Chapter 11


26 See: As we have explained previously,1 the level of Divine perception metaphorically termed “sight” is a direct revelation from God rather than an awareness that we attain on our own. True, the sight-consciousness we are promised in parashat Re’eh is elicited by perfecting the hearing-consciousness of parashat Eikev, which is very much the product of our own efforts. But the sight that follows this hearing occurs spontaneously once we have laid the groundwork ourselves.

The spontaneous, unsolicited nature of this newfound perception is what is alluded to in the words of the opening sentence of this parashah:

See: A vision of something encompasses its totality all at once, whereas the perception formed by hearing or learning gradually combines details to form a complete picture. The experience of sight is therefore sudden, rather than unfolding.

I: As we have explained previously,2 there are two words in Hebrew for “I”; the word used here (anochi), rather than simply identifying the speaker, refers to his intrinsic, transcendent essence. Although Moses is speaking here, he is delivering God’s message, so the use of this word for “I” indicates that the vision promised is that of God’s essence. Such a revelation is beyond our power to directly elicit and can only occur as a Divine gift.

Set (literally, give): A gift is an unearned bestowal.

Before you: The word for this phrase in Hebrew may be read “to your inner self,” indicating that this revelation addresses first and foremost our inner essence, only afterward spreading to and overtaking our more superficial faculties, opposite of the way in which we normally approach self-refinement. Ordinarily, we begin with what we see—the most visible flaws in our character—and work inward.

Today: This word evokes the imagery of the clear perception afforded by daylight. In addition, it implies that this vision will be permanent, always present “today.” This is possible only if it is a Divine gift, not dependent on possible fluctuations in the recipient’s degree of preparedness.

Blessing: A blessing is a bestowal of Divine beneficence beyond that which we deserve.

And curse: As we have explained previously,3 a Divine curse is actually a blessing that is too great to be revealed within our limited world and must therefore be disguised as a curse.

These words thus underscore the great spiritual potentials we possess, encouraging us to make use of them in refining the world through fulfilling the commandments that follow in the Torah’s narrative. We must always keep in mind that God has freely given the revelation of His essence to our inner selves.

In addition, this opening sentence alludes to both aspects of God’s gift of perception—His free bestowal of the gift and our response to it—as follows:

See, I give: refers to the bestowal of Divine sight-consciousness, as above.

To you: refers to our efforts in response, which serve to internalize this Divine gift.

Today a blessing: refers again to God’s gift from above.

And a curse: refers again to our response, which is required in order to reveal the inner core of blessing concealed in what at first appears to be a curse.4

Besides being a blessing in disguise, evil exists in the world in order to provide us with free choice. Free choice, in turn, exists in order to enable us to earn the rewards for our choices, thereby not feeling totally unworthy of the Divine consciousness we are granted and the other blessings that God bestows on us.

Thus, even at the most sublime levels of Divine consciousness, the power of evil remains strong enough to ensure that we retain free choice. Since, however, evil’s existence is not intrinsic (in contrast to good, whose existence is intrinsic), as soon as we choose good, evil disappears.

When we become aware that evil has no intrinsic existence but exists solely to provide us with the free choice to reject it, our struggle with it becomes much easier. It therefore pays to consider this inner dimension of evil at all times (i.e., to “see” into the blessing and the curse) rather than to take things at face value (i.e., to suffice with the more superficial perception of “hearing”).5

Further ways in which an apparent curse can be realized as a blessing:

· A measure of suffering endured in this world obviates the need for much more severe “cleansing” in Purgatory.6

· If we admit that we are responsible for having caused our suffering (by our own sins) and use the occasion as an impetus for repentance, this itself may grant us acquittal from further suffering.7

Chapter 12


A Closer Look

[5] The place that God will select: When the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel in the year 2488, they set up the Tabernacle at Gilgal.8 It remained standing there for 14 years, until the year 2502.9 It was then transferred to Shiloh,10 where stone walls were built to replace the gold-plated wooden walls of the Tabernacle but the three original coverings were still used for the roof.11 This structure stood for 369 years, until the year 2871,12 when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant13 and destroyed the sanctuary.14 The Tabernacle was then reconstructed at Nov,15 where it stood for 13 years until the year 2884, when it was relocated to Givon,16 where it stood for 44 years until the year 2928, when construction began on the First Temple in Jerusalem.17 Although the Philistines returned the Ark a few months after they had captured it, it was not brought to the Tabernacle at Nov, but rather kept first at Beit Shemesh18 and then at Kiryat Ye’arim.19 In the year 2891, King David brought it from Kiryat Ye’arim to Jerusalem.20

The Tabernacle at Shiloh had the status of an “interim” sanctuary, and thus as long as it stood, it was forbidden to offer up private sacrifices on private altars. In the periods before and after it functioned, however—i.e., when the Tabernacle stood at Gilgal, Nov, and Givon—private altars were permitted.21

Nonetheless, even when it was standing, the status of the Tabernacle at Shiloh was inferior to that of the later, permanent Temple in Jerusalem. God’s primary purpose in singling out Shiloh was to end decentralized sacrifice; in order to accomplish this, it was necessary to provide a fixed locale for centralized worship. In contrast, Jerusalem was selected as the locus of intrinsic holiness—the site for the revelation of the Divine Presence—and this choice ipso facto rendered it the locale for all sacrificial rites. It is for this reason that despite its quasi-permanence, the establishment of the sanctuary at Shiloh did not invalidate private altars for all time, whereas the establishment of the Temple at Jerusalem did.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 24, pp. 79-86.

25 He sees that it is still difficult for you: The people knew that their entry into the Land of Israel signaled a shift in focus regarding their spiritual lives. In the desert, their bodily needs were taken care of so they could focus exclusively on their spiritual growth. Once they would enter the land, they would instead be called upon to refine the material world by engaging in mundane pursuits and directing them toward spiritual ends. Thus, inasmuch as the blood of an animal embodies its life-force, it might seem that consuming blood—in order to sublimate animal vitality and/or later utilize this vitality for holy purposes—would actually be a laudatory effort toward refining the material world. It was therefore necessary to warn the people not to descend this far into the material world.22 Meat, which signifies the material world per se, may be enjoyed in a holy way. But blood, the vitality of life, must not be enjoyed in and of itself—it is impossible to enjoy vitality itself in a holy way, even if it seems that doing so will further our spiritual goals. Blood, the vitality of life, must be contextualized: if it is part of a sacrifice, oriented toward holiness, it may be brought to the altar. If it is part of the simple act of eating, oriented merely toward preserving and/or enhancing the life of the body itself, it must be avoided. We should aspire to become excited and enthusiastic solely about holy matters, rather than about material matters in and of themselves.23

Chapter 13

4 God is testing you to know: The word for “testing” (מנסה) also means “elevating.” Thus, this verse may be interpreted to mean: “God tests a person in order to elevate him to a higher level of Divine knowledge.”

A test—whether of a person’s commitment to Judaism or of his faith in God’s goodness—is a temporary concealment of the Divine favor that we assume should be shown to those who follow God’s will. Voices from both within and without mock the sufferer’s naïve belief. However, the fact that God’s presence is hidden in these situations simply indicates that He wishes to grace us with a closer, more intense relationship with Him than we are presently able to sustain. In order to preserve our faith in God in the face of situations that test this faith, we have to draw upon deeper levels of commitment than we normally do.

When we do this, i.e., when we pass the test, the test disappears—its purpose having been served—and our formerly deep, hidden connection with God becomes our normative consciousness.

In the terminology of Kabbalah, the sparks of Divinity inherent within tests originate in a higher level (of the world of Tohu) than do the sparks embedded within the rest of creation. Just as the brighter a light source, the thicker a veil that is needed to obscure its light, these sparks embody too much Divine energy to be clothed in the normal states of non-Divinity that make up most of this world; their intensity can only be expressed in commensurately intense states of Divine hiddenness. These sparks therefore are ensconced in situations and existential states that not only do not reveal God’s hand but affrontingly deny it.

Of course, our day-to-day involvement with the physical world—elevating it into holiness by resisting its tendency to drag us into materiality on the one hand and using it as a means toward spiritual ends on the other—also increases and enhances Divine consciousness in the world. The difference, however, is that while our routine refinement of reality requires us to summon our spiritual strength and do battle with our animal nature, convincing and cajoling it into Divine service, tests cannot be approached in this way. Rather, they require us to access far deeper powers, those of self-sacrifice and incontestable commitment to God. Essentially, this means tapping the previously mentioned inner sight-consciousness of God that each of us possesses in the merit of Moses’ prayer.

Inasmuch as attaining Divine consciousness, thereby making the world more of a home for God, is the purpose of creation, it follows that moral tests serve a crucial function in bringing creation to its completion and fulfilling the purpose of the soul’s descent into the physical world.24

5Follow God: This phrase can be read, “[Toward] the back of God, you will walk.” According to this interpretation, the Torah here is describing the following successive rungs on the ladder of spiritual growth:

[Toward] the back of God, your God: You must first realize that all existence is created and sustained by God “turning His back,” so to speak, on reality. God’s presence is so overwhelming that if it were to be revealed openly in the world, the world could not maintain its self-awareness as being discrete from God. This, in turn, would undermine the purpose of creation, which is for it to serve as a setting in which we seek God’s hidden presence. The more you realize that all you perceive of reality is just a façade for the underlying Divinity that sustains it—

You will walk: the more you will progress toward successively more intense levels of loving God, who, you will come to realize, is the only true reality. This will ultimately bring you to the brink of rapturous death as you yearn to unite with God, but—

You will fear Him: humiliated by your own puniness, you will be afraid to approach God. Furthermore, you will realize that true unity with God means submission to His will, specifically, His will that you remain in the physical world and fulfill your Divine mission and potential. However, you will also come to realize that in devoting yourself to your Divine mission in this material world, you will be putting your inspiration at risk, since you will be exposing yourself to influences contrary to Divine consciousness. Therefore—

You must safeguard His commandments, ensuring that you continue to perform them with enthusiasm and inspiration. In order to do that—

You must heed [lit., hear] His voice, which you hear by learning the Torah, for God’s presence is more openly felt in Torah study than in the physical performance of the commandments. Therefore, through Torah study, you can maintain your conscious connection to God while still engaging the material world. You will then realize that it is not sufficient to approach God out of love; in addition—

You must worship [or: serve] Him as a simple, faithful servant, for only by so doing do you express your absolute renunciation of your ego in your desire to truly merge with Him. Thus—

You will cleave to Him in thought, speech, and action.25

From another perspective, this verse means:

Follow God, your God (literally, “walk after God”) by submitting to His will. Just as walking is the most prosaic form of human endeavor, so is submissionthe lowliest form of relationship to God. Once you have submitted yourselves to God’s will, you can also—

Fear Him, that is, perform His commandments out of fear of Him, as well as—

Keep His commandments out of love for Him. Having refined yourselves by performing His commandments, you can—

Heed His voice by cultivating profound sensitivity to Godliness. This sensitivity will illuminate your heart, inspiring you to—

Worship Him by putting into practice the inspiration inherent in this sensitivity. This inspiration and its fulfillment in practice will cause you to—

Cleave to Him.

Thus, we see here that despite the prosaic nature of simple, submissive, devoted self-discipline, it forms the basis of our relationship with God and is the foundation upon which we subsequently build our loftier, more sophisticated levels of relationship with Him.26


[15] Inquire, investigate, and ask: The judges must first interrogate the witnesses with regard to (1) in which seven-year agricultural cycle the crime took place, (2) in which year it took place, (3) in which month, (4) on which day of the month, (5) on which day of the week, (6) in which hour of the day, and (7) where. They must then interrogate the witnesses as to the substance of the crime and with regard to surrounding and accompanying evidence.

Sanhedrin 5:1-2; Mishneh Torah, Eidut 1:4-6.

Chapter 14

1 You are children of God, your God: This metaphor implies that just as a child originates in its parents’ essence, so do the Jewish people originate in God’s essence.27 In the words of the Ba’al Shem Tov, “Every Jew is as precious to God as an only son born to his parents in their old age is to them—and, in fact, even more precious.”28

In other words, when our sages say that God created the world for the sake of Israel,29 they mean not only for the sake of the Jewish people as a whole but for the sake of each individual Jew. Therefore, the sages say that every Jew should live life as if the entire world were created for him or her30 and awaits his or her unique contribution to its destiny.31


[1] You are children of God, your God: The Ba’al Shem Tov’s analogy to elderly parents implies that, as stated above, the Jew originates in God’s essence. An elder deserves respect by virtue of the wisdom (chochmah) he has acquired during his long life.32 Chochmah is the first, and thus the “oldest,” of the ten sefirot; furthermore, it is the gateway to the supra-conscious levels of the soul (and by analogy, to the Godhead), including the inner dimension of keter, which is known by the Biblical epithet Atik Yomin (“the Ancient of Days”33). It is at this level that the Jewish soul is one with God

See Zohar 3:73a. Sefer HaSichot 5751, vol. 1, pp. 422-423.

1-2 You are children of God…. You have inherited the qualities that make you a holy people…from your forefathers, and beyond this, God has chosen you to be a treasured people:

Besides our being God’s “children,” a status we inherit from our forefathers, God also chooses us to be His people. Thus, beyond the intrinsic connection between God and the Jewish people comparable to the intrinsic connection between parents and children, there is also a volitional connection that exists because God chose us.

In order for us to be His representatives in the world, God created us with a certain affinity to Him, such that we share His passions, we like what He likes, we dislike what He dislikes, and so on. These “inherited characteristics” constitute our parent-child relationship with Him. This affinity makes our relationship with Him intrinsic and natural.

However, just as people are “forced” by their natural tendencies to be attracted to certain things, this natural relationship with God is similarly involuntary. It is as if once God created us this way, He had “no choice” but to be intrinsically bound to us. What is lacking in this aspect of our relationship with Him, then, is that it says nothing about what connection, if any, might exist beyond our mutual affinity.

Therefore, God also chose us to be His people. Free choice implies that no external factors determine the choice; the chooser can even make a choice that goes against his nature, if he so desires. The fact that the chooser chooses the chosen regardless of any rational determining factors indicates that there is a deep, essential identity between the chooser and the chosen that transcends natural cause-and-effect.34

By choosing us, relating to us beyond our mutually intrinsic, natural connection to Him, God enabled us to choose Him, i.e., to devote ourselves to Him beyond the dictates of logic or natural affinity. Thus, at the Giving of the Torah, we became not only God’s “children,” but also His faithful “servants.”35

On the other hand, the advantage of the intrinsic connection over the volitional connection lies in the fact that it highlights the qualities that distinguish the Jewish people—how we imitate God, so to speak. In contrast, God’s free choice of the Jewish people, as above, is not based on anything about us that would influence such a choice.

Our intrinsic relationship with God is therefore both expressed and enhanced by fulfilling our mission in this world—disseminating Divine consciousness through the study of the Torah and the performance of the commandments—for this is how we imitate God and show ourselves to be His children, “cut from the same cloth,” so to speak, as He. Once we have evinced our intrinsic connection with God, it, in turn, enables us to express our otherwise ineffable volitional connection with Him through free choice, as well.36


[3] The result of some forbidden act: For example, we are required to consecrate the firstborn of all our cows, sheep, and goats as sacrifices.37 If, however, such a consecrated animal becomes accidentally blemished, it loses its consecrated status and is permitted to be eaten by laity, just like any ordinary animal.38 It is forbidden, however, to blemish consecrated animals deliberately;39 therefore, if someone does intentionally blemish a consecrated firstborn animal, then, by force of this verse, he is not allowed to eat it, despite its having lost its consecrated status. Other lay people, however, are allowed to eat it; since they did not blemish the animal, the prohibition expressed in this verse does not apply to them.

If, however, the animal is later accidentally blemished in some additional way, even the person who originally blemished it may eat it, since his forbidden act is no longer solely responsible for revoking the animal’s consecrated status.

Similarly (if somewhat more abstractly): it is forbidden to cook meat and milk together; if someone does so, then the cooked food is forbidden to him by force of its original prohibition in addition to the prohibition against consuming anything produced by a forbidden act. For others, however, the cooked food is forbidden only by force of its original prohibition.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 29, pp. 88-94.

Chapter 15


[7] Give him a gift of money: The Written Torah does not specify how much of our income we should set aside for charity, defining the amount instead as “sufficient for [the poor person’s] needs.”40 The Oral Torah stipulates that if we cannot provide for all the person’s needs, we should give him at least a tenth but ideally up to a fifth of our income.41 (The figure of one-tenth is arrived at by analogy to the commandment to tithe our grain, wine, and oil;42 the figure of one-fifth is derived from the double use of the Hebrew verb “to tithe” in Jacob’s promise to God.43) We have seen how our forefathers also tithed all their income, not only their agricultural yields.44

Nonetheless, inasmuch as giving charity atones for sin,45 the more acutely we are aware of our need for atonement, the less strict we will be in adhering to the upper limit to giving charity just mentioned. As Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi points out,46 we would spare no expense to heal our bodies, if need be, so by the same token, we should spare no expense in taking advantage of the ability of charity to heal our souls.

8 You must open your hand for him wholeheartedly: As human beings living in a finite world, our ability to act, and even our abilities to think and feel, are limited. This is especially evident with regard to the commandment to give charity, in which our ability to give is limited by the extent of the resources at our disposal. There is likewise a limit to the enthusiasm with which we can give, inasmuch as our enthusiasm is based on our intellectual commitment and emotional involvement, which are limited by the innate limitations of our intellect and emotions respectively.

By contrast, the faculty of will—the source of intellect, emotion, and action—is unlimited. Relative to the limited scope of intellect, emotion, and action, there is no limit to what we can want and how much we can want it. This is all the more true when we exercise free choice, which, as we have noted,47 is rooted in the soul’s infinite essence.

It is therefore crucial that we perform God’s commandments in general, and the commandment to give charity in particular, “wholeheartedly,” i.e., with our full volition and as an expression of our free choice. Only thus can the commandments we perform transcend the limitations intrinsic to our faculties of intellect, emotion, and action.

True, it is every Jew’s inner desire to perform God’s will completely, whether or not this desire is conscious,48 and by virtue of that inner desire, our performance of the commandments is always infinite, both in scope and effect. But in order for this infinity to be openly manifest, we must consciously choose to perform the commandments; when we do, even our intrinsically limited faculties—intellect, emotion, and action—become infused with the infinity of the will and essence of the soul.

By transcending our natural limitations in performing God’s will, especially with regard to charity, we elicit God’s infinite beneficence, which will eventually be manifest as the ultimate transcendence of limitation—the messianic Redemption, in which the boundaries of nature, manifest as the constraints of exile, will be finally and irrevocably broken. Thus, the prophet Isaiah assures us,49 “Zion will be redeemed through justice, and its captives through charity.”50

9 As a sin: Of all the active commandments, charity is the only one whose non-fulfillment is referred to specifically as a “sin.” This is because charity atones for sin, spiritually cleansing the sinner, as it is written, “Redeem your sin through charity, and your iniquity through kindness to the poor.”51 Someone who refrains from engaging in charitable activities thus forfeits the benefits of this atonement and spiritual cleansing, and is therefore left with the unrectified results of his sins.52

14-15 You must provide him: As we have noted,53 the three types of bondservants—non-Jewish bondservants, Jewish bondmen, and Jewish bondwomen—respectively correlate allegorically to the three levels of our devotion to God: (a) out of pure discipline, without emotional involvement, (b) with emotional involvement, but based on self-interest, and (c) with emotional involvement, but based on our feelings of identity with God.

Taking the analogy a step further, the freedom that is granted to both types of Jewish bondservants at the end of their servitude corresponds to our graduation from emotionally-based devotion to intellectually-based devotion. Since emotions are subjective, they are by nature limited: we can feel only to the finite extent that we can experience feeling. Thus, the intensity of our devotion to God, when dependent on the intensity of our feelings toward or about Him, is likewise limited.

Intellect, in contrast, is not subject to the same subjective limitations as are the emotions. When we become absorbed in the intellectual contemplation of an idea, we lose ourselves, and can therefore transcend ourselves. True, human intellect is limited by its inability to break out of the categories of time and space, but within the confines of its imagination, the intellect can abstract itself from its native context and adopt virtually innumerable points of view. Our natural emotions, in contrast, cannot transcend themselves, although if guided by the intellect, they can indeed mature and even be reoriented toward Divinity. But as long as they are only guided by the intellect and not produced by the intellect, they retain their own inherent subjectivity and its attendant limitations.

Thus, when our devotion to God has become based on intellect rather than on raw emotions, our emotional commitment becomes far more intense than it can be when our devotion to Him is based on emotion. At this level, we are no longer “bondservants” slaving endlessly to refine our innate, materially-oriented emotions, but “freemen” able to focus on the spiritual and Divine realities of life unencumbered by the gravity of materiality.

In this context, the “gift” that we, as former bondservants, are given upon the termination of our service, is the intellect. The double expression in Hebrew for this gift (הענק תעניק) alludes to the two principal aspects of the intellect: chochmah (insight) and binah (understanding).

Significantly, however, unlike in the case of Jewish bondservants, there is no commandment to free non-Jewish bondservants after any specific term of service, and therefore no accompanying command to provide them with gifts. On the contrary, we are told that they can be held on to indefinitely, and even be inherited by our children.54 This implies that although we are encouraged to ascend in our relationship with God through the levels of devotion signified by the Jewish bondservants and beyond, we are nonetheless not meant to ever renounce the level of devotion to God signified by the non-Jewish bondservant. In other words, pure, unadulterated discipline must remain the foundation of our relationship with God no matter how high we ascend the ladder of Divine consciousness.

In this context, we see the advantage of the level represented by the non-Jewish bondservant over those represented by the Jewish bondservant. The part of our psyches in which we are simple servants of God possesses no selfhood whatsoever; our entire being is consumed by that of our Master. As such, “graduation” from this level of devotion is irrelevant; furthermore, the “gift” of our own intellect would not “free” us from this level of devotion, since, as above, we are not herein slaving to refine ourselves but simply to accomplish what is required of us. On the contrary, inasmuch as our entire being is subsumed within God’s, any human intellectual understanding would just get in the way.

Thus, the two paradigms of devotion—the static, unchanging service represented by the non-Jewish bondservant and the developing, maturing service represented by the Jewish bondservants—constitute the two complementary facets of our relationship with God.55

18 God will bless you in all that you do: The sages understand this verse56 to imply that although God determines which of us will succeed in our efforts to provide ourselves with a livelihood and amass wealth,57 we must not rely solely on His providence, but must rather put forth reasonable efforts to earn our living naturally.

By the same token, however, we must keep in mind that our efforts are not the direct cause of our material success; they are only a “vessel,” a receptacle to contain God’s blessing. In this context, along with taking care to ensure that our “vessels” are fit to receive God’s blessing, our main concern should not be with the vessels per se but with making ourselves worthy of receiving the blessing with which we hope God will fill our vessels.

On one level, this orientation is based on our recognition that God is the master of nature, and therefore, if we want our natural efforts to be successful, we should ensure that they accord with His will. On a deeper level, however, our attitude toward work is based on our recognition that God deals with the Jewish people entirely outside the limitations of nature. Our livelihood is an altogether miraculous affair, and the natural efforts we are required to engage in are no more than a ruse that God arranged so that it would appear as if we are earning our livelihood through totally natural means. In this context, unduly devoting ourselves to enhancing the efficacy of our jobs while neglecting to enhance our spiritual worthiness of God’s blessing is like working feverishly to sew sturdy pockets into our garments while forgetting to go to work to earn the money with which to fill them.58

Chapter 16

1 Add a leap month to the calendar: The lunar year is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar year, so a leap month was added every few years in order to compensate for this difference. When the Jewish calendar was fixed (in the fourth century CE), the leap month was scheduled to occur exactly seven times in the course of a 19-year cycle.

One of the lessons we can derive from this practice is that God always affords us an opportunity to catch up, as it were: to complete whatever was left undone for whatever reason, and even to counteract the effects of not having utilized our time to the fullest extent possible.

Remarkably, this integral feature of the Jewish calendar implies that we are given the ability not only to change the future, but the past, as well. Furthermore, the fact that we intercalate a full month, thereby “correcting” the accumulated discrepancy of several years at once, indicates that we can change the remote as well as the recent past.

If we look even deeper, we note that the commandment to intercalate the year invests us with the power to overcome the Divinely-instituted laws of nature. God decreed that the lunar year be shorter than the solar year, in response to the moon’s complaint about having to share dominion with the sun.59 Nevertheless, through this commandment, God empowers us to not only neutralize this inequality but even make the lunar year longer than the solar year. This is clearly an example of how God intends us to be His “partner in creation,” that is, in bringing the world to its true fulfillment.60

10 Shavuot: The particular revelation of Godliness associated with each holiday is dependent on the performance of a specific commandment (or commandments) unique to that holiday: on Pesach, we eat matzah; on Sukot, we sit in the sukah and hold the four plants; on Rosh HaShanah, we hear the shofar; on Yom Kippur, we fast. With regard to Shavuot, however, there does not seems to be any specific commandment unique to the festival.

The simple solution to this contrast is that Shavuot is just an extension of and the conclusion of Pesach, just as Shemini Atzeret is the extension of and conclusion of Sukot. In fact, the sages tell us that Shemini Atzeret should rightfully have occurred seven weeks after Sukot just as Shavuot occurs seven weeks after Pesach, but since God did not want to trouble the people to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the cold winter, He telescoped the extension period and fixed Shemini Atzeret immediately after Sukot.61 Based on this analogy, then, just as Shemini Atzeret—being just an “appendage” to Sukot—has no unique commandment associated with it, so does Shavuot—the corresponding “appendage” to Pesach—have no unique commandment associated with it.

The deeper answer to this question, however, lies in the identity of Shavuot as the anniversary of the Giving of the Torah. In this context, we may consider the specific commandment associated with Shavuot to be reciting words of Torah.

True, of our three faculties of expression—thought, speech, and action—reciting words of Torah involves speech rather than action, the faculty we usually associate with fulfilling God’s commandments. Nonetheless, there are a few commandments that we fulfill specifically through speech (just as there a few we fulfill specifically through thought). Moreover, when we employ our faculty of speech in studying the Torah, our words take on the ontological characteristics of action, because the words of the Torah are God’s words; thus, in articulating the words of the Torah, we are acting as God’s mouthpiece: it is as if God Himself is speaking. And as we know from the account of Creation, God’s words do not just “speak,” they “act,”62 as the Torah recounts: “God said, ‘Let there be…’ and there was….”

Hence, just as God used His faculty of speech to create the world, we, in reciting His words, use our faculty of speech on Shavuot to infuse the world with fresh Divine consciousness and thereby re-create it on a new, higher level than ever before.63

14 You must rejoice in your festival: Noting the unexpected use of the word “your” in this verse (instead of “God’s” festival, or simply “the” festival), Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi interpreted this phrase as follows: You should infuse joy into your life so thoroughly that your entire life becomes your own personal, ongoing celebration.64