Yankele was an average Kollel man – until the day his rich uncle decided to transform him into a prosperous individual. His uncle wasn’t satisfied with his promises, so a short while after his surprising letter arrived, he too turned up on Yankele’s doorstep. With his sharp mind Yankele soon learned the secrets of the business and in a short time was as familiar with the pathways of commerce as he was with the streets of his own city. Once his uncle was convinced of his business acumen, he broke off his support and gave him full reign over the company. Yankele became a real businessman; he bought, sold, amassed great wealth, and made a good name for himself in the business world.
Then, just at the peak of his momentum, things went haywire. A small miscalculation followed by a critical period until the mistake was found, and a mountain of debt somehow overtook and overshadowed the mountain of success. Yankele understood that he was in a real crisis and, having no other choice, turned to his rich uncle for help.
In his worst nightmares he never would have imagined the reply he received. Overnight his generous uncle had turned into a stranger. But the fear of bankruptcy didn’t give him the luxury to sit and wallow in his shame. He knew that if he didn’t find a solution, his life wouldn’t be worth living. He found himself a corner of a shul and opened up a book of Psalms. After an hour of heartfelt tear-soaked prayer, he returned to his office. His thoughts became clearer and he was able to see a new, broader perspective on the situation. Further analysis of the figures exposed a solution to the problem, and after a short while the business was running steadily again.
But the letter he received soon afterwards seemed to shatter his life in one blow. The bank manager was informing him, in no uncertain terms, of an unacceptable state of affairs. Huge sums that had been discovered to be non-existent had not only swallowed up his entire account, but had even put the bank into a serious predicament. Yankele made his way to the bank, his knees trembling. He could already see himself cut off from everything – his home, his fortune, his position, even from life itself.
On the threshold of the manager’s office Yankele stood rubbing his eyes, he thought he was hallucinating. If his eyes weren’t deceiving him, his rich uncle was sitting there sweet-talking with the manager. “Hello, Reb Yankele,” said the bank manager jubilantly, “please come in.” Yankele was already convinced that he’d lost his mind from the distress, “What on earth’s going on here?!” he muttered to himself. “Sit down, dear nephew,” his uncle said, placing a supportive hand on his shoulder, “Soon you’ll understand everything.”
“I wanted you to learn a few things,” concluded his uncle, after he’d explained all that had happened. “Firstly, I knew that as long as you didn’t put your head right into the murkiest depths of the business, you would never become a businessman. Nothing would have pushed you to find new solutions by yourself, and learn the true meaning of business, like facing bankruptcy. Only through this did you truly use everything you’ve learnt. Secondly, I wanted you to understand that business must be done coldly, dispassionately. You know now that I’m always here in the background, aware of everything that’s going on and ready and willing to help and support you. You know now that you worried in vain. So you should always know – whatever predicament you find yourself in, in business there’s no place for fear. You need simply to focus and concentrate on the situation in front of you; fear just disturbs you from coming to a solution and from taking a step forward with faith and bitachon (trust in Hashem).
The tales of the Exodus from Egypt arouse great excitement. It was the one time in history when the Creator completely removed the casing of the natural world, and revealed that everything is actually constantly run with Providence and miracles. At the Exodus from Egypt Hashem exposed His ‘Great Hand’, and showed His people a face of mercy and love. This reached its peak at the splitting of the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds. Hashem then took hold of all of nature, with all its ‘laws’, and crushed it for His beloved people. He brought together nature and Providence to show everyone who the real Boss is. Until the moment when the walls of water collapsed upon the Egyptian hosts, the idol of nature still called out, “I will chase them and catch them.” Hashem gave him the opportunity to express his strength to the very end, but then the miracle was wrought and ‘nature’ bit the dust.
With all this it’s impossible not to wonder – if Hashem had decided to nullify the laws of nature for the sake of the Jewish people, in order to remove them from the servitude of Egypt, couldn’t He have saved them from the terrible fear that they experienced until the moment the Sea split? Until Israel saw the dead bodies of the Egyptians and their wealth on the sea shore, they weren’t convinced that they’d truly escaped. We can understand that there are times of concealment, when Hashem conceals His Providence and allows fear to rule in the world, in order to test Israel. But at the Exodus from Egypt the conduct was specifically one of open love and mercy. What place was there for such concealment in the middle of such a wondrous and open redemption?
At the Exodus from Egypt great awareness was shined on us, but in the form of light; we were surrounded by the clouds of glory, and the redemption illuminated our minds. But it still wasn’t possible to live the redemption in reality, as part of real life. In order for the Exodus from Egypt to be eternal and to penetrate to the depths of our reality, it was necessary for us to pass through the Yam Suf.
At the splitting of the Yam Suf many things happened. The ‘Sea of Wisdom’ also split. When Israel walked through the sea, the wellsprings of wisdom were split open and became something tangible. The fear and dread that overcame us there on the sea shore, when behind us loomed huge physical forces, and in front of us raged a roaring sea – this fear forced us to turn the awareness and ‘lights’ of the Exodus into ready cash. Only then did the sea of wisdom split and penetrate into the reality of life, because only then did we experience what fear really was, and how even there, right in the midst of that dreadful terror, Hashem was to be found.
We also learned the lesson that no matter what the situation, it’s forbidden to give up, because Hashem is always just behind the curtains, and He is the one directing the show. He has a clear purpose – His interest is that we truly open up our minds, put our heads fully into the Torah that we’ve received and use this knowledge and awareness practically in our lives. This, He knows, we can’t do without first experiencing what fear is, without experiencing being right at the edge of the precipice.
The splitting of the Yam Suf connected the Exodus from Egypt with every situation that we’ll ever encounter in this world. The splitting of the sea was part of receiving of the Torah. We learned then that in order to get by in this world and see everything in the light of faith, we have to put our heads deeply into this subject, the subject of faith. Faith, Emunah, can’t be studied as an interesting intellectual theory, or be something we just give lip service to – faith has to be learnt and lived in the flesh.
Now that we’ve safely passed through the sea, we know that even if life seems to be leading us towards a dead end and we feel that with the next step we’ll be plunged to the depths – there’s nothing to fear, because behind the curtains Hashem is running everything. Today we know that we have to live life with joy and with songs of praise and thanks, because not only will Hashem save us in the end, but He’s also right by our sides, accompanying us in all our darkest moments.
But how was it possible to suddenly receive such awareness, such ‘seichel’, when we we’re so far from true awareness? How was it possible that we should suddenly succeed in thinking deeply about the Torah of Tzaddikim and Emunah?
The Rebbe reveals the secret in Torah 8 (second section). There he explains what the splitting of the Yam Suf really was. He says that both the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Yam Suf were wrought by the ‘Rod of Strength’ of the Tzaddik. To understand what this means, we need to go back a bit and explain that the Egyptian exile was in essence the overpowering of a spirit of impurity and blockage over the Jewish souls. Sin had made it possible for the Egyptians to take hold over the Jewish spirit. The ‘husks’ and evil became empowered and swallowed up the Jewish people, their souls, their sparks of holiness, and everything good. Throughout the years of exile tens of thousands of sparks of holiness became ensnared in the depths of the Egyptian soil, unable to raise themselves up and return to their places.
The redemption was a rectification of sin. Sins had created the concealment, so when they were rectified, the concealment automatically vanished. Someone capable of effecting such a rectification had to be a very great Tzaddik, such as Moshe Rabeinu. Such a Tzaddik can pray a prayer of severe judgments – a prayer that is like a staff (a ‘Rod of Strength’) that the Tzaddik sticks into the throat of the Satan, until he is forced to vomit out all the good that he has swallowed.
When Israel came out from Egypt, Egypt vomited up all the thousands of sparks of holiness and awareness that had been ensnared in its belly. This awareness was then revealed to the Jews by the sea. That is where Israel merited comprehending the waters of awareness, and they then began to hear appropriate rebuke. Because until then, back in Egypt, all their ears heard was inappropriate rebuke – rebuke that aroused a revolting smell in the soul, and weakened it. Now, by the sea, Israel received true awareness, and they learned how to hear rebuke in the correct way. It was then that they burst forth with the incredible song that will be heard in the future, when the whole world is filled with true awareness.
The Egyptian exile is representative of the exile of every individual. Sin destroys and clouds our minds, rendering us incapable of hearing rebuke, and therefore incapable of repenting, of doing teshuva. But the very great Tzaddik has the ‘Rod of Strength’ – a tremendous power of holy brazenness, and he is capable of bringing about forgiveness of sin, and can remove the concealment from our souls. When he does this, he splits the sea, and the souls and good that were trapped in exile start to rise up with a voice of song and praise. The song that’s then heard is rebuke from the one who knows how to rebuke, and a person becomes able to hear this rebuke and move forward in serving Hashem, without getting broken.
This happens essentially at the holy gathering on Rosh Hashanah, and this is the source for the obligation to travel to the Rebbe in Uman. There is where this rectification takes place. There the Rebbe tears off the veil of concealment from the soul, and the good starts to emerge. But something akin to this happens now too on Tu B’Shvat. This is also a Rosh Hashanah; it’s the New Year for the trees. On Tu B’Shvat something akin to the rectification of Rosh Hashanah takes place.
The Tzaddikim write that Tu B’Shvat is the time when the sparks of holiness and reincarnated souls that are going to come to their rectification through a particular tree, enter into that tree. This is the renewal of the trees that takes place, and these sparks immediately begin to be raised up and rectified.
Let’s also become renewed this Tu B’Shvat. Let’s remember that the splitting of the Sea of Reeds removed from us the veil of sin, and now a path of renewal, a path of serving Hashem with joy, praise and thanks has opened up wide before us.