As customary, the Seudat Mitzvah in honor of the Bar Mitzvah was opened with reading the letter that the Rebbe sent to the celebrant. While on the surface it seems like a standard letter for young boys becoming Bar Mitzvah. It was a personal letter addressed to a specific boy in honor of his Bar Mitzvah, and was signed personally by the Rebbe. In view of the popular adage that “Divrei tzadikim kayamin la’ad” — “The words of the righteous are eternal” — the letter read now is a letter to you my dear Bar Mitzvah.

In the letter he blesses you that Hashem make you successful in being a Chassid, yirei ShamayimG‑d fearing Jew — and lamdan — a Torah scholar.

Over the years many explanations were given to the Rebbe’s use of these terms and their profundity. I would now like to focus on the first of the three part blessing, the term “Chassid.”

In the Gemara, the term “Chassid” is sometimes associated with money matters. The popular thinking is that it refers to one which conducts himself lifnim meshurat hadin — more than the letter of the law requires. In contemporary times it has become a label for one who dresses in a certain way or is connected to a particular group.

In reality however, it is something much more than that. One of the basic teachings of the Baal Shem Tov indicates that his goal was to introduce a new way of service of Hashem.

To explain, I will convey an interpretation of a pasuk in this week’s parshah, Mishpatim, and a story I heard in connection with this, from my step-father Rabbi Eliyahu Moshe z”l Liss, a Mashgiach Ruchni at the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn, New York and before that in Europe.

Before Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), known as the Alter Rebbe,” became the leader of Chabad, he once traveled to raise money for an important charitable cause. He came to the home of a wealthy man, who, sensing that he was not one of the ordinary collectors, offered to have him stay and teach his children in return for the entire sum he hoped to raise.

After a short stay, he informed his host that he was leaving because he could not tolerate the conduct of the people of the city. His host asked him what he meant, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied, “You torture the poor.” The host thought that he was referring to a recent meeting to determine how to raise the money for a tax. It was decided that first the poor should give as much as they were able, and whatever was missing would be made up by the rich. He realized that Rabbi Shneur Zalman was right: the poor should not be bothered at all. Let the rich give as much as they can, and the poor won’t have to give anything. Immediately he arranged a second meeting, and it was decided that the rich should first give what they could afford.

A few days later, Rabbi Shneur Zalman again gave notice that he was leaving, exclaiming again, “You torture the poor.” Amazed, the host told his guest of the second meeting and that the poor would not be bothered at all. Rabbi Shneur Zalman told him that he was not aware of the meetings and had been referring to a different matter:

In the human body there are ‘rich’ organs and a ‘poor’ organ. The ‘rich’ organs are the mind and the heart, and the ‘poor’ organ is the stomach. “In this city,” he explained, “instead of putting emphasis on the rich organs and engaging them in the study of Torah and concentrating on prayer to Hashem, the approach is to constantly fast. Thus, the ‘poor’ organ, the stomach, is deprived and made to suffer for the person’s iniquities. I cannot tolerate this approach!”

This new philosophy was very intriguing to the host, and he asked Reb Shneur Zalman its source. He told him of the Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer 1698-1760) and his teachings, which accentuate working with the mind and heart and not punishing the body.

“The Ba’al Shem Tov,” he continued, “bases his theory on a pasuk in Parshat Mishpatim and interprets it as follows: ‘Ki tireh’ — when you will come to the realization that — ‘chamor’— the physical matter of the body (related to the word chomer), is — ‘sonacha’— your enemy — because he is engaged in attaining physical pleasures, and thus, hates the neshamah which is striving for G‑dliness and a high spiritual level — [and the body is] ‘roveitz tachat masa’o’ — lying under his burden not wanting to get up and serve Hashem — ‘vechadalta mei’azov lo’ — you may think that you will begin to torture him and deny him the food he needs. Be advised that this is a wrong approach. Instead, ‘azov ta’azov imo’ — help him! Give him his bodily needs and attune your mind and soul to worship Hashem. Eventually, your body will become purified and cooperate in your worship.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, we all wish you that you see the fulfillment of the Rebbe’s berachah and be a bona-fide Chassid in accordance with the lofty interpretation.

Before concluding permit me to add the following:

Many years ago someone wrote to the Rebbe that he had a berachah from his father-in-law the Rebbe Rayatz, and he didn’t see it fulfilled. The Rebbe responded a berachah from a Tzadik is like rain. Rain is beneficial only when the farmer does his part entirely — namely, to plow the land and seed it, etc. (Apparently the individual did not do his part and was just relying on the berachah he received.) Likewise, my dear Bar Mitzvah, the Rebbe gave you a berachah that will definitely see fruition, but it is up to you to do your part.

Mazal Tov and success in your mission.


The Jewish people arrived at Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, and received the Ten Commandments on the 6th of Sivan. Most of the event is recorded in Parshat Yitro. There are, however, some details recorded at the end of Parshat Mishpatim.

Here we learn that on the 5th of Sivan the Jews declared “Na’aseh venishma” — “We will do and will obey (study) .” According to our Rabbis, in preparation for the actual receiving of the Torah, our ancestors entered the covenant through circumcision (that took place in Egypt), immersion and blood sprinkling, for there is no sprinkling without immersion preceding it (see Rashi 24:6 Keritut 9a). To obtain blood for sprinkling, Moshe awoke early on the 5th of Sivan, and built a mizbei’ach — altar. Then the Torah relates “Vayishlach et na’arei bnei Yisrael” — “He sent the youths of the Children of Israel — and they brought up olot — burnt offerings and slaughtered shelamim — peace of offerings” (24:5). Moshe took the blood of these offerings and sprinkled it on the people.

According to Rashi these were the bechorim — firstborn — and they were called youths in comparison with the elders. They were charged with the performance of the Divine services of offering sacrifices before Hashem selected the tribe of Levi in their stead.

According to the Ramban, Moshe literally chose young men who were pure and had not experienced lust.

Regarding this pasuk the Gemara (Megillah 9a) relates that the Egyptian King Talmai (Ptolemy 3476-3515) gathered seventy two elders of Israel and placed them in seventy two separate rooms, telling them to write a Greek translation of the Torah. (This is known among non-Jews to this day as the Septuagint, from the Greek word meaning “seventy.”) When they reached the pasuk that Moshe sent “na’arei” — “the youths” — they wrote that he sent “za’atutei” — “nobles” — which denotes importance, so that they should not accuse the Jews of sending unimportant people to welcome the Divine Presence.

Why indeed did Moshe send youths?

Homiletically, this can be explained as follows:

This event took place on the fifth of Sivan as a part of the preparation for Kabalat Hatorah — receiving the Torah. Moshe realized that the continuity of Torah study and observance is dependent on the young. If they will be trained to make sacrifices for Hashem, they will ultimately cling tenaciously to Him and His Torah. The future of Torah is not assured by old people learning during their retirement years, but rather by young people who devote themselves to diligent Torah study. Since Talmai might not have comprehended this important lesson and would thus accuse Moshe of being disrespectful to Hashem, the elders decided to avoid literally translating the word naarei — youths.

Moshe sought to test the degree of the dedication to Torah that prevails among the youth. Thus, upon seeing the dedication of the youth and their readiness to make “sacrifices,” for Hashem he was convinced that with such a new generation, Torah would perpetually flourish. Hence he proceeded to read to them the Sefer Haberiut — the Book of the Covenant — (Torah from Bereishit until the giving of the Torah and mitzvot commanded at Marah) and made a covenant with the Jewish people to receive the Torah.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, today is your personal day of na’aseh venishma; you have demonstrated that Klal Yisrael has a new young member who we can confidently rely upon for the continuity of Torah. Hopefully, you will continue in this path and be a source of Yiddish and Chassidish nachas to your parents, family, and Klal Yisrael.