1. Our Sages state, “Whoever labors [in preparation for the Shabbos] on the Shabbos eve, will eat on the Shabbos.” Accordingly, this Shabbos is influenced by the day which preceded it, the second of Iyar, the birthday of the Rebbe Maharash.1 Thus, this is a time when we should increase our study of the Rebbe Maharash’s teachings and our adherence to his instructions, following the path he tread. First and foremost, this means following the adage which characterized the Rebbe Maharash’s behavior,2 Lechat'chilah Aribber. To quote the adage in its entirety, “Generally, people say, ‘I will try to crawl under and if I don’t succeed I will climb over,’ and I say, ‘At the outset, one should try to climb over.’ ”

There are two fundamental points communicated by this adage: a) One realizes that there is another approach — indeed, this approach is followed by the world at large, and, even within Torah, there is support for it. Nevertheless, rather than act within these constraints, one chooses to rise above them and “climb over,” drawing strength from the teachings and example of the Rebbe Maharash. b) The adage begins “At the outset.” This implies that the approach of rising above limitations should not be the culmination and apex of one’s service, but rather, the outset, the starting point, from which one continues to grow. One must proceed from strength to strength, at every moment transcending the limitations which one faces, each service of transcendence being more elevated than the one which preceded it.

The above concepts can be clarified through an explanation of the connection between the Rebbe Maharash and the month in which his birthday falls, the month of Iyar. The month of Iyar is characterized by a unique dimension. Each day of the month is associated with a mitzvah, the mitzvah of counting the Omer.3

The mitzvah of counting the Omer is associated with the refinement4 of our animal nature. This is alluded to by the fact that the Omer, in contrast to the other meal offerings in the Beis HaMikdash, was from barley which our Sages describe as “animal fodder.” Similarly, the 49 days of the Omer reflect the refinement of our seven emotions, each one as included within the other. This implies a step by step service, until we progress to the level of “seven perfect weeks,” i.e., until we have perfected each of our emotional qualities.

On the surface, the step by step progression which characterizes the counting of the Omer appears to run contrary to the approach of Lechat'chilah Aribber. Nevertheless, the relationship between the two can be explained in terms of the following concept:

The Torah teaches that the counting of the Omer begins, “On the day after the Shabbos,” i.e., the day after Pesach. Rather, than state the day of the month, the Torah uses this term to associate this mitzvah with the holiday of Pesach. Pesach reflects a leap forward in the service of G‑d. G‑d revealed Himself to the Jews, redeeming them, “not by means of an angel... but rather, the Holy One, blessed be He, in His glory, and by Himself.” The Rebbe Rashab explains that this refers to the essence of G‑d as He exists above all concept of limitation.

By emphasizing that the counting of the Omer comes after Pesach, the Torah stresses that its goal is to continue and develop the leap forward made on Pesach. Each day, greater progress is made. This is emphasized by the manner in which the Omer is counted. Rather than say, “Today is the second day...,” “Today is the third day...” and the like. We say, “Today is two days of the Omer,” “Today is three days...,” indicating that each day includes within it the service of all the previous days and then, contributes a further dimension of growth itself. This leads to an additional leap forward beyond all previous levels on the fiftieth day, the holiday of Shavuos.

Thus, Pesach is not an isolated experience after which a person returns to his ordinary structured routine, but rather, Pesach initiates a cycle of progress that continues throughout one’s life. This transforms the nature of the counting of the Omer from a limited service to a further expression of the leap forward taken on Pesach, bringing that unlimited influence into the context of the refinement of one’s emotional characteristics.

This unlimited influence is reflected in the prayer recited after the counting of the Omer in which we say, “May I be purified and sanctified with the holiness of above.,” i.e., not the limited holiness that can be generated by human activity, but G‑d’s supernal holiness. The prayer continues: “May it correct our nefesh, ruach, and neshamah from every baseness and blemish (i.e., it involves every aspect of our souls) and may it purify and sanctify us with Your sublime holiness (i.e., a holiness that is shared by G‑d, Himself). Amen, Selah (the latter two words affirming that this influence will continue eternally).” Surely, this, the sanctification of a limited human being with G‑d’s sublime holiness, represents a great leap forward.

This service prepares us for the holiday of Shavuos. After every aspect of an individual’s personality (i.e., the full range of his emotional potentials) becomes permeated with G‑d’s holiness, he is prepared to receive the Torah anew.5

On a deeper level, the counting of the Omer prepares us to receive the Torah in the Messianic age, when “a new Torah will emerge from Me.” In that era, the perfect union between G‑d and the Jews will be revealed as it is written “All will know Me.” The connection between this revelation an the counting of the Omer is alluded to in the prayer which we recite directly after counting the Omer, “May the Merciful One restore the service of the Beis HaMikdash to its place, speedily in our days.”

Based on the above, we can understand the connection joining the birthday of the Rebbe Maharash and the approach of Lechat'chilah Aribber (“At the outset, one should try to climb over”) to the month of Iyar and the counting of the Omer.

The contribution of the Rebbe Maharash is not that he merely advised the Jews to “climb over.” Everyone understands that, at times, there is the need to “climb over.” What is unique about the Rebbe Maharash’s approach is that he advised that this path be taken, “at the outset,” as the starting point for one’s service. This allows that, afterwards, the totality of one’s service follows the pattern of “climbing over,” stepping beyond the limits of the natural order. Thus, this approach parallels the pattern in which the unlimited leap forward of Pesach permeates through (and changes the nature of) the limited service of counting the Omer.

Furthermore, each time a person “climbs over,” he establishes a new base for his service from which he will advance and “climb over” to an even higher peak. This parallels the manner in which each day of the counting of Omer includes within it the previous days and itself leads to an even greater advance.

The connection between these concepts is alluded to by the fact that the Rebbe Maharash’s birthday falls on the second of Iyar. On the first ordinary day after the uplifted influence of Nissan is concluded and Rosh Chodesh Iyar, which is not a mundane weekday, passes, we celebrate the Rebbe Maharash’s birthday which teaches us the approach of Lechat'chilah Aribber.

This concept is also related to the sefirah, Tiferes sheb’tiferes, which is connected to the Rebbe Maharash’s birthday. The sefirah of Tiferes is unlimited in nature, reflecting “the attribute of Yaakov, our Patriarch, ‘the middle bolt,’ which extends from one end to the other,” revealing a dimension of infinity on every level from the lowest depths to the highest peaks.

2. There is a connection between the above concepts and the chapter of Pirkei Avos studied this week. That chapter begins:

Rabbi said: Which is the right path that a man should choose for himself? That which is honorable to himself and brings him honor from man.

There are several difficulties with this Mishnah. Among them: a) The very question, “Which is the right path that a man should choose for himself?” is problematic. The Torah is the only path of behavior for a Jew is it is written, “G‑d’s paths are right.” Furthermore, we are obligated to fulfill the Torah. The matter is not left for us to “choose.” b) Of the four Hebrew terms for “man,” the term the Mishnah uses adam, refers to the highest level. On the surface, the need to follow “a right path” and the advice the Mishnah gives applies to everyone, even a person on the lowest level, not only one who was reached the level of adam. c) What is the relationship of this teaching to its author, Rabbi. Furthermore, why does the Mishnah refer to him as Rabbi. On the surface, it would have been appropriate to call him by name, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi. Indeed, the following Mishnah refers to him in this manner.

These difficulties can be resolved as follows: In this Mishnah, Rabbi is giving instruction specifically to a person who has reached the level of adam. For another person, the path of behavior he must follow is obvious; he must follow the directives of Torah and mitzvos. When, however, a person fulfills Torah and mitzvos in a complete manner and has internalized them within his personality and thus, merited the title, adam,6 there is room to ask: Which path should he follow?

The Mishnah implies that there are several paths from which a person must choose because G‑d, the Torah, and the Jewish people are infinite and thus, there are many paths through which a person can develop his connection to G‑d.

Indeed, though both the Torah and the Jewish people are infinite, there is a level within the Jewish people that surpasses that of the Torah. Our Sages relate: Two entities preceded creation, the Torah and Israel. Among these two, it is not known which of them receives precedence. The fact that the Torah states, “Speak to the children of Israel,” “Tell the children of Israel,” indicates that Israel receives precedence.

In this context, Chassidic thought explains the statement, “There are three bonds which are connected with each other: The Holy One, blessed be He, Torah, and Israel.” The fact that three bonds are mentioned implies that, in addition to the connection between a Jew and G‑d that comes through the medium of Torah, there is a direct connection between a Jew and G‑d that requires no intermediary. Similarly, in regard to the Mishnah mentioned above, after an adam has thoroughly developed the connection to G‑d through Torah, there is room to ask which path he should take to develop his essential bond with G‑d.

The answer Rabbi gives is “That which is honorable to himself and brings him honor from man.” What is “honorable to oneself” is to elevate oneself and relate to G‑d in an infinite bond. Nevertheless, this bond must also “bring him honor from man.” Coming close to G‑d cannot take one away from life within this world. Rather, together with the spiritual heights he reaches, he must find favor in the eyes of men, all men, even gentiles.7

To explain the concept in the terms of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of G‑d’s name: The Torah communicates this mitzvah in the following terms, “I will be sanctified among the children of Israel,” i.e., one’s sanctification of G‑d must also find favor “among the children of Israel.” Thus, our Sages explain that this mitzvah involves: “making G‑d’s name beloved. [One’s conduct] should be such that others exclaim: ‘How pleasant are his ways! How proper are his deeds!’ About such a person, the prophet states, ‘Israel, you are My servant, in whom I will be glorified.’ ”

This level of service is possible because one is an adam, i.e., he resembles the One above. Just as G‑d can combine and resolve opposites, such a person can combine the two seemingly contradictory services of rising up and clinging to G‑d and generating positive feelings within this world.8 Indeed, his service in this world is a reflection of his connection to G‑d and his appreciation of G‑d’s desire for “a dwelling in this world.”

The Mishnah communicates this teaching in the name of Rabbi. In this context, Rabbi is not a title (as used in the context, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi), but rather a name meaning “teacher.” By composing the Mishnah, Rabbi served as the teacher of the entire Jewish people. This name reflects the totality of his being. It was not merely a function or a dimension of his personality; he was Rabbi, the teacher of Israel. This described the essence of his existence.

For this reason, the Mishnah refers to him as Rabbi, rather than use his name, Rebbi Yehudah9 HaNasi. Though the title Nasi reflects a connection with the entire Jewish people, nevertheless, it also indicates that he is uplifted above the people at large. In contrast, the name Rabbi, i.e., the teacher of Israel, indicates an essential bond with the essence of the Jewish people, the level at which “Israel and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one.” This level reflects the bond between the Jews and G‑d that transcends Torah and mitzvos (the level where the Jews precede the Torah) and generates the potential to fuse together these two opposite thrusts as explained above.

3. The above explanation reveals a connection between this Mishnah and the approach of Lechat'chilah Aribber. The concept of seeking “the right path that a man should choose for himself” is itself indicative of a desire to “climb over,” to step beyond one’s limits. Surely, this is true of the instruction given by Rabbi which requires the fusion of “that which is honorable to himself and brings him honor from man.” Uniting these two thrusts is only possible when one “climbs over” the limits of the natural order.

Pirkei Avos is studied in preparation for receiving the Torah anew on the holiday of Shavuos. Thus, Rabbi’s teaching, positioned at the beginning of the second chapter, provides important instructions leading towards that goal. Furthermore, though the Mishnah continues and mentions several further points which Rabbi considered as significant lessons: “Be as careful in the [performance of a seemingly] minor mitzvah as of a major one,...” it begins by mentioning the concept of choosing a proper path to set the tone for the totality of the service of Torah and mitzvos, characterizing that service by the approach of Lechat'chilah Aribber. This lifts the totality of one’s service above limitation, elevating even those aspects which are, by nature, limited.10

The approach of Lechat'chilah Aribber which reveals how a Jew stands above all limitations, even those of Torah and mitzvos, is also emphasized in the two teachings which serve as an introduction and a conclusion to each chapter of Pirkei Avos. The introductory teaching, “All Israel have a portion in the World to Come...,” reflects the essential nature of each Jew’s soul, the point within the Jew that transcends Torah. Every Jew, whoever he is, regardless of his level of observance is “the branch of My planting, the work of My hands,” created so that G‑d can “take pride” in him.

Similarly, the Mishnah which concludes each chapter of Pirkei Avos reveals how the Torah and mitzvos were given “to make the people of Israel meritorious,” because, “G‑d desired, for the sake of his [Israel’s] righteousness, to make the Torah great and glorious;” i.e., because of G‑d’s essential desire for the Jewish people, He increased, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the Torah, i.e., it is the Jews who caused an increase in Torah.

Since “Deed is most essential,” the above concepts must be reflected in our behavior, first and foremost, in an increase in the study of the teachings of the Rebbe Maharash, and also in carrying out his directive and approach of Lechat'chilah Aribber. In particular, this should be expressed in the efforts to spread the teachings of Chassidus. May these efforts hasten the coming of the time when we will make the ultimate “climb,” lifting ourselves above the limits of exile. We have already completed the service necessary and, “all the appointed times for Mashiach’s coming have passed.” Thus, 5750, “a year of miracles” is an appropriate time to make the leap from exile to redemption. May it be in the immediate future.

The above is also reflected in this week’s Torah portion, parshas Tazria-Metzora. This reading represents a fusion of two opposites as apparent from the law which requires a metzora to remain alone; he is not allowed contact with his wife. This prevents the possibility that “a woman will give seed and give birth,” the subject matter of the beginning of parshas Tazria.

Homiletically, metzora refers to the exile since, while the Jews are in exile, they are forced to remain “alone outside the camp,” outside their Father’s presence. Tazria, giving birth, refers to the redemption, when the Jews will emerge from exile. Then, just as a metzora goes through a purification process,11 the Jews will be purified. Indeed, their purification will be carried out by G‑d, Himself, as it is written, “I will pour upon you pure water and you will be purified,” and “You will be purified before G‑d.”