1. The importance of Shabbos Mevarchim Adar vis-à-vis other Shabbosim of the year expresses itself in two facts:

A) It projects its blessing on the month of Adar which includes the holiday of Purim, and the miracle of Purim influences the entire month, as the Megillah tells us: “The month which had been transformed.” (Esther 9:22)

B) On Shabbos Mevarchim Adar the extra Torah portion which speaks of the shekel tax is read. The reason for this being that in the period of the Holy Temple every Jew was obliged to donate a half-shekel annually for the communal sacrifice fund. On the first of Adar the preparations for this collection began (see Mishnah, Shekalim 1:1) and on the preceding Shabbos they read the pertinent Torah portion to make the people aware of their responsibility. Although we have no Holy Temple now, the custom has persisted as a commemoration of ancient practices.

It is also customary in contemporary times to donate the equivalent of half the local monetary unit on the eve of Purim (before Minchah on Taanis Esther) as a reminder of the half-shekel donated to the Temple in days bygone.

This year the first day of Rosh Chodesh Adar is on Sunday so that the aura of Rosh Chodesh is already felt the day before, on Shabbos Mevarchim, as expressed in the practice of reading several verse of the Haftorah, “Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh,” and in not saying “Tzidkosecha” during Minchah today. Thus, the themes of Adar begin on the preceding Shabbos Shekalim.

Actually, Purim and the half-shekels have a stronger connection. The Gemara relates:

It was well-known beforehand to Him at whose word the world came into being that Haman would one day pay shekels for the destruction of Israel. And therefore He anticipated his shekels with those of Israel. And so we have learned: on the first of Adar proclamation is made regarding the shekalim and the kelayim (mixed seed). (Megillah 13b)

What was the essential congruity between the yearly half-shekel donations and Haman’s “shekels,” and what gave our shekels the intrinsic power to nullify the evil decree of Haman? Both Purim and the half-shekel have a common aspect, both evoke the inner unity of G‑d and the Jewish people, specifically, the physical existence and matter of the Jewish people.

In contrast to Chanukah, the story of Purim started with a threat to Jewish bodies. Chanukah deals with a problem of spiritual oppression and the subsequent military uprising that led to the miracles. The declared goal of Haman’s decree, however, was:

To destroy, to slay and to exterminate all Jews, young and old, children and women in a single day. (Esther 3:13)

Because the Greek oppression expressed itself in religious intolerance, those Jews who were more religious were hurt more. But Haman made no distinction among Jews, he wanted to destroy them all, no matter what the level of their religious observance.

For this reason the antidote to Haman’s scheme was: “Go assemble all the Jews!” (Esther 4:16) Unify the Jews on a simple, corporeal level. Gather the Jews and have them fast — no nourishment for the bodies — and reaffirm the acceptance of Torah and mitzvos as responsible people in physical bodies. Thus, the theme of Purim is the victory of Jewish bodies, which is why we celebrate Purim by feasting, and physical joy; and we associate it with unity, since no celebration is complete unless it is celebrated with friends and family. The mitzvos which we observe on Purim are likewise expressions of unity through material action; sending food gifts to friends, and charity to the poor.

This physical aspect of Purim may be associated with the Talmudic dictum that “The Jews confirmed what they had accepted long before.” This referred to Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah at Sinai) which represented an act of G‑d to bring spirituality into a physical context. And as a result, this represented the ultimate desire of G‑d — that a Jew — body and soul — should, in this lowly physical world, study Torah, do mitzvos and create an abode for the Shechinah. This is why our sages relate that G‑d tells the ministering angels to go down to earth to discover when Rosh Hashanah will be. (B. Metzia 86a)

More profoundly, G‑d chose the Jewish people at Mount Sinai to be His Nation. We speak not of Jewish souls — G‑d, so to speak, had no choice among souls, for there is no comparison with the other people of the world in the realm of souls. What G‑d opted for at Sinai was living Jewish people, souls in bodies. Now, the bodies of Jews are comparable to all human bodies, and therefore, it was by G‑d’s free choice that He picked the Jewish People as we find in Tanya:

“...and You have chosen us from every people and tongue,” which in its corporeal aspects is similar to the bodies of the gentiles of the world. (Tanya ch. 49)

Chassidic philosophy expounds that this material Jewish body which the Holy One, Blessed be He, chose is essentially bound up, as it were, with the true existence of the essence of “the First Being who has no source other than Himself.”

This G‑dly choice affects the myriad of Jewish individuals equally, for we speak not of the level of spiritual penetration of the corporeal body in which there might be vast differences between a complete Tzaddik and an incomplete Tzaddik. G‑d’s essential choice of Jewish human beings reaches out to them on a level in which they are all alike. And this free-will decision to choose the Jewish people preceded and precipitated the giving of the Torah and mitzvos in the physical world.

The Rebbe Rashab once rolled up his sleeve, pointed to his left arm with his right finger, and told his son, the Previous Rebbe: “See how precious the Jewish body is, because of it [G‑d] poured out so much Torah and mitzvos.”

On Purim, when the reacceptance of Torah takes place, G‑d’s choice of the Jewish people is reaffirmed. This is why the miracle of Purim was accomplished by a human being who stopped the calamitous decree of Haman against the bodies of the Jewish people.

The half-shekel tax has been explained by our sages to connote a form of repentance for the sin of the Golden Calf. Clearly, a sin can only be transgressed by a soul enclothed in a body, and the blemish of the transgression adheres to the body. The sin of the Golden Calf was all the more serious for it affected the whole experience of Matan Torah. The lofty level of sublime unity attained when the Jews accepted the Torah was befouled and polluted when they worshiped the Golden Calf and this affected their bodies as well as their souls.

If so, this sin affected the clarity of the projection of G‑d’s choice of the Jewish material bodies. It affected all classes and levels of Jews and was carried forth into all future generations. How tragic a consequence — a sin perpetuated so many thousand years ago still brings suffering to the Jewish people in modern times.

Consequently, the half-shekel is supposed to remedy this outrage, and since it affected all Jews equally, the half-shekel must be donated by all Jews equally; in a manner which enhances down-to-earth unity. Two people must join to bring one shekel!

Those shekels were used to make the foundation bases for the wall beams of the Tabernacle which shows us how Jewish unity created the dwelling place for the Shechinah in the physical worlds.

We may now understand how the shekels of the Jews anticipated and nullified Haman’s decree. Since the shekel effected forgiveness and rectified the blemish caused in the choice of the Jewish people exercised by G‑d at Matan Torah — it later also generated the power to nullify Haman’s decree against the Jewish people, so that consequently, they reaccepted and reaffirmed that essential bond between G‑d and Jew. The unity of the Jews who gathered in Shushan also expressed the unity of the half-shekels.

A congruent theme may be discerned in the portion of Mishpatim which we read today. At the beginning of Mishpatim, Rashi gives notice that all of the [civil] laws commanded in Mishpatim were ordained at Sinai together with the ritual and moral laws. These laws certainly deal with down-to-earth corporeal cases.

The first mitzvah taught in Mishpatim deals with a Jewish servant who was sold as a slave because he could not repay the money which he stole. Quite a depressing case about a very reprehensible individual! Why start the laws of Mishpatim with such a morbid, unusual and uncommon situation?

The truth, however, is that here in the laws of the Jewish slave we can realize the true depth of the laws of Torah. First of all we are dealing with an individual whose soul powers are concealed — his only claim to Jewishness is his material body which declares that he is a Jew! And yet, he fell to the nadir of society and is now in the state of slavery. Here the Torah tells us that we must treat him with kindness, righteousness and respect. He works for six years and then is freed. During the period of servitude his family and all their needs must be cared for by his master. G‑d chose the Jewish people and He made no distinction among individuals — so we must also show compassion and feeling for every Jewish being, even one who is sold into servitude. The Torah was given to purify the physical world — this is the message of Mishpatim.

Every Jew must know that G‑d clearly chose every single Jewish person; specifically his and her material being. This choice will be revealed through the soul by observance of Torah and mitzvos.

In the section of Rambam which we begin studying tonight we find:

One should always engage in the study of Torah (and practice of mitzvos) even if not for its own sake, for he who begins thus will end by studying it for its own sake. (Laws of Repentance 10:5)

This means that when the inner “soul” and altruistic intention are not yet developed and all you have is the external body of the good deed — you should still practice Torah and mitzvos. For the body, too, is holy and it will lead to the revelation of the soul, which carries the true, inner intention that is truly altruistic and faithful, dedicated and well-intentioned.

When you meet a Jew who does not seem ready to perform mitzvos with devotion, or one who is ignorant, having been captive among the gentiles and knows not the Aleph-Beis of Judaism — don’t despair — don’t give up on any Jew! You can reveal his soul through Torah and mitzvos and thereby reveal the preciousness of his material being.

On this Shabbos Mevarchim Adar which includes Purim, Shekalim and Mishpatim we find direction and energy to appreciate the preciousness of every Jew, young and old, which will engender the motivation to teach and train them to observe and keep Torah and mitzvos.

And here the special emphasis must be placed on making the Jewish home a Mini-Sanctuary for Torah, Prayer and Acts of Loving-Kindness. Specifically, every child and adult should have a Siddur, Chumash and also a charity box, all inscribed: “The earth and all it contains belong to the L‑rd,” and the child’s name.

On the threshold of Adar attention should also be directed to Mivtza Purim: old and young should perform the mitzvos of Purim — reading the Megillah, sending food gifts to friends, giving charity to the poor, Purim joy and enjoying the Purim feast, etc.

And certainly the essential theme of reaffirmation and reacceptance of all the principles of Torah and mitzvos designated by the Megillah as: “light and joy, gladness and honor.”

May this all speed “the connection of redemption to redemption” — the ultimate redemption through our righteous Mashiach. Then we will automatically celebrate Purim and Pesach in the Holy Land, in Yerushalayim the Holy City, in the Third Beis HaMikdash with joy and glad hearts.

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2. Several of Rashi’s commentaries come under scrutiny this week.

A) On the verse (Shemos 24:6)Moshe took half the blood and put it into large bowls (aganos),” Rashi fails to translate the unusual term aganos. Why? The Ibn Ezra considers the meaning of aganos and says “round bowls, similar to ‘an ivory basin’ [agan hasahar].” (Shir HaShirim 7:3) If Ibn Ezra, who normally does not interpret the simple meaning of the verse, felt it necessary to explain the meaning of aganos — then, Rashi, who always explains the plain meaning of every verse should surely explain the meaning of aganos. Why does he ignore this unusual word?

B) On the verse: “Come up to Me, to the mountain, and remain there,” (Shemos 24:12) Rashi cites this full verse and says: “Forty days.” (loc. cit.) Here we are surprised by Rashi’s words which seem to be superfluous, since just a few verses later Scripture tells us clearly that “Moshe was to remain on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.” (verse 18)

Another perturbing point: why does Rashi also cite the words “Come up to Me, to the mountain” when the comment “forty days” only explains the citation “and remain there”?

C) The mitzvah of lending money to fellow Jews without charging interest is prescribed to us in this week’s portion: “When you lend money to My people...do not take interest from him.” (Shemos 22:24)

Rashi comments on this verse:

R. Yishmael said: “Wherever (the Hebrew word) “im”occurs in Scripture it is used of an optional act except in three instances, of which this is one.” (loc. cit.)

We know that in the first instance where the word “im” is used to mean “when” and not “if” (Shemos 20:22) Rashi quotes the discussion of R. Yishmael in its entirety, and he also mentions here (Shemos 24:12) that the meaning is similar. If so, why is it necessary for Rashi to tell us here, once again, R. Yishmael’s teaching?

A few general thoughts:

A) In seeking Rashi’s reason for not commenting on some verse we should keep in mind how the five-year-old Chumash student understands the word or phrase in question, without further elucidation by Rashi. In the case of the aganos, from the context of the verse it is obvious that aganos are vessels of some sort which can hold liquid. The Ibn Ezra explains that they were “round bowls,” based on a verse from Shir HaShirim and comparable to “the Arabic word aga’an,” which means “round basins.” The question is, why does Rashi not give the same translation that the Ibn Ezra gives, that the aganos were round basins? Since Rashi’s role is to give the plain meaning, it would seem that this is the most basic interpretation. Rashi likewise should have cited the Arabic source, as he often does.

The answer is that in this case there is no direct proof that, in fact, the aganos were the same round basins as referred to in Shir HaShirim. Furthermore, whether or not the basins were round adds nothing to the comprehension of the five-year-old Chumash student. All that is vital is that aganos held water, which is obvious from the context. It is quite possible that aganos was the name of a type of vessel, which may have been round, square or triangle — all we know is that it held water.

Rashi relates a word to a foreign source only when its etymology is apparent from the context of the verse — which is not the case here — or, when the foreign word in question will help the five-year-old Chumash student visualize the subject at hand. Rashi often uses “la’az” — O.F. (Old French) — because he lived in France and he used a language which would help the five-year-old Chumash student to understand the meaning more clearly. However, an Arabic word may have been helpful to the student of Ibn Ezra, who spoke Arabic, but not to Rashi’s students!

A careful review of Rashi’s commentary in Shir HaShirim will also show that Rashi opts for the view that aganos was the name used for the vessels, and only when an adjective is added to the noun will the meaning be “round vessels.” Here, however Rashi decided that the plain meaning would be better served by not adding anything to the words of Scripture.

B) Regarding the question why Rashi added the words “forty days” to the words of Scripture, a possible answer may have suggested that Rashi simply quoted the concluding words of the chapter which stated that Moshe stayed on the mountain for forty days. Further thought, however, reveals that this answer is unacceptable because whenever Rashi cites only part of a phrase he adds the term “etc.,” which we do not find here. The verse says “forty days and forty nights”; Rashi says “forty days.” If he were quoting the verse he should have written “forty days, etc.”

The proper explanation is that Rashi shows us the contrast between the times when Moshe climbed the mountain before he received the Ten Commandments and this time when he ascended the mountain after the Ten Commandments were given to the Jewish people. Each of the previous occasions when Moshe went up onto Mt. Sinai he stayed a short while, received instructions from G‑d concerning the different stages of preparation for Matan Torah and he immediately descended from the mountain. Here however the Torah says: “Come up to Me, to the mountain, and remain there.” Although the call to ascend to the summit of the mountain was similar to the earlier occasions, the end of the verse “and remain there” indicated a change from the previous pattern. So Rashi feels that it is necessary to explain that here G‑d was calling Moshe to remain on the mountain for an extended period of time. How long did G‑d have in mind? Rashi says we know he stayed forty days — so he adds the words “forty days,” and he means forty days including the nights.

C) In answer to the query why Rashi repeats a commentary which he taught earlier, we may answer that when the verse in question includes a klotz kashe Rashi must reiterate his view. For the five-year-old Chumash student asks, “How can it be that the Torah says “If” you lend money, it is a mitzvah to lend a Jew money?!” Here Rashi comes and reminds us that the word “imif” can also mean “im — when.” So that we do not forget this important rule Rashi reiterates the principle and quotes, in abbreviated form, the teaching of R. Yishmael that lending money to a Jew is indeed an important positive commandment.

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3. Perhaps the most prominent of all the donations contributed for the construction of the Tabernacle were the half-shekels given by every male aged 20-60. This served as a source of census information as well as a source of funds for the Sanctuary.

Of the shekels that were donated in the wilderness the first time, we are told that they were smelted down to ingots and formed into the foundation bases for the wall beams of the Tabernacle. A second set of shekels were donated to be used for the daily communal sacrifices and this half-shekel tax became a yearly requirement, in order to supply the community sacrifices without interruption. The sacrifices offered in the Sanctuary comprised the main service of the Tabernacle and later of the Holy Temples, as the Rambam explains in the Laws of the Temple. (ch. 1)

The commandment to donate the half-shekel is thus closely related to the commandment, “They shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them,” which includes the Mishkan (Tabernacle) as well as the first and second Temples and the future, third Beis HaMikdash.

Since the Torah is eternal and since we speak of a mitzvah which includes the eternal Beis HaMikdash of the future, it seems right that at all times, even now in the diaspora, we should have an aspect and reflection of the Mishkan and Temple.

All of the mitzvos of the Torah are related to the total being of the Jew. When we carry out all the commandments then the Jew can be whole and perfect. This is the intent of the verse: “Be whole with G‑d your G‑d.” (Devarim 18:13)

How can man reach perfection if there are mitzvos which are suspended in the diaspora period? The answer is that although certain mitzvos cannot be performed in physical reality now — one can still fulfill them in an inner, spiritual manner through the Divine service of one’s soul.

Thus, the commandment, “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among (within) them,” has a spiritual counterpart which can be fulfilled today. The “mini-Sanctuary” (synagogues) and study halls of Torah — as well as the mini-Sanctuary which every Jew can create in his/her own home and in the inner heart of every Jew will all provide a place for the Shechinah. Here the promise “and I will dwell within them” is truly realized in the heart of each individual.

On Shabbos Shekalim when we read the commandment of giving half-shekels — we are awakened and motivated to be involved in making Jewish homes Mini-Sanctuaries. This was explained in great length in the communal letter written between the 10th and 15th of Shevat to the adults and the shorter letter to children.

It was pointed out that the Beis HaMikdash was in fact the source for the three pillars on which the world stands: Torah, Prayer and Charity:

Torah — immediately after the injunction to build the Mishkan the Torah tells us to build a Holy Ark and place the Stone Tablets with the Ten Commandments therein. It was there that the Shechinah made its home on earth and thereby the essence of the Tabernacle was concentrated in the ark which held the Torah. Likewise, the home of the Sanhedrin was near the altar of the Temple.

Prayer (service of the sacrifices) — the Rambam describes the Tabernacle as “a house of G‑d designated to offer sacrifices there.” And as Yeshayahu described the Temple: “for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” (Yeshayahu 56:7)

Acts of Loving-Kindness (Charity) — “Make a table.... It is on this table that showbread shall be placed.” (Shemos 25:23,30) Our sages explained that the golden table in the Tabernacle epitomized the downward radiation of the kindness of the Holy One, Blessed be He — from His full, open, holy and abundant hand.

The influence of the Tabernacle and Temple affected Jew and non-Jew alike, spiritually and materially.

Every Jew (person) has the responsibility to carry out G‑d’s will in the world. This is accomplished by making the individual’s home a house for Torah, Prayer and Charity — these three pillars support the person as well as the world at large.

These subjects were expressed in my recent letter to parents and adults and a second, special letter, to children. The intention is that the adults will also explain the contents of their letter to the children.

The emphasis in creating these Mini-Sanctuaries really applies to the children, for we must raise them to the level where they will be the first to recognize the Shechinah — just as it was at the splitting of the sea.

Therefore, every Jewish child should make his/her room, bed, or desk a place of Torah, prayer and acts of loving-kindness by having a Chumash (volume of the Pentateuch), Siddur (prayer book) and charity box. These items should be inscribed with the verse, “The earth and all it contains belong to the L‑rd,” and also the child’s name. Using Hebrew names introduces an aspect of redemption as was the case in the Exodus from Egypt.

Putting the child’s name on these items will increase their importance and motivate the children to study, pray and give tzedakah. When the pushka is emptied the receipt should be written to the name of the child.

The presence of holy books and tzedakah boxes in the home will also influence the adults to study and to give more charity, and although at first the motivation may not be wholly altruistic, nevertheless, the Rambam rules that Torah and mitzvos should be practiced even when one has imperfect motives for in the end he will serve G‑d solely for the sake of His Holy name.

May all these activities find great success and may it speed the building of the Third Beis HaMikdash speedily and truly in our time.

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5. [The Rebbe Shlita gave a bottle of mashke to Rabbi ... for the Melaveh Malkah of the free loan fund. As is customary he donned a Shtreimel and said words of Torah.

Rabbi ... told the following story of R. Nochum of Chernobyl:

Whenever R. Nochum would visit a certain town he used to stay at the home of one of his chassidim. On one such occasion, prior to his arrival in the town, he sent a messenger to the chassid who informed him that R. Nochum would not enter his house unless he brought him a donation of 2000 rubles. Moreover, R. Nochum would not allow the chassid to visit him at his lodging and would not allow the chassid to attend any of the prayers, meals, meetings, etc. until he would come up with the money.

R. Nochum came to the town and was true to his word. The poor chassid, who did not have the wherewithal to raise so huge a sum, was in terrible distress and anguish. A while passed and one of the local dukes, accompanied by a contingency of troops, visited the town and were billeted in various houses. By Divine Providence the soldiers that stayed in the chassid’s house carried with them the strong-box of the duke which contained a vast treasure. When they left the town they forgot the treasure chest! A short while later the soldiers realized their loss and came rushing back to the town and searched all the homes they stayed at — but miraculously, they skipped the chassid’s house. They left the town in dismay and disgust.

When the chassid opened the box the first thing that caught his eye was a wad of money that contained exactly 2000 ruble. He immediately took the money and traveled to Chernobyl. When R. Nochum saw him and the money he said: “It was revealed to me that there was heavenly desire to make you rich, but that you had to truly want and request the wealth. I realized that the only way to motivate you to that desire would be to cause you anguish and pain over the fact that you are poor — that brought you to sincerely request the riches and in that way you merited the wealth.”

When Rabbi ... completed the story, the Rebbe smiled and spoke:]

This story raises a klotz kashe which can only be answered by suggesting that the details were not precise.

While it is true that R. Nochum had to cause the chassid suffering in order to engender a genuine desire and prayer for wealth, it is not possible that he did this for any length of time. It could not be that he ostracized the chassid from all the prayers, meals, talks, etc.

Not allowing the chassid to attend one prayer, and depriving him from hearing one “Amen Yehei Shemei Rabbah,” would have been enough to torture him to the point of tears, true “chassidic tears.” Even an insensitive person would be terribly hurt if he were the only one refused admittance to the synagogue when everyone came to hear the Tzaddik.

To bring the chassid to the extreme emotions required to call out to G‑d for help, it should have been sufficient to lodge somewhere else and to oust him from only one prayer!

We must therefore say that although the general outlines of the story are correct some details are incorrect and probably were added as an embellishment, when the story was handed over from generation to generation. In fact, the troops probably passed through the town on the same day R. Nochum come to the town and as a result the chassid brought the money to R. Nochum on the same day and R. Nochum did move into the house of the chassid a short while later.

Regarding the Melaveh Malkah of the free loan fund, the payment for my “correction” of the story will be that everyone should participate in the function and increase their donations.

Tzedakah is great, for it brings the redemption closer — may it come very speedily — without any postponements.

I trust that he who told the story will have no hard feelings on my corrections and I ask his pardon in the presence of the community, let everyone answer, Amen.

It is important to mention once again the vital request that every Jew, man, woman and child should make a Mini-Sanctuary in their homes — a place of Torah, prayer and acts of loving-kindness. These actions will speed the building of the Third Beis HaMikdash, may it soon be built. Then the Divine service of Torah and mitzvos will also reach a state of perfection: “and kingship will be the L‑rd’s” (Ovadiah 1:21); “The L‑rd will be King over the entire earth; on that day the L‑rd will be One and His Name One.” (Zechariah 14:9)

It is the appropriate time once again to stress the important Mivtza Purim which should begin early enough to see proper results and success, greater than in the past, and may we merit to the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach.