1. During the time of the “Bais HaMikdash”, if an individual had not brought a Pascal Sacrifice on the 14th of Nissan, he was given a second opportunity, called “Pesach Sheni” (1), one month later on the 14th of Iyar.
Many profound concepts have been discussed concerning the celebration of “Pesach Sheni” and the different customs practiced in connection with the holiday; however, before entering into these intricacies, the very observance of “Pesach Sheni” raises an obvious question:
“Pesach Sheni” means “The Second Pesach”. It is only celebrated if for some reason there was no celebration of the first Pesach. If the Pesach Holiday is properly celebrated, there is no necessity for the observance of “Pesach Sheni” (2). Therefore, since we perform the Mitzvah of Pesach257 to the best of out i6tlities,why is there a necessity to commemorate the occasion of “Pesach Sheni”?
We may answer this with the following explanation. According to most opinions (3), should the “Bais HaMikdash” (Temple) be rebuilt in the interval between “Pesach” and “Pesach Sheni”, the Jewish people would be required to bring the Pascal sacrifices on “Pesach Sheni” (regardless of the fact that they were in no way responsible for bringing the sacrifice on Pesach since the Temple had not been built).
Therefore, since the Jew constantly waits for and expects the coming of Mashiach, that very yearning for Mashiach obligates him immediately after Pesach, to begin preparing for “Pesach Sheni” (in expectation of the rebuilding of the Temple).
Even though the 14th of Iyar arrives and the Temple is not yet rebuilt, since the Jews had been prepared to bring a Pascal sacrifice on “Pesach Sheni” (if Mashiach had come), it is proper to at least make some notice of “Pesach Sheni” through observing various customs.
2. The above explanation has its parallels in the Jew’s personal service to Hashem.
Even though the “Bais HaMikdash” in Jerusalem was destroyed, a Jew has within his heart a living “Bais HaMikdash” (4), where, in a spiritual sense, he performs and fulfills all the practices and sacrifices prescribed by the Torah.
Though he performs the “Pesach” services in the most perfect manner, yet upon its completion a Jew is confronted by the commandment to proceed higher in holiness. his commandment brings about a realization that a new and more refined level of service is possible. At that point, he needs a new “Bais HaMikdash” and a new service to Hashem. In the light of this realization, his previous service and his previous “Bais HaMikdash”,258 (though at the time complete and perfect) become insufficient. He becomes obligated to observe “Pesach Sheni”.
The above interpretation of “Pesach Sheni” (that it applies even to someone who has completely fulfilled the service of “Pesach”) does not contradict the obvious meaning of the Torah which institutes the holiday to give another opportunity for those who were impure or were too distant to journey to the “Bais HaMikdash”. Halachah recognizes various gradations in the levels of purity (Taharah) and impurity (Tumah): an individual who is considered “Tabor” (pure) in regards to “Chulin”, (non-sacramental food), is considered “Tameh” (imQ _ in regards to “Maaser Sheni”.259 In turn, one who is considered “Tabor” in regards to “Maaser Sheni” is “Tameh” in regards to “Terumah”. Likewise, one who is considered “Tabor” regarding “Terumah”, is “Tameh” regarding eating from the sacrifices themselves “Kodesh”. Even someone who is considered “Tabor” in regards to eating from the sacrifices is considered “Tameh” in regards to the sacrifice of the “Parah Adumah” (Red Heifer)260 261 (5).
The fact that in relation to one level of holiness Halachah deems an individual “Tabor” and yet regarding a more refined level might consider him “Temah” helps to explain the Chassidic interpretation of “Pesach Sheni” given above. Though an individual was able to perform the Pesach sacrifice to the ultimate of his abilities,262 in comparison to the new state of consciousness achieved, his previous service appears “Temah”. He has to constantly strive forward in a progression, similar to the one mentioned2~bove, from non-sacramental to “Maaser Sheni” (eil.’ i8 3er ; to “Terumah” (meaning elevation), to “Kodesh” (meaning holiness)-. until he reaches the level of “Parah Adumah”, a spiritual rung beyond the conception of mortals. After each elevation the Jew does not rest, but rather aspires to a higher level. He realizes within himself a new “Bais HaMikdash”. In comparison to this new level, his first achievements are labeled “Temah” and far removed.
3. With this explanation, we can understand the statement of the Previous Rebbe that the lesson from “Pesach Sheni” is, “that nobody can be considered lost”. Each individual, even though he is “Temah”, far removed, i.e., his operative consciousness is far removed from his internal “Bais HaMikdash”, and intentionally so, (for to express ‘far removed’, the verse263 adds the word “Lechem” (to you) understood by our Sages to mean that his separation from the “Bais HaMikdash” was intentional)... still he need no despair, on the contrary, he should realize that he has within himself the ability to correct his previous behavior.
This realization brings about one’s obligation to in fact repent. In turn, this obligation (like the other Mitzvos of the Torah) becomes a promise and a source of potential for this service to be actually carried out.
Since every person’s spiritual level is removed (and remotely so) from G-d’s essence (including even the service of a perfect Tzaddik, who feels the closeness of G-d to the point of “Ahavah B’Tannugim” (Love of Delight) — still, that very feeling and that very love is itself an indication of his distance from G-d’s essence) (G) and by nature no one can perceive of a level higher than his own, there is a dire need for “Pesach Sheni” to teach that a higher level is required of him, and that furthermore, it is within his potential t9 achieve it.
Therefore, even if “Pesach” was celebrated in the correct manner, viz., he made a Pesach (literally a jump), a radical departure from his previous level and entered into a new and higher level of holiness, he experienced “Yetzias Mitzrayim”, an exodus from all of his personal boundaries and limitations — still he cannot remain satisfied with those achievements, but must proceed to “Pesach Sheni”, a second jump, a new and more refined level of holiness.
4. A parallel process of elevation can be seen in the soul’s progress in Gan Eden. Though in general, Gan Eden is divided into two levels: “Gan Eden HaElyon” and “Gan Eden HaTachton”, in particular, there are infinite levels, each level being a realm distinct and apart from the realms above and below it. The souls “proceed from strength to strength”, rising from level to level, in a constant process of refinement and spiritual growth.
Similarly in this world (and to a greater degree than in Gan Eden, because, as Chassidus explains, Hashem’s infinite light shines in this world more than in Gan Eden),264 a Jew must constantly strive towards higher levels of refinement. One “Pesach”, one jump to a higher level of spiritual consciousness, must lead to “Pesach Sheni”, a second jump, which in turn must lead to a still higher elevation.265
And in practical terms, each Jew must proceed in Torah and Mitzvos, the channels for his growth being the Ten Mivtzoim, beginning with oneself, and then spreading forth Torah and Yiddishkeit to the fullest extent of his influence. To stress their importance, it is worthy to mention the Mivtzoim by name: Mivtza Chinuch, Mivtza Ahavas Yisrael, Mivtza Torah, Mivtza Tefillin, Mivtza Mezuzah, Mivtza Tzedakah, Mivtza Bayis Melah Seforim — Yavne ViChachameha, Mivtza Neiros Shabbos Kodesh, Mivtza Kashrus, Mivtza Taharas Hamishpachah.
And as stated on the cover page of “Tanya” — “this service is not far removed from you, in the heavens or across the sea, but rather close to you and within your potential, with your mouth and heart, and able to be accomplished in deed”. And as our Sages emphasized, “deed is the most essential.” (6)
5. During the interval between “Pesach” and “Shavuos”, it is customary to learn a chapter of ‘Pirkei Avos’ each Shabbos. The 15th Mishnah of the 3rd Chapter (learnt this Shabbos) reads as follows: “Everything is viewed by Hashem, yet free will is granted. The world is judged with divine goodness, yet all is according to the amount of man’s work.”
The Rambam, in his commentary on the Mishnah, elaborates on each facet of the Mishnah. He connects the first two clauses of the Mishnah together, explaining the Mishnah’s intent is to clarify the seeming contradiction between G-d’s omniscience and man’s free will. Though Hashem views everything past, present and future simultaneously, i.e., G-d observes and knows every aspect of creation, even those particulars which seem insignificant and of small importance, still that knowledge does not deprive man of the power of choice, “free will is granted”.
Afterwards the Mishnah continues, “The world is ruled by divine goodness” teaching that Hashem views the world with grace and mercy.
The Mishnah concludes, “all is according to the among of man’s work”, i.e., that the amount of work, the quantity of the activity, takes priority. As the Rambam explains, “If a person has a specific sum which he wants to give to Tzedakah, rather than give it in one large sum, he should divide the amount into small quantities and give each one separately. Even though the total amount given is the same, it is better to give the sum in a number of smaller gifts, because through that activity, the concept of giving becomes imprinted in his soul. In this manner it becomes natural and habitual to give.”266
This explanation is particularly emphasized by the Rambam’s rendition of the text “all is according to the amount of man’s work and not the work itself.”
Though each of the concepts enumerated in the Mishnah is itself a profound concept, they seem to be incoherent and individual ideas, provoking the question? Why are they included in one Mishnah? (The severity of the question increases when one considers the great stress that the Talmud places on showing a connection between the various different phrases of one Mishnah).
A second question arises. Pirkei Avos is designed to teach “Milte D’Chasidusa”, pious behavior. The above-quoted Mishnah appears to be a statement of spiritual concepts, but (with the exception of the final phrase) there does not seem to be any behavioral guides.
6. Chassidus interprets the Mishnah as follows:
“Everything is viewed by Hashem” means simply “Know that G-d is observing every aspect of your behavior”.
It is possible for a Jew (particularly one who is cognizant of the different status and importance assigned to those commandments specifically mentioned in the Torah, Rabbinic ordinances, Torah customs, and moral actions prescribed by the principles “Know Hashem in all your ways” (7) and “All your deeds should be for the sake of Hashem” (8) to find it difficult to perform the superficially less important Jewish practices with the same intensity that he feels when observing the commandments whose significance is obvious to him.
However, when he appreciates that everything is viewed by Hashem; that the tiniest, most insignificant aspects of his behavior are watched by G-d Himself; that the King of Kings, Hashem, is standing in his room, at his side, waiting to see if he turns left or right, no one will care to know if the source of the law in Shulchan Aruch is a Biblical precept, a Rabbinical injunction, or ‘only’ a custom. Anyone’s immediate reaction would be to stand in fear and awe and carry out the law in all of its particulars.
The natural feeling of a person is that he hasn’t any such obligation. A commandment stated explicitly in the Torah, he may concede the necessity to observe, but a Rabbinical ordinance, and how much more so a custom ....Does not Hashem have anything better to do but to watch and see whether a little child gives a penny to Tzedakah upon awakening in the morning or whether he makes a Berachah (a blessing) before he eats?
The Mishnah replies to this approach: “Everything is viewed by Hashem”. G-d forgets about the spiritual realms, forgets about the heavenly hosts, ignores everything and focuses His attention on the young child getting up in the morning. He watches him say ‘Modeh Ani,’ and wash ‘Negel Vasser,’ make a berachah ....These actions affect the very essence of Hashem.
However, once a person undergoes such a realization, once he appreciates that Hashem is watching, he loses himself entirely, he feels no personal will, no ability to do anything but what Hashem wants. The continuation of the Mishnah speaks to a person in this state, explaining to him that even though his consciousness of Hashem seemingly precludes any independent action, even positive, let alone negative, nevertheless, “free will is granted”. As a special gift,267 Hashem gives the Jew the potential, to choose, to achieve, and to do.
When a child hears this he will devote himself to Torah and Mitzvos with the love, excitement and energy possessed by a child. He follows the law and even goes beyond the measure of the law in service to Hashem.
However, these two concepts together: Hashem’s total involvement with man’s action and man’s power to choose and achieve, place a tremendous responsibility on the individual. Even a slightly improper motion before a King is punishable with death. Therefore, if a person understands how each moment he is standing before Hashem, who is watching every detail of his activity, and likewise he knows his self (and does not fool himself, but rather makes an accurate self-appraisal), it is very possible for him to become despondent.
To deal with such feelings, the Mishnah teaches “the world is judged with Divine goodness”.
Each individual has the potential to reach great heights, to overcome his nature (as the Rambam explains that there are certain individuals who are more light-spirited by nature, and hence they have trouble concentrating on learning Torah, and those who are serious-minded and restrained, and hence, less prone to give Tzedakah or to help another Jew. However, in spite of these natural tendencies, a Jew has infinite potential and can rise above, control, and transform these behavioral traits). This knowledge is instrumental to the progress of his service to Hashem. However, in regards to his judgment of another Jew, or Hashem’s judgment of him, he has to know “The world is judged with divine goodness”.
There is no need for despondency. Hashem’s judgment is with boundless mercy. He understand that He is dealing with flesh and blood, with physical inclination, ‘whose start is dust, whose end is dust’, who suffers through Galus, and who is surrounded by scoffers, etc. He finds and accepts every rationalization for man’s behavior.
The final point of the Mishnah centers on the practical aspects. The comprehension of the aforementioned concepts creates within an individual the desire to learn Torah and give Tzedakah. However, he is in a limited situation, he only has so much time for study and can afford only so much Tzedakah.
In such a case, the Mishnah advises him “Give the same sum but give it in many separate gifts,” “all is according to the amount of man’s deeds”.
Similarly, while learning Torah, if his situation prevents him from devoting himself totally to learning, at least in the time that he learns he should be totally devoted.
Through this explanation the entire Mishnah becomes coherent. One prevailing concept is expressed in all parts. The highest aspects of G-dliness focus on and are affected by man’s action. His behavior in dividing charity into small amounts and thus multiplying the number of his gifts creates unity in all spiritual realms.
7. The Zohar states that all the days of the coming week are blessed from the Shabbos. (9) According to that principle, this Shabbos contains the blessings for two special days: “Pesach Sheni,” which begins Motzaei Shabbos,268 and “Lag BaOmer” which begins this coming Thursday.
In fact, one of the reasons for this Farbrengen is to remind and to urge everyone to make the proper preparations for the “Lag BaOmer” celebrations. There should be a particular stress on publicizing these celebrations, since Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the central figure of Lag BaOmer, stressed his relation and connection to every Jew, as he says “My merit can free the entire world from judgment”. (10)
Though Rabbi Shimon was the greatest Tzaddik of his generation (as the Talmud quotes, “If there are two they are myself and Eliezer my son, and if there is one it is me”),(11) yet for what did he use his greatness — to free the world from judgment.
There is a profound and applicable lesson implied in this story (as in all stories in Torah).269 The story teaches us the significance of every Jew.
We grant importance to individuals of a greater stature than our own and to a certain extent even to those with a lesser stature (as the Mishnah says “Who is the wise man, he who learns from every man”). However, an individual whose only merit is that Rabbi Shimon would use his own merit to save that individual from judgment, would not necessarily command respect. Nevertheless, the fact that we see that Rabbi Shimon considered even such an individual important enough to save is a clear sign to us how to direct our behavior.
Even though generally, people on our spiritual level (or even a higher spiritual level) perceive the world as a place where G-dly light is hidden and concealed, still, since Lag BaOmer was a day of joy and Divine revelation for Rabbi Shimon, and because he wanted everyone to share in his joy, it becomes a day of happiness and Divine revelation for ourselves as well.
Superficially, the connection is not understandable. On Lag BaOmer Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai reach the most elevated of spiritual heights. He exclaimed “With one firm knot I am bound to you”. (12) (In the Zohar, the details and the extent of the Divine revelation are elaborated on at great length.)
What connection does the revelation have with a simple Jew (and every Jew in our times can be called simple in regards to previous generations).,The question becomes reinforced when we see the “simcha” expressed in Meron on Lag BaOmer where all participants feel a joy totally beyond their normal capacities.
8. The concept can be understood according to the interpretation in Tanya (13) of the Gemara’s discussion in Tractate Berachos, page 33b. There the Gemara focuses on the verse “all G-d asks from you is to fear the L-rd your G-d” (14) and asks “Is fear that small a thing?” The Gemara answers that for Moshe, the author of the statement, fear indeed was not difficult.
The Alter Rebbe points out, however, that the statement was not directed to Moshe but to the entire Jewish people who did not share his level. However, the very fact that the Gemara answers as it does demonstrates that there is a connection between Moshe and the Jewish people. Each member of the Jewish people contains within himself a spark from the soul of Moshe Rabbeinu. Furthermore, that spark is not dormant, but rather affects the Jew to the point that even within his personal experience, fear of G-d becomes an easy thing.
A similar explanation applies to Rabbi Shimon, whose role in his generation, according to the Zohar, paralleled that of Moshe. Therefore, since Lag BaOmer is a day of rejoicing for Rabbi Shimon, it becomes a day of rejoicing for every Jew.
9. The above particularly applies to the present times, “Ikvos HaMashiach”, (advent of Messiah) for there is a unique connection between those generations and Rabbi Shimon. The Zohar prophesies concerning itself, “That through this Sefer (holy book) the Jews will be redeemed from Galus”. (15) Therefore, these generations (when “it is a Divine command to reveal their mystic wisdom”, (16) and when Jews are involved in the service of “Yofootza Mayinasecha Chutza” (17) — the spreading of Chassidic insights into the outer reaches) have a special connection to Rabbi Sh n the Zohar’s author.
This lesson is meant to be practical and not theoretical. Lag BaOmer should be celebrated as a day of rejoicing and boundless happiness. Outings should be organized and Jewish children brought together and taught the message and joy of the holiday. Particularly, since even the aspects of the Omer which have to do with mourning are suspended on that day. Indeed, the intent should be to channel the joy of Lag BaOmer into an active awareness of Ahavas Yisrael, at which point the behavior of improper respect, the source for the death of Rabbi Akiba’s Talmidim, becomes unthinkable.
The two concepts, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s day of joy, and the cessation of the plague among Rabbi Akiba’s students are interrelated.
The cessation of the plague teaches us the importance of Mitzvos’, “Beyn Adom Le Chavero” (between man and man). Though the gross sense of improper respect is obviously not applicable to Rabbi Akiba’s students’, however, since each one of the students had his own particular path of service of G-d and became totally absorbed in that path, it was possible for one student to negate the value of the service of the other students who had chosen different paths. However, the importance of Ahavas Yisrael is so great that even such a behavior was deemed punishable by death.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s behavior teaches the importance of the Mitzvos Beyn Adam La Makom (between man and G-d). Rabbi Shimon serves as the epitome of that service, described as “Toraso Emunaso” (18) (his profession was Torah), i.e., he never stopped learning. Also the quality of his learning, the mystic aspects and in the Zohar’s terms “secrets of secrets” which he revealed emphasized the nature of his connection to G-d.
These two principles should serve as the basic message to children on Lag BaOmer. They should be urged to progress in both areas — between man and man — the concept of Ahavas Yisrael — the opposite of not giving proper honor, and between man and G-d — the idea of learning Torah.
And as mentioned in previous Farbrengens, there should be a stress on the children’s increase in learning Torah and participation in free-loan funds.
Then, these activities will bring about (according to the Alter Rebbe’s interpretation) the fulfillment of the prophecy “Zion will be redeemed by judgment and its captives by Tzedakah” — through the coming of Mashiach, at which time the teachings of the Zohar which sustained the Jews through the many years of Galus will lead them to Geulah, speedily in our days.
10. Within the context of the Rebbe Shlita’s explanation of the Zohar, he spoke a Sicha concerning the present situation in Eretz Yisrael. He stressed the importance of settling Judah and Samaria and that the settlement should be immediate.
He explained that the government’s published plans for the settlement, the establishment of six new cities, were insufficient because 1) they would take a number of years to be planned, built, and populated, and 2) even upon their construction, the majority of the territory would be left open.
He mentioned that the reason the territories are not being settled now is because of international pressure, but explained the acquiescence to such pressure sows the seeds for disaster. To illustrate his point, he explained that during the Israeli attack on the PLO bases in Lebanon, the city of Tyre, known to everyone as the center and the stronghold of PLO activities, was left untouched. Doing so cut down both the military and the moral losses suffered by the PLO.
When a leading Israeli general visited Washington shortly afterwards, an American general confronted him with the obvious question, “Why, once the decision was made to attack Lebanon, was Tyre left untouched?” The Israeli general replied that the military men were restrained because of diplomatic pressure. “If your military policies are subject to diplomatic pressure,” the American general answered, “you will suffer a defeat similar to the one we suffered in Vietnam.”
The Rebbe urged a firm approach and no compromise on the territories particularly in the light of the statement of an Israeli general who publicly disclosed how serious a threat to Israel’s security the return of the territories would be. The Rebbe mentioned that the general has been criticized by many for ignoring protocol and openly making such statements. However, despite the criticism no one has contradicted the validity of the statements or questions the general’s evaluation of the military situation.
This entire process results, the Rebbe explained, from a lack of Jewish pride and a fear of standing up and proclaiming Torah principles publicly. If such behavior was followed, he maintained, the situation would certainly be ameliorated.
1. Tractate Pesachim, p.92b.
3. See Minchas Chinuch Mitzvah 380.
4. Reishis Chochmah, Shaar Ho-ahava, chapter 6.
5. Tractate Chagiga, p.18b.
6. Tractate Avos, chap. 1, Mishnah 17.
7. Mishlei 3:7.
8. Tractate Avos, chap. 2 Mishnah 12.
9. Zohar, part 2 p. 63b.
10. Tractate 8ukkah p.45b.
12. Idra Zuta Parshas Ha-azinu p.288a.
13. Tanya, chap. 42.
14. Ekev 10:12.
15. Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 6.
16. Iggeres Hakodesh, chap. 26.
17. Letter of the Baal Shem Tov, printed in Keser Shem Tov
18. Tractate Shabbos, p. 11a.