Reshimos No. 59 — 28 Elul 5689
A Bar Mitzvah letter written to the Rebbe’s cousin,
Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Entry in diary on 28 Elul 5689 — a Bar Mitzvah letter written to the Rebbe’s cousin, Menachem Mendel (both on his father’s side, his father being R. Shmuel Schneerson — the brother of R. Levi Yitzchak, the Rebbe’s father, and on his mother’s side, his mother being Miriam Gittel, the sister of Rebbetzin Chanah, the Rebbe’s mother, who were both the daughters of R. Meir Shlomo Halevi Yanovski).

28 Elul 5689, Riga

My Dear Menachem,

In celebration of your thirteenth birthday, the day of your Bar Mitzvah, I wanted to talk with you face-to-face, but until we actually meet in person, I must make do with putting my words into writing, hoping that, in time, after you have read thoroughly all I have written, you will reply, either in writing or verbally, telling me, your thoughts and reflections on what I have written.

One would have thought that on the day of a Bar Mitzvah — when the boy becomes obligated to keep the mitzvos like a grown-up — the day he is considered an Adam — the day that his yetzer tov enters and he becomes a fully-fledged member of klal Yisrael — that tachanun should not be recited, and the day distinguished by desisting from work, like a Yom Tov.

However, tachanun is recited and a normal learning schedule is kept.

The reason for this is that none of us were created to spend life as during a festival, rather, man was born to toil.1 The world is not a wedding-feast,2 and man is not to don his Shabbos clothes and indulge in festivities all his days like a Yom Tov or Shabbos. Rather, this world is a world of action and work. “Today we must do them,”3 “The work is great,”4 and man was created to serve,5 guard and toil,6 and he is not free to desist from the work.7

The first Bar Mitzvah mentioned in the Torah is that of Yitzchak. The Sages tell us that Avraham was a king.8 He was very wealthy and had many servants, he was laden with livestock, silver and gold.9 He also benefited from a treaty with the neighboring kings.10 Despite his position, many mocked Avraham for the path he followed.11 However, with an uplifted arm did he publicize his faith and belief to all passers-by,12 thereby converting many a soul.13

On the day of Yitzchak’s Bar Mitzvah, he made a great feast14 and invited many kings and princes to participate. During the feast, some of those invited laughed at Avraham and scoffed at the simchah saying: “We are the powerful ones, we have the might — with one finger we can humble him!”15 However Avraham was not deterred or moved by them but continued in his path, in the way of the L‑rd, and he guarded it, doing righteousness and justice.16

As time passed, those who scoffed at Avraham fell into the hands of Avraham’s many thousands of descendants.17

Regarding the second Bar Mitzvah (mentioned in the Torah) we are told that Yitzchak gave birth to two sons, Esav and Yaakov. Both went to school18 and up to the age of Bar Mitzvah both were educated by Avraham and Yitzchak. Immediately after the age of Bar Mitzvah,19 Esav began to visit houses of idol-worship; he mingled well with people and found favor in their eyes. Sorcery was on his lips and trickery in his mouth.20 He wore expensive clothes,21 indulged in good food and was counted among the leading hunters and warriors of the time.

Yaakov his younger brother, although witnessing the success of his brother, and notwithstanding the scorn heaped upon him, was not moved from his path. From the day of Bar Mitzvah, he separated himself from his brother, and became an Ish Tam22 studying diligently in the study-halls of the elders Shem and Ever23 all the days of his life, and he “went in the way of life.”

And let it be said of Yaakov — do not fear Yaakov24 — the L‑rd will bless you and multiply you — many peoples will serve you and nations will bow down unto you for you will be the master of your brother25 and kings will go forth from your loins.26 And it shall be in the end of days that there will be no remnant of the house of Esav,27 I will send fire into Teman and it will consume the palaces of Bozrah.28 And the remnant of Yaakov will be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the animals of the forest... and there will be no rescuer.29 For G‑d has restored the pride of Yaakov.30 For the day of G‑d upon all the nations is close!31

One generation passed and Yaakov, also, celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of his two sons, Shimon and Levi. It was at that time that they were coerced with strength and force to change their ways and succumb to the will of others.

And it32 happened that when Yaakov traveled from Lavan his uncle to see his father Yitzchak — and Yaakov had a large family and33 retinue — they rested on the way in Shchem.34 Yaakov, his sons and daughters and the entire household numbered but a few35 compared to the numerous and powerful Canaanites, Perizites and Hivites surrounding them. The sons of Yaakov wished neither to mix with their neighbors nor to learn their ways. They acquired a field, pitched their tents and served G‑d.36 However, the Hivites inquired of them and requested that they become united as a nation,37 a nation that no longer stood alone.38 They promised that the land extending before them would be for them a wide and bountiful land to inhabit and inherit.39 The Hivites then abducted the daughter of Yaakov, and she was in the house of Shchem and Chamor, chieftains in the land. The sons of Yaakov were incensed by the disgraceful conduct of their neighbor. They were not afraid, they knew that right was on their side and they cut down Shchem with the sword.

When they were challenged with the question40 — “Were you not afraid of the Hivites and the Perizites?” they replied, “We will not rest, for a disgrace has happened in Israel, it shall never happen again.” It was precisely at that time that Shimon and Levi celebrated their Bar Mitzvah. Precisely at that moment they fought against any injustice and disgrace and defended with all their might their religion and customs.

May G‑d grant that from the day of Bar Mitzvah you should continually grow to be faithful to all that is holy to us and guard and defend all that is precious to us. You should be an example in your way of life and conduct for a “name and beauty” among us and a source of pride to our family.

Reshimos No. 130
Entry for Shabbos Bereishis, 27 Tishrei, 5702
The meaning of the names Shmuel and Pinchas. /
Three questions answered by three Bar Mitzvahs.

Bar Mitzvah (of Shmuel Pinchas Halevi Eber) Shabbos Parshas Bereishis 27 Tishrei, 5702.

The name of the Bar Mitzvah is Shmuel Pinchas. The Baal Shem Tov said41 that one must learn a lesson in avodas Hashem from everything that one sees and hears. This is certainly the case regarding a name, for it is stated in many holy books42 that parents are Divinely inspired in their choice of a name for the child, and the life-energy is drawn from the soul to the body through the name.43

A person’s name also reflects his avodah, as we find in the case of Yehoshua, of whom it is said, ohkdrn ,mgn lghauh vWh — “may Hashem save you from the counsel of the spies,”44 an. Yoma 83b — when R. Meir heard that a man was called Kidor, he understood from the name that this was a wicked man, basing himself on the verse — Haazinu 32:20 Ki Dor Tahapuchos — for they are a generation of reversals. See also Igros Kodesh, Vol. I, p. 288.

The name of this Bar Mitzvah is Shmuel Pinchas.

The source for the name Shmuel is, “I requested him from Hashem45 — the word Shmuel having its root in the word sh’elah “request.” Sh’elah also has the connotation, “borrowed.” Therefore, the verse may also be translated as “borrowed from Hashem.” An object that is borrowed must be returned to its owner in its original state.46 The borrower only has permission to use the borrowed item for its conventional purpose.

The implication for one’s service of G‑d is the following: G‑d does not make unreasonable demands of His creatures47 for “according to the camel is the load.”48 Therefore, in order to allow him to be victorious in the battle with the body and the animal soul, the G‑dly soul — with all its inherent powers which will allow it to be victorious — is “lent” to a person.

This is what the Sages mean when they say,49Mashbi’im” — (that the G‑dly soul is made to take an oath that, when it descends into the body, it will be righteous), and this has two meanings; a) the expression of a “shvuah” (oath), the oath penetrating to and arousing the quintessential point of Jewishness50 [this being the reason why (after much debate51 among the Sages) it was decided that one who is doubted in fiscal matters is not doubted when taking an oath52 ], b) being an expression of “sova” (being satiated) — that the soul is satiated with the power necessary to fulfil its mission. In fact, both senses correspond: since G‑d does not make unreasonable demands of His creatures, if He requires that the soul take an oath to be righteous, He must also give the ability to fulfil the oath.

It is necessary at all times for a person to remember that his G‑dly soul and its powers are only leased to him, and that the soul must be returned intact, as the Sages say53 “Would that a person’s exit from the world resemble his coming into the world.” This is also the meaning of Chanah’s words,54 “and also I lent him to G‑d.”

Now, a borrower is liable for all types of damages,55 even those caused by accidents, except in the case where “an animal dies in the normal course of working” in which case the borrower is exempt.56 In avodas Hashem this refers to self-sacrifice, a type of avodah where a person would even “die,” that is, give up his soul in order to gain victory over the body. However — who could possibly survive in such circumstances — where he is liable for all the damage done to the G‑dly soul?

There is, however, one other situation in which a borrower is exempt — and this is the advice to be given to the borrower — and that is, that the borrowing should only be undertaken with the owner present. As the Talmud57 states, “If one who wants to borrow something from his friend and (at the same time be exempted from all liability should say to the friend before actually taking possession of the item, “Give me some water to drink,” for this is also a case of borrowing with the owner in the borro. Ibid., 95b — if the owner was with the borrower that is, was in his service at the time of borrowing, he need not be with the borrower at the time the animal suffered a broken limb or died for the borrower to receive this exemption. It is sufficient that they were together when the cow was lent.

In avodas Hashem, this means that the borrowing of the G‑dly soul must be “with the owner in service at the time of borrowing,” that is, the owner must request — in prayer — water to drink — bodily needs at the time of borrowing — and not later — at the time of the accident.

This is the reason why the Sages prohibited eating before prayer58 and it is also prohibited to attend to one’s business before prayer,59 rather one should pray immediately upon rising from bed,60 even before learning Torah.61

If a person would start using his daily borrowed G‑dly soul before prayer — which is the time for requesting his needs (from the owner), the fact that the owner is with him afterwards will not help — for the owner was not there at the time of borrowing. However if he prayed immediately upon rising, then the borrowing of the G‑dly soul took place at a time when the owner was present — during prayer — in such circumstances the halachah for all guardians is that if the owner is present at the time of borrowing, the guardian is exempt, even for neglect.62

And this is the meaning of the verse in Shmuel that “All his days he was on loan to the L‑rd,”63 and everywhere he went he had his own four cubits, as the Sages say, commenting on the verse64 “for there was his house” — that wherever he went his house went with him.65

One can draw another lesson from the name Pinchas.

The way of serving Hashem, particularly in our times, must be in the manner of Pinchas, who demonstrated self-sacrifice. He was not afraid of the men of the tribe of Shimon, from whom he was only saved by a miracle.66 Had Pinchas consulted the courts, they would not have ruled that he kill Zimri. Furthermore, had Zimri first separated and Pinchas subequently killed him, Pinchas would have been liable for capital punishment.67 Even so, Pinchas demonstrated self-sacrifice, not only for his own benefit but to save others, and in the case of Pinchas — all Israel.

In addition to the lesson to be learned from the name of the Bar Mitzvah, there is a lesson to be learned from the fact that one gathers to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah, an occasion on which yet another Jew accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah and mitzvos.

By way of introduction:

Although in regard to all epochs the Sages68 say that Israel is persecuted and oppressed, and although they are particularly so at this time,69 nonetheless, the Sages have also said70 “The actions of the Fathers are a sign to the children,” that if we look into the past we can be strong in our faith in a brilliant future.

We find the very first Bar Mitzvah was made by the first Jew Avraham, Ha-Ivri,71 on the day when Yitzchak was weaned from the evil inclination over to the good inclination72 that is, the day of his Bar Mitzvah. It is from this event that we derive an answer to the main question posed by the nations of the world — how does it come about that Israel, the smallest nation both in power and quantity,73 can rise to such heights, being so small?74 This is exactly the question that Og the giant put at the Bar Mitzvah of Yitzchak. Yet, in the end, it was he who fell, (even physically), to the offspring of Yitzchak.75

A second question, not asked by the nations of the world, is asked among Jews themselves — why should a Jew be G‑d-fearing, sitting in the tents of study? Surely, one must be adaptable and be able to mingle with others?

The answer to this lies in the second Bar Mitzvah hinted at in the Torah. “And the boys grew up (that is, became Bar Mitzvah) and Esav became a hunter”76 — he hunted the creatures with his mouth77 — and his end was to fall to the sword of the sons of Yaakov.78

A third question — surely it is enough that one should save oneself. Why should one make efforts on behalf of another, either in this world or the next?

The answer to this lies in the third Bar Mitzvah mentioned in the Torah. “And each man, Shimon and Levi, took his sword,”79 and we have a tradition that at that time they were thirteen years old80 — their souls incensed, as conveyed by their question, “should our sister be made like a harlot,”81 even though Shchem had promised them and her everything good materially.

From these three Bar Mitzvahs we have the answers to these three questions. Only the way of Torah and mitzvos is the correct way.

* * *

Bar Mitzvah of Shaul Alexander Bistritzky, 23-25 Iyar 5703.

We are gathered to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah, an occasion on which another member has joined the ranks of Israel accepting upon himself the yoke of Torah and mitzvos.

About the Jewish people, it is stated, “One nation in the land.”82 that is, at all times and places they are one unit, and the simchah of an individual, and particularly a simchah connected with Torah and mitzvos is a simchah of the entire people and it affects them all.

On a broader scale, the unity of the people reflects itself in all phases of time, past, present and future. Conversely, because the simchah of an individual affects the entire nation, an individual cannot make do with a selfish mode of avodah, rather he must be prepared, even to the point of self-sacrifice to help another. This is also a true reflection of his own perfection.

This is hinted at by the fact that our source for Bar Mitzvah is the action of the sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi being thirteen when they fell on Shchem — from which we may learn that, from the time of Bar Mitzvah, a Jew must be willing to practice self-sacrifice for the sake of another.