1. This farbrengen is associated, first and foremost, with the tenth of Shevat, the yartzeit of the previous Rebbe, successor to the previous Chabad Rebbeim. The Talmud uses the phrase “fills the place of his fathers” to describe a successor, implying that the successor “fills” the entire “place” occupied by his predecessors. He possesses all the aspects and concepts present in his predecessors’ service to G-d. Indeed, true to the directive that one must “ascend in holy matters,” a successor not only completely fills his predecessors’ place, but rises even higher. This is analogous to a dwarf, who, when perched atop a giant, can see further than the giant. And it certainly applies in regard to a giant — the previous Rebbe, atop a giant — the previous Rebbeim.
Since the root of all things is Torah, as stated, “He looked into the Torah and created the world,” the idea of a yartzeit starts from Torah. And since Torah was given together with its interpretation — i.e., the Written Torah was given with the Oral Torah — it follows that Chassidus, the teachings of the Chabad Rebbeim, is inextricably bound with Tanya, the Written Torah of Chassidus. Thus it is fitting, when explaining the idea of the previous Rebbe’s yartzeit, to begin with Tanya (especially since, as explained above, the previous Rebbe “filled the place” of the author of the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe).
It is further appropriate to study specifically from those editions of Tanya printed close to the time of the yartzeit, and particularly in those editions printed in this neighborhood (Crown Heights, Brooklyn), the place where the previous Rebbe lived and worked during the last ten years of his life (“ten” regarded as a complete era for itself in some aspects in Torah). It is therefore fitting that we begin the farbrengen of the tenth of Shevat by studying Tanya from an edition printed in this neighborhood at this time, for time and place have an affect on Torah and mitzvos: There are mitzvos which are performed only at certain times of the year; and place can effect Torah study, as our Sages have said, “There is no Torah like that of Eretz Yisroel.”
The most appropriate part of Tanya to learn is Epistle 27 and Epistle 28 of Iggeres HaKodesh, which talks of the passing and yartzeit of tzaddikim (the completely righteous).
Epistle 27 begins with the words, “My beloved, my brethren and friends, who are [to me] as my soul, etc., and their offspring with them...” The words, “My beloved,” emphasizes the idea of “You shall love your fellow as yourself,” which is a “great principle in Torah.” Moreover, not only is it a “great principle,” but “it is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation.”
There are various levels in Ahavas Yisroel, love of a Jew, to the extent of love even for “creatures,” as stated, “love creatures and bring them near to the Torah.” This is emphasized by the Alter Rebbe’s continuing words, “my brethren and friends, who are [to me] as my soul, etc.” Love of a Jew (“my brethren”) must be absolutely total, similar to the love to “my brethren and friends, who are [to me] as my soul,” etc. And the “etc.” added by the Alter Rebbe encompasses all the other possible descriptions of love.
He then states, “and their offspring with them.” “Offspring” means not just one’s immediate children, but one’s descendants for all generations. Thus, the idea of “My beloved, my brethren and friends, who are [to me] as my soul” applies not just to those to whom the Alter Rebbe wrote this letter, but to all their descendants. And, adds the Alter Rebbe, his love to them is in the manner of “their offspring with them” — i.e. the love to the descendants is identical with the love to those to whom he wrote this epistle.
The epistle itself is written as consolation for the passing of a tzaddik — “I have come to comfort the smitten ... and to console them doubly for salvation.” The idea of “doubly for salvation” is brought in Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 46:1) concerning the breaking of the tablets. It states: “Moshe began to anguish over the breaking of the tablets. G-d said to him, ‘Do not be anguished over the first tablets which contained only the Ten Commandments. In the second tablets which I am giving you there are laws, Midrash and Aggadah ... doubly for salvation.”
Why does Torah tell us that “Moshe began to be anguished over the breaking of the tablets?” What can we learn from Moshe’s remorse, especially since G-d immediately told him “Do not be anguished.” This episode seems to be critical of Moshe, who should have understood himself that the second tablets were “doubly for salvation.”
However, even the knowledge that they are “doubly for salvation” does not eliminate the great sorrow over the breaking of the first tablets — even if its purpose is to obtain a greater thing! This episode teaches us that one must sorrow over such a tragedy, to the extent that G-d Himself has to say, “Do not be anguished” — meaning, do not despair, for the breaking of the tablets was for the purpose of reaching the higher level of the second tablets, “doubly for salvation.” Indeed, through mourning for the tablets, one merits to have the second, loftier tablets.
So too in the case of the passing of a tzaddik. The Talmud (Moed Katton 25a) says that the passing of a Jew is similar to a “Sefer Torah that is burned” — and certainly this applies to the passing of a tzaddik. And even if the burned Sefer Torah will be replaced by others, this is no consolation, for in the end analysis, a Sefer Torah has been burned!
Thus, even after we understand that the passing of a tzaddik is “doubly for salvation,” the sorrow still remains in its entirety. In the words of our Sages: “The death of tzaddikim is as hard ... as the day on which the tablets were broken.” A tzaddik has been lost to the world, a person who gave his all for Torah and mitzvos, who led Jewry and worried over all their needs. The sorrow is not diminished because of the “double salvation” that results — for G-d could have brought about the same result through different means.
The important thing is not to despair (although the sorrow remains), for the purpose of a tzaddik’s death is to reach the higher level of “doubly for redemption” — which affects his disciples, and the disciples of his disciples, and infinitum.
The theme of this epistle, then, is consolation for tragedy, which is that through it, we reach higher levels. This is alluded to in the number of this epistle, twenty seven. Twenty seven in Hebrew is “ZaCh” (twenty = Chof, and seven = zayin), which means “clear.” One need emphasize that a substance is clear only when it is possible it might be cloudy or filled with debris. The olive oil used for the menorah in the Bais Hamikdosh, for example, had to be “zach,” meaning that it had to be completely clear, free of any dirt or peels, etc. This clear oil was produced by crushing the olives. That is, by destroying the olive (analogous to death) a greater product results (“doubly for salvation”) — oil for light.
This concept is also alluded to in epistle 28, which explains that a tzaddik’s passing in similar to the idea of the parah adumah (the red heifer). The parah adumah purified even the most impure things, similar to the idea of transforming darkness to light. This concept, writes the Alter Rebbe, is present in the death of a tzaddik, for then, “the kindness of the L-rd radiates ... and effects salvations in the midst of the earth to atone for the sin of the generation, even for deliberate sins ... and thus the darkness ... is transformed into light.” That is, this epistle emphasizes that the descent to the lowest levels (death of a tzaddik) is so that the loftiest levels can be reached — that of the parah adumah, the highest level in purity.
Further, the parah adumah is associated with Moshiach. Some authorities are of the opinion that the sacrifices may be offered even before Moshiach’s coming. But in regard to the parah adumah, the Midrash notes that this mitzvah will be performed by Moshiach specifically. Through the descent in this world, to there elevate it, we reach the highest level — the parah adumah, which will come about through Moshiach in the true and complete redemption.
This concept is alluded in the number of the epistle — twenty eight, which in Hebrew is “KoaCh” — “strength” (twenty = kof, and eight = “Ches”). Chassidus explains the nature of “koach” is to descend below to be enclothed in the lower regions to there effect an elevation.
The idea of elevating the lowest matters to reach the level of “doubly for salvation,” is alluded to in the previous Rebbe’s name. His first name, “Yosef,” means “The L-rd shall add (‘Yosef’) another son to me.” This alludes to the service of transforming “another” to the level of “son” — the service of repentance, through which one reaches the level of “doubly for salvation.”
Such was the work of the previous Rebbe: He dedicated himself to disseminate Torah and Judaism to each and every Jew in every place, even those who were in the situation of being “another” i.e., estranged from Judaism and lifted them to the level of “son.”
Through teshuvah we bring Moshiach, the future redemption which is alluded to in the previous Rebbe’s second name, “Yitzchok.” Our Sages say (Shabbos 89b) that in the future Jews will say to Yitzchok specifically that “You are our father” when the highest levels will be achieved through transforming darkness into light.
2. We spoke previously about the edition of Tanya printed in the neighborhood in which the previous Rebbe lived during the last ten years of his life — Crown Heights. There is a lesson to be derived from this name.
“Crown” reminds a Jew of the mishnah (Pirkei Avos 4:13) which states: “There are three crowns the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship.” The word “Heights” reminds a Jew of the continuation of this mishnah, which states: “But the crown of a good name is higher than them all.”
What does this imply for man’s service to G-d? The Rambam states: “Israel was crowned with three crowns — the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. Aharon merited to obtain the crown of priesthood David merited to obtain the crown of kingship the crown of Torah lies ready for all Jews, as stated: ‘The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Ya’akov.’ Whosoever wishes shall come and take it.”
The first lesson from this is that every Jew possesses the crown of Torah — to study both the exoteric and esoteric aspects of Torah. But the other two “crowns” also teach lessons. The “crown of priesthood” refers to the High Priesthood, the position first occupied by Aharon. And every Jew is instructed (Pirkei Avos 1:12) to “Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to the Torah” — that is, the mitzvos of love and unity of Jews.
The “crown of kingship” refers to David, King Moshiach, and it teaches that every Jew must have faith in, and constantly await, his coming. As we say in our daily prayers: “Speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish ... for we hope for Your salvation every day.”
After the service of these three “crowns” which correspond to Torah study, Ahavas Yisroel, and belief in Moshiach, one merits another, higher crown: “The crown of a good name is higher than them all.” But one must know that this last, higher crown is achieved only after possessing the three previous three crowns. Why is this?
The mishnah says, “There are three crowns.” Yet it itself continues to say there is another crown, that of a good name. However, the “crown of a good name” cannot stand independently as do the other crowns, and therefore the mishnah says there are three crowns, not four. Only after one has possessed the other three crowns, and as a result of that possession, can one merit to have also the “crown of a good name.” When people see that a person is graced with the three crowns of Torah, priesthood and kingship, he automatically acquires a good name.
This is the lesson derived from “Crown Heights.” The previous Rebbe’s neighborhood symbolizes these three crowns — Torah study (the crown of Torah), Ahavas Yisroel and unity of Jews (the crown of priesthood), and faith in Moshiach’s coming (the crown of kingship). As a result, “the crown of a good name is higher than all,” meaning that when others hear of this neighborhood, and that its inhabitants behave consonant to the previous Rebbe’s wishes they and the neighborhood acquire a good name.
Through such behavior we shall speedily merit the true and complete redemption, when “those who lie in the dust will arise and rejoice,” including the previous Rebbe.
3. It is a custom to conclude the study of a tractate of Talmud (“siyum”) on a yartzeit. There are two types of conduct on a yartzeit:
1) Fasting, as on the 7th of Adar, Moshe Rabbeinu’s yartzeit;
2) Joy, as on Lag B’Omer, Rashbi’s yartzeit.
To follow both opinions, we conclude a tractate on a yartzeit, for then it is an obligation to be joyous, following the ruling that “we make a festive repast upon concluding the Torah.”
When a yartzeit is on Shabbos, however, there is reason not to make a “siyum.” A siyum is held, we have said, to fit in with the opinion that one should fast on a yartzeit. But on Shabbos there is no fasting, for it is a mitzvah to have pleasure on Shabbos through eating and drinking, and “there is no sadness on it.” Indeed, if we were to hold a siyum on Shabbos on a yartzeit, it would insult Shabbos, for it would show that the idea of fasting is present on Shabbos (and therefore a siyum is needed).
On the other hand, since it is an established custom, its non-observance can lead to sadness, the reverse to having pleasure on Shabbos. The answer is therefore to talk of a subject associated with a siyum but which is really not a siyum.
The Talmud — both Bavli and Yerushalmi — is divided into six general sections or orders, each of which is comprised of tractates. One of the orders is Taharos (laws of purity), and the last tractate in this order is Niddah. As a general rule, each order ends with a good thing; yet in the Talmud Yerushalmi, the tractate Niddah, and therefore the entire order of Taharos, ends with discussion of something undesirable.
This will be understood by first explaining a technical matter. The Talmud is comprised of Mishnah and its commentary, on Gemara. However, in the case of some tractates, the commentary has been lost; and only the entire Mishnah is extant. This, in fact, is what happened to the tractate Niddah in the Talmud Yerushalmi, the last few chapters of which are not in our possession. This does not of itself resolve the above question, for since everything is by Divine Providence, the tractate of Niddah in the Talmud Yerushalmi as it is before us does not end with a good thing.
In the Talmud Bavli, there are only 36 tractates which have Gemara. (The Mishnah, as noted above, is complete in all six orders.) In earlier generations, when printing the Talmud, only those tractates which possessed the Gemara were printed. In the order of Zerayim, for example, only one tractate, Berachos, has Gemara; in the order of Taharos, only the tractate Niddah is present. Thus, when printing the Talmud, only these tractates were printed, and those tractates which did not have the Gemara were printed only in editions of the Mishnah.
There are also tractates in which only part of the Gemara is extant. In the tractate Tamid, for example, the Gemara is extant on the first four chapters, whereas the Gemara on the last three chapters is not in our possession. In such cases, the entire tractate was printed, including those chapters which only have the mishnah, not the Gemara. (That is, in the first four chapters, the mishnah with the Gemara was printed, whereas in the last three chapters, just the mishnah was printed, unlike those tractates which do not have any Gemara at all, in which case they were not printed in the Talmud at all, but only in the edition of Mishnah.) Only lately have the tractates on which no Gemara is extant also been published in the Talmud.
We find the same thing in the Talmud Yerushalmi, in the tractate Shabbos. Its last four chapters do not have the Gemara, but the mishnahs of these chapters were printed with the rest of the tractate.
There are some editions of the Talmud Yerushalmi in which the last four chapters are totally omitted (i.e. not even the mishnahs were printed); but in the Vilna edition, they are included. From then on, every edition was printed with the last four chapters as well.
It is thus almost certain that the same should apply also in the case of the tractate Niddah in the Talmud Yerushalmi, on which no Gemara is extant on the last four chapters. That is, these chapters should also be included in the Talmud for why should the tractate Niddah be worse off than the tractate Shabbos in the Talmud Yerushalmi, or the tractate Niddah in the Talmud Bavli, where the entire tractates are printed.
This gives the answer to the above question, that the conclusion of the tractate Niddah — and therefore that of the order of Taharos — does not end with a good thing. The conclusion of the tractate should really be the last mishnah of Niddah, which does conclude with something good.
There is still one difficulty. The Munkatcher Rebbe (author of “Minchas Elazor”) mentions in his book “Hagohes HaYerushalmi,” that he made a siyum on the tractate Niddah of the Talmud Yerushalmi on the conclusion of the Gemara. This seems to imply that according to the Munkatcher, the conclusion of the tractate Niddah is as printed in our editions, without the extra chapters on which no Talmud is extant. And the Munkatcher was renowned for his meticulous attention to every detail.
When, however, we examine the Munkatcher’s conduct, we find that the above proof from the Munkatcher is rendered invalid. The Munkatcher would attempt to find a hint in Torah, and a lesson for conduct, in everything he encountered in the world. When traveling by train, for example, he would attempt to learn a lesson even from the carriage number in which he rode! Certainly, then, he would derive lessons from things he encountered in Torah. Thus, even if he was of the opinion that the tractate Niddah should conclude with those chapters on which no Gemara is extant, he would still make a siyum on the conclusion as it is printed in our editions (i.e. concluding with those chapters on which the Gemara is extant) — since by Divine Providence the editions of Talmud Yerushalmi we possess were so printed.
There is a practical directive to be taken from this, especially for those who have accepted upon themselves the good custom to learn “Daf HaYomi (a page a day) in Talmud Yerushalmi. Just as in learning “Daf HaYomi” in Talmud Bavli, even those chapters of tractate Tamid on which the Gemara is not extant is learned, so too in Talmud Yerushalmi, those chapters on which the Gemara is not extant, should also be learned (as is done in the case of the tractate Shabbos).
Consonant with this, it is most worthwhile that from now on, the tractate Niddah in the Talmud Yerushalmi be printed with those chapters on which no Gemara is extant (i.e. to print the mishnahs in the Talmud).
4. [The Rebbe Shlita last week asked some questions on Rashi’s commentary on the parshah, but did not then answer them. The Rebbe answered them at this Farbrengen.]
The questions were in regard to the verse brought in conjunction to the striking of the first-born in Egypt — “And against the children of Israel a dog shall not sharpen its tongue (i.e. bark vociferously) ... so that you may know that the L-rd makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”
The questions are:
1) Why should we think that in the plague against the first-born dogs would bark, that a special miracle is necessary to ensure that they don’t?
2) How does the non-barking of the dogs show that “the L-rd makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” more than the actual smiting of the first-born?
3) The word for “barking” used in this verse is “yecheratz,” which is highly unusual, for the normal usage is “nevichah.” Why, then, is the word “yecheratz” used? Further, Rashi explains that “yecheratz” means to bark vociferously, or sharply. This only deepens the above questions: Why should we think that in the plague of the firstborn the dogs should bark sharply, and how does this type of barking show that G-d makes a distinction between Jews and Egyptians?
When something is self-evident and known to the five year old to whom Rashi addresses his commentary, Rashi will not write it in his commentary. In our case, a child knows that it is usual for dogs to bark at the moon. When, for example, children would finish their studies at school, and would go home at night, the teacher used to tell them not be afraid of barking dogs, for they are not barking at the children, but at the moon. Likewise, the children saw for themselves when walking in the streets at night that dogs look at the moon and bark.
The first-born were struck at midnight of the fifteenth of Nissan, when the moon is full. It is thus natural that the dogs would bark then (unrelated to the actual smiting). Similarly, a child knows that dogs bark wildly when there is tumult and excitement. And of the striking of the firstborn, Scripture states: “There shall be a great cry throughout the land of Egypt, such has never been like it ...” Thus, it is again only natural that the dogs would bark then.
Because this barking is natural, there is no reason for a miracle to prevent it, for G-d does not perform unnecessary miracles. However, if the barking should become very sharp and vociferous, indicating that the dog is barking not because of a natural reaction but because it is becoming very angry, it can induce great fear and confusion in people. And therefore G-d performed a miracle to prevent this type of barking — “And against the children of Israel a dog shall not bark vociferously.” But G-d did not perform a miracle to prevent regular barking, for that does not cause fear.
This is why Rashi, in explaining the meaning of the word “yecheratz,” says: “I say that it denotes ‘sharpening.”’ The words “I say” imply that Rashi’s interpretation is not drawn from proof-texts, but from his own reasoning. In this case, it means that Rashi deduces that the miracle was only to prevent vociferous barking and not regular barking from his own logic, for it is logical that G-d does not perform a miracle unnecessarily!
Now we can understand the continuation of the verse, that the non-barking of the dogs is “so that you may know that the L-rd makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” That the actual plague struck only the Egyptians and not the Jews is not unique to the plague of the first-born, for the Egyptians saw in every plague that only they were hit. The new element in the striking of the first-born was that an additional, special distinction occurred between Egypt and Israel “Against the children of Israel a dog shall not bark vociferously.” That even dogs realized the difference between the Egyptians and Jews, emphasizes the great distinction between them. Even more, the dogs were not struck dumb; they barked, but not vociferously. When it came to barking vociferously, they left the Jews and ran to the Egyptian, and there barked sharply! And it was this which most strongly emphasized that “the L-rd makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”
One question remains: The verse says, “Against the children of Israel, a dog shall not bark vociferously, against man or beast.” Why was a miracle needed to prevent them from barking against beasts?
However, we have learned previously (Shemos 10:9), that “Moshe said, ‘With our youth and our elders we shall go [out from Egypt], with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go.” Moshe further said to Pharaoh (10:26): “Also our cattle will go with us; a hoof shall not be left behind.”
If the dogs would bark vociferously at the beasts belonging to the Jews, and as a result even one animal would flee in fear, it would contradict Moshe’s assertion to Pharaoh that even “a hoof shall not be left behind.” Therefore it was necessary that “A dog shall not bark vociferously, against man or beast.”
Now we can also understand why Rashi, in quoting the words on which he bases his comments, quotes the entire phrase, “A dog shall not sharpen its tongue,” and not just the word “yecheratz” ( “sharpen”). “Sharpen,” in regard to a dog, can refer either to its tongue (barking) or to its teeth (biting), as evidenced by the verses Rashi later cites in his comment. “Sharpening” with its tongue induces fear and confusion in a person, but does not actually cause harm; “sharpening” with its teeth also causes harm.
Rashi quotes the whole phrase, “A dog shall not sharpen its tongue,” to emphasize that the miracle was necessary to prevent only barking, not biting. The dogs were used to the people, and therefore, while they would bark, they would not bite, and therefore no miracle was necessary.
A more simple answer is that during the smiting of the first-born, the Jews were inside their homes, as explicitly commanded: “As for you, no man shall leave his house until morning.” Thus it was impossible for the dogs to bite the Jews. Vociferous barking, however, can induce fear even when one is in the house, especially when one knows that he must leave the house in the morning. And therefore a special miracle was needed to prevent the joy of the liberation being spoiled for the Jews.