1. Shabbos Mevarchim Sivan carries with it aspects that are common to every Shabbos Mevarchim, as well unique facets which come to the fore only during the month of Sivan. Every Shabbos Mevarchim is associated with the general theme of Rosh Chodesh which encompasses the principle of renewal. This idea is often applied to a person’s Divine service, through the dictum: ‘Every day they (the teachings of the Torah) should be to you as something new.’ (Rashi, Devarim 26:16) When something is novel it awakens greater enthusiasm and excitement and it is performed with special affection.

On the one hand Torah is changeless and eternal (the opposite of ‘new’), as the Rambam declares in the 13 Principles of Faith (see Tanya, ch. 17). So that even in a temporal, changing and limited world, the Torah remains constant, timeless, consistent and unvarying. This is its eternal power.

Human nature relates to something timeless with a feeling of ennui — so here it could happen that one might approach Torah in a humdrum way, without feeling or enthusiasm. For this reason it is necessary to emphasize that in fact Torah is like something new everyday. We begin by saying that the ‘ageless’ Torah is ‘like’ something new (see Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chayim 61:2), and then it is explained that the Torah is ‘actually’ and truly new.

This connotation of Rosh Chodesh is tangible and comprehensible even to small children. By stressing the newness and freshness of Torah and mitzvos and all areas of Divine service it will engender a proper enthusiasm and energetic affection.

The specific theme of Rosh Chodesh Sivan is clearly stated in Scripture:

In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt, on the first of the month, they came to the desert of Sinai...Israel camped opposite the mountain. (Shmos 19:1-2)

The special quality of Rosh Chodesh Sivan as explained by Rashi (loc. cit.), is that on that day the Jewish people camped ‘as one man with one heart (mind).’ On the day the Jewish people reached the desert of Sinai they also attained a state of unity and cooperation — ‘as one man.’ This attitude was so pervasive that the Torah used the singular verb ‘Vayichan’ to describe their encampment opposite Mt. Sinai.

Coming away from the holiday of Lag BaOmer it is appropriate for us to point out an association between this aspect of Jewish unity with Lag BaOmer which was the day on which the students of R. Akiva stopped dying. The plague was averted by virtue of the fact that on that day they finally reached the ultimate understanding of their teacher’s dictum that ‘Love your neighbor as yourself is an important rule in Torah.’

It is more than just an important rule of Torah, it is the whole Torah, as Hillel said: ‘...that is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary thereof; go and learn it.’ (Shabbos 31a) When you have Ahavas Yisrael you have the totality of Torah; you must only go out to study and explain it.

More profoundly, the unanimity of the Jewish people as a prerequisite for Matan Torah may also be viewed independently, as an isolated incident.

On the first night of Pesach at the Seder we proclaim:

If He had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Torah, Dayeinu, it would have sufficed us. (Haggadah)

This clearly indicates that the encampment opposite Mt. Sinai, in and of itself, would have sufficed to accomplish great things for the Jewish people. In fact, it may be compared to the next verse in the Haggadah which proclaims:

If He had given us the Torah and had not brought us into Eretz Yisrael, Dayeinu. (Ibid.)

Thus, our encampment near Sinai was tantamount to the giving of the Torah itself. Clearly, Jewish unity of and by itself is intrinsically and essentially a lofty goal and one to be pursued and attained.

Since these statements are to be found in the Haggadah which is read on the night of Pesach, when it is incumbent upon every father to teach even his youngest son — the one who knows not how to ask — it is clear that this concept can be understood even by a young child.

Everyone believes in G‑d’s unity: ‘Hear O Israel the L‑rd is our G‑d the L‑rd is One.’ In fact, we are all ‘believers the children of believers.’ (Shabbos 97a) When we want to unite with G‑dliness, we must clearly exhibit those attributes in which we will find affinity for G‑d — the Holy One, Blessed be He, in the perfect unity, and so we must exhibit unity — one people with One G‑d. Even a small child can grasp this and definitely understand that disunity must be banned.

Therefore, our unity of the first of Sivan brought us to unite with G‑d’s unity — which is why this experience alone would have sufficed.

In practical terms, on this Shabbos when the blessing is extended to the Rosh Chodesh of Sivan, everyone must accept good resolutions on the subject of Rosh Chodesh Sivan, in Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity as they stand alone and not directly related to Matan Torah. And although this applies all year round it is more appropriate to increase, qualitatively and quantitatively, in connection with Rosh Chodesh Sivan. For on that day Jewish unity once again is renewed and invigorated as we relive once again the past experiences and make Torah new for us now.

How can this be accomplished?

When Torah expects something then G‑d gives us the ability to do it, for the Holy One, Blessed be He, only requests us to do that which is within our own power to do.

In this context the Midrash relates:

Who has given Me anything beforehand.... Who made a Mezuzah for My sake before I gave him a house. (Vayikra Rabbah 27:2)

The meaning of this Midrash is clear, first G‑d gives us the wherewithal and then we are able to fulfill mitzvos. When the home has a mezuzah then G‑d’s protection is afforded to all the inhabitants of the house whether at home or away. So, when Torah demands stronger Ahavas Yisrael we definitely have the power to carry out Torah’s demands.

May we advance from, ‘being brought close to Sinai’ on Rosh Chodesh to:

..and brought us into Eretz Yisrael and built for us the Bais HaBechirah to atone for all our sins. (Haggadah)

That will be the time of complete repentance, when the sins are converted to merits — a new form of merits. So that the penitents will stand on a pedestal, even loftier than the righteous.

Then Mashiach will effect the same elevation of repentance also for the righteous, ‘and your nation are all righteous.’ (Sanhedrin 90a)

We will then see the ‘new Torah’ — speedily and truly in our time.

2. This year Shabbos Mevarchim Sivan occurs on the Shabbos when we read the double portion of Behar-Bechukosai. Since these are two distinct portions that are combined and read as one, it follows that we may draw a lesson from each portion individually, as well as from the combined reading.

The general themes of Behar and Bechukosai have been discussed in the past and within those interpretations there is room for further analysis and exposition.

Chassidic philosophy metaphorically compares the rising inanimate mountains to the aspect of growth. Since the planet Earth has a completeness and all-encompassing potential, it follows that there must be an aspect of living growth even in the mineral composition of the earth. This is personified by the mountains which lift themselves and rise above the valleys and plains.

At first glance this analogy seems misplaced, for in nature we see the opposite phenomenon, that the forces of natural erosion work most effectively on mountains. Rain, mountain streams and erosive winds work steadily to erode and wear down a mountain. So much so, that man must implement all sorts of protective measures to keep the ecology of the mountains balanced.

Scientific knowledge and empirical evidence aside, we have a Scriptural source for the diminution of mountains:

A great and strong wind shattered the mountains. (I Melachim 19:11)

Thus, the erosion of mountains is well documented. Where do we find the growth of mountains, which gave the mountains the attribute of ‘vegetation.’

Let us investigate and analyze the evidence. How in fact do winds erode mountains. A flat plain presents little resistance to wind. Not so a hill, which feels the full brunt of a gusting wind and will therefore be eroded by the wind.

Herein lies the solution to our problem, for the same wind that erodes one hill will also deposit the airborne sand and earth on another mountain. When the wind flows along a flat plain nothing opposes it and nothing is deposited. When it reaches a hill which interferes with the air flow, needless to say, the sand settles down and is added to the mass of the mountain — so the mountain grows.

Consequently, the wind influences the mountain in two ways: It ‘shatters the mountains’ and it makes the mountains grow. As a result there are two types of mountains — growing mountains and diminishing hills.

In a person’s Divine service this would be analogous to the attribute of loftiness which could express itself in two ways: A) negatively — haughtiness and bragging which must be eliminated, or, B) positively — a loftiness which is used to strengthen all aspects of holiness.

When a ‘mountain’ represents pride and self-importance, it is the source of all evil and it must be destroyed. We must see the connection between pride and erosion; the mountain is shattered and a ‘spirit’ of G‑dliness is engendered to overpower the haughtiness.

On the other hand, when dealing with others one must engage the feeling of pride in order to increase good accomplishments, for when a highly respected person speaks to another Jew his influence is much greater and he will surely be successful.

Bechukosai, etymologically, is associated with the concept of ‘engraving’ and has the connotation of something rock-solid and changeless. It may also be associated with the ‘Chukim’ statutes of the Torah which we perform even though they are supralogical. This, too, indicates strength and uniformity.

The result is that ‘Behar’ indicates change, as exemplified by growth, while Bechukosai indicates consistency and unvarying continuity.

The combination of the two teaches us to grow in matters of solid consistency, just as the mountain rises over the plain.

This is the meaning of the Talmudic adage: scholars have no rest for they strive from height to height. If the Holy One, Blessed be He, gives you another day, you must utilize it to rise to a loftier position.

The same combination works in the reverse. The growth phenomenon (Behar) which is consistently changing, must also incorporate Bechukosai — this will be true when the growth will be consistent and after reaching loftier pinnacles there will be no backsliding.

On this thought we might draw an illustration from the case of forgetting one’s studies. The Mishnah admonishes us:

Whoever forgets anything of his Torah learning, Scripture considers it as if he were guilty of a mortal sin. (Avos 3:8)

Why is this seen as so grave an infraction? After all, he still remembers all the rest of his learning — he has forgotten but one lesson! Can he be judged guilty of capital punishment when all the rest of the Torah is ‘his life and the length of his days’?

The Mishnah, however, is dealing with the altruistic state of true unity of the Jewish soul and Torah — only then is Torah truly the ‘life’ of the Jewish soul — that state of unity is adulterated if a person forgets even one part of his Torah learning. If Torah is really his essential life how can he allow himself to dissolve his connection with even one part of Torah? If he does forget, it proves that his attachment was not intrinsic, and therefore the Torah is really not his life — if so, by deliberately forgetting, the Torah is no longer his life, and by not reviewing enough] he can be guilty of mortal sin.

Similarly in our case, after ‘growing’ up you must remain tall and lofty and not forget or fall back.

Now, since we read Behar-Bechukosai on Shabbos Mevarchim Sivan, the lesson of the Torah portion must be applied first and foremost to the Divine service of Sivan — specifically the Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity alluded to in the verse ‘and Israel encamped’ — ‘as one man with one mind’; as well as the necessary preparations to receive the Torah.

It is appropriate also to mention among the preparations for the Season of the Giving of our Torah, that everyone, including small children, should attend synagogue on the morning of Shavuos and hear the reading of the Ten Commandments.

The study of Tikkun on the night of Shavuos is also a form of preparation for Matan Torah, since we study all branches of Torah.

All this should follow the system of Behar-Bechukosai — growth with changelessness. The new Torah-forces of the Season of the Giving of Our Torah will effect growth in the daily acceptance of Torah as expressed in the daily blessing for Torah, and may it lead to the fulfillment of:

May it be Your will, ...that the Bais HaMikdash will be speedily rebuilt in our days, and grant us our position in Your Torah!

So may it be truly and speedily in our days.

3. The beginning of the portion Behar deals with the laws of Shemitah and Yovel. Scripture also admonishes us to observe the laws of the Torah:

Keep My decrees and safeguard My laws. If you keep them, you will live in the land securely. (Vayikra 25:18)

On the words ‘you will live in the land securely,’ Rashi writes:

[It states this] because as a punishment for the sin of neglecting the laws of Shemitah Israel becomes exiled, as it is said, ‘[and I will disperse you among the nations...] Then shall the land make up for the Sabbatical years...even then make up for her Sabbatical years, [that she has not observed].’ The seventy years of the Babylonian exile were indeed a punishment corresponding to the seventy Sabbatical years which they had neglected. (Rashi, loc. cit.)

On this Rashi a question was raised: In the plain meaning of the verse why is it necessary to speak of the seventy years of exile?

However, there is actually a stronger question on this Rashi which no one has noticed.

Since the reward discussed in the latter part of the verse depends upon the proper conduct described in the former part of the verse — ‘keep My decrees and safeguard My laws’ — the problem is: why does Rashi connect this with the sin of not observing shemitah? The verse clearly speaks of all the mitzvos in the Torah, not just shemitah.

It is strange that no one thought of this point.

Perhaps they were sidetracked by a comment of R. Eliyahu Mizrachi or Sifsei Chachamim which assumes that the ‘decrees’ and ‘laws’ referred to here are only the ones dealing with Shemitah. For if not why would it be mentioned here?

This approach is off track, because Rashi teaches the plain meaning of every verse and the simple meaning of ‘My decrees and laws’ is, all the laws of Torah, not only the laws of Shemitah. Should you respond and say that in the context of the Shemitah laws these words could mean only the Shemitah decree, then we may prove it otherwise by quoting the previous Rashi, where he clearly interprets the verse as dealing with a law not connected to Shemitah:

Here Scripture warns against vexing by words...one should not...give...advise which is unfitting.... (Ibid. verse 17)

Moreover, if this verse dealt only with the context of Shemitah, Rashi should tell us that fact, since it would be an exception to the general rule.

Although many of the Rashi annotators allude to these points they all suggest interpretations relying heavily on halachic, esoteric, or Midrashic views. We must understand Rashi from the viewpoint of the plain meaning of Scripture.

The explanation is as follows.

When the five-year-old Chumash student learns the verse: ‘You will live in the land securely,’ he is puzzled. While it is true that observance of the statutes and laws of the Torah bring the reward of a secure life in Eretz Yisrael, there is, however, always the possibility that one’s sins will upset the equation. As Rashi related about Yaakov, he feared that from the time he was given the promise of G‑d’s Providence — his sins had neutralized his good credit and he would not receive his reward. So, too, here. Who can guarantee that in fact we will live securely on the land?

We must therefore seek some special act in whose merit the secure borders will be guaranteed even in the case of sin. Here Rashi says that the observance of Shemitah fits the bill, as expressed in the verses quoted.

Now, the five-year-old Chumash students has not learned about the Babylonian exile, he will however ask his teacher about it and he will be told that when the Jewish people lived in Eretz Yisrael they transgressed many sins and they were exiled. Yet, the main cause of the exile was the non-observance of 70 Shemitah’s, and if they had only neglected 69 Shemitah years instead of 70 then the exile would have lasted only 69 years. Thus, although they may be guilty of other sins, if they had observed Shemitah properly then they would have remained securely on the land.

Now we will understand the meaning of the verse: ‘Keep My decrees and safeguard My laws.’ This refers to the observance of all the mitzvos — including also the laws of Shemitah! And then, ‘you will dwell securely on the land,’ because of the merit of Shemitah, even if there should be a presence of sins from other areas. For only Shemitah causes exile. The proof is the seventy years of exile — matched to the seventy non-Shemitahs. Consequently, if they will observe the Shemitah then they will not be exiled during this Shemitah cycle and they will dwell securely.

With this in mind we may also explain the following verse: ‘The land will produce its fruit...thus living securely in [the land].’ (Ibid.; verse 19) What is the intention of this redundancy? Rashi explains that now Scripture speaks of the future and assures us not to worry about the future. Here, however, the fear should not be about a time of famine — which might come as a result of other sins. Why not assure us not to worry about exile?

The problem is that to ensure the future against exile depends on the future observance of Shemitah, which depends on the total Jewish people, while the assurance against famine applies to each person individually. If you observe Torah and mitzvos then you are assured of not being stricken with famine — while someone else may suffer from famine because he was not observant. Exile, however, affects the whole nation at once, as a unit, and it may come about because of the sinfulness of only a segment of the community.

Therefore, one who follows G‑d’s statutes will be secure in his land but might still be concerned about the future; on the other hand if he fulfills his religious obligations he need not worry about famine in his fields in the future.

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4. In the section of Rambam’s Mishnah Torah studied today the Rambam discusses a general rule in the law of Treifah.

One may not, under any circumstances, add to this list of causes of treifah, for in the case of any other defect in an animal, beast or bird, beyond those which the Sages of former generations have enumerated, and to which the contemporary Israelite courts of law have given their assent, it is possible for the animal to go on living, even if our own medical knowledge assures us that it cannot eventually survive. (Laws of Shemitah 12:12)

A specific example of this rule was mentioned earlier in the Rambam, where the halachah permits a condition that medical science says will not live:

An animal...whose kidneys have been removed, is permitted. (Ibid. 8:25)

This means that Halachah rules that this condition is not fatal, while veterinary medicine says it is.

The Rambam goes on to say:

Conversely, as regards the defects which the Sages have enumerated, concerning which they have said that they render the animal treifah, even if it should appear from our present knowledge of medicine that some of them are not fatal and that the animal can survive them, one must go only by what the sages have enumerated, as it is said, ‘according to the law which they shall teach you.’ (Devarim 7:11) (Ibid. 10:13)

The Rogatchover Gaon explains the Rambam’s approach thusly: In Laws of Forbidden Foods the Rambam said, ‘Every disease (or wound) which, if it afflicts an animal, makes it impossible for the animal to survive, renders it treifah.’ (4:9) This means that the disease or wound we diagnose is a sign of some inner fallibility in the animal and it will not live. However, this condition of treifah — fatal sickness — is not the reason or cause for the animal to be prohibited — it is rather, merely, a sign of the condition which brings it into the category of prohibited foods. If so, we do not have a cause and effect situation here and there may be exceptions to the rules. So, some cases of halachic treifah may actually live — while some cases of halachically healthy and permitted animals will actually die.

From a more esoteric vantage point we may say that the laws of treifah are not determined by biological empiricism because Torah rules the world and can shape and modify the corporeal existence. Consequently, we must look to the rule of Torah law to determine the reality of what is kosher and what is not.

What may we learn from this discussion? When dealing with questions of human health there may be times when a doctor gives a negative prognosis, G‑d forbid. Do not be shaken by his words for the doctor does not have the power to truly ascertain what will be — the Torah controls the world.

While it is true that in matters of health and healing we must follow the advice and directives of the doctors, we must nevertheless remember that the true cure comes from the Holy One, Blessed be He, and it is G‑d who gives the power of healing to the doctor. So, when the doctor voices a negative opinion we must remember that his opinion is non-binding and G‑d (Torah) gives the final ruling.

What does Torah say? ‘If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments’ then ‘I will give you rain in the right season’ meaning all material, corporeal, matters will be right and well, with good health, for many long, good years.

Thus, the Torah makes this rule very clear and the great codifiers express it very succinctly: when we fulfill Torah and mitzvos we merit the blessings of the Holy One, Blessed be He, in all our needs, children, health and long life, and abundant prosperity; all in great abundance, including the concluding blessing, ‘I will lead you with your head held high.’ Long life and good years. LeChaim U’l’brachah

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5. In chapter five of Pirkei Avos we find the Mishnah:

Ten things were created on Erev Shabbos at twilight. They are: The opening of the earth [to swallow Korach]; the mouth of the well [in the wilderness]; the mouth of the donkey [of Bilaam];.... Some say also...the ram of Avraham our father. (Avos 5:6)

What lesson could this information have for us in ‘matters of greater piety,’ which is the point of view of Avos?

Earlier in chapter five of Avos we learned of the Ten Divine Utterances which G‑d used to create the world; certainly an edifying fact, but, also applicable to man’s Divine service, for as Avos itself explained:

..to bestow ample reward upon the righteous who sustain the world which was created by ten utterances. (Ibid.:1)

Likewise in the case of the ten generations from Adam to Noach, and from Noach to Avraham, we are informed: ‘to indicate how great is His patience.’ (Ibid.:2)

Later teachings also analyze certain phenomena in light of one’s duty to increase pious conduct, but the ten things created on Friday at dusk are not presented in that light.

The fact that these items were created at sunset on Friday should actually bear some special lesson, for they could have been created earlier. Take for example the donkey and the ram. R. Ovadia Bartenura explains that the donkey and ram were not actually born at that time and continued to live till Avraham’s time and Bilaam’s time. Rather, the G‑dly decree that a ram should be caught in the thicket and that Bilaam’s donkey should talk was given at the time of dusk on Friday. This did not have to be so, for in the case of the Red Sea our sages tell us G‑d ordained at the time of the formation of the oceans that the Red Sea should split when the Jews would have to cross it.

So, too, the ‘mouth’ of the donkey and the ‘caught’ ram could have been ‘programmed’ at the moment of creation of those species and not on Friday night? If in fact they were created at a special time we should be enlightened as to the lesson to be gleaned.

Metaphorically speaking, we find ourselves at the time of dusk, for all indications are that we are at the ‘footsteps of Mashiach’ and ‘all the predetermined times have lapsed.’ Mashiach should have come yesterday, or the day before that. Certainly, we are very close to the redemption time, the eve of the day of complete rest and eternal peace. May this discussion bring the desired redemption which will be quickened by our good actions and Divine service, especially in matters of material and spiritual tzedakah which bring the redemption closer.

The lesson we glean from this Mishnah is really clear. Here we see how vitally important it is to appreciate and value every moment, and even when you have only one minute at your disposal, and the available moment is ‘at the eve of Shabbos, at dusk’ — which may already project it into the realm of the sanctity and other-worldliness of Shabbos — you must still utilize the moment to accomplish something in this world. This we learn from G‑d’s actions, for on Friday at nightfall He created ten more things.

Why ten? To reflect all of creation which was made with ten Divine Utterances. And, even though all creation actually took six days — here ten items were created instantaneously.

And although the creation of the world had to come by means of the Ten Utterances associated with the Ten attributes (sefiros), the creations of Friday evening included more than ten items (according to the second and third opinions in the Mishnah) for in this moment even more may be accomplished.

It should be noted that according to the second opinion in the Mishnah that the ‘spirits of destruction’ were also created then, we see that even they are absorbed into the holiness of Shabbos and are disempowered.

And through our efforts and Divine service at the time of the close of the galus in accordance with the teaching of R. Yehudah b. Temah:

Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and strong as a lion to carry out the will of your Father in heaven, (Ibid.:20)

We will merit very soon the fulfillment of our wish ‘that the Bais HaMikdash be built speedily in our days.’

Then, too, will we attain the fulfillment of another dictum in this chapter of Avos: ‘Commensurate with the painstaking effort is the reward.’ (Ibid.:21)

And G‑d will bequeath to us all that we need to properly fulfill all His mitzvos.