Eve of Erev Shavuos, 5747 (1987)

Eve of Erev Shavuos, 5747 (1987)

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1. In any particular time, there are an infinite number of topics which could be discussed. However, the first priority is the topic in Torah associated with that time.

Among the areas of Torah studied Erev Shavuos is the end of tractate Sotah. This is in accordance with the instructions of the Rebbe, my father-in-law, to learn one page of Sotah each day of Sefiras HaOmer — the 49 pages corresponding to the 49 days ofOmer.

The last page, which we learn today, says, ‘Since Rebbi passed away, there is no longer humility or fear of sin...Rav Yosef said, ‘Don’t include humility, because there’s myself.’ Rav Nachman said, ‘Don’t include fear of sin, because there’s myself.’ ’ This passage has been discussed at length in previous years — both according to the revealed and the concealed parts of Torah.

We can add, however, that most editions of the Talmud continue with the Beraisa Pinchas ben Yair, ‘Exactness leads to swiftness... holiness leads to fear of sin, and fear of sin leads to chassidus...the Resurrection of the Dead comes through Eliyahu HaNavi, may he be remembered for good.’ This Beraisa is connected with the statement regarding humility, and both have a special connection with Shavuos. The Beraisa concludes with the Messianic Age, when G‑dliness will be revealed throughout the world. The Alter Rebbe says in Tanya (Iggeres Hakodesh I) that the closer one is to G‑d, the greater his feeling of humility must be. Therefore, the revelation described in the Beraisa and the idea of humility are closely connected.

Before the Torah was given, there was a G‑dly decree separating ‘the high from the low,’ i.e. preventing the revelation of G‑dliness down here in the physical world. This is the connection with Shavuos — that the possibility of revealing G‑dliness began when the Torah was given. The culmination of this process will be in the Messianic Age, as discussed in the Beraisa.

This also applies on a personal level, since through Torah a Jew can unite with G‑d. As quoted in Chassidus, ‘There are three knots bound with each other: the Jewish people [are bound] to the Torah, and the Torah [is bound] to G‑d.’ The well-known question is that only two knots are described; where is the third knot?

The answer is that there is a third knot connecting the Jew directly with G‑d. There is a way in which a Jew connects to G‑d through learning Torah; but there is an even deeper connection by which he is bound to G‑d without any intermediary, even that of Torah. In fact, it is this connection which brings about the revelation of Torah, and through this it is revealed that it is G‑d’s Torah. This same idea is conveyed in the famous statement of Tanna D’bei Eliyahu, that both the Torah and the Jewish people existed before the universe came into being; but the Jewish people came even before Torah. This powerful bond with G‑d causes an even deeper sense of humility.

May our preparations lead us to — as in the blessing of the Rebbe, my father-in-law — ‘to receive the Torah with joy and in an inner way (b’pnimius).’ This is similar to the request made in Tehillim (86:4,16), ‘Bring joy to the soul of Your servant...turn (p’nei) to me and be gracious to me.’

2. There is something quite puzzling regarding the custom of learning tractate Sotah during the days of Sefirah. As mentioned previously, the custom is based on the fact that there are 49 pages in the tractate. However, the numbering only came about when the Talmud was printed; for all the years that it existed only in hand-written folios, there was no such thing as an edition of Sotah with 49 pages!

Furthermore, even the early printed editions did not have 49 pages. The numbering system was set up by the printer, who wasn’t even Jewish. How can we connect tractate Sotah with the days of Sefirah, when it only came after many years and only through the actions of a non-Jew?

The explanation is that everything in the world happens through Divine Providence. If, as the Baal Shem Tov explained, even the way a leaf falls has significance, certainly something related to Torah studied by so many Jews must have significance. There is also nothing to be surprised about the fact that it came about through a non-Jew — we see that G‑d can carry out His wishes even through animals, and even non-kosher animals. This is evident from the plagues in Egypt, where G‑d’s mission was carried out through frogs. They, along with the rest of the plagues, revealed to the Egyptians and the entire world that G‑d is Master of the universe.

By Divine Providence, there is another tractate which has 49 pages, tractate Shavuos, or ‘Oaths.’ This has an obvious connection with Sefirah, since it has the same name as the holiday which marks its conclusion. It is also similar in content, because the connection made between G‑d and the Jewish people at Mount Sinai has the strength of an oath. We see that G‑d promised that the Jewish people will never be exchanged for another nation; and that the Jewish people swore on Mount Sinai to fulfill the entire Torah.

In a way, tractate Shavuos has an even clearer connection with Sefirah than Sotah does. One must first know, for example, that the Sotah is required to bring a meal offering, and that it is made from barley, which is normally food for animals. Then, one must know that the days of Sefirah are connected with the purification and elevation of the animal soul.

Nevertheless, the custom given to us by the Rebbeim is that of learning tractate Sotah, and there is no mention made by them of the connection between tractate Shavuos and Sefirah. However, as mentioned above, everything is with Divine Providence; therefore it is also fitting to explain something relating to this tractate as well. This is especially true since, as the Alter Rebbe said, Chabad Chassidus is not only for a single group, but for all Jews.

The tractate concludes with a particular type of oath. When a person owes money, and falsely denies it with an oath, he transgresses a Biblical prohibition and is required to bring a sacrifice. The word for sacrifice, korban, comes from the word kiruv, meaning ‘close,’ because bringing the sacrifice creates a closeness between the person and G‑d. This shows the importance of money, because this type of false denial creates a necessity for the person to renew his connection with G‑d.

Money has in it two seemingly contradictory characteristics. Our Sages say that, ‘Money makes a person stand on his feet.’ From this we see that money is lower than the person himself, and even lower than his feet. On the other hand, it has the ability to raise his entire body, even his head. This is similar to the example of raising a foundation: although the foundation is below the building, only it has the ability to elevate the entire building, from top to bottom.

This is part of the reason why the Torah places such stress on money, for it combines these two extremes. In this way it resembles the Giving of the Torah, for it also combined the two extremes of G‑dliness and the world, as explained above.

* * *

3. It is customary to explain a topic from the daily portion of Rambam. Today we end the laws of vows (Hilchos Nedarim) and begin the laws of the Nazirite (Hilchos Nezirus). We have discussed the last section of Hilchos Nedarim at length on another occasion, so it would be fitting to now discuss Hilchos Nezirus. This is especially true since these laws derive from this week’s parshah, Parshas Naso.

[The Rebbe discussed the law that a non-Jew may not become a nazir, as printed below in the Sichah of the second day of Shavuos.]

The Torah says (Numbers 6:7), ‘Neizer elokav is on his head.’ The Targum translates this phrase, ‘G‑d’s crown is on his head.’ The Eben Ezra explains that the king’s crown signifies that he has freed himself from all physical desires. This is also the idea of the Nazirite, who through his vow to refrain from wine shows his rejection of worldly desires.

This is also connected with Shavuos, as the Midrash brings the example of, ‘the citizens of a kingdom who made three crowns for the king. what did the king do? One he put on his head, and the other two on the heads of his sons.’ The two crowns are compared to the crowns G‑d place on the Jewish people for saying na’aseh v’nishmah (‘We shall do and we shall understand’). On a deeper level, the sons even get the benefit of the crown which the king placed on his own head. This signifies the level of the soul’s yechidah, which is totally unified with G‑d.

4. We will conclude with distributing money to be given for charity. One should add from one’s personal money, and preferably give it before Shavuos. The giving, particularly when it is done pleasantly, with joy and in an inner way (b’pnimius), will certainly add to one’s resolve to precede na’aseh (‘We shall do’) before nishmah (‘we shall understand’) and hasten the redemption.

We should make mention of the necessity to insure that every Jew has sufficient resources for Shavuos — to be able to make a holiday meal fit for a king. This is particularly important on Shavuos, because it is the only holiday regarding which our Sages are unanimous in requiring one to feast.

We should also mention the importance of spreading the Seven Noachide Commandments, which also receives special stress on Shavuos. Our Sages explain the verse (Deut. 33:2), ‘G‑d came from Sinai, shone forth to them from Seir, etc.’ as referring to the way G‑d approached the nations of the world offering them the Torah. Certainly G‑d’s actions have a permanent effect — in this case implanting in the non-Jewish nations recognition that they must fulfill the Noachide Commandments because He commanded them on Mt. Sinai.

From this we derive the following lesson: if G‑d didn’t worry about His own honor, and Himself went around to the nations, certainly we should do our utmost to reach out to them and influence them. And even those who might express hesitation to this idea certainly wouldn’t dream of comparing their honor to that of G‑d!

A final point: it is well known that when preparing for something, one must keep in mind the event which is to follow. It is therefore surprising that people overlook the fact that the obvious preparation for Shavuos must be additional Torah study. This should be done even though it is Erev Yom Tov, and there are many Yom Tov preparations which must be done. It will therefore suffice to add on a small amount, compensating for the quantity by adding in quality.

A free translation from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
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Translated excerpts of talks delivered by The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, at his periodic public addresses.
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