1. Shavuos, the season of the giving of our Torah, is only one day long. In contrast, the other festivals are celebrated over a longer period. In the text Torah Or, the Alter Rebbe elaborates on this concept, explaining that the other festivals are related to the limits of time. Hence, Pesach lasts seven days, corresponding to the seven days of the week, and Sukkos eight – the eighth day — “guarding the weekly cycle.” However, Shavuos stands above the limitations of time. Therefore, when it descends to a time related level, it is only one day long. A similar concept is explained in regard to the first day of creation. Even though the proper Hebrew term for the first day is Yom Rishon, the Torah calls it Yom Echod, meaning “one day,” for it was a day of oneness — a day when G-d was one in the world.
Even though Shavuos represents a state beyond the limits of time, it is expressed within time, not as one hour or one moment, but as one day. The explanation of this concept is as follows. Torah study must be carried out in a manner of understanding and comprehension. The Torah study must be appreciated to the point where the concept is thoroughly grasped, as the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya: the intellect, the concept, and the thinking become one. Time is necessary in order for this process to take place. It is possible that G-d could have worked a miracle and allowed the Jews to understand without the passage of time. However, G-d did not desire that the Jewish people receive “bread of shame” — something they had not worked for. Therefore, He ordained that comprehension be commensurate with time and effort invested.
Nevertheless, after the time is taken and the concept is understood thoroughly, it is not only one concept that is grasped, but rather the entire Torah. Torah is one point. When someone studies Torah and understands it, his intellect and the Torah become one entity: the Torah concept, the person who learns it, and the concept (as it is expressed) become one. Furthermore, their union is complete. They are not three separate elements that are joined together, but rather they form a perfect unity. True, it takes time until the concept is understood, but once it is grasped, their bond is complete. Hence, it takes time for the student of Torah to grasp a Torah concept, but when he does, he and the Torah become one. Furthermore, since the Torah is one point, when a student becomes one with one concept in Torah, he unites with the entire Torah.
The latter concept, that the entire Torah is one point, was stressed at the time of the giving of the Torah. The Ten Commandments include the entire Torah. This concept is also emphasized by the verse, “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov.” An heir acquires his inheritance in its entirety as soon as he is born. Thus, the verse emphasizes that every Jew upon birth acquires the entire Torah.
Afterwards, as the child grows, he begins to appreciate the many aspects of the Torah. As soon as he can speak, his father teaches him the verse “Torah Tzivah.” When he becomes five years old, he begins to learn the T’nach, at ten the Mishnah, etc. However, at every particular level, he is expected to approach Torah as one all-inclusive essence. Each level in Torah (e.g. the verse Torah Tzivah, the study of the written law, or the oral law) is not a means to achieve an end, but rather an end in and of itself, a quintessential unity that includes the entire Torah.
This concept can be explained by the Maggid’s commentary on the verse: “Love ... G-d ... with all your might.” The expression Hall your might” implies an unlimited state of love. Even though each person has his own limitations and the love which surpasses the limits of one individual may be considered as limited for another, the emphasis is on “your might,” what is unlimited for each individual. When someone goes beyond his personal limitations he arouses the unlimited aspects of G-dliness.
The same applies to the above concept. Everyone who learns Torah on his particular level of comprehension relates to G-d’s infinite aspects. When a child who is beginning to speak learns the verses of the Torah, he relates to G-d’s infinity. A five year old learning Torah accomplishes the same, and similarly a ten year old learning Mishnah. On a revealed level, there may be differences between them. The excitement and interest produced by one level varies from that of another. However, these differences pertain to the vessel. The aspect of Torah that cannot be contained within a vessel, its unlimited quality, is equal in all cases and connects everyone, whatever their level, to the infinite aspects of G-d’s essence. Hence, all Jews, whatever their level, from a young child who is just beginning to speak to the greatest of scholars, share a basic equality since the essence of Torah is present equally at all levels, thus establishing perfect oneness among them.
Each Jew’s relationship to the unlimited aspects of Torah is emphasized by our sages’ statement, “At each word of G-d, their souls took flight.” In a simple sense, this represents an unlimited commitment, transcending the limits of the body. Since all the Jewish people were present at Mt. Sinai, this approach provides the potential for each of us to relate to the Torah in a similar manner.
The above is particularly relevant to children. Our sages explain that at the giving of the Torah, the Jews were like “a child that was just born” and after the giving of the Torah, they were like children returning home from school. While the Jews were in a state compared to children, they received the Torah with an unlimited commitment. Hence, it is necessary to devote our efforts to children as well as adults and to try to bring them to an unlimited commitment. These efforts will surely be successful. G-d has ingrained in all children and particularly in Jewish children a natural tendency to listen to their parents. In contrast, older children, though they are commanded: “Honor your father and mother,” are empowered and inclined to make their own decisions.
From the above, we can understand the great responsibility that lies upon educators, counselors, and, certainly, on parents to utilize this tendency that is present within children and to direct the children to a love of G-d that encompasses not only all their hearts and all their soul, but also all their might, establishing an unlimited commitment. There are those who maintain that it is improper to demand an unlimited commitment from children, or if so, only from older children who have already passed Bar Mitzvah. The events of Mt. Sinai clearly refute their position. At Mt. Sinai, all the Jewish people were like young children and, nevertheless, at each word “their souls took flight,” they reached an unlimited commitment. From those events, we can derive the lesson that we must try to bring every child to a love of G-d with “all your might.”
The above is related to the well-known statement of the Rebbe Rashab: “Just as it is a Torah commandment to put on Tefillin everyday, every Jew has an obligation to spend a half hour a day thinking about the education of his children.” on the surface, the question arises: Why did he choose the Mitzvah of Tefillin to convey this concept? In answer, the Mitzvah of Tefillin is intrinsically related to the objective of Jewish education. Tefillin are intended to subjugate the heart and the mind to the service of G-d. The subjugation of one’s heart and mind represents a commitment beyond one’s limitations. Hence, by connecting Jewish education with the Mitzvah of Tefillin, the Rebbe Rashab emphasized that a child’s education should be structured to bring him to such a commitment.
On a practical level, despite all the achievements of the holiday of Shavuos, we must realize that after its celebration, we must reach a level at which, like the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai, we will be like new-born children, and reach a higher level of “unlimited commitment.” Similarly, we must work with others. Just as “Moshe received the Torah at Mt. Sinai and transmitted it,” each of us must transmit the Torah. This particularly applies to those with whom G-d has entrusted His children to be their children and students. Parents and educators must be conscious that they have been charged with the education of a child that is as dear to G-d as an only child born to parents in their old age. This is the child that G-d has entrusted to them.
Just as after the giving of the Torah, the Jews were like a child who just left school, may it be that the celebration of Shavuos should motivate us during the entire year to come to appreciate how G-d is the Giver of the Torah (in the present tense) and that we receive the Torah at present in a manner of “our children are our guarantors.” This will bring about a year of Torah, and then a year that includes within it all the blessings, for Torah is the vessel that holds all blessings. The blessings will include a year of prayer and a year of Teshuvah in which Mashiach will cause Tzaddikim to do Teshuvah when he will come and redeem us and lead us upright to our land, speedily in our days.
2. As mentioned previously, at the giving of the Torah, the work to spread Torah to others began: “Moshe received the Torah... and transmitted it.” As soon as he heard the Ten Commandments, he taught them to the Jewish people. Furthermore, the first two commandments, which the Jews heard directly from G-d, Moshe repeated for them.
This concept is further emphasized by our sages in the Talmud (Eruvin 54b). They explain: “What was the order of teaching? Moshe heard [the teachings] from G-d; Aharon entered and he taught it to him... ; Aharon’s sons entered and he taught it to them... ; the elders entered and he taught it to them... ; the entire nation entered and he repeated the teaching to them.” This process of transmission may have begun on the very day the Torah was given.
Rashi explains, according to the teachings of Rav Saadia Gaon, that the entire Torah is included in the Ten Commandments. This is further explained by the Talmud Yerushalmi which declares, “Every new concept which a trained scholar will derive was given to Moshe on Mt. Sinai.” Hence, by teaching the Jews the Ten Commandments, Moshe in fact taught them the entire Torah, including how to derive practical lessons regarding our behavior. Although Moshe spent forty days and forty nights learning the Torah, the written law, the Mishnah, the Medrash, etc. afterwards; he received the entire Torah as it is included in the Ten Commandments at the giving of the Torah.
The Ten Commandments begin, “And G-d spoke all these words, saying.” Our sages explain that generally the word “saying” (Laymor) in Hebrew implies a necessity to transmit the teachings. Moshe accepted the Torah with the intention of transmitting it to others and of explaining it to them. Thus, on the day of the giving of the Torah, Moshe was like a teacher and the entire Jewish people were his students. Moshe was chosen to be the teacher and master of all the Jewish souls, for every Jewish soul was present at the revelation at Mt. Sinai. The Talmud states that a “teacher is called a father.” Hence, Moshe can be considered the father of the entire Jewish people, and they, his children.
On the verse, “Remember the Torah of Moshe, my servant,” our sages explain that the Torah is called Moshe’s because he sacrificed himself for it. Since Moshe was the teacher of the entire Jewish people, we should emulate his example and show the same degree of commitment in teaching Torah to children.
3. Shavuos is also related to Dovid HaMelech for he passed away on that day. King Dovid also shares a unique relationship with children, as the verse (Shmuel 1, 17:14) declares, “Dovid is the small one” and the Talmud (Megillah 11a) explains “Dovid remained small from the beginning to the end.”
Thus, we can understand that the unique contribution of Dovid was the aspect of royalty, as the Rambam writes, “When Dovid was anointed, he merited the crown of kingship... for himself and for his male sons forever ... The kingship shall not depart from the seed of Dovid forever more.” Nevertheless, Dovid “remained small from the beginning to the end.” This concept is expressed by the Medrash’s statement, “It is impossible to determine Dovid’s character. At times, he is called a king and at times, he is called a poor man.” Dovid combined two seemingly contradictory characteristics. Simultaneously, he was both a king and a poor man.
Furthermore, in the times of Dovid’s kingship, children reached a particularly high spiritual level. The Medrash (Bam. 19:3) states, “The children of Dovid’s time ... knew how to explain the Torah in 49 different impure paths and 49 pure paths;” i.e., children reached a unique peak of understanding and knowledge.
The Medrash (Shemos 2:2) also brings out another point of connection with children. It states that G-d tests Tzaddikim to see if they are fit to shepherd the Jewish people by observing the way they shepherd sheep. It declares: “He tested Dovid and saw that he was a good shepherd. He led the young sheep to pasture in tender grass. The older sheep to feed from the ordinary grass. The Holy One blessed be He said, ‘Whomever knows how to pasture each sheep according to his strength should become the shepherd of My people.’ This is alluded to in the verse, ‘From the flocks he took him to shepherd Yaakov his people.’” This quality allowed the children to reach the heights previously described.
The above is also related to Moshe, for the Medrash explains that he, too was tested through shepherding the flocks of Yisro: “Once when he was tending the flock of Yisro in the wilderness, a little kid escaped from him. He ran after it until it reached a shady place. When it reached the shady place, there appeared to view a pool of water and the kid stopped to drink. When Moshe approached it, he said: ‘I did not know that you ran away because of thirst; you must be weary.’ So he placed the kid on his shoulder and walked away. Thereupon G-d said: ‘Because thou hast mercy in leading the flock of a mortal, thou wilt assuredly tend my flock Yisrael.’” Moshe is called “the faithful shepherd” and “the shepherd of Israel.”
Torah’s stories are not just interesting tales, but rather, they provide lessons in the service of G-d. Hence, we must derive a lesson from the abovementioned story about Moshe.
That lesson is that we must become involved with “kids.” The Medrash calls the voice of children learning Torah “the voice of kids” and explains that it was “the voice of kids,” the voice of the 22,000 children that Mordechai had gathered together, that brought about the redemption of Purim. Similarly, in our time, we must devote ourselves to raising “the voice of the kids” giving our children a Torah education. Just as Moshe sacrificed himself for the sake of the Torah, we must sacrifice ourselves for the education of our children.
Furthermore, the verse, “And you shall teach them to your children” which expresses the command to educate one’s children is also, according to many opinions, the source from which we derive the obligation of Torah study for adults as well. This is related to the concept stressed repeatedly in the past months, “And He shall return the hearts of the fathers through the children,” for it is through the children that the adults receive the Mitzvah of studying Torah.
As mentioned above, G-d has entrusted His only son or daughter (i.e. each and every Jewish child) to parents and teachers and charged them with guarding them properly and training them as G-d would. When parents and teachers realize that they have been entrusted with such a dear object, they will surely treat their children as G-d wills. Furthermore, through their efforts they themselves will receive a reward. Through working with the children, “through the children” as the verse declares, their hearts will be turned to G-d.
Dovid HaMelech shares an intrinsic connection with Jewish children. The king is responsible for providing for the needs of all his countrymen. This is particularly true in regard to children. An adult must work. The verse declares: “And He (G-d) will bless you in all that you do,” implying that in order to merit G-d’s blessing, one must do something. However, children need not work; their parents provide for all their needs. For this reason, adults are unable to attain the level of Toraso Umnaso (his profession is Torah), for they must involve themselves in earning a livelihood. However, children are not faced with these difficulties and can reach those heights. Similarly, the king must pay special attention to the children’s needs. Although in general the king derives material benefit from the people he supports (for example, his army and his ministers), from the children he derives no material benefit. The only thing they contribute to him is their Torah and Mitzvos.
The above particularly applies to Dovid. Since the children of his age reached such high levels in Torah study, it is understandable that he took generous care of their needs. On one hand it is unthinkable for us to approach Dovid’s level. Nevertheless, we can learn a lesson from his behavior. This is particularly true since we recite in our prayers, “Dovid, King of Israel, lives and exists.” Dovid continues to live as the King of Israel and provides for all the needs of the Jewish people, particularly those of the children. On Shavuos, all of the above receives a special emphasis; Shavuos, Dovid’s Yahrzeit, is the day on which “all the work that a person accomplished in his lifetime ... is revealed and shines ... from above to below... bringing about salvation in the depths of the earth,” even in the midst of the darkness of Golus. It lies upon us to bring these qualities out from a hidden to a revealed state. In practical terms, this means we must work to ensure that every child will be permeated with Torah till they reach the level, attained by Dovid, of “my heart is hollow within me,” i.e., he had no Yetzer Horah. This is accomplished by battling the Yetzer Horah. This is connected with King Dovid, who shed much blood fighting against the enemies of Yiddishkeit.
To summarize the above: We must devote ourselves, in a unlimited manner, to the task of educating Jewish children. Just as in the exile of Egypt, the Jewish people raised “Tzivos Hashem,” the army of G-d, similarly, at present we must raise the “Tzivos Hashem” who will follow Mashiach. In the Messianic age, the world will reach an ultimate level of fulfillment; “Peace and plenty will be in his days.” There will be no more wars and “I will destroy the beasts of prey.” This will be accomplished through the efforts of young children, as the prophet declares, “A wolf will dwell with the lamb... and a little child shall lead them.”
4. On many occasions, it has been explained that Shavuos is related to three different events: the giving of the Torah, as we say in our prayers, “The season of the giving of the Torah;” the passing of King Dovid, and the passing of the Baal Shem Tov. He passed away on the first day of Shavuos and was buried on the second day.
Just as, as explained in the previous sections, the service of both Moshe our teacher and King Dovid was related to the concept of “He shall return the hearts of the fathers through the children,” the Baal Shem Tov’s service was also involved with children. The Previous Rebbe related that before the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself, he was a helper of a teacher of young children and would teach them to say Amen; Yi’Hay Shemay Rabbah, etc. The aim of retelling this story is not merely to transmit a nice tale, but to encourage everyone to follow the Baal Shem Tov’s example and become a helper of children either by actually teaching them or by supporting their education financially.
The Previous Rebbe related another story about the Baal Shem Tov. He would give children fruit and listen to the blessing they recited before eating it. Afterwards, he would answer Amen and in doing so reach a high level of “Devaikus,” clinging to G-d. The Baal Shem Tov was always on a level of union with G-d. Nevertheless, the blessings made by young children could bring him to deeper Devaikus.
This story can answer the question asked in regard to the campaign to “turn the hearts through the children.” They have protested, “What can the children do?” “All of Israel surely act in a Kosher manner; why is it necessary for the children to arouse their parents?” From the above story we see that the Baal Shem Tov achieved a great level of Devaikus not through Torah study or prayer, but through answering Amen to the blessings of young children.
The above story adds to the lesson we can learn from the story of “the voice of a crying child” (note the Sichos of Parshas Shemini). That story teaches us that we must stop what we are doing and calm the crying child. This particularly applies if the child is crying because of a spiritual need, and how much more so it the child himself does not realize that he should cry. In the latter case, our feelings of mercy must be aroused to a greater extent. The story at hand teaches that even if a Jewish child goes to cheder, still we must work to reinforce his Jewish education by teaching him to say Amen, Yi’hay Shemay Rabbah; by giving him fruit and nuts (things that he, himself likes) to make a blessing, etc. We can be sure that by doing so, we will come to a high level of Devaikus, clinging to G-d.
- (Back to text) There is a connection between the creation of the world and the giving of the Torah. In the phrase “Yom HaShishi,” the sixth day, a prefix Ha — meaning the, is added though it was not used in regard to the previous days. Our sages explain that the totality of creation “was suspended and stood [in a temporary state] until the sixth day — that is the sixth day of Sivan,” the day the Jews received the Torah.
- (Back to text) This unity must be perfect because the Rambam uses this concept to explain the unity between G-d and creation.
- (Back to text) On the surface, the concept of limitation in Torah, that there is “an entire Torah,” is difficult to understand: Torah is infinite; its “measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.” However, the Alter Rebbe explains that this refers to the pilpul — abstract discussion, — of Torah concepts and the “secrets of Torah.” In contrast, the realm of Halachah is limited and it is possible to learn “the entire Torah.” The Talmud enumerates a number of sages who accomplished this.
(This statement itself raises a question: How is it possible to say that these sages learned “the entire Torah” when in subsequent generations new Torah concepts were developed? The explanation is as follows: Those sages learned the general principles, on the basis of which Torah law is developed. All concepts of Torah law are included within those principles. Thus, by learning those principles, they learned “the entire Torah.” This further emphasizes the concept described above, that Torah is one point and that by learning one Torah concept one has learned “the entire Torah.”)
- (Back to text) Similarly, the giving of the Torah marks the birth of the Jewish nation, as the Torah declares: “(On) this day, you became a nation.”
- (Back to text) The above is particularly applicable, for every Jew has a spark of Moshe within him. The Alter Rebbe explains this concept in his commentary on the Talmud’s interpretation of the verse, “And now, Israel, all that G-d asks of you is to fear the L-rd, your G-d.” The Talmud asks “Is fear an easy thing?” and answers, “For Moshe, fear is easy.” The Alter Rebbe explains that the verse was directed not only at Moshe, but at the entire Jewish people. Nevertheless, since there is a spark of Moshe in every Jew, “fear” is “easy” for each individual.
- (Back to text) The numerical equivalent of Torah is 611. There are 613 Mitzvos. We say, “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.” Moshe commanded us only Torah — 611. The other two commandments were heard from G-d Himself.
- (Back to text) There were kings amongst other tribes, but their kingship was limited. In contrast, Dovid’s kingship is eternal.
- (Back to text) The Aramaic term for “faithful shepherd” is “Rayeh Mehemnah.” A portion of the Zohar is called by that name because it was, to a large degree, authored by Moshe. The Rayeh Mehemnah contains Torah’s deepest mystic secrets. Thus, we see that Moshe ‘ s revelation of the secrets of Torah is dependent on his role as a shepherd.
- (Back to text) In many places, Mordechai is compared to Moshe. Just as the redemption from Egypt is related to Moshe and his position as a shepherd, similarly, the redemption of Purim was brought about by Mordechai’s gathering together and raising “the voice of the kids.”
- (Back to text) The Mitzvah of educating one’s children is derived from the verse, “And you shall teach them to your children.” The use of this verse teaches us an important concept. A child’s education must be constant. The Shema, the same passage which contains this commandment, also contains the directive, “And you shall speak to them.” That verse stresses the continuous nature of the command. It reads, “And you shall speak to them when you sit in your home, when you go on your way, when you lie down and when you arise.” Furthermore, our sages commented, “You shall speak to them”: of them and not of other things. Similarly, the study of Torah required by the verse, “And you shall teach it to your children” is also constant. (The need for the constant study of Torah can also be derived from the verse, “This Torah shal1 not depart from you.”
- (Back to text) Furthermore, though the verse, “And you shall gather your crops” can be interpreted as a command, it is not necessary to train the child to fulfill that command. On the contrary, their training should only be in the area of Torah and Mitzvos.
- (Back to text) The Talmud states that Dovid killed his Yetzer Horah through fasts. The Baal Shem Tov, and after him the Alter Rebbe, taught that what was previously accomplished through fasts can and should in our generation be achieved through Tzedakah, which is an expression of Ahavas Yisrael.
- (Back to text) In the Talmud, there are two different explanations of this verse. The first maintains that the beasts of prey will perish; the second, that they will continue to exist but their wild nature will be taken away from them. They will be great helpers as the snake was before the sin. The second explanation parallels the level of Teshuvah in which “sins are transformed into merits.”
- (Back to text) The Talmud states that King Dovid passed away on Shabbos. Since according to our calendar Shavuos cannot fall on Shabbos, a question might arise. That seeming contradiction can be resolved because in the time of King Dovid, the day on which a month began was established through the testimony of witnesses, and hence many of the general principles related to the Jewish calendar that apply today were not relevant then. (For a deeper analysis of this seeming contradiction, note Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII p. 22.)
- (Back to text) In honor of the Baal Shem Tov’s Yahrzeit, the Alter Rebbe would lead the prayers on the first day of Shavuos.
- (Back to text) Thus, we conform to the principle, “Educate a child according to his way.”