1. Among the unique factors associated with this Shabbos is the conclusion of the Book of Bamidbar and the public pronouncement which follows, Chazak, Chazak, Venischazaik (“Be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened”). This threefold repetition1 produces a chazakah, a sequence associated with permanence and strength.
Significantly, the conclusion of the Book of Bamidbar always takes place in the Three Weeks, a period associated with exile and destruction. One might ask; Why does this always occur at a time when the Jews are weakened as it were?
It is possible to explain that the one is a result of the other. Because this is a time when the Jews are “weakened,” there is a need for encouragement and reinforcement. From the fact that the Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos Chazak, (“the Shabbos of reinforcement”), it would appear that there is a more intrinsic bond, that the time itself adds strength to the Jews’ observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.
This concept can be explained within the context of the connection of the expression Chazak, Chazak, Venischazaik to the parshiyos read this week, Mattos and Maasei. There is an obvious connection between the concept of strength and Parshas Mattos. Mattos means “staff,” and is a symbol of strength, permanence, and authority, as reflected in the verse, “staffs of strength for the rods of those who rule.”
Maasei, meaning “journeys,” seems, however, to indicate a state in direct opposition to this permanence and strength. And yet, it is Parshas Maasei which is always read as the last parshah of the Book of Bamidbar. In contrast, there are times when Parshas Mattos is read as a separate parshah on the week before the Book of Bamidbar is concluded.
To explain: A chazakah associated with the number three represents a true conception of strength, for this strength exists even within a situation where there are opposing forces. As is well known, the number one refers to a state in which there exists only good and holiness. Two, in contrast, refers to a state in which difference exists and even division and strife may arise. Three, however, reflects the strength and power of holiness even in the face of such difference.
There are two conceptions of such a state of strength: a) The strength results from the unlimited light of holiness. This light is so powerful, that even in the face of opposition, it can be expressed in every place. b) The strength depends on the service of the lower realms and their efforts to negate all factors opposed to holiness and indeed, to transform them into positive forces.
These two approaches are reflected in the two parshiyos, Mattos and Maasei. Parshas Mattos begins by relating how Moshe conveyed G‑d’s command to the leaders of the tribes and thus reflects the strength that comes from Above.
In contrast, Parshas Maasei describes “the journeys of the children of Israel as they left the land of Egypt,” i.e., a process of ascent. It relates how the Jews passed through various different circumstances in the desert as they elevated themselves — and the environment which they passed through — until they reached Eretz Yisrael.
Therefore, in a complete sense, the concept of a chazakah has a greater connection with Parshas Maasei, for it is in this parshah that the concept of confronting — and overcoming — opposing forces is reflected.2 Nevertheless, in an ultimate sense, the most complete conception of reinforcement is established through fusing both approaches. Although the approach of elevation and ascent has the advantage of confronting opposing forces, it lacks the unlimited power of the approach of revelation from Above. On the contrary, because it is dealing on the plane of material reality, it exists within the context of limitation and there is also the potential for change and even interruption. Therefore, the ultimate degree of strength comes from the fusion of these two parshiyos and these two approaches.
A further concept is reflected in the fact that it is the fourth book of the Torah which is being concluded. Three, although connected with strength as explained above, still is connected to the instability that characterizes the numbers one and two. In contrast, four reflects a higher rung, where the connection to one and two are no longer felt. For this reason, a chair with four legs is used as a symbol of stability.
And from the completion of the fourth book of the Torah, we proceed to the beginning of the fifth book in the afternoon service.3 Five refers to a level totally above all limitation and above the order of nature in its entirety.4
In this context, we can appreciate the connection between the conclusion of the Book of Bamidbar to the period of the Three Weeks. The destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile was not intended for the sake of punishment, but rather in order to lead the Jews and the world at large to the higher state that will be revealed through the Third5 Beis HaMikdash in the Era of the Redemption, “the Sanctuary of G‑d, established by Your hands.”6
There are two aspects to the Beis HaMikdash: a) the revelation from Above — although this reflects an unlimited quality, it alone cannot bring about an eternal structure. This revelation does not permeate the perspective of the created beings themselves and therefore, there is the possibility for destruction. This conception characterized the First Beis HaMikdash which was built by Shlomo, who “sat on the throne of G‑d” and which related to the service of the tzaddikim.
b) The elevation of our lowly world — although this service permeates the world itself and makes it (even from its own perspective) a dwelling for G‑d, it has a basic limitation. Since this world is finite in nature, the potential for eternality does not exist.
This conception, with its advantages and limitations, characterizes the Second Beis HaMikdash which was built by Ezra and the exiles who returned to Jerusalem with him and which is associated with the service of teshuvah.
Our Sages associated the verse, “The glory of this later house will surpass that of the first,” with this structure, because in time and space — which define the nature of our existence — it surpassed the First Beis HaMikdash. Nevertheless, ultimately, it also was destroyed because, being associated with the limits of the world, it did not possess the quality of eternality.
The eternal Beis HaMikdash will be the Third Beis HaMikdash which will be constructed in the Era of the Redemption. This structure will combine the positive qualities of both previous structures. Thus the infinite revelation that transcends the limits of the world will pervade and permeate those limits. This will be possible due to the success of the service of refinement which will elevate the world and make it fit to receive such a revelation.
The pronouncement Chazak, Chazak, Venischazaik is related to the Third Beis HaMikdash. It is made at this time to indicate that the Three Weeks are, in essence, also related to the Third Beis HaMikdash and are intended to lead to the ultimate Redemption at which time that structure will be built. This pronouncement also strengthens our service of Torah and mitzvos which refines the world at large and prepares it to receive the ultimate strength and permanence that will characterize the Era of the Redemption.
2. There is another aspect of this Shabbos that is dependent on the influence of the previous day. Our Sages taught, “Whoever prepares on Friday will eat on Shabbos.” Similarly, the spiritual service of Friday prepares us for the Shabbos.
This Friday, Rosh Chodesh Av was a unique day, the yahrzeit of Aharon the Priest.7 In Tanya (Iggeres HaKodesh 28), the Alter Rebbe states that on a yahrzeit, “all the deeds, Torah, and service for which a person toiled throughout his lifetime.. is revealed… and ‘brings about salvation in the depth of the world.’ ”
Aharon’s service consisted of “loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the created beings and bringing them close to the Torah.” He made special efforts to spread love, peace, and harmony among husbands and wives, and among different members of the Jewish people.
And for this reason, we find that Aharon’s passing was mourned by “the entire House of Israel,” which according to our Sages means both men and women. There is a connection between this phenomenon and Aharon’s service. The love which Aharon showed and which he encouraged among the Jewish people relates to the essential point of the Jewish soul which transcends all division. Another manifestation of this factor is that it was in Aharon’s merit that the clouds of glory accompanied the Jews throughout the desert. These clouds encompassed each and every member of the Jewish people equally and covered their entire being. Why was this possible? Because Aharon’s influence transcended all possible divisions among our people.8
This concept of all-encompassing love is reflected in the letters of Aharon’s name אהרן. הר which means “mountain” is frequently used as a metaphor for love.9 The Alef (אלף) relates to the word pelah (פלא), meaning “wonder,” i.e., Aharon’s love was wondrous and unbounded in nature. (In this context, the t and the v of Aharon’s name relate to the word Ahavah, “love.” The ר stands for the word rabbah meaning “great,” i.e., his love was great and unbounded.)10
The final letter of Aharon’s name, the ן, protrudes below the line indicating how Aharon extended himself to all Jews, even those found “below the line.” Because his love was unbounded in nature, it had the potential to extend even to every single member of the Jewish people, regardless of his individual nature.
Aharon’s service also relates to the fusion of the two approaches of revelation from Above and the elevation of our material environment which is associated with the letter three.11 This is reflected in the connection between Aharon and the Priestly Blessing. In Chassidic thought, it is explained that the Priestly Blessing combines the advantages of prayer, the elevation of the material realm, and blessing, the revelation of unlimited Divine influence. This fusion is possible because the Priestly Blessing has its source in a level above all limits entirely.
Based on this concept, we can understand why Aharon’s yahrzeit is on the first day of the fifth month. As mentioned above, the number one reflects a unity that is totally above division. Similarly, the number five represents an essential level that transcends difference. Since Aharon’s life-work was dedicated to expressing the fundamental unity which exists among the Jewish people, his passing is associated with this date.
The association of the month of Av with unity and love also reflects how Av prepares us for the coming month, the month of Elul, which is characterized by the service of, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” This verse implies an expression of love for G‑d by the Jewish people, which evokes a response of love in the new year which follows.
(The sichah continues with an explanation of the connection between the love epitomized by Aharon and the Era of the Redemption. These concepts were published as an essay, “Living with the Redemption.”)
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3. On this Shabbos, we read the second chapter of Pirkei Avos which contains the teaching, “Rabbi Shimon says, ‘Be meticulous in reading the Shema and in prayer.’ ” Our Sages relate that generally when the Mishnah mentions Rabbi Shimon without a modifier, it is referring to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Hence, although Rabbi Shimon ben Nasaniel and not Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is the author of this teaching, the fact the Mishnah uses the expression “Rabbi Shimon says,”12 indicates that there is a connection with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s service.
A question arises: Since the fundamental dimension of Rabbi Shimon’s service was Toraso Umnaso, “His Torah was his livelihood,” it is problematic: why does this teaching deal with reciting the Shema and prayer? Seemingly, it should relate to Torah study.
This question can be resolved as follows: Zahir, translated as “meticulous,” also relates to the word zohar which means “shine,” and which is associated with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. This Mishnah is a command, directed to every Jew. Thus, it cannot focus on the service of Toraso Umnaso, for every Jew is not capable of such a rung. Therefore, it speaks of reciting the Shema and prayer, services that are relevant to each and every Jew, explaining that in these services the Jew must shine forth and illuminate the world around him. Although in general, the concept of shining forth light is associated with Torah study,13 Rabbi Shimon generated the potential for such light to be produced through the services of reciting the Shema and the daily prayers.
Torah study also shares a connection to the fusion of the services of revelation from Above and the elevation of our worldly experience mentioned above. This can be explained as follows: Rav Hillel of Paritch explained that when the Tzemach Tzedek delivered a maamar, “the Divine Presence spoke from his throat” (revelation from Above). Once the recitation of the maamar was concluded, Rabbi Hillel continued, that phenomenon is no longer manifest, and the Rebbe’s explanation of the maamar’s meaning are a function of his own individual thinking processes (elevation of our worldly realm).
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4. In connection with the Nine Days, it is worthy to reiterate the importance of making siyumim, gatherings celebrating the conclusion of Talmudic texts, at this time. These gatherings should be associated with the mitzvah of tzedakah, for tzedakah brings the redemption near.
Furthermore, efforts should be made to see that these siyumim are attended by as many people as possible, adults and children. Even those who do not comprehend the subject matter should be urged to attend and thus to participate in a celebration associated with the Torah.
We see a parallel to this on Erev Pesach, when even young children are brought to the synagogue to attend a siyum. The connection between Pesach and the Nine Days is not coincidental. The siyumim of the Nine Days are a preparation for the Future Redemption of which it is said, “As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders.” This verse is relevant in the present year, and particularly, at the present time, when we are standing at the threshold of the Redemption. May we soon cross this threshold and proceed together with the entire Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael, to Jerusalem, and to the Beis HaMikdash.
- This custom stems from G‑d’s words of encouragement to Yehoshua chazak v’amatz. The latter, however, represents only a two word adjournment to be strong. The establishment of a chazakah is a custom established by the Jewish people and has, from a certain perspective, an advantage over the Torah itself.
- In contrast, from the perspective of Parshas Mattos, revelation from Above, opposing forces are not taken into consideration at all.
- This year, there is an even greater connection to the number five. For this year, unlike many other years, Parshas Mattos-Maasei is read in the fifth month.
- Thus the expression “the fifth part to Pharaoh,” is taken to refer to the source for “the revelation of all lights.”
- The Third Beis HaMikdash reflects the ultimate conception of a chazakah. Based on the concepts of four and five described above, however, we can understand why the Third Beis HaMikdash will be constructed in the era of the fourth (or according to another reckoning, the fifth) redemption. As explained, four and five represent levels that transcend the limitations of our world entirely and can thus, infuse a greater dimension of eternality, fusing together the material and the spiritual.
- This verse was recited in the song of celebration recited after the splitting of the Red Sea. Although this event took place centuries ago, the potential for the Redemption existed at that time. “Had Israel merited as soon as they lifted their feet from the sea, they would have entered Eretz Yisrael.”
- Significantly, the date of Aharon’s yahrzeit is mentioned explicitly in the Torah. This is unique; the dates of the yahrzeit’s of the Patriarchs, Moshe, and Miriam, are all mentioned in the Oral Tradition, but not in the Torah itself.
- This concept can be clarified by contrasting the clouds of glory which reflected Aharon’s influence with the manna (which came through the merit of Moshe) and the well (which came through the merit of Miriam). The latter two influences — although fundamentally infinite — were internalized within the Jewish people. In contrast, the clouds of glory rose above the people, influencing them without relating to any of their particular differences.
- Hence we can understand why Aharon passed away on הר ההר, literally, “a mountain of a mountain,” for this, a double portion of love, characterized the nature of his service.
- In this, we see a difference between Aharon and the Patriarch Avraham. Although Avraham was the personification of love, the love he represented knew limits and bounds. In contrast, the love represented by Aharon was unbounded and unlimited.
- In this context, it can be noted that Aharon lived 123 years. 120 represents the full term of a person’s life and for that reason Moshe lived that long (see also Bereishis 6:3). Aharon lived an extra three years because the number three was intrinsically related to his service.
- The mitzvah for the priests to bless the people is incumbent upon them even in the present era and even in the Diaspora. In addition, each person recites the Priestly Blessing each day after the blessings for the Torah.
- The connection between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Shimon ben Nasaniel can be seen in that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is renown for his contributions in the realm of Pnimiyus HaTorah, in particular, for his composition of the Zohar. Similarly, the Talmud mentions Rabbi Shimon ben Nasaniel as associated with the study of ma’aseh merchavah, the Torah’s mystic secrets.