1. Today has a number of events in it: First and foremost it is Shabbos; it is Shabbos Parshas Emor; and it is the 15th of Iyar. In the 15th of Iyar itself, there are several matters: Torah relates (Shemos 16:1) that “They traveled from Eilim. And came ... to Midbar Sin ... on the 15th day of the second month (15th of Iyar). “ The Oral Torah explains that “the day of this encampment is noted, for on that day the provisions they took from Egypt ended, and they needed the manna.” In other words, the distinction of the 15th of Iyar is that until then the Jews ate the remnants of the matzah they brought from Egypt; from then on they were given “bread from heaven.” In addition, on the 15th of Iyar, the “moon of the month of Iyar is at its fullness” — the fullness of all the matters of that month.
Besides the 15th of Iyar itself, there are those matters associated with the special days preceding and following it. The 15th of Iyar immediately follows the 14th of Iyar, Pesach Sheni; and the 18th of Iyar is Lag BaOmer. This association is emphasized with the 15th of Iyar being on Shabbos, for then the 14th is Erev Shabbos; and the 18th is one of the days of the week which are blessed by the preceding Shabbos.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that a person must derive a lesson from anything be encounters. Thus we learn a lesson in our service to G-d from each of the above things, and, since they coincide together, each one effects an addition and support for the other, such that with the combination of all of them, there is a special strength given to derive lessons from them, and to translate them into practical deed.
This is comparable to that stated in the Talmud (Sotah 34a): “The load that a person can lift on his back is only a third of that which he can carry when another loads it on him.” That is, when two people work together, a synergistic effect takes place — the total load of both of them is greater than the sum of their loads when acting independently. If this applies to physical things, it certainly applies to the spiritual, and particularly holy matters: the combination of holy matters together gives greater strength to all of them.
2. The lesson to be learned from Shabbos: The concept of Shabbos is delight. Service in the six week days is one of toil and effort — “man is born to toil;” service on Shabbos is in delight. This delight expresses itself in all matters of Shabbos, including eating and sleeping etc., for through fat meat and old wine a person fulfills the mitzvah of having delight on Shabbos. For although a Jew’s main delight is in spiritual things, matters of the soul, nevertheless since a Jew’s service is “with all your heart — with your two yetzers,” the delight on Shabbos permeates even physical matters. The lesson from Shabbos then is that a person’s total service must be permeated with delight.
The lesson to be learned from parshas Emor: As in every parshah, Emor contains many matters, and thus first and foremost, one must derive a lesson from the name of the parshah, since the name expresses its general content. Emor means “speak,” G-d’s command to be continually speaking, meaning that thought alone is insufficient, and communication with another is required. For although a person may have lofty thoughts, it does not help his fellow without communication, since a person does not know what is in another’s heart. Hence Torah commands to “speak,” to reveal one’s ideas to another. This is consonant with the command “You shall love your fellow as yourself”: when a person has a lofty thought etc., he should endeavor to let another also benefit from it.
For speech to be proper, it must exert influence on another person, for without it exerting any influence, it will have been in vain. And since the Torah of truth tells us to “speak,” it is certain that it will exert influence. The lesson then from parshas Emor is to reveal good thoughts to another, and such that they exert influence.
In Hebrew, there are other words for speech, such as ‘dibbur.’ Since Torah chooses the word ‘Emor’ specifically, there must be a lesson to be derived from it. Rashi (Yisro 19:3) explains that “amirah” refers to “soft words,” while “dibbur” are “harsh words.” The lesson from the use of the word “emor” in our parshah is that when dealing with another person, trying to influence him about something, one must use “soft words;” not to break him or throw fear upon him, but gently, softly.
The idea of Emor — soft words, is expressed also in the concept of Shabbos. Shabbos, as explained above, is the idea of delight. Hence, on Shabbos there cannot be any anger etc., for this is the antithesis of delight. Thus, when speaking to another, one certainly speaks in “soft words,” just as the general service on Shabbos is in the manner of delight.
Such an approach must be taken even when the other person is on such a low spiritual level that he does not even know of the greatness of Shabbos. For, as our Sages said: “Do not judge your fellow until you have come to his place (situation).” The Alter Rebbe in Tanya explains that “it is” his ‘place’ that causes him to sin, because his livelihood requires him to go to the market for the whole day and to be one of those who ‘sit at the street corners,’ where his eyes behold all the temptations ... and his yetzer (evil inclination) is kindled like a baker’s red-hot oven ... “ Therefore, our Sages said, one should be “humble before all men,” even the most worthless, since their temptations and tests are so great.
Moreover, our Sages have said “Judge every person meritoriously” — not only must one not condemn a person, but must judge him as being meritorious. A person commits a transgression because he knows no better. Therefore, not only must one not condemn him, but consider it a merit.
But this is difficult to understand. How can a sin be considered a merit for the sinner? However, our Sages say that G-d only demands of a person according to his abilities (and not G-d’s). Hence, if a person’s livelihood “requires him to go to the market ... where his evil nature is kindled it is certain that he has been given lofty abilities to withstand such temptations. Such people have superior abilities to those who, for example, are in Yeshivah all day, where the temptations are minimal. Because they have less lofty abilities, their work is in Yeshivah where they will not he subjected to the temptations those in the “market” are tested with.
Now we can understand the saying “Judge every person meritoriously.” The fact that a person is in such a situation where he is subjected daily to temptations, indicates that he has lofty abilities, and therefore it is a “merit” — for he how has the potential to reveal those qualities. However, if a person succumbs to the temptations, and the “merit” he had in potentia did not materialize, then his fellow must “judge him meritoriously” — meaning, he must help him to correct his ways and thereby reveal his “merit” — the revelation of his potential. In other words, even when a person has sinned, his lofty abilities are still present — but concealed. Therefore, even of such a person Torah says “judge him meritoriously.”
The above lesson from parshas Emor — to speak to every person in “soft words,” notwithstanding his present lowly position — is associated with the common thread running through the month of Iyar, the concept of Sefiras HaOmer. Sefiras HaOmer teaches us that we must love every Jew (Ahavas Yisrael), just as the disciples of Rabbi Akiva conducted themselves after Lag BaOmer — similar to the idea learned from parshas Emor of encouraging every Jew to come closer to Judaism by speaking to him pleasantly and softly.
3. The above teaches us how to conduct ourselves now and in the future. Pesach Sheni teaches us about the past. The previous Rebbe said that the idea of Pesach Sheni is to teach us that “It is never to late” — for one can always correct past misdeeds. So too in our case: If after contemplation of past conduct one sees that there are things which were not consonant with the above lessons from parshas Emor, one must know that they can still be rectified, “for it is never too late.” And this dictum of the previous Rebbe is relevant to every person who hears of it as an individual, and it is not just directed to the whole of Jewry as a general entity.
An essential condition in rectifying past misdeeds is that a person must feel that his past conduct was deficient, and must want to correct it. The concept of Pesach Sheni (the first time, as recorded in the Torah) was not proposed by Moshe Rabbeinu, but resulted from the complaint of those Jews who could not offer the Pesach sacrifice in its appointed time. They came to Moshe and demanded of him “Why should we be deprived of bringing the offering of the L-rd at its appointed time among the children of Israel?” They felt that they were deficient, and wanted to rectify their situation. And because of it, they merited that the parshah of Pesach Sheni was said, and they were given the opportunity to rectify the past.
In this we see the greatness of a Jew. Even when he is in a low spiritual position, he comes and complains “why should we be deprived” — and eventually his claim is accepted! For although those people were in a state of impurity, nevertheless, a Jew in essence is of the loftiest level, and any wrong things are only external. This is connected with the chapter of Pirkei Avos we learn this Shabbos, chapter 4, which quotes the saying of Elisha ben Avuya (Mishnah 20). The Talmud (Chagigah 15a) states of him that he went into evil ways when he heard a Heavenly voice proclaim “‘Return, you backsliding children’ — except Achar” (Achar was the name given to Elisha ben Avuya). That is, everyone’s repentance is acceptable except for Achar’s. This is puzzling. How can Elisha ben Avuya be condemned for going into evil ways when he was told “Return you backsliding children — except Achar?”
The explanation is that although he heard this Heavenly proclamation, he should nevertheless have endeavored to repent — and then claim “Why should we be deprived?” Had he truly repented with all his might, his repentance would have been accepted despite the Heavenly proclamation. He did not have to listen to a Heavenly proclamation telling him to leave the realm of holiness, and should have instead repented. His repentance would have been accepted, as the Talmud continues to say that after his death R. Meir and R. Yochanan effected atonement for him.
In addition to the lesson learned from Pesach Sheni (the 14th of Iyar), there is also a lesson learned from the days following this Shabbos, including Lag BaOmer (the 18th of Iyar). On Lag BaOmer the disciples of Rabbi Akiva ceased dying from the plague that afflicted them during the Sefirah days because they did not honor each other. If not for Lag BaOmer they would have continued to die. We must say they ceased to die then because they changed their conduct, for if not, if they continued to behave as previously, they would have continued to deserve to die. Their change of conduct was a result of the lofty distinction of Lag BaOmer.
However, the distinction of Lag BaOmer is that it marks the passing on of Rashbi — which occurred years after the episode with Rabbi Akiva’s disciples. How then could it be Lag BaOmer which caused them to change their ways? The answer is that Rashbi passed away on Lag BaOmer specifically because that day possessed a lofty distinction of its own — the level of “hod shebehod” (splendor within splendor). And Rabbi Akiva’s disciples changed their conduct then because of that distinction.
4. There is an additional lesson to be learned from the 15th of Iyar itself, when “the moon is at its fullness,” meaning that the 15th of Iyar indicates the fullness of service to G-d of the month of Iyar. Iyar, in the Holy tongue, is an acronym for Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaakov and Rochel. These four correspond to the four legs of the “chariot.” In man’s service to G-d, this is the idea of being an the level of a “chariot” to the Divine will, where one’s whole being is totally dedicated and obedient to G-d – as our forefathers were.
The service on the level of a chariot is paradoxical. on the one hand, it means a person has no existence of his own. On the other hand, it does not mean he has no existence at all, but indeed, since he is a “chariot” to G-d, his is an extremely lofty existence.
There are many levels of being a “chariot,” ranging from the forefathers to the lowliest Jew. Every Jew has the ability to be a “chariot,” for Avraham Yitzchok and Yaakov are the forefathers of every Jew — but there are differing levels. Indeed, within each individual Jew there are different levels, for since one must always “ascend in sanctity,” the level of today is higher than that of yesterday, and tomorrow will be higher still.
The lesson from the 15th of Iyar, when the moon is at its fullest, is that the service of being a “chariot” (the service of the month of Iyar) must be at the peak of perfection (“fullness”).
The idea of fullness in the level of being a “chariot” applies also to the days preceding the 15th of Iyar. For even at the beginning of the month, when the moon is not at its fullness, one knows that on the 15th of Iyar the moon will be full — and preparations must be made even now to achieve this level.
An example of this is Sefiras HaOmer. If a Jew forgets to count the Omer one day, he cannot continue to count with a blessing the following days. This shows that the service of Sefiras HaOmer is dependent on the previous days: when each day’s service has been complete, then the entire service of Sefiras HaOmer has been completed in its fullness. So too in our case: For the service on the 15th of Iyar to be complete, it needs the preparation of the previous days.
This is also the answer to those who question the idea of making a ‘big deal’ about “We Want Mashiach Now,” when there are signs derived from Torah that the exile has not quite finished. However, just as the service of “the moon in its fullness” depends on the preparation of the preceding days, so too the days of exile must be filled with the expectation of the future redemption — and thus serve as a preparation to it.
5. Another aspect of the 15th of Iyar is that then “the provisions they brought out from Egypt were finished.” These provisions were the matzos they brought with them from Egypt. Matzah is “the bread of faith,” in which there are two levels: the matzah of which it states “In the eve you shall eat matzos” — the matzah before midnight; and the matzah of which it states “They baked ... matzos” — the matzah after midnight, which was after “the King of kings, the Holy One blessed be He had revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.” This second matzah, which was the matzah they took with them when they left Egypt, needs no guarding (from becoming chametz) at all for “it is impossible to become chametz due to the intensity of the revelation of the level of the King of kings, the Holy One blessed be He ......
Although the revelation of the level of “the King of kings” was “on them,” it affected also the “dough” of the Jews, not allowing the dough to become chametz. Although it is in the nature of dough to become chametz, the revelation of the “King of kings” effected a change in the nature of the dough, not allowing it to rise.
The effect of this revelation even on the physical dough is in similar vein to the revelations of the future, as stated: “The glory of the L-rd will be revealed, and all flesh will together perceive it.” The revelations of the future will express themselves in that not just “nation will not lift sword against nation” — affecting man only — but will affect animals also, as stated: “A wolf will live with a sheep ... the lion will eat straw like an ox. “ In other words, the revelation of the future will effect changes in the physical nature of the world.
Since “there is nothing new under the sun,” these effects of the revelation of the future must have occurred previously. This was at Mattan Torah, when the revelation then caused that “oxen did not bellow, and birds did not twitter.” Even earlier, when the Jews left Egypt, the revelation of the King of kings caused the dough not to rise.
When the Jews left Egypt, “they ate the remnants of the dough (matzah)” for 61 meals, till the 15th of Iyar, when “the provisions they brought from Egypt ended.” These provisions were the matzah which received the revelation of the level of the “King of kings.” Hence, during these 61 meals, the revelation of the level of “King of kings” which was in the matzah became, when eaten, part of their flesh and blood.
This is the greatness of the 15th of Iyar, the finish and completion of the eating of the matzah in which was the revelation of the level of the “King of kings.” For the main revelation of anything is specifically at its end, as we find, for example, that G-d wanted a dwelling place in this world specifically — for the revelation of G-dliness is here, in the lowest of all worlds. And in this world itself, G-dliness is revealed in the lowest aspect — deed.
The lesson from this in practical terms: When the leader of our generation places a mission upon a Jew — to spread Chassidus, to work in the mitzvah campaigns, to inscribe Jews in the Sefer Torah, etc., — people may complain: How can I speak to a Jew about acquiring a letter in a Sefer Torah, when I do not know how he conducted himself a moment previously?
The answer to this is “Do not look at his appearance.” One must look at him to know how to speak to him in the best way, but when you do so, do not look at his external appearance, but at his true existence of being a son of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov. Moreover, this person’s ancestor, when he left Egypt, ate 61 meals of matzah in which was the revelation of the King of kings! Hence, despite his external appearance, in his essence this person is worthy of redemption — but first one must reveal this by spreading Chassidus.
“These days are remembered and kept.” Every year, on the 15th of Iyar, its concept is renewed as it was originally — the end and completion of the eating of the matzah brought from Egypt. Immediately afterwards begins the descent of the manna, “bread from heaven.” Likewise in our case: Every Jew is fit to receive the revelation of the esoteric in Torah, “bread from heaven.”
If a person does not know anything of the above, it is not his fault, for he is as “a child that has been captured.” Indeed, the opposite is true: Since you know of the above, your task is to influence others who as yet do not know of it. Simply put, since you learn Chassidus, and the leader of our generation has invested effort in you, and from this comes your entire existence — you must use the powers given to you to fulfill the mission placed upon you by the leader of our generation — the dissemination of Chassidus. Simultaneously, one must know that you are not giving the person anything new, but only revealing his true essence.
The purpose of all that said above is that it should result in actual deed: every person must increase in his efforts in spreading Judaism and Chassidus. This should be done pleasantly and calmly, not harshly or with anger — “soft words.” Then we merit the future era when “a man shall no longer teach his friend ... for all will know Me, from the littlest to the greatest.” Although there will still be differences between those who are “little” and those who are “great,” nevertheless, in regard to knowledge of G-d, no person will need the assistance of another, “for all will know Me.”
Through the service of “Emor” we come to parshas “Behar Sinai,” referring to the general concept of Mattan Torah, including the study of the Torah of Mashiach — “A new Torah will go out from Me.” Then follows parshas “Bechukosai,” the fulfillment of the promise “I will give your rains in their seasons,” and all the blessings enumerated in the parshah, until the completion of these blessings in the future, in the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach, speedily in our time.
6. On this Shabbos before Lag BaOmer it is appropriate to mention those activities specially associated with Lag BaOmer. In regard to the “Siyum” (conclusion) of the Sefer Torah being written to unite all Jews (here and in Eretz Yisrael), which is being held on Lag BaOmer — it should be celebrated by as many people as possible, for “the glory of the King is in a multitude of people.”
Special gatherings should also be held on Lag BaOmer for adults and especially for children. At these gatherings talks should be held concerning the great love for Torah, its purpose being to implant love for Torah study in Jewish children. This is particularly associated with Lag BaOmer, the yahrzeit of Rashbi, for whom “Torah was his sole occupation.”
Likewise, at these gatherings the theme of Ahavas Yisrael should be elaborated on, consonant with the teaching of Rashbi that “Love is crucial with us, as stated ‘You shall love the L-rd your G-d’; ‘from the L-rd’s love to you’; and ‘I love you says the L-rd.’” And our Rebbeim explain that love of G-d and love of Yisrael are one and the same. Rashbi himself exemplified the idea of love of a fellow Jew. The Talmud relates (Shabbos 33b) that after Rashbi and his son R. Elazor came out of their cave (in which they had been hiding from the Romans for 13 years) “wherever R. Elazor would destroy, R. Shimon would restore.” That is, R. Shimon did not only learn Torah, but also occupied himself in rectifying the world — the idea of Ahavas Yisrael. Moreover, Rashbi did not wait until he was requested for help, but he himself sought to help wherever he could — as he said: “Is there something that needs fixing?” When he heard that “there is a place that is in a doubt of impurity, and it is troublesome for the kohanim to go around it,” he immediately fixed it, just to spare the kohanim even that little bit of trouble.
Besides telling the children these words of Torah, the idea of prayer and tzedakah should also be present.
May it be G-d’s will that through these gatherings we merit very soon the “gathering” of all the Jewish people, when will be fulfilled the promise “You will be gathered one by one children of Israel,” “with our youth and our elders, our sons and our daughters”, “a great congregation will return here.” And, consonant with the Rashbi’s teaching that G-d also will return from exile together with the Jewish people, the exodus will be with mercy and kindness, with joy and good heart.