1. The second day of Sivan is known traditionally as the ‘Yom HaMeyuchas,’ the ‘distinguished day,’ or ‘Yom Yichus,’ the ‘day of unique relationship,’ for it was on this day, prior to Matan Torah, that the Holy One, Blessed be He, addressed the Jewish people with the famous pronouncement:

You will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation. (Shmos 19:6)

In the past, Chassidic literature has not given any special emphasis to the meaning of this day and, consequently, there is a need for further commentary on the subject within the discipline of Chassidus. In Shulchan Aruch HaRav the occurrences of this day are noted, and it is left to us to explain the quality of the day. What happened? The ‘unique relationship’ of the Jewish people was renewed and revealed on this day, making it an auspicious day in the relationship of the Jewish people and the Holy One, Blessed be He — so much so — that the day became ‘distinguished.’

Let us properly understand the meaning of ‘you will be a kingdom of Kohanim....’ In the dialogue between G‑d and the Jewish people (through Moshe), the Holy One, Blessed be He, tells the Jewish people:

You shall be My special treasure (segulah) among all nations. (Shmos 19:5)

The Torah then goes on to add:

You will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation. (Ibid.:6)

The Torah uses the term segulah and Rashi explains:

Segulah means a cherished treasure, the same as, ‘and treasures of kings’ (Koheles 2:8), costly vessels and precious stones which kings store up. In the same manner shall you be unto Me a cherished treasure more than other peoples. (loc. cit.)

This means that the Jewish people will be perceived by G‑d not only as something precious, but also as something very special which must be cherished. However, this approbation is made only within the context of comparison to other gentile nations. The other nations exist and are acknowledged, and it is in relation to them that G‑d says, ‘I choose the Jewish people,’ and their quality rises above the other nations just as the cherished treasure is appreciated above and beyond all else.

Having established the superiority of the Jewish people, relative to the other nations, the Torah goes on to describe the Jewish people in loftier terms: ‘You will be to Me....’ With this dramatic statement the Jewish people are brought close to the Holy One, Blessed be He, so that their essence — their ‘being — is bound to ‘Me.’

Here the evaluation and approbation is not relative to other nations, rather we speak of an essential and radical association to G‑dliness: ‘You will be to Me....’

Having described this intense, intrinsic and ultimate relationship with G‑d, it seems a moot point to add that the Jewish people will also be a kingdom of kohanim and a Holy nation!

Chassidus explains the classic principle that the ultimate purpose for creation was G‑d’s desire for a dwelling place in the lower worlds. This Divine desire is suprarational and at the same time it may be revealed and explained — in order to reveal the perfection of His powers, potentials and actions. The lofty state descends and is revealed in the mundane world.

Similarly, when G‑d expresses His closeness to the Jewish people in the loftiest and most radical of terms, this association must also descend and be revealed in down-to-earth terms — in being a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation.

A ‘kingdom of kohanim’ refers to the loftiest level in a down-to-earth revealed state, which involves serving and waiting. The term kohen means one who serves G‑d and the Baal HaTurim adds that the meaning of ‘kingdom of kohanim’ means that each individual is equivalent to a Kohen Gadol.

On the other hand, the term ‘holy nation’ alludes to the lowest denominator at which level the Jewish people are similar to other nations and it becomes necessary to ‘choose’ them and segregate them because they are a ‘holy’ nation.

So, first the Torah describes the essential quality of the Jewish people, ‘You will be to Me...,’ and then it explains the revealed attributes of the Jews, being a nation of kohanim, down to the quality of a ‘holy nation.’

In mentioning these levels of the revealed preciousness (Yom HaMeyuchas) of the Jewish people it is obvious that the Torah must mention the various levels involved. On the other hand, when the subject of lineage (Yom Yichus) is referred to in the Torah, regarding the census of the tribes and the patrilineal tribal affiliations, we find that Rashi holds that it was necessary to establish only the tribal affiliation and not the individual family.

In fact, in the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, where the rules for the second day of Sivan (no Tachanun etc.) are discussed, and the day is called ‘Yom HaYichus,’ the Alter Rebbe quotes only the first pedigree and then substitutes the term ‘etc.’ This is because we need only know the source of the ‘Yichus.’

On this second day of Sivan, the anniversary of the day on which G‑d made the Jewish people His precious possession (and from now till Shavuos) we must be involved in all areas of this Divine service, with joy and inner intensity — so that all the preparation for Torah are joyous and deep-felt. And may we merit the reward for all these good actions, the giving of the new Torah: ‘A new Torah shall go forth from Me’ (Vayikra Rabbah 13:3), with the complete and true redemption through our righteous Mashiach, speedily and truly in our times.

2. This year, the second of Sivan has an additional theme connected to Shabbos and the Shemitah year. For when the second of Sivan occurs on Shabbos all of its facets are enhanced by the holiness of Shabbos. As the Gemara observes:

Does then the Shabbos affect the additional offerings and not affect the continual offerings? (Zevachim 91a)

Clearly the Shabbos day enhances even the Tamid — continual offerings — which are also sacrificed every day. When it is also a Sabbatical year, then the enrichment is much greater than usual. Further emphasis may be drawn from the fact that we are in the seventh generation of the leaders of Chabad Chassidus, as the Midrash notes:

All sevenths are favorites in the world...the seventh is favorite among the generations...among the years the seventh is the favorite...the seventh is the favorite among the days.... (Vayikra Rabbah 29:11)

Since the underlying theme of Shabbos is holiness, comparable to the holiness of the ‘holy nation,’ when the second of Sivan falls on Shabbos, it enhances the emphasis on the ‘holy nation.’

Is the holiness of Shabbos really congruous with the holiness of the ‘holy nation?’

The holiness of the Jewish people is a manifestation of the descent of G‑dliness even to the nethermost state. For the ultimate revelation is only reached when G‑dliness descends to the lowest state. This would be analogous to the principle that when you want to raise up a heavy object you must place the lever below its lowest point and then, as you lift the bottom, the rest automatically rises with it.

On the other hand, the holiness of Shabbos signifies a process of ascending worlds to the level of Supernal thought.

Since the two cases of holiness are essentially different it seems strange that they should complement and enhance each other?

The solution to this dilemma is that the holiness of Shabbos does not really lift it out of the framework of the world; the worldliness remains intact in all its details and as such it rises higher. The encompassing and pervading perfection of Shabbos is expressed in the Scriptural description, ‘Heaven and earth, and all their components, were (thus) completed.’ (Bereishis 2:1) This clearly refers to the perfection of the celestial and terrestrial creations. On Shabbos Adam and Chava, too, stood in a lofty state of perfection, notwithstanding their earlier downfall. Nature itself was perfect, and no darkness prevailed during the entire day of Shabbos. The Midrash says that darkness did not fall Friday night and the light continued to shine for 36 hours (from Friday morning till Saturday night).

When that first Shabbos ended and Adam saw the onset of darkness ‘...he took two stones and knocked them together and brought forth fire...he then said the Havdalah.’ (For this reason we use a flame when saying Havdalah on Saturday night; Midrash Tehillim 92:1)

The ascent effectuated by the Shabbos day does not ignore its worldly limitations, rather, in the limited material and mundane world Shabbos introduces the radiance of taanug — pleasure.

This pleasure also penetrates to the level of man’s simple physical needs. For we see that one may derive pleasure on Shabbos from eating, drinking and even sleeping.

If so, the Shabbos holiness is itself connected to the aspect of the ‘holy nation’ for even the physical existence of the Jewish people stands spiritually higher. Thus, the second of Sivan connects to the ‘holy people.’

The quality introduced by this Shabbos should be understood in light of the Shabbos day of the week as well as the Shabbos year of the Shemitah. The days of the week are determined by the Solar cycle, while the years are essentially determined by the lunar cycle. So the Shabbos day and the Shabbos year are analogous to the sun and the moon, or in Chassidic parlance — giver (sun) and receiver (moon). In both of these functions one must incorporate the aspect of a ‘holy nation’ in a manner of Shabbos. The Divine service of Shabbos is Torah study and prayers. Both of these approaches should function in the form of Shabbos to the point of delight.

And both aspects of ‘giver’ and ‘receiver’ must unite, for the benefactor also ‘receives’ from some higher source while the beneficiary also ‘gives’ to the giver.

This is also the relationship of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and the Congregation of Israel — the delight of the Creator unites with the delight of the created.

May our good actions merit for us the perfection of Shabbos, ‘the day of eternal rest,’ including the loftiest state of delight, at the true redemption, through our righteous Mashiach, without any hesitations, speedily and truly in our days.

3. The Torah relates G‑d’s command to Moshe concerning the Levi’im after counting all the tribes:

Put the Levites in charge of the Tabernacle of Testimony. (Bamidbar 1:15)

On this verse Rashi explains:

Put the Levites in charge...understand the word (hafked) as the Targum does: (menee) ‘appoint’; it is an expression for appointing a person to conduct that thing over which he has been appointed; similar is, ‘and let the king appoint officers.’ (Esther 2:3), (Rashi, loc. cit.)

The question was raised on this commentary, why does Rashi not bring an illustration of the word hafked, from a verse in Torah, which the five-year-old Chumash student has already studied. Specifically, the sentence where Yosef told Pharaoh to ‘appoint caretakers for Egypt.’

Another difficulty!

In the section of today’s portion which describes the census of the various tribes of Israel we find a consistent usage:

For the descendants of Shimon.... For the descendants of Gad... etc.

Why then, in the case of the tribe of Naftali, which was counted last, does the Torah only say: ‘The descendants of Naftali?’ Why change the standard formula? Moreover, why does Rashi ignore this dramatic change in the language of the verses?

This question may be found in the Kabbalistic books of the AriZal (‘Likkutei Torah’ and ‘The gate of the verses’) where the AriZal asks why the census of the tribe of Naftali begins with different terminology. He goes on to explain the system used for the census:

The census-taker visited each tent and wrote down the names of all eligible people in a ledger. All of these ‘first phase ledgers’ were then used to transcribe the names of all the people in 12 tribal ledgers. This was done by first going through all the ‘first phase ledgers’ and picking out all the names of people from the tribe of Reuven, then Shimon and so on. As the names were transcribed into the tribal ledgers they were ticked off in the original ledgers. Now each tribe counted the names in its tribal ledger and knew the exact count of its members.

Since the tribe of Naftali was the last — they did not have to rewrite all the names in a new registry book, because they simply took all the ‘first phase ledgers’ and all the names not ticked off were members of Naftali. Therefore in the counting of the other tribes the Torah says ‘L’Bnei Shimon’ — ‘add this name to the list of the tribe of Shimon’ but when they reached Naftali all that had to be said was ‘B’nei Naftali’ — ‘whoever remained is of the tribe of Naftali.’

This explanation is logical and relatively simple, and it should be propagated and taught in all circles of Jews in the name of the AriZal — a process which will also speed the redemption, for as the Mishnah states in this week’s chapter of Avos:

Whoever says a thing in the name of its author brings redemption to the world. (Avos 6:6)

Rashi, on the other hand, need not explain the different wording because in the simple meaning of Scripture we do not have to establish a reason for changes in language — these differences may be attributed to stylistic variety. On the esoteric or Midrashic level such differences must be explained, but not in the plain meaning of Scripture.

So, while the AriZal’s interpretation may be easy to understand, Rashi did not have to seek any explanation for the different terminology.

To return to the first Rashi: ‘Put the Levites in charge...similar is, ‘and let the king appoint officers.’ ‘ Let us analyze for a moment the role of the officers appointed by Pharaoh to gather the produce of the seven fat years. Their job was simply to encourage the farmers to store their excess grain in their local graineries. Nothing was taken by the king away from the individual farmers, the role of these officers was mainly advisory. On the other hand, the officers which Achashveirosh had to appoint were given the job of gathering young women from all over the land as potential wives for the king. Since these women had to be taken (by force if necessary) away from family and home the officers had to carry the power of attorney of the king.

When Rashi gives us an illustration of the power of the appointment of the Levi’im he says they were officers appointed by the King who served at His pleasure. For the Levi’im were G‑d’s officers appointed by G‑d to do His work in the Bais HaMikdash.

Therefore it is more appropriate to bring the example from the story of the officers appointed by the king (Achashveirosh).

This Rashi also enriches us in the area of the ‘wine’ of Torah (deeper insights which enhance our Divine service).

The Levi’im had two areas in which they functioned. A) Their prime service was in the Tabernacle and Bais HaMikdash. B) When they were not in Yerushalayim they used to visit the people all over the land in the course of collection of maaser, etc. Then, too, they functioned as Levi’im and they would be called up to the aliyah of Levi.

How do we incorporate this in the Divine service of every Jew?

Every Jew has two avenues of serving G‑d. One is the approach of being close to G‑d — to stand before G‑d in prayer and devotion and the other is ‘to serve G‑d in all your ways.’

From this Rashi we learn that both of these approaches should be permeated with the G‑dly power of investing the Levi’im as agents of the King. In all areas of human activity we must remember that we represent the King and must do our jobs wholeheartedly and perfectly.

4. The final chapter of Pirkei Avos is studied on the Shabbos prior to Shavuos, the Season of the Giving of our Torah. All of the chapters of Pirkei Avos serve as a step by step preparation for Matan Torah and certainly the final chapter which discusses Torah study at great length is an important step in preparing for Torah. For this reason the sixth chapter is also called ‘Kinyan Torah’ — the ‘acquisition of Torah,’ because it discusses the great qualities of Torah and how one may acquire Torah. With this in mind the final Mishnah of chapter six which ostensibly does not speak about Torah study seems to be out of place. And especially that final dictum which quotes the Biblical verse: ‘The L‑rd will reign forever and ever’ — certainly this seems to have no connection with Torah study?

The six chapters of Avos which we study on the six Shabbosim between Pesach and Shavuos are analogous to the six weekdays which prepare for Shabbos — which is compared to Torah — for Torah was given to the world on Shabbos. This preparation takes on a cumulative aspect in that each chapter adds more to the appreciation of Torah — until you finally reach the sixth chapter — Kinyan Torah.

In this context we must say that the final Mishnah of the last chapter must in fact also deal with Torah and moreover, the highest levels of Torah, for it is the last step of preparation for Matan Torah.

Just what do we mean?

In a previous Mishnah we learned: ‘and honor is (due) only (for) Torah.’ (Ibid:3) Now, when this Mishnah teaches us: ‘all that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory...’ (Ibid:11) we may deduce that the Mishnah is referring to Torah, and the order of the Mishnah is from the lesser to the greater. First you have the level of ‘Honor is only Torah,’ and then you can reach a state where ‘all that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created...solely for His glory (Torah).’

To properly appreciate this point we must first understand two general rules of Torah: A) Torah functions in the real world after descending into the context of physical existence and B) Torah exists essentially as the wisdom and will of the Holy One, Blessed be He.

In the practical side of Torah these differences will express themselves in the concept that Torah begins with the story of creation to show G‑d’s power in the world, while the chapter of the New Moon of Nissan is the first mitzvah commanded to the Jewish people.

In the theoretical side of Torah these differences will take the form of the theory behind the applied rule of law of Torah, as opposed to the study of those laws which are not applied and are studied solely for the sake of increasing pure knowledge.

In this context the chapter of Kinyan Torah deals with several diverse levels of Torah in ascending order.

At the beginning of the chapter we learn:

Rabbi Meir said: Whoever occupies himself with [the study of] the Torah for its own sake merits many things; (Ibid:1)

Here we see several points:

1) Rabbi Meir, being a descendant of proselytes, personifies Torah as it functions in the world.

2) By speaking of one who studies Torah for its own sake, we may deduce that one may also study Torah not for its own sake — for this reason when you study properly you deserve a reward. This is an elementary level in Torah study.

3) All the things listed among the rewards are mundane, materialistic things.

At the close of the chapter, Avos moves on to describe for us the existential Torah by adding to the statement that ‘honor is only Torah’ with the dictum ‘all that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory.’ Here Torah stands unrelated to worldly application, as a pure manifestation of the glory of G‑d.

When the Mishnah states ‘honor is only Torah’ it really means that ‘honor is due only for Torah’ — through Torah study one may attain honor. In the second dictum, that the world was created for the glory of G‑d, we relate to the Torah as the actual honor of G‑d. Why does the Mishnah not say that the world was created only for Torah?! And although the Mishnah uses a verse which speaks of G‑d’s honor, since the Mishnah should clarify the verses of Torah it could quote the verse and then explain that it speaks of Torah.

Clearly, however, the Mishnah wishes to emphasize the aspect of honor in Torah which is the honor of the Holy One, Blessed be He, beyond the basic level of Torah. There are many levels of Torah: from the word of G‑d, to the aspect of ‘the crown of Torah,’ which is a lofty aspect of Torah.

There is, however an incomparably loftier level of Torah which is the honor of the Holy One, Blessed be He, analogous to the crown which increases the beauty of the king: ‘Your eyes shall see the king in his beauty.’ (Yeshayahu 33:17) This is the crown not as it is part of Torah, rather as it adds to the glory of the king. This is the goal of creation to master Torah as it is the glory of the Holy One, Blessed be He:

All that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory, as it is stated: all that is called by My Name, indeed, it is for My glory that I have created it, formed it, made it.... (Ibid.)

This condition expresses itself in the Divine service of every Jew by the essential unification of the Jewish people with the Holy One, Blessed be He, beyond the state of Torah. For the essence of the Jewish soul preceded even the Torah.

The Mishnah concludes: ‘And it says: The L‑rd shall reign forever and ever.’ This seems a bit strange, after all, having attained the lofty level of uniting with the glory of the Holy One, Blessed be He, how can one rise still higher?

In truth, however, above the honor there is also desire, and since G‑d ‘desired’ a dwelling place in the lower worlds — this is after all the intention of ‘the L‑rd shall reign forever’ the revelation of G‑d’s kingship in the world in time and space, forever.