1. This Shabbos is Shabbos Mevorchim Tammuz. There are certain aspects which it shares with other Shabbosos Mevorchim. The Alter Rebbe declared, in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, that G‑d blesses the month of Tishrei and with that power, the Jewish people bless all the months of the year to come. Since the blessing of all the months is derived from the same source, it follows that there is a commonality between them. In addition, each month has a unique feature of its own. Just as in regard to days, the Zohar declares, “Each day carries out its service,” so too, in regard to months, there is a particular equality emphasized by each month, and thus by each Shabbos Mevorchim.

In each month, there are events of general significance that relate to every day of the month.1 For example, the month of Sivan is characterized by the giving of the Torah, which took place on the sixth of the month. That event defined the nature of Sivan as being the third month connected with the three-fold light (Torah, Nivi’im, Kesuvim).

Similarly, in regard to the month of Tammuz, there are certain days which stand out in importance: the seventeenth of Tammuz,2 the day in which the walls of the city of Yerushalayim were destroyed, and Yud-Bais (the twelfth of) Tammuz — the day of the Previous Rebbe’s release from prison. The celebration of the latter is not limited to one individual or one group but relates to all Jews, as the Previous Rebbe himself wrote, “G‑d did not redeem me alone on Yud-Bais Tammuz, but also all who cherish our sacred Torah, who observe the Mitzvos, and all those who are called by the name Israel.” This concept can be simply understood.

At that time, the majority of the Jewish people and of the nation’s scholars and leaders were located in that country. The Previous Rebbe devoted himself to spreading Yiddishkeit throughout Russia. Hence, his redemption had a direct effect on all the Jews of that country. Now, in 5740, we see the children of Jews who were then on the fringe of Jewish involvement. They have become fully Torah observant, fulfilling Mitzvos B’Hiddur (in a glorified manner). These are the fruit of the Previous Rebbe’s labor.

Furthermore, the Previous Rebbe educated students and trained them to seek out Jews even in remote corners of the world and bring them close to Yiddishkeit. The fact that somebody reaches out to a Jew in a faraway place today is a direct result of the Previous Rebbe’s work.

To return to the concept of the seventeenth of Tammuz: On that date, the wall around Yerushalayim was destroyed. In the individual Jew’s service of G‑d, the wall around Yerushalayim refers to the “fence around the Torah.” On the surface, one might ask: What is so bad if a “fence” is destroyed? When it comes to a direct commandment of the Torah, or even of the Rabbis, there is reason for being alarmed. However, what damage is done through the destruction of a “fence”? The seventeenth of Tammuz teaches us that if the Temple, the Holy of Holies, or even the entire city of Yerushalayim remains whole, the destruction of the city’s wall is a serious enough event to warrant the establishment of a fast. For even though we must believe in G‑d and have faith in His power to save, it is necessary to do something to express that trust.3 The fast serves that purpose. On the verse, “A person from you will sacrifice,” the Alter Rebbe explains that a Jew’s sacrifice, his coming close to G‑d, must be from you — from the person himself. When we fast,4 in a very tangible way we give of ourselves, reducing “our fat and our blood” and thus drawing close to G‑d and furthering our trust in Him. Similarly, a fast teaches us lessons that can be applied on yet a larger scope. Fat refers to our feelings of pleasure; blood to our excitement; and thus the spiritual aspect of a fast is to refrain from having pleasure and excitement in material things. This is the lesson of the 17th of Tammuz.

Yud-Bais Tammuz also teaches us a fundamental lesson. At the time of its occurrence, Russia was a powerful nation feared by all the nations of the world. One Jew, without an army, without ambassadors, without many financial resources, pitted himself against that nation’s policies. He showed that when it comes to Yiddishkeit, one need not fear the government. True, the law of the land is law,” but only, when it does not contradict Torah. If such a contradiction should arise, we must know that “our souls never went into Golus.” The Previous Rebbe’s firm stance on this issue brought about his arrest.5 His liberation showed-that such a posture should be maintained with even more perseverance. Even though before “the arrest and liberation” great steps mere taken in this area, after Yud-Bais Tammuz, new and even greater advances were made. The redemption did not affect the, Previous Rebbe alone, but the entire range of the Jewish, people. — Even an individual with little Jewish involvement in a remote corner-of the world today was influenced by his release.

The two events, Yud-Bais Tammuz and the Seventeenth of Tammuz, are interrelated. The seventeenth of Tammuz teaches that even a fence or a wall around Torah, even though it is not itself Torah and Mitzvos, must be considered as important as if it were, and a strong stance adopted to defend it. Similarly, Yud-Beis Tammuz teaches that on a question which affects Yiddishkeit, no matter what the pressures facing one are, one must not be budged from one’s stance of strength.

There is even a closer ‘connection between’ — the two events. A city consists of the city and its walls, and in the realm of Torah, there is the Torah and the fence around the Torah. In regard to the Jewish people, there are those who can be compared to a fence. In Parshas Nitzavim, when the Torah lists the ten categories of the Jewish people, it begins with “your head*, (the leaders of) your tribes” and ends with “your choppers of trees* and “drawers of water.” The purpose of those in the latter categories is to help prepare ‘things ‘for the heads and-the leaders; Thus, they parallel in function the “fence Around torah.” This category of wood-choppers and water-carriers is parallel to that of “all those who are called by the name Israel.” The Hebrew word for this phrase is ‘Yechunah,’ related to the word ‘Kinui,’ which means nickname or pseudonym, i.e., someone who does not consider Israel his real name, but rather a pseudonym by which others refer to him. This is the lowest category of Jews. Hence, they are considered merely “a fence” to the Jewish, people. Just’ as the seventeenth of Tammuz teaches us that a fence is important to Torah, Yud-Bais Tammuz teaches that a Jew who is merely on the level of a fence is also important.

There is another connection between the two dates. Our sages tell us (Megillah 13b) that “G‑d reveals the medicine before the blow.” Yud-Bais Tammuz is the medium whose celebration enables the seventeenth of Tammuz, the blow, to be transformed into “a day of rejoicing” in Messianic times.

The above provides a practical lesson for our behavior. We have to stand firm in all matters of Yiddishkeit, without being affected by any difficulties, conscious that we are doing what G‑d wants, acting as His emissaries. This resolute stand must extend even to a mere fence to the Torah and even when challenged by a powerful country. The strength to carry on this service is derived from the blessing of the month of Tammuz. Even if one’s initial efforts do not seem to meet with success, one must be conscious that “If he comes to purify himself, he is helped from Above” and he will soon see the fruit of his work. Through this course of action, we will hasten the complete and true redemption led by Moshiach, speedily in our days.

2. The above relates to the blessing of the month of Tammuz every year. This year, the date on which Shabbos Mevorchim falls is the 23rd of Sivan, and the portion of the Torah Shelach is read on that day.

The book of Esther specifically mentions the 23rd of Sivan.6 “In the third month, the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day thereof, the scribes of the king were called, and it was written exactly what Mordechai had dictated to the Jews, as well as to the governors... throughout 127 provinces,” (8:9) annulling the decrees which the king under Haman’s influence had issued. On this day, it was publicly announced that those decrees, even though they were “written and sealed with the king’s ring,” were no longer valid. The very same king who had made the decrees had annulled them. Furthermore, he himself had commanded his couriers and horsemen to hurry and spread his new decree throughout the kingdom.

We can draw a lesson from this, connecting these events with those of Yud-Bais Tammuz. As mentioned above, the Previous Rebbe showed the way to take a firm stance even if challenged by a powerful nation. In a similar fashion, the twenty-third of Sivan teaches us that even when in Golus and being the servants of Achashverosh, we must follow Mordechai’s example, neither bowing or bending, refusing to sacrifice even the slightest aspect of Yiddishkeit despite the pressures with which we are faced. Even though for a time there might be a severe decree against the Jewish people, one should proceed, confident that the king will eventually reject his initial decree and send out his couriers in a rush to announce that it has been annulled. A Jew must know that when he adopts a strong and firm stand in regard to Torah and Mitzvos, not wavering in the face of pressure, he will eventually prevail.

May these days “be remembered and carried out.” On that verse the Baal Shem Tov explained that if they are remembered correctly, the same events which took place originally will recur. May we witness this at present, seeing all the decrees which the powerful nations have made against the Jewish people be annulled.

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3. Parshas Shelach teaches us the story of the spies. These men were among the leaders of the nation and were sent by Moshe to spy out the land of Israel. Nevertheless, when they returned they tried to convince the Jewish people not to enter Israel, protesting, “The nation that resides in the land is strong... we are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.” The portion continues showing how rather than save the Jewish people through their advice, they caused the Jews to wander in the desert for forty years.7 On the other hand, Calev and Yehoshua, who strove to negate the spies’ counsel, entered Israel and received a good portion. The Torah is eternal. The relevance of its stories is not limited to a specific age or generation, but rather extends to all times and places. More particularly, the portion of the Torah read on Shabbos provides a particularly applicable lesson, as the Alter Rebbe comments, “We must live with the times — adapt our lives to the teachings of the weekly portion.”

The relevance of the story of the spies to our present times can be explained in terms of the fact that every action that a person carries out has two facets. Every physical act also has a spiritual parallel. For example, the sacrifices in the Temple were paralleled by the service of prayer. Furthermore, even after the physical act of the sacrifices ceased, the spiritual parallel remained relevant. Similarly, in this case, though the actual story of the spies took place years ago, its spiritual parallel applies in the present time as well.

The intention of the spies’ journey was to assist in the transformation of the land of Canaan into the land of Israel, a land of which it is said, “The eyes of the L‑rd, your G‑d, are upon it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” In our lives, the parallel is that we make every effort to conduct our daily activities in a manner in which “all your deeds will be for the sake of Heaven” and “know G‑d in all your ways.” In the midst of these efforts, the Yetzer Hora may protest, as did the spies, arguing that the nation is too strong and the land is too strong, i.e., that the physical and material nature of the world cannot be transformed. If one remains adamant, stating that G‑d sent each Jew into the world to transform it, the Yetzer Hora will protest: “I am a spy sent out by Moshe to appraise the situation and in my opinion, the world is impossible to conquer.”

Nevertheless, though the spies were Moshe’s emissaries, he did not send them into Israel to try to evaluate whether or not an attempt should be made to conquer the land. The scope of their mission was to determine the best way to achieve that conquest, to find out the most direct natural means to accomplish that goal. It was not their place to question G‑d’s command or to convince the Jewish people not to follow it. Similarly, the Yetzer Hora in its guise as a “spy” should not be able to influence one to hold back one’s involvement in the world. It should have no effect even though it argues that Israel is a “land that devours its inhabitants,” i.e. that if one becomes involved in the world and with other Jews, one will be swayed away from Yiddishkeit, overcome by material desires. Therefore, it will argue, it is better to remain above the influence of the worldly affairs. The story of the spies shows that those who adopted this approach brought the Jews into great danger, while Calev and Yehoshua, who forcefully argued in favor of the entry into Israel, flourished.

The spies claimed they were Moshe’s emissaries as did Yehoshua and Calev, and the common people had no alternative but to ask Moshe himself what he thought. Similarly, the only way we can find out what to do when faced with such a question is to look into the Shulchan Aruch. There it clearly states how the service of “all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven,” and “know G‑d in all your ways,” is an important service. Furthermore, it reveals the importance of the commands, “Love your fellowman as yourself” and “Do not stand by (the spilling of) the blood of your fellowman,” which obligate one to become involved with other Jews.

In order to succeed in our involvement in the world and with other Jews, spying is necessary. In order to influence someone, it is necessary to appreciate his level, to understand what his position is so that Torah can be presented in a form that relates to him. To cite a gross example, if a child only understands English and someone should try to educate him in Hebrew, arguing that it is the holy tongue, the language in which the Heavens and the Earth were created, he would not succeed. Rather, the child must be taught in English. In this manner, one will be successful, fulfilling the command, “And you shall teach your children — the students.”

Trans. Note: The Rebbe Shlita continued explaining that another lesson can be learned from Parshas Shelach that is directly applicable to our times. He compared the slandering actions of the spies to the defeatist approach that is governing the actions of many in Israel today. Mentioning the group Sholom Achshav by name a number of times, the Rebbe emphasized that such an approach threatens the very safety of Israel and its people.

4. This week’s portion describes G‑d’s outpouring of wrath after the sins of the spies. He declared that “I will smite them (the Jewish people) with the pestilence, and destroy them, and will make you (Moshe) a greater and a mightier nation than they.” When Moshe heard this, he protested that if the gentile nations would hear that G‑d had killed the Jewish people, they would declare, “Because the L‑rd was not able to bring this people into the land which He has sworn unto them, therefore He has slaughtered them in the wilderness.” They had defeated Pharaoh; still, as Rashi (14:16) comments, to defeat one king is a much lesser achievement than the conquering of the thirty-one kings of Canaan.

This series of statements raises a number of questions: When G‑d told Moshe that He would kill millions of Jews, Moshe’s only argument against this was, “What will the gentiles say?” [On the surface, asking G‑d’s mercy for them would have been a stronger argument.] Furthermore, G‑d had told Moshe that He would make him into a great nation and that his descendents would inherit the land of Israel. Thus Moshe’s argument, that the nation’s would say it is impossible for G‑d to bring the Jews into Israel had no place.

There are also a number of other questions that arise. For example, G‑d says, “I will destroy them” and Moshe changes the verb, using the word “slaughter” instead. Despite these obvious questions, Rashi makes no comment. The aim of Rashi’s commentary is to allow a beginning student to easily comprehend the text, and if a problem arises Rashi either answers it or declares, “I don’t know.” Hence, the fact that he refrains from comment in this instance implies that the concept can be understood. If so, how are the above questions resolved?

These questions can be understood in terms of the following basic principle. G‑d has given His commandments for man’s benefit. Fulfilling them will give man a good life in this world. This concept is clearly stated in the Torah, which declares, “If you walk, in My statutes, I will bring your rains in their seasons...” Similarly, if G‑d punishes someone, that punishment is for his own good; giving him a punishment in this world in order that he can approach the next world without a blemish. Even if the punishment is death, the purpose of that punishment is to purify the person’s soul. Since the Jews had angered G‑d because of the sins of the spies, it would be for their own good if they were punished by death. Were they allowed to live longer, their lives would be filled with difficulties because they had transgressed G‑d’s will. This concept is communicated in Moshe’s words, “slaughter them.” Slaughtering implies raising the level of the animal, preparing it to be elevated by becoming food for men. Similarly, the Jewish people would be elevated by their death. Therefore, Moshe could not ask G‑d to have mercy on the Jews and was forced to seek another argument.

The argument he chose, that the non-Jews would lose their belief in G‑d, was based on the following rationale. A non-Jew must also believe in G‑d and observe the seven Mitzvos commanded to the sons of Noach. If G‑d would perform an act that would damage that belief, i.e. the destruction of the Jewish people, it would seem, as it were, that He was preventing the gentiles from believing in Him.

Furthermore, G‑d’s promise to Moshe — “I will make you into a great nation” would not be able to satisfactorily answer the question aroused. It would take a number of years for Moshe and his descendents to multiply to the point where their numbers approached 600,000. Since G‑d had told Moshe that “little by little, I will drive them out before you until you multiply and inherit the land,” the full conquest of the land of Canaan would have to wait until then. During the time in between, the gentiles would think it impossible for G‑d to bring the Jewish people into Israel.

5. In the portion of Shelach, the Medrash explains that the names of the spies reflect their actions. Just as their actions are bad, their names are bad. From this Medrash, we can see how important names are, and we come to appreciate the importance of having and using Jewish names. This is particularly true in our times when the threat of assimilation is very great.8 In such a situation, it is very important to strengthen the factors that “distinguish between Israel and the nations.” A name is not a primary factor in one’s life, and does not represent a person’s character. All it does is give another person the opportunity of relating to him. Nevertheless, the Talmud teaches that R. Meir would derive insights about a person’s nature from his name and that “a name causes” (events to occur). Therefore it is important to stress the use of Jewish names. Instead of calling one Abraham, the name Avraham should be used. Even though in America there was an Abraham who was among the “pious of the gentiles” and freed the slaves, he cannot be compared to a Jew. Hence, the Jewish name should be used.

The above particularly applies to teachers when dealing with their students. They should use their Hebrew names. When a child knows his name is Avraham, he realizes that he was named after the Avraham described in the Chumash. This knowledge affects every aspect of his behavior. Similarly, it makes a big difference if when the mother tells her daughter to light candles, she calls her Sorah, not Sara or Cindi. These simple things will strengthen the child’s Jewish identity. His Jewishness will become apparent in every aspect of his life, even in the everyday mundane things, e.g. speech, dress, eating, drinking, etc. Even though he may walk down the same street as a non-Jew, even if he walks hand-in-hand with the non-Jew, it will be possible to recognize him as a Jew. He will shun immorality and be responsive to a Jew’s needs. Even when he sleeps, it will be possible to recognize that he is Jewish.9

Therefore, if the practice of using Jewish names has not been adopted as of yet, it should be done in the future. These efforts will hasten the coming of Moshiach and the complete and true redemption.


6. This week’s chapter of Pirkei Avos contains four different statements by R. Akiva. A Mishnah in Pirkei Avos is representative of the sage’s character. Thus, it follows that these statements reveal fundamental insights into the character of R. Akiva. One of those Mishnahs (3:14) states, “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d];... Beloved are the people Israel, for they are called children of G‑d... Beloved are the people Israel, for a precious article was given to them...” The first statement, “beloved is man,” applies to both Jews and non-Jews. Hence, it is particularly appropriate that this Mishnah was authored by R. Akiva, for he went through the three stages described. He stemmed from a family of converts: therefore he was able to distinguish the preciousness of being a man without any relation to be a Jew.10 He also sensed the advantage of being a Jew even without any direct connection to Torah, for until he was forty he did not study. After that age, he sensed the dearness of a Jew’s connection with G‑d through Torah. In fact, his study reached such great heights that the entire oral law as we have it is dependent on him.11

This concept allows us to understand the following Mishnah: “Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted.” Every Jew will eventually return to G‑d and fulfill Torah and Mitzvos. This is his nature and it cannot be otherwise. He has free will to choose whether he will make this decision in this incarnation or the next incarnation; however, he cannot change his nature. On the other hand, a convert truly expresses free will, for he accepts without any obligation the commitment to fulfill Torah and Mitzvos.

Similarly, Mishnah 13, “Tradition [the transmitted oral Torah] is a fence around the Torah...,” is related to the fact that R. Akiva was a convert. The Talmud states that a convert has a tendency to return to his previous ways.12 Hence, because of his lineage, R. Akiva understood the need for extra care and “fences.”

R. Akiva’s story also enables us to understand Mishnah 16 which states, “The collectors make their rounds regularly, each day, and exact payment from man... and they have on what to rely; the judgment is a judgment of truth...”

The Talmud Menachos 29b states that G‑d showed Moshe the future history of the Jewish people. He showed him R. Akiva teaching Torah, and he advised him of the bitter death he would endure at the hands of the Romans [he was combed to death with iron combs]. When Moshe heard this, he protested, “Is this Torah and this its reward?” G‑d replied to him, “Be silent; so arose in My thoughts.” Hence, it is R. Akiva who must declare, “They have on what to rely...” for his experience allowed him to appreciate this lesson. He did not protest, “Is this Torah and this its reward?”

The above presents a lesson to us. We may meet a Jew who appears to be like a descendent of a convert. His face does not appear Jewish and he knows nothing of Yiddishkeit. One might think, his actions brought him to this fate and hence there is no need to reach out to him. The story of R. Akiva shows the exact opposite. R. Akiva descended from converts and did not study until he was forty. Yet, he was able to reach such heights in study that our entire study of the oral law depends on him. What motivated him to learn? He saw how water had broken through a stone and he understood how Torah could conquer nature. The same applies to every Jew. We cannot appreciate the qualities he possesses. It’s possible that if we involve ourselves with him, he will mature like R. Akiva.

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7. Trans. Note: The Rebbe Shlita spoke out against family planning again. (Note Shabbos Parshas Nasso, Nshei Convention, Shabbos Parshas Korach.) He mentioned that the efforts to stop it must also extend to non-Jews, for they were also commanded to raise families. Furthermore, some aspects of family planning involve murder and theft which they are prohibited from committing.