Although it is not an official Jewish holiday, the 19th of Kislev, is a significant date in the Chassidic calendar. On this date, some 217 years ago, the first Rebbe of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was released from Czarist imprisonment. He had been arrested on charges of treason against the government, for his efforts to raise money for the poverty-stricken in Israel, which was then under the control of the Ottoman Turks, who were at war with Russia. The Rebbe was fully vindicated and was released on the 19th of Kislev.
Why is this event so significant in Chassidic history? The Rebbe was slandered by fellow Jews who opposed his new path in Divine service. However, the Rebbe explained that he was arrested not because of the deeds of people down below, but due to a protest from above against his activities to disseminate the most esoteric, hidden teachings of Torah, which until then had only been taught to the most select students.
The release of Rabbi Schneur Zalman was a vindication not only on a physical plane but also on a spiritual one. It demonstrated that the heavenly complaint against his activities had been removed. The holy predecessors of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch, revealed themselves to him during his imprisonment and informed him that it had been decided in Heaven that he should continue disseminating his Chassidic teachings.
Indeed, after his release Rabbi Schneur Zalman began to disseminate his teachings on an unprecedented scale. And this is the reason for the great rejoicing of Chassidim on the 19th of Kislev: In the merit of this day, the teachings of Chassidism reached every part of the globe.
The teachings of Chassidism, particularly as expressed in Chabad, make accessible to us the infinite greatness of the Creator, to the extent possible for limited human intelligence to absorb. Chassidism also puts us in touch with the inner strengths of our soul.
There are other approaches to Judaism that are built around rational arguments for G-d’s existence, or philosophies based on fear–the punishments that will befall the unbelievers. Chassidism does neither. It simply connects the individual with an inner wellspring of faith that is ever-present within him.
Chassidism ignites one’s inner faith, resulting in fulfillment of Torah and mitzvot, as required by that faith. In this way it fulfills the soul’s longing for connection with G-d, despite the enticements of the surrounding world.
Chassidic teachings work their magic by revealing G-dly secrets that have been concealed for generations. But why were these teachings first revealed only at that precise point in history?
One reason is that the Jewish people had reached such a low spiritual stature due to their suffering in exile that they needed an infusion of Divine light and energy to raise them up. But there is another reason as well. We are approaching the time of Redemption, when Moshiach will reveal a “new Torah.” Actually, his interpretation of Torah will not be new, but will be so novel that it will be new in comparison to everything we have known before. As a preparation for the era of Moshiach, G-d allowed us a slight taste of those glorious teachings.
Each of the Alter Rebbe’s successors, the leaders of Chabad Chassidism in their generation, expounded on his teachings according to the needs of their generation. The teachings of the current leader of Chabad, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, are perhaps the most potent of all, since under the Rebbe’s leadership we will be ushered in directly to Redemption.