1. Tonight’s farbrengen combines three different elements. Parshas Shekalim, Parshas Mishpatim, and Shabbos Mevarchim Adar.
When a number of different elements come together like this, an order of priority must be established among them. The source of this farbrengen was the Previous Rebbe’s request to hold such gatherings every Shabbos Mevarchim. He did not make such a request concerning Shabbos Shekalim or any of the other three special Parshios read at this time of the year. For this reason, it seems that Shabbos Mevarchim Adar is of paramount importance.
This logic would apply, in fact, even had the farbrengen been limited to only one subject. In this case, however, the question is not which one of the subjects to devote the farbrengen to, but the proper order of approach in which to deal with all three topics. Here, a different principle of operation — the Talmudic statement, “the most holy object takes priority” — must be used as a standard. Using this criteria, Shabbos Shekalim takes priority. Parshas Shekalim was instituted by Moshe Rabbeinu in the desert as part of the annual cycle of Torah reading. The custom of Shabbos Mevarchim was instituted much later, after the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. Between the two, Shabbos Shekalim must be considered holier.
2. With Shabbos Shekalim is associated the annual gift of “Machtzis Hashekel” (a Half-Shekel), brought by every Jew in the times of the Bais HaMikdash. The collected movies were used to purchase the animals, flour, wine, etc., used in the communal offerings. The mitzvah of Machtzis Hashekel contains unique lessons in both the relationship between man and G-d and the relationship between man and man.
Regarding the relationship between man and G-d, the Torah describes Machtzis Hashekel as “the ransom for one’s soul.” By contributing a Half-Shekel, a Jew became a full partner in all the communal sacrifices offered in the Bais HaMikdash. Furthermore, his gift effected him not only as part of the general category of the Jewish people, but in an individual personal way. This is why, at the time of Korach’s rebellion, Moshe Rabbeinu prayed “Have no regard for this offering.” The phrase “this offering” referred to Korach’s and his companions’ share in the communal sacrifices. Although their Half-Shekels had been donated months before and the money had already become considered as communal funds (and those funds had been used to buy animals), it took a special prayer from Moshe to eliminate all traces of their merit from those sacrifices.
From a superficial perspective, the concept is difficult to understand. A Half-Shekel is not enough to pay for even one sacrifice. A sacrifice consists of an animal, a wine offering, and a flour offering. Those objects cost many times more than a Half-Shekel. Yet, even though a Jew gives such a minimal amount (and he cannot give more than that as the Torah explicitly commands to give no more and no less than Machtzis Hashekel), he receives a share in all the communal offerings.
This illustrates the power of a Jew and the effect he can have with only a small portion of his finances. To stress this power, the Torah explicitly asks for a gift of a Half-Shekel instead of asking for ten gerah, which is an equal amount. The Torah wanted to emphasize that the Jew keeps a Half-Shekel for himself; that although he gives half to G-d, half remains his property. Despite the seemingly insignificant size of his offering, his gift becomes “a ransom for his soul” and brings him a full share in all the communal sacrifices of the entire year.
Machtzis Hashekel expresses this concept more than all the other mitzvos. The same principle applies in other mitzvos, such as the building of the Bais HaMikdash (and on a smaller scale, the construction of a shul or Bais HaMedrash). However, in these instances, the effect is not continuous. The Bais HaMikdash was built over one period of time and remained standing afterwards. The mitzvah of Machtzis Hashekel though was renewed every year. Also, the sacrifices of the year were not purchased at one time but over a period of time. These differences indicate a stronger connection between the Jew and the sacrifice than between the Jew and the other mitzvos.
The same concept helps explain another Torah principle: “the Torah has regret for the waste of Jewish money.” Since we see the effect a Jew can have with even a small gift of money, we can understand why “the Torah has regret” if that money is wasted. The Baal Shem Tov explained the reason for the Torah’s regret as follows: A Jew’s property contains G-dly sparks, which if used properly, bring about the perfection of a Jewish soul. If you waste your money on undesirable things (how much more so on forbidden things) then you lose the opportunity for that perfection. This statement is not meant to encourage a miserly character. On the contrary, the Torah places great stress on the importance of generosity. However, there is room for both concepts in Jewish life. The same Torah which commands you not to be stingy, teaches “the Torah has regret for the waste of Jewish money.”
The mitzvah of Machtzis Hashekel also contains a teaching regarding the relationship between roan and man. As mentioned above, by giving a Half-Shekel, a Jew receives a portion in all the communal sacrifices. However, to receive that portion he must be joined by other Jews. His portion alone will not purchase even one sacrifice. Therefore, Machtzis Hashekel emphasizes the importance of the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The animal offered as a sacrifice must be perfect, without a blemish. Any disharmony in his limbs renders him unfit for sacrificial use. The same principle applies to the Half-Shekels used for his purchase. To be fitting for sacrificial purposes, no disharmony can exist between them; i.e., no rift or controversy should divide one Jew from another. The size of the gift — a Half-Shekel — brings out this point. It brings a Jew to the realization that to become whole, he must join with other Jews. Each Jew must give only a Half-Shekel. No matter how rich he is, he must come to the awareness that he cannot be whole without joining together with other Jews.
The Torah prefaces the command to give the Half-Shekel with the phrase “Ki Sissa es rosh,” — “when you will uplift the heads of the Jewish people.” 3y giving a Half-Shekel, the Jews were enabled to lift up their heads; i.e., even their most refined aspects could be further elevated.
May the study of Machtzis Hashekel cause “atonement for their souls” and bring us closer to doing Teshuvah. Then, as the Rambam writes, “when the Jews will do Teshuvah, they will immediately be redeemed with the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days.”
3. Shabbos Mevarchim is the Shabbos on which the new moon is blessed. The moon is intrinsically related to the Jewish people. Therefore, a blessing for the moon is also a blessing for the Jewish people.
The blessing of the new moon is concluded by the phrase “And let us say ‘Amen.”‘ All the Jews are fused together as one collective entity. The word “Amen” itself is significant. The Kabbalah explains that the “gematria” (the Torah’s system of numerology) of the word “Amen” (91) is equal to that of the name of G-d, “Hashem (representing G-d’s four-lettered name) and “A-do-nai,” together (26 + 65). The name “Hashem” is related to the spiritual nature of all things, the name “A-do-nai” to the physical. By concluding a brocha with Amen, we thus imply that the brocha will permeate both the spiritual and physical realms.
The new month is blessed on the Shabbos. The Talmud explains the reason for this custom.: Shabbos is “a day of assembly.” By announcing Rosh Chodesh on Shabbos, more Jews will hear about it. The reason is actually deeper than that. Shabbos was chosen as “a day of assembly” because it is a holy day. Its holiness has an effect on the brocha for the coming month.
The fixing of Rosh Chodesh has a unique quality. The Talmud comments that “G-d and the heavenly court come and hear” when the Jews fix Rosh Chodesh. Even though, G-d knows on what day Rosh Chodesh will fall out, He and the heavenly court come (i.e. they leave their place) to hear the day the Jewish people have announced as Rosh Chodesh. The Talmud goes further and explains that if a court makes a mistake, either accidentally or voluntary, and designates the wrong day as Rosh Chodesh, its designation is still considered valid. All the spiritual influences which are associated with the holidays are connected with the date the Jewish people choose as Rosh Chodesh. This concept holds true in all other mitzvos as well, but is most clearly expressed in the mitzvah of determining the calendar.
4. The above lesson applies to every Shabbos Mevarchim. In addition, Shabbos Mevarchim Adar communicates a particular lesson of its own. Although Rosh Hashanah is considered the beginning of the New Year, the order of the Hebrew months begins from Nissan which is considered the first of the months. The month of Adar (the month before Nissan) concludes the year. The Talmud emphasizes the importance of the position of Adar with the statement “Everything follows the conclusion.”
The conclusion should not merely mark the final stage of a sequence. It should complete and consummate all the preceding stages. This was illustrated during the travels of the Jewish people in the desert. The last tribe to journey was the tribe of Dan, which the Torah calls the “gatherers” of the tribes. In a material sense, the tribe of Dan would gather all the lost objects of the other tribes. In a spiritual sense there are also lost objects — lost opportunities to serve G-d. The tribe of Dan was able to “find the lost objects,” i.e., compensate for the insufficient service of the other tribes.
The same applies to the month of Adar. Adar concludes the year and provides the opportunity to make up for one’s “losses.” This is associated with the Talmud’s statement “When the month of Adar enters, we must increase our happiness.” When you find a lost object, you are happy. This is true in the spiritual realm as well. The Talmud relates that a sage once became very happy because he remembered a certain teaching he had forgotten. Likewise, the Baal Shem Tov compared the joy experienced in Torah and Mitzvos, to the joy felt by a king’s son who after many years of being lost, becomes reunited with his father. Since Adar concludes the calendar year and brings out the principle that nothing is ever lost, it is always a month of happiness.
May we celebrate the redemption of Purim — end then following the principle “Join one redemption to another,” celebrate the Messianic redemption, speedily in our days.
5. The name of each Torah portion contains its essential lesson. The word “Mishpatim” denotes those mitzvos which are understandable by human reason. Since Mishpatim can be understood by us, the Torah finds it necessary to add the injunction “You shall set them before you,” interpreted to mean that a Jew should be judged only in a Jewish court, even if a non-Jewish court is governed by the same laws.
In the Torah, the word “Mishpatim” is preceded by the word “V’elah” (meaning “and these are”). The prefix of the word — “Val’ (and) — implies a connection as follows: “Just as these [the Ten Commandants] came from Mt. Sinai, so did these [the Mishpatim].” Even those mitzvos which are so logical that a parallel to them can be found in a non-Jewish court were part of the revelation at Mt. Sinai.
“Mattan Torah” (the giving of the Torah) is more closely associated with the realm of “Chukim” (those mitzvos classified as . “decrees which I have ordered, decrees that you have no permission to question.” They are mitzvos which cannot be understood by human reasoning). At that time, the Jews accepted the totality of Torah and Mitzvos with the deeper dedication that generally accompanies only the Chukim. Because they witnessed with their own eyes the great revelation (the lightening, thunder, etc.) they were able to believe and accept the Torah totally and completely. After this experience of total commitment, the Mishpatim of the Torah were revealed. Through them, the Torah became internalized. It became a part of the Jew’s process of conscious thought. From the realm of thought, its influence was able to spread his emotional powers, since thought includes all the powers of the body.
At Mattan Torah, the order of nature came to a halt. “Not a bird chirped, nor did an ox bellow.” The world bowed in silent submission. It did not present any obstacles to G-dliness. Parshas Mishpatim signals a return to the world. The world “continues in its fashion” and yet, one becomes aware of the Master of the world. One comes to “know G-d in all one’s ways” and “all one’s does are for the sake of heaven.” Even “one’s ways” and “one’s deeds” become connected with G-d. This is expressed by the first law in Parshas Mishpatim. It speaks of a Hebrew servant who desires to remain a slave instead of requesting his freedom. Such a Jew represents the very opposite of Mt. Sinai and yet Parshas Mishpatim relates to him as well.
This also brings out important points concerning the relationship between man and man. The revelation at Mt. Sinai lifted the Jewish people beyond their personal selves. The Jews experienced a sense of oneness and unity at Mt. Sinai. Similarly, in the fulfillment of Chukim there is no difference between one Jew and another. However, this kind of oneness is itself a contradiction to the concept of peace. Peace implies the existence of opposite forces and their resolution. In Parshas Mishpatim, the concept of peace is developed. Mishpatim involve intellectual understanding and no two intellects are the same. However, all these different Torah thought patterns emanate from the possibility of conflicting Torah opinions (as the Talmud says “These and These are the words of the living G-d”) while promoting their resolution in a uniform Halachah.
The question arises: How is it possible for all Jews to approach the Torah in a manner of Mishpatim; that is, to develop their own intellectual appreciation of its truth? That source for this kind of approach was the teaching method of Moshe Rabbeinu. G-d commanded him “These are the Mishpatim you shall set before them.” On the last phrase, our Sages commented “Prepare your lessons until you can present them as a set table,” The true concept of teaching is not merely to help somebody, but to create a student. This requires taking someone who is unable to grasp the subject matter and showing him how to learn. The success of this type of instruction depends on the teacher’s proper preparation. Moshe Rabbeinu was the ultimate teacher and he was able to develop each Jew’s abilities. This kind of instruction makes Torah relevant to your inner self. Then the Jews become one nation and bring about the revelation of “G-d is One and His Name One” with the coming of Mashiach.
6. Previously, I mentioned the concept “the Torah has regret for the waste of Jewish money.” I feel that it is necessary to mention a practical application of this concept. It has become common to travel overseas to participate in family simchas: a bris, a wedding, etc. Today, travel is very expensive. Even with all the discounts, lower fares, etc., that one can find, it still costs a lot of money.
Until now, people have often asked me whether they should make such journeys or not. I do not want to deprive anyone of pleasure; therefore, I do not want to make a final statement. However, from now on I do not want to be asked that question. Each person should make up his own mind or ask his Rav or Rosh Yeshiva. However, I would like to make some general comments: 1) Travel is expensive. Many times people go into debt (a position Torah compares to being a slave) because of such trips. The cost factor is particularly relevant in regard to a wedding. Then, the young couple are having their first experience with financial burdens, and would appreciate any extra funds as a gift. 2) In previous generations, it was rare that even brothers and sisters would make long journeys to attend family simchas. 3) A Jew is obligated to give Tzedakah. If he has more money than he can find a productive use for, let him donate it to Tzedakah. Indeed, it would be proper to make such a donation in honor of the new couple or child.
The above is particularly applicable to Yeshiva students. They should spend this time in study. It is possible to argue that they will not study anyway, but will instead spend time wondering what is happening at the wedding. This is an incorrect approach, particularly if accepted by the Yeshiva authorities. A Yeshiva student must realize that he has been given a “goodly portion.” He has the opportunity to learn Torah and should apply himself in that direction exclusively.
The concept applies to visits to Israel. People have often asked me whether or not to go. From now on, I would not like to be consulted on this issue. If a Jew feels that his service to G-d will be enhanced by visiting the holy places there, I do not want to stop him from going. I would like to add, though that the Previous Rebbe had a unique sensitivity to holy places, and yet, he visited Israel only once — directly after leaving Russia. At that time, he explained that he was used to visiting the graves of his fathers’ (the previous Rebbeim). Now that he could not make such journeys, he decided to visit the graves of the forefathers of the Jewish people. That was a one-time visit only. Again, this advice particularly applies to Yeshiva students. Their time should be devoted to Torah study, only.
7. Translator’s note: The Rebbe briefly mentioned the recently proposed revisions in the prayer book and the ordination of women as Rabbis. He objected strongly to both concepts, maintaining that our religious life must be controlled by Torah law, which is eternally applicable, in all places and situations.
Particularly concerning women as Rabbis, he commented: “It is bad enough that they prevent them from keeping Kashrus and Taharas Hamishpachah. Why must they drag them into another transgression of G-d’s will.”
- (Back to text) These three elements can be separated from each other. They do not always coincide. Shabbos Shekalim is not always connected with Parshas Mishpatim. In a leap year, it occurs much later on. In a similar manner, Shabbos Mevarchim Adar and Shabbos Shekalim do not always coincide. When, for example, Rosh Chodesh Adar falls on Shabbos, Shabbos Shekalim occurs then.
- (Back to text) A parallel example of this reasoning can be seen in the resolution of the question, “When Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos, should Rosh Chodesh be mentioned in the brochos of the Haftorah?” Whenever the Haftorah is read on the Shabbos or on a festival, a special brocha is instituted, marking the significance of that date. Should Rosh Chodesh be similarly mentioned in that borcha? Even though because of the significance of Rosh Chodesh, the Haftorah itself is devoted to that subject, nevertheless, if Rosh Chodesh occurs on any day besides Shabbos, no Haftorah is read. Therefore, the Sages concluded that the Haftorah is not intrinsically related to Rosh Chodesh and need not be mentioned in the blessings over the Haftorah.
- (Back to text) This practice was strengthened by Ezra at the time of the return from Babylon.
- (Back to text) Even though we do not actually give a Half-Shekel on Shabbos Shekalim (we do read about the command for its donation), the Torah teaches us that every mitzvah connected with a narrative, must be experienced and relived as if it actually happened. This particularly applies to offerings in the Bais HaMikdash where the principle “we will offer the prayer of our lips in the place of sacrifices,” applies.
- (Back to text) A fundamental Torah principle is that the mitzvos that deal with the relationship between man and man should not be fulfilled out of personal feelings, bur rather because they were commanded by G-d.
- (Back to text) The idea of not altering Torah commands is fundamental to Judaism. One of the 613 commandments contains the prohibition “Do not add or take away from the mitzvos which I have commanded you.”
- (Back to text) A practical reason for the restriction on changing the size of the gift is that the Half-Shekel offerings served as a census of the Jewish people. The Jewish population was determined by counting the Half-Shekels. If the size of the offering could be changed, the entire census — taking process would have been disturbed.
- (Back to text) The same idea is illustrated by the annual custom of dividing the study of the entire Talmud among a group of scholars. Although each one learns. only a small portion, it is considered as if he learned the entire Talmud.
- (Back to text) In the time of the Exodus from Egypt the Jews were exceedingly wealthy, as is apparent from the story of the spoil of Egypt and the spoil of the Red Sea. The size of the donation — a Half-Shekel of silver — is of almost no significance compared to their wealth. A similar economic situation applied to the Jews in the time of the Bais HaMikdash. Then, the Jews could rest “each man under his wine and fig tree.” They had no monetary worries.
- (Back to text) This principle is also emphasized by the mitzvah of “bal tashcis” which elaborates on the prohibition of wasting or destroying property.
- (Back to text) To bring out the importance of this concept, the Alter Rebbe structured the daily order of prayer to begin with the statement “Behold, I accept upon myself the mitzvah of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- (Back to text) Kabbalah explains the difference between the two forms of the Hebrew word for holy—”kodesh” and “kedosh.” “Kodesh,” the term used to describe the Shabbos, refers to something that is holy by nature; “kedosh,” something which became holy through outside influences.
- (Back to text) This concept relates to the statement that the Previous Rebbe made concerning Pesach Sheni, that it teaches that “nothing is ever lost;” that a Jew can always compensate for his previous deficiencies.
- (Back to text) As our Sages commented “let the ear which heard on Mt. Sinai... The children of Israel are My servants and he acquired a master for himself — be pierced.”
- (Back to text) Chassidic thought explains that a teaches can only teach someone who is fit to learn. Only a father can create an intellectual potential (through begetting a child) where none existed previously. However, each Jew is part of “a wise and understanding nation.” He is a student by nature. In some cases his natural ability is hidden, buried beneath other forces, but it is always present. The Baal Sheen Tov compared the Jewish people to the earth. Just as the earth contains gold, silver, and precious stones, similarly each Jew has jewels within his soul.
- (Back to text) The Hebrew word for “before them” in the verse quoted above is “liphnahem.” The Alter Rebbe noticed its relation to the word “lipeninmusom” and interpreted it to mean “to their inner selves.”
- (Back to text) Even before the giving of the Torah, the Jew camped before Mt. Sinai as “one man, with one heart.” That unity was strengthened by the revelation at Mt. Sinai and permeated by the teachings of Parshas Mishpatim, as explained above.
- (Back to text) Many students “do me a favor,” promising to become involved in the Mivtzoyim, when their responsibilities lie elsewhere. Their days should be spent studying. In the free time that remains outside the Yeshiva’s schedule, they should be active in the Mivtzoyim.