1. What special qualities can we attribute to Shabbos Mevarchim Tammuz this year?

The Torah portion we read today is Shelach, and today’s date is the 23rd of Sivan. Rosh Chodesh Tammuz itself will occur next week on Shabbos and Sunday.

The theme of Shelach is expressed in the first verses of the portion:

Send out men for yourself to explore the Canaanite territory that I am about to give the Israelites. (Bamidbar 13:2)

The goal of this exploration was twofold:

A — To gather intelligence which would make the conquest of Canaan easier, as the Torah mentions later:

Let them bring back a report about the way ahead of us and the cities that we shall encounter (to know which city to attack first — Rashi.) (Devarim 1:22)

B — To increase the love and longing for Eretz Yisrael. When the Jewish people would see the wonderful fruit with which Eretz Yisrael was praised they would come to appreciate and desire the land more vigorously. For this reason Moshe said to the spies: ‘Make a special effort to bring back some of the land’s fruits.’ (Bamidbar 13:20)

Collectively then the portion of Shelach speaks of an approach which would increase the quality and perfection of the entry process into Eretz Yisrael. The original promise to enter Eretz Yisrael was of course given by G‑d to the Jewish people much earlier. Nevertheless, the logic for sending the spies was based on the premise that they wanted to increase the love of the land. Clearly, there is a connection between this goal and the liberation from Egypt, for entering the land of Canaan was the consummation of liberation, the ultimate redemption would be realized only when they would be brought into the land.

Here a paradox rears its head; if the purpose of the spies was to ease the conquest of the land, why did the exact opposite consequence result from the episode?

We may answer this question by studying the Haftorah which deals with the spies that Yehoshua sent into Yericho many years later. Normally, the Haftorah which is read after the Torah portion speaks of some subject which is in the Torah portion. In the case of this Haftorah our first impression is that the Haftorah’s theme contradicts the Torah theme, for the portion of Shelach speaks of spies who libeled Eretz Yisrael and caused the Jews to wander in the wilderness for forty years — while the spies of Yehoshua visited Yericho and returned with good tidings in their report:

Truly G‑d has delivered the whole land into our hands; and moreover all the inhabitants of the land are scared to death of us. (Yehoshua 2:24)

This ostensible contradiction is really not so, for in fact, the spies of Yehoshua revealed something which actually existed, in a hidden form, from the time of Moshe. The added longing for Eretz Yisrael and the heightened desire to access the land were really effected by Moshe’s spies, but these forces were not revealed; they remained on Moshe’s level and were brought down into the reality of the world only much later through Yehoshua’s spies. That is why no sooner had they come to Yericho then they heard of the complete discouragement of the Canaanites — even before one arrow had been shot — and while the Jews were still in the desert.

Chassidus delves into the underlying motives of the spies (meraglim). Why in fact did they try to dissuade the Jewish people from entering Eretz Yisrael? The answer is given that they stood on a very high level — ‘in the world of thought’ — they did not want to lower themselves to the sphere of action by entering Eretz Yisrael and being involved in mundane matters like sowing, ploughing and reaping, or other daily action mitzvos. They wanted rather to remain in the desert, removed from worldly affairs, receiving all their needs from G‑d — bread from heaven, water from the well and clouds of glory, which cared for them and all their needs. With all their physical necessities taken care of in the desert, they could sit and devote all their time to Torah study, and spiritual Divine service, without any problems.

The Gemara quips that ‘the spies have no portion in the World to Come.’ Chassidus explains that for them the world to come, where Tzaddikim bask in the reward of their actions, is no reward, because they constantly wanted to move higher — from level to level — they never wanted to stop rising — even to receive a reward.

This lofty attribute of the spies effected a higher state for the Jewish people after they entered Eretz Yisrael.

We may drawn an analogy to this from the case of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai whose years in the cave caused him much physical depravation as well as religious restrictions. There were many mitzvos he could not perform in so limited an environment. Nevertheless, his pure spiritual advancement was so great that after leaving the cave he attained immeasurable greatness.

As the Gemara relates:

‘Happy are you that you see me thus,’ he retorted, ‘for if you did not see me in such a state you would not find me thus [learned].’ For originally, when R. Shimon b. Yochai raised a difficulty, R. Pinchas b. Yair would give him 13 answers, whereas subsequently when R. Pinchas b. Yair raised a difficulty, R. Shimon bar Yochai would give him 24 answers. (Shabbos 33b)

Similarly, in our case, the lofty condition of the spies enhanced the Divine service of the Jewish people after they conquered the land. This was seen years later when Yehoshua sent spies and they returned with the report ‘...all the inhabitants of the land are scared to death of us.’

Another aspect of the philosophy of the spies should also be explained. The Midrash tells us:

If Reuven had known that the Holy One, Blessed be He, would have written it of him.... (Vayikra Rabbah 34:8)

This shows us that one is influenced by what the Torah writes about a person. The spies, however, did know that the Torah would write a negative description of their behavior. Despite this awareness they stubbornly refused to lower themselves to be involved in mundane matters. Surely they exhibited supreme will power and absolute resolution in their actions. In the end the good side of their action came through and Chassidus explains that in essence they stood on a lofty plane.

We may also understand that in sending the spies to Canaan in order to ease the conquest it was self-understood that the conquest would be on a loftier plane.

Since G‑d told Moshe, ‘Send men for yourself,’ the meaning is that they were sent of Moshe’s initiative. This may be compared to the interpretive role of the Oral Torah relative to the Written Torah — which makes the study and observance of Torah more feasible.

The ease and higher state which was to be reached through the action of the spies would have set the stage for much higher levels of attainment.

As we know, the reward is commensurate with the struggle and difficulty of attainment — when there is no challenge the reward represents ‘bread of shame.’

Chassidic tradition tells the story of the Tzemach Tzedek who was offered effortless diligence and assiduousness in Torah by his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe, as a gift. The Tzemach Tzedek refused the gift saying that he would rather work hard to attain his goals in Torah. In later years the Tzemach Tzedek admitted his mistake and confessed that he should have accepted his grandfather’s offer — for then he would have had the opportunity to utilize his diligence and hard work to reach much higher levels, after all, the Holy One, Blessed be He, is infinite and Torah and Yiddishkeit are ultimately bound up with G‑d, and therefore truly infinite.

This incident carries a profound lesson. Why do we relate that the Tzemach Tzedek had a change of heart — after all, this is a disparaging story — why tell how the Tzemach Tzedek admitted his mistake?

The answer is that we must learn from the Tzemach Tzedek’s actions that our initial response must also be negative, we don’t want ‘bread of shame’ — but after due consideration we come to the conclusion that we too must strive even higher and harder — just as the Tzemach Tzedek changed his mind, etc.

The role of the spies was to ease the transition, not to eliminate the struggle; rather, to direct their efforts to higher sights. This brings us to the 12th and 13th of Tammuz and Shabbos Mevarchim Tammuz which falls this year on Shabbos Shelach. Now the liberation can be much higher. And we do in fact see an ascent in the matters of redemption from year to year as compared with the first time, 60 years ago.

We see this concept applied to the Exodus from Egypt, where we say that,

In every generation a man is bound to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt. (Pesachim 116b)

This personal Exodus takes place even though we are not enslaved. How? Each year when we celebrate the Season of our Liberation we rise to a new level of freedom compared to which our previous condition would be seen as slavery. So we emerge again from bondage to freedom. The same thing occurs on the 12th of Tammuz. After sixty years of elevations it rises even higher; it is connected with Shabbos Mevarchim and the portion of Shelach.

And from this liberation to the true redemption! Considering that we are in galus over 1900 years may cause despondency and hopelessness; why has Mashiach not yet come?! Therefore, let it be known: It is sure and certain that we will enter the Holy Land immediately, if after the report of the spies G‑d assured us that we would enter the Holy Land, how much more so now, when we have so many centuries of Torah and mitzvos behind us and we are so much closer to the ultimate redemption. Moreover, so much has been revealed in the area of the wellsprings of Chassidus which will bring Mashiach. So, if we stay another bitter day in galus we must cry out ‘How long?’, and we must utilize it to polish our buttons and accomplish even more, with joy and glad hearts. And then we will enter the Holy Land on the highest level.

The 23rd day of Sivan is mentioned in the book of Esther (8:9) as the day the scribes were gathered to send the letters of defense to the Jewish people in the 127 provinces. In effect the final redemption of Purim began then. As all redemptions have something in common, when Shabbos Mevarchim Tammuz occurs on the 23rd of Sivan it enhances the liberation of the 12th of Tammuz.

Consider now that Rosh Chodesh Tammuz is two days and the first day of Rosh Chodesh is Shabbos — which is a day when we are ‘liberated’ from our weekday responsibilities. This, too, adds to the richness of Yud-Bais Tammuz. So that on this day we should increase all our good resolutions for the 12-13 of Tammuz. And may it speed the true redemption through our righteous Mashiach.

For on this day the King (the Holy One, Blessed be He) commanded the scribes to write the directives of Mordechai — the will of the Tzaddik — ‘Your people are all righteous,’ and even the evil decree of Haman is ‘converted to good.’ In the month of Tammuz we also anticipate the conversion of the fast of the 17th of Tammuz into a day of rejoicing, as the Rambam teaches.

May this all materialize before the 17th of Tammuz — speedily and truly in our days.

2. In the portion of Shelach the Torah relates the story of the meraglim (spies) sent by Moshe to explore Eretz Yisrael and the tragic outcome of their negative report to the Jewish people.

As a response to the scheme of the spies and the resulting hubbub raised by the people, G‑d told Moshe: ‘How long shall this evil group exist....’ (Bamidbar 14:26)

Rashi cites the words evil group and says:

This refers to the spies (not to the whole congregation) from here we learn that an edah ‘a congregation’ is technically a gathering of, at least, ten men.

Since Yehoshua and Calev were not included among the slanderers of Eretz Yisrael there remained ten who spoke evil and they were called the evil ‘congregation.’

Several questions have been raised:

A — In the plain meaning of the verse why must Rashi tell us that ten men make a congregation, Rashi is not a book of laws? When we study Rashi we are interested in simple explanation.

B — From this verse we learn that a ‘congregation’ is comprised of ten men. It is not actually clear that less than ten would not be called a congregation, five or three might also be called edah. In the grace after meals three men form a group for the blessing of zimun (calling to say grace). Maybe three men are also called a ‘congregation’?

In another area in this week’s portion questions have been suggested:

Moshe gave Hoshea son of Nun the [new] name Yehoshua. (Ibid. 13:16)

Rashi comments:

By giving him this name...he in effect ‘prayed’ for him: May G‑d save you from the evil cause of the spies. (loc. cit.)

The questions:

A — In the previous verse Rashi had established that at the time they left the camp of the Jews they were all noble, upright and righteous. Why would Moshe pray for Yehoshua to be saved from evil counsel which did not yet exist?

B — If, conversely, there were a good reason to pray for Yehoshua why did Moshe not pray for all the spies? Is this the manner of the leader of the Jewish people to care only for his trusted disciple and not care for the others? This is all the more puzzling in this case where the matter affected the total Jewish people.

Moreover, Moshe knew that his prayer would be efficacious — as he had seen in the case of the Golden Calf when G‑d forgave the people after Moshe’s supplication — surely in this case Moshe could be sure that his prayer would help.

The answer to these questions will be understood within a broader context. Generally speaking the Torah does not have to tell us obvious matters — and consequently — we may assume certain happenings although not explicitly stated. For example, the Torah does not have to inform us that Moshe studied Torah or that he observed mitzvos, it is obvious that he did.

The mission of the spies was fraught with great danger, they could have been discovered and captured at any time. For this reason G‑d caused many deaths at that time in Canaan so that the entire population was busy at funerals and did not detect the presence of the dozen Jewish intelligence agents.

Knowing the great danger they faced and having taken a personal initiative in sending them, Moshe prayed hard and long for the success of their trip — the Torah does not have to mention this, it is obvious.

If so, why was the prayer for Yehoshua mentioned? That was something special. In addition to the supplication for the group of spies Moshe prayed especially hard for Yehoshua, because he was his close disciple and if he would return with a negative attitude the people would say that even Moshe’s devoted student agreed with the others. That would be tantamount to hearing a bad report from Moshe himself. Certainly the people would surmise that he speaks what he picked up in the ‘inner chambers.’ So Moshe made a special effort to pray that Yehoshua would remain faithful.

What about the fact that the spies were as yet not rebellious; why pray for Yehoshua’s piety just then.

Let us see why, in fact, Moshe did rename Yehoshua after he had been designated and appointed by the name Hoshea. Moshe could have given Hoshea the name Yehoshua before he was called, and then he would have been appointed with the name Yehoshua to begin with?!

The answer is that before all these men were singled out by name and gathered together, each was righteous and Moshe had no reason to pray for Yehoshua. Once they were named and they gathered together and began discussing the plan of their visit to Eretz Yisrael, Moshe realized that some negative elements might creep in to their mission, so in addition to praying for all the spies in general he offered a special prayer for Yehoshua.

On the question of edah — congregation — we must remember that generally speaking the term edah is used to refer to the entire Jewish people or to an entire tribe. This is the normal usage throughout Scripture.

The term edah is actually doubly problematic in the context of the spies — why use this term for a group of libelers? It would be better to simply say the ‘evil people.’ The term ‘men’ is used by Scripture itself several times to refer to the spies: ‘The men whom Moshe sent to explore the land.’ (Ibid. 14:36)

It is because of this inconsistency that Rashi must reach beyond the normal, plain meaning of the verse to explain the reason for the term edah. So he tells us: ‘from here we learn that an edah...is ten men.’ In other words, the Torah specifically uses the term edah to teach us an additional fact, that ten men make a congregation.

This reasoning will also clarify our question about the minimum number of men called an edah. Since the term edah always refers to large numbers of Jews — the novelty gleaned from this usage is that even a minimum of ten men will also be called a congregation — but anything less will definitely not qualify. This logic is clear and convincing.

* * *

3. This week we study the third chapter of Pirkei Avos and we can discern a connection between this chapter and the theme of liberation.

First of all, the number ‘three’ is connected to redemption, for the ultimate redemption will be the third. Moreover, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will build the Third Bais HaMikdash.

When we study the third chapter of Avos in the third month the theme of liberation is further enhanced for the Exodus from Egypt reached its consummate state after Matan Torah in the month of Sivan, as the Torah tells us: ‘when you get the people out of Egypt all of you will worship G‑d on this mountain.’ (Shmos 3:12) This fact is reiterated in the Ten Commandments when G‑d said: ‘I am G‑d your L‑rd who brought you out of Egypt.’ (Shmos 20:2)

When we study the third chapter of Avos we find in the sixth Mishnah: ‘If ten people sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Divine Presence rests among them....’

Here we will find a clear connection with Yud-Bais Tammuz. One year after the Previous Rebbe was liberated and the Chassidim were preparing to celebrate the great day of salvation the Previous Rebbe sent a letter to all Chassidim in which he enclosed a Chassidic discourse entitled: Ten people who sit together and occupy themselves with Torah.

Clearly the Previous Rebbe associated his release with public study of Torah in a manner of ‘Ten who occupy themselves,’ etc.

There is also a well-known teaching of the Previous Rebbe on this idiom, ‘who occupy themselves.’ Why does it say, ‘occupy themselves,’ and not simply, ‘study Torah.’ Because the term ‘occupy’ is related to the world ‘occupation.’ The true way to study Torah is to see it as your business and occupation, to the point that just as your dreams are filled with business ideas — so too, must the scholar’s study of Torah be his complete overriding occupation.

From an esoteric vantage point we find rich meaning in the name of the author of this dictum of Avos.

The name Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa (Ish) of Kfar Chananya metaphorically represents the three distinguishing characteristics of the Jewish people: ‘They are merciful, bashful and benevolent.’ (Yevamos 79a)

The name ‘Chalafta’ alludes to the trait of bashfulness. The Gemara explains that scholars who were humble and shy would hide the truth of their genius, thus they would change (chalafta means change) the facts, out of their nature of diffidence.

Kfar Chananya’ symbolizes grace (chen) and kindness (Chessed) in a humble way.

‘Ben Dosa’ alludes to benevolence, for it is explained that the name Dosa etymologically is the same as hadas, a myrtle, which has a fragrant aroma but no taste. This is the true form of kindness, that even when he cannot actually give something he commiserates with his friend’s suffering.

This may be compared to good fragrance which has no ‘body’ but still is benevolent.

Thus chapter three of Avos is appropriately associated with the qualities of the Jewish people.

* * *

4. In the section of Rambam which we study today we touch upon the order of separating the various tithes and heave offerings from the agricultural produce.

After one has set aside the great heave offering (Terumah Gedolah) he must set aside one-tenth of what is left. This is what is called first tithe.... (Laws of Tithe 1:1)

This rule follows the more general order outlined previously in the Rambam:

Heave offerings and tithes should be set aside in proper sequence. How so? One should first set aside the first fruits, then the great heave offering, then the first tithe, then the second tithe or poor man’s tithe. (Laws of Heave Offerings 3:23)

What is the difference between terumah and maaser? Heave offerings become sanctified, and one who is not a Kohen may not eat it. Tithes, however, do not attain a state of sanctity and remain profane. This is because the terumah is a gift which is given to G‑d (who subsequently allows the Kohanim to eat it) while the tithes are given to help support the Levites and the poor. As the Torah explains:

The Levite who does not have a hereditary portion with you shall then come (to take the Maaser) along with the converts, orphan, widow in your settlement and they will eat and be satisfied. (Devarim 14:29)

A question comes to mind, why should Terumah be given before Maaser. If the Levi and pauper need the fruits of the tithe to eat and stay alive they should receive their allotment first — as is the rule in the laws of tzedakah — where postponement might cause the poor man to die of hunger.

If one has the choice between giving the half-Shekel for the Bais HaMikdash or giving money to a poor person the Halachah rules that the poor person comes first.

Since we see in the rules of the Rambam the approach that law must modify and improve the character of man — we may also find this underlying principle in this case.

The Rambam writes:

Tithes must be set aside out of choice produce only, as it is said: ‘When you set apart the best thereof from it, then it shall be counted unto you [the Levites] as the increase of the threshing floor and the increase of the wine press’ (Bamidbar 18:30) which implies that just as the tithe set aside by the Levites must be out of the best thereof so also the tithe set aside by the Israelites from the threshing floor and from the wine press must be the best thereof. (Laws of Tithes 1:13)

Similarly, the Rambam rules that tzedakah must be given from the best, ‘the best must be dedicated to G‑d.’ With this in mind it makes sense that the Maaser given to the Levi and pauper should be the best — grain from which the Terumah has already been set aside. Before the separation of the heave offering the grain is ‘tevel — no good,’ only afterwards does it become uplifted and superb. Only after the Terumah is taken can the tithe come from the ‘best.’

Are you concerned about the time lapse? Well, in such a case one grain of wheat will suffice to clear the entire silo (and it takes only a second) and the blessing may be said after you give the Levi and poor man their share.

May G‑d grant that by studying the laws of heave offerings and tithes which are connected with the Holy Land we will merit very soon to fulfill all the mitzvos associated with Eretz Yisrael, through the true and complete redemption of our righteous Mashiach. We will go to the Holy Land and to the Holy City Yerushalayim and to the Bais HaMikdash where the pilgrimage will take place every Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh so that on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Tammuz we will have double reason to go — as well as on Sunday, the second day of Rosh Chodesh. There we will be shown the vessels of the Temple. May it be speedily and truly in our days.

I want to reemphasize and encourage again the importance of accepting positive resolutions in all the matters discussed in connection with Yud-Bais Tammuz.

It is especially important to organize Chassidic gatherings on Yud-Bais Tammuz in every place, (as the Previous Rebbe said,) filled with Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity, for a chassidic farbrengen can accomplish more than the angel Michael.

There should also be gatherings on the 3rd of Tammuz, and even earlier on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, all preceded by saying LeChaim, now.

It is of primary importance for every person to speak to his own household about the story of the Previous Rebbe and to invite other Jews into your homes.

Women should also arrange gatherings to enhance observance of Torah and mitzvos, as well as gatherings for children under proper supervision.

And everyone should make his/her heart a sanctuary for G‑d and bring that sanctity into his/her home.

Remember also the importance of influencing all Jewish children to be in Torah summer camps where they will have the proper program and environment.

All of these areas should be approached with the attitude of Uforatzto, may it be with great joy.