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Proceeding Together
Talks and Letters of the Rebbe in the Wake of Yud Shvat 5710 [1950]
as recorded in Toras Menachem

Mitzvot & Takanot - Continuing the Tasks

Published and copyright © by Sichos In English
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Publisher's Foreword

Like all of its predecessors, this installment of Toras Menachem, recording the earliest public talks of the Rebbe after the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz on Yud Shvat, 5710 [1950], is strikingly appropriate to our situation today.

This installment speaks of our ongoing obligation to forge ahead with the clearly-defined tasks with which we have been entrusted over the years.

The Rebbe warns us here to be wary of deluding ourselves that our favorite pretexts for passivity are inspired by holy motives, when in fact they may be simply - pretexts.

The concluding section deals with a classically chassidic theme, explaining why the mitzvos are to be fulfilled not on a metaphysical level but within the parameters of the natural order.

This discussion throws light on one of the distinctions between mitzvos and takkanos, the ordinances which have been instituted by the spiritual leaders of various generations.

Sichos In English
27 Kislev, 5755 [1994]

11. Carrying the Ark of Yosef.

Let [1] us now consider the directive that can be derived according to an alternative opinion - that [2] "those people [who had been defiled by contact with the dead] were those who carried the coffin of Yosef [out of Egypt]."

The Sages here specify "the aron [i.e., the ark, or coffin] of Yosef."

Since a coffin is not used for burial, [3] one would have expected them to echo the language of the Torah, and to refer instead to [4] "the bones of Yosef."

In fact, however, the phrase used by the Sages accords with the teaching of the Zohar, [5] that "no one should be placed in a coffin except for a tzaddik who knows within himself... that he has never sinned with regard to the bris - the sign of the holy covenant - but has guarded it as he ought to do; if not, a person should not be placed in an ark [i.e., coffin] and thereby blemish it," [for] "the side of holiness [in the universe] is called aron habris - the ark of the covenant....

What does the Torah say regarding [the burial of] Yosef? [6] - 'He was placed in an ark....' Because he guarded the [sign of the] holy covenant..., he was worthy of being placed in an ark."

To relate this to our subject:

When we are speaking of the "ark of Yosef" - i.e., the directives and instructions of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Yosef Yitzchak], the Yosef of our generation - the task at hand is to carry this ark forward, regardless of all obstacles.

Even when it sometimes seems to us that for holy reasons, such as the observance of the Shulchan Aruch, we should conduct ourselves otherwise, such considerations do not concern us: our task is to carry forward the ark of Yosef.

(It should be noted that a person's calculation that he should conduct himself otherwise is perhaps false, an instance of deceit in his divine service. Indeed, one of the interpretations of the phrase [7] yonasi tamasi (lit., "My dove, My perfect one") relates the former word to onaah ("deceit") [8] - to the self- delusion that one's desired conduct is prompted by holy motives.)

Though carrying Yosef's ark sometimes requires one to arrive late for the delivery of a maamar (a chassidic discourse), or an educational parade, this is no reason to be disturbed, since at this time one is fulfilling the mission and directives of Yosef.

At the same time, the fact is that when people fulfill the will and the mission of the Rebbe [Rayatz] they lose nothing, just as the men who carried the ark of Yosef [out of Egypt] were given the singular command of Pesach Sheni.

Thus, for example, when the Rebbe [Rayatz] first delivered the maamar beginning Taamu U'Re'u on 13 Tishrei 5693 [1932], [9] some of the young men whom the Rebbe had sent out on a certain mission did not return in time to hear it. When they finally arrived, the Rebbe repeated the maamar especially for them.

From this we see that when one goes out to fulfill the mission of the Rebbe [Rayatz], one loses nothing. [10]

12. Mitzvos and Takkanos.

The directives of the Rebbe [Rayatz] resemble the ordinances (takkanos) that Moshe Rabbeinu ordained for the Jewish people; for example, [11] "Moshe Rabbeinu ordained that Jews should enquire and give expositions concerning the subject of the day - the laws of Pesach on Pesach, the laws of Shavuos on Shavuos, and the laws of Sukkos on Sukkos."

It will be noted that the Sages here chose to use the verb tikken ("ordained" or "instituted"), rather than (say) tzivah ("commanded").

For mitzvos, [12] whose authority is rooted in the Torah, derive from and depend upon a source above; takkanos, [13] by contrast, whose authority is rooted in the words of the Sages, derive from and depend upon a source in this world below, and their purpose is to correct and perfect this world below, to complete and perfect the soul of the individual observing them.

This is why they are called takkanos - from the concept of tikkun, which means correction or restitution. [14]

In fact, of course, mitzvos too emphasize the task of refining [15] the world below; indeed, this is why they must be fulfilled within the parameters of nature.

This principle enables us to understand a well-known episode that took place during the Alter Rebbe's imprisonment. [16]

One night, as one of his captors was ferrying him across the river, the Alter Rebbe wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Levanah [by reciting the appropriate blessing over the waxing moon]. [17]

When the ferryman, who was a villain of a man, refused the Alter Rebbe's request to stop the boat for a little while, the boat stopped of its own accord. When it resumed its voyage the Alter Rebbe repeated his request, and after many refusals the ferryman finally obliged. Only then did the Alter Rebbe recite the blessing.

Now since the Alter Rebbe was able to stop the boat at will, why did he have to beg favors of the ferryman?

The answer to this question is provided by a study of Chassidus: [18]

It is a major principle in avodah that a mitzvah should be fulfilled [not metaphysically but] in its natural garb - for the sake of refining and uplifting the materiality of this world below.

This principle is even more evident with respect to takkanos, whose entire source is in the world below, and whose entire purpose (as explained above) is the rectification of the world below.

By way of illustration:

A certain chassid once entered the study of the Rebbe [Rayatz] in order to ask his advice as to how to rectify a certain matter in his spiritual life. In response to the Rebbe's advice, however, he argued that he would find the proposed course of action difficult to follow; he would prefer easier advice, in the spirit of the episode [19] in which the Alter Rebbe once healed an entire community by means of a piece of shemurah-matzah and a glass of water....

The Rebbe [Rayatz] responded:

"Why resort to fancy exploits [20] when one can manage without? Indeed, Chassidus teaches us that one's avodah should be done specifically within the parameters of nature."

To return to the quotation at the beginning of this section: Just as [11] "Moshe Rabbeinu laid down ordinances for the Jewish people," so too are there ordinances (takkanos) instituted by the heads of the Jewish people in every generation, by the [21] "extension of Moshe in every generation."

The function of these ordinances likewise is to complete and perfect the souls of those who observe them - to bring them to a state of tikkun.

This applies too to the takkanos instituted by my revered father- in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], the extension of Moshe in our generation; for example, the takkanah that instituted the daily study cycles known by their acronym as Chitas [22] - Chumash- with-Rashi, Tehillim and Tanya. [23]


  1. (Back to text) [The reader is referred back to the first paragraph of sec. 10, above, where the Rebbe begins to consider what may be learned from the various possible causes of impurity that disqualified certain individuals from offering the sacrifice at its prescribed time, on the eve of Pesach.]

  2. (Back to text) Sukkah 25a-b.

  3. (Back to text) See Tur Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, beginning of sec. 362.

  4. (Back to text) Shmos 13:19.

  5. (Back to text) II, 214b.

  6. (Back to text) Bereishis 50:26.

  7. (Back to text) Shir HaShirim 6:9.

  8. (Back to text) See Or HaTorah, Parshas Behar, p. 190ff.

  9. (Back to text) Sefer HaMaamarim - Kuntreisim, Vol. I, p. 251a ff.

  10. (Back to text) At this point the Rebbe went on to discuss the teaching of the Sages (Midrash Tehillim 1:8) on the verse, Yihyu leratzon imrei fi... - "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, G-d, my Strength and my Redeemer" (Tehillim 19:15).

    On this verse the Sages comment: "[King David asked G-d that Jews over the ages] should read [and study] his Psalms and be rewarded for this, just as they are rewarded for the study of nega'im and ohalos."

    [These two abstruse Talmudic tractates, the preserve of the scholarly elite, deal respectively with the various categories of ritual impurity contracted through certain kinds of leprous ailments and through certain degrees of proximity with the dead.]

    "Why," asked the Rebbe, "did David HaMelech ask specifically for a reward such as this, rather than some other reward, such as the '310 Worlds' of Divine revelation which the righteous will enjoy in the World to Come?"

    "In whimsical vein," answered the Rebbe, "one could offer the following explanation. If the Tehillim-readers over the generations were to be granted some other reward, certain persons would no doubt protest: 'Whatever will come of lomdus, of abstruse erudition? Who will be qualified to grant agunos legal permission to remarry, and the like?' And that is why David HaMelech asked that the Tehillim-readers be rewarded 'just as they are rewarded for the study of nega'im and ohalos' - so that the claims of lomdus won't be overlooked...."

    [Note by the publisher of the Hebrew edition: The above comment evidently came as a continuation of the theme that those who carry the ark of Yosef will lose nothing - including attainments in nigleh, the revealed and legalistic plane of the Torah.]

  11. (Back to text) Megillah 32a.

  12. (Back to text) [This noun corresponds to the verb tzivah.]

  13. (Back to text) [This noun corresponds to the verb tikken.]

  14. (Back to text) The Rebbe here added that the above concept allows us to appreciate (a) the comment of Rashi on the above quotation, and (b) the relevance of the above quotation to Megillah, the tractate which it concludes, [for] "we are still the servants of Achashverosh" (Megillah 14a).

    [Note by the publisher of the Hebrew edition:

    (a) The above statement perhaps refers to Rashi's concluding comment on this tractate: "[The Jewish people] accepted and retained the reward for the mitzvos for themselves and for their children, in this world and in the next."

    For this comment highlights the divine service initiated by those in the world below, in the spirit of the above discussion of takkanos.

    (b) As to the relevance of the above quotation to Tractate Megillah: The need for takkanos, for the rectification of the world below, is felt most during the time of galus, when "we are still the servants of Achashverosh."]

  15. (Back to text) [In the original, beirur - the task of sifting the materiality of this world in order to extricate and elevate the divine sparks embedded within it.]

  16. (Back to text) The narrative is retold in full in Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. IV, p. 1504 [and in Eng. translation: Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. V, in the chapter headed "Yud-Tes Kislev, 5632"].

    [Visitors to Petersburg today can see the very cell in the Peter-Paul Fortress overlooking the River Neva, where the Alter Rebbe was incarcerated under capital sentence in 1798 until his liberation on 19-20 Kislev.]

  17. (Back to text) For the Sanctification of the Moon, see Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 238ff.

  18. (Back to text) Cf. Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. IV, p. 1505 [and in Eng. translation, loc. cit.].

  19. (Back to text) See also Sefer HaSichos 5701 [1941], p. 102; Sefer HaSichos 5702 [1942], p. 91; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, p. 285.

  20. (Back to text) In the Yid. original, kuntzn.

  21. (Back to text) Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 69, pp. 112a, 114a.

  22. (Back to text) See Sefer HaMinhagim: The Book of Chabad-Lubavitch Customs (Kehot, N.Y., 1991), p. 38ff.

  23. (Back to text) The Rebbe went on to speak of those who shave their beard by chemical or other means, and stated that even though there are opinions that this practice is permitted according to the law, it is self-evident that it does not accord with conduct that is guided by the takkanos of the Rebbe [Rayatz].
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