The 20th (Chof) MarCheshvan is an auspicious day; it is the birthday of the Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber, who was born in the year 5621.
The enormous quality of a birthday is described by the adage "a day of ascending fortune," which means that there is an increase and advancement in an overpowering way, even in the supernal root and source of the person's soul, in the "mazal," the essential "constellation" and "fortune" of the soul.
Consequently, when the 20th of Cheshvan comes each year all aspects of the Rashab are uplifted and increased in an overwhelming manner.
When a Nassi experiences such an uplifting phenomenon there is a corresponding elevation among all the Jewish people. This starts with his students who walk in his footsteps, and through them, all of Israel.
Let us therefore stop for a moment to contemplate the theme of the Rebbe Rashab with the intention of reaching positive resolutions that will help us to continue to follow in his footsteps through the year.
One of the subjects emphasized by the Rebbe Rashab was his special contribution in the area of "spreading the wellsprings to the outside."
Disseminating the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov began with the Alter Rebbe after the liberation of Yud-Tes Kislev (the 19th of Kislev). Further penetration and dispersion was accomplished by the subsequent Nessi'im and especially by the Rashab, who founded Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim where Chassidus was studied as part of the regular syllabus in a systematic and progressive way, similar to the system of studying Talmud and Halachah. This magnified the influence of Chassidus in the world.
The Rashab himself alluded to the role the students of Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim would play in spreading the wellsprings to the outside and thereby quicken the coming of Moshiach.
He also referred to the students as "soldiers of the House of Dovid" who would spread Chassidus and bring victory in the wars of the House of Dovid -- (Moshiach).
In our generation, our Nassi, the previous Rebbe, the only son and successor of the Rashab, increased the work of spreading Yiddishkeit, pushing it to perfection by disseminating Chassidus in many languages, so that even gentiles could study and understand Chassidic philosophy. He truly reached the farthest "outside."
The year of the Rebbe Rashab's birth was 5621 (in Hebrew letters K'I'S'R'A') the word "Kisra" is the Aramaic (Targum) form of Kesser. This indicates that the "crown" of esoteric wisdom must come down even into the distant forms of translations in all the languages of the world.
It is thus within our reach in this generation that the soldiers of the House of Dovid will nullify those who shame the heels of Moshiach and evoke the blessing of:
Blessed be the L-rd for evermore, Amen and Amen.
The ultimate victory which will usher in our righteous Moshiach, and then:
The glory of the L-rd shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. (Yeshayahu 40:5)
On this auspicious day, the birthday -- anniversary of the Rebbe Rashab, it is incumbent on everyone to accept good resolutions to increase the dissemination of the wellsprings to the outside.
First and foremost, you must increase the intensity of your Chassidus study, quantitatively and qualitatively, more time and more depth of understanding, by expending more diligence in trying to fathom the philosophy of Chassidus -- especially the teachings of the previous Rebbe.
Your study must be well established in the levels of wisdom, understanding and knowledge of the soul, as well as in simple human logic, just as you might comprehend some concept in the revealed aspect of Torah.
Your understanding will lead to emotions of the heart, as the verse says:
Know the G-d of your father and serve Him with a complete heart. (II Divrei HaYomim 28:9)
This meditation will bring to love of G-d and fear of G-d with all their ramifications.
Increasing the study of Chassidus will also increase your study and comprehension of other areas of Torah. And as study leads to action, it will influence your sharpened observance of mitzvos and subsequently reach the point where "all your actions will be for the sake of heaven" (Avos 2:12), and you will "know Him in all your ways" (Mishlei 3:6).
Even moreso, in dealing with other Jews -- you will be able to reach out to them and encourage them to study more Chassidus and observe more mitzvos, so that the light of holiness will spread throughout the whole world. This includes also the gentile nations of the world -- the Noachides, who should be encouraged to accept the commandments obligatory to them.
In practical terms, this must be carried out by emphasizing education. The Rashab and the Previous Rebbe put great effort into the field of education. We must, however, first educate ourselves by fulfilling the Mishnaic dictum, "Provide yourself with a teacher." At the same time we must also encourage the education of others, especially children, whether in age, or in knowledge. And even those who are mature in age and knowledge must still study more Torah, to which there is no end.
All this will come about by establishing and expanding educational institutions for boys and girls, where they will receive proper instruction and guidance, and where the good influence will extend to the home, to encourage the parents to support and appreciate Torah-true education for their children, as well as for themselves.
It is likewise important to create Torah centers for adults where they will find a framework of Torah, prayer and good deeds. These goals will be realized in "Chabad Houses" from which holiness will radiate to their surroundings.
Should one argue that such undertakings involve large sums of money and therefore before you establish a "Chabad House" you must launch a fund raising drive, to this approach we will invoke the adage of the Rebbe Maharash, "From the start we should go from above!" Start working, building, expanding without worrying about the funds! The previous Rebbe said that he was always short of funds for the Yeshivah and his other varied undertakings, nevertheless, G-d did not allow him to remain a debtor, and he always found means of paying the debts.
And although a deficit might cause unpleasantness for a specific period of time, postponing the opening or expansion of a "Chabad House" because of the lack of finances could cause losses among Jewish souls (Heaven forbid). And even one Jewish soul is a whole world.
It is therefore imperative to immediately implement activities to save Jewish souls, as Avraham said, "Give me the people" (Bereishis 14:21).
The way to accomplish this is by establishing educational institutions -- "Chabad Houses" -- without worrying about the financial expenditures; move in a manner of "From the start we should go from above!"
In recent times we have seen how the forces which are opposed to Torah have doubled their efforts to inculcate their children with such extreme, anti-Torah views that they are also anti-social and illogical. This campaign has reached the point that children are snatched away from their parents in order to train them against Torah (Heaven forbid).
We must therefore increase our efforts even more, with added strength and zeal, to save Jewish children, disregarding all restrictive rationalizations. Lucky and fortunate are those who will be involved in this work; in body, finances and support, even beyond their abilities.
All these activities are given impetus by this special day, the 20th of MarCheshvan, and this momentum is further increased by the combination of several unique factors this year.
Being the Shemittah year, we observe a Shabbos [year] observed by cessation from work for the land, a Shabbos [year] to G-d. (Vayikra 25:4)
The commentators explain that even those who are simple workers of the land, when the Sabbatical year comes and they are free from their labors, they will make an effort to study more about G-d by learning Torah.
The Shemittah year thus also serves as a preparatory year for Hakhel (the universal Jewish gathering held during Sukkos of the post Shemittah year) when the study must be put to practice -- to improve the observance of Torah and mitzvos -- which is the theme of Hakhel.
The studying during the seventh year must have the same enthusiasm and toil that the field work had during the six years of growing. And although his agrarian labors of the six years were carried out in accordance with the rules of Torah, and were in fact an expression of his faith in G-d, as the Talmud states, that when one sows the field with seed he expresses his faith: "He trusts in the Eternal and sows," despite this, his activity during the seventh year must be on a much loftier plane -- devoid from physical toil and immersed in the toil of Torah.
In a like manner, those who are constantly involved in Torah study must also introduce change during the seventh year, their study must also be on a loftier plane. In order to properly measure and evaluate your state of Torah study it is imperative that your have a Rav/Mashpia who will give you an objective evaluation.
Thus, all aspects of Torah study and dissemination will be enhanced this year, being the Shemittah, -- for it is a holy year dedicated to the study of Torah.
Since the 20th of Cheshvan falls on Shabbos, this point is again reiterated, for Shabbos is a holy day dedicated to the service of the Holy One, Blessed be He, prayer and study. Being that this Shabbos is in a leap year it receives more power and vigor and all the accomplishments will be in a gentle and settled manner.
The 20th of Cheshvan always occurs on the same day as Rosh Hashanah, seven weeks later. So this day reminds us that Rosh Hashanah was Shabbos and therefore the year is not just a Sabbatical year, it also started with the theme of Shabbos.
In the Torah portion of Vayeira we find a reference to the importance of education. The people of Sedom were evil and sinful, yet, they understood that they must appoint a judge upon themselves. As we read in the portion: "Lot was sitting at the gate of Sedom" (Bereishis 19:1), on which Rashi explains, "because that day they had appointed him as their judge" (loc. cit.). How much moreso -- yet a thousand times removed -- must the children of Avraham, Yitzchok and Ya'akov, after Mattan Torah, certainly appoint rabbis and teachers.
Likewise, we find in the portion of Vayeira the importance of educating others. When the Torah describes the enduring quality of Avraham it states:
I have given him special attention (love) for I know that he will command his children and his household after him, and they will keep G-d's ways, doing charity and justice. (Bereishis 18:19)
This means that Avraham educated his children and disciples in "G-d's way," which included Torah study; "Justice" -- and observance of all the mitzvos as represented in the term "charity."
Similarly, we also find reference to "Chabad Houses" in the portion of Vayeira. The Torah tells us. "Avraham planted an Eshel (tamarisk tree) in Beer-Sheva" (Bereishis 21:33) on which Rashi elaborates:
Through this Eshel the name of the Holy One, Blessed be He was called, "G-d of the entire Universe." For after they had eaten and drunk he said to them: "Bless Him of whose possessions you have eaten! Do you think you have eaten of what is mine? You have eaten of that which belongs to Him, who spoke and the Universe came."
(Rashi, loc. cit.)
Or, as the Gemara states:
Read not "and he called," but, "and he made to call," thereby teaching that our father Avraham caused the Name of the Holy One, Blessed be He, to be uttered by the mouth of every passer-by. (Sotah 10a)
Avraham taught that G-d was the Creator of heaven and earth and that the actual existence of the world came from G-dliness. His theme was similar to the theme of "Chabad Houses" -- Torah, prayer and acts of lovingkindness -- also including food and drink and a place to rest (or accompanying the guest -- which forms the acrostic E'S'H'E'L').
Through this Eshel the light of holiness, Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvos and the wellsprings of Chassidus are spread all around, including among the gentiles -- and since Avraham was "our father" -- his approach must provide an example for each and everyone of us.
May it come to be, that through the increase all these matters generated by the 20th of Cheshvan, each and everyone will merit speedily to experience the revelation of "G-d appeared to him," in the fullest measure with the coming of our righteous Moshiach. Then the promise will be fulfilled:
For they shall see eye to eye, (Yeshayahu 52:8)
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea, (Yeshayahu 11:9)
in a manner that all will see!
Observance of Shemittah also speeds the true redemption, as the Midrash explains, that when the Shemittah is observed, G-d "desires" the land. So may it be that we are redeemed instantly -- and we will merit to fulfill the laws of Shemittah by Biblical ordinance (in the golus it is only by Rabbinic enactment).
Then we will also fulfill the mitzvah of Hakhel in Yerushalayim, for we will have the City and the House in all their glory. Speedily and truly in our days.
A question has been raised on a Rashi in this week's portion.
The Torah tells us:
Lot was sitting at the gate of Sedom. (Bereishis 19:1)
The word (yoshev) is written without a vav, so that it may be read -- he sat -- because that day they had appointed him as their judge. (loc. cit.)
According to the rules of Rashi when his commentary defines only one word (in this case "was sitting") Rashi does not cite the entire clause. Why then does Rashi cite the entire verse, "Lot was sitting at the gate of Sedom"?
This is a legitimate query, however if the questioner had thought for another moment he could have asked a more troubling question. In a later Rashi, on the verse "Ephron was sitting among the children of Ches" (Bereishis 23:10), Rashi explains:
The verb is written without the vav [so that it may be read] "he sat," thus indicating that on that very day they had appointed Ephron to be an officer over them.
Now, in that Rashi in Chaye Sarah, Rashi cites only the words "Ephron was sitting" -- as should be. With this in mind, our question on the first verse in this portion becomes much stronger -- since we find the exact same wording in a different verse and there Rashi cites only the words which must be explained -- why then does Rashi quote the full clause in this case?!
[Now that we have compared these two verses we realize that the question need not be based on the general rule rather on the second similar verse.]
Another point which needs clarification: Why does Rashi use the term "judge" here and "officer" there?
Let us now study another puzzling Rashi.
[And Avraham planted an] Eshel (tamarisk tree) -- Rav and Shmuel differ as to what this was. One said it was an orchard from which to supply fruit for the guests at their meals. The other said it was an inn for lodging in which were all kinds of fruits. And we can speak of "planting" an inn for we find the expression "planting" used of tents, as it is said "And he shall plant the tents of his palace." (Daniel 11:45)
In the past we have discussed the different opinions of Rav and Shmuel, but a troubling problem faces us here -- why translate Eshel as an orchard or inn -- why not the simple meaning a tree?! Especially as we find several places in Tenach where the word Eshel means a tree -- not an orchard and certainly not an inn!?
The Rashi dealing with Lot may be understood when we realize that we actually do not know what position Lot was appointed to. Rashi tells us that he was appointed as their judge, how do we know this, only because the verse tells us that he sat near the gate of the city.
The place of the judges was traditionally near the gates of the city, this made them available to visitors who might want learn of the rules and customs of the city. They would also be there for local citizens who were leaving the city and the judges would remind them of their own customs and observances which they would be required to keep in other towns. Likewise, if they owed some tax or fine it could be collected when they left the city. So, when the verse tells us that Lot was sitting near the gate, we know he was appointed to be a judge, and therefore Rashi must cite the complete clause.
This explanation will also help to clarify a troubling point in a later verse.
When Lot comes to the confrontation with the Sedomites they taunt him:
This one man came here as an immigrant and now all of a sudden, he has set himself up as a judge! (Bereishis 19:9)
The five-year-old Chumash student is troubled by the validity of their argument. Why should Lot take upon himself to be judge of the people of Sedom, as he was truly not a native of their city!
However, when we learn that Lot did not take the job himself, but was appointed to the position by the citizens of Sedom -- then the five-year-old Chumash student is satisfied that the Sedomites were truly evil people and simply used that argument to taunt Lot.
Rashi's discussion of the Eshel will also be understood. When we read that Avraham planted an Eshel (tree) in Be'er-Sheva we wonder what special significance can this tree have that the Torah makes special notes of this act. Be'er-Sheva was a settled town and certainly had many trees? What was so special about this one, and why does the Torah follow this statement with the words:
And there he called in the Name of G-d, L-rd of the Universe? (Bereishis 21:33)
This question forces Rashi to abandon the simple translation of the word Eshel (tree) and leads Rashi to explain it as something unique and special, i.e. an "orchard," or an "inn," by means of which he "caused the Name of G-d to be called," as Rashi goes on to explain about the next words of the verse.
This will also clarify Rashi's additional explanation of the usage of the word "planting" in connection with tents, without first stating that "planting" would be more logical in relation to trees. Since Rashi was looking for the most appropriate usage of Eshel -- not the simplest -- he brings orchards and immediately -- "inn" -- to which he adds that planting may also apply to tents.
The section of Rambam which we study today deals with the Laws of the "Cities of Refuge."
We know that all punishments prescribed by Torah do not serve the purpose of simply inflicting suffering for the sake of punishment, rather the purpose is to rectify the sin and the sinner through teshuvah -- repentance.
This thought has a connection to the 20th of Cheshvan, the birthday of the Rebbe Rashab.
The Rashab made great efforts to reach out and bring Jews closer to their Heavenly Father -- through his general dissemination of Torah and Yiddishkeit. This may be clearly seen from his letters, one volume of which has just been published this Erev Shabbos for the 20th of Cheshvan.
The Previous Rebbe was also wont to say that the theme of the Alter Rebbe was to make baalei teshuvah, and so, too, in the case of the Rebbe Rashab who was his successor.
The Rambam writes:
An exiled person may never leave his city of refuge, not even to perform a scriptural commandment.... Indeed not even if all Israel needs his help, as it did that of Yoav the son of Tzeruya, may he leave the city, until the Kohen Gadol dies. (Rambam, Laws of Murder 7:8)
This law needs some clarification, for if "all Israel needs his help" we must be speaking of a situation where there is a present, real danger to the Jewish people -- a life-or-death case. How can we possibly rule that he is forbidden to leave the city of refuge in such a situation? We know that saving a life supersedes all laws of the Torah!?
While it is true that leaving the city of refuge could pose a threat to this person's life -- so what! In the case of an ominous threat of bloodshed against the entire Jewish people, if this individual possesses the power to avert the tragedy, he should certainly be ready to face danger to himself and sacrifice himself, if need be, to save the rest of the Jewish people?!
Furthermore, the danger facing him is not certain, for the blood-avenger may not try to kill him, and should he try, he could slip away or appease him. On the other hand, he has the ability to save all the Jewish people from certain catastrophe.
Why then should he be prohibited from leaving the city of refuge because of the possible and questionable threat to his life, when his ability to avert danger is positive and definite.
The possible solution:
In Halachah we find the concept of one who is "accounted as dead." For example if someone murders an individual who was dying from a terminal sickness or wound (called a treifah) the murderer could not be executed. In normal cases of homicide we assume that the victim was alive and well and would have continued to live. Similarly, one who has been sentenced to death is in the category of a "dead man."
Now, when this manslaughterer leaves the city of refuge, he places himself at the mercy of the blood-avenger and thereby commits himself to be killed. If so, he places himself in the category of a "dead man."
Can a "dead man" save the Jewish people?!
The theme of cities of refuge are also associated with the future redemption. As the Rambam writes:
So too, with the reference to the cities of refuge, the Torah says: "And if the L-rd your G-d will enlarge your borders...then you shall add three cities more... a precept which has never been carried out. Yet, not in vain did the Holy One, Blessed be He, give us this commandment,
(Laws of Kings 11:2)
In the time of the King Moshiach three more will be added to these six, for Scripture says. "Then you shall add for you three more cities beside these three.
(Laws of Murder 8:4)
May it be the will of the Al-mighty that by speaking about this subject we will merit the fulfillment of the promise, "And I will cause the spirit of tumah to pass out of the land" (Zechariah 13:2).
And darkness will cease from the face of the earth.