1. Today is Shabbos Mevarchim, on which we bless the approaching month of Shevat. It is also the 23rd day of Teves, and we read the portion of Shemos. These confluent details create a special connection to the 24th of Teves, the day of passing (Hillula) of the Alter Rebbe.

Concerning the demise of the Alter Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek wrote:

After the close of Shabbos Shemos, the 23rd of Teves, on the eve of the 24th, at about half the eleventh hour, the holy ark, the luminary of Israel, the anointed one of G‑d was taken away (see Kesuvos 104a). (Maaneh Lashon, Introduction)

The Tzemach Tzedek was clearly not satisfied with simply mentioning the date of the Alter Rebbe’s passing — 24th Teves — he also cited the previous day, the 23rd, and the Torah portion of the preceding Shabbos, Shemos.

This Shabbos blesses the approaching day of Rosh Chodesh and the entire month of Shevat, and especially the auspicious days of the month, in particular the Tenth of Shevat, the day of passing (Hillula) of the Previous Rebbe. The Previous Rebbe was in direct line of succession to the Alter Rebbe and contributed so much depth and breadth to all the aspects of Divine service taught by the Alter Rebbe.

Let us therefore consider the special themes of the Alter Rebbe and the Previous Rebbe. In Tanya the Alter Rebbe explains:

All his doings, his Torah and the Divine service which he served all the days of his life....become revealed and radiate in a manifest way from above downwards at the time of his passing...and effect salvation in the midst of the earth. (Iggeres HaKodesh 27-28)

When the Yahrzeit anniversary comes around each year the phenomenon of sublimation is relived and the tzaddik rises to a loftier celestial level which also radiates new energy to all his followers:

His children, the work of His hands in his midst sanctify His Blessed Name.... when we walk in the right way that he has shown us...forever more. (Iggeres HaKodesh 27)

This will bring an increase in the involvement in all the constructive aspects of their life work.

At the beginning of Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah the Alter Rebbe explains one of the fundamental teachings of the Baal Shem Tov:

And the name by which it is called in the Holy Tongue is a vessel for the life-force condensed into the letters of that name...that have the power and vitality to create a being ex nihilo and give it life.... (Shaar HaYichud, chapter 1)

This aspect of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings seems especially appropriate on the Shabbos when we read the portion of Shemos (Names). Let us therefore contemplate on the qualities and character of the Alter Rebbe as expressed in his name. This is a facet of the Alter Rebbe which is open for all to see and may be comprehended by everyone, great and small.

The Alter Rebbe’s name was Schneur Zalman: Schneur means “two lights,” in line with the Baal Shem Tov’s prediction that he would illuminate the world with two kinds of light, the light of the revealed Torah and the light of the esoteric Torah. These two lights fuse into one just as the name Schneur represents both aspects. This also symbolizes one of the Alter Rebbe’s major contributions to the esoteric teachings of Torah, the philosophy of Chabad, which puts emphasis on intellectual achievement in the esoteric realm. All this is included in the name Schneur.

The name Zalman is composed of the letters Z’L’M’N’ which when rearranged spell the word “to time” (L’Z’M’N’). This indicates that the revelation of the “two lights” should penetrate and illuminate the world at the fundamental level of time (and space) so that in the corporeal world the unity and essence of G‑d will be revealed.

How do we combine the exoteric and esoteric sides of Torah? By the revelation of the inner, essential level of Torah, the level of Yechidah (the unique one). Being so lofty, it has the potential to unite opposites.

By invoking this lofty state and infinite power — the Yechidah of Torah — it also reaches down into corporeal time — “Zalman (L’ZMN).” Since it emerges from so high a state it follows that it will reach to the farthest and lowest and the innermost.

The Previous Rebbe enlarged and intensified all of these aspects of the Alter Rebbe. His name was Yosef Yitzchok.

The name Yosef represented the sentiment: “May G‑d grant another son to me” (Bereishis 30:24), which Chassidus interprets to mean that even a distant “other” can become a “son.”

The Previous Rebbe’s goal was to attract the “other” to become a “son” by spreading Torah and mitzvos and the wellsprings of Chassidus to the outside. These efforts included translating various sections of the revealed and esoteric teachings of Torah into the “70 languages” of the world so that even the distant Jew may study Torah.

The name Yitzchok, which comes from the root of “laughter” and “delight,” refers to the pleasure of the essence of Torah which is revealed in Chabad Chassidic philosophy and which brings the true pleasure of understanding. When the Jew who is an “other” will be able to study these teachings in his native tongue and will comprehend Chassidus, he too will reach a state of delight.

The work of the Previous Rebbe therefore brings qualitative and quantitative enrichment on the theme of “Schneur Zalman,” the two branches of Torah as they are combined and as they are applied to the real world.

Today, being the 23rd of Teves, the eve of the 24th and the Shabbos Mevarchim which blesses the 10th of Shevat, it follows that here and now we must commence to increase our involvement in the legacy of the two luminaries.

Increase study of the revealed and esoteric aspects of Torah to the point that the two unite, as in the name “Schneur.” Then the esoteric areas of Torah are so well comprehended that they evoke true delight. This is especially appropriate regarding the teachings of the Alter Rebbe and Previous Rebbe, for by studying their teachings we unite with them.

Moreover, there must also be an increase in disseminating the wellsprings of Chassidus to those who are “outside” — young and old — so that they will attain true comprehension of these esoteric matters.

Special attention should be given to training young children in practice such as reciting Modeh Ani, washing the hands, blessings, etc. There must also be strong emphasis on training children in proper attitudes and moral behavior, fear of G‑d, love of G‑d, in a manner and on a level that the children can absorb.

Take for example the practice of reciting Modeh Ani upon awakening. The child should be taught that the order of a Jew’s day begins with the words Modeh Ani, “I offer thanks to You,” in which we thank G‑d for returning our souls. This thanks is directed and offered L’fonecho, before G‑d. The child should be given to realize:

He is lying before the Supreme King of kings the Holy One, Blessed be He, as it is written, “I fill the heaven and the earth”...and he should remember G‑d who hovers over him.... (Siddur, Intro. to Modeh Ani)

This explanation and the subsequent proper vocalization will produce a day in which all activity will be dedicated to the will of the Holy One, Blessed be He.

This year we find special emphasis in these themes. This is a Shemitah year and Rosh Hashanah occurred on Shabbos.

The Midrash says that the day of Shabbos has a special association with light, for on the first Shabbos (Friday night) even after the sun had set the light continued to glow and radiate, and darkness did not fall until Shabbos ended on the following night (see Midrash Tehillim on Psalm 92). Chassidus further explains that “all aspects of Shabbos are double” (based on Midrash, ibid.). It follows then that the light of Shabbos is double — the same concept as the Alter Rebbe, “Schneur.”

Shemitah, which requires the land to lie fallow, is esoterically associated with the elevation of the attribute of royalty (Malchus) and this would be congruous with the name Zalman which, as we explained, signifies the realm of space and time (Malchus) as in the spelling L’Z’M’N’. Shemitah, however, involves only resting from working the land, while Shabbos involves refraining from all creative labor (all the attributes) — when the Shemitah year begins with a Shabbos it indicates a lofty ascent in all the levels of Malchus.

In the person’s Divine service this symbolizes that all his soul powers, attributes and intellectual faculties are infused with humility and subservience to the yoke of Heaven; all are suffused with obeisance and function because of G‑d’s command.

In that state the highest levels of Torah are applied to the simplest levels of worldly involvement through the revelation of the Yechidah (essence) of Torah. When the essence of the soul is revealed it manifests itself in the purest form of humility and self-abnegation. This year more effort should be placed on the study and dissemination of Chassidus.

To action:

A — Starting from this evening increase Torah study, especially the teachings of the Alter Rebbe: the Shulchan Aruch and Tanya, discourses of Torah Or and Likkutei Torah.

B — Place more effort in prayer, and study the Alter Rebbe’s commentaries in the Siddur which he edited, also the maamar “Hakol Kol Yaakov — in the introduction to the Siddur.

C — Contribute more charity, especially to those organizations which fulfill his work.

Be also diligent and zealous in carrying out the preparations for Yud Shevat, be tested every ten days and record the progress. Increase your activities in setting up or expanding Chabad Houses (including your own homes which should become places of Torah, prayer and charity — where the Shechinah will be able to dwell). In the beginning of Shemos we may find a hint to this idea: “...each man together with his house(hold) came” (Shemos 1:1), and “He made them houses” (ibid. 1:21), a reference to the ideal house.

May it be the will of Heaven that through our proper activities, which revolve around the theme of spreading Yiddishkeit and the wellsprings of Chassidus, we will merit the fulfillment of Mashiach’s assurance to the Baal Shem Tov: “When your fountains will spread to the outside — Mashiach will come.”

The Midrash explains that the names of the Jewish people enumerated at the start of the book of Shemos when they entered the exile of Egypt really relate to their Exodus. As also expressed in the Haftorah:

In days to come, Yaakov will take root, [so that] Israel will blossom and bud, and cover the face of the earth with fruit...In that day...you will be gathered one by one...on the day a great trumpet will be blown; and those who were lost in the land of Assyria, and those who were dispersed in the land of Egypt will come and worship G‑d on the Holy Mountain at Yerushalayim. (Yeshayahu 26:6,12,13)

This leads us to the portion of Vaeira where we find the revelation “I am the L‑rd” (Havayah) in a visible manner, which will be when our righteous Mashiach brings the redemption, “and the glory of G‑d will be revealed and all flesh will see.”

Then, “Arise and sing you who dwell in the dust” (Yeshayahu 26:19), Moshe and Aharon and the Alter Rebbe and Previous Rebbe, who together will “sing” the “tenth song of praise.” May it be in actuality, speedily and truly immediately.

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2. In this week’s portion we learn of Moshe’s flight from Egypt and, how after being chosen as G‑d’s messenger, he takes his family and returns to Egypt:

Moshe took his wife and sons and, putting them upon the donkey, set out to return to Egypt. (Shemos 4:20)

Rashi’s commentary on this verse has raised many questions which we shall consider. There is also an extremely perturbing Klotz-Kashe, that no one has thought of, which will be discussed.

Rashi cites the words “upon the donkey” and comments:

The donkey designated for this purpose: this was the donkey which Avraham had saddled for the purpose of traveling to bind Yitzchok on Mount Moriah, and this, too, is the donkey upon which King Mashiach will once show himself in public, as it is said (Zechariah 9:9): “[Behold, your king comes unto you,...] lowly and riding upon a donkey.” (Rashi, loc. cit.)

Let us consider the following questions:

A) As Rashi only explains the word “donkey” why was it necessary to cite the word “upon” in the caption? It should say either “the donkey” or “and he placed them on the donkey”?

B) In relating to us that the donkey was the selfsame one saddled by Avraham, Rashi did not have to include that he saddled the donkey when he went to the Akeidah — that fact is self-evident, for we find only one instance when Avraham saddled his donkey, when he went to the Akeidah. By adding the words “to the Akeidah” Rashi seems to indicate that there was some connection between the Akeidah and the return of Moshe to Egypt.

C) Why must Rashi add that the same donkey will be used by Mashiach? We already know that it was so special.

D) Why does Rashi use the term King Mashiach? In many instances he uses the simple term Mashiach.

E) When Rashi speaks of the advent of Mashiach he says “upon which...Mashiach will show himself,” why does Rashi use the verb “show,” rather than the verb “ride” which is used in this verse and also in the verse about Mashiach which Rashi, himself, quotes?

F) Why does Rashi quote the words “lowly and riding” — we speak here of the King Mashiach — how does this description fit into the discussion?

G) In Zechariah where Mashiach’s donkey is mentioned it is called “a donkey” and not “the donkey,” this is very strange. If at the time of Moshe that special donkey was designated by the definite article “the” — how much more so when Mashiach himself will come riding on the donkey, surely then it should be called the donkey — specially prepared for Mashiach?

Finally the most perplexing Klotz-Kashe:

H) The five-year-old Chumash student is disturbed by the suggestion that Moshe needed a special donkey to bring his family to Egypt. Why make a miracle for naught? Keep a donkey alive for hundreds of years from the time of Avraham till Moshe — and then many more years until Mashiach!? Moshe could have used any old donkey!

Having carefully studied the details of the story of the Exodus the five-year-old Chumash student understands quite well the context in which G‑d performs miracles. When it comes to convince Pharaoh to free the 600,000 Jews from his slavery, it is logical that G‑d will perform miracles and wonders. But just to carry Moshe’s family to Egypt, why perform such a miracle that a lowly donkey should live hundreds of years?!

Avraham, Moshe, the Tanaim and Amoraim, great men and women who did wonderful (and miraculous) things in their lifetimes did not live 400 years. Why did this donkey have to live from the time of Avraham till the times of Mashiach?

The Explanation:

The five-year-old Chumash student learned that Moshe was commanded to take his family and return to Egypt. He then discovered that Moshe put his wife and sons on the donkey and set out for Egypt. At that point he begins to wonder: “What about all their belongings?” Since the Torah tells us about only one donkey and that in addition Moshe took only the staff of G‑d into his hand we must deduce that all their belongings were packed on the one donkey! Quite an incredible feat!

Some of the other commentaries do deal with this question and suggest several possible solutions, but Rashi ignores this problem and clearly accepts the plain meaning of the verse that Moshe’s wife and children (and belongings) were all on the one donkey. How was it possible? Well, Rashi goes on to say that this was a very special animal “the donkey which Avraham had saddled...upon which King Mashiach “will once show himself.” Now about such a special beast there are no doubts as to its super ability.

This will explain why Rashi includes the words “upon” in his caption — to assure us that all their belongings fit very nicely on top of that unique donkey.

One question does linger on: Why the need for this “super donkey” to carry Moshe’s family and their possessions to Egypt? Yisro could have simply given him several average donkeys. Here Rashi adds that this was the donkey which Avraham saddled for the Akeidah — the binding of Yitzchok, and which Mashiach would use in the future. This indicates that the reason G‑d provided Moshe with this donkey was to indicate some thought connected to Moshe’s original reluctance to accept G‑d’s mission to Egypt.

When G‑d charged Moshe with the mission to go to Pharaoh and lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, Moshe refused on two grounds:

A) He did not want to take more greatness than his older brother Aharon (see Rashi Shemos 4:10), and; B) he argued that G‑d should choose someone else, since he would not be the redeemer who would lead them into Eretz Yisrael. (See Rashi, ibid. 4:13.)

Eventually, Moshe accepted G‑d’s mission and made preparations to leave for Egypt. Here G‑d continues to symbolically supply Moshe with proofs against his arguments through the “donkey” placed at his disposal. How?

Regarding his reluctance to assume a role of greater importance than Aharon — G‑d had told Moshe that Aharon would be happy to be “number two.” Should he still fear some hidden grudge — G‑d said: Look at this donkey which Avraham saddled to sacrifice his son — a matter of life and death — did he waiver one iota when he was given the command? How can you hesitate because of some imaginary insult to your brother!”

Regarding the ultimate goal of leading the people into Eretz Yisrael, well, he would ride on the donkey of Mashiach. [This section of the sichah was not completely transcribed.]

With this in mind we may explain why Rashi speaks of Mashiach in terms of future revelation rather than “riding.” G‑d used the donkey of Avraham/Mashiach as the conclusive argument to convince Moshe that his fear of not being the ultimate redeemer was baseless, since he would ride on the donkey which will bring the revelation of the King Mashiach, the actual redemption. King Mashiach will not just ride this donkey but will reveal himself and redeem the Jews while seated on its back.

Following this Rashi quotes the verse, “Lowly and riding on a donkey” we questioned Rashi’s motive in citing the word “lowly.” Whenever we have such a query Rashi expects us to look up his commentary on the original verse in Scripture. There we find Rashi translates: “Lowly — humble,” “riding on a donkey — this is an attribute of humility!” What does Rashi mean to say? G‑d shows Moshe, “You argued that you are not good enough, because of your true humility, and you told me to find another agent, but look here at Mashiach who will also be truly humble and show the characteristics of humility, yet when I send him he will assume the role of King Mashiach and proceed to fulfill his mission.”

For this reason, too, the verse does not say “riding on the donkey.” The context of the description of Mashiach as humble and showing signs of humility is basically for the purpose of portraying for us his nature and character — it would not be appropriate to tell us only of the “super donkey” for Mashiach’s custom of riding on a donkey involved many donkeys during his lifetime. In fact, in the same verse quoted by Rashi after talking of the donkey, Scripture goes on to say “...and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey.” It is clear that in Zechariah the general discussion of Mashiach focuses on his attributes and personality, not the details of his advent.

Here, however, Rashi shows how G‑d’s actions were directed to convince Moshe of his responsibility to carry out his mission.

Another point comes to mind in this discussion and analysis. The source of Rashi’s commentary is in Pirkei d’R. Elazar:

Avraham woke early in the morning...and saddled the donkey, it was the donkey born of the female donkey created at dusk of the sixth day... it was the donkey Moshe rode when he returned to Egypt...it is the donkey upon which the son of Dovid will ride in the future.... (ch. 31)

Since Rashi refers to most of the details in this Midrash why does he not also mention the fact that it was “the donkey born of the female donkey created at dusk”? After all, that detail would establish ever so strongly the fact that it was truly a unique beast?

The answer is elementary. Rashi cites only those details which apply directly to the plain meaning of the verse, in our case, any fact which will help negate Moshe’s arguments and demurring. All of the points Rashi presents do just that — but the pedigree of the donkey adds no convincing information, so Rashi skips it. It is appropriate that the homiletic commentators should elaborate on these points, but Rashi seeks the plain meaning and steers away from this.

* * *

3. The section of Rambam being studied these days is the Laws of Witnesses and I would like to discuss one halachah from chapter five which we learn today and a halachah from chapter 10 which we study tomorrow.

At the beginning of chapter five the Rambam writes:

Neither in civil nor in capital cases is a legal decision given on the evidence of one witness, as it is said: “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin” (Devarim 19:15). By tradition it has been learned that he “rises up” in a suit involving an oath... (Laws of Evidence 5:1). In two instances the Torah accepts the testimony of one witness: 1 — A woman suspected of marital infidelity is not made to drink of the water of bitterness: 2 — The neck of a heifer is not broken if there is one witness. (Ibid.:2)

Then in the first halachah in chapter ten the Rambam goes on to teach us:

Transgressors are ineligible as witnesses by Biblical law, for it is said: “Put not your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness” (Shemos 23:1). The traditional interpretation of this injunction: “Accept not the wicked as a witness.” (Ibid. 10:1)

On this rule of not accepting the testimony of an evildoer there is a dialectical discussion among the sages: Is the prohibition based on the presumption that a transgressor speaks no truth, or is it a matter of principle, that once one is a wicked person he has blemished himself and disqualified himself from further credibility?

Logically speaking, the first interpretation would be unacceptable, for in general a rasha (wicked person) is labeled so after doing a sin incurring the punishment of flogging (he could still be an honest, truthful person). We have another Talmudic rule that if a person is suspect (a rasha) in one area, that does not automatically make him suspect in another area. It follows then that if the sins which labeled him as a rasha had nothing to do with truthfulness, then his word should not be suspect.

Furthermore, the rule is that if you know another person to be an evildoer you should not join him as a partner in testifying even if you know the testimony to be absolutely true. (Thus it is presumed that a rasha can often say the truth!)

Another convincing logic: There are two types of witness; one must testify to the truth of some occurrence or fact, while the other type must simply be present at a transaction to effect the legal conclusion of the transaction. This latter form of witness clearly has nothing to do with trustworthiness or truthfulness. Consequently, we may conclude that the disqualification of evil witnesses on the basis of character is a case of principle, a moral elimination, because they are evildoers they are disqualified.

In a related case when one witness testifies in a monetary case the law is that the defendant is required to take an oath to negate the testimony of a single witness. The single witness is also sufficient to point out the murderer in a case of a victim found near the roadside — and when he does so the calf will not have to be beheaded. Similarly, in the case of a woman who was warned by her husband not to be in the company of another individual and then is brought to the Temple under suspicion because of her husband’s accusations. If one witness testifies in this case she is not forced to go through the various steps of the Sotah — the suspected wife.

What is the logic of the single witness? One view sees the single witness as a different category of testimony from a team of witnesses — two witnesses establish a fact of law and they are relied on without reservation. The single witness does not actually create that context where his words crystallize the principles of law into a clear fact of law. So his word is not relied on. In the case of the calf or the suspected woman, however, Torah requires a lesser form of clarification of law so as not to make her drink the “bitter water” and not to behead the calf. The single witness also cannot establish a strong enough case to force someone to pay — but he can make him swear.

Another view of the single witness sees his testimony as the same quality as a pair of witnesses but simply weaker; quantitatively insufficient.

In all monetary and capital cases this level of clarification is not sufficient. He has not established a bona fide, firm, construct of law. To save the Sotah and beheaded calf, however, needs only partial testimony — or the testimony of only one person. In this view his testimony on money matters will be accepted, but it is weak — and can be negated by the other party’s oath.

In cases where the witnesses function as “establishing witnesses” and not verifying witnesses — one witness is never sufficient — just as one person cannot lift a weight that needs two people to raise up.

There is much to discuss and “give to the wise and he will gain more wisdom.”

All of these discussions deal with items needing clarification — but there is one item which is crystal clear — and hundreds and thousands of witnesses have verified it. All the predestined times have passed and everything depends on teshuvah, and in a moment, and a thought, one can become a complete tzaddik. The Torah promised that in the end Jews will repent and be redeemed — especially when they request and cry out without stop, “We Want Mashiach Now!” May it be truly now. The complete and true redemption through our righteous Mashiach, with our youth and elders, sons and daughters — a complete nation. Their gold and silver (material and spiritual) with them — Torah and mitzvos — then we will arrive in our Holy Land, in our Holy City Yerushalayim and the Beis HaMikdash which will be speedily built in our days — with Eretz Yisrael spreading out to encompass all of the land.

So may it be quickly and truly in our days.