Rephrasing slightly our Sages’ words,1 a Torah sage can be compared to “a walking Torah scroll.” Similarly, chassidim would always refer to the teachings of their Rebbeim as divrei Elokim chayim, “the words of the living G‑d,” for “every new Torah concept developed by an experienced Sage was already given to Moshe on Mount Sinai.”2 In previous generations — and likewise in the present day — chassidim would make an effort to “live with” the words of their Rebbeim, to internalize them and apply them in their lives.

In recent years, we have merited a veritable effulgence of teachings from the Rebbe Shlita: talks of scholarship and inspiration delivered on every Shabbos, and at times, several times on weekdays as well — until the eve of 28th of Adar Alef. May we be soon privileged once again to hear Torah from his mouth with ever-increasing vigor and joy.

Now, the Rebbe’s condition is, ב"ה, improving and his doctors are hoping for a speedy and complete recovery. In the interim, however, the talks he delivered on Shabbos Parshas Vayakhel, just two days prior to the eve of the 28th of Adar, take on a unique significance. They serve as a veritable spiritual treasure trove, containing lessons relevant in regard to our own individual divine service, the manner in which we relate to others, and the means by which we can hasten the coming of the ultimate Redemption.

We have already published an adaptation of these talks in a form more accessible to the general public in the essay entitled “Togetherness — Between Individuals, and Within Individuals.” To do justice to the wider range of ideas presented by the Rebbe, however, we also feel it necessary to present them in a form far more representative of the style in which they were originally delivered.

May our efforts to live with the Rebbe’s talks, to internalize them and apply them in our lives, generate divine blessing that will enable him to again deliver such talks in the most immediate future. And may we all together merit an ever-increasing sequence of blessings, including the ultimate blessing — the coming of the Redemption.

The message of Parshas Vayakhel and Parshas Shekalim: unity with other Jews, unity within one’s own being

Generally, the parshiyos, Vayakhel and Pekudei are read together. As explained on previous occasions, when two parshiyos are combined, they form a single entity. Thus, when these two parshiyos are combined, the intent is not that there are certain aspects of the reading that are relevant to Parshas Vayakhel and others to Parshas Pekudei, but rather, that every element of the Torah reading has a combined message Vayakhel-Pekudei.

Herein lies a fundamental lesson in our service of G‑d, for the totality of the mission with which we are charged to fulfill in this world is crystallized in the two thrusts Vayakhel and Pekudei.3

To explain: Vayakhel, “And you shall gather,” points to the unification of all the entities in this diverse world, uniting them within the domain of holiness. Pekudei, by contrast, means “counting,” and highlights how every entity possesses its own unique importance. For every creation was given a unique nature with which it can serve G‑d.

Although the sequence of the two parshiyos indicates that Vayakhel prepares one for Pekudei, Vayakhel represents an independent service in its own right. This concept receives greater emphasis this year, when Vayakhel is read and studied as a separate parshah.

In particular, the message of Vayakhel applies to the Jewish people and alludes to their being gathered together to form a single collective entity in the spirit of the mitzvah, “Love your fellow man as yourself.” This is possible, because all Jews share a single essence; all are “truly a part of G‑d from above.”

The importance of this service is emphasized by the fact that the Alter Rebbe placed the declaration, “Behold I accept upon myself the fulfillment of the mitzvah, ‘Love your fellowman as yourself,’ ” at the very beginning of the prayer service,4 making it the foundation of one’s daily activities.

In simple terms, this command means that when a person sees another Jew, he should try to unite with him, for in truth they share a fundamental commonalty. This applies, not only to the Jews in one’s immediate community, but to all Jews, even those far removed, indeed, even those in a distant corner of the world. Needless to say, the manner in which these feelings of unity are expressed will differ in terms of the practical means of expression available, but the feelings of oneness are universal in nature.

Even when the distance is also spiritual in nature, i.e., when another Jew does not share one’s level of Jewish observance, one should focus on the connection shared and not on the differences. In regard to one’s personal conduct, one must emphasize two modes of serving G‑d — striving both to, “Turn away from evil and do good.” When, however, one relates to another individual, one must channel one’s energies solely in the path of “Do good.”

Although there may be times when another individual’s conduct warrants reproof, before speaking one should question whether he is fit to be the one to administer it. Furthermore, if reproof must be given, it should be offered gently, which will obviously enable it to be accepted more readily than harsh speech. Moreover, such words should be spoken only on select occasions.

These concepts are reflected in the verse, “One who withholds the rod hates his son,” which indicates that stiff rebuke may be given only when the relationship between two individuals is like a father and a son. There are two concepts implied by this verse: Firstly, that to give rebuke, one must love the other person just as a father loves his child. And also that the difference in level between the two people must be as radical as that between a father and a son. This is not true in most cases. Since all individuals share a fundamental equality, it is appropriate that they relate to each other as equals.

This is the message of Parshas Vayakhel, that one seek to unite with every member of the Jewish people. This service receives greater emphasis at present, when we are sitting together in a farbrengen, when our feelings of Ahavas Yisrael are actually expressed. When we say, “Behold I accept upon myself the fulfillment of the mitzvah, ‘Love your fellow man as yourself,’ ” this is a private statement.5 In contrast, the present gathering is an opportunity for these feelings to be actually expressed.

This approach, the thrust to unite with one’s fellow Jews, will lead to the ultimate fulfillment of Vayakhel, the ingathering of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael. And here, a significant lesson results from the fact that Vayakhel and Pekudei are read as separate parshiyos. There is no need to wait for Pekudei, the census of the Jewish people, for the beginning of Vayakhel, the ingathering. On the contrary, the Jews will first gather together in Eretz Yisrael, and afterwards, there will be a census.6

This is particularly relevant in the present year, a year of “wonders in all things,” for a foretaste of this ingathering is being experienced at present with the aliyah of Jews from many different countries to Eretz Yisrael. Throughout the centuries, there were always Jews who made aliyah. At present, however, there are far more Jews gathering in Eretz Yisrael than ever before and indeed, this has attracted the attention of the entire world.

In this context, it is worthy to note an enigmatic phenomenon. Although Rav Mendel of Horadok and several other Rebbeim settled in Eretz Yisrael, none of the nesi’im, from the Baal Shem Tov to the Previous Rebbe ever made aliyah. Furthermore, with the exception of the Previous Rebbe, none ever even visited Eretz Yisrael. And in the Previous Rebbe’s case, he explained the reason for his visit: as a substitute for the visit to the graves of the Rebbeim in Lubavitch and Rostov.

The above concepts also relate to the special Torah reading of the present week, Parshas Shekalim. We find that the Torah explicitly commands that “the rich shall not give more... than a half-shekel.” On the surface, this is difficult to understand: All the offerings in the Beis HaMikdash were required to be perfect and complete. Why in this instance were we required to give no more than a half-shekel? Also, since the Torah requires us to give only a half-shekel, why does it mention that an entire shekel is twenty gerah? Seemingly, all that concerns us is the ten gerah of the half-shekel.

In resolution: This command clarifies that a Jew cannot become a complete entity a “holy shekel, unless he joins together with another Jew. Each Jew himself is ten gerah, a half7 -shekel. When, however, he joins together with another Jew, they reach twenty8 gerah, a complete entity.

Parshas Vayakhel and Parshas Shekalim also emphasize the need for establishing unity within one’s own self. Indeed, the establishment of such unity makes possible the establishment of bonds of unity with other Jews.

This endeavor is illustrated in a renowned chassidic story: Rav Zalman Aharon, the elder son of the Rebbe Maharash, once asked his uncle, Rav Yosef Yitzchak, if he recited his prayers betzibbur, “with the community.” Rav Yosef Yitzchak answered in the affirmative. The very next day, however, Rav Zalman Aharon noticed that his uncle prolonged his prayers, lingering far longer than any congregation would.

“You told me you prayed betzibbur?” he asked.

“I do,” his uncle replied. “Betzibbur literally means ‘with the collective.’ After I marshal together the ten components of my soul, I pray.”

Similarly, in regard to Parshas Shekalim, another explanation of the reason why only a half-shekel was given was to emphasize that a Jew’s second half comes from above. Thus the Maggid of Mezritch interprets the expression shnai chatzotzros, (lit. “two trumpets”) as shnai chatzi tzuros, “two half-entities,” for a Jew and G‑d are both “half-entities” until a union is established between them.9

In this context, we can understand why a Jew’s day begins with the declaration Modeh Ani. Even before a person says, “Behold I accept upon myself...,” as soon as he arises from sleep, he declares Modeh Ani.10

What is the core of this declaration? That a person gather together his entire being and devote it to G‑d.

To explain: Seemingly, before a person is able to make such a declaration, he should consciously perceive G‑d’s presence. This in turn would appear to require that he contemplate the world around him until he comes to the realization that “the entire earth is filled with His glory.” Only then, would he be able to make an all-encompassing commitment to G‑d.

We, however, do not need such preparation, for our connection with G‑dliness is intrinsic and constant, shaping our thinking processes even when we sleep. Indeed, a person’s bond with G‑d may be even greater when he sleeps than when he is awake, for then his conscious, intellectual faculties do not control his thoughts. In their absence, his essence can surface. And the essence of every soul is connected with G‑d at all times.11

When a person arises from sleep,12 however, he becomes conscious of himself as an individual entity, and indeed, as a powerful entity.13 Nevertheless, as soon as he feels his own existence, he gives himself over to G‑d with thankful acknowledgement.14 And this enables him to perceive how “great is Your faithfulness,” i.e., how every entity in the world reflects G‑d’s gracious kindness. In this manner, he is able to collect every entity in the world at large under the all-encompassing banner of G‑d’s service.

To summarize: a Jew’s service begins with gathering together the different aspects of his own being. Afterwards, he gathers together with the entire Jewish people, and then, gathers together every element of the world and shows how their entire existence is intended to carry out G‑d’s will.15

In this manner, every moment of a Jew’s life should be one in which he “wakes up from sleep,” and begins with Modeh Ani. And then his entire day is healthy in both a spiritual and a material sense.16

And this will lead to the ultimate process of ingathering, the ingathering of the dispersed Jewish people. G‑d will “sound the great shofar... and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land.” “A great congregation (— all the Jews of the present generation and all those of the previous generations —) will return here.”

And this will happen in the very near future.17 And then we will proceed “with our youth and with our elders... with our sons and with our daughters” to Eretz Yisrael, to Jerusalem, and to the Third (and threefold18 ) Beis HaMikdash. May this take place in the immediate future.

* * *

Increasing our gifts to tzedakah; giving of “our selves”

The practical directive to be taken from the above involves an increase of our donations to tzedakah. In this context, we can derive a lesson from the fact that the half-shekalim were given in connection with the sacrifices offered in the Beis HaMikdash.

In regard to those sacrifices, it is written, “A person who shall bring from you....” The Alter Rebbe notes that seemingly it would have been more proper to say, “A person of you who shall bring....” The transposition of the order of the words in the verse indicates that the offering must be “from you,” of the person’s self. The Hebrew word for offering korban relates to the Hebrew word kerov meaning “close.” The only way a Jew can come close to G‑d is by giving of himself.

Similarly, in regard to our gifts to tzedakah; we must give of ourselves. There are different graduations in our obligation to give tzedakah: The basic obligation of tzedakah is maaser, one tenth of one’s resources. A person who desires to fulfill the mitzvah, min hamuvchar (“in the most choice manner possible”), should give a fifth of his resources. Over and above that, however, there is an a deeper motivation to give, to borrow an expression, “everything a person owns he will give for the sake of his soul.” For the realization of the fundamental unity we share with others will prompt us to give generously. For the other person is one’s other half as it were. Giving to him fulfills one’s own self, and therefore, there will be no limits to one’s gifts.

Furthermore, one’s giving must be in a manner of vayakhel, i.e., permeated with the efforts to gather together with all other Jews. This means that our thoughts must be preoccupied with Ahavas Yisrael, the love of our fellow Jews. We must make statements that reflect this feeling including the declaration instituted at the beginning of the prayer service mentioned above. And primarily, our actual gifts must reflect this commitment. Thus they will be substantial, as mentioned above, “everything a person owns he will give for the sake of his soul.”

Moreover, our gifts to tzedakah should constantly be increased. Every moment, the creation as a whole is being renewed and is receiving additional blessings through G‑d’s benevolence. Therefore, at every moment, we should renew and increase our commitment to tzedakah, amplifying the manner in which we help others.

And these efforts to gather together, both the different dimensions of our spiritual being and to gather together with other Jews will hasten the ultimate ingathering of the Jewish people when together with the entire Jewish people, we will proceed to Eretz Yisrael where we merit the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and the actual offering of the sacrifices. May this take place in the immediate future.