1. It is an established Jewish custom to study Pirkei Avos on the Shabbosim between Pesach and Shavuos, beginning this Shabbos with the study of the first chapter. Among the explanations for this practice is that the lessons taught by Pirkei Avos prepare us for “the season of the giving of the Torah” on Shavuos. [In this context, we find a parallel between the study of Pirkei Avos which focuses on ethics and the service of Sefiras HaOmer (the counting of the Omer) which concentrates on refining the emotional characteristics of our animal souls as a preparation for the giving of the Torah.]

The first Mishnah of Pirkei Avos begins, “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai,” discussing the manner in which the Jews received the Torah and not their preparations for it. This leads to the conclusion that the preparations for the giving of the Torah also contain the potential for receiving the Torah.

The study of Pirkei Avos is also connected with the holiday of Pesach. Hence, the question arises: How is the above concept associated with Pesach?

This question can be answered as follows: The exodus from Egypt is a preparatory step for the giving of the Torah. Thus, G‑d promised Moshe, “When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G‑d on this mountain.” However, before G‑d gave the Torah to the Jews and before the Jews could receive the Torah, as a preparatory step, it was necessary for the Jews to be redeemed from Egypt and as part of that process of redemption, for “the King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, to reveal Himself” to the Jews. Chassidic thought refers to this as “an arousal from above” without any prompting from the recipient.

This, in turn, generates the potential for the service of the Jewish people in the 49 days of the counting of the Omer, a service involving “an arousal from below,” which is expressed in the refinement of the entire range of our emotional characteristics. This brings us to the fiftieth day, the day of the giving of the Torah, when the fiftieth gate of understanding, the penultimate level of G‑dliness, is revealed.1 However, in contrast to the revelation of Pesach, since this revelation comes after the service of the Jews, it can be internalized by them.

Based on the above, it can be explained that the beginning and the potential for the giving of the Torah and the revelation of the fiftieth gate of wisdom comes from G‑d’s revelation on Pesach. This generated the potential for the service of counting the Omer which, in turn, brought about the giving of the Torah. However, since the revelation on Pesach was from above, without preparation on the part of the recipients, it had no lasting effect for them. Hence, there was a necessity for the service of Sefiras HaOmer which involves a step by step progression in order for it to be possible to internalize G‑d’s revelation. After this service, the Torah could be given and the fiftieth gate of understanding revealed in a manner which allowed it to become a permanent part of a Jew’s being.

The above is surely true at present, after the giving of the Torah. The above-mentioned cycle of spiritual revelations repeats itself and now, the revelation associated with the giving of the Torah is surely present during the holiday of Pesach.

The above explains the reason for beginning the study of Pirkei Avos with the Mishnah, “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai...,” for on Pesach — and in particular, on the Shabbos following Pesach when the service of Pesach reaches a higher level of completion — the potential for receiving the Torah already exists. Furthermore, we know what service is required from the Jewish people to bring this potential out into reality, the study and work on our ethical conduct. [Nevertheless, to make this revelation a reality, we must actually perform this service.]

In addition, the fact that Pirkei Avos begins with “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai...” implies an additional concept. The Rambam writes:

All the mitzvos that were given to Moshe at Mount Sinai were given together with their explanations as it is said: “And I will give you the tablets of stone, the Torah, and the mitzvah.” “The Torah” refers to the written law; “the mitzvah,” to its explanation. [G‑d] commanded us to fulfill “the Torah” according to [the instructions of] “the mitzvah.” “The mitzvah” is called the oral law.

Thus, Moshe’s receiving of the Torah on Sinai encompasses not only the written law, but also its explanation, the oral law. This teaches that in addition to the development of our ethics, the preparation for receiving the Torah involves renewing our commitment and adding to our study of the entire Torah.

2. The first Mishnah of Pirkei Avos mentions the chain of tradition through which the Torah was transmitted from generation to generation and concludes:

They (the men of the Great Assembly who received the Torah from the prophets) said three things: “Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many students, and make a fence around the Torah.”

On the surface, this is a different concept than the chain of tradition mentioned previously and, therefore, seemingly should have been taught in a separate Mishnah.

By including these directives in the same Mishnah, however, the Mishnah teaches that they are fundamental necessities in continuing the transmission of the Torah from generation to generation. To elaborate: For the chain of our Torah tradition to be continued, it is not sufficient that a teacher transmit the Torah to a single disciple, but rather, he must “raise up many students.”

This advice is also connected to the first clause of the Mishnah. “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it....” Though the Mishnah only mentions Moshe’s transmission of the Torah to Yehoshua, in other sources, our Sages have elaborated, explaining that Moshe taught the Torah to the totality of the Jewish people. The Talmud (Eruvin 54b) relates that after G‑d taught Moshe a concept Moshe would teach it to Aharon. Afterwards, he would teach it to Aharon’s sons, then, to the Elders, and afterwards, to the entire Jewish people. Thus, Moshe was the first to “raise up many students,” for the entire 600,000 Jews in his generation were his students. Similarly, all the Jews in the subsequent generations are also his students as implied by the verse, “The Torah Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.”

3. The directive, “Raise up many students,” was issued by the Sages of the Mishnah. Nevertheless, when a Jew fulfills this directive, he also fulfills a positive mitzvah from the Torah as our Sages commented on the verse, “And you shall teach them to your sons.” “ ’Your sons’ — these are the students.”

We find many examples in which a practice is Rabbinic in origin or merely a custom without there being an obligation from the Torah to carry it out. Nevertheless, by carrying out this practice, one does fulfill a Torah commandment. For example, the mitzvah to remember the deeds of Amalek.2 Though according to some authorities, we are obligated to remember Amalek’s deeds only once a year, whenever one recalls those deeds — whether by reading the Six Remembrances that are customarily recited each day or when reading Parshas Ki Seitzei which is a Rabbinic injunction — one fulfills a Torah commandment.

Similarly, in regard to the directive, “Raise up many students”: The Torah obligates us to teach “the students.” It does not require that we have “many students.” Nevertheless, whenever a person teaches one of his many students (be it the first or the thousandth), he fulfills the mitzvah, “And you shall teach them.”3

[The same concept applies in regard to the custom of studying Pirkei Avos on these Shabbosim. Even though this is only a custom, when one fulfills this custom, one surely fulfills the Torah commandment of Torah study.]

Thus, the fulfillment of the directive, “Raise up many students,” increases one’s observance of the Torah commandment of teaching Torah. To put it in practical terms, a businessman would probably teach one or two students. Because of this Mishnah’s teaching, he will take some of the time which he would normally devote to business pursuits and use it to teach “many students.”

Furthermore, there is a difference between the feelings with which we approach a Rabbinic commandment and those with which we approach a commandment of the Torah. Just as G‑d regards “the words of the Sages” as “dearer” “than the words of the Torah,” we also may feel more feeling and excitement in their fulfillment. Since these commandments were not decreed by the Torah, but rather, willingly accepted by the Jewish people themselves, our emotional involvement in their fulfillment is greater. This, in turn, leads to an increased observance of the mitzvah.

The above also adds to the explanation of the practice of reciting Pirkei Avos immediately after Pesach. At that time, we renew our acceptance of the totality of Torah and mitzvos, including both the commandments of the written Torah and also the additions made by the Rabbis in the oral law.4

To summarize the above: As we proceed from Pesach, “the head of the festivals” and begin a new year in regard to the acceptance of the Torah, it is necessary to arouse the Jewish people to reinforce their previous efforts and increase their participation in all aspects of Torah study. We must strengthen all commitments to Torah study, whether commitments of an individual or those made by the many in light of the directive, “Raise up many students.” [In the latter context, it is important to mention the importance of holding a Kinus Torah (gathering of Torah study) shortly after the Pesach holiday in as many places as possible.]

In regard to individual study, particular emphasis should be placed on the daily study of Chitas (Chumash — the Torah, TehillimPsalms, and Tanya) as instituted by the Previous Rebbe and also, the daily study of the Rambam that was recently instituted. Also, it is desirable to follow an accepted Chassidic custom of studying a chapter of Tanya before our morning prayers.5 The fulfillment of these directives, carried out with the warmth and feeling that accompany a practice initiated by one’s teachers, constitutes the observance of the Torah’s commandment to study Torah.

Our Sages declared: “Study is great because it brings to deed.” Thus, this increase in Torah study will also bring about an increase in deed, i.e., the fulfillment of the mitzvos in the most complete manner and also, mundane behavior carried out in a manner of “May all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven,” and “Know Him in all your ways.”

But beyond these individual efforts, emphasis must be placed on “Raising up many students.” This year was declared as “The year of the child.” Also, it is a leap year which is called “a complete year,” and therefore, a complete level of service is appropriate. Accordingly, it is proper to publicize the importance of reaching out and “Raising up many students” in a manner that every Jew will hear the message and make a commitment to increase his efforts towards this goal.

Each person has room to increase his service for the word “many” is not restrictive. Regardless of the number of students one has taught in the past, the directive to “raise up many students” implies that one must increase one’s efforts and add new students. After getting used to teaching the students one already has, doing so is not considered as real work. For such a person, teaching many students means finding new students with whom one was not previously involved.6

Also, in the fullest sense, “raising up many students,” includes teaching one’s students in a manner which will inspire them to teach others. Thus, one’s efforts will continue to bear fruit forever.

The service of “raising up many students” is relevant to every Jew be he a Yissachar — a Torah scholar whose efforts must be devoted to actually teaching the many students — or a Zevulun — a businessman whose service centers primarily on supporting these efforts. Indeed, by using the expression “Raise up” rather than “teach,” the Mishnah could also be alluding to the role of the supporters of Torah who provide for those who study, support Torah institutions, and make available texts for study.

By supporting these efforts to spread Torah, a Zevulun has an equal share and indeed, a greater share in the service of “raising up many students.” In regard to a person’s own study, the Shulchan Aruch states that a person who cannot study Torah himself can receive an equal share of Torah study by supporting the study of a colleague.7 Indeed, his share is greater as evidenced by the fact that the Torah praises Zevulun before praising Yissacher. Similarly, in regard to teaching others, those who support these efforts are given priority.

There is a story in the Talmud which emphasizes this point. Concerned about the future of Torah study among the Jewish people, Rabbi Chiya went out and trapped deer, made their hides into parchment, wrote down the Torah on them, and taught it to Jewish children. When Rebbi Yehudah HaNasi heard of this he exclaimed, “How great are Chiya’s deeds.” He did not praise Rabbi Chiya’s own study — though it was of fundamental importance to the extent that most of the beraisos were authored by him. He did not praise Rabbi Chiya’s efforts to teach the children. He praised his deeds, the efforts he took to catch the deer and make their hides into parchment.

This does not mean that the Yissachars — the Torah scholars — should abandon their roles as teachers. Quite the contrary, as we see from Rabbi Chiya’s example, he devoted his time primarily to the study of Torah, composing the beraisos. However, when it was necessary, he also was involved in the “deeds” necessary to perpetuate Torah study. Thus, the Yissachars should fulfill their role — teaching Torah. The Zevuluns should fulfill their role — supporting Torah study and providing for its needs. Together, these efforts will help usher in the age when “A person will no longer teach his colleague for all will know Me from the small to the great,” with the coming of the complete and ultimate redemption. May it come immediately.