassid to the Rebbe. When a chassid realizes that he is merely a “foot” whereas the Rebbe is the “head”, he devotes himself utterly to the Rebbe and fulfills his directives with complete kabbalas ol.

But, one might ask, how can one say that the chassid has no head? Doesn’t the Torah command him to put tefillin on his head…?

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], once said:22 “A true soldier has no head. People used to say that a soldier has a head only so that he’ll have some place to hang the belt of his rifle….”

5. A Head is Better at Interceding than a Foot

This theme is also relevant to the writing of a pidyon to the Rebbe.23

There was once a foolish roving emissary who when asked to deliver a pidyon to the Rebbe in his hometown, would refuse. “You’ve got to ask G‑d yourself,” he would explain, “not through intermediaries.”

The truth on this subject is clarified by the Chasam Sofer.24 (In his works, by the way, chassidic insights occasionally surface. After all, he was a leading disciple of R. Nasan Adler, who was a leading disciple of the author of Sefer HaHaflaah, a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch.)

The Chasam Sofer points out that a request by means of angels is regarded as a request through intermediaries, whereas a request by means of Jewish souls - which are superior to angels - is not regarded as a request through intermediaries. Why? “All Jews are partners, one body and one soul. If one Jew is distressed, his fellow Jew feels it and shares his distress…. And since they are both in that state, it is preferable that the head rather than the foot should intercede [to request Divine mercy], for the talmid chacham is, metaphorically, the head….” How much more does this apply to each of the Nesi’im of the Jewish people, “the heads of the multitudes of Israel” - their “head”.25

We can now understand why the principle that26 “the patient’s prayer for himself is preferable to another’s prayer on his behalf” is not relevant here. For this principle relates to another, whereas the Nesi’im of the Jewish people are “the heads of the multitudes of Israel.” Hence their prayer is as acceptable as “the patient’s prayer for himself,” just as the head prays for the foot.

Indeed, their prayer is superior to the patient’s prayer for himself,27 for the Nasi, who is the head, is more aware of the ailment than the ailing foot, for two reasons: (a) the head is superior to the foot because it is the seat of the mind; (b) the foot itself is able to feel the ailment only by virtue of the nervous system based in the brain, which is alone responsible for all sensation.

The above applies only when the individual recognizes that he is a “foot”, and devotes himself completely to the “head” - the Rebbe. If, however, he considers that he, too, has a head, and in this frame of mind he hands his pidyon to the Rebbe, then the question of an intermediary arises. (No such problem arises when he wants to ask advice of the Rebbe, for advice one can ask of any fellow Jew.28 When he comes to give a pidyon, however, the question of an intermediary arises.)

6. The True Will of Every Jew

Everyone present here is no doubt utterly devoted to the Rebbe.

Even those whose devotedness is incomplete are nevertheless utterly devoted to him in their innermost essence; accordingly, all that is needed is a mere statement29 of their intention to be fully devoted. (In this spirit Rambam30 explains the rationale underlying the principle, כופין אותו עד
שיאמר רוצה אני - “[The court] coerces [the defendant] until he says, ‘I am willing.’” His statement (“I am willing”) is meaningful because it matches his true will, which is “to be one of Israel… [and] to fulfill all the commandments….”) Hence the question of an intermediary - even a connecting intermediary - does not arise.

7. It is the Head that Feels the Pain

A chassid’s awareness that he is merely a “foot” whereas the Rebbe is the “head” also affects the manner in which he fulfills the Rebbe’s directives.

If the Rebbe instructs a chassid to do something involving self-denial, or even if he instructs him to invest more time in Torah and prayer in a way that makes him tear himself away somewhat from eating and drinking and sleeping, then even if the chassid fulfills the instruction with kabbalas ol (realizing that the foot should obey the head), the thought might nevertheless occur to him: If the Rebbe knew how difficult it was to fulfill this directive, it could well be that he would not have issued it.

The response to this thought has already been explained (in sec. 5 above): Not only is the head more aware of the ailment than the ailing foot, because it is superior to it, but moreover what the foot feels in basically what the head feels. (Indeed, if the connection between the foot and the head is intercepted, G‑d forbid, the foot feels no pain.) If, therefore, the head commands the foot to put its heel into hot water, then the foot, without a second thought, should obey immediately. It should understand - and this much it is “allowed” to understand… - that the pain is felt by the head.

8. Toward Spiritual and Material Prosperity

Avodah that is prompted only by unreasoning and unquestioning kabbalas ol springs from a narrowly restricted frame of mind: it is an avodah of min hameitzar. And concerning such a frame of mind it is written,31 מן המיצר קראתי י-ה ענני במרחב י-ה - “From out of the narrow straits I called G‑d; with broad and boundless relief G‑d answered me.” By first experiencing the restrictive discipline of kabbalas ol, one then arrives at the broad mindspace of intellectual understanding. Moreover, one ultimately comes to appreciate the lofty worth of kabbalas ol, through which one arrives at true breadth.

This sequence is also true in the material plane.

If it is decreed (G‑d forbid) that a certain individual is to undergo poverty, narrow straits materially, then he ought to accept this lovingly, for in truth32 גם זו לטובה - “This, too, is for the good,” except that “it is not apparent and visible to mortal eyes, for it stems from alma deiskasya, the hidden spiritual world, which is higher than alma deisgalya, the revealed spiritual world,” as is explained in Tanya.33 And if the individual accepts his situation lovingly, out of kabbalas ol, realizing that this is G‑d’s will, then as a matter of course, “with broad and boundless relief G‑d answered me” - visible and manifest good is drawn down upon him.

The teachings of Chassidus offer another piece of advice on how to rid oneself of a decree of material poverty.34 One should contemplate his own spiritual state - how he is remote from G‑dliness and from a grasp of G‑dliness, and so on, until he feels that he is in a state of spiritual poverty. Through this feeling of spiritual poverty he will rid himself of material poverty,35 and material prosperity will be called forth upon him, with visible and manifest good.36