1. When a variety of Jews, each one representing a different sector of the total Jewish community, meet together, their intent should be to rise above their own personal existences. As the Torah states in Devarim, “You are all standing before G-d:246 “your Heads, your leaders...(mentioning ten different categories including even).your wood-choppers and water carriers”. (1)
The intent of that verse is to define the collectiveness of the Jewish people as one singular entity. Even so, the ten different categories are mentioned (and the verb ‘Nitzvaim’ (standing) and the pronoun ‘Kulchem’ (you) are in the plural) to accentuate the awareness that the unity of the Jewish people does not stand in opposition to plurality. Rather, it recognizes the particular perspective of each individual and that it is applicable to him within the context of his own experience.
The potential for the existence of such a unity among the Jewish people is derived from the Absolute Unity of G-d Himself. Though G-d’s unity is the Absolute of Oneness, nevertheless, in creation of the world, He chose not to reveal that oneness as it is for itself, but to bring into being a multitude of creations, each one with an individual identity and importance — each one as a particular expression of G-d’s greatness. When contemplating the vast multitude of different creations, one is moved to feelings of awe at G-d’s infinity. These feelings are communicated in the verse recited every day in the morning service “How great are Your deeds, O G-d”. (2)
These two concepts, viz., G-d’s Absolute Unity and the seemingly infinite amount of created beings, while on the surface contradictory, are, in fact, inter-dependent. As the Mittler Rebbe explains in ‘Toras Chaim’, only an Absolute Unity can produce an unlimited amount of creations.’ (3)
Therefore, though on the surface, the world appears to be of a limited nature and every creation limited to a specific and defined existence, in truth, however, when you consider the vast multitude of creations, and perceive how (to the degree possible under the limitations of space) their number approaches infinity (particularly, if you take into account their potential for reproduction), then you become aware of the G-dly power invested in creation, and perceive how the world reflects G-d’s infinity.
This concept of a fusion between unity and infinite difference is reflected in the general composition of the human race. Though a basic similarity is common to all men, insomuch that they share the same physical features, body structure, etc., nevertheless, no two men are exactly alike. Marked differences exist in their appearances, attitudes, dispositions, etc.
Both of these factors, viz., the basic similarity, and the unending variety are expressions of oneness. Both directly (through similarity) and indirectly (through infinite difference, as explained above) one can perceive G-d’s Absolute Unity. By simultaneously combining two opposites in one place, the divine attribute of Ultimate Transcendency is revealed.247
2. The Temple in Jerusalem revealed this attribute of Ultimate Transcendency in the world par excellence. The different sections of the Temple varied in their holiness, and correspondingly, they varied in the degree to which they revealed G-d’s Ultimate Transcendency. In the Holy of Holies, the most complete expression of Ultimate Transcendency was manifest. The room’s very construction (as explained below) testified to G-d’s power.
In the Temple in general, and in the Holy of Holies in particular, precise measure was of extreme importance. If an object did not carefully adhere to the measure specified for it, it did not qualify for Temple use. The measure of the Eastern Wall of the Holy of Holies was as follows: 10 cubits from the northern wall to the ark, 2 1/4 cubits the length of the ark, and ten cubits from the ark to the southern wall. Yet the entire span from the northern wall to the southern wall measured only 20 cubits. The ark stood as an open and revealed manifestation of G-d’s Ultimate Transcendency.
As the Talmud explains “from the Temple emanated light to the entire world,” (4)i.e., through the revelation of G-dliness in the Temple, we can become aware of and learn to appreciate the true nature of the world’s existence.
In fact, the world is a “Dirah Batachtonim,” G-d’s dwelling place. The very same qualities of Ultimate Transcendency revealed in the Temple are present throughout the whole of creation. However, in the world, these elements are hidden, (due to specific divine intention) in order that a Jew demonstrate how Torah has shaped his mind. Despite the lack of revelation, the Jew realizes the world’s true nature and does what is dependent on him (through his service of Torah and Mitzvos) to bring about the revelation of those qualities in the world.
Each act of Torah and Mitzvos brings about the revelation of G-d’ Absolute Unity in the world. Though-; presently, that revelation is not apparent, yet, man’s lack of perception does not diminish the effects of a Jew’s service. The Messianic redemption will demonstrate how a Jew’s Torah activity caused an open expression of G-d’s Absolute Unity.
3. This concept of transcendency is reflected in man himself. Each man possesses 613 organs (365 sinews, 248 limbs). Each organ has a specific function, an individual identity, and a unique importance. However, each individuals’ personal identity dominates the functioning of his body. The separate organs all combine and join together in unified activity.
Similarly, the Talmud Yerushalmi (5) compares the totality of the Jewish people to the human body. Though composed of different and individual entities, the entire nation is joined together by a common identity. This common denominator and the unity between Jews it produces, comes to the fore when many and different Jews meet together (as here tonight).
For this reason, the Ari Hakodesh, Rav Isaac Luria, writes that before prayer you should fully accept upon yourself the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. (6) Before beginning your daily activities,248 you should re-affirm you commitment to unite yourself with the entire Jewish people.
Prayer is not meant to be self-contained. Its effects should be evident in the behavior during the ensuing day. When observing a Jew conducting his daily affairs, you should be able to recognize that he has davenned (and davenned in a manner that a Jew should daven).
Therefore, the acceptance of the Mitzvah of ‘Ahavas Yisrael’ maap before nraver should also influence one’s daily activities. In fact, then the stress on Ahavas Yisrael should be greater. In davenning, the concept is still abstract. In life, business, interpersonal communication, and eating, etc., you come into contact with other people and the expression of Ahavas Yisrael has to be concrete.
With this concept, particularly emphasizing the Yerushalmi’s comparison of the totality of the Jewish people to the human body, the Jew carries out his daily activities. Through expressing Ahavas Yisrael in even his mundane and routine affairs, in his everyday practicalities, he reveals in the world and to the world, G-d’s Absolute Unity.
4. Since this service of Ahavas Yisrael and the other Torah and Mitzvos activities affect the world and reveal within the world G-d’s Absolute Oneness, it follows that as that work proceeds, its effects cause the world itself to demand that it serve as vessel to reveal G-d’s oneness.
The business world provides a suitable example. The history of business illustrates how the world has progressed from individuality towards unity. Previously, private companies had dominated the business world. Success was a product of man’s individual efforts.
Modern business reversed this trend, opting for corporate entities, combining the efforts of many. This pattern has allowed for increased coordination of the various stages of production, cut expenses, and added to the available markets. Though the Yetzer Hara argued such cooperation (and the decrease in fraud, theft, etc. which accompanies it) would lower profits, experience shows it maximizes them, demonstrating how unity has become part of the world’s internal system.
The evolutionary pattern undergone by the business world was paralleled in the sphere of science.249 A similar process of growth, emphasizing how G-d’s Absolute Oneness has influenced the world, can be noticed (and to a greater degree, because science deals with the world abstractly).
Accordingly, the modern approach in science has been to seek theories of greater range, to search for a common denominator applicable in various, different situations. Likewise, an attempt has been made to cross disciplinary lines, to relate concepts from one field to a totally foreign area (e.g., physics to biology). Parallelisms and associations have been made between seemingly separate bodies of knowledge which has allowed for growth and advancement.
The closer we are drawn to the coming of the Mashiach, the more science has been able to demonstrate how an innate oneness (explained by Torah to be the oneness of G-d) permeates every aspect of the universe.250
(This radically different approach in science was foreseen in the Zohar’s prophecy “In the 600th year (of the sixth millennium) the well-springs of knowledge will open”. (7) At that time, there was an explosion of knowledge in the realm of Torah study which produced in turn, an explosion of knowledge in the sciences — allowing for the perception of oneness described above.)
5. The awareness of how plurality does not contradict (on the contrary helps express) unity (as explained above) should help a Jew appreciate the unity present when a number of Jews meet together.251 Even though they appear different, these differences are only superficial. In reality, all Jews, irrespective of their social or religious strata, are unified standing before G-d:
At that point, as the verse say, we “join into a covenant with the L-rd, your G-d.” (8) A covenant is made by one taking an animal, dividing it into two separate halves, and then passing between them. The action expresses the concept that the two principals of the covenant become one entity. They may become divided, but only superficially, as the essential connection remains. Similarly, by entering into a covenant with G-d the Jew becomes one with the Divine, in the prophet’s words “a part of G-d from above.”
6. This discussion concerning the unification of seemingly separate entities is uniquely appropriate to the present time. This present occasion is itself a composite of different and even contradictory elements (each one with a powerful and significant individual lesson).
First of all, it is Motzaei Shabbos, itself a combination of seemingly opposite facets. It is still related to Shabbos. It is the time of Melaveh Malkah, accompanying and enjoying the last moment of connection to the Shabbos queen.252 Simultaneously, it is no longer Shabbos as the Melaveh Malkah begins after Havdalah. The Shabbos mood has .already given way to the hustle-bustle atmosphere of the working week.
Then, it is Rosh Chodesh — which follows a pattern different and even contradictory to the Shabbos-weekday cycle. That cycle is dependent on the Sun, while, according to the Jewish calendar the months are set according to the phases of the moon. Therein lies the contradiction the sun is the generator of energy, the moon its receiver.
Moreover, though today is called Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the month of Iyar, its calendar date is the thirtieth of Nissan. The joining together of the two months Nissan and Iyar is also a combination of two opposites. There is a specific quality of service to G-d for each month. And the qualities designated for Nissan and Iyar differ greatly.
Nissan is called the month of redemption. That name, however, itself indicates a connection to Galus (the very fact that there is a need to specify redemption implies a connection to Galus). In spiritual terms, this refers to the service of “Iscofia” — bending one’s nature, i.e., there is still evil in existence, but you control and dominate that evil.
Iyar, on the other hand, describes a state of freedom in which Galus never enters consideration. The first redemption, the Exodus from Egypt, serves as an example. On the seventh day of Passover, the Egyptians (representing the source of all Galus) drowned in the Red Sea. In the following month of Iyar a new service, “Is-hap-cha”, began, the transformation into G-dliness of all one’s behavioral traits.
Finally, this Shabbos marks the completion of the Pesach Holiday. Just as in a physical sense the achievements of the week are enjoyed on Shabbos, similarly, in a spiritual sense, the Shabbos completes and perfects the Jew’s service of the preceding week. Even the Shabbos before,253 in this case, the last day of Passover, is affected and elevated by the ensuing Shabbos.
As explained above, though all these elements are different, one line runs through all of them. In every case, they express the greatness of Torah and the greatness of a Jew, which both parallel the greatness of G-d. Therefore, they possess the powers of Ultimate Transcendency necessary to combine many seemingly opposite forces by revealing their common denominator, i.e., the divine energy which permeates the
7. A practical lesson should result from every concept. We are leaving the month of Nissan, the first month of the year,254 the month of freedom (the source for the freedom-; being G-d’s Ultimate Transcendency) and entering the remainder of the year. We should try to bring that freedom into contact with the world to connect that Ultimate Transcendency with practical, daily affairs and mundane matters.
The first step in such a course of behavior is Ahavas Yisrael. Through revealing the unity among Jews we reveal the unity in the world. Proceeding to Chinuch, which means educating a person according to Torah which leads to Tefillin, and Mezuzah (performing these Mitzvos is considered by the Talmud to be equivalent to performing the entire Torah). (9),Such action will cause G-d to lend heavenly assistance which is channeled into the world through Tzedakah, so that the entire world becomes a dwelling place for G-d, and becomes Melah Seforim filled with divine light.
This light is in turn expressed by Neiros Shabbos Kodesh, whose purpose is to illuminate the home which is purified, refined, and made holy through following Kashrus and Taharas Hamishpachah.
When this service is completed in each individual house, the revelation will spread throughout the entire world, G-d’s house and dwelling place — “Dirah Bitachtonim”, and bring about the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days.
8. It is proper to begin with that which is most important. In the Talmud our sages clearly stated, “Deed is the most essential.” (10) Even though thought and speech are more refined means of self-expression, our sages put their stress on Deed.
Now, the present circumstances clearly point to the deeds most necessary. In America and other countries, the summer, and with it, school vacation, are soon approaching. Already parents have begun making preparations to enroll their child in a day camp, sleeping camp, etc.
It is understandable that it is difficult to convince a parent to make a change once a decision has been made. The opposite is also true. Before a parent has decided, they are open-minded and can be convinced to send their child to a Torah-oriented school or camp.
The stress on camp is even greater than on school, because in many ways more can be accomplished in the brief time a child is at camp than during an entire year at school. There are two reasons for this paradoxical phenomenon. Firstly, in school, a significant part of the day is devoted to secular subjects, while in camp the child can be involved 24 hours a day with Jewish study, play, and rest. He can be involved in a Jewish atmosphere without being disturbed by anything, even permitted things, which is outside the realm of Torah.
Secondly, a school is only a few hours a day, and camp can be, if possible, a complete and total experience, embracing 24 hours a day. Once a child is submerged totally in an environment, it will change his entire thinking process. He can become a totally different personality. Torah can become alive for him. (As it says in Parshas Acherei (the portion which we read this Shabbos, “VeChay Bohem” — “You shall live in them”. (11)255
Therefore, there should be a stress on Jewish education, particularly camps. Especially since we have drawn one year closer to the coming of Mashiach, it is proper to make every effort to ensure that not one Jewish child suffer the “Galus” of a non-Torah-oriented educational system. Even if that system does not oppose Torah, still, if that system is not Torah oriented, it is not fit for a Jewish child.
9. The last statement can be best understood when viewed in the light of the Baal Shem Tov’s description of the Jew’s relationship to G-d as that of an only son born to a King in his old age. Just as in physical things, the King’s son is treated with utmost care, and given only the best, so, too, and even to a greater degree, in spiritual matter (for these nourish both the body and the soul) must extreme care be taken to ensure what is most appropriate, and in this case, a Torah-oriented education must be received by each and every Jewish child.
The above is particularly true in the early childhood years when, as is well known, an individual’s behavioral pattern is fixed. The physical example of a seed expresses this concept clearly. When a seed is first planted, the slightest things done to improve its condition result in major changes in the tree, its fruit, and the trees which will grow from its fruit in later years.
A parallel phenomenon can be seen in the growth of a child. Anything which can be done to improve his early years, even when it is only for a brief period (the three weeks the child is in camp or even less (or even if the child already goes to a good camp, but there is the possibility of sending him to a better one ) ), will result in greater changes at a later date. In Midrash, it says, do not weigh the Mitzvos, (12) considering which one is more important, which one less, but fulfill them all equally, with the same sense of commitment. Similarly, regardless of the unapparent immediate effect on the child (particularly when just like in the example of the seed, the positive efforts are not seen immediately), each small step to improve his Jewish education is of extreme importance.
10. The stress on taking major strides in Jewish education is particularly appropriate after the Pesach Holiday. The literal translation of Pesach — is G-d “jumped”. Since a Jew follows in a pattern of “Imatio Deo” — as it says Tzaddikim (which applies to every Jew) are similar to their creator, (13) it follows that every Jew has the power to “jump” from his previously established habits to a new pattern. He has the potential to make unlimited progress, to leave Egypt — his boundaries and limitations — and proceed to redemption “B’yod Romah” — with proudly up-raised hands.
Since G-d gives the potential for such progress, the Jew has the obligation to use it. Wasting the power which G-d granted is a sign of disrespect. Therefore, since a Jew, according to Halachah, is sure to do what is correct (particularly after Pesach, when as a nation, and as individuals the Jew is reborn and is considered a new child, unaffected by his past), we can be sure of unlimited progress, proceeding on a path of unlimited growth.
This will lead to the child’s enjoyment of a healthy summer, and a successful summer (all because it is a ‘Jewish’ summer.)
Similarly we can see how Torah produces success from the Mishnayos of Pirkei Avos (which is customarily studied between Passover and Shavuos). At the outset, it proclaims that each Jew has a share in the world to come. Directly after this proclamation, we are instructed how to actualize that share, through the three pillars upon which the world stands: Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassadim, (14) which describe the totality of a Jew’s service in Torah and Mitzvos.
After the entire chapter develops these concepts, it concludes with the statement that G-d gave the Jews the Torah as a Zechus (a merit, a privilege) not as a burden, or a difficulty, and He gave them therefore a multitude of Mitzvos.
11. With this attitude, we can proceed to receive the Torah on Shavuos, particularly after the preparatory (preparation to serve G-d is also service) period of Sefiras HaOmer.
And then “you shall for yourselves count seven perfect weeks”, (15) each person can make his weeks perfect and they shall be “for yourselves”,(16) you will feel these spiritual achievements as your own and hence work for them with more zeal.
Receiving the Torah is a daily phenomenon, and is not restricted to Shavuos alone. Each day we declare that G-d is “Nosain HaTorah” (the Giver of the Torah) and use the present tense. This concept is expressed by the statement of our Sages that whenever a Jew learns Torah HaKodesh Baruch Hu, the Divine presence, learns with him, i.e., Divine energy is generated just as if the Torah was being given for the first time. (17)
This understanding of what Torah is will lead to a behavioral pattern of “you shall walk in my laws” (18) — which commentaries explain to mean as you shall labor at Torah study. G-d in turn will reward such behavior with manifold blessings, as mentioned there in the Torah portion, including and concluding with the greatest blessing of all, the blessing of peace, (as our Sages write, “that peace is balanced against everything”), (19)as the verse continues “you shall dwell in your land and not fear” (20) (which applies wherever a Jew is to be found, particularly in Israel). The blessings continue and include the prophecy of the final redemption, “I will lead you upright to your land” (21) which will be brought about by the Jews’ behavior in the time of Galus. Through his standing upright, meaning, not being affected by the pressures of the outside world or the threats and boasts of the goyim, (which as described in Tehillim, are empty and idle) and developing his connection to G-d, he is then rewarded with G-d’s covenant, as expressed in the verse, “I will be your G-d and you shall be my nation,” (22) and then “Your enemies will flee before you” (23) and “no sword will pass through your land” (24) (even swords of peace). There will be settlement of the entire land of Israel, as was intended, and it will be restored as an eternal inheritance of the Jewish people.
This will occur in the last days of Galus and will be accomplished by the Jew’s dedicated service of laboring in Torah study and in fulfillment of Mitzvos.
This will bring about the Messianic redemption in which “I will bring you upright to your land”. The same concept was echoed in the redemption from Egypt when, even while in Egypt, the Jews felt proud that they were leaving with uplifted hands. So should it be for us, revealed here in this world, in an obviously good manner.
12. This morning we read the portion of “Acherei”. In everything a Jew sees or hears, and how much more so in every Torah concept he comes in contact with, there is a practical lesson in one’s service to G-d. Hence we can assuredly find a useful lesson with the portion of Acherei.
Since the intent is to find a lesson which is taught by the portion as a whole, not a particular lesson from one of its elements, it is proper to look into the name of the portion, Acherei. The Hebrew name of any object, particularly a portion of the Torah, describes the life force and character of that object. (This concept was explained by the Baal Shem Tov and elaborated on in Tanya (25).) Therefore, the name Acherei can itself provide us with a valuable lesson.
Yet, Acherei — meaning afterwards, or behind — seems a very secondary point compared to the various different and important spiritual services of Pesach and Nissan, the month of redemption. However, this is precisely indicative of the lesson to be learnt: regardless of the spiritual height that one achieves in his service of G-d, he has to consider Acherei — what will come afterwards.
The story described in Acherei — the death of the sons of Aharon provides a paradigm. They had reached elevated spiritual levels as the Torah describes; they came close to G-d, and experienced the oneness of the Holy of Holies. The commentators on the Torah all describe the greatness of Aharon’s sons. Rashi states that they were holier than Moses and Aharon. (26) The Orach Chaim HaKodesh explains their yearning and passion to cling to G-d and how it was rewarded with Love, Friendship, and Faithful Trust. However, they did not pay attention to Acherei, the aftermath, and the inevitable consequences of their type of service. In this case, the tragic end is clearly understood by. their deaths and the labeling of the entire episode “The sin of Aharon’s sons”.
13. The same point is brought out in the Yom Kippur service described in the portion. The portion talks about the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. The most elevated point in the three aspects of Time, Place, and Soul. In Time, it was Yom Kippur. In Place — the Holy of Holies. In Soul — the High Priest, the most refined of the Jewish people.
Yet, immediately afterwards, the portion speaks about immorality, and the punishment received for various different forbidden relationships.
This paradox is reflected in the ritual of Yom Kippur itself. After the Jew has performed most of the Yom Kippur services — he is fasting, wearing his Kittel, preparing for Minchah, and directly afterwards Neilah, “the ultimate” level of holiness — which Torah portion is read at this time? It is the second half of Acherei, which deals with immorality and forbidden relationships. While a Jew is preparing for the highest spiritual services he is warned, “Do not follow the customs of Egypt and Canaan!”)
This is the point, however, expressed by Acherei. Unless you consider the aftermath, and unless from the onset you plan what will come next, the highest spiritual levels can be followed by the immorality of Egypt and Canaan. By placing the word Acherei as a preface to the entire Sedra, the Torah communicates the necessity of considering the results of one’s actions.
(In communicating the concept in this manner, the Torah reveals its own greatness and infinitude. The ability to relate a profound concept in one word gives us some idea of Torah’s true boundless nature.
This concept has practical application as well. A Jew may look at his Torah behavior, his gifts to Tzedakah, his donning of Tefillin and become disenchanted. He ma-y-consider these actions, limited and insignificant, chas v’shalom. Even after he learns their true significance, he may still see them as restrictive and bounded compared to G-d’s infinity.
However, when he considers that Torah is infinite, and when he understands the blessing he says before putting on the Tefillin — that G-d has sanctified him with his Mitzvos — and when he realizes that by putting on Tefillin he enters into a boundless relationship with G-d Himself — his feelings will change.)
Acherei teaches us that regardless of a Jew’s heights in Torah and Mitzvos — be he the High Priest on Yom Kippur, he still has to think ‘Acherei’ — what will come next. Furthermore, since a Jew should be constantly in a state of progress, “You should proceed from strength to strength”, (27) it follows that with each step forward, his acherei, consideration of the consequences, also changes.256
This is not an abstract concept, but a practical one. And though, perhaps, seemingly difficult, still every command in the Torah is within man’s potential — (as G-d would not give a command which could not be carried out). Through this course of behavior, we will enjoy a happy summer and healthy summer, experience true freedom (which comes about through true service of Torah) and will bring about speedily in our days, the coming of Mashiach, May he come and redeem us.
1. Devarim 29:9.
2. Tehillim 104:24.
3. Toras Chaim Noach Maamar Vayihi Kol Hoeretz, ch.27.
4. Yerushalmi Berachos, ch. 4 halachah 5.
5. Nedarim, ch. 9, halachah 4.
6. Vayikra 19:18.
7. Zohar, vol. 1, p.117, side 1.
8. Devarim 29:11.
9. Tractate Kiddushin 35a; Alter Rebbe’s Siddur, p.275a.
10. Avos, ch. 1, Mishnah 17.
11. Vayikra 18:5.
12. Devarim Rabba, ch. 6, par. 2.
13. Bereishis Rabba, ch. 67, par. 8.
14. Avos, ch. 1, Mishnah 2.
15. Vayikra 23:15.
17. See Tanna Dvei Eliyahu Rabba, beg. of ch. 18.
18. Vayikra 26:3 also see Rashi.
19. Rashi on Vayikra 26.
20. Vayikra 26:6.
21. Ibid., 26:13.
22. Ibid. , 26:12.
23. Ibid.: 26:8.
24. Ibid.$ 26:6.
25. Shaar Hayichud Vihoemuna, ch. 1.
26. Vayikra 10:3.
27. Tehillim 84:8.