By Yochanan Gordon
Yud Shevat, which was observed this year on February 5, was the day 70 years ago that the Frierdiker Rebbe, Reb Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, passed away; one year later the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Reb Menachem Mendel Schneerson, ob’m, ascended as the leader of the Chabad movement.
When it comes to observing significant days upon the Chassidic calendar there are those who mark them the night prior to the day upon which the specific event occurred, whereas others would do so on the night leading into the day after. The idea, as I see it, is that those who observe the date prior to its arrival do so as a preparation for the event, whereas those who do so after the event are focused on taking the ideals and messages of that event with them into the days, weeks, and months that follow.
The crux of the ideas that follow I heard from a shiur this past Sunday from Rabbi Yussie Zakutinsky of Kahal Mevakshei Hashem, otherwise known as the Thank You Hashem Minyan in Lawrence. However, because the 10th day of Shevat was this week I felt it apropos to connect them to the Rebbe’s leadership as expressed in his ma’amar on the day of Yud Shevat and seen in his running of the Chassidus in the ensuing 40+ years.
In the laws of impurity in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, the Rambam writes in his Hilchos Beis HaMikdash that there are three distinct personalities who require a period of isolation pending their return to a pure state before being able to re-enter society, in ascending order: someone who came in contact with a corpse, someone who saw an emission rendering them impure, and a leper. Someone who encounters a corpse is sent out of one camp, Machane Shechinah, but can stay in Machane Leviyah. Someone who experienced an impure emission must leave Machane Leviyah but can remain in Machane Yisrael, whereas a leper is sent out of all three camps until the priest deems him or her clean of the leprosy.
The question that the Rambam and other commentators grapple with is the nature of the holiness in these three camps — namely, do all three camps constitute one holiness or does each camp possess its own distinct level of holiness? Like every question of this nature the question that follows is l’mai nafka minah? What difference does it make whether it’s one holiness or three distinct levels?
There is a sugya in the Gemara in Mesechta Shevuot that is addressed in Rambam regarding whether or not it is possible to expand Yerushalayim and the Beis HaMikdash where it would retain the same level of holiness as the original surface area and structure, respectively. The Rambam clearly states that it could be done but it would necessitate the involvement of the king, prophet, priest, urim v’tumim, and the Sanhedrin of seventy-one. Once these personalities are there to participate in the process they would bring two korbanos Todah, which included two loaves of bread at the head of the procession followed by the Sanhedrin and behind that the two korbanos in succession. Accompanied by cymbals and violins they’d walk in the direction of the expansion that they were seeking to make and they’d recite the verse from Psalms, “I exalt you, G-d, for you have drawn me up….” When they reached the conclusion of the expansion area they would eat one of the korbanos and burn the other.
There is a very obvious question that arises on the surface of this process. If they are seeking to expand Yerushalayim, why would they recite the verses that mention the construction of the Temple? There are plenty of chapters and verses in Psalms that have to do exclusively with Yerushalayim; wouldn’t it be more appropriate to recite those? This would seem to indicate that the holiness of Yerushalayim is an extension of the holiness of the Beis HaMikdash.
So when the Rambam writes regarding a person defiled with corpse impurity that there is a commandment to remove him or her from the Machane Shechinah, although there are other situations where a person is removed from the other camps, they are in essence only being removed from the holiness of Machane Shechinah since the other camps do not possess their own sanctity. The nafka minah in this scenario would be in a case where a leper was situated in a walled city, such as Akko, when he was diagnosed with leprosy. In such a scenario the person would not get lashes since the prohibition to dwell within the camp of Shechinah was not transgressed.
If you’re the type of person who is not legally inclined and you feel that the study of laws in general is dry and bereft of excitement or emotion, then it could be challenging to become involved in discussions of this nature. However, the truth is that even the study of halachah, if done properly, enters into the realm of the soul and could stir one’s feelings of love and longing for Hashem, His Torah, and all of the Yidden. Ultimately, because Yisrael Oraisa v’Kudsha Berich Hu Chad hu, whether we are discussing a sugya in ahavas Yisrael proper or some seemingly unrelated sugya in chullin or yadayim, it is ultimately just as relevant to the topic of ahavas Hashem and ahavas Yisrael due to the interconnectedness of these three inyanim. The Rogatchover, in fact, was the one who wrote, “The entire Torah consists of one topic.”
The same is true with the discussion at hand in the mitzvah of shiluach ha’metzorah as we will now see how it is expounded in the writings of Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin. Rav Tzadok writes that these three camps, Shechinah, Leviyah, and Yisrael correspond respectively to these three realities of Hashem, Torah, and Klal Yisrael. Machane Shechinah is a reference to Hashem, Machane Leviyah to the Torah, and Machane Yisrael to all of Klal Yisrael. What Rav Tzadok HaKohen is essentially saying is that Hashem, Torah, and the Yidden are not disjointed in the sense that we are enjoined to observe Torah and mitzvos as a means to gain reward or to avoid being punished. The laws that G-d gave us through the Torah is Elokus. They are a revelation of G-dliness in this world. The Ba’al HaTanya writes that the greatest expression of G-d’s love of the Jewish people is that he gave us the Torah. Now while we would all conceptually agree that this is true, it’s important for us to understand why that is.
The Gemara in Bava Metzia tells a story that when Rebbe Yishmael the son of Rebbi Yosi would meet with Rav Elazar the son of Rebbe Shimon, oxen would be able to fit under their bellies without even coming in contact with them due to their immense girth. A noblewoman once encountered them, and taking hold of their great obesity she remarked: “Your children cannot be your own.” They responded to this noblewoman: “[You may think we are obese] but our wives are much larger than we are.” Hearing this, the woman doubled down upon her claim that it would be physically impossible for people of their size to engage in procreation. In response to the claim of this noblewoman, the sages responded: “Love compresses the flesh.”
The Alter Rebbe sees G-d transcending His infinitude to descend through Torah into this finite world to have a relationship with Yidden as “compressing His flesh” due to his love of us. When G-d, with the giving of the Torah, descended upon the mountain, it was the most uncomfortable position for Him, so to speak, to be in, which He happily did in order to express His love for us. But just as the Torah itself is an expression or a manifestation of G-d, the Yidden, too, are an expression of G-d in this world. So when we say that every Jew has a portion in Torah it means that since the Yidden are an extension of Torah and the Aibershter, then it follows that if you exist then you have a shoresh in Torah and in G-d.
Taking this idea further, Rav Tzadok writes in other places that there is more to Torah than just principles or conclusions. In Gemara, until we arrive at a resolution there are many suppositions, proofs, negations of those proofs, and so on and so forth. Every aspect of that process is a manifestation of G-d, even the hava amina, which at the end becomes negated. Following this line of thought, there are Jews whose source in Torah is a hava amina or a kasha, whereas others are rooted in the maskana and so on. However, whether you are rooted in one aspect or another it is no less of an extension of G-dliness, as essence is unable to be compartmentalized.
This runs seamlessly into a statement made by the Rebbe at his first farbrengen as Rebbe on 10 Shevat 1951 — in fact, even before he formally accepted the nesius during the opening sichah before the ma’amar of “Basi L’gani.” The Rebbe quoted the Gemara that when a person comes to a specific town for the first time it is proper to adapt to the traditions of that town. The Rebbe continued that in America the people are accustomed to hearing a statement, something earth-shattering in nature. The Rebbe then shared this fundamental principle that there are three expressions of love — love of G-d, love of Torah, and love of the Jewish people — and all three of these are, in essence, one. That means, the Rebbe said, that you’ll have people claiming that they love G-d or that they love Torah, but if it doesn’t come through in the way they perceive Yidden, that is an indication that their love of G-d and Torah is not complete. If a father loves his child and he has a friend who doesn’t particularly take a liking to that child it calls into question his friendship with the father. True love and unity is only fully expressed when our friendship results in each of us seeing the things that are dear to us through each other’s eyes.
It then occurred to me that the Rebbe had a very interesting way of responding the letters he would receive daily. When people would pose questions to the Rebbe, instead of composing a new letter with the answer to the question, he would cross out certain words and rearrange others with the use of arrows and other symbols of writing where the answer would emerge from within the question. In fact, this was a strongly held principle of the Rebbe’s that the solutions to all the world’s problems lie within the struggle itself.
With this wholesome, healing, and redemptive perspective of people and life it’s no wonder that the ma’amar that set off the Rebbe’s leadership on that winter day of 1951, just a year after the passing of his father-in-law and a few years after the Holocaust decimated a third of world Jewry, was titled, “I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride.” And it is no wonder that his leadership continues to remain steadfast today as it had back then. I firmly believe that this perspective, one in which there is no distinction between the questions and the resolutions, will usher in a time when the world will be perceived without a beginning, middle, or end, and where everything is seen as a manifestation of G-d’s light.