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Rabbis or Convicts

Friday, 27 November, 2020 - 9:07 am

If you were at services yesterday (or watched the livestream), you would have noticed that Tachanun (prayers of penitence) was not recited. Tachanun is omitted on the joyous days of our calendar. We did not skip Tachanun yesterday because of Thanksgiving, rather it was omitted because on that day, Kislev 10, in 1826, the second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber, was released from confinement. Just like his father (Rabbi Schneur Zalman) before him, his was falsely accused by the Czarist government of treason because of his activities on behalf of Jews in Russia and the land of Israel.

There was once a Jewish teen from a suburban family that got involved with Chabad. He got really into going to shul and loved attending classes and programs at his Chabad House. His traditional but secular parents were supportive of his quest, but really did not understand why he was so enthusiastic about his newfound community. One winter night, he tells his mom that he is going out to a farbrengen, a Chassidic celebratory gathering. She asks, “what is the occasion?” He replies, “the 10th of Kislev, the second Rebbe went out of prison.” She politely nodded and said goodbye. The following week the story repeats itself. “What’s the occasion this time?” “The 19th of Kislev, the first Rebbe was released from prison.” Her eyebrows lift in askance, but she says nothing. Two weeks later another farbrengen. “What now?” “This time it’s the 5th of Teves, the day the Rebbe won the court case over the books.” His mom says to him, “Son, I think you need to stop hanging around these Rabbis who are always either in prison or court…”

The truth is that is could seem a bit ridiculous to celebrate what appears to be an isolated incident such as the second Chabad Rebbe having a legal tussle with the Russian courts. Why is it that 200 years later, in a Shul in New Orleans, Tachanun is omitted to commemorate the occasion?

If we look at the situation from a deeper perspective, we can begin to appreciate why these dates are so significant. First of all, the arrest of both of those Rebbes constituted an attempt by the Russian government and the Jewish opposition to Chassidism, to quash and eradicate the fledgling Chassidic movement. Their subsequent release represents the survival and thriving of the movement, and everything it has contributed to Judaism and the Jewish people.

Beyond that, we have also been taught, that everything that happens in this world, is a reflection of what is going on in the supernal realms. So in fact, when the Rebbes were being tried by the Czarist government, they were simply mirroring what was going in the heavenly court. The Rebbes were on trial in heaven for their bold attempts to make the secrets of Judaism – the inner teachings of the Torah, accessible to all Jews. It was their push to accelerate the process of Redemption that was being challenged on High. Once they were exonerated below, that was a sign that on High they were also given the green light on their activities.

This scenario repeated itself nearly each generation in one form or another, as the push toward Redemption grew bolder and more intense. So we celebrate the survival of the teachings and the teachers, but we also celebrate the advancement of the cause and the push to bring Redemption for ourselves and the world at large.

L’chaim! Sing a niggun and study some of these special teachings. Be inspired by an uplifting story and commit yourself to be a part of this cosmic revolution to bring the world under the Sovereignty of the Al-mighty.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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