The word “Torah” stems from the word “hora’ah” — which means “teaching” (see Radak to Psalms 19:8). Torah is the guide for the Jewish people as to how they are to lead and direct their lives. Though superficially, many Torah precepts are irrelevant in certain times or places, and some seem to be very remote from us observant Jews, there are also messages and instructions that can be derived from a particular positive or negative commandment for all times and all places.

I have in mind particularly a negative commandment in this week’s parshah that states “V’lo takim lecha matzeivah asher sanei Hashem Elokecha” — “And you shall not erect for yourself a pillar (a single stone for any sort of worship) which Hashem, your G‑d, hates” (16:22).

From this we learn that Hashem forbade us from setting up a single stone for any sort of worship — even for worship of the true G‑d. He hates such stones, even for his own worship, since they have become associated with idol worship.

Perhaps, in the olden days this was a common practice among idol worshippers, but to the best of my knowledge, it is not at all a practice in our civilized world, and I believe not even among third world nations. So why did Torah, which is timeless, specifically forbid a form of worship that is totally irrelevant and unpracticed by anyone?

In the sefer Ma’or V’shamesh from Reb Klonimus Kalman of Cracow (1751-1827), a disciple of the famous Chassidic master Reb Elimelech of Lizensk (1717-1787), an explanation is offered which I believe is a very important message to a young boy who is starting out on his Torah way of life (as well as to every Jew).

A matzeivah is a stone. A stone is dormant. It is lifeless and doesn’t grow or expand in any way.

It is incumbent on a Jew to continuously rise higher and higher in his worship of Hashem and study of Torah. The level reached yesterday is not satisfactory for today. With this negative commandment the Torah instructs us that in our service of Hashem and dedication to Torah and mitzvot, “Lo takim lecha matzeivah,” one should not make a matzeivah for himself, i.e., be content with the achievement attained and not strive to continue to newer and loftier heights.

The difference between an angel and man is that an angel is called an “omeid” — “stationary” (see Zechariah 3:7) — and man is called a “mehaleich” — a “goer.” Whatever level the angel attained when created is constant, and he cannot advance or rise higher. Man, on the other hand is a mehaleich: he has the capability and obligation to go from strength to strength — to move from a high level to a more exalted one.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, at the beginning of tonight’s seudat mitzvah in honor of your Bar Mitzvah we had the z’chut to hear the letter which the Rebbe sent you with his berachot. This is not a letter the Rebbe sent many years ago or a copy of a letter that the Rebbe sent to someone else. Rather, “Divrei Tzaddikim kayamin la’ad” — “The words of the righteous are everlasting.”

Thus, the Rebbe is addressing you and giving his holy berachah that Hashem bless you to succeed in being a Chassid, yirei Shamayim and lamdan — a Chassid, a G‑d fearing Jew and a Torah scholar.

Chassidim noted that the acronym for these three virtues spells the word “Chayal,” which means a soldier (חסיד ירא שמים למדן = חַיָל). It also spells “chayil” (חָיִל) which means “strength” as the Psalmist says “Yeilchu meichayil el chayil” — “They go from strength to strength” (84:8).

Let me wish you that your berachah from the Rebbe should be fulfilled in its entirety. May you be a chayal — soldier in the army of Hashem, and go meichayil el chayil — from strength to strength — and not suffice with the level of Chassid, yirat Shamayim and lamdan achieved yesterday, but continue to progress and go higher and higher in chassidut, piety and Torah-study. Thus, everyone will enjoy much Yiddish and Chassidish nachas from you.


In this week’s parshah we are commanded to establish courts with judges and enforcement officers. The Torah also instructs that if a matter of judgment is “hidden from you” and the local court is unable to reach a decision, the people involved shall ascend to the Sanhedrin that is located in proximity to the Beit Hamikdash. The decision issued there will be binding.

The Torah says explicitly “Al pi haTorah asher yorucha v’al hamishpat asher yomru lecha ta’aseh” — “According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgment that they will say to you shall you do” — and the Torah continues, “Lo tasur min hadavar asher yagidu lecha yamin u’semol” — “You shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you right or left” (17:10-11).

According to the Sefer Eileh HaMitzvot of Reb Moshe Chagiz, (famous 17th century Talmudic scholar Rabbi and Kabbalist), the pesukim contain a positive mitzvah, #174, and negative commandment, #292.)

Literally the expression “right or left” implies not deviating in the minutest way. Rashi, however, in his commentary says that it means “Afilu omer lecha al yamin shehu semol, ve’al semol shehu yamin” — “Even if [the judge] says to you about right that it is left, and about left that it is right [you should obey]. How much more so when he says to you about right that it is right and about left that it is left [you should obey].”

An obvious difficulty with this Rashi is why should we be required to listen to the Beit Din even when they are in error?

The RambanNachmanides — explains that indeed Rashi does not mean that we should listen to the Beit Din if they are mistaken and permitting the violating of a Biblical prohibition. In fact there is an entire tractate of Gemara — known as Mesechta Horiyot — which discusses the laws of one who violated Torah law due to his obeying an erroneous ruling of a Beit Din and it depends on whether the violator was knowledgeable of the existing error. Rashi is teaching that you must obey the decision of the Rabbis even if according to your thinking it seems as though they are telling you that right is left, and left is right — and certainly you must obey if it is clear to you that their decision is correct (see also Torah Temimah).

My dear Bar Mitzvah, here you have a message and a warning of cardinal importance. You are now entering the era when Torah and mitzvot fulfillment is an obligation. Many times your Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination — will try to dissuade you from doing a mitzvah or encourage you to, G‑d forbid, do an aveira — transgression — on the premise that the Sages’ interpretation is in error. Had they known such and such or foreseen this and that, they definitely would have ruled otherwise or permitted a certain leniency.

The message is that the Torah is eternal and “Divrei tzad­dikim kayamin la’ad” — “The words of righteous are everlasting.” Don’t permit yourself to be influenced by anyone trying to convince you that the Rabbis are mixing up right and left, or true and false. Even if your seichel is convinced, bear in mind that their seichel is greater and more profound than yours. Do not deviate one iota from what is the estab­lished derech — way — and authentic Torah interpretation followed by your ancestors and conveyed to us from genera­tion to generation.

Moreover, Rashi, with his unique intelligence, adds “How much more so when you know that what he tells is correct.”

Unfortunately, there are some who know what is right and what is wrong and nevertheless do what they want to do and blatantly disregard Torah observance.

Thank G‑d, you received the proper education and grew up in a Torah atmosphere and home permeated with yirat Shamayim and chassidut. I pray that you will with much zeal and vibrancy fulfill the positive mitzvah of your Bar Mitzvah parshah of “Asher yomru lecha ta’aseh” — Do exactly what the Torah and our Sages have prescribed for the Jews throughout the genera­tions.


Over one hundred years ago the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn known as the Rebbe Rashab (1860-1920) founded the first Lubavitcher Yeshivah, which today is the largest network of yeshivot. To be exact it was on the 15th of Elul 5657-1897. For a period of time the Yeshivah had no official name and then two years later on Simchat Torah during the 5th Hakkafah, the Rebbe announced that the name of the Yeshivah will be Tomchei Tmimim, and the students who study there and conduct themselves in its spirit will be called Tmimim.

When the Rebbe founded the Yeshivah he explained that he was not doing so because there was a shortage of Yeshivot; rather, his intent was that he found that there is a need for Yeshivah where nigleh – revealed parts of Torah, e.g. Gemara etc. and Chassidut — esoteric Torah studies — would be studied in depth, and the Talmidim would excel in yirat Shamayim. Thus, the talmid would be a Tamim — a wholesome and complete well-rounded Jew who will be imbued with Torah study and fear of Hashem.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, your parents have sent you to study at a Lubavitcher Yeshivah and look forward to seeing you a Tamim.

To know exactly what this entails, I will draw your attention to two places in the Torah where the concept of Tamim is mentioned.

In this weeks parshah, Shoftim, it says, “Tamim tiheyeh im Hashem Elokecha” – “You shall be wholehearted with Hashem” (18:13).

The second place the Tamim concept is mentioned is in regard to the parah adumahred cow — which was used for purifying a person who became defiled due to contact with a corpse. The Torah says “Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take to you a parah adumah — a red cow — temimah — that is perfectly [red]” (Bamidbar 19:2). To explain the meaning of “perfectly red” Rashi comments, “This means that it should be perfect in redness, that if it had as few as two black hairs it is disqualified.”:

One of the great Chassidic masters, known as Reb Simchah Bunim of Peshischa (1765-1825, one of the main leaders of Chassidic Jewry in Poland), notes that though the idea of “Tamim” —“complete” — is mentioned in these two places, there is a major difference between them. Regarding the completeness of the red cow’s redness, if it is off by two hairs it is disqualified. However, it is ok if it is off by only one hair. The cow is considered completely red even when it has a black hair.

Unlike the cow, however, in regard to a Jew’s temimut — wholehearted and obedient completeness to Hashem — even being off by only ‘one hair’ is unacceptable.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, the education and tutelage you are receiving at the Yeshivah, and the Chassidic warmth and spirit you are witnessing and acquiring in your home is geared toward making you a Tamim in accordance with the wishes and intent of our Rebbeim. Hopefully, you will make every effort to meet what is expected of you, and be a complete and wholesome Tamim, that is to be a Chassid, yirei Shamayim —G‑d fearing Jew — v’lamdan and a Torah scholar 100% without any deviation, limitation, or reservation whatsoever.

It may sound like something that is not easily achieved, but with the proper resolve and with the talents Hashem endowed you with, I am sure you will be a model Tamim who will give his family much Yiddish and Chassidish nachas. Mazal tov and hatzlachah rabbah on your life mission.