1. This week’s Haftorah concludes with the verse “Zion will be redeemed with judgment and its captives with Tzedakah (charity).” In Likkutei Torah, the Alter Rebbe interprets the word judgment as a reference to the study of Torah. Our study of Torah and gifts to charity have the power to redeem Zion and its captives from Exile.

The obligation to study Torah and give Tzedakah is not limited only to the present times, but applies throughout the year.1 However, during these days,2 this service receives greater emphasis and stress.

[Within the Jewish calendar, the same principle applies in other cases as well. For example, the service of Teshuvah must be carried out every day of the year.3 Nevertheless, there are certain times during the year — Erev Shabbos, Shabbos,4 Erev Rosh Chodesh, and Yom Kippur — when a greater stress is placed on that service.]

Why are Torah and Tzedakah so important now? Since this period emphasizes exile and captivity, it is necessary to carry out services that directly lead to redemption.

The call for an increase in these services is being made on Shabbos, for this is the Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av and, in the Zohar’s words, “all the days of the coming week are blessed from the Shabbos.” It follows that the nature of the Shabbos, a day when “all work has been completed,” when “no sadness exists,” a day of spiritual pleasures, will characterize these activities. They will also be carried out with pleasure.5

2. The purpose of Golus (Exile) is to bring about Geulah (Redemption). The Midrash comments “a ‘lion’ arose in the ‘mazal of the lion’ — i.e. the month with that sign of the Zodiac — and destroyed ‘Ari’el’ in order that a ‘lion’ come and rebuild ‘Ari’el.’“ The first ‘lion’ refers to Nebuchadnezzer, the ‘mazal of the lion’ to the month of Av, Ari’el to Jerusalem, and the second ‘lion’ to G‑d — “the lion has roared” (Amos 3:8). Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in the month of Av in order that it be rebuilt by G‑d.

The Midrash’s comparison of G‑d to a roaring lion has deeper significance. The roar of a lion represents an unlimited expression of energy. It refers to the aspect of G‑dliness that totally transcends limitation. That aspect of G‑dliness was revealed in the Bais Hamikdosh. The Rambam explains that the purpose of the Bais Hamikdosh was to reveal the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) in the “place where the Ark rested.” The Ark was exact in measurement: two and a half cubits long. It was positioned exactly ten cubits from either wall. However, the width of the Kodesh HaKodashim (the room where the Ark rested) was only twenty cubits. The “place where the Ark rested” did not take up any space! This was a combination of the finite (its exact measurements) and the infinite (the fact that it took up no space).

The Maggid of Mezritch explained that everything in the spiritual spheres is dependent on our service. He taught that the statement of the Mishnah “Know what is above you,” can be interpreted to mean “Know that what is above — i.e. in the spiritual realms — ”is from you” — dependent on your actions. Based on that concept it follows that the revelation of G‑d’s infinity is dependent on a parallel service by the Jewish people. By serving G‑d without any boundaries and limitations, we bring about a revelation of G‑dliness that is likewise unbounded. Such service is beyond the nature of a human being, the basic quality of a human being is intelligence. Intelligence is naturally limited.6 To serve G‑d without any limitations, we must rise above our basic character.

Likewise, the particular nature of the revelation in the Bais Hamikdosh, the fusion of the finite and the infinite, must be reflected in our service of Torah and Mitzvos. Torah study is infinite, unbounded in scope, yet its object must be the derivation of a definite and specific Halachic judgment. Similarly, in the realm of Tzedakah. The Mitzvah is unlimited in nature, therefore, the Book of Psalms describes its reward as “standing forever.” Nevertheless, Tzedakah must be limited. It must be given in a form that is acceptable to the receiver.7

The same concept applies to the mission with which the Previous Rebbe, the leader of our generation, charged us: the task of spreading Torah and Mitzvos. Since we were charged with this mission by the Rebbe, our commitment should be unlimited.8 However, on a practical level, that unlimited commitment must be focused on specific areas of activity. Efforts must be made to bring about certain definite activities that produce tangible results.9

[The same principle applies to the concept “love G‑d with all your might.” Chassidic thought explains that this verse is a command to love G‑d without any restrictions, with unbounded feeling. However, there is a stress on individual identity. The Rebbeim have explained that the emphasis is on “your might.” What is beyond your limitations. However, what is unbounded for one individual may lie within the grasp of another.]

Each one of us has to become excited (to the point where we go beyond our bounds) about the service of spreading the wellsprings of Torah. Simultaneously, we must show a practical desire to “get things done.”10 We must spread the campaign to increase the study of Torah and gifts of Tzedakah and also stress the other Mivtzoim as well. Through these actions, we will hasten the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.

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3. This Shabbos is called Shabbos Chazon, meaning the Shabbos of “the vision.” The Berditchiver Rebbe11 explained this with a parable. “A father made a beautiful garment for his son. However, the son ruined it. The father had a duplicate of the original made. But the son ruined it again. The third time, instead of giving the garment to the son, the father held it and showed it to the son from time to time. The garment refers to the Bais’ Hamikdosh. Each year on Shabbos Chazon, G‑d gives each Jew a vision of the Third Bais Hamikdosh.”

The parable brings out two seemingly contrasting points. On one hand, the vision12 is shown to the entire Jewish people. On the other hand, we have to search far to find anyone who has actually seen the vision.

However, the fact that we do not see the vision does not diminish the effect it must have on our behavior. The Rebbe Rashab explained this concept with a parable about a wagoner who is driving two Torah sages in his wagon. The wagoner is thinking of making a living and supporting his family. The horses which are pulling the wagon are “thinking” of their fodder. The sages are discussing Torah. Does the fact that the wagoner and the horses are thinking of other matters affect the Torah which the sages are discussing? The lack of perception does not detract from their discussion. The same concept applies in respect to the vision of the Bais Hamikdosh. Though we do not actually see it with our eyes, it does exist and it has a strong effect on our behavior.13

What is the rationale behind this concept? The Jews are believers, the sons of believers. They believe that their souls see the vision of the Third Bais Hamikdosh. The Jews consider their souls to be primary importance and their bodies secondary. Hence, the body “follows” the soul and is affected by its vision of the Third Bais Hamikdosh. Although the soul’s vision may vary, the resulting practical behavior should always be the same.

The same concept applies to all aspects of Torah and Mitzvos. Each Jew puts on the same Tefillin as Moshe Rabbeinu did. The same transcendent bond with G‑d is established. Although there may be a difference in the feelings and thoughts we have while performing the mitzvah, the actions are all the same.

The fact that the body does not see the vision of the Third Bais Hamikdosh, signifies a descent in the level of the Jews. However, the purpose of this descent is ascent. Through Teshuvah the soul can reach even greater heights than before.

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4. In Pirkei Avos Chapter 2, Mishnah 15, we find the statement “The day is short, there is much work, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master presses.”

This Mishnah is difficult to understand. One of the basic principles in the scheme of creation is that G‑d does not give a man a challenge he cannot overcome. How can G‑d give a man “much work” seemingly more than he can handle, especially if “the day is short?” The question is reinforced by another Chassidic concept; that G‑d created each day and appropriated to it a specific measure of service in Torah and Mitzvos. In view of this principle how can G‑d demand a service that is seemingly disproportionate to the time available to perform it?

We can answer these questions by adopting a more flexible interpretation of the Mishnah. The phrase “the day is short” need not be taken literally. Rather, we can interpret the Mishnah as follows. When considering G‑d’s infinity, how His existence is totally unbounded, then any service short of Mesirus Nefesh (total self-sacrifice) is incomplete. Therefore, “the day is short and there is much work.” Because compared to Mesirus Nefesh, all of our service is lacking.

This concept is reinforced by the Mishnah “against your will you live.” Even if one’s life is totally filled with Torah and Mitzvos (and “one moment of service of Torah and Mitzvos in this world is better than the entire life in the world to come”) still if the service is less than Mesirus Nefesh it is incomplete and therefore “against your will.”

The story of Rav Yosef Karo illustrates this concept. Once it was revealed to Rav Yosef Karo that he would die “Al Kiddush Hashem” (for the sanctification of G‑d’s name). He was very happy with the news. Afterwards, he was told that because of deficiencies on his service, that merit would be taken away from him. Only after this series of events did he write the Shulchan Aruch, through which he received a share in all the Torah and Mitzvos performed by the Jewish people. Nevertheless, had he merited the privilege, he would have died Al Kiddush Hashem and forgone that great merit.

Rabbi Akiva’s story brings out the same principle. When the Romans were torturing him to death, he remarked to his students “all my life I was pained (and asked) when will I have the chance of carrying out this service?” Even though Rabbi Akiva studied Torah, taught it and served as the leader of the entire Jewish people, he longed to perform the service of Mesirus Nefesh.

This is the meaning of the phrase “there is much work.” Mesirus Nefesh (compared to which the general service is a “short day) is a service beyond the scope of understanding. Hence, the need of carrying out such a service is mentioned in Pirkei Avos which teaches commitment beyond the letter of the law.

5. A statement from the following Mishnah of the same chapter also requires explanation. It reads “if you have studied much Torah, a great reward will be given to you.” What is the lesson taught by this Mishnah? It is understandable that studying much Torah brings a great reward.

The aim of Pirkei Avos is to teach behavior beyond the limits )f duty. How does this Mishnah communicate such a lesson? It is possible to explain that the knowledge that a great reward will be given will motivate the Jewish people to study “much Torah.” However, a question still remains. A Jew is obligated to study Torah at every moment of the day. Hence, “much Torah” is still within the limits of duty?

These questions can be understood by explaining another Talmudic concept. The Talmud declares “Hillel14 obligates the poor people (to study Torah).” How can that statement be explained? Torah law obligates every person to study Torah whether rich or poor. Why then do we say that “Hillel obligates the poor people?” A poor man will generally be preoccupied with the challenge of making a living and will not be able to devote that much time to study. Despite this factor, Hillel showed a dedication to Torah study above and beyond the measure of duty. Each day he would do a small amount of work, enough to earn a “trepik,” half of that sum would go to meet his family’s needs and half to pay the entrance fee at the house of study. Hillel made do with just half a “trepik” for his livelihood and spent the rest of his time learning Torah.

When the Mishnah says “if you have studied much Torah” it refers to Torah study similar to that of Hillel’s with dedication beyond the measure of duty. The Mishnah teaches that this level of Torah study will bring about a “great reward” much greater than expected.

6. Shabbos Chazon is one of the nine days of mourning preceding Tisha B’Av. In many other communities, certain customs related to mourning are practiced on Shabbos Chazon. However, the Alter Rebbe was against this and did not change his behavior at all. The same applies to all those who follow his guidelines.15

What is the rationale behind this behavior? Golus has a purpose. Through proper service, the Jewish people will rise to even greater heights than before. However, the Jews are compared to little children. Just as a child is not content with promises, instead cries until they are realized, similarly we must not be satisfied with the promise of the redemption, but must actually witness Moshiach’s coming, speedily in our days.

7. In his treatise on the laws of the Bais Hamikdosh, the Rambam writes (Chapter 2 Law 1) “The place of the Altar is very exact... In the Mikdosh Yitzchok was bound.” He continues in Law 2 “It is a tradition held by all, that the place where Dovid and Shlomo built the Altar on the threshing floor of Arona which is the same place where Avraham built the altar and bound Yitzchok the same place where Noach built an altar when he left the ark, this is the same altar on which Cain and Abel offered their sacrifices, here Adorn brought a sacrifice when he was created. He was created from the same place, as our Sages commented ‘Adorn was created from the place of his atonement.’”

This law raises a number of questions: 1) The Rambam’s text is a book of laws. He limited his text to laws that are practically applicable. Why does he relate all these historical facts? 2) The Midrash relates that Ya’akov also built an altar on the same spot. Why doesn’t the Rambam quote that fact as well? 3) It is known that the Rambam was very exact in wording of the words. In fact, many laws are learnt from an extra unusual word or phrase. What is the Rambam trying to communicate with the words “It is a tradition held by all?”

That phrase provides a key to answering the first two questions. The term “all” includes Gentiles as well. For that reason the Rambam mentions Adorn and Noach, the ancestors of all mankind and Avraham and Yitzchok from whom other nations besides the Jewish people descended.

What is the Halachic relevance of the fact that this tradition is held by all? Our Sages related that “Wherever you find a high mountain or elevated hill or leafy tree, know that an idolatrous object is there.” The question arises: The Bais Hamikdosh was built on a high place; the Temple mount. How could the Altar be built on a place where idolatry was served? The answer is given that the place of the Altar was chosen by a prophet, we therefore knew that in this place no idolatry had been worshipped. However, that fact itself becomes a question. How is it possible that the Gentiles didn’t worship idols on the Temple mount? The Rambam answers that question in the second law. Since the Gentiles also considered the Temple mount to be holy (for the reasons quoted by the Rambam) they did not worship idols upon it.

8. TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: The Rebbe connected the above concept with the prophecy that in Messianic times the Gentiles will recognize the importance of the Bais Hamikdosh. He noted that the prophets placed great stress on Egypt and how it will be transformed into a country which will assist people.

The Rebbe proceeded to criticize the attitude that prevails in may quarters of trying to find favor with Egypt. To that aim, the Jews returned lands that were conquered through open miracles.16 The return of those lands represents a threat of Pikuach Nefesh to the very life of the Jewish people. Furthermore, those lands contain the oil fields which all military experts agree are necessary for the security of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

We need not resign ourselves to this situation. Since the Arabs have broken the Camp David agreement. Therefore, Israel has every right to cancel all commitments. We can find diplomatic means to explain the situation, but the agreement must be cancelled.

What’s most distressing is that the voices that should have been raised in opposition have been silenced by bribes. Those who have accepted the bribes may protest the money has gone to Yeshivos, etc. However, no money that is stained with Jewish blood can help in the education of a Jewish child.

9. We are approaching the coming year which is a Shemitah year. The Ramban explains that Sheveius (the Seventh Year) is a reflection of the Messianic Era. The Torah records special brochos for those who observe Sheveius.