This past Shabbos was Yud Tes Kislev, the anniversary of the liberation of the Alter Rebbe, the author of Tanya, from imprisonment by the Czarist government. Although the details of this event are well known, nevertheless, when many Jews gather together to commemorate an event, it is a Jewish custom to recount the story of the occurrence. Indeed, it is a commandment of the Torah to do so: On Pesach, it is a positive precept to relate the story of the exodus from Egypt, incumbent on every Jew – “even if all of us are wise, all understanding, all know the Torah, it is still a mitzvah to relate the story of the exodus from Egypt.” Moreover, “whosoever relates the story at length, it is very praiseworthy.”
But we must understand the reason behind this. Torah teaches us that time is extremely precious, and every moment must be used to its fullest advantage. Why then do we use time to repeat things already known? Speech, although not as important as deed, is still very important. The “world was created with ten utterances,” and the entire Torah is included in the Ten Commandments, which were said at Mt. Sinai. We must be careful not to speak idly or wastefully, for, as our Sages have put it, “The Holy One blessed be He did not create even one thing in the world for naught.” Everything, every second, was created by G-d for a purpose, and we must be careful not to waste anything. If so, why do we use time in speaking of past events, when everyone knows what happened?
However, talking of these events is for a definite purpose. To remember things is deemed very important by Torah, and this remembrance is achieved by actually speaking about them. The reason for remembering is given in Megillas Esther, read on Purim, which states: “These days should be remembered and kept.” Through proper remembrance, the concepts and lessons of an event are “kept” – they exert a profound influence on our deeds. Since “I was created to serve my Master,” and “deed is the essential thing,” one’s service to G-d must be (not just in thought or speech but) in deed.
Thus, to ensure that the remembrance of an event should be translated into deed, it does not suffice to merely remember the event but it must be in more tangible form – in speech, by recounting the details of the event. This lends strength and assurance to the remembrance being translated into deed – “these days should be remembered and kept” – to their fullest extent.
A Jew must always be striving to reach loftier levels. His G-dly service must be such that “all your deeds should be for the sake of heaven” – every action and every minute is dedicated to G-d. Hence, when a Jew has reached a certain level, no matter how lofty, he must strive yet higher. In our case, no matter how well the event has been “remembered and kept” in the year, the next year it must be in loftier fashion still.
In light of all the above, it is appropriate that we speak of Yud Tes (19) Kislev, the liberation of the Alter Rebbe from imprisonment. As with all things connected with Judaism, talking about Yud Tes Kislev must be such that it lends vitality to and permeates all one’s limbs and faculties. Since the words spoken are the words of G-d in His Torah, true and everlasting, they lead to deed, both that of the speaker and listeners. As the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya, “The thing is very near to you in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.” First comes speech (your mouth) which stimulates the feelings (in “your heart),” and through this they come to fruition in deed (“that you may do it”).
The central theme of Yud Tes Kislev is the liberation of the Alter Rebbe from imprisonment that was due to his work in spreading Judaism and Chassidus. Knowing that he was endangering his life, he still threw himself into this work, disregarding all obstacles. For although Jewish law regards “the law of the country as law,” this only applies when the government’s laws are not at variance with the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos. The previous Rebbe, in the name of his father the Rebbe Rashab, said that the soul (of a Jew) can never be in exile; hence no person can dictate to a Jew how to behave in matters of Judaism.
The Alter Rebbe was imprisoned because of his work in spreading both the exoteric and the esoteric parts of Torah. His imprisonment for 53 days eventually brought about greater good than existed before in the increased dissemination of Chassidus. This can be compared to the concept of “the superiority of light (greater dissemination of Chassidus) that comes from prior darkness (the imprisonment).”
This day is an auspicious one for making good resolutions in spreading Judaism and Torah. Just as the Alter Rebbe was completely exonerated and victorious, so too today in each person’s fight against his personal exile, and against the darkness of the general exile. Then will be fulfilled the Rambam’s Halachic statement that “Torah has promised that eventually Yisrael will repent… and immediately they will be redeemed,” in the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach.