Adapted from the works of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson
The 24th of Tevet marks the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad. On this day, it is customary to gather for farbrengens, informal chassidic gatherings where Torah thoughts, inspiration and stirring melodies are shared around a festive table.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson—who was a direct descendant of Rabbi Schneur Zalman—wrote extensively about the greatness of his illustrious ancestor and pointed out how the details of various aspects of his life were in tune with the teachings of the Kabbalah. While the full teaching is beyond the scope of this article, let’s focus on Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s understanding of the name Schneur Zalman.
The name Schneur (שניאור) contains within it two Hebrew words, שני (two) and אור (light): “two lights.” This is a most appropriate name for a man whose life mission was to teach others the two illuminations of the Torah: the revealed portion of Torah, which is embodied in his Code of Jewish Law; and the hidden Kabbalah, which he espoused in his many chassidic teachings.
Taking it a step further, אור (light) has the numeric value of 207. Adding together “two lights” (207+207) brings us to a total of 414, the numerical value of ואהבת (“and you shall love”).
Indeed, Rabbi Schneur Zalman devoted his life to helping people live the values of “And you shall love the L‑rd your G‑d” and “And you shall love your fellow like yourself,” as well as a love for the Torah and a love for the Land of Israel, which he actively supported through the Colel Chabad charity he led.
Curiously, Abraham our forefather was also associated with these same qualities of love and light. Isaiah refers to him as “Abraham, my lover,” and the Midrash tells us how he brought light to the world, saying, “Until Abraham, the world functioned in darkness—Abraham came and began to shed light.”
If the two lights of Schneur are associated with Abraham, then the name Zalman must connect with Sarah, his wife.
Sarah is the only woman in the entire Torah whose age is recorded: 127 years, a number the Kabbalists explain denotes perfection and achievement. And you guessed it: Zalman (זלמן) has the numerical value of 127.
Now, the 127 years of Sarah’s life were not all identical. There were the first 90 years before G‑d blessed her with a child, and then there were the last 37 years, when she raised her son Isaac, fulfilling her essential role as a mother of our people.
The name Zalman (זלמן) can be divided neatly into these two halves: זל=37, and מן=90.
One last facet:
The 127 years of Sarah came into play a thousand years later, when Ahasuerus, who eventually married Esther, ruled over 127 countries. Why 127? The Midrash fills us in:
Why did Esther merit to rule over 127 countries? Said G‑d: “Let Esther, the descendant of Sarah who lived 127 years, come and rule over 127 lands.'' [Esther Rabbah 1:8]
Concerning Esther, the Megillah tells us that she was taken to the king’s palace to be queen in the month of Tevet. Quite appropriately, Rabbi Schneur Zalman (whose connection to Esther is expressed in the number 127) was taken to G‑d’s supernal palace on the 24th of Tevet.