Second Day of Shavuos, 5747 (1987)

Second Day of Shavuos, 5747 (1987)

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1. Our sages have taught:

Every day they (the Torah) should be to you as something new. (Rashi, Devarim 26:16)

This ‘newness’ must actually be felt as if the Torah were actually being given to us on this day. This approach is certainly appropriate on the day of the giving of the Torah.

Here we emphasize the fact that although we have the Torah a long time, yet, it is new. Clearly this does not negate the qualities of something which is old — rather it adds a facet of freshness. In our Divine service we should follow a pattern where we begin with the tried and then advance to the newer things.

At this farbrengen we will deal with new ideas and facets — nevertheless, one should begin with the general theme of the Season of the Giving of our Torah even though this subject has been duly covered in past years.

This approach of first stressing the tried and true may be seen in the first stages of Jew’s daily Divine service. Waking up as a ‘new being’ with the purpose of serving G‑d, ‘I was created to serve my Maker’ it is obvious that the day must begin with an expression of essential association with the Creator. This in essence is the theme of prayer. The term Tefillah etymologically is associated with the concept of connection one must therefore begin the day by cleaving to the Holy One, Blessed be He, and only then can he go on to carry out the details of his Divine service.

Before prayer, the person’s life-force, the soul, is still concentrated in one place, and through the process of prayer it permeates, infuses and is revealed in the whole body giving the person the ability to carry out his Divine service during the rest of the day. Any Torah and Tzedakah that is done prior to prayer is only as a preparation for prayer but the proper time for Torah and other good deeds is after one has prayed and effected the revelation of his soul.

The majority of the segments of the morning service are repeated every morning weekday, Shabbos and holiday. On special days additional segments are added and some parts of the service are changed. These ‘new’ additions also influence the usual parts of the service. Thus in prayer we see a difference between the ‘new’ parts which are added on Shabbos and holidays and the segments which are ‘like new,’ being influenced by the introduction of the ‘new’ sections.

Thus we pray the set daily liturgy and then reach a point when we introduce the new segments. This is similar to the idea that one must begin the day with the general connection to the Holy One, Blessed be He. There too we begin with the general themes of prayer and then move into more specific subjects.

We start with ‘Modeh Ani’ — ‘I offer thanks’ which establishes the existence of a Jew. This is followed by the morning blessings which follow the order of nature; waking up — the rooster who understands the beginning of day and crows — and the daily benefits which humans enjoy. Only after man has established his being does he add and include further aspects of specific prayer. Here we see the precedent that we begin with the old and then add the new.

Let us therefore begin this farbrengen with the general theme of Shavuos and then introduce the new aspects.

The holiday of Shavuos is the Season of the Giving of our Torah. This means that the entire Torah — all aspects of Torah — was given to the Jewish people on Shavuos.

In this context the Holy One, blessed be He, told Moshe:

I will give you the stone tablets and the Torah and mitzvos which I have written to teach them. (Shmos 24:12)

Rashi explains:

All 613 commandments are included in the Ten Commandments. R. Saadia explained...which of the 613 commandments are associated to each of the Ten Commandments. (loc. cit.)

Thus the Written and Oral Torah in their entirety were given to Moshe, as the Rambam explains so succinctly in his introduction to Mishneh Torah.

When the Mishnah of Avos begins by telling us that ‘Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and gave it...’ there, too, the implication is that everything in Torah and all its later developments, including the debates and questions and answers of the Talmud were all included in Moshe’s legacy.

In short all of Torah is included in the Ten Commandments, which are all included in the first commandment, that is encapsulated in the first word Anochi — being an acrostic for ‘I have placed Myself in My writing,’ (Shabbos 105a) and all this is concentrated in the Aleph of Anochi.

2. There are three individuals particularly connected with Shavuos — Moshe Rabbeinu, King David, and the Baal Shem Tov. Moshe Rabbeinu was the one who received the Torah, which was given on Shavuos. Regarding King David, the Midrash tells us that, ‘What Moshe Rabbeinu ended with, King David began with.’ This refers to the last passage in Chumash (Deut. 33:29), ‘Fortunate (ashrecho) are you, Israel,’ and the beginning of Psalms (1:1), ‘Fortunate (ashrei) is the man....’ This indicates that although all the Sages throughout all generations carry on the tradition received by Moshe Rabbeinu, nevertheless King David is particularly connected with him.

It is well known that the Baal Shem Tov passed away on the first day of Shavuos. The Alter Rebbe used to do many special things on this day, and later it became public that they were connected with the passing of the Baal Shem Tov. The connection is also hinted to in the verse mentioned above, since ‘(fortunate are you,) Israel’ was his name.

Furthermore, just as Moshe Rabbeinu and King David were related through their Torah works, so too the Baal Shem Tov and King David. Although he did not himself write any books, the Alter Rebbe wrote in Tanya that the book Tzavo’os HaRivash, written by his students, accurately conveys his Torah thoughts. And the relationship between this work and that of King David, is similar to that between Chumash and Psalms (‘What Moshe Rabbeinu ended with, King David began with’) — since the beginning of Tzavo’os HaRivash expresses the same idea as the end of Psalms.

Psalms ends with the verse (150:6), ‘Let every soul (kol ha’neshamah) praise the L‑rd.’ The commentaries question the word ha’neshamah — it would have seemed sufficient to write neshamah and omit the letter hey.

The explanation is that the letter hey comes to allude to another idea. Instead of merely indicating ‘every soul,’ it indicates ‘the entire soul,’ i.e. all the powers of the soul, should be completely involved in praising G‑d.

Tzavo’os HaRivash begins with the advice that ‘One should always be complete (tamim) in one’s service of G‑d, blessed be He.’ This means that he must be complete in his service (that nothing should be lacking), and that he himself be complete, totally devoted with all his energies and abilities towards His service. This is the same idea as kol ha’neshamah, ‘the entire soul.’

There is a yet deeper connection between the two works. Upon completing the entire Psalms, one is left with a burning question: since all our praises anyway do not come close to describing His greatness, what is the point of saying them in the first place? Our Sages make the comparison to a wealthy king who owned thousands upon thousands of gold coins. If one praised him by saying he owned silver, it would be considered an insult. How much more so our praises of G‑d!

The answer to this question is given in the beginning of Tzavo’os HaRivash. The ultimate purpose of one’s creation is to serve G‑d to the best of one’s ability — even though we might be unable to understand their significance in the eyes of the Infinite Being. Just as a servant works for his master even though he doesn’t understand his motives, so too we must be faithful servants of G‑d, even when we don’t comprehend His ways.

There is a great deal more which could be said on this topic, but the main thing is that it all come down to the world of action. This should be in the three pillars of Torah, prayer, and gemilus chassadim, which are related to Moshe Rabbeinu, King David, and the Baal Shem Tov respectively. We should try to emulate them in these three areas as much as possible.

Moshe Rabbeinu is obviously connected with Torah, and everyone should add in Torah similar to the way in which he received the Torah. One should treat the Torah as if he received it today from G‑d, studying it with increased vigor and enthusiasm.

King David’s Psalms are in the category of prayers. In the Yehi Ratzon said after reciting Psalms, we ask ‘...that they should be considered as if they were said by King David himself.’ The same applies to every single Jew, regardless of level of understanding, concentration on the Psalms, etc.

[The Rebbe smiled and said,] the custom has developed that Psalms are recited, on Shabbos Mevarchim, for example, with great speed — I don’t want to use the expression ‘haste!’ In any case, since it has become the custom, the statement, ‘Jewish custom is considered law’ applies.

When I was in ‘Cheder,’ I remember an argument broke out between two children, one from a Lithuanian home, the other from Polish chassidim. The Lithuanian child proudly spoke of how slowly and deliberately he prayed. His friend answered that he himself did the opposite — praying quickly because he desired to grab the next word. ‘On the contrary,’ he claimed, ‘your unhurried prayer shows that it is not so dear to you.’ He answered, ‘I’ll prove I’m right — our teacher certainly considers prayer precious, and nevertheless prays slowly!’ His friend answered, ‘But our teacher’s prayers are hot like fire — he can’t grab the words quickly! Our prayers are cooler, therefore we should grab them as fast as we can.’

The reason for telling this story is to stress the unity among Jews — that although there are many ways of serving G‑d, everyone still aims towards the same goal. Regarding our subject, it is possible that each individual’s recital of Psalms has the ability to resemble that of King David — therefore everyone should endeavor to recite them in this manner.

The Baal Shem Tov was famed for his ahavas Yisrael, and going out of his way to do favors for people. Even if he knew nothing about the person, he would nevertheless abandon everything he was involved in to help another Jew. So too, everyone must exert the greatest efforts to help all other Jews — regardless of the person’s background or whether one is personally acquainted or not.

3. There is a special lesson to be drawn from the fact that this year, Shavuos falls out on Wednesday. On Wednesday, G‑d created ‘the two great luminaries, the large one to shine by day and the small one to shine at night.’ The connection with Shavuos is that the sun and moon correspond to the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. Just as the moon has no light of its own, receiving all its light from the sun, so too the entire Oral Torah has its source in the Written Torah. This connection is also pointed out by the Midrash, which says that on Mount Sinai, when Moshe Rabbeinu was taught the Written Torah, he knew it was daytime; and when he was taught Oral Torah, he knew it was night.

The fact that the verse includes the moon among the ‘two great luminaries’ before describing it as being small is explained by our Sages as referring to the fact that the sun and the moon were both originally the same size. After the moon complained that ‘It’s impossible to have two kings wear the same crown,’ the moon become small — as indicated in the end of the verse.

Chassidus and Kabbalah explain that this episode is the source for all subsequent unholiness in the world. On the simple level, however, we do not find that G‑d disagreed with the moon’s complaint — He never answered, ‘It is possible for two kings to wear the same crown.’ From this we see that the moon was correct, and the result of its complaint was to bring the universe to a higher and more perfect state.

However, the question arises, — if it really was impossible to have ‘two great luminaries’ simultaneously, why didn’t G‑d make the moon small in the first place?

The explanation is similar to the statement of our Sages, [after prayers to relieve a drought were answered with a flood,] ‘You have given us so much good that we are unable to withstand it.’ G‑d wants to give the world the greatest amount of good and perfection. Sometimes, however, it is unable to withstand it. We find this in the Bais HaMikdash, where in the Holy of Holies the laws of nature were suspended, since ‘the ark did not take up any space.’ It was nevertheless impossible for this miraculous state to exist anywhere else in the world, since it cannot withstand such a powerful revelation of G‑dliness.

Similarly in our case, G‑d wanted to give the maximum revelation to the world — ‘two great luminaries.’ For this reason the sun raised no objection, for why worry about the world’s capabilities if G‑d Himself doesn’t? The moon’s question was based on its observation that G‑d has made the universe with certain natural limitations, and it is ‘unable to withstand’ such revelation.

Since we see that there is a level on which both the sun and moon are equal — ‘two great luminaries’ — the same applies to the Written and Oral Torah.

In addition to the similarities mentioned above, there is another dimension on which the sun and moon match the two aspects of Torah. The sun never changes in appearance, similar to the Written Torah, which is absolutely precise and the number of letters cannot be changed. It also applies equally to all people regardless of their level of understanding, as reflected in the law that recital of the Written Torah, even without understanding, is still considered to be Torah study. The moon, however, is constantly in a state of change. This is like the Oral Torah, where the exact wording is not of such vital importance in comparison with understanding, which is mandatory.

Even within the Oral Torah we find these two levels: Halachic decision is absolute — it cannot be changed in any way, added to, etc. (similar to the Written Torah). There is another type of learning, however, which involves giving broader explanations, can be expanded to include innovative ideas, etc. (corresponding to the Oral Torah). The lesson from the analysis of the interrelationship of the sun and moon is that even when a person is primarily involved in one area of Torah, he still must expend energy in the other area as well.

There is also a level on which the ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ are separate. A teacher of children, for example, cannot simply teach exactly what is written without explanation. He must explain things in a way that the children will understand, embellishing wherever necessary. The child is even given candies in order to interest him in learning. The custom is that when the child’s hair is cut at the age of three, one gives him honey to lick from an Alef-Beis, and throws candies at him in the name of the angel Michael. This shows that one must explain to the child the sweetness of Torah on his level. Only in this way will the Torah remain with him.

A Rav, on the other hand, must always be like the sun. His job is to give halachic decisions, without any embellishment or explanation. At the present time — due to the extreme darkness of the exile — it is proper to note the source of a legal judgment, in order to avoid any complaints, etc. However, the only citation should be the chapter number, paragraph, etc. and nothing more. These are the types of cases in which only one category of Torah study is stressed. In general, though, both types of Torah learning should be combined.

In addition to all the abovementioned, there is an additional lesson to be derived from the sun and the moon. As mentioned above, the world is set up in a way that the moon receives all its light from the sun. A person might consider himself to be like the sun — a ‘giver’ — and claim that he has no connection to a person who needs to be on the receiving end.

To him we answer that if he does not give to that recipient, he is tearing apart the order of creation. Just as the sun must give light to the moon, similarly those who are able to give to others must do so.

* * *

4. In the section of Torah which was studied on the first day of Shavuos we read of the portion dealing with the laws of sotah and nazir.

Rashi states that the portion of nazir was placed near the portion of sotah, because all who see the sotah in her shame will take an oath against wine.

What connection does the portion of sotah have with the giving of the Torah?

Chassidus explains that the Torah was given to the Jewish people after seven weeks of preparations and purification from the Exodus till Matan Torah. The Zohar says that the counting of the seven weeks is analogous to the seven days that a woman counts (before immersion in the mikveh), for on Shavuos the Jewish people and the Holy One, blessed be He, were united.

The theme of the sotah story is not to tell us the negative aspects — rather the good results when she is found innocent — that she will be permitted to have relations with her husband and they will be blessed with children.

This principle may be applied in various similar cases; the potential nazir need not see the sotah — it will suffice for him to read the details in the Torah.

When we see the path of the evil people leading them to success — this must teach us that certainly the righteous will be blessed. Here too it is not necessary for us to actually see the sinners successful; it is enough if we learn about this phenomenon in Torah in connection with the 26 generations that existed before the Torah was given to the world.

For in truth when we see the evil prosper and the righteous ones (G‑d’s people) suffer, especially in the diaspora, and the darkest period before Mashiach; we must clamor and protest as loud as possible — as Moshe asked ‘How can there be a righteous man who suffers and a wicked man who prospers’ or as Yirmeyahu asked ‘why does the path of the wicked prosper?’ And so too did all the later saintly tzaddikim — as we find in the many penitential prayers.

For the past we do not question G‑d’s ways — but for the future we must beseech and cry out and demand ‘How long’!?

This question applies also to the galus — we accept that we are in galus by G‑d’s decree, but it does not mean that this is a pleasant situation. G‑d’s only son has been exiled from his Father’s table, this is very bitter. So we must cry — How long? The Previous Rebbe has already said — ‘stand ready to greet Mashiach’ — we must only ‘polish the buttons.’

May G‑d grant that in the merit of studying the laws of nazir we will come to the time when once again we may observe the laws of nazir.

* * *

It is customary to discuss a topic to be included in the Kinus Torah (Torah conference) the day after Yom Tov. In Hilchos Nezirus (2:16), the Rambam writes, ‘The laws of Nezirus do not apply to non-Jews, as it is written (Num. 6:2), ‘Speak to the Bnei Yisrael.’ ’

This would seem to imply that even if a non-Jew would make a vow to become a Nazirite and refrain from wine, etc. he would not need to fulfill his promise. The Sifri also implies this when it says, ‘Jews can violate the prohibition of not fulfilling a vow, but non-Jews do not.’ Another factor supporting this idea is that the laws of Nezirus and of fulfilling vows are not included among the Seven Noachide Laws.

Upon closer examination, however, it is impossible to give such an interpretation. There are many matters not included in the Seven Mitzvos which are nevertheless incumbent on non-Jews. A clear proof of this is from the story of Sedom, whose inhabitants were punished primarily because they did not demonstrate the trait of charity (to the extreme extent that they would kill someone who gave charity). Since, as the Rambam rules, charity is not included in the Seven Mitzvos, for what were they punished? From here we see that there are matters not included in the Seven Mitzvos in which non-Jews are obliged.

This answers a puzzling question. The Talmud says (Eruvin 100b), ‘Even if the Torah had not been given, we would have learned modesty from a cat, honesty from an ant, etc.’ But since the Torah was given, why is it important to know what would have been otherwise?

According to the abovementioned, we can say that non-Jews, who are not obligated in the laws of the Torah, must still abide by rules which are self-understood. Since it is obvious that one must be honest, etc. a non-Jew must keep his word — not because it is included in the Seven mitzvos, but because it is necessary for him to help make the world a settled place. Therefore, although the Rambam says that, ‘The laws of Nezirus do not apply to non-Jews,’ he would nevertheless agree that a non-Jew is required to keep his word — especially if he made a vow to G‑d.

5. This is an appropriate time to mention the study of Chitas — Chumash, Tehillim (Psalms), and Tanya — which are closely connected with Shavuos. Study of the daily Chumash portion corresponds to Moshe Rabbeinu, who received the Torah; the portion of Psalms corresponds to King David, who passed away on Shavuos; and Tanya is the revelation of the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov, Toras HaChassidus.

There should be a strengthening in the study of Chitas, and may we merit to see Moshe Rabbeinu, King David, and the Baal Shem Tov in the flesh, with the speedy arrival of Mashiach.

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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