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By Bezalel Naor

In the year 5710/1950, in honor of the tenth of Shevat, the yahrzeit of his paternal grandmother Rebbetzin Rivkah, Rabbi Yosef Yitshak Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, composed and distributed a ma’amar (discourse) to be studied on that day. As Divine Providence would have it, the tenth of Shevat (which fell on a Sabbath that year) became the Rebbe’s own yahrzeit, for in the early hours of Shabbat morning he passed to his eternal reward.

Understandably, this discourse entitled Bati le-Gani (“I Came to My Garden”), after the verse in Song of Songs 5:1, was viewed thereafter as Rabbi Yosef Yitshak’s last will and testament. When a year later on the tenth of Shevat, 5711/1951, the first yahrzeit of Rabbi Yosef Yitshak, his son-in-law Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, formally succeeded him as Rebbe of Lubavitch, his “inaugural address,” so to speak, was this Ma’amar Bati le-Gani. The discourse became the “mission statement” of the movement, and in years to come, this ma’amar would be revisited and reexamined annually on Yud Shevat.

The text which serves as the basis for the Rebbe’s discourse is the Midrash Song of Songs Rabbah which describes how as each epoch sinned, the Shekhinah or divine presence became further removed from our mundane reality:

Adam sinned and the Shekhinah departed to the first heaven.

Cain sinned; it departed to the second heaven.

Enoch sinned; it departed to the third heaven.

The generation of the Flood sinned; it departed to the fourth heaven.

The generation of the Tower sinned; it departed to the fifth heaven.

The inhabitants of Sodom sinned; it departed to the sixth heaven.

The Egyptians sinned in the days of Abraham; it departed to the seventh heaven.

It then took another seven generations, starting with Abraham and culminating with Moses, to bring the Shekhinah back down to earth, the final dwelling place or “garden” of the Shekhinah being the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the Wilderness:

Opposite them stood seven tsaddikim (righteous) and brought her [back] to earth.

Abraham lowered her from the seventh to the sixth.

Isaac lowered her from the sixth to the fifth.

Jacob lowered her from the fifth to the fourth.

Levi lowered her from the fourth to the third.

Kehath lowered her from the third to the second.

Amram lowered her from the second to the first.

Moses lowered her to the earth.

And when did the Shekhinah rest on her?

On the day that the Tabernacle was erected!

Front and center in the Midrash is a statement essential to the philosophy of Habad Hasidism: “The main [dwelling] of the Shekhinah is down below.” (“‘Ikkar Shekhinah ba-tahtonim.”) In the Midrash, it occurs as a rhetorical statement: “Was not the main [dwelling] of the Shekhinah down below?” This mirrors the statement at the core of Tanya, the primer of Habad Hasidism: “The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have a dwelling place down below.”[1] Unlike some other strands within Hasidism, Habad is not starry-eyed. It is determined to transform this lowly plane of existence into a Godly abode.

The discourse Bati le-Gani is by now very famous. The heirs to Rabbi Yosef Yitshak, spiritual if not biological, understood its relevance to this generation. They viewed themselves as the seventh generation counting from the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, author of Tanya and founder of Habad Hasidism. And their leader, the seventh Rebbe of Habad, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, was Moses redivivus.



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[1] Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Tanya, chap. 36 (45b). The quote comes from Midrash Tanhuma, Nasso 16. That Midrash parallels the Midrash Song of Songs Rabbah.



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