1. This farbrengen is connected with Yud-Beis and Yud-Gimmel Tammuz. That connection is expressed in the Zohar’s statement “All the days of the upcoming week are blessed from the Sabbath.” Therefore, this Shabbos caibutesja quality of blessing to the celebration of Yud-Beis and Yud-Gimmel Tammuz which follows.
This year, their connection to Shabbos is further emphasized since Yud-Beis Tammuz falls on Mondays Yud-Gimmel Tammuz on Tuesday, days to which the Talmud refers as “after-the-Shabbos” (i.e., the Shabbos effects are still consciously felt).
Likewise, the farbrengen is connected to the concept of Motzaei Shabbos and Melaveh Malkah (accompanying the Queen).
The two concepts of Yud-Beis Tammuz and Melaveh Malkah are interrelated. Their point of connection is the concept of Geulah (redemption or liberation).
Melaveh Malkah is called the feast of David, Melech HaMashiach, a reference to Mashiach (Messiah) who will initiate the future geulah.
Likewise, Yud-Beis Tammuz is called Chag HaGeula — the holiday of liberation for not only the Previous Rebbe as an individual but as he himself explained, a liberation which affected the entire Jewish people.
Since all the events labeled Geulah — redemption — have a connection among themselves, it is understandable how the Previous Rebbe’s Geulah serves as a stepping stone to the future Geulah, when Mashiach will redeem the entire Jewish people speedily in our days.
As the Alter Rebbe explained, the Torah portion read on Shabbos is intrinsically connected with the events of that week. This year Yud-Beis Tammuz falls in Parshas Balak. Therefore, its central point, redemption, must be found within that reading. Indeed, Parshas Balak contains an explicit reference and prophecy of Mashiach’s coming. (In addition to the reference to Mashiach, the portion contains many prophecies concerning King David, the ancestor of the Messianic line. Likewise, significant attention is called to the figure of Moshe Rabbeinu who, as the redeemer of the Jews from Egypt, insignificantly related to the future redemption. This concept is expressed in Micha’s prophecy: “Just as in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you miracles (in the future redemption).”
In addition to the connection which the concept of Mashiach and the future redemption share with Parshas Balak, in keeping with the principle mentioned before, “All the days of the week are blessed from the Sabbath”, a similar connection must be found with this week’s portion. Parshas Chukas also must contain a reference to Mashiach.
That reference is expressed in the Mitzvah of Para Aduma (the red cow). The Midrash explains that the Para Aduma offered by Moshe Rabbeinu is a constantly present entity. All the ensuing Paros Adumos were sanctified from the ashes of that original sacrifice. Likewise, the tenth and final Para (to be offered by Mashiach) will also be sanctified with the ashes taken from the first Para brought by Moshe in the desert.
The connection between Mashiach and the Para Aduma is not only incidental, but rather goes deeper, touching on the fundamental being of both concepts.
A Para Aduma is offered to purify a Jew who has come into contact with a dead body. Since he has been touched by death, put under the influence of the forces opposite to life, it would seem impossible to break that influence. In fact, when G-d informed Moshe Rabbeinu about the power of impurity transferred by death, Moshe was so shocked that his face turned color. He saw no way to renew the object’s purity. The means of purification which the Torah provided, i.e., the means of transformation from impure to pure, was Para Aduma.
The concept of transformation is more closely related to Para Aduma. Rashi brings the following Metaphor: “If a maid’s son soiled the king’s palace, his mother would be called to clean it. Therefore the sin of the Golden Calf is atoned for by the offering of the Para Aduma”.
Since the parable is offered by Torah, it is complete and appropriate in all of its particulars. In this case, the concept of atonement must be total. Torah explains that when total atonement is achieved, the sin itself becomes transformed into a positive activity. The Talmud describes the concept with the following expression? “His willful transgressions become considered as meritorious acts.”
Similarly, the Zohar also considers the full expression of atonement as Ishafcha (transformation). “_Darkness is transformed into light, and bitterness into sweetness”.
The Tanya (ch. 27) explains the above concept in great detail. focusing on Yitzchak’s command to Esav “Make me delicacies such as I love”. Using the word “delicacies” in the plural indicates that there are two kinds of relish’s — one of sweet foods, and the other of sour foods which have been well spiced so that they are made into delicacies to quicken the soul. Correspondingly, in spiritual terms. Hashem receives pleasure from the service of the Baal Teshuvah, whose deeds become refined through transformation as well as from the service Of the Tzaddik.
Based on this;, Chassidus offers an interpretation of the verse from Proverbs: “The L-rd has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil”. The purpose of “the wicked” is “the day of evil”, i.e., transformation of evil into day, shining and clear revelation.
When this service of Ishafcha is completed, when the darkness is completely transformed into light (or even if the Jew effects only Iscafia, the subduing and temporary conquest of the evil inclination), then “...the glory of G-d is revealed in all the world”. This revelation is compared in Tanya to the revelation of Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai). In fact, Matan Torah was only a taste of such a revelation, its full expression not to be manifest until Messianic times. That revelation will come when “Mashiach will cause the Tzaddikim to do Teshuvah”.
This service of transformation (and likewise the revelation resulting from it) is intrinsic both to Mashiach and Para Aduma, therefore establishing a connection and parallel between them.
From the above, we can derive a generally applicable lesson. When a Jew finds himself in Golus, sees the darkness around him, he is motivated and has the right to ask “Why has G-d done this? Why has He taken the only son of the King of Kings and put him into Golus, not an easy Golus, but as trying and difficult a situation as these times of Ikvos HaMashiach?”
The concept of transformation described above serves as an answer to that question. Each Jew has received the promise of G-dly energy in all the worlds. That revelation will in turn affect the world’s material situation (in a manner similar to the Exodus from Egypt, when the “Jews left rich in property”).
This lesson is particularly applicable since Torah tells us Mashiach is long overdue. All the predicted dates of his coming have all past. As the Rambam writes, “If the Jews do Teshuvah, Mashiach will come immediately”.
Teshuvah can be achieved in only one moment, with even one thought alone, and then the entire Jewish people will be redeemed. From the redemption of Yud-Beis Tammuz we proceed to the Messianic redemption speedily in our days.
2. In every Farbrengen, it is customary to explain in detail a verse from the weekly portion with Rashi’s commentary. Since our period of Ikvos HaMashiach precedes the re-entry of the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael to be led by Mashiach, the verse “ ..and the Canaanite ....who dwelled in the Negev, heard that Israel had entered by the way of Atarim” (which speaks about our people’s first entry into the land) is appropriate.
On the phrase “the way of Atarim” Rashi brings two interpretations: a) by way of the south, the path taken by the spies, as it says, “they went up into the loath”.(This explanation fits very closely into the context of the verse which speaks about “the Canaanite who dwelled in the south”.) b) “By way of the great guide (namely the ark) that journeyed before them, as it is stated “to journey before them, 3 days journey, to seek out a resting place”.
As has been mentioned on a number of occasions, whenever Rashi brings two explanations, the first is insufficient alone. A difficulty within it is answered by the second interpretation. However, ‘in and of itself, the second explanation contains more difficulties and is further removed from the verse’s simple meaning.
In the explanation given above, the following questions arise: What is the difficulty within the first explanation that requires a different interpretation? What greater difficulties exist within the second explanation that give the first precedence and priority?
The commentaries explain that the first interpretation is based on the similarity between Atarim, the word in question, and the word Tarim, the Hebrew word for spies. However, in that case the Aleph, the first letter of Atarim, is unconnected with the word’s meaning and therefore problematic.
The second explanation also depends on the similarity between the wood for guide — Tayer — with Atarim. The difficulty of the Aleph is resolved by explaining that it alludes to what that guide was: the Aron, which begins with Aleph. However, according to this interpretation, a greater difficulty arises. Tayer, guide, is singular and Atarim is plural. Therefore the first interpretation which dealt with 12 spies seems more appropriate.
The explanation that the Aleph is an allusion to the Aleph of Aron is too subtle a point for a 5-year-old to grasp on his own. If this were the basis for Rashi’s interpretation, he would have explicitly specified so himself. The absence of such a statement implies that a different conceptual pattern motivated his commentary.
Further, Rashi’s explanation provokes other questions: a) Occasionally Rashi will bring an explanation which is grammatically and linguistically difficult. However, in the case of the second explanation, when a singular usage is interchanged for a plural, Rashi’s general laws would not allow as great a departure from the literal text. b) What is the connection of the second explanation, that the Jews follows the Aron, to “the Canaanite who lived in the Negev heard”? What unique news did he hear? The Jew had always followed the Aron. c) According to the first explanation (which maintains that the Jews went into the Negev, following the path of the spies) to avoid the necessity for such lengthy explanation, why didn’t the Torah substitute the word Negev for Atarim and communicate the same concept more directly? (This question becomes particularly significant in view of the unpleasant outcome of the spies’ journey. Since the Torah makes a special attempt not to dwell on negative and uncomplimentary subjects, avoiding any reference to the spies’ journey would seem desirable.) d) The Talmud Yerushalmi offers an explanation of the verse in question which seems to answer the above questions. It explains that Atarim — as the great guide — refers to Aharon and to the clouds of glory which accompanied the Jewish people through his merit.
In fact, this explanation would seem to explain the word Atarim as well as solve a difficulty in a previous explanation of Rashi’s. On the previous phrase, “the Canaanite heard”, Rashi explains: “He heard that Aharon had died and the cloud of glory had departed”. How can Rashi make such a statement when the verse itself states, “The Canaanites heard that Israel came by the way of Atarim”? However, using the Yerushalmi’s interpretation, the two phrases would be complementary. If so, why does Rashi ignore that interpretation?
The key to the explanation of Rashi’s commentary is to view the different concepts discussed in the sidra as segments of one continuous unit, each part flowing into the next. The narrative of the death of Aharon precedes that of the war with the Canaanite, king of Arad. Consequently, a connection between the two events must be found. That connection is explained by Rashi in his first statement, “...and the Canaanite heard that Aharon died”, etc... (Since the visible sign of G-d’s protection, the clouds of glory, had disappeared, the Canaanite felt more confident to attack the Jews.)
However, that concept is not stated in the Torah explicitly. The explicit phrase is: “The Jews came by the way of Atarim”. Rashi attempts to explain how the phrase Atarim communicates the concept of Aharon’s death as well as the departure of the clouds of glory.
The explanation is as follows. As long as Aharon was alive, the clouds of glory were preeeais. Therefore, the Jews never questioned which direction to choose for travel. They followed the clouds of glory. However, when Aharon died and the clouds disappeared, they had to choose their own path. Consequently, they chose a traveled route, the path taken by the spies. (To emphasize this point the Torah used the expression Atarim instead of the Negev (south). Had Torah just said “south”, it would not have communicated the concept of independent decision and therefore, the connection to the death of Aharon would not have been appreciated.)
When the Jews came by way of Atarim, i.e., the way of the Negev, the Canaanites saw that Aharon had died and the clouds had disappeared (because the clouds had been visible to non-Jews as well) and were encouraged to attack the Jews.
However, a question still arises according to this explanation: The verse states, “The Canaanite heard ....the Jews came by the way of Atarim”. How did the Canaanite know this was the way of Atarim? How did the Canaanite know that the spies had taken this route? The episode of the spies happened 39 years before, amid secrecy. It is hard to comprehend how the king of Arad would know which route they had taken. This difficulty forces Rashi to bring a second explanation.
The second explanation — the way of the great guide (the ark) — also communicates the absence of the clouds of glory. Generally the Jews followed the ark and the clouds of glory. On this journey, they went “the way of HaAtarim”, following only the ark. This explanation, however, is also problematic because following the ark was not a new development. The Jews had done so constantly since leaving Mt. Sinai. That question motivates Rashi to prefer the first explanation.
(The question mentioned previously — that the ark was singular and Atarim plural — is no real difficulty. The ark is carried by at least 4 Levites and therefore the plural usage is proper.)
The Yerushalmi’s explanation mentioned before is likewise unacceptable to Rashi. The Yerushalmi interprets the great guide as referring to Aharon. When the verse says, “the way of the guide”, from a simple perspective, that implies that the guide is still alive, and present. In fact, Aharon had already died.
Despite the conciseness of the above explanation, one question still remains. The Jews knew that Amalek lived in the Negev, making it dangerous. Why then was it chosen as their path?
The spies, by passing through the Negev on their way to Israel, had elevated the land — paving the way for the entry of the entire Jewish people thirty-nine years later. Even though the outcome of the spies’ journey was undesirable, at the beginning of their journey they were “honorable”. Furthermore, they did not choose the path of the Negev themselves. Rather, they followed Moshe’s order — “Go up through the Negev”. With Moshe’s power, they were able to make way for the eventual entry of all the Jews.
From this narrative, we can learn to appreciate the power possessed by every Jew! The activity of only 12 individuals was able to affect the fate and direction of the entire nation!
The spies (excepting Yehoshua and Caleb) were “a generation bent on perversion”, whose activities held the Shechinah and the entire Jewish people in the desert for thirty-nine years, and caused Moshe Rabbeinu to wait until Mashiach’s coming to be able to enter Israel. Nevertheless, since they were children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they had the potential for positive activity as well, to the point where their action could pave the way for the entire Jewish people. Likewise, every Jew, whatever his situation, has the potential through his Torah activity to elevate, refine, and purify his surroundings. The spiritual effect of Torah activities is eternal.
Although before and even after performing a Mitzvah, the Jew might be involved in other activities, even forbidden ones, still the spiritual energies generated by his performance of the Mitzvah are eternal.
This should lead to a deeper appreciation of the need to spread Torah and mitzvos. When you are aware of the infinite power possessed by another Jew, you naturally feel impelled to teach him how to use it. The concept is further expressed in the statement of the Tzaddik Rav Mordechai: “A Jewish soul can descend to this earth and live 70 or 80 years for the sake of doing another Jew one favor”. The Torah and mitzvos of a Jew are so powerful and so dear that another Jewish soul is sent from its source in the spiritual realms and brought down into this world, a world of darkness, for the sake of helping that other Jew.
The importance of this lesson is particularly evident after the events of Yud-Beis Tammuz. Every Jew has a clear responsibility to spread Torah and mitzvos and through those activities hasten the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days.
3. During the summer, it is also customary to explain a difficulty in the chapter of Pirkei Avos studied each Shabbos.
This week being Chapter 5, an obvious question arises. The chapter begins with a number of concepts associated with the number 10. It continues, mentioning those connected with the numbers 7 and 4. Why doesn’t the chapter also list concepts connected with the number 3 in a similar fashion?
The question cannot be asked about numbers other than three because they are not mentioned elsewhere in Pirkei Avos. However, since the number 3 is frequently mentioned (in chapter 5 itself in Mishnah 29, in the first chapter in the second Mishnah, and in the final Mishnah, etc.), it would have seemed necessary to stress the number 3 as well.
Among the reasons for grouping all the concepts connected with 10 together was to make it easier to remember. Similar principles of signs through acrostics and easily recalled phrases were frequently followed by our sages. However, since the intent of Pirkei Avos is t o teach “pious behavior”, we must search for a deeper, more intrinsic meaning to these groupings.
Each one of the numbers mentioned before is fundamentally important to the Torah’s nvwtology. For example, 10 Jews make up a minyan. From that point, there is no higher concept of a quorum: 10, 100, 1000, 10,000, all have equal importance. Likewise, the numbers 7 and 4 contain significant lessons. Three is also a fundamental number with powerful significance. If so, why doesn’t Chapter 5 make a grouping of concepts to emphasize the importance of the number 3?
The question can be answered by focusing on the very nature of Pirkei Avos — an attempt to teach “pious behavior, behavior beyond the measure of the law”. Anything which is required by the law itself, dinim, Halachos, etc. have no place there.
The first and most important grouping of 10 for the Mishnah to mention should seem to have been the 10 commandments. However, the Mishnah does not list them, not because they are insignificant, but because they are the measure of the law and not beyond.
Similarly, the concept of three is not only an importance concept in Torah, it is Torah. This point is emphasized by the Midrash’s statement that G-d gave a three-fold Torah to a three-fold people in the third month.
The Rambam also communicated the fundamental relationship of three to Torah. In the Yad HaChazaka he writes, “The Torah was given to create peace in the world”. Peace is dependent on three: two conflicting factions and a third element, which unifies and brings together the other two.
Likewise, the Rogachover Gaon bases many of his theories on the concept of three, explaining how every Torah concept revolves around three factors, the cause, its effect, and the activity itself.
Chassidus focuses on the concept at great length, explaining that the number three describes how G-d relates to the Jewish people (G-d — Torah as the communicative bond — and the Jew), and likewise how the Jew relates to G-d in his service (Jew — Torah, his means of expression — the world, his forum for activity). Therefore, since three lies at the foundation of Torah itself, Pirkei Avos, whose purpose is to explain principles which go beyond the base of Torah does not mention the number three.