1. In the Yom Tov service, we recite the prayer, “Atah Vechartonu” — “You (G‑d) chose us.” However, this prayer is not recited on any other occasion, not even on Shabbos or Rosh Chodesh. The Avudraham (Translator’s note: One of the foremost medieval commentators on the Siddur) explains that G‑d’s choice of the Jewish people1 took place on Mt. Sinai with the giving of the Torah. The institution of the Shabbos was commanded before then, at the encampment in Marah; therefore, Shabbos is not connected with that choice.

At this point, a question arises: we find the concept of choice even before Mt. Sinai. In reference to the Exodus from Egypt, we find the expression, “When G‑d chose Ya’akov and his sons, he fixed for them a month of redemption.”2 Likewise, the Exodus is described as “taking one nation from within the midst of another.”3 Therefore, how can the Avudraham say that Shabbos was instituted before the choice of the Jews?

The answer to this question depends upon an explanation of the concept of choice. Chassidic thought describes two levels of choice: 1) a choice that is made because of a reason: for example, the Torah’s command, “and choose life.” There, the choice comes a result of the awareness that G‑d is the source of all life; 2) a choice that is not motivated by any reason whatsoever. This level refers to service of G‑d stemming from love, without any thought of reward. In Hebrew, this service is referred to as “Avodah L’shma,” “service for the sake of Torah and Mitzvos themselves.”4

These two categories of choice are not only found in man’s service to G‑d but can also be seen in G‑d’s relationship to the Jewish people. The first level of choice, the rung connected with reason, describes the choice of the Jewish people before the giving of the Torah. G‑d chose Ya’akov and his sons. Why? Because Ya’akov was the “elite of the forefathers” — “all of his sons were righteous.” He and the Jewish people, his descendents, merited to be chosen.5 Furthermore, G‑d had promised Ya’akov that he would take his children out of Egypt. He was obligated by that promise to redeem them. Therefore, the Exodus cannot be considered total free choice.

At Mt. Sinai, G‑d expressed free choice, beyond all boundaries and limitations. The infinite nature of the choice caused the annulment of the divine decree separating spirituality from physicality. Before Mattan Torah, the upper realms (G‑dliness, spirituality) could not descend (to the physical world) and the lower realms (man and his world) could not ascend. At Mt. Sinai, “G‑d (the epitome of the upper realms) descended on Mt. Sinai” and “Moshe (the representative of the Jewish people) rose up to G‑d.”6

Since the nature of these two levels of choice is quite different, they cannot be included in the same prayer. The “Atah Vechartonu,” recited on Yom Tov, should not be recited on Shabbos. The two levels are not related to one another. The ultimate infinity represented by the choice during Mattan Torah transcended totally the level of choice connected with Shabbos.7 To mix the two would be analogous to praising a king who possessed vast treasure houses of gold and silver for owning a copper penny.8

2. This year’s celebration of Shavuos contains an added lesson. The Talmud teaches that the giving of the Torah took place on Shabbos.9 Since the time the calendar was fixed, it has been impossible for Shavuos to fall on Shabbos. Therefore, only in a year like the present one, when at least the second day of Shavuos comes out on Shabbos, can the intrinsic connection between Torah and Shabbos be emphasized.

Furthermore, in previous years10 I explained the connection Shavuos shares with King David and the Baal Shem Tov, who both passed away then. The Talmud teaches that King David died on the Shabbos, showing a relationship between him and that day.

The Zohar explains that from the Shabbos, all the ensuing days are blessed. May that blessing and the joy that is brought about through the holiday of Shavuos, cause Torah to be drawn down into all the days of the coming week and of the year to come.11


3. As mentioned above, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai effected a radical change in the relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people. Before Mt. Sinai, the Jews had also studied Torah. The Talmud relates how Avraham, Yitzchok, and Ya’akov were al? involved in Torah learning. Then, however, their study was limited to the finite grasp of human beings.12 After Mt. Sinai an infinite level of Torah was revealed.13

There is no way we can compare ourselves to our forefathers. They were totally devoted to G‑d’s will, to the point that they had no existence of their own. (Therefore, they are called G‑d’s chariot). Nevertheless, now, after Mattan Torah, our study surpasses theirs. Why? Because in the Talmud’s words, “Whenever a Jew studies Torah, G‑d studies opposite him,” or, in the words of the Maggid Mishorim “I (G‑d) am the teaching that is being spoken by your mouth.”14 The awareness of G‑d’s involvement in our Torah study is developed through the concentration on the blessing before Torah study.15

The same concept applies in regard to the performance of Mitzvos. Even though Avraham performed all the Mitzvos (even Rabbinic ordinances like Eruv Tavshilin), his performance of them did not have the same power as ours. Our sages commented, “All the Mitzvos performed by the forefathers were valorous — but ours are like oil.” What is the difference? Their performance of Mitzvos did not affect the physical nature of the world, and ours can. When we perform a Mitzvah, the physical objects themselves become holy.16

The giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai took a world that is by nature limited and lifted it to the level of infinity, beyond all boundaries and limitations. Take, for example, the Mitzvah of Tefillin. The Tefillin contain four portions of the Torah. A specific shape is prescribed for its boxes. Yet within the context of these limits, performance of this Mitzvah draws G‑d’s infinite energies and arouses us to levels beyond all limitations.

At this point, a question arises: How can we perform a service beyond all limitations when our souls are restricted by our limited bodies?

Chassidic thought explains this concept in its definition of the phrase in Shema, “B’Chol Maodecha,” commonly translated as, “With all your might.” The word “maod” actually means “very much.” This phrase is a command to serve G‑d with an unmeasured commitment. How can He issue such a command to a human being? The answer is that the Torah is not asking that the soul expire in passionate yearning. What Torah expects is that we go beyond our nature, break our normal patterns of service to G‑d: to borrow the example quoted in the Talmud, “If one was used to studying 100 hundred times, he must study 101 times.” Likewise, in regard to Tzedakah, Torah expects us to give a greater contribution than usual.

4. The above concepts are closely related to the call issued before Shavuos for an increase in the study of Torah and contributions to charity.17

Then, it was requested that special attention be paid to involving children in this campaign. It is much easier to motivate them to increase their Torah and Tzedakah activities, In general, any time someone’s approach is not intellectual but is motivated by emotion — or even more so motivated by “Kabbalas Ol”18 (acceptance of the Heavenly Yoke) — it as easier to bring him to increase his service. This particularly applies to children, who are generally easier to influence, because they are accustomed to relying upon other people and therefore don’t have a complex independent decision-making process to stand in the way. Likewise, they would accept this call more easily than adults, and carry out the instructions with true childish innocence.

May these activities bring the coming of the Moshiach, when he will reveal the ultimate levels of Torah study and of charity. (Although “there will be no poor man amongst you,” there will still exist the Mitzvah of Gemilus Chassadim (Kindness) which is even applicable to rich people).

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5. Commentaries explain that at Mattan Torah the Jews went through a process similar to conversion. Given on the principle, “A convert is just like a newborn child,” we can say that the education of the Jewish people began then.19 Likewise, the Midrash compares Mt. Sinai to a cheder (school).

The concept of, and need for education, are applicable to all of us. Pirkei Avos says “Who is a wise man? He who learns (present tense) from every man.” We must constantly be learning. To do so properly, we must evaluate ourselves honestly without any self-bribery. We must not exaggerate our positive qualities or claim attributes we don’t possess. If we want a true Chinuch (Jewish education) we must look at ourselves honestly, open ourselves up completely without holding back and let ourselves be educated as G‑d wants.

However, though education is relevant to all of us, it is particularly applicable to children. Likewise, they share a direct relationship to Shavuos: they were the guarantors G‑d accepted for the Torah. Therefore, it is appropriate for them all to say “L’Chaim,” sing a joyful niggun, and dance with all their being.

And this dancing will involve their teachers and counselors, and then may we all dance to greet Moshiach speedily in our days.

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6. The Midrash relates that after he had sealed the decree for the destruction of the Jewish people, Haman met three Jewish children. He asked of them, “Tell me the verses you have learned.” One child answered, “Do not fear sudden terror or the destruction of the wicked when it comes.” The second replied, “They contrive plans but they are foiled; they conspire plots, but they don’t materialize, because G‑d is with us.” The third continued, “To your old age I am with you. In your advanced years, I will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you. I will sustain you and deliver you.” After (and as a result of) this meeting, “G‑d was with us” and Haman’s plans were foiled.

The lesson to be derived from this story is that Jewish children have to be taught Torah and must memorize it. Then, when a non-Jew stops them in the street, they will have a Torah answer.

We must dedicate ourselves to this task and make sure it is accomplished. G‑d gives us a reward for noble thoughts but on a practical level, nothing is accomplished with thoughts alone. Even if you have no proper intentions, even if the only reason you get involved in Chinuch is because someone else forces you, your thoughts don’t matter. What is important is the ultimate goal: the education of Jewish children.20

It’s necessary21 to have teachers who fear G‑d and follow His commandments, teachers who learn with children using genuine Torah texts and with separate classes for boys and girls. If they learn under the circumstances, then the children’s education will always affect them. Their study will bring about deed and change their daily life.

And through the above activities — in particular through the memorization of Torah concepts — we will thwart the plans of those similar to Haman.

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7. It is appropriate to continue the spirit of the holiday of Shavuos into the weekdays afterwards. Therefore, it is customary to hold a Kinus Torah (an assembly dedicated to Torah study) on the following day.22

Jewish thought describes the relationship between the Mishkan (sanctuary in the desert) and Torah study. Regarding the Mishkan, the Talmud explains that the women gave more to it than the men. In light of that reference, it is appropriate that they also hold a Kinus Torah. They should stress those Mitzvos which apply to women, particularly the three Mivtzoim: the lighting of Shabbos candles, Kashrus, and Taharas HaMishpacha.

8. Generally, I hesitate to speak about Russian Jews — what’s spoken here is heard there23 and has an effect on the government policy towards Jews. However, it is important to mention one point. Now, many Jews are being allowed to leave Russian. Even though throughout their entire upbringing they were prevented from receiving a Jewish education, fulfilling Mitzvos, etc. they should not let those previous experiences halt their involvement in Jewish life now. Particularly in view of the Previous Rebbe’s statement, “Our bodies alone, not our souls, were sent into Golus,” they should not feel cut off from their heritage and should take all steps possible to enhance their Jewish life.