1. A Collective Endeavor

My1 revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], made a concerted effort to fortify and disseminate the practice instituted by the Alter Rebbe of apportioning the tractates of the Talmud for study every year.2 He once related3 that this was customarily done on Yud-Tes Kislev, but from the year 5663 [1902] onwards, because of lack of time on Yud-Tes Kislev, the distribution of tractates in Lubavitch was carried out on Chaf-Daled Teves.4

Yud-Tes Kislev and Chaf-Daled Teves share a common theme: one marks the Alter Rebbe’s liberation from imprisonment in Petersburg; the other marks his soul’s liberation from “imprisonment” in the body.

The tractates are distributed afresh every year at the end of Chaf-Daled Teves, because the previous year’s study must first be complete. Since some individuals may not have finished studying the tractate that fell to their lot, and this (G‑d forbid) would blemish the collective endeavor of all the participants, those individuals are granted another twenty-four hours to honor their obligations. Only then do we proceed to allot tractates in readiness for the new year. (May it be a good year for us and for all Israel, Amen.)

In keeping with the custom of delivering a hadran whenever the study of a tractate is completed and celebrated by a siyum (and especially now, when all the tractates of the Shas have just been completed), I will now deliver a hadran, either before or after the new distribution of the tractates.

At last year’s siyum, too, I delivered a hadran,5 but this year’s hadran will be on a different subject, just in case someone here remembers last year’s…. [The Rebbe added with a smile:] Besides, if someone were to refute the argument of the hadran which is about to be delivered, then I would be risking the credibility of two discourses. So let’s have a new hadran this time, and risk less….

2. Full Participation

Those who are now distributing the tractates for study should not only ensure that they leave out no tractate, but also6 that they leave out no individual.7

3. A Chassidisher Heel

Since we are still within the year after the histalkus and the date of the yahrzeit is approaching, the hadran will not focus on the very end of the Shas, but on a theme related to histalkus in one of the last discussions in Tractate Niddah:8 “Our Sages taught: The men of Alexandria asked R. Yehoshua ben Chananya twelve questions - three questions of wisdom (Rashi: ‘i.e., Halachah’), three of Aggadah, three of ignorance (Rashi: ‘i.e., foolishness’), and three of worldly wisdom.” A little later9 the Gemara lists the “three questions of foolishness.”

Their first question: “Does Lot’s wife10 impart impurity?”

He replied: “A corpse imparts impurity; a pillar of salt does not.”

Their second question: “Does the son of the Shunamite woman11 impart impurity?”

He replied: ““A corpse imparts impurity; a living person does not.”

Their third question: “When the dead are resurrected in the time to come, will they need to undergo purification by being sprinkled with the waters of the Red Heifer on the third and seventh days,12 or not?”

He replied: “We will weigh the question when they are resurrected.”

According to another tradition he replied: “We will weigh the question when Moshe Rabbeinu comes with them.”

These three questions all relate to the theme of histalkus, which is apparently unconnected with the study of the Shas which is now being concluded. The hadran will nevertheless focus on it because the subject of the Rebbe’s histalkus permeates all 248 organs of a chassid’s entire being and is thus apparent in everything he does.

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], once wrote13 that in this spirit his father, the Rebbe [Rashab], interpreted the verse,14 עקב אשר שמע אברהם בקולי - “Because Avraham heeded My voice.” Avraham’s greatness was apparent not only in the intellectual and emotional realm of his brain and heart, but also in the practical activities of his hands and feet, including even the lowliest level of his being which is represented by the heel - for in the Holy Tongue eikev (“because”) comprises the same letters as akeiv (“heel”). Even his heel was distinguishable as belonging to Avraham. (Indeed, this is the thrust of a halachic statement15 by Rambam:16 “Just as a sage is recognizable by his wisdom and character traits…, so too should he be recognizable by his actions - in his eating and drinking…, in his walking,” and so on - in the most external of matters.) The Rebbe Rashab concluded that the same is true of a chassid: the message of Chassidus should be apparent throughout his entire being. Even his heel should be a chassidisher heel.

So, too, with our subject: If the theme of the histalkus is apparent only in the feelings of the heart or in the understanding of the brain, while in practical matters there is no distinguishable difference between the present situation (after the histalkus) and the situation in the preceding years, then this proves that the theme of the histalkus has not permeated all of one’s 248 organs: it has not left its imprint upon him. The histalkus should pervade the whole man, and then, as a matter of course, it will be apparent in all his activities.

4. The Mortal Remains of Tzaddikim Do Not Impart Impurity

[A written record of the hadran which the Rebbe delivered at this point to mark the conclusion of the year’s study of Shas was later approved by him and published in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, p. 239ff.17 After this discourse the Rebbe said:]

The above hadran quoted a teaching that18 “though one who touches a corpse contracts impurity, the corpse itself does not.” This statement relates to all Jews; in particular, a tzaddik or Nasi of the Jewish people does not impart impurity. Thus there is a ruling of Rabbeinu Chayim Cohen,19 who “used to say: ‘If I had been present when Rabbeinu Tam passed away, I would have allowed myself to become ‘defiled’ by proximity to him.’” This is especially true of a Nasi, concerning whom it is written that20 הכל מטמאין לו - “Everyone may allow himself to become ‘defiled’ by proximity to him.” This, too, is the accepted custom - that Kohanim pray at the resting places of tzaddikim, because tzaddikim do not impart impurity.

Though there is a debate surrounding the above quotation from Rabbeinu Chayim,21 this debate is restricted to the nigleh - the revealed dimension - of the Torah; i.e., to that level of the Torah which is garbed in the world - in the olam, a word which derives from he’elem, signifying concealment.22 By contrast, this debate does not exist in the light of the pnimiyus - the innermost dimension - of the Torah, which is called אילנא דחיי (“the Tree of Life”).23 Moreover, according to the nigleh of the Torah, too, there is evidence for the principle that tzaddikim do not impart impurity.

Indeed, not only do they not impart impurity, but through them there comes about an increase and ascendancy in purity and holiness.

5. Living in the World to Come while in This World

As was recently explained,24 two periods may be distinguished in the ascents which a soul undergoes after histalkus: (a) the ascents during the first eleven months; (b) the soul’s greater ascent on the day of the yahrzeit (which explains the custom of being called to the Reading of the Torah on that day, and so on). In addition, there is the intervening time - after the close of the first eleven months but before the yahrzeit - in which we now stand.

In accordance with the well-known saying that with Jews there is no such thing as too late,25 one can still complete all one’s tasks in avodah - studying the teachings of the Rebbe [Rayatz] and walking in his ways - that should have been dealt with in the course of the first eleven months. In this way, by the time of the yahrzeit in about two weeks, there will have been completed all the tasks that the Rebbe wanted and wants, the tasks for which he provides the requisite strength so that his desires will be translated from the potential to the actual.

And when, by the time of the yahrzeit, people have completed all their tasks in avodah, by studying the teachings of the Rebbe [Rayatz] and walking in his ways, they will then receive the recompense that is alluded to at the end of the Shas:26 כל השונה הלכות מובטח לו שהוא בן עולם הבא שנאמר הליכות עולם לו אל תקרי הליכות אלא הלכות - “Whoever studies halachos every day is assured of life in the World to Come, as it is written,27 ‘The ways (halichos) of the world are his.’ Do not read halichos but halachos.’”

There is a well-known principle28 that the formula “Do not read… but…” does not undo the plain meaning of the quoted text: it adds an explanation. The two concepts - halichos and halachos - thus coexist, as if to say: Even when one is involved in halichos olam (“the ways of the world”) he will be shoneh halachos (“studying laws”) by virtue of the fact that he has them engraved in his memory. At such a time, “even when he is not engaged in studying Torah… the Holy One, blessed be He, dwells eternally within him even when he is engaged in worldly affairs (halichos olam), since the Torah is engraved in his memory,” as is discussed in Likkutei Torah.29

This applies, too, to studying the Rebbe’s teachings: When they are engraved in a person’s memory, then even when he is not engaged in study he is in a state of constant hiskashrus “without any interruption or separation ever, even for one moment”30 (in the words of Likkutei Torah).

When this happens, “he is assured - i.e., he is given an unqualified assurance - of life in the World to Come.” We may understand this to mean that while he is in this world31 he is ben Olam haBa, a man who lives in the World to Come. This recalls a blessing that appears among the words of our Sages:32 עולמך תראה בחייך - “May you behold your World within your lifetime!” For a person in such a situation all obstructing screens are removed, and he is granted the privilege of beholding the Rebbe, not only insofar as “he stands and serves on high,”33 but also as he comes to this material world - in the words of the Gemara cited above, “when Moshe Rabbeinu (and this includes the Moshe Rabbeinu of our generation) comes with them.”

6. A Rebbe Puts the Lives of Others First

I would like to recount two stories about our masters, the Rebbeim,34 who literally risked their lives for the good of Jewry at large, even in situations which according to the law of the Torah could have been faced differently.

Once35 my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], traveled to Petersburg in an attempt to undo a decree that was about to be promulgated against the Jews in that land. After much exertion he succeeded in securing an interview with the relevant minister (through the intercession of one of the latter’s acquaintances), who set the time for Friday night, the eve of Shabbos. Since the minister lived in an outlying suburb of Petersburg, beyond the distance permissible on Shabbos,36 the Rebbe [Rayatz] traveled there before sunset, and since no Jews lived in the area he was obliged to spend that entire Shabbos, before and after the interview, in a tavern full of drunkards and robbers, at the literal risk of his life. There he prayed and recited Kiddush and so on, and from there he walked to the minister’s mansion. The owner of the tavern agreed to accompany him as far as the gate, but not into the courtyard where dangerous dogs prowled, nor did he later accompany him on his lone way home in the bitter cold.

According to the law of the Torah the Rebbe would have been allowed to desecrate the Shabbos for the sake of this interview because of the imminent threat to the lives of all the Jews in that country. He could have spent the day in town and traveled to see the minister on Shabbos, instead of spending Shabbos in the tavern with all the dangers this entailed.

There is a similar story about the Alter Rebbe who likewise risked his life when the law could have allowed him to act otherwise.37