This farbrengen is connected to the holiday of Shavuos for several reasons:
- First of all, today is the final day of the "days of completion," of Shavuos. Although historically the "days of completion" were connected with the offering of sacrifices brought to the Temple, in honor of the holiday, nevertheless, there is also an aspect of completion relating to the theme of "the Season of the giving of our Torah." Therefore even today, when we have no Bais Hamikdosh, the "days of completion" still have importance. For this reason too, no Tachnun (penitential prayer) is recited from Rosh Chodesh Sivan till the 13th of Sivan.
- Because this year the 12th of Sivan occurs on a Shabbos it introduces the theme of "... they were completed (Vayechulu)," which means that Shabbos raises and brings perfection to all the days of the preceding week. And since Torah and Shabbos have similar themes, there is an added aspect of perfection of Torah on this Shabbos. Thus, today, there is, (1) a completion of the days of Shavuos (days of completion) and, (2) a completion through "Vayechulu" of Shabbos.
- This Shabbos we read the portion of Nasso which, Chassidus explains, refers to the raising of the intellect to the supernal will through Torah study, emanating from the supernal will. And being that on Shabbos the entire Torah portion is read, the Torah gets additional emphasis on Shabbos. Hence the Shabbos and the farbrengen are especially connected to Shavuos, "the season of the giving of our Torah."
All of this importance connected to this Shabbos must express itself in action, because: "Not study but practice is the essential thing," and the phenomenon of "Mattan Torah" (giving of the Torah) reinforces this theme.
The Midrash relates that before Mattan Torah there had been a decree that the celestial should not descend and the terrestrial should not ascend. But Mattan Torah rescinded this injunction and established the importance of doing physical mitzvos, thereby raising the physical terrestrial to the spiritual celestial. Thus the "season of the giving of our Torah" has a special connection to "practice is the essential thing."
Now, when we connect the idea of the "days of completion" to the theme of Shavuos, in order to bring it to action, we find that on Shavuos there were resolutions made to increase Torah study. For this reason G-d gave us the "days of completion," so that everyone can complete and perfect this aspect of the holiday. This completion includes also the potential to attain an even greater measure, to the point of perfection; to improve and perfect our Divine service both now and in the future. May G-d grant that everyone finds the strength in these "days of completion," especially this year, to bring the ultimate perfection in all aspects of Torah and practical action -- body and soul permeated with Torah.
May it be done with enthusiasm, joy and happy hearts in a manner of tumultuousness, as it was at Mattan Torah: "... thunder and lightning ... and an extremely loud blast of a ram's horn." (Shemos 19:16)
While on the subject of noise and tumult, we find a negative aspect connected to the uproar surrounding the first tablets of stone, which caused them to be broken. Despite this, there must also have been a positive result of the uproar, which condoned even the breaking of the tablets. (The second tablets were subsequently given, quietly, without fanfare.) However, now that we know of the problem, we can be protected from the negative outcome, and we can capitalize on the positive aspects of the tumult.
For those who seek a pretext and ask, where do we find the source for this explanation, that there can be the "clamor" along with the reassurance that only good will evolve. The answer is simple. When we read the Ten Commandments every year, Mattan Torah is once again reenacted:
The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to the Jewish people, "My children, you shall read this portion every year, and I will consider it as if you are standing before Mt. Sinai and accepting the Torah." (P'sikta D'Rav Kahana)
Clearly, Mattan Torah each year occurs in the same fashion that it did the first time. We may derive this by a minori ad majus from the study of Torah. In the Talmud we learn:
Just as there (at Mattan Torah) it was in dread and fear and trembling and quaking, so in this case too (the study of Torah). (Berachos 22a)
Chassidus illuminates this concept:
The personal Torah study of every individual at any time is truly the word of G-d spoken to Moshe at Sinai. Consequently (when he studies) he will be overcome with fear and trembling as if he were receiving the Torah at Sinai.
(Torah Or, Yisro 67b)
How much more so at the time of Mattan Torah, the holy day of Shavuos, each year!
So, just as we read every year that there was "thunder and lightning and sound of the Shofar," at Mattan Torah, now too, there is a tumult associated with Mattan Torah today.
We believe with a firm faith that Moshiach will come and then all the aspects of the destruction will disappear, including also the fact that on the 17th of Tammuz the tablets were broken. The negative aspect of the tablets will no longer exist, and we will have only the good results of enthusiasm, excitement and noise.
Mainly, through our actions and Divine service in all these matters, may we quicken the time of the complete redemption, through our righteous Moshiach: "Come with the clouds of heaven." (Daniel 7:13)
And we will merit to study the Torah of Moshiach, "the New Torah," which will actually be a new revelation of Mattan Torah. All of the unwanted aspects will disappear and we will go higher and higher, from strength to strength, in holiness.
When the promise will come true, and "Our eyes will behold Your return to Zion in mercy."
Quickly and truly in our days, in the reality of the world with joy and gladness of heart.
There are many aspects associated with the holiday of Shavuos and the "days of completion." It is therefore important to single out a main theme which expresses the special message of this holiday.
In preparing for Shavuos and Mattan Torah we think first of the declaration of the Jews, "Na'aseh V'nishmah" -- we will do and then we will listen." There must also be humility and fear of sin in order to receive the Torah. But all this provides only a preparation to Mattan Torah. What is the actual theme of Shavuos? The theme is the giving of our Torah -- it is the Torah itself!
In studying Torah there might be different forms of motivation. One can study Torah in order to know what action must be done, i.e. the fulfillment of mitzvos. But here we speak of no purpose and goal other than learning for the sake of learning. It is expressed in the verse, "To make the Torah great and glorious," (Yeshayah 42:21) which implies increasing Torah for its own sake, to the point of being glorious. Being part of the giving of the Torah it becomes equally available to young and old. The Rambam in fact quotes this verse in connection with teachers of small children.
In other words, this verse applies to the highest level of Torah study, not for any ulterior motive, not even for the purpose of knowing the law, and at the same time it refers to the simplest level of Torah study. There too, it is only for the sake of Torah, "To make the Torah great and glorious." Now the theme that we must garner from this "Season of the giving of our Torah" is to be concerned about Torah for its own sake, with no ulterior motive -- just the pure study and knowledge of Torah.
The previous Rebbe, the Nassi of our generation, in his traditional blessing for Shavuos expressed it this way: "May we receive (accept) the Torah joyously and inwardly."
Surely all aspects of Torah, mitzvos and Yiddishkeit should be done joyously and internally. Nevertheless, we do not find a blessing using this formula except for Shavuos. This emphasizes that the effect of Shavuos must be that a Jew accepts and receives Torah internally -- not only does he actually learn Torah, but the Torah also penetrates to his innermost soul. Then we know that learning Torah and understanding Torah really concern him.
It is in this area that every Jew must endeavor during the days of completion of Shavuos. Test yourself and judge yourself. Have you taken Torah to the degree that it bothers you -- that you will endeavor to bring it to perfection.
Now one might argue: "What difference will it make if I do understand the wisdom of Torah. As a matter of fact, it would be the height of pretentiousness to say that I can comprehend Torah, which is the wisdom and will of the Holy One, Blessed be He; "Chutzpah" stemming from pride!
But the answer is that the whole theme of Shavuos shows us that, although it is true that the Torah is G-d's wisdom and desire and it is "that secret treasure, which has been hidden by you ..." (Shabbos 88b), yet, when G-d gave the Torah to us at Mattan Torah the intention was that we should study it and comprehend it with our intellect and understanding. And every year when Shavuos arrives the Jew once again accepts the Torah, and strives that it should be properly absorbed and internalized; that it should bother him to know Torah.
How do you test if something is really bothering you? The test is simple, does it steal your sleep? Sometimes in our Divine service it is hard to know if we are really doing the right thing; the dividing line is sometimes very narrow. But here there is no mistaking. Does Torah study affect you to the point that it will not let you fall asleep?
If you are not sure -- test yourself tonight! When your slumber is disturbed to the point that you cry like a child to our Father in heaven because you were not virtuous enough to understand a particular topic in Torah, then you know that Torah really concerns you, and that it truly bothers you.
And although there may be other problems that disturb you (material or spiritual), yet at this moment you can say to G-d that you can't sleep because of the lack of knowledge of Torah. If you haven't reached this point then you haven't taken the meaning of the Shavuos properly and fully.
Let us carefully analyze this subject in elementary terms, starting with its application to small children. A small child is motivated to learn well, so that his teacher and parents will be happy with him. We should not disparage this motive, for a small child will not be successful if his studies are purely altruistic. We must begin by adding some aspect of reward, even if just the approval of teacher or parent. Besides, he also has a mitzvah -- honoring his parents and teacher.
However, at the same time, we must start to train the child and instill in his soul the importance and quality of Torah study for itself. The Torah must really bother him! So much so, that if there is a verse or a Rashi which he does not fathom -- he will grieve, it will bother him -- and when he lies on his bed at night he will not be able to sleep. It gives him no rest and he runs to his father or mother and cries out, "Why don't I understand this matter in Torah?"!
So even this young child, before going to bed thinks about all that happened during the day and he finds the subjects that matter to him and won't let him sleep. Is there a Torah matter which he does not grasp which is robbing his sleep? If not he has not really absorbed the true theme of the"season of the giving of our Torah." Torah does not bother him!
The same rule of thumb should be applied to adults in every area of involvement; they must find that understanding Torah bothers them!
For example: The job of a Rav (Rabbi) is to teach practical halachah and to study Torah, with the intention of developing the subject to the final halachic ruling. He should also study Torah without the intention of deriving the halachah, e.g. subjects in the Order Kodshim, which do not apply in modern times. And this area of study should bother him to the degree that he cannot sleep!
A Rosh Yeshivah must deliver a lecture to his students -- in a manner that they will appreciate it. He must develop his dialectical skills etc. But still more than his lecture , Torah per se must bother him. As a Rosh Yeshivah once said, "I cannot fall asleep until I have fathomed the underlying reasons for the dispute between Sumchos and the Rabbis."
A Yeshivah administrator normally is responsible for the operation of the school, and he constantly endeavors to attract dedicated supporters for the Yeshivah. It is obvious that if something is missing in the smooth operation of the Yeshivah he will not sleep. But here we are in the "Season of the giving of our Torah" and the "days of completion," now he must "take" Torah. Does he understand the Tosfos he learned today? -- If not, it should bother him and not allow him to rest.
The Mashpia Ruchani (spiritual mentor or guide) has the job of being concerned with the level of piety and G-d-fearing behavior of the students in a Chassidic yeshivah. Certainly there is nothing loftier than giving his attention to improving the fear of heaven among the students. Despite this, the call of the hour at this time is to be bothered by the intensity of study and comprehension of Torah. If you can't sleep it should be because you cannot understand a Chassidic discourse.
The work of the emissary, who is "outside," spreading the wellsprings of Yiddishkeit, is truly paramount, for he is bringing Moshiach. Yet at the same time, Shavuos demands from him that his study should affect him and bother him. So long as something is unclear to him in Torah, he won't sleep.
One who is a dedicated public servant, working for the good of the community, has a quality even greater than those whose "Torah is their sole occupation." The Rambam rules:
One who occupies himself with the needs of the community is in the same class with one who is occupied with the study of the Torah.
(Laws of Prayer 6:8)
To this the Lechem Mishnah adds: "For one whose sole occupation is Torah, the needs of the community get preference to Torah" (Laws of Shema 2:5) For this public servant too, the "season of the giving of our Torah" must evoke an involvement in Torah which will keep him awake until everything is clearly understood.
Thus, no matter what your calling is in life, Torah must concern you to the greatest degree. And my intention is not to hurt anyone's feelings, rather to encourage and motivate everyone to reach that proper state. As the Mishnah states:
The Holy One, Blessed be He, wished to make the people of Israel meritorious; therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvos in abundant measure ... (Makkos 3:16)
More Torah and mitzvos do not constitute a burden, rather a privilege. The question might still be asked how does one come to such a state of sensitivity; it appears to be unusually difficult?
Follow the advice of Rabban Yochanan b. Zakkai to his disciples:
May it be G-d's will that the fear of Heaven be upon you like the fear of a human being.
Picture yourself, a respected elder chassid with a flowing white beard. A small child approaches you and asks you the meaning of a verse in Chumash and its Rashi commentary. Even if you are a businessman you will be terribly shamed if you cannot answer his question. Perhaps your reasoning will tell you not to be embarrassed -- but you certainly will be!
Now imagine further how this small boy will go back to his classmates at the kingergarten, and tell all his classmates that you did not know the meaning of the verse. Can you bear the shame?!
Mull over this thought, let it sink into your mind and let it motivate you, and "out of doing ... with an ulterior motive there comes doing for its own sake" (Pesachim 50b). Torah will become important and quite quickly you will study "for its own sake." Any "scholar" who questions this approach should try it for himself; the result will be overpowering.
In the field of spreading Yiddishkeit this same approach should also be followed. You can converse with a non-committed Jew in order to encourage and attract him to approach Torah and mitzvos. One way is through the mivtzoyim, but there is an easier way. Convince him to study Torah; reach him through intellect and understanding.
Actually it should be quite obvious. When you try to convince someone to accept the "yoke" of mitzvos it needs a lot of devoted effort, but when you speak of intellectual pursuits, since every person is interested in mental excercises, he can easily be persuaded to put his mind into Torah thought.
Of course one must make it clear that the study alone is not sufficient, for the goal and purpose of Torah study is action, as the Gemara puts it: "Study is greater, for it leads to action" (Kiddushin 40b): 613 commandments of the Torah and seven commandments of Rabbinic enactment. This point needs a lot of emphasis for normally in mitzvah observance the action precedes the study, "Na'aseh V'nishmah," but since you must start somewhere, since now we are in the "Season of the giving of our Torah," Torah study comes first! And one mitzvah leads to another until he will fulfill all the Torah and mitzvos.
This topic may also be connected to the portion of Nasso and Behaalosecha. Nasso -- "lift up" -- the head; when you encourage another Jew to study Torah you are raising his head and everything else will follow. In Behaalosecha Rashi says: "... he must kindle the light until the flame goes up by itself." (Rashi, Bemidbar 8:2) When you lift up the head the rest of his soul -- neshamah -- will rise by itself.
May G-d grant that through our action of "lifting the head" that the Jewish heads will be occupied with Torah, we will merit very soon the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach and then the "head" of the Jewish people will be raised in the greatest way.
And then we will also see the lights of the Menorah, in the Bais Hamikdosh, in our Holy Land, Yerushalayim the Holy City, in the Bais Hamikdosh which will be built speedily and truly in our days.
In this week's portion, Nasso, we are faced with a very perplexing "klotz-kashe." On the day the Mishkan (Sanctuary) was set up, the Nessi'im, princes of the tribes, brought a special donation to the Sanctuary. It consisted of:
... six covered wagons and twelve oxen ... "take the offering from them and let the wagons and oxen be used for the Communion Tent's service." (Bemidbar 7:1-5)
On which Rashi comments:
For Moshe did not accept it from them until it was told to him by the word of the Omnipresent.
This raises the question: When the Jews were commanded to build the Mishkan in the desert, which was to be a Tabernacle (portable Sanctuary), they knew that they would have to transport it through the desert into Eretz Yisroel. Taking into account the size and weight of the wooden wall beams, the silver bases and copper bases, it is quite logical to say that in order to transport all these materials you needed proper, sturdy wagons. Why did Moshe refuse to accept the wagons which the princes offered? By right, he should have arranged beforehand for such wagons to be commissioned and built!
The question is even more disturbing when we remember that Moshe himself had said to G-d that the walls were too heavy to be stood up by humans! Since Moshe knew their massive weight, how did he expect the Levi'im to carry them?
It would also be absurd to say that Moshe expected the Mishkan to be transported on privately owned wagons. If he would not accept wagons donated to the Kodesh for this purpose, he surely would not use secular wagons.
The five-year-old chumash student remembers what Rashi said in Pekudai:
... for nobody was able to set it up because of the weight of the boards which no human strength was capable of setting up on end. Moshe, however, succeeded in placing it in position.
Moshe said to the Holy One, Blessed be He, "How is it possible to be set up by human beings?" G-d answered him: "You be busy with your hand!" He appeared to be erecting it but in fact it set itself on end and rose of its own accord. (Rashi, Shemos 39:33)
In other words, Moshe had only to busy himself with the walls of the Tabernacle and they stood up by themselves, by force of a G-dly miracle.
On the one hand, G-d set up the Mishkan and human hands only appeared to be involved. On the other hand, the credit is given to Moshe for setting it up!
Here we discover another fact which is often overlooked. All through the years that the Jews were in the desert and travelled with the Mishkan it was G-d who stood up the walls by way of miracle. Nevertheless the disassembling and reassembling of the Tabernacle was attributed to the Levi'im. As the Torah states:
When the Tabernacle is moved the Levites shall take it down and when it is to remain in one place, they shall set it up. (Bemidbar 1:51)
And although it stood up by itself the fact is attributed first to Moshe and then to the Levi'im.
This explains Moshe's reluctance to accept the wagons. He reasoned as follows: The Tabernacle will have to be transported, fine. The walls are too heavy for people to carry, no problem. The Levi'im will busy themselves with the boards and they will miraculously be transported on their own. And it will nevertheless be considered that the Levi'im carried the Mishkan.
So Moshe did not accept the wagons and oxen. Why place the Mishkan boards on mundane wagons drawn by lowly beasts when they can be carried by miracles!
But in reality Moshe's rationalization was not in G-d's plan, and he was told:
Take the offering from them and let the wagons and oxen be used for the Communion Tent service. Give them to the Levites, as appropriate for each [family's] work. (Bemidbar 7:5)
Clearly G-d wanted the Mishkan to be carried within the framework of the laws of nature, on physical wagons.
Another query now comes to mind, and although it may not be asked by the five-year-old, it will perturb a mature student who knows world history.
In Egypt today we find the great pyramids built of exceptionally large stones. World history accepts the theory that these pyramids were built by the Jews when they were slaves in Egypt. We may draw support to this theory from the verse:
[The Israelites] were to build up the cities Pithom and Ra'amses as supply centers for Pharaoh."
Which Rashi translates:
They strengthened them and fortified them to serve as store-cities. (Rashi, loc. cit.)
Store-cities must be built secure and strong to last many years. The stones must be large and strong, which is why in fact the pyramids are still standing today.
(Although the Gemara in Sotah analyzes the names and describes the weakness of the two cities, Pithom and Ra'amses, nevertheless they have become synonomous with strength and endurance -- as my Melamed used to use the term "Pisom and Ra'amses" in that sense.)
So, how were those giant stones moved and transported and then built into the pyramids? The answer is simply that many people worked on it together. In fact, the hieroglyphics in the pyramids pictorialize many slaves tied to ropes pulling the stones in unison.
This presents us with an obvious question. Each one of the pyramid stones weighed much more than the boards of the Mishkan. How is it possible that those same Jews who over so many years built the pyramids of Egypt could not get together and put up the Mishkan? Why was it necessary to evoke the miracle of having it "stand up on its own?"
But the answer is that there was a condition in the work of Egypt that it was "breaking" labor. The Jews built the pyramids because Pharaoh enslaved them and forced them to do "breaking labor."
When we speak of G-d's commandment to build a Mishkan -- here we find the directive, "Take My offering from everyone whose heart impells him to give." It had to be voluntarily and happily done -- not forced and certainly not breaking work. G-d does not accept a stolen calf as a sacrifice, certainly He does not want work that was coerced or stolen from someone. G-d also did not impart superhuman powers into the Levi'im -- for He wanted everything in Torah and Mitzvos to follow the natural forces.
For these reasons: (A) No breaking work could be prescribed and, (B) all work must be in the natural process, Moshe and the Levi'im did their share, busied themselves with putting up the Mishkan, but it was actually stood up by the Holy One, Blessed be He, by itself.
This teaches us an important lesson and moral in our Divine service. The Divine service of a Jew is to make the world a dwelling place for G-d. This process does not demand "breaking labor." While it is true that at certain times a Jew must be ready for sacrifice, this is not the regular order of Jewish life. The regular order prescribes that a Jew does what he is capable of, "Busy yourself with it," and then the Holy One, Blessed be He, completes all the missing steps in a supernatural way.
The same philosophy must also be applied in our mundane secular matters, as the Torah says: "And G-d your L-rd will bless you in all that you do." (Devorim 15:18) You must do what is incumbent upon you, and you create a vessel for G-d's blessing which will be generated by G-d in all that you require; children, life, health, sustenance with abundance -- also a blessing that enriches.
Being in the final stages of the golus, we have but a bit to conclude to make the world the proper abode for G-dliness. Let us proceed happily and joyously, and with the pleasure of preparing for the pleasure of the world to come.
Speedily and immediately, we merit the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach and then he will build the Third Bais Hamikdosh, where will be fulfilled the command,"When you kindle the Menorah...." This we will read at Minchah. May it all be quickly and truly in our days.
In Pirkei Avos, this week we learn the first chapter, which begins: "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai."
Why was the first recipient of Torah a single individual? Normally when something is too difficult for one man to handle it is given to a group of people to accomplish. In this case we find: "And He gave unto Moshe, when He finished speaking with him...." (Shemos 31:18)
The word "Kechaloso" (when He finished) is written defectively (without the 'vov' after the 'lamed') to intimate that the Torah was handed over to Moshe as a gift, complete in every respect, even as the bride is handed over to the bridegroom. For in a brief period as this, he must have been unable to learn in its entirety every law (to be derived from it). (Rashi loc. cit)
On the face of it, in this case it would have been better to give the Torah to several people! Each one would learn a section. Why give it to Moshe as a gift? This is the question -- why was the Torah given to one receiver?
However, in the case of the first recipient of Torah there could be a strong argument for one recipient, to show absolute unity. In other words, just as there was one Torah given by One G-d, so too, must there be one recipient. No chance for misunderstandings.
When we look at the later generations, as the Rambam lists the forty generations from Moshe till the completion of the Talmud, we find that generally there were two or more people in the chain of transmission of Torah. The question still does come up. We do find a few cases of single recipients. In those cases it would have been impossible for one person to attain the full knowledge of Torah, (even Moshe could not) so why in certain generations was Torah given over to only a single individual?
In Torah study we find two distinct frameworks:
- To study and know the entire Torah in brief fashion; which means, all the halachos and their reasons, i.e. the development of all 613 mitzvos in all conditions, details and Rabbinic extensions.
- Knowing all this, one must return to study, with keen analysis, the Talmud and its logic and to dialectically debate and discuss to the depth of one's logic the root causes of the halachos, to derive and deduce one matter from another etc. This system is of course infinite.
In the Laws of Torah Study, the Alter Rebbe discusses the question of whether to defer marriage until after learning the whole Torah. He explains that since by the age of 20 one can master the entire Torah by the short system (A -- above), it should therefore precede marriage, whereas the long system (B -- above) is infinite and should not defer marriage.
In the appendix to chapter 3 of Laws of Torah Study the Alter Rebbe discusses the chain of tradition from teacher to disciple and he explains that along with the clear rulings in halachic matters, the reasons were also transmitted, but the detailed and complicated dialectics were not transmitted.
Therefore much of the dialectic discussion of the Tanna'im and the early Amora'im were not recorded in the Talmud. The system of transmission being condensed to the final rulings and their reasons, it was in fact, possible for one person to study all the halachos and accept the role of leadership by virtue of his complete knowledge of the entire applicable Torah!
Now when we speak of the authority of halachic judgment we are better off when there is one leader -- so as to preclude disputes and insure proper observance.
In this view we can answer the question raised above. When we understand that whenever there was a sage who was able to receive the responsibility of leadership by virtue of his vast erudition it was preferable to have only one Nassi. Only, when for some reason, one qualified person was not available then two sages were mutually given the mantle of leadership. Later on in the future generations, if one person was again capable it went back to one.
It is however obvious that despite the fact that transmission of the leadership of Torah depends on halachah and its reasons, the system of pilpul, dialogue and dialectics is still the backbone of Torah study. In this area Moshe is the teacher of all the Jewish people. In general there are two approaches to Torah study: "Sinai" and "uprooting mountains" -- a "plastered cistern that loses not a drop," or an "overflowing spring." These two distinctions apply respectively to the Rav and the Rosh Hayeshivah, and certainly both paths must be followed. There should be set times for studying the Halachah and set times for dialectics and pilpul.