This evening is Yud Tes Kislev, the 19th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. It commemorates the liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad, from Czarist imprisonment in 1798 for his Jewish beliefs and practices.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, also known as the Alter Rebbe, laid the principles that guide Chabad to this day; the ability to have a meaningful relationship with G-d, based on wisdom, understanding and knowledge, the mechanisms we have as humans to keep our mind and intellect in control of our emotions and passions, and most importantly, the glue that must hold that all together, the fundamental and transformative Chabad approach to loving your fellow Jew as yourself.
So why was he arrested? In 1788, Rabbi Shneur Zalman established Colel Chabad, a charitable fund to raise money for the impoverished Jewish community living in the Holy Land of Israel. At the time, the Holy Land was under Ottoman rule. Since Turkey was at war with Russia, his detractors fabricated false accusations of treason to create a pretext for his persecution, arrest, and incarceration by the Czarist regime.
In the 235 years since its founding, Colel Chabad has operated without interruption providing for the Holy Land’s needy and most vulnerable. Incidentally, it is also another reminder that Jewish people have always been living in Israel, dating back over 3,300 years when the Israelites entered the land promised by G-d to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants to this day.
About the importance of supporting our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel, the Alter Rebbe writes how one “should impose austerity on his own life and go far beyond the letter of the law [that one contributes 10% of their wealth].” This charity is so important that even those who struggle to make a livelihood “must give precedence [to supporting those living in Israel] over any fine apparel and family feasts, with meat and fish and all kinds of delicacies, for oneself and all of one’s household.”
Over the last few weeks we have seen some of this spirit play out in real-time, as Jews from around the world have opened their hearts and generously contributed to our brothers and sisters in Israel as Hamas rockets rain down on their homes, schools and hospitals, terrorists shoot randomly in the streets of Jerusalem, and all of them face an unimaginable humanitarian crisis.
As we say, 'In each generation, they rise up against us, but He (G-d) saves us from their hands.'
Czarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire are long gone, but Yud Tes Kislev and the values taught by the Alter Rebbe are still celebrated, and the Jewish people still exist and thrive in the Holy Land of Israel. Like those who persecuted us centuries ago, our enemies and their enablers will no doubt disappear soon enough. Let us hope and pray it happens swiftly with no further loss of precious life so the people of Israel can live in peace.
May G-d ensure the safe return of the hostages, bring healing to the wounded, and protect the brave men and women of the IDF and the people of Israel. As it's written, "The Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers..." and "I shall grant peace upon the Land..."
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.