Development ofRebbes: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn19th of KislevChassidutmain posts

The Voice of Jacob

What is the secret of the Holiday of Redemption on the 19th of Kislev and its continuation on the 20th of Kislev? The Ba’al Shem Tov, the Rabbi the Maggid of Mezritch and the Alter Rebbe of Chabad are the three ‘Forefathers of Chassidut’. The Ba’al Shem Tov parallels Abraham, the pillar of loving kindness; the Rabbi the Maggid of Mezritch parallels Isaac, the pillar of service of God; the Alter Rebbe of Chabad parallels Jacob, the pillar of Torah. The 19th of Kislev (called Yat Kislev) carries special significance for both the Rabbi the Maggid and for the Alter Rebbe. The 20th of Kislev is a special day for the Alter Rebbe, alone. 

Yat Kislev is a double holiday in Chassidut. First, it is the day of passing of the Rabbi the Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Dov Ber, who was the successor of the Ba’al Shem Tov. The day of the passing of a tzaddik is called a hilulah (wedding) because his soul joyously ascends to heaven, while his influence in this world simultaneously and continuously increases.

Before he passed away on 19 Kislev 5533 (1772), the Rabbi the Maggid turned to his beloved disciple, Rabbi Schneor Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe) and said, “Today is our holiday.” Sure enough, in 5559 (1798), the Alter Rebbe was arrested by the Russian government as a result of false accusations that he was rebelling against the regime. His imprisonment was considered not only a physical hardship (which came with a death penalty) but also as a reflection of a spiritual battle. It was understood as prosecution against the Alter Rebbe’s instruction, which was to reveal the secrets of the Torah in public, garbed in intellect and inner service of God. Ultimately, the Alter Rebbe was released from prison on 19 Kislev 5559 (1798), exactly26 years after his Rebbe had spoken of that day being “our holiday.” Yat Kislev is indeed a holiday when we celebrate the liberation and ever-expanding dissemination of Chassidut. The Mashiach told the Ba’al Shem Tov that he would come “when your fountains will spread forth.” Every 19th of Kislev, we complete another cycle of spreading the fountains forth, as we come closer and closer to the arrival of Mashiach.

After the Alter Rebbe was released from prison, he had no choice but to stay at the home of a Jew who opposed Chassidut. In that home, the Alter Rebbe also felt a type of imprisonment. The fact that his fellow Jew could treat him with such estrangement and scorn caused him more sorrow than his imprisonment by the Russians. It points to ‘internal exile’ in which we imprison ourselves. After a number of hours, the Alter Rebbe was able to continue on his way home. He met many chassidim whose joy knew no bounds. The date was already the 20th of Kislev and this day is also celebrated as a continuation of the Holiday of Redemption.

The Three Forefathers and the Three Pillars

The connection between the three personas, the Ba’al Shem Tov, the Maggid and the Alter Rebbe, is so profound and intrinsic that it is difficult to find its match. It is based on cleaving and inherent connection between souls, in which the Rabbi and his disciple are thought of as father and son. The Alter Rebbe would refer to the Ba’al Shem Tov as “grandfather” and said that his connection to his spiritual grandfather is incalculably greater than to his physical grandfather.

Like our Forefathers Abraham Isaac and Jacob, these three ‘Forefathers of Chassidut’ also parallel the three pillars upon which the world stands: Torah, service of God and loving-kindness:

Abraham exemplified the attribute of loving-kindness. He was a giver and influencer, journeying from place to place to spread faith in God and His good light. The Ba’al Shem also journeyed from village to village, helping Jews and spreading the light of the love of God and the love of Israel. The Ba’al Shem Tov’s teachings are replete with love and kindness (chesed) which is the source of the word for his teachings, ‘chassidut.’

Isaac was the man of fear of Heaven. He did not journey from place to place, but rather, remained in his own place, digging wells. Just as the water emerged from the depths, so his soul longed for the Creator. Abraham’s influence was from above to below, while Isaac was always in an internal direction of ascent, from below to above. He is the pillar of service of God, the service of the heart, which is prayer – the flame of the soul that ascends and is drawn to its Divine source. The Maggid of Mezritch also stayed in his own place, served God and reached new heights of pure, distilled service of God, always drawn to heaven above.

Jacob is called the pillar of Torah. The Torah is the all-inclusive mid-line, the Divine truth that descends into the finest details. The Alter Rebbe was also the pillar of Torah: He was a decisor of Jewish law. In the inner dimension of the Torah, he expanded the short, brilliant teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov and the Rabbi the Maggid into full, well-constructed and explained Torah discourses, melding the Kabbalah of the Holy Ari with the path forged by the Ba’al Shem Tov and the Maggid.

Each of these personas included all the other pillars, each with his own personal texture and light. The Alter Rebbe engaged at length in the pillar of service of God. Many of his chassidic discourses discuss the service of prayer. By the same token, he extols the virtues of the practical mitzvot – particularly the mitzvah of charity, the pillar of loving-kindness. In this manner, he includes prayer and lovingkindness in the pillar of Torah.

It is told that initially, the Alter Rebbe deliberated as to where to learn Torah. Should he learn Torah from the Vilna Gaon or should he go to the Maggid of Mezritch, where he would learn how to pray and serve God? Ultimately he decided: I know a bit about learning Torah, but I do not know how to properly pray. He went to Mezritch. The Maggid of Mezritch was the address for those who wished to acquire the pillar of service of God, while the Alter Rebbe was already the pillar of Torah.

The Voice of Jacob

When Jacob came to receive the blessings from his father, Isaac felt his hands and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are the hands of Esau[1].” The sages explain that the voice of Jacob is the voice of Torah and prayer. In Hebrew, the word for voice is kol (קול).  In this verse in Genesis, the word kol is first written without its middle letter, vav. The second time in this verse, it is written as usual, with the vav. This is the difference between Torah and prayer. In prayer, we have a voice without the vav. We have a feeling of lack and neediness. We beg as a pauper in the doorway. The Torah, conversely, is a full voice, with the vav. The letter vav represents influence, like the Torah that descends from heaven to earth.

We see this process in Isaac’s words, “The voice is the voice of Jacob: First, Isaac identifies Jacob’s voice of prayer, the voice that lacks the vav – which is the way that Jacob is included in Isaac and identifies with his attribute of prayer. Then, Isaac identifies the voice of the Torah, the full voice, with the vav – Jacob’s unique, essential voice.

At the last meeting between the Maggid and the Alter Rebbe, the Maggid establishes the inner bond between them when he declares, “Today is our holiday.” This connection is revealed in the redemption of the 19th of Kislev. The redemption, however, continues for an additional day: The 19th of Kislev, shared by both the Maggid and the Alter Rebbe, expresses the Maggid’s unique pillar of service of God. The Alter Rebbe is included in that pillar and shares it with him. This is the voice of Jacob minus the vav, the first, lacking voice that expresses the voice of prayer. Then on the 20th of Kislev, the Alter Rebbe’s unique voice is expressed: The voice of Torah, which is the power to overcome his opponents within the Jewish world. This is the full voice of Jacob, with the vav, Jacob’s voice of Torah.

A beautiful allusion to this thought: הקֹל = יט כסלוקול = כ כסלוHakol minus the vav equals 19 Kislev. Kol with the vav equals 20 Kislev! 19 Kislev is the voice of prayer, while 20 Kislev is the voice of Torah, the voice of Jacob.


[1] Genesis 27:22.

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