1. Standing One’s Ground in Any Shul

[The1 Rebbe turned to address the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah students who were about to set out to conduct Hakkafos in various shuls:] A person arriving in a strange place is not usually as self-assertive as he is at home. With Jews, however, this is not the case. Even now, after the Destruction of the Beis HaMikdash when2 “we were exiled from our land,” Jews staunchly observe the Torah and the mitzvos with self-sacrifice.3

Thus, even when one visits an unfamiliar place without knowing what kind of a shul it is and what kind of people will be encountered there, one should not be fearful of being overwhelmed or influenced by them instead of leaving an imprint on them - for wherever Jews arrive they stand just as firm as they do when on their home ground. In our case this means entering an unfamiliar shul with vigorous self-assurance, just as if one were standing within four cubits of the Rebbe [Rayatz]. This stance makes it possible to influence one’s listeners positively and to bring them close to the Rebbe.

2. When You Grow Up You’ll Understand

In this matter we can gain direction and strength from our reading of Parshas [Zos Ha]Berachah - reading each verse twice in the original and once in Aramaic - on the eve of Simchas Torah.4 (I.e., on Shemini Atzeres in the Diaspora and on Hoshana Rabbah in Eretz Yisrael.]

The parshah begins by saying,5 “This is the blessing with which Moshe… blessed the Children of Israel before his death.”

In truth,6 “Moshe did not die,” for “just as there [i.e., at Mt. Sinai] he stands and serves on high, so too here [i.e., after his passing] he stands and serves on high.”7 Moreover, he stands and serves not only “on high,” but down here as well. As to the phrase, “before his death,” this means, before it could possibly occur to anyone that Moshe died (G‑d forbid).

The Supernal source for such a thought is the role of tzimtzum - G‑d’s seeming self-contraction - in the creation of worlds. By this self-concealment, G‑d left room for mortals to think that He had (G‑d forbid) removed His Being and Essence from the universe. Indeed, he made such a thought possible even for the holy aspect of creation, as in8 “the error of certain scholars… who erred and misinterpreted in their study of the writings of the AriZal, and understood the concept of tzimtzum … literally….” This Divine self-concealment and seeming self-contraction also make it possible for mortals to think that Moshe died (G‑d forbid) and is not to be found here below.

To revert to our text: The above-quoted verse goes on to say that before Moshe’s death (that is, before it could occur to anyone that Moshe died) he said,9 “G‑d came from Sinai10 and shone forth upon them from Seir…; from His right hand came forth a law of fire for them.”

The name Seir is related to the word se’aros (lit., “hair”).11 The life-force which extends into hair is scant; moreover, it is screened by the skull. Nevertheless, [though He “shone forth upon them from Seir,”] “from His right hand came forth a law of fire for them” - G‑d’s benevolence is forthcoming from His wide-open right hand. Though today’s situation reflects the hair-thin rays of Divine light that shine forth from Seir, a law of fire will come forth for them from His right hand: eventually, the generosity of the right vector [of the Sefiros, signifying the divine attribute of Chessed] will become manifest.

This concept gives one the strength to go out to shuls and to explain to the people that one meets there, that in truth Moshe did not die. Nothing has changed; it is only that it has been made possible for one to entertain the thought etc.

If these words are well received, well and good. But what if there are questions and queries?

What happens when a little boy confronts his teacher with a question he can’t answer? The teacher flicks his cheek and says, “When you grow up you’ll understand….” One should borrow this answer for a listener who poses queries: “This is the fact, even if you don’t understand it.”

This evening provides us with a timely model for this concept: Though we hold the Sefer Torah enwrapped in its mantle and cannot see what is written in it, we nevertheless rejoice and dance with it.12

At any rate, it’s about time for the right vector to be revealed. That will save us all the bother of contending with every argument and query.

In similar vein: One erev Shabbos,13 when the Tzemach Tzedek spoke of the imminent coming of Mashiach, one of his listeners asked: “But doesn’t the Gemara14 say that Mashiach won’t come on erev Shabbos?”

The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “When Mashiach comes and provides answers for all the Gemara’s problematic queries, he’ll answer this one, too…!”

[The Rebbe concluded:] May G‑d grant that every one of those who are now going out to shuls bring back with him at least one fellow Jew - here, within the four walls of the Rebbe [Rayatz]. For these walls will eventually be set up in Yerushalayim, in the Beis HaMikdash; as our Sages teach,15 “In the future time, the synagogues and Houses of Study in Babylonia will be established in Eretz Yisrael.” At that time, Yerushalayim will extend over the whole of the Land of Israel, and the Beis HaMikdash will extend over the whole of Yerushalayim.16

3. Spiritual Self-Sacrifice

When a person is working with his fellow Jew with the aim of uncovering the G‑dly soul within him, he should completely set aside himself and all of his concerns, even his holy concerns. This is the meaning of spiritual mesirus nefesh [lit., “foregoing one’s soul”].

This principle is exemplified in the ruling that the mitzvah of circumcision overrides the laws of Shabbos. The Torah states that17 “on the eighth day he shall be circumcised,” and on this the Sages comment,18 “…even on Shabbos.”

By way of comparison, it is not surprising that the laws of Shabbos are overruled by the offering of communal sacrifices.19 After all: (a) these sacrifices are part of the service conducted in the Beis HaMikdash; (b) they serve a communal need. The mitzvah of circumcision, by contrast, has neither of these qualities, yet nevertheless it overrides Shabbos.

This demands explanation. At first glance,20 considering the rule that21 “We do not tell a man, ‘Sin for the good of your friend,’” why should a mohel perform an act which constitutes a desecration of Shabbos for the sake of circumcising an infant?

Indeed, in this case the question is underlined by the contrast between the mohel and the infant. The mohel who is called upon to undertake this desecration of Shabbos is an adult who is obligated by the mitzvos. (One of these mitzvos is the mitzvah of circumcision; for on the words,22 הימול ימול (lit., “he [viz., the uncircumcised bondman] shall indeed be circumcised”), the Sages teach on the non-literal level of derush,23 “only he who is himself circumcised may circumcise.” Moreover, this restriction applies to both stages of the mitzvah - milah, the excision of the foreskin, and periah, the removal of the thin membrane (for24 if a mohel did the first stage without the second, it is as if he had not circumcised at all). In spiritual terms, this means that the mohel has removed from himself not only the coarse manifestations of evil but also its subtler signs.25) In contrast to this adult mohel [with all these spiritual attainments behind him], the infant is a minor who has not even reached the age of education. Why, then, should the mohel undertake an act which constitutes a desecration of Shabbos for the sake of circumcising the infant?

The question is further intensified when one considers that the circumcision can in fact be performed after Shabbos; the only issue here is its timing. This means that the mohel is obliged to become involved in a desecration of Shabbos only in order that the circumcision should not be deferred from the eighth day (which falls on Shabbos) to the next day!

On the spiritual plane, this may be explained as follows.

As is well known,26 “the final and principal stage of the entry of the holy soul into a man takes place at the age of thirteen years and one day,” and “the entry of this holy soul begins with… the mitzvah of circumcision.” Since we are speaking of the entry of the holy soul, i.e., the divine soul, which is eternal, it is self-evident that even one 24-hour day partakes of eternity27 - and for this reason a circumcision should not be deferred even for one day.

In order to secure the entry of a soul of kedushah into a fellow Jew a person must act with mesirus nefesh, setting aside himself and all of his concerns, even his holy concerns - just as the mohel undertakes an act involving chillul Shabbos in order to enable a holy soul to enter the infant by means of his circumcision.

This is also the point of the episode in which one Yom Kippur after Shacharis the Alter Rebbe took off his tallis and kittel, walked to the outskirts of his town, chopped wood and cooked soup, so that a woman who had recently given birth and who lived there alone would have something with which to keep body and soul together.28

By the way: One of the complaints of the misnagdim against the Alter Rebbe involved this incident: Why did he do this thing personally instead of sending someone else? To this the Alter Rebbe replied: “When a life has to be saved in a life-threatening situation,29 the law states that the mitzvah devolves upon the person of highest stature30 - and I found no one more eligible.”

4. Devotion: Joyful and Unconditional

To understand this further: The entry and manifestation of the divine soul in the infant becomes possible only when the mohel is prepared to set his own interests aside and to work to this end with mesirus nefesh - so that if the need arises he will act with self-sacrifice, perform an act of chillul Shabbos, and carry out the circumcision on Shabbos.

This does not mean to say that one should go out of one’s way to seek opportunities for self-sacrifice; rather, one should go ahead with one’s avodah in all circumstances, and if the need arises for self-sacrifice, then one is prepared for that, too. In this way certain maamarim of Chassidus31 explain the difference between the self-sacrifice of R. Akiva and the self-sacrifice of Avraham Avinu.

R. Akiva sought to attain the heights of mesirus nefesh.32 As he said [at the moment of his martyrdom], “All my days I was troubled by this verse:33 ‘[You shall love the L-rd your G‑d…] with all your soul,’ which means34 ‘…even if He takes away your soul.’ I used to say, ‘When will this teaching come my way so that I can fulfill it?’”

Avraham Avinu, in contrast, did not seek the heights of mesirus nefesh. Instead, he was utterly devoted in his desire to fulfill G‑d’s will under any circumstances: if he would be able to do so without self-sacrifice, well and good; if not, he would be ready to sacrifice himself.

And this is how a mohel should be ready to circumcise an infant and to secure the entry of his divine soul under whatever circumstances: if the time for the circumcision falls in the middle of the week, then he will do it in the middle of the week, without mesirus nefesh; if it falls on Shabbos, he will act with mesirus nefesh, perform an act involving chillul Shabbos, and circumcise on Shabbos.

If, however, the mohel makes his own calculations - that if the circumcision falls at a convenient time he will do it, whereas if it does not fall at a convenient time, such as Shabbos, he will postpone it to Sunday (or at best look for someone else who is willing to do it on Shabbos) - then on Sunday, too, he cannot perform the circumcision. The reason: An approach which includes making calculations is the exact opposite of the stance of mesirus nefesh. And if a mohel is lacking this stance he cannot bring about the entry and manifestation of the divine soul.35 Thus the prayer for the welfare of the mohel declares,36 “A fearful or faint-hearted man” - i.e., one who lacks the bold stance of self-sacrifice - “his service is invalid.” Only when he performs his avodah without calculations, and with an attitude of mesirus nefesh, setting himself aside completely and joyfully37 (in the spirit of a phrase which is related to the above-quoted prayer, “who happily performed this good deed with joy”), then he secures for the infant the entry and manifestation of the divine soul, so that he grows up to be a mesirus-nefesh Jew and a joyful Jew.

5. Obligation vs. Prohibition

Since the mitzvah of circumcision requires a self-sacrificing willingness to perform it even on Shabbos, it is obvious that such an act does not mean that one of the restrictions of Shabbos is dislodged (דחוי-ה) by the obligation to circumcise, but that the relevant prohibited act on Shabbos is rendered permissible (הותרה) when it coincides with the obligation to circumcise.38

By way of introduction: With regard to the rule throughout the Torah that39 a positive commandment overrides a prohibitive commandment [with which it conflicts], there is a classic debate as to whether this means that the prohibition is simply dislodged or also relaxed.40 In the case of a circumcision on Shabbos, however, in light of the above one cannot argue that a prohibition of Shabbos is dislodged by the obligation to circumcise; rather, the act prohibited on Shabbos is rendered permissible in the face of the obligation to circumcise.

Why is this so?

One of the differences between dislodged (דחוי-ה) and rendered permissible (הותרה) is the following.

The need to dislodge a prohibition when it clashes with an obligation shows that the prohibition exists even while the obligation does. I.e., it would have been possible to fulfill the obligation itself even without setting aside the prohibition, in a case in which no prohibition applied - and now along comes our rule and informs us: even in a case in which a prohibition does apply, the prohibition is dislodged by the obligation.

When, in contrast, we say that a prohibition is rendered permissible when it conflicts with an obligation, this means that in such a case the prohibition never applied from the outset.

Now, since the commandment to circumcise demands a self-sacrificing willingness to fulfill it even on Shabbos, one cannot hold that Shabbos is dislodged by it, because this would imply that the commandment itself could have been fulfilled even if the restrictions of Shabbos had not been set aside. For, as we have said, a basic element in circumcision is the mohel’s self-sacrificing readiness to circumcise on the eighth day under any circumstances, whether on a weekday or on a Shabbos; indeed, if he is not prepared to circumcise on Shabbos he is not [fit and] able to circumcise even on a weekday. We must therefore conclude that the relevant restriction of Shabbos is rendered permissible in the face of the obligation to circumcise. I.e., with regard to circumcision, the prohibition to desecrate the Shabbos was never stated in the first place.

6. Only Such a Light Can Banish Such a Darkness

When working with others one should focus not only on the basics of observing the Torah and its mitzvos, but also on the study of Chassidus.

An objection might be raised: When people need to be urged to put on tefillin and observe Shabbos and the like, how can it be appropriate to encourage the study of Chassidus? - especially its profounder reaches, such as its explanations of the difference between the bittul of the World of Atzilus and the bittul of the infinite Ein-Sof Worlds that transcend the World of Atzilus.

The argument continues: The teachings of Chassidus were revealed in order to enable one to arrive at a love and awe of G‑d. As Rambam writes:41 “And what is the path to a love and awe of Him? When a man meditates [upon the greatness of G‑d]….” Love and awe elevate one’s Torah study and observance of the commandments (for42 “Torah without awe and love does not fly aloft”) - but what possible connection can there be between the revelation of the teachings of Chassidus and a situation in which someone still has to be encouraged to actually observe the commandments?

There is an answer to this objection.

In a well-known letter which appears in the Introduction to Kuntreis U’Maayan,43 the Rebbe Rashab writes: “This is the time of the very last beirurim which are the task of ikvos Meshicha,44 the era which hears the approaching footsteps of Mashiach…. In this era there is no graded order in the various manners of beirurim and tikkunim.” Accordingly, one must work on all fronts, because none of us fully knows the mystic principle of beirurim.”

Moreover, even though Chassidus was revealed in order to enable people to attain a love and awe of G‑d, it was not revealed in the early generations (which were closer to love and awe than later generations):45 “It was hidden in the days of [the Sages] and concealed from all the Torah scholars, except for a select few.” It was revealed only in recent generations, with the approach of the footsteps of Mashiach.

There are two reasons for this:46 Since in the era of ikvos Meshicha the darkness is becoming extremely dense, it can be dispelled only by an extremely intense light; (b) since we are coming closer to the days of Mashiach, when the innermost dimension47 of the Torah will be fully revealed, a corresponding preparation is called for, by the dissemination of the wellsprings of Chassidus to the remotest places.

And so it is with our subject: Even when someone is in such a lowly state that he needs to be aroused to simply observe the Torah and its mitzvos, one’s efforts should still include the study of Chassidus.

Furthermore: Since the study of Chassidus is related to teshuvah ilaah, the higher level of teshuvah,48 this enables a person to make a leap49 forward to a spiritual level which is incomparably higher than his former level of attainment.

7. Undoing Sin by Transcending Time

The higher level of teshuvah has another distinctive quality (which is related to the study of Chassidus) - and this concerns the annulment of punishment:

Divine reward and punishment can be conceived of in either of two ways:50 (a) Reward and punishment result naturally, by way of cause and effect, from the performance of mitzvos and transgressions. Just as G‑d made it natural for fire to burn and for water to extinguish, and so on, He made it natural for the performance of mitzvos to bring about a reward and for transgression to bring about punishment. (As it is written,51 “If you will walk in the path of My statutes…, I shall grant your rains in their season….”) (b) Reward and punishment are separate entities dispensed as a segulah - by supernatural and independent Divine intervention - and not as the natural consequence of mitzvos and transgressions.

These concepts raise a question: How is teshuvah effective in annulling punishment? According to the latter view, that a punishment is not a natural consequence of the actual sin but is a separate entity, it is conceivable that when a person repents, G‑d foregoes the punishment. According to the former view, however (and this is the accepted view), that the punishment is a natural consequence of the sinful act, how can teshuvah be effective in annulling a punishment that has already been brought about as a natural consequence of the sin, just as a conflagration is brought about by the kindling of fire?

It is here that the distinctive quality of teshuvah ilaah comes into play. Its effects reach up to such a sublime level,52 a level transcending time, that the previously-performed sinful act and its consequent punishment do not exist at the time-transcending level which this individual now reaches through his teshuvah ilaah.

Not only that, but as a result of his teshuvah ilaah, “intentional sins are counted for him as positive merits.”53 I.e., not only does the sinful act and so forth not exist, it is now transformed into a meritorious act.

8. Torah is for Living, Not for a Livelihood

Moreover, just as by means of the higher level of repentance one can undo punishment, so too can one undo all kinds of decrees concerning material matters - children, health, sustenance - by exchanging them for their spiritual counterparts in one’s Divine service.54

If, for example, it has been ordained that someone be poor, he can exempt himself from this by contemplating his current spiritual state until he becomes aware of how poor he really is. (This applies not only when his spiritual state is unfavorable so that he may be described as “poor in understanding.”55 This means of exemption applies even when his understanding is well-developed - because “the zenith of understanding is the realization that we cannot understand You”;56 i.e., it applies even when his “poverty in understanding” becomes a virtue.) By becoming aware of how poor he really is, this individual can be considered to have had the decree fulfilled.

Likewise: if it has been ordained (G‑d forbid) that someone undergo “the opposite of life,”57 he can exchange this for the kind of “death” that relates to his Divine service, by “killing himself” (so to speak) in Torah study.58

So, too, if such a decree has been issued (G‑d forbid) against one’s children, he can sublimate this by urging them to “kill themselves” in Torah study. In relation to Torah and mitzvos, he can “not recognize his sons”:59 for example, he can send them off to study in a yeshivah, even though something may be lacking there with regard to food.

Indeed, this attitude should prevail in the whole area of education according to the Torah. Parents should not be guided by pragmatic considerations,60 but should send their sons to a yeshivah in which Torah is studied all day.61

Some people, with an eye to tachlis, prefer to send their sons to college rather than to a yeshivah. At best they will send him to a modern yeshivah, rather than to some outmoded impractical institution that can’t even boast a high school of its own, and that even nibbles into the meager time allocated to secular studies and wedges in an additional time slot for Gemara…. To such a place they would never dream of sending him: one wouldn’t want him to be crippled for life, G‑d forbid!

Parents should learn to rely on the Holy One, blessed be He, Who creates and directs the universe according to the Torah. As it is written, “He looked into the Torah (not into English studies…) and created the world accordingly.”62 The world, it transpires, can exist even without the study of English. A person therefore can - and should - study Torah without thinking about practicalities, and the Holy One, blessed be He, will no doubt take care of his needs.

9. Saying LeChaim to the Rebbe Rayatz

“Over every gathering of ten Jews the Divine Presence abides.”63 How much more must this be so when many times ten Jews are gathered here together, and especially since it is Yom-Tov, “the time of our rejoicing,” and specifically Simchas Torah, - then most certainly the Divine Presence abides.

It is self-evident that wherever the Divine Presence abides, the Rebbe [Rayatz] is also present, for he is always together with the Divine Presence. In this spirit the Sages teach concerning the Angel Michael (who stands to the right of the Divine Presence64): “Wherever Michael is to be seen, there is the Divine glory present.”65 The presence of the Angel Michael thus indicates that the Holy One, blessed be He, is present, and the presence of the Holy One, blessed be He, indicates that the Angel Michael is present.

There are people here who spent last Simchas Torah together with the Rebbe, and there are people here who received blessings and promises from the Rebbe. (The fact is that the blessings, too, are promises, for the Rebbe once said, “My request is a directive.”66 This of course applies not only down here but also Above. A blessing from the Rebbe, which is a request addressed to the Holy One, blessed be He,67 is thus (as it were) a directive to Him,68 and hence it is a promise.) So let those people take a little mashke, and picture the Rebbe’s face, and say LeChaim to the Rebbe. And let them request of him, or even demand of him, that his blessings and promises be fulfilled.

Moreover, in order that those chassidim should become fit vessels to receive those blessings and promises, let them each resolve to undertake a particular spiritual task that will strengthen their soul-bond with him (but let them not make their burdens too heavy).69

10. What Do You Want of Me?

[The Rebbe personally handed a glass of mashke to a number of those present, and then, when many others asked that he pour a LeChaim for them, too, he said:]Hear me, fellow Jews! Let me say once again: What people must now do is to become bound with the Rebbe [Rayatz] himself, and not through intermediaries. For my part, I’m not withholding mashke nor […], but now one must become bound with the Rebbe [Rayatz] himself. And if I’m now giving mashke to some of those present, that is connected with particular matters which in the past, too, used to pass through my hands and which thus must now also pass through my hands; that’s why I’m giving them mashke. But one must become connected with the Rebbe himself!70

[One of the chassidim present, asking that the Rebbe pour him more mashke, said: “Zait mashpia bli hefsek!” - “Provide spiritual bounty without interruption!” To this the Rebbe responded:] “Even one drop can be infinite.”

[One chassid, seated opposite the Rebbe, wept so much that his friends wanted to take him out. Observing this the Rebbe said:] “Leave him alone. He’s not confusing anyone. Pity he’s confusing himself.”

[Seeing that the chassidim were jostling to get nearer to him, the Rebbe said:] Why are people pushing? There’s no need to push: the Rebbe [Rayatz] is present everywhere. By pushing, a person only proves that his faith is imperfect.”

[When a number of the young yeshivah students returned to “770” after having spoken at various shuls, the Rebbe asked whether they had all come back. He next asked whether they had fulfilled the request made at the very beginning of the farbrengen that each student bring back with him at least one fellow Jew.71 The Rebbe then spoke of a proof and an indication that [this] mission had been fulfilled in the spirit of the Talmudic principle72 that “a man’s agent is like himself.”73]

11. A Time of Heightened Goodwill

[Resuming the theme of requesting and demanding that the blessings and promises of the Rebbe Rayatz be fulfilled, the Rebbe said:] At certain times my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], was displeased that chassidim repeated their questions and requests, and at other times this did not disturb him.

Simchas Torah in general, but particularly the time before Hakkafos, was for him a time of heightened goodwill.74 Accordingly, now is the time at which those who repeatedly asked and requested particular things [of the Rebbe Rayatz] can secure their fulfillment. Let them therefore take a sip of mashke and say LeChaim to the Rebbe and undertake a solemn resolve in order to strengthen their hiskashrus with him - and in that way they will no doubt bring about the realization of their requests.

12. Public-Spirited Activity is a Conduit for Blessings

[At the end of the farbrengen the Rebbe went upstairs to thestudy of theRebbe Rayatzfor Maariv and Hakkafos. After the Yom-Tov meal he told the chassidim that they should continue to farbreng in the shul, and all together study the sichos of the previous year’s Simchas Torah farbrengen of the Rebbe Rayatz.75 Some time later the Rebbe walked into the shul and told those chassidim who had not yet eaten the Yom-Tov evening meal that they should wash their hands and partake of the challos which he had brought with him. As he was about to leave on his way to his room, those who were present said LeChaim to the Rebbe and to each of them he responded LeChaim VeliVerachah! At this point he asked to be given a revi’is of mashke,76 remarking that one “should not separate himself from the community.”77 He then said:]

LeChaim! May G‑d grant the fulfillment of all the blessings that the Rebbe [Rayatz] has given, is giving, and will continue to give, both for every individual and for the community as a whole.

The conduit which enables his blessings to be received is the fulfillment of his wishes, especially by working for the public good,78 so that even those who do not want to be involved in public matters will shatter their stubbornness and begin to work for public-spirited causes. For each such individual this will serve as the conduit for the downward flow of blessings - for himself and his wife and for his entire household, including also the blessing of marital harmony.

So, too, with marital harmony in spiritual terms: establishing peace between the Divine soul and the animal soul by having the animal soul give the right of way to the Divine soul. (The opposite, G‑d forbid, is unthinkable, because “even while the sin is being committed, [the Divine soul] remains faithful to Him.”79 In the same way, a Jew cannot become a gentile, G‑d forbid, though the opposite is possible, by means of circumcision and conversion.)

As we have said, this will constitute the conduit which will draw down the blessings of the Rebbe [Rayatz], making this a good and a sweet year materially and spiritually.

[The chassidim present continued to say LeChaim, and the Rebbe responded with blessings addressed to a number of individuals.80]