1. Each day has a particular service appropriate for it as implied by the Zohar’s statement: “Each day performs its service.” In this regard, it is different from the other days which precede it and follow it and possesses a uniqueness of its own. Notwithstanding this, there are special days which the Torah singles out and deems as “meritorious days”.

Within the latter category, there are also various levels. We find certain days which are singled out for their negative qualities — more than one unfavorable event happened on them. Conversely, because G‑d’s goodness is unlimited, there are days which reflect this infinite goodness and combine many positive qualities.

Among the days which are distinguished for their positive qualities are the Ten Days of Teshuvah which our Sages describe with the verse, “Seek G‑d when He is to be found, call Him when He is close.” The Ten Days of Teshuvah, themselves, must be a process of growth, each day leading to a higher level. Since by the sixth of Tishrei, the majority of the Ten Days of Teshuvah have already passed, the halachic principle, “everything follows the majority,” applies and at present, it can be considered as if we have completed the service of all the Ten Days of Teshuvah.

Our Sages refer to the Ten Days of Teshuvah as “the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.” That expression is somewhat problematic for there are actually only seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the number ten is reached by including those days.

In resolution, it has been explained that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur possess two dimensions: one in which they share the qualities that characterize the Ten Days of Teshuvah and also, an essential quality which is unique. Rosh Hashanah stands apart as “the head of the year” and Yom Kippur is a single and unique day on which the essence of the Jewish soul (the level of Yechidah) is revealed.

To clarify the above, the Ten Days of Teshuvah should be characterized by the service of teshuvah. During these days, a Jew should concentrate on this service more than on the other aspects of Torah and mitzvos which he fulfills. However, in addition to teshuvah, there is another unique dimension of service appropriate to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah is characterized by the service of teshuvah from love (and, therefore, no mention of sin is made on Rosh Hashanah). However, the holiday centers on the service of crowning G‑d as King (which also includes the service of Zichronos and the blowing of the shofar). Yom Kippur, besides the aspect of teshuvah, is “the culmination of forgiveness and atonement,” when “the essence of the day brings about atonement”. Indeed, the atonement brought about by Yom Kippur stands above the service of teshuvah.

(Nevertheless, the teshuvah of Yom Kippur adds to the atonement of Yom Kippur. The teshuvah of Yom Kippur is unique because it is the tenth day of teshuvah. Ten represents a complete number. Therefore, the world was created with ten utterances of creation, the revelation of the Torah centered on the Ten Commandments, and ten Jews make up a minyan.)

Even though the essential aspect of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is above the service of teshuvah, our Sages connected the two, thus emphasizing how the closeness of G‑d which characterizes these ten days comes about because of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Because these ten days begin on Rosh Hashanah, which is characterized by the acceptance of G‑d as King, and conclude on Yom Kippur, which is “the culmination of forgiveness and atonement”, the entire ten-day span is one in which G‑d “can be found” and “is close”.

In particular, the expressions “can be found” and “is close” are connected with the respective services with which the verse associates them. G‑d’s allowing Himself “to be found” is associated with the service of “seeking” and His being “close” is related to the service of “calling”.

The aspect of G‑d’s being “found” relates to those who were lacking in the service of Him. Even a person who looks over his behavior in the previous year and sees a lack in his oneness with G‑d, should not become depressed and think that he is no longer connected to Him.

G‑d is “to be found”, i.e., the connection with Him exists independent of a Jew’s service. Just as a person obtains a found object without work or labor, similarly, G‑d can “be found” by every Jew.

The proof for this is in the words: “Israel is a child and I love him.” Thus, there is an essential bond of love between G‑d and every Jew that is not related to the Jew’s service.

The verse continues to explain that G‑d is “close.” This is directed to a person whose needs, both material and spiritual, are met, however, he is lacking closeness. Just as, at times, people give things, but give without feeling of attachment or closeness, so, too, the things we are given from G‑d may be given without closeness. Therefore, the verse informs us that, during these days, G‑d is “close.”

However, the verse teaches us that it is not sufficient to rely on the connection established during these days because G‑d is “to be found” or “close.” Rather, a Jew must involve himself in the services of “seeking” and “calling.” What is lacking in the discovery of a found object? the effort of the finder, for a found object comes when one is not looking it. Seeking fulfills this lack.

Seeking is more than asking. A person who seeks something does not accept a refusal. Rather, he continues trying to obtain the object he seeks until he obtains it because it is so important to him.

(This concept is also related to our need to “seek” the end of the exile as implied by our Sages’ statement (Rosh Hashanah 30a) that we must “seek Zion” (Yirmeyahu 30:17).)

So, too, in regard to G‑d’s being “close.” Calling implies the desire to reveal the presence of an entity which is far away. In order for G‑d who is infinite to be “close” to a limited human being, the person must “call” to Him. Even though G‑d also draws close without any activity on the Jew’s part, the Jew must add to this influence by calling, and thus, drawing Him into greater revelation.

May we merit to see the ultimate revelation of G‑d’s being “found” and “close” which will accompany the Messianic redemption. This will be hastened through the service of teshuvah for our Sages say, “[the coming of the redemption] depends on teshuvah alone.”

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2. It is customary to conduct a siyum (a conclusion of a tractate of the Talmud) on all farbrengens associated with Vav Tishrei. Since this is a Shemitah year, the tractate chosen is Shi’vi’is which deals with the laws governing that year.

The choice of this tractate is understandable based on the Zohar which states: “G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world; a person looks into the Torah and maintains the world.” This implies that the first stage of the existence of all things is in the Torah, and from the Torah, the influence is drawn down to worldly matters.

Furthermore, G‑d’s “looking into the Torah” is not sufficient, for the world to be maintained; it is necessary that “a person look into the Torah.” This reflects how G‑d desires our performance of mitzvos as implied by our Sages’ interpretation of the verse in the weekly portion, “ascribe greatness to our G‑d,” — “Israel increases G‑d’s might”. (This concept is also related to Rosh Hashanah when the Jews bring about G‑d’s acceptance of the kingship over the world.)

Therefore, it is fitting to conduct a siyum on the tractate of Shi’vi’is. Though the laws dealing with the Shemitah year are dispersed throughout the Talmud, the greatest concentration of them can be found in the tractate of Shi’vi’is (particularly, in the treatment of this tractate in the Jerusalem Talmud).

The tractate of Shi’vi’is includes ten chapters, a complete number as mentioned above. Its conclusion deals with the remission of loans, an aspect of the laws of Shemitah that is applicable — by virtue of Rabbinic decree — to every Jew, in all places (even in the diaspora), and at all times (even when the Temple is destroyed). In contrast, the laws of Shemitah that involve the cessation of agricultural work are applicable only in Eretz Yisrael (though it is proper for the residents of the diaspora to contribute to the observance of these laws in Eretz Yisrael by supporting the Keren Shemitah). Thus, in his Shulchan Aruch, the Alter Rebbe states that “every person who fears G‑d should accept the stringency of making a pruzbol... at the end of the sixth year, before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah of the seventh year.”

{The use of the expression “accept the stringency” implies that making a pruzbol is “beyond the measure of the law.” However, it has become accepted as law by the Shulchan Aruch. (We see many such practices where, in the time of the Talmud, they were considered as “beyond the measure of the law,” but have now been accepted as law.)}

The last mishnah of the tractate of Shi’vi’is states: “The Sages appreciate a person who returns a debt in the seventh year” (i.e., since the person returns the debt even though he is not obligated to do so, the Sages appreciated his gesture).

Continuing this theme, the Mishnah mentions other practices “appreciated” by the Sages. For example, it states: “All movable property must be acquired by meshichah (taking the article into one’s possession). [However,] whoever fulfills his word is appreciated by the Sages”; i.e., although a verbal commitment to purchase an article is not binding (for the buyer did not take possession of the article). Nevertheless, the Sages appreciated a person who would not retract after making a verbal agreement, but would fulfill the commitment he made.

[In the Jerusalem Talmud, the subject is explained in greater detail. It is explained that when the purchaser already paid for the article, but did not take possession of it by meshichah, the seller is subjected to a “rebuke by the court” referred to as “Mi Shepara.” If the purchaser had not paid for the article, this rebuke is not administered. However, the Sages would not appreciate his failure to honor his commitment.]

On the surface, similar concepts should apply in regard to a person who promises to give a colleague a present. This latter point is discussed by our Sages in the Jerusalem Talmud. Rabbi Yochanan maintains that a person who promises to give a colleague a present and then changes his mind is entitled to retract. The Talmud questions: Isn’t it proper for a person to fulfill the commitment he made? and explains that it is wrong to make a promise in jest or in deceit. However, if a person made a promise in good faith, but later changed his mind, there is no difficulty involved.

This conflicts with a statement made by Rav who states that once he told his family that he would give a colleague a present, he would never retract. The Talmud then questions Rav’s position quoting an incident where Rav allowed a person to retract after he made a promise and took security for a sale. The Talmud answers that Rav agrees that a promise alone does not constitute a binding obligation. However, personally, as a measure of pious behavior, he would always keep his word.

The Rambam accepts this conclusion as halachah, stating in Hilchos Mechirah (and in Hilchos Deos), that once a person makes a commitment whether in regard to a transaction or giving a present, even though he is not halachically bound to do so, it is proper that he fulfill his commitment. If he fails to do so, he is considered “faithless.” These concepts are also quoted by the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch, both in Hilchos Mechirah and in Orach Chayim, Chapter 156.

The Jerusalem Talmud also deals with these matters in the tractate of B. Metzia and relates an incident which appears to contradict the concepts mentioned above. The Talmud relates that Rav told his attendant: “If I promise to give a poor man a present, you should give it immediately without consulting me again. If I promise to give a rich man a present, consult me again before you give it to him.” The instructions Rav gave his attendant appear in direct opposition to his statements in the tractate of Shi’vi’is.

The commentaries have offered several resolutions to the difficulty: that the passage in B. Metzia deals with a large present, or that Rav’s statements were not made in the presence of the recipient, or that he did not imply by saying “consult me again,” that he would retract from the present entirely. However, he might postpone the time when it would be given.

Nevertheless, the text of the Talmud does not give the slightest indication of the appropriateness of any of these proposed resolutions. More importantly, none of them address themselves to the ethical point involved, for according to all of these resolutions, Rav went back on his word. How is it possible that Rav, renowned for his piety, would do such a thing?

It is possible to suggest a resolution to these questions based on a careful look at the expressions used in each of the passages. We can assume that Rav, as is the practice of community leaders today, also dealt with communal affairs and was in charge of various communal funds. Thus, the tractate of B. Metzia deals with Rav’s management of communal funds. Therefore, his instructions are conveyed to his attendant. In contrast, the tractate of Shi’vi’is describes how Rav would administer his own finances and concerns itself with the instructions he gave to “his household.”

In regard to his own finances, Rav acted piously and never retracted his commitment. However, in regard to communal affairs, where he was not the sole authority, it would have been forbidden for him to make a binding commitment at all times. On the contrary, based on the assumption that the community officials were experts in the management of communal affairs, Rav should have consulted them and allowed them the final decisions. Therefore, the fact that he told his attendant to consult him again is not a reflection on his character.

When the gift concerned a poor person and therefore, a promise to him had the force of a vow, Rav assumed that the communal authorities would not contest his decisions. However, when dealing with a promise to a rich person, he required further time to ensure that the authorities would accept his decision.

This discussion of Rav’s piety is relevant to the Ten Days of Teshuvah. Piety involves going beyond the measure of the law. Since during these days, we desire that G‑d go beyond the measure of law and be generous to us, it is proper that we go beyond the measure of the law in our service to Him.

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3. The concept that in these days, G‑d is “close” to every Jew relates to this week’s portion, Parshas Haazinu. The Sifri notes that Moshe addressed the Heavens with the expression “Haazinu” — “lend an ear” — and the earth with the expression, “listen,” implying that Moshe was “close to the heavens and far away from the earth.” Similarly, the unique spiritual nature of these days allows every Jew to be “close to the heavens” — to spiritual matters and “far away from the earth” — from material affairs.

Haazinu is related to the entire Torah. On a simple level, the verse, “write down this song,” refers to the song of Haazinu. Nevertheless, our Sages also derive the mitzvah for every Jew to write a Torah scroll from this verse. Thus, the lessons we can learn from Parshas Haazinu are general in nature, effecting the totality of our Torah service.

Haazinu teaches that a Jew must always “lend an ear” and listen to what the Torah is teaching him. He should not act on his own initiative, but rather “ask your father and he will tell you,” i.e., follow the Torah’s directives.

There is also a particular lesson associated with the present day, the yahrzeit of the Rebbetzin Chana. A yahrzeit is a day when the totality of the service which a person accomplished throughout his life ascends to its source above and from there, is revealed from above to below in a manner which “brings about salvation in the depths of the earth.” (Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, 28)

Therefore, a yahrzeit is associated with giving tzedakah — tzedakah in the simple sense of giving money to the poor and tzedakah in the spiritual sense of teaching the spiritually poor, “spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus outward,” in a manner in which they “bring about salvation in the depths of the earth.”

This is associated with the Rebbetzin who sacrificed herself so that her husband, Rav Levi Yitzchok could write down his insights in Pnimiyus HaTorah despite the hardships of exile. Afterwards, these teachings were brought out of Russia and printed for future generations.

This concept, the spreading of Pnimiyus HaTorah outward, is associated with the Torah portion of the present day which includes the verse (32:29), “Were they wise, they would conceive this, understand what would be the ramifications.” This alludes to the qualities of Chochmah (wisdom) and Binah (understanding) which are revealed in the Torah, described as “your wisdom and your understanding.”

From wisdom and understanding, the influence is drawn down to knowledge (Daas), the “key” to the expression of the six emotions and then to deed and action which is alluded to by the words “this” (zos) and “the ramifications” (achrisam) which is associated with the quality of Malchus.

[This is also associated with the present days for Rosh Hashanah is associated with the rebuilding of the Sefirah of Malchus and the Ten Days of Teshuvah when the quality of Malchus connected with each of the ten Sefiros is built.]

The final verse of the portion, (32:39) “I divided and I will heal,” is also associated with the Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s approach to Pnimiyus HaTorah as explained by the Rebbe Maharash (whose yahrzeit is in the coming week). Though there were other Sages who also studied both the legal aspects of Torah study (Nigleh) and Pnimiyus HaTorah, there was a division between their approach to the two studies. In contrast, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai fused the two branches of study together.

This fusion is more apparent in the present generation after the AriZal declared that, “it is a mitzvah to reveal this wisdom,” and Chassidus concentrated its energies on “spreading the wellsprings outward.” Ultimately this process will bring about the Messianic redemption as the Raya Mehemna declares “With this composition (the Zohar)..., Israel will be redeemed from exile with mercy.”

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4. It is fitting to use this opportunity to deal with a matter associated with the honor due people. Many people have sent letters with good wishes and requests. Because of the sheer mass of letters, it is impossible to answer each person individually, — even those letters which are labeled “urgent”, for many letters with that heading are also received — so at this opportunity, answers can be given in a collective manner.

Firstly, the Torah promises, “Those who bless you will be blessed.” Whoever blesses another Jew will be blessed in return by G‑d many times more. Surely, this applies to blessings given at special times such as the present days, the first days of the new year.

In response to all these letters, everyone is blessed to be inscribed for a good and sweet year together with the entire Jewish people, both in regard to material matters (on which the judgment of Rosh Hashanah centers as explained by the Hagaos Maimonis) and also in regard to spiritual manners as explained by my father.