1. This Shabbos is the second of Sivan, the day on which Moshe began to prepare the Jewish people for the receiving of the Torah. On this day the Jews received G-d’s command “You will be unto me a kingdom of priests” (Shemos 19:6).
Today, the second of Sivan, is Shabbos. Shabbos is also related to Torah, as our sages commented, “all agree that the Torah was given on Shabbos.” There is an intrinsic connection between the two. Torah is above the world. Similarly, Shabbos is above mundane worldly affairs. It is the day on which G-d” ceased from work and rested.” On the other hand, both Shabbos and Torah are related to the world. Shabbos is one of the days of the week, and Torah is “not in the heavens;” it has descended and has been given in this world.
The order in which the Jewish calendar is fixed emphasizes this relationship. The first day of the holiday of Shavuos always falls on the same day of the week as the second day of the holiday of Pesach. Since the first day of the holiday of Pesach cannot fall on either Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, the holiday of Shavuos can never fall on Shabbos. Similarly, Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the day on which the Jews camped before Mt. Sinai, also can never fall on Shabbos. (If so Shavuos would fall on Thursday and Pesach on Wednesday, which it cannot fall on.) However, the second of Sivan, the day on which Moshe began to prepare Israel for the giving of the Torah, can fall on Shabbos — and in fact does fall on Shabbos this year — thus depicting their relationship.
The above produces a lesson for us in our service to G-d.
Each year on Shavuos we receive the Torah anew. The Previous Rebbe used to emphasize that we must receive the Torah “with joy and inner feeling.” In order to approach Torah in this manner we need preparation; the second day of Sivan. In general, every matter of importance must be prepared for in advance.
To a lesser extent this concept also applies to our daily service. Each day we receive the Torah anew, as our sages commented, “(The words of Torah) should be new to you each day.” This concept is emphasized by the blessing recited before Torah study which describes G-d as the “Giver of the Torah,” using the present tense. However, the preparation that is necessary for receiving the Torah each day cannot be compared to that necessary for receiving the Torah on Shavuos.
Shabbos adds an aspect of pleasure to these preparations, for Shabbos is characterized by this quality, as the verse states, “and you shall declare the Shabbos a delight.” When our actions are permeated with pleasure, they are more complete and more successful. The more desire one feels for a project the more he will put himself into it. Pleasure is the highest of man’s capacities — it dominates and rules over all the others. For this reason pleasure is capable of motivating a strong will which enhances our preparations for receiving the Torah.
The second of Sivan contributes an important concept towards the preparations of the Jewish people. This is the concept that the Jewish people are “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” The term “a kingdom of priests” is explained in the Torah’s commentaries in different ways. Rashi interprets it to mean “rulers;” the Ramban interprets it as “servants of G-d;” and the Baal Haturim says it means that every Jew is a “high priest.”
To understand the last interpretation (Baal Haturim) the following question must first be satisfied: How can we demand that an ordinary Jew be on the level of a High Priest? The position of the High Priest is seemingly dependent on ancestral lineage, not on one’s own service. However, in spite of the fact that lineage plays a part in the selection of the High Priest, the person who is chosen for the office must be fit for it. He must prepare himself in order that he merits becoming the High Priest. Through our service now, in the time of Golus, we will bring about the revelation that each Jew is a High Priest. Thus, through our preparations on the second of Sivan, particularly since it is Shabbos, the day from which all the days of the week are blessed, we will receive the Torah “with joy and inner feeling,” and proceed to receive the teachings of Mashiach.
2. Surely there were a number of preliminary steps taken by Moshe to prepare the Jews for the giving of the Torah. However important these steps were, it follows that since the Jewish children were the guarantors G-d accepted for the giving of the Torah, their preparations were most important. Without the children as guarantors, G-d would not have given the Torah. Hence, their preparation was essential to the giving of the Torah. It had to be done first. Afterwards, the other, more secondary aspects of preparations, could be carried out.
The above helps answer a question: The Torah specifically mentions that Moshe spoke to the women and to the men instructing them to prepare themselves to receive the Torah, as Rashi comments on the verse “Thus shall you say to the House of Yaakov and speak to the children of Israel.” However, there isn’t one place where the Torah records that Moshe spoke to the children. If the children were so essential to the giving of the Torah, shouldn’t they have been spoken to directly? One might argue that, because of their fundamental role in the giving of the Torah, it was obvious that Moshe spoke to the children. Therefore, the Torah need not give it explicit mention.
Another possible explanation is that Moshe intended that the children’s preparation be carried out by their parents. Even before the giving of the Torah, from the time of Avraham, the Jewish people were obligated to educate their children, as the verse (Bereishis 18:19) declares “For I know him, that he will command his children... to keep the way of the L-rd, to do justice and judgment.” Therefore, included in Moshe’s instructions to the adults was the command to prepare the children to become the guarantors for the receiving of the Torah.
This explanation allows us to understand the merit through which the Jewish men and women were given the Torah. They prepare and educate the children to be Torah’s guarantors. Hence, they receive the Torah themselves.
Each year on Shavuos all the events connected with the giving of the Torah, including the concept that “our children are our guarantors,” repeat themselves. For this reason efforts have been made (and must continue) to arouse Jewish children — both before Shavuos and on the day of Shavuos. We must collect all the Jewish children, boys and girls, and tell them what Torah is, what the giving of the Torah is, and that they are the guarantors on whom the giving of the Torah to the entire Jewish people depends.
This effort is also connected with the portion of the Torah related to Rosh Chodesh Sivan and Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan. There the Torah describes how each member of the tribe of Levi, even a child of one month old, is referred to as “a guard watching over the sanctuary” (3:15 Rashi). Each one acts as an envoy for the Jewish people who are scattered throughout the world, serving in the sanctuary for them.
The Shechinah rests in the sanctuary, as the Ramban declares “the main purpose of the sanctuary was to contain a place in which the Shechinah rests, this being the ark.” The essence of the ark is Torah. In it rested the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Even the children of the tribe of Levi of one month old were “counted” — dearness and equality — thus becoming “a guard watching over the sanctuary.”
Although the above is stated with regard to the tribe of Levi, nevertheless, it is applicable to all Jews. In the time of Golus “its (the destruction of the Temple) damage becomes its redeeming factor.” Now every Jew is like a Kohain and a Levi. (This principle can be seen from our prayers which were instituted in the place of the offerings of the sanctuary. In the time of the sanctuary the offerings were brought by the priests and accompanied by the songs of the Levi’im. Today every Jew offers his prayers.)
The connection between every Jew and the tribe of Levi is further emphasized by the fact that the discussion in Bamidbar centers around the giving of the Torah. Then G-d told the entire Jewish people “You will be a kingdom of priests unto Me.” (The expression “kingdom of priests” alludes to the level of High Priests.) Just as a Levite, became “one who guards the sanctuary,” from the age of one month, and even earlier, immediately when he was born, so, too, in regard to Torah (which is related to the ark, the main purpose of the sanctuary), every Jew, as soon as he is born, becomes “one who guards the sanctuary.”
Furthermore, the Rambam writes that every Jew who “dedicates his spirit (to G-d) is like a Levi.” Hence, it is necessary to begin working with Jewish children, even those “from one month and up,” to prepare them to receive the Torah. This is particularly true in the present age which, according to the signs recorded in the tractate of Sotah, directly precedes the coming of Mashiach. Then the prophecy “And He will return the hearts of the fathers through the children” will be fulfilled. As a preparation for that era, we must adopt that tactic and direct our efforts to Jewish children. Thus, we will hasten the coming of Eliyahu the prophet, who will herald the Messianic redemption, speedily in our days.
3. On a Shabbos farbrengen it is customary to explain a portion of Rashi’s commentary on the weekly portion and a portion of my father’s commentary on the Zohar. Also, during the summer, it is customary to explain a Mishnah of Pirkei Avos. In view of the above, it is proper to find an aspect of all these that is connected with children.
Rashi, in his commentary on Bamidbar 3:15, emphasizes the importance of Jewish children. On the phrase “From a month old and upward” he comments: “after he has gone out of the category of ‘non-viable births’ (children who die under the age of thirty days); he is numbered to be considered ‘a guard over the sanctuary.’” This Rashi creates a dilemma, as follows: Rashi explains that the census of the Levi’im was taken “by the mouth of G-d,” i.e., by Divine decree. Moshe stood outside each tent and the Shechinah told him how many children there were (3:16 Rashi). If so why was it necessary to count the children from one month old? G-d knew which children below one month would survive and which would not!?
Rashi himself (3:16) laid the foundation upon which we can answer this question. The command to count the Levi’im was given in connection with the command to count all the people of Israel. It was only after Moshe protested “How can I enter into their tents to learn the number of their sucklings?” that “The Holy One Blessed Be He said to him: ‘You do yours and I shall do Mine.’ Moshe went and stood at the door of the tent and the Divine Presence went before him, and a Divine Voice went forth from the tent saying, ‘So and so many infants are there in this tent.’” Moshe was originally commanded to count the Levi’im as he had counted the rest of the people. Even after the miracle of the Shechinah, the nature of the command was not changed, and the Levi’im were counted “from one month old and upward” — for Moshe (not G-d) could not know if children below one month would survive.
The fact that a young child is called “a guard who watches the sanctuary” is difficult to understand. What can a one-month old child do to guard the sanctuary? This question can be answered by analyzing the verse commanding the Levi’im. That verse (1:53) reads “And the Levi’im should camp around the sanctuary... (and through this) and the Levi’im shall guard (be responsible) for the watch of the sanctuary.” The guarding of the sanctuary was connected with camping around it. All the Levi’im — the men, the women, and the children — participated in that activity. In fact, the children had the greatest part in this effort. Their fathers served in the sanctuary; their mothers left the encampment to buy goods brought by the traders who visited the Jews in the desert. The only ones who were constantly “camping around the sanctuary” were the children.
In view of the above, we should try to ensure that every Jewish child, from one month old and up, hears the reading of the Ten Commandments. There are those who will argue: Why should the children be brought to hear the reading of the Torah? They will not understand what is read? This argument is refuted by an explicit statement of the Talmud. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Yevamos 1:6) relates that when Yehoshua ben Chananiah, was a young child still in his cradle, his mother brought him into the House of Study. His mother wanted the words of Torah to cling to his ears. Hearing the words of Torah at that age effected Yehoshua ben Chananiah to the degree that he became one of the greatest sages of his generation. In fact, when Pirkei Avos lists the praises of R. Yochanan ben Zakkai’s students (such as R. Eliezer ben Horkenus who is described as “a cemented cistern which does not lose a drop”), it describes R. Yehoshua as “happy is she who bore him” (2:9).
If the above applies to the study of Talmud, in which the understanding and grasp of the concepts is a fundamental condition of study, it surely applies to the reading of the Torah. Even someone who does not understand what he reads makes a blessing before and after the reading of the Torah. Thus he fulfills the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah.
This concept is emphasized by the Previous Rebbe’s statement “when a Jew receives an Aliyah to the Torah on the lowest level (in this physical world), his soul receives an Aliyah (ascent) to the Torah in all the spiritual worlds: The second level, third level, fourth level, and fifth level. Even if he is in such a state that the soul, as it is enclothed in the body, is not aware of what the Torah says, nonetheless, the higher levels (Ruach, the second level; Neshamah, the third level; Chaya, the fourth level; Yechidah, the fifth level) are aware, and their knowledge will eventually effect the soul as it is enclothed in the body. The fact that the lower levels of soul are insensitive does not affect the connection on the higher levels.
The same is true with regard to young children. What they hear in the cradle effects them, though not necessarily consciously. They may not understand what they hear, but the essence of the soul and its spiritual aspects hear, and the effect Torah has on them influences their behavior as well. For this reason, it is customary to hang a Shir HaMa’alos or other verses of Torah in the house of a child, even before he is born. The first thing the child will see will be one of the verses of the Torah.
Thus, every Jewish child, not only those from the tribe of Levi, are called “guards” keeping watch over the sanctuary. Just as the tribe of Levi is separated from the rest of the Jewish people, the whole Jewish people are separated from the nations of the world. They are a “chosen people;” G-d gave them His Torah as an inheritance.
As heir assumes his rights as soon as he is born. At the moment of birth he inherits everything. At the moment of birth every Jewish child inherits the entire Torah, described as G-d’s “hidden treasure.” Torah is G-d’s dearest possession. Nevertheless, He trusts that every Jew will guard it properly. Since He gave us the Torah, rather than giving it to any of the other nations of the world, or even to the angels, it follows that He has also given each Jew the strength to carry it out. Each Jew even a young child, is given full possession of G-d’s “hidden treasure.”
In view of the above, young children, even those as young as one month, should be brought to shul to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments from the Torah on Shavuos. As was explained above, this experience will have an effect on the child. Our sages explain that before a child is born an angel teaches him the entire Torah. Then, just before birth, the angel slaps him across the mouth and he forgets everything he learned. The Alter Rebbe explains that even though the child forgets everything, still the teachings he learned have an effect on him. They make the study of Torah easier later on in life. Similarly, the experience of hearing the Torah reading, even though the child will not understand, will effect him later. This is particularly true since, in this case, there is no angel to slap the child and make him forget what he has heard.
The above is not meant to be an abstract statement; rather, it is a practical directive for action. We must begin working with Jewish children and we should start our efforts by collecting them to hear the Ten Commandments on Shavuos. These remarks are directed to all those who can take part, as the Tzemach Tzedek remarked, “I am hanging the hat on the hook and may all those who think that it fits them come and put it on.”
4. On the verse (1:49) “However, the tribe of Levi you shall not number...” Rashi comments: “The legion of the King is worthy to be numbered by itself. Another explanation: The Holy One Blessed Be He foresaw that there was destined to arise a decree against all those who were numbered from twenty years old and upward that they should die in the wilderness, (so) He said, ‘Let not these (the Levi’im) be included, for they are Mine, since they did not err with the (Golden Calf).”
On the surface, it appears that Rashi’s commentary would be more appropriately placed if it came later on in the portion, (when the Torah speaks about the counting of the tribe of Levi;) rather than being placed in juxtaposition with this verse which explains that they should not be counted along with the counting of the other tribes.
The resolution of this difficulty depends on another commentary of Rashi. At the beginning of this week’s portion Rashi explains that “Because of their love before Him, He numbers them (Bnei Israel) at all times.” As soon as a student reads that the Levi’im were not to be counted (even before he reached the conclusion of the verse “Do not count their heads...”), he becomes confused. He will ponder: The tribe of Levi was distinguished in a positive manner. Yaakov considered Levi a separate, holy entity... he was not allowed to carry Yaakov’s coffin because ‘he is destined to carry the ark...’ Why shouldn’t the Levi’im be counted? To answer this question Rashi comments here that “the legion of the King is worthy to be numbered by itself....”
5. Trans. Note: The Rebbe Shlita elaborated on his explanation of a Rashi commentary which was discussed in the previous farbrengen. Within the context of his remarks he declared that the concept of Toraso Umnaso, “his profession is Torah,” which applies to R. Shimon bar Yochai, should also apply to Jewish children. R. Shimon maintained that the Jewish people should study Torah, and that their work would be performed by others. R. Yishmael argued with him, maintaining that a Jew must work. The Talmud explains that many followed R. Yishmael’s path and were successful, many followed R. Shimon’s path and did not succeed. However, their argument applies to adults. However, in regard to children even R. Yishmael would agree that they should not work, but devote all their energies to Torah study.
Within the context of these remarks, the Rebbe Shlita also mentioned the obligation of women to study Chassidus. The Alter Rebbe writes that women must study about all the Mitzvos which they are obligated to perform. Among those is the Mitzvah to love and fear G-d. The Rambam writes “What is the path to love Him and fear Him? when a person meditates on His wondrous deeds and creations...” This process of meditation is enhanced by the study of Chassidus. The Previous Rebbe instructed that both boys and girls before Bar/Bas Mitzvah age should be taught Chassidus.
6. In today’s Perek, the Mishnah (6:8) states:” R. Shimon ben Yehudah said in the name of R. Shimon ben Yochai, ‘Beauty, strength, wealth, honor, wisdom, old age, ripe old age, and children, are befitting the righteous and befitting the world’ ... R. Shimon ben Menasya said: ‘These seven qualities which the sages enumerated [as befitting] the righteous — all of them were realized in “Rabbi” [Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi] and in his sons.’” The Mishnah raises several questions:
1) Why does the first clause mention 8 blessings, while the last clause lists only seven?
2) It appears that the qualities of “old age” and “ripe old age” are redundant, why are they both included?
3) Why is the expression “No’eh” (befitting) used? Generally the Talmud uses terms like “good” and “beneficial.”
4) R. Shimon bar Yochai described himself as a “man of ascent,” someone above the level of the world. Why does his statement deal with things which are “befitting the world?”
The last question will help resolve the other questions. Even if someone has reached a level as high as that attained by R. Shimon bar Yochai, and “his profession is Torah,” i.e., he is elevated and totally above the world still, he must involve himself in the world and create pleasantness (befitting) therein.
The reason why R. Shimon ben Menasya mentions only seven qualities is that one cannot consider children to be an internal quality of a person. The other seven qualities refer to one’s own character traits; children represent a separate entity. Nevertheless, children represent the ultimate expression of pleasantness in the world. The term “children” can also be interpreted to mean “students.” Pleasantness will naturally attract others. This is why the phrase says that children are pleasant (befitting) for the righteous, rather than good or beneficial. This concept is expressed in Niglah. On the verse, “this is My G-d and I will glorify Him,” our sages comment: “Glorify Him in (the fulfillment of) Mitzvos.” Not only is it necessary to perform the Mitzvah with Kosher Tefillin, it is also necessary to perform the Mitzvah with Tefillin which are beautiful.
“Old age” and “Ripe old age” refer to two different qualities which are not necessarily interdependent. Our sages commented, “who is one who reached old age; one who has acquired wisdom.” Wisdom is revealed in one’s face. The Talmud comments that when R. Abuha found a new or, according to another text, an ancient Tosefta, his face shone. Therefore one must “honor the face of an old man.” On the other hand, “ripe old age” refers to a settled, steady approach to understanding (Hisyashvus in Hebrew, the Hebrew word for sit is Yoshaiv). Therefore, one must stand before someone of “ripe old age.”
[Trans. Note: The Rebbe Shlita also explained a concept in his father’s commentary on the Zohar concerning Tallis and Tefillin; explaining the lesson regarding children that could be learned from it.]
7. As stressed before, “our children are our guarantors.” However, in regard to Torah, every Jew is a child. Before learning a new concept in Torah, each Jew is a young child in relation to that concept. Since we must constantly proceed further in Torah, a Jew must always feel about himself as if he is a child.
This concept is particularly related to the “Pegishah” held this weekend. The participants must know that no matter how much they know at present, and no matter how much they learn during this weekend, they will still know very little in regard to their eventual goal; they will be a child. This concept applies not only to them; but it applies to every Jew who studies Torah. Even a Jew who has studied “the entire Torah” must know that Torah is infinite, and that his learning will always be “small” in comparison to it.
Also, the participants must realize that by studying Torah and performing Mitzvos they benefit, not only themselves, but the entire Jewish people.
- (Back to text) It is possible that because of the connection between Shabbos and the Torah the description of the preparations for receiving the Torah are included in the tractate of Shabbos.
- (Back to text) At times the Torah is described as being above the world, as the Book of Proverbs declares “I will be an object of desire before Him,” and in the Book of Job (28:21) it is written that the Torah is “hidden from the eyes of all living.” These two contrasting natures (being above the world and within the world) are depicted by two distinct metaphors. Torah is at times compared to fire, as the verse declares “Behold, my words are as fire.” Fire is above the nature of the world and effort must be made to contain it within the world. (In this context just as fire cannot become impure, Torah cannot become impure.) Another metaphor for Torah is water. Water has the tendency to descend. Similarly, Torah descends into the world and is our guide for practical deed and action.
- (Back to text) This point is brought out in Torah law. Since the Shabbos meal is considered important, Torah law, applies the concept of ‘preparation’ to it. A weekday meal, having no importance, has no concept of ‘preparation’ regarding it.
- (Back to text) Even according to those that maintain that the High Priesthood is passed from father to son, and is not determined by selection, the son must be a fitting recipient. If he desecrates the sanctity of the priesthood he cannot assume the position of High Priest.
- (Back to text) The Talmud constantly operates under the logic that if something can be understood through deduction, there is no need for an explicit verse in the Torah.
- (Back to text) It is nevertheless necessary for Torah to inform us that the adults were told to make preparations, for about Torah G-d says “I have given you a good teaching (Torah).” Thus, certainly the adults would themselves have made preparations to receive such a wonderful gift. Nevertheless, the Torah informs us, Moshe spoke to the adults about it.
- (Back to text) Even the Jews in the Diaspora had a direct connection with the offerings in the Temple. For that reason they were obligated to give the half-shekel offering each year.
- (Back to text) Counting implies two concepts 1) dearness — we count what is valuable and precious, and 2) equality — in a census the greatest and smallest are counted equally.
- (Back to text) The tractate of Sotah has a special connection with the holiday of Shavuos. It has 49 pages which correspond to the 49 days of the Omer. The Previous Rebbe instituted the custom of learning a page of the tractate each day of the Omer, thus concluding its study Erev Shavuos.
- (Back to text) In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe writes that the form of the letters themselves reveal the Divine influence invested in them. Even though a child may not be aware of this, the essence of his soul is aware and this has an effect on his behavior.
- (Back to text) Furthermore, the choice is expressed in regard to the body of the Jew, which appears to be similar to that of the non-Jew. (The soul of the Jew is loan actual part of G-d.”) It is improper to say that the soul of the Jew was “chosen.” The term choice only applies when the two entities are equal.
- (Back to text) Furthermore, the Baal Shem Tov declared that each child is as dear to G-d as an only child born to his father at an advanced age. Hence, each Jewish boy and girl inherits the Torah as an only child inherits his father’s property.
- (Back to text) The connection between the children and the Torah is further emphasized by the reply Moshe gave to the angels when they demanded the Torah for themselves. He asked “do you have a father or mother?” (So you can keep the commandment “Honor your father and mother.”) Likewise, he asked them, “Did you descend into Egypt?” (And are thus connected with the command “I am the L-rd, your G-d, who took you out of the Land of Egypt.”) In Egypt the children suffered the most. They were the ones cast into the river. Also, during the exodus from Egypt, at the splitting of the Red Sea, they were the ones who recognized G-d first.
- (Back to text) The Previous Rebbe related that his teacher told all of his students on Erev Shavuos “Children, come, I will take you to the giving of the Torah.”
- (Back to text) There are some texts that list only seven qualities, omitting either old age or ripe old age. The Alter Rebbe’s text lists all eight qualities.
- (Back to text) It is very important for a Jew to present himself in a befitting manner. By doing so he can bring about a ‘Kiddush Hashem’ — a sanctification of G-d’s name. on the verse “and you shall love the L-rd, your G-d,” the Sifri comments, “Make the name of Heaven beloved by your acts.”
- (Back to text) R. Shimon declared, “I have seen men of ascent and they are few... If there is only one, it is me.” That statement can be interpreted that if only one of the “men of ascent” is necessary, he could be chosen. or more simply, that the phrase “if there is only one” refers to such a high level of “ascent” that only R. Shimon could be counted.
- (Back to text) If someone maintains that “Torah is his profession,” but nonetheless exhibits “free hatred,” it is no surprise that he hasn’t any students. To attract students one must be pleasant.
- (Back to text) This concept is exemplified by a story of the Previous Rebbe. Once when the Previous Rebbe was a child his father, the Rebbe Rashab, was studying in the same room in which he slept. When the Rebbe Rashab saw the pleasantness of his face, he was motivated to kiss him. However, instead of kissing him, he wrote a Maamar and gave it to him at his Bar Mitzvah.