1. 1 There is a general message conveyed by the holidays every year, and then each individual year provides us with an individual message that can be derived from considering the days on which the holiday is celebrated in a particular year. Paying attention to this particular message heightens our potential to fulfill the general message of the holiday.
This year is unique in that the holiday of Shavuos follows directly after Shabbosand thus our service of Shavuos is affected by the unique influence of the Shabbos. Indeed, there is no interruption between the two and no gap to be filled with mundane matters. Furthermore, this three day continuum of holiness established a chazakah, a sequence associated with strength and permanence.2
Shabbos is intrinsically connected with the holiday of Shavuos as reflected in our Sages’ statement, “Everyone agrees that the Torah was given on Shabbos.” Shabbos is characterized by the quality of rest as our Sages commented: “What was the world lacking? Rest. When the Shabbos came, rest came.” Similarly, when reciting Grace on Shabbos, we add the prayer, “May the Merciful One let us inherit the day which will be all Shabbos and rest for eternal life.” And in ourMinchah prayers we speak of “a day of rest… a rest of peace… a perfect restwith which You find favor.”
This dimension of rest was brought to a complete state by the giving of the Torah. Thus our Sages connected the concept of tranquility with the giving of the Torah explaining that G‑d made a condition with the creation that if the Jews accepted the Torah, the creation would stand, and if not, He would return the entire world to a state of nothingness. Thus, our Sages relate, the world was in a state of uneasiness until the giving of the Torah, and only when the Torah was given, did it reach a state of tranquility. Thus, the concepts of rest and tranquility represent an intrinsic connection between Shabbos and the giving of the Torah.
To explain this concept in depth: The natural state of the world is one of change and activity, the very opposite of rest. Indeed, the very concept of time, the fundamental framework in which the entire creation operates, is characterized by change. Shabbos, in contrast, brings about rest and unity, revealing the fundamental G‑dly oneness that lies at the core of the entire creation. Thus, Shabbos takes us above the entire framework of time and therefore on Sunday, we say “This is the first day of the week,” i.e., the cycle of time is begun anew.3
In a full sense, this rest and oneness was introduced by the giving of the Torah. For it is through the Torah, that the purpose for the entire creation can be realized. This concept can be understood through a parallel to our personal state.
When a person does not realize the purpose for his existence — which is “to serve His Creator” — he can never experience true tranquility and calm. On the contrary, the changes and multiplicity in the world at large disrupt and disturb him. When, however, a person is aware of the purpose for his existence and for each aspect of his life, he rises above all this treadmill of activity. This, in turn, allows a person to reach a state of fulfillment and development.
Furthermore, the awareness of one’s purpose generates tranquility, not only for the person himself, but for the activities which he carries out in the world at large. This allows them to be carried out with added perfection and success; and thus spreads rest and tranquility throughout the world.4
Similarly, in regard to the giving of the Torah: When the Jews received the Torah, the purpose of the entire creation — that it was brought into being for the sake of the Torah and for the sake of the Jewish people — was revealed. When the Jews observe the Torah and its mitzvos, and influence the gentiles to observe their seven mitzvos, they transform the world into a dwelling for G‑d, and in this way, spread rest and tranquility throughout the world, encompassing every particular dimension of existence.
There are various different mitzvos and every mitzvah has a specific intention. Nevertheless, there is a single fundamental thrust present in all the mitzvos, the commitment to fulfill G‑d’s will. This is reflected in our Sages’ statement (quoted in the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch), “Be as fierce as a lion… to fulfill the will of your Father in Heaven.” The emphasis is not on G‑d’s commandments as they exist as separate entities, but rather on “His will,” the single inner desire that is expressed by all the mitzvos. In each particular mitzvah, one must be conscious of the fundamental intent that pervades all the mitzvos.5 This brings about a complete and single-minded commitment to the Torah; to quote the familiar expression, “Were we commanded to chop trees, [we would do so eagerly].”
In particular, this concept is reflected in the mitzvah of the love of G‑d which is the source for all the positive commandments.6 Love is connected with activity, an inner dynamic characterized by the two thrusts of ratzu (yearning) and shuv(return). Significantly, however, when describing this dynamic, the SeferYetzirah states, “If your heart will run (rotz in Hebrew), return (shuv) to one.”
On the surface, the expression “return to one” is problematic. That a movement of ratzu should be followed by one of shuv is understandable. (Indeed, the very physical movement of the heart reflects such a pattern.) But what is the intent of the word “one”? On the contrary, the dynamic is by nature twofold.
On the basis of the above, however, this difficulty can be resolved. The intent should be not merely the development of harmony between the two movements of ratzu and shuv, that each shuv leads to a higher and more complete ratzu,but that one sense the fundamental G‑dly intent that permeates both the ratzuand the shuv. Rather than being aware of the differences between these two movements, one should sense the fundamental oneness which permeates the totality of our service.
The above is brought about through the approach of bittul. A person’s self-image should be as G‑d’s servant — aware that “I was created solely to serve my Creator.” This in turn allows him to develop a complete unity with the King Himself, “A servant of the king is a king.”
This concept is explained in Chassidic thought within the context of the Baal Shem Tov’s interpretation of the verse, “A psalm of a poor man. He will pour out his words before G‑d.” It is explained that a poor man has no self-concern whatsoever and desires nothing more than to come into the presence of G‑d.
To explain in allegory: If a king allows his subjects to have an audience with him, a rich man person will approach the king slowly. He appreciates and derives satisfaction from the great riches and wealth of the king’s palace (in the analogue, the wonders of the spiritual realms) and wants to savor them. In contrast, a poor man takes no notice of these factors and has only one desire, to enter the presence of the king himself.
To refer back to our service: When a person is characterized by bittul, he takes no interest in the revealed levels of G‑d’s greatness. He is concerned with G‑d’s essence. He wants to come before the King Himself.7
Furthermore, it is through this approach of servitude alone that one can reach the highest peaks. This applies not only to the development of an essential connection, but also in regard to the revealed levels of G‑dliness. “The servant of the king is like a king;” G‑d endows him with a wealth of revelation, “from His full, open, holy, and generous hand.”8
The inner tranquility achieved through the service of bittul is reflected in the Hebrew word for king, melech (מלך). This word is an acronym for the three Hebrew words (מוח, לב, כבד) that mean “brain, heart, and liver.” The brain governs the function of our intellectual faculties; the heart, of our emotions; and the liver, of our basic physical functions.
Generally, the heart and the brain work are characterized by different tendencies. The most developed intellectual activity involves a settled, restful approach, while the heart moves with frenetic activity, as reflected in the pattern of ratzu and shuv described above.
Through the approach of bittul, these two potentials can be synthesized, and the mind can rule over the heart. Because bittul effects the essence of a person, a level above the mind, it can extend the tranquility of the intellect beyond its natural limits and cause it to affect every aspect of our personalities.
The most complete and clearly revealed expression of how the bittul of the Jewish people led to the revelation of G‑d’s sovereignty came about at the giving of the Torah. The Jews stated na’aseh v’nishmah, placing the commitment, “we will do” before “we will listen.” This reflects a total willingness to go beyond oneself and fulfill G‑d’s will. And through this commitment, the Jews drew down “three crowns” for G‑d. “One He put on His head, and two, He gave to His children,” the Jewish people.
The giving of the Torah represented a connection to G‑d’s essence, a level above all particular differences. Afterwards, the Torah was given in a manner that permeated the framework of worldly existence and allowed this essential oneness to be drawn down into the world, establishing peace, harmony, and tranquility.9 And in this manner, the ultimate purpose of the creation could be revealed.
The above concepts also provide us with insight regarding the Jews’ preparations for the giving of the Torah. After leaving Egypt, the Jews went through a process of refinement resembling our service in the Counting of theOmer, i.e., they refined all the particular characteristics in their emotional makeup.
This, in turn, prepared them to receive the revelation of the essence of G‑d as expressed in the command, “I am the L‑rd, your G‑d.” This revelation permeated the Jews’ very being as reflected by the interpretation of E-lohechah, “your G‑d,” as “your strength and your power.” In addition, the Jews also received an appreciation of all the revealed levels of G‑dliness, perceiving G‑d’s merchavah (His holy chariot) and throne.10
Based on the above, we can appreciate the uniqueness of the celebration of the giving of the Torah this year when we proceed directly from Shabbos to Shavuos. Every Shabbos, like the first Shabbos of creation, introduces a dimension of rest into the creation and on the following Sunday, the cycle of time begins anew.
Similarly, each year, Shavuos represents a renewal of the giving of the Torah, a present day experience of Mount Sinai. Thus, proceeding directly from Shabbos to Shavuos without the interruption of any mundane activities teaches us two fundamental lessons: a) There is a greater potential to draw down the tranquility associated with the Torah into the realm of worldly experience because its influence is amplified by that of the Shabbos. b) Since the cycle of time begins on Sunday and that day is associated with the giving of the Torah, there is a greater potential to draw down the tranquility of the Torah into our world which is governed by time and space. Indeed, the renewal of the world at large is brought about by the renewal of the Torah as implied by the Zohar’sstatement, “The Holy One, blessed be He, looked into the Torah and created the world.”
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2. There is a connection between the above concepts and this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Bamidbar. Bamidbar means “in the desert.” Our Sages emphasize the connection to the giving of the Torah, for the Torah was also given in a desert.
This is not merely a coincidence, but rather was intended to bring out the intrinsic connection that exists between the Torah and the concept of a desert. One of the explanations associated with this idea is that the Torah is intended to elevate even a desert environment. A desert is, a place unfit for human habitation, the very opposite of the stable and tranquil atmosphere which the Torah is intended to introduce into the world. Nevertheless, the Torah has the potential to transform the nature of a desert and endow it with stability and tranquility. This serves as a clear indication of the Torah’s potential to endow those parts of the world which are fit for human habitation with these qualities.
The Book of Bamidbar is associated with the census of the Jewish people, an activity which expresses the dearness with which G‑d holds the Jewish people as Rashi comments, “Because of their dearness to Him, He counts them all the time.” Similarly, a census also adds to the concept of permanence for “an entity which is counted will never be nullified.” Nevertheless, the census that expresses these qualities was taken in a desert, emphasizing how these qualities are drawn down into — and thus transform — a place which is unfit for human habitation.11
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3. Just as each year, the Torah is given anew, similarly, each year it must be received anew by the Jewish people. This is particularly true this year, when we proceed from Shabbos directly to the giving of the Torah. We must accept the Torah with an active consciousness of the Giver of the Torah, realizing that the Torah is the purpose of the entire creation, and in this manner, bring peace and tranquility to each individual Jew and to the world at large.
This should involve a renewal of one’s dedication to Torah study and in particular, to the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah. This enables one to “know the G‑d of your fathers and serve Him with a full heart.” We must study the Torah with full use of our intellectual faculties, and every Jew should endeavor to develop new Torah concepts.
In particular, this should involve study of those subjects which are customarily studied by the entire Jewish people. This includes — in these summer months — Pirkei Avos. The intent is that Pirkei Avos will be learned, not merely recited. Each week, on should learn at least one Mishnah in depth.
Similarly, it is important to renew and strengthen our study of Chitas, Chumash,Tehillim, and Tanya. Herein there is an intrinsic connection to the giving of the Torah, for these three texts are related to the three Jewish leaders associated with the holiday of Shavuos: Moshe, who received the Torah at Mount Sinai,King David, whose yahrzeit is on Shavuos and who wrote the Book of Tehillim,and the Baal Shem Tov whose yahrzeit is also on Shavuos, and whose teachings where collected and explained by the Alter Rebbe in the Tanya.
Also, this is an appropriate time to renew and strengthen our study of theRambam’s works, the Mishneh Torah and Sefer HaMitzvos in keeping with the three-pronged program of study that has been established. Similarly, each person should continue the programs of Torah study that he has established individually.
Furthermore, as mentioned, each individual should endeavor to develop new Torah concepts, and also, to publish them. To explain, every Jew has the potential — and according to the Zohar, it is an obligation — to develop new Torah concepts.
In the previous generations, people were very reticent to write, let alone, publish such Torah concepts, lest they not have appreciate the true intent of the law or concept with which they were concerned.
At present, however, there must be efforts in the opposite direction. It is necessary to take precautions that people do not write directives of Torah law when they are incapable of doing so. Nevertheless, simultaneously, it is necessary to do whatever is necessary to encourage people to increase their efforts in Torah study.12
And for that reason, it is worthy to encourage all those who are trained in the proper approach to Torah study — even if they are not totally sure that the new concepts are 100% accurate — to publish and disseminate the Torah ideas that they develop. (Needless to say, however, it is proper to add that these texts should contain a statement saying that they should not be considered as works from which halachic directives for actual practice should be derived.)
We see the success of such an approach. When people compose Torah texts like these, they are inspired to dedicate more effort to Torah study. Similarly, “the envy of the scribes increases knowledge” and their efforts spur other colleagues to like endeavors.
May these activities spread the rest and tranquility associated with the giving of the Torah throughout the world and hasten the coming of “the era which is all rest and Shabbos for eternity.” Until the coming of that era, we are in a state of distress, as our Sages said, “Woe to the children who have been exiled from their Father’s table.” The exile has caused us travail in regard to our material welfare, and similarly, has prevented us from reaching our true potential in the service of G‑d. Indeed, it is impossible for us to appreciate how much the exile has hindered us, for we are all children of the exile. We have grown up in exile and it dominates our thought processes.
This, however, will be brought to an end in the near future. Through the service of teshuvah, each person will establish a connection with the essence of his soul. And this will lift us and the entire world above the limitations of the exile, into “the era which is all rest and Shabbos for eternity.”
May we merit the Redemption immediately. — Significantly, מיד, the Hebrew for “immediately,” is an acronym for the names of the three Jewish leaders mentioned previously: Moshe משה, Yisrael (the Baal Shem Tov) ישראל, andDavid דוד. — And then we will appreciate the true sense of rest and tranquility.
Translation: Sichos In English