1. Today’s farbrengen is connected with Lag B’Omer, for the concept of Lag B’Omer starts from minchah of the previous day (which this year, since Lag B’Omer is Sunday, starts from minchah of Shabbos — today). As the Alter Rebbe writes in his Siddur: “According to the Sephardic custom, Lamnatzeach Ya’ancho and Tefillah L’Dovid are omitted on those days when Tachnun (confessional prayer) is not said, namely ... Lag B’Omer ... Tachnun is also omitted in minchah on the day before ... Lag B’Omer.” And the fact that we don’t say tachnun, shows that the concept of Lag B’Omer begins from minchah of the preceding day.

The idea of omitting tachnun in minchah on erev Lag B’Omer applies even when erev Lag B’Omer is on Shabbos, as this year (although we do not say tachnun on Shabbos any way), for we do not say “Tzidkoscho Tzedek” in minchah on this Shabbos for the same reason — that it is erev Lag B’Omer. Indeed, the minchah prayer of Shabbos is loftier than minchah of weekdays: Besides the greatness of the minchah prayer in general, as our Sages say, “A person should always be meticulous in [reciting] the minchah prayer, for Eliyahu was answered only in the minchah prayer,” the minchah prayer of Shabbos is especially lofty, for then we say, “As for me, my prayer is to You, L‑rd, at a propitious time ...”

In addition to the general connection between Lag B’Omer and the time of minchah of the preceding day, there is a special connection between Lag B’Omer and Shabbos. Lag B’Omer is the yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi), his day of joy, for on this day all his service of his lifetime is elevated to its highest source — as Rashbi said of his day of passing, “I am one with Him, I have a passion for Him, I cleave to Him,” — and is then revealed below. Of Rashbi it was said, “His Torah is his sole occupation” — and a Torah scholar is termed “Shabbos.” Indeed, Rashbi was called “Shabbos.”

True, all Jews are of the level of Torah scholars, as written, “All your children are learners of the L‑rd,” meaning all Jews are G‑d’s disciples — and therefore Torah scholars. However, there are obviously different degrees in Torah scholarship, and “Torah scholars” are a special category who are engaged primarily in the study of Torah, the apogee of which is one whose “Torah is his sole occupation.” Such a person is termed “Shabbos,” for just as there is no “weekday work” on Shabbos, so one whose “Torah is his sole occupation” has nothing to do with “weekday work” — his entire “business” is Torah study. The permission to engage in “weekday work” was granted only because one must make a living to eat and drink; Rashbi and his colleagues, however, whose sole occupation was Torah, did not need to engage in “weekday work,” for concerning them the verse, “Strangers shall stand and pasture your sheep” was fulfilled.

Thus, when erev Lag B’Omer is Shabbos, the connection between Shabbos and Lag B’Omer is emphasized by virtue of the similarity in their concepts.

The above connection between Lag B’Omer and Shabbos (Lag B’Omer — yartzeit of Rashbi, who, because “Torah is his sole occupation,” is called “Shabbos”) is further emphasized in this week’s parshah, Bechukosai. On the verse (Vayikra 26:3), “If you will walk in My statutes,” Rashi comments, “You shall toil in [the study of] Torah”; similarly, on the following words of the verse, “and you will keep My commandments,” Rashi comments, “Toil in [the study of] Torah for the purpose of observing and fulfilling [the mitzvos].” In other words, Rashi interprets the verse “if you will walk in My statutes and you will keep My commandments” to refer to a special level of Torah study: “Toil in [the study of] Torah.”

This is the connection between Bechukosai and Rashbi, whose “Torah was his sole occupation.” Every Jew is obligated to learn Torah. There are, however, those who learn Torah in a loftier fashion; they “toil in Torah,” reaching the highest level of Torah being their only occupation.

Further, the reward for fulfilling the command, “You will walk in My statutes” is “I shall give your rains in their season ... and I shall give peace in the land, etc.” All these blessings enumerated in this parshah — the reward for toiling in Torah study — and also connected with Rashbi. How?

True reward for fulfillment of mitzvos, Rambam writes (Laws of Repentance, Chapter 8), is not material things, but “life in the World to Come.” It is incomparably greater than material recompense in this world, to the extent that it is written of it, “Eye has not seen beside You, O G‑d, what He has prepared for him that waits for Him”: Not only can one not appreciate the greatness of a mitzvah itself, but none can appreciate even the reward for a mitzvah.

Rambam continues to say (9:1): “Now that it is known that the reward for fulfilling mitzvos ... is life in the World to Come ... what is the meaning of the statement found everywhere in the Torah that ‘if you obey, it will happen to you thus, and if you do not obey, it will happen to you thus;’ and all those things which take place in this world, such as plenty and famine, war and peace ...?” Rambam answers that all these promises of material good mean that “He will remove from us all obstacles that hinder us in the observance [of Torah and mitzvos], such as sickness, war, famine and other calamities; and He will bestow upon us all the material benefits which strengthen our ability to observe the Torah, such as plenty, peace, and abundance of silver and gold — so that we will not be engaged all our days in providing for our bodily needs, but will have leisure to study wisdom and fulfill the commandment, thereby attaining life in the World to Come.”

Blessings for abundant material benefits (allowing one to engage freely in Torah and mitzvos) is particularly associated with Rashbi, who said, “I am able to absolve the whole world from punishment.” When there is no punishment, the blessings for material benefits are bestowed with greater abundance. Indeed, through Rashbi, these blessings are drawn into the world in a manner transcending the limits of nature — in a miraculous fashion. Rashbi was totally divorced from weekday work, for in his case, the promise “Strangers shall stand and pasture your sleep” was fulfilled; he engaged only in Torah study (“Torah is his sole occupation”). Such conduct transcends the regular way of life, transcends nature, and thus he was able to perform miracles, as the Talmud relates, that Rashbi was “experienced in miracles.”

The bestowal of abundant blessings in a manner transcending nature (“miracles”) is the strength and means wherewith it becomes easy for Jews to engage in Torah and mitzvos in the manner of “toil” (“You shall walk in My statutes”). This strength is in addition to that which derives from G‑d’s request to Jews to toil in Torah. Our Sages say that “‘If’ is an expression only of entreaty”; thus “If you will walk in My statutes” means that G‑d entreats every Jew to toil in Torah — and therefore grants him the powers necessary to do so.

Thus far the connection between Lag B’Omer and Shabbos, especially Shabbos parshas Bechukosai. If Lag B’Omer were to actually fall on Shabbos itself, the above connection would be stronger than when Shabbos is erev Lag B’Omer. However, Lag B’Omer can never fall on Shabbos, for then the first day of Pesach would be Monday; and the rule of the Jewish Calendar is that the first day of Pesach can never be on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Thus the closest Lag B’Omer can be to Shabbos is when Shabbos is erev Lag B’Omer, as this year, on which the concepts of Lag B’Omer begin (after midday).

A further aspect of Lag B’Omer this year is that it is a leap year, in which the solar and lunar years are reconciled. As all things in the world, the sun (solar year) and moon (lunar year) have their roots in Torah. The relationship between the sun and moon — that the moon receives its light the from the sun — is paralleled by the relationship between the Oral Torah and the Written Torah: Every concept in the Oral Torah derives from the Written Torah, as our Sages say, “There is nothing that is not alluded to in the Torah.” Thus everything in the Oral Torah is encompassed in the Written Torah.

A leap year, then, in which the solar and lunar years are reconciled, bringing them to their full perfection, corresponds to the full perfection of the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. And this is its connection to Lag B’Omer, the yartzeit of Rashbi, whose “Torah was his sole occupation” — Torah study in perfection.

2. Since “deed is paramount,” everything said above must be translated into actual deed. The importance of deed, too, was emphasized by Rashbi. Although Rashbi’s sole occupation was Torah study, the Talmud Yerushalmi tells us that he interrupted his learning not only to fulfill the mitzvah of sitting in a sukkah and taking the lulav and esrog, but also to “prepare a sukkah and to prepare the lulav.” Although his students or others could have built the sukkah and prepared the lulav, Rashbi himself made these preparations — emphasizing how important is actual deed.

The above may be connected to the study of Rambam. Rambam’s work, Mishneh Torah, begins with the words, “The foundation of foundations and the pillar of all wisdoms is to know that there is a First Being” — i.e., knowledge of G‑dliness. In the second chapter Rambam talks of “What is the way [that will lead] to the love of Him and the fear of Him” — attributes and emotions of the heart. Again, Rambam later talks of the laws of teshuvah, repentance, which is principally an emotion of the heart. Indeed, the first book of Mishneh Torah is called “The book of knowledge,” and the second book is called “The book of Love” — all things which seemingly are unrelated to actual deed.

However, besides the fact that the goal of the above is that eventually they will lead to deed, Rambam writes in the Introduction to Mishneh Torah that he writes this book for the reason that “a person who first reads the Written Torah and then reads this work, will know from it the whole of the Oral Torah.” And the principal element in studying the Written Torah is to actually read it aloud, moving one’s lips — which is considered a deed (a “small action”). Moreover, the Talmud (Gittin 60b) says, “The words which are written, you are not permitted to say by heart,” and it is therefore impossible to study the Written Torah without first writing a Sefer Torah — and writing is certainly a full-fledged deed.

To return to our point, the lesson to be derived from Lag B’Omer as applied in actual deed. Rashbi revealed the Torah’s inner dimension (its secrets), and thus the lesson from Lag B’Omer is that we should increase in the revelation and dissemination of the Torah’s inner dimension. More particularly, we must fulfill the mission given us by the previous Rebbe, leader of our generation, and Rashbi’s successor — the mission of disseminating Chassidus.

Although “Your wellsprings shall spread forth to the outside” — the idea of disseminating Chassidus — was said concerning the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, it applies to the revelation of the inner dimension of Torah in general — the teachings of Rashbi. In Rashbi’s generation, this inner dimension of Torah was revealed in great measure. Afterwards, it was again concealed, until the Arizal’s time, when “it became permitted and a mitzvah to reveal this wisdom” — and most especially after the revelation of Chassidus in general, and Chassidus Chabad in particular, wherewith the esoteric dimension of Torah was presented in an intellectual framework, enabling it to be understood and assimilated by each person.

“Deed is paramount”: We must increase in all apsects of disseminating the wellsprings, beginning with spreading Judaism through the mitzvah campaigns. They are: Ahavas Yisroel and unity of Jews; education; Torah; tefillin, mezuzah; tzedakah; Jewish books; Shabbos and Yomtov lights; kashrus; family purity, and unity of all Jews through the general Sifrei Torah.

All these efforts to disseminate Chassidus and Judaism — in which we work as emissaries of the previous Rebbe — should be carried out with true Ahavas Yisroel, peacefully and pleasantly. This indeed was the way the previous Rebbe conducted himself, as the following story attests: There was a Jew of Chassidic stock, whose grandfather, a chassid of the Tzemach Tzedek or the Rebbe Maharash, was a great Torah scholar. The grandson, too, was learned and possessed many abilities. He, however, strayed from the right path and became irreligious. Yet, the previous Rebbe once wrote him a letter in which he addressed him with very honorable titles — Chassid, G‑d — fearing man, etc.

Now the previous Rebbe had met this person, spoken to him, and knew exactly what kind of a person he was. Indeed, this person made no attempt to hide his misdeeds and everyone knew his spiritual standing. Some people therefore asked the previous Rebbe how could he write such titles about such a person?

The previous Rebbe replied that Rambam rules that the true desire of every Jew is “to observe all the mitzvos” (but that sometimes his evil inclination overpowers him). Thus, the previous Rebbe said, the true spiritual standing of this Jew is as it should be — and therefore it is impossible for him (the Rebbe) to differentiate between Jews, to give one Jew titles and another Jew not!

We see from this story that the previous Rebbe approached every Jew with love and fond regard, recognizing the qualities of his soul. And it is with such an attitude that we must carry out the mission of disseminating Chassidus and Judaism entrusted to us by the previous Rebbe.

3. It is the custom that Jewish children play a prominent role on Lag B’Omer: In Jewish communities children would be gathered together, the theme of Lag B’Omer explained to them, and then they would go to forests etc. and be given things to make them happy. Such was the custom in various communities, and it has spread to all places, thereby giving it the legal standing of a mitzvah.

Lag B’Omer is associated with children, for one of the reasons Lag B’Omer is celebrated has to do with Rabbi Akiva’s students — and our Sages say, “‘You shall teach them to your children’ — these are the students.” Because students are called children, Lag B’Omer, which concerns Rabbi Akiva’s students, is associated with students and children.

Although Lag B’Omer concerns Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, who were of a very lofty spiritual stature, nevertheless, Lag B’Omer is connected with all students, of whatever standing!

Moreso, Lag B’Omer is celebrated also because it is Rashbi’s yartzeit. Of all Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, Rashbi so towered over them that Rabbi Akiva said of him, “It is enough for you that I and your Creator recognize your worth.” That is, he was of a level so much loftier than his colleagues that they were not even capable of plumbing his greatness — only Rabbi Akiva and G‑d could.

What were the circumstances under which Rabbi Akiva made the above statement concerning Rashbi’s greatness? The Talmud Yerushalmi relates that when Rabbi Akiva gave semichah to Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shimon (Rashbi), he said, “Rabbi Meir shall sit first.” Rabbi Shimon’s face then “grew dark,” and so Rabbi Akiva told him, “It is enough for you that I and your Creator recognize your worth.”

This is puzzling. Since Rabbi Akiva was able to recognize Rabbi Shimon’s worth, why indeed didn’t he seat him first? He should have explained Rashbi’s qualities to his other disciples so that they too would have recognized his worth, and then seated him first. This would also have had an effect on the halachah. In most instances, the halachah is not decided in favor of Rabbi Shimon; had Rabbi Akiva explained to his disciples the greatness of Rashbi and seated him first, they would have taken heed of his opinion, tried to plumb the depths of his views — and then could have ruled according to his opinion.

We must therefore conclude that Rashbi’s colleagues were unable to comprehend the vast gulf between them and Rashbi. They knew Rashbi was greater than they (and therefore we find they chose him as their representative to Rome to plead for the abolishment of decrees against the Jewish redemption) — but they could not understand it. He was of so lofty a stature that his greatness was totally out of the range of their understanding. And because they only knew that he was greater, but did not understand his greatness, it was impossible for them to plumb the depths of his opinions so as to be able to rule according to him.

To return to our main point, we see that although Lag B’Omer is connected with the disciples of Rabbi Akiva, and with Rashbi who was incomparably greater than them all, this day is nevertheless associated with all disciples and students regardless of their spiritual standing!

4. There is a puzzling aspect to the reason for Lag B’Omer which concerns Rabbi Akiva’s disciples. The Talmud (Yevamos 62b) says: “Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples ... and they all died in one period (between Pesach and Shavuos) because they did not accord honor one to another.” On Lag B’Omer, they ceased to die — which is why Lag B’Omer is a joyous day.

Rabbi Akiva obviously did not gain these 24,000 disciples in one day, but over a number of years. When he began to teach, and his fame grew, disciples came to him from all over until eventually they numbered 24,000.

Now the disciples did not suddenly change their behavior in one day; that they did not accord the proper respect to each other was obviously something which happened over a long period of time. Why, then, did “all of them die in one period”; what happened during Pesach and Shavuos that caused them to be struck by a plague — obviously they did not all of a sudden start not honoring each other then!

To answer this question, let us first analyze what “they did not accord honor one to another” means. Their teacher was Rabbi Akiva, who said, “You shall love your fellow as yourself” is “a great principle in Torah.” How could his disciples of all people behave in the exact opposite way — not treat each other respectfully and with honor?

As proper disciples of Rabbi Akiva, they studied his teachings with the greatest of fervor and enthusiasm. And since people are different one from other, each disciple interpreted Rabbi Akiva’s teachings in his own unique way. When, therefore, a disciple saw that another interpreted Rabbi Akiva’s teachings incorrectly — incorrectly according to his interpretation — he could no longer treat him with honor. And since they were honest men, they did not accord honor of which they did not feel the recipient was worthy.

It is thus precisely the fact that they were “Rabbi Akiva’s disciples” which led them to treat each other without honor. An ordinary disciple would not have cared so much if another interpreted their teacher’s words “incorrectly.” But Rabbi Akiva’s disciples studied their master’s teaching with so much fervor and zealousness that it was abhorrent to them that one would interpret his words incorrectly — and therefore they did not accord honor to each other.

Now, although the lofty stature of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples demanded that they nevertheless accord honor to each other — i.e., to realize that their colleague’s opinion is also part of Torah (“These and these are the words of the living G‑d”) — it is not a sin which deserves such a severe punishment as death! We must say there was another element that caused them to all die “in one period.”

We will understand what that element is by reference to an episode related in the Talmud Yerushalmi, in which the expression “they all died in one period” is also used. The Talmud Yerushalmi states (Sanhedrin 1:2): “It happened that twenty four wagon loads of [disciples of] the Yeshivah of Rebbi went to Lod to arrange the leap year. The evil eye entered them, and they all died in one period.”

We do not find any wrong conduct in this episode; the sole reason for their death was that a large number of disciples — 24 wagon loads — were assembled, and therefore the evil eye entered.

So too in our case: When the number of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples reached a very large number, 24,000, the evil eye caused that “they all died in one period.” Interestingly, in both instances the number twenty four figures — 24 wagon loads and 24 thousand disciples — for the number 24 is associated with judgment and severity.

Even after these tragedies they continued to learn Torah with numerous disciples; they only changed the place. In the episode recounted in the Talmud Yerushalmi, it states, “From then on, they moved from Yehudah and established it in Galil — i.e., they changed the place to where they went to arrange the leap year, from Yehudah to Galil.

So also in the case of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples. After his 24,000 disciples died, Rabbi Akiva continued to seek out new students and to teach them Torah. What changed? “Rabbi Akiva came to our Rabbis in the south and taught them.” And his first five (or seven) disciples in the south “established the Torah” and thereby rectified the situation that had existed previously with the death of the 24,000 — that “the world was desolate.” The disciples after Lag B’Omer accorded the proper honor one to another — as befitting students of Rabbi Akiva.

Rashbi, who was of these latter disciples, exemplified such conduct (Ahavas Yisroel). The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 52:3) relates that when Rashbi saw that his disciples could not learn Torah properly because they were poor, “He took them to a valley ... and said, ‘Valley, valley, fill up with gold coins’; and gold coins started to fall before them.” Rashbi could have taught them to be on such a level where poverty would not have disturbed their Torah study. But since he was concerned about them also on the level that they actually were then, before they reached a higher level, he took steps to help them immediately. And thus Rashbi extended Ahavas Yisroel to all Jews, even those who are not perfect. Indeed, the expression “valley,” which is a low place, alludes to the spiritual standing of these disciples — and yet Rashbi still helped them.

Further, Rashbi said, “I am able to absolve the whole world from punishment,” meaning that he helped not only his disciples, but even those who needed absolution from punishment. Another episode in Rashbi’s life emphasizes this. The Talmud (Shabbos 33b) relates that when Rashbi left the cave in which he had been hiding from the Romans for 13 years, “He asked, ‘Is there something that needs fixing? They told him, ‘There is a place which has a doubt of impurity, and priests have the trouble of going around it.’ Rashbi then resolved the doubt, ruling that it was not impure, and thus priests could pass through it.

What does this teach us? Rashbi was in the cave for 13 years, when he could not teach Torah to others. Yet, when he left the cave, he did not gather disciples to teach them Torah, but instead asked if there is anything that needs fixing in the world.

What did he fix? A place which had a doubt of impurity, which could render a priest impure. Priests may not eat terumah in a state of impurity; and a priest who may err and eat terumah while impure is on a low spiritual level, for “No sin shall happen to the righteous” — especially concerning sins in eating. Yet Rashbi was concerned about even such priests — so great was Rashbi’s Ahavas Yiroel! And from this we learn how much we must strive to act in a manner of Ahavas Yisroel.

5. In parshas Bechukosai we read of the punishments that will befall Jews if they do not follow G‑d’s ways. Chapter 26, verse 41, states: “I shall bring them into the land of their enemies ... then their uncircumcised hearts will be humbled ...” Rashi, quoting the words “I shall bring them,” comments: “I myself shall bring them. This is a good measure for Israel, in order that they should not say, ‘Since we are exiled among the nations let us do like their deeds.’ I (G‑d) will not permit them, but I will set up My prophets and bring them back under My wings, as it is said (Yechezkel 20:32-33), ‘And that which comes into your mind shall never come about,’ etc., ‘As I live,’ etc., ‘Surely with a mighty hand’ etc.”

Rashi is saying that the prediction in this verse is really a kindness for Jews, in that even when in their enemies’ land, G‑d Himself will bring them there, and through His prophets, will not allow the Jews to follow the wicked example of the nations. Rashi then cites verses from Yechezkal that G‑d will forcibly not allow Jews to be like the other nations.

There are a few perplexing points in Rashi’s commentary.

1) Rashi interprets the words “I shall bring them” to mean “I Myself shall bring them.” Yet later on he says, “I will set up My prophets” — not “Himself.”

2) Rashi writes that G‑d will not allow Jews to do like the deeds of the nations. This is seemingly deduced from the verse’s next words, “then their uncircumcised heart will be humbled,” which implies that they will repent — since G‑d will send His prophets to bring them back to the right path. But if these words are indeed the proof, Rashi should quote them as the words on which he makes his comment. Instead, Rashi writes only the words “I shall bring them,” without even adding “etc.” (to allude to the rest of the verse) — and these words do not seem to imply anything about how the Jews will behave in their enemies’ land.

3) The passage in which this verse appears details the punishments which await Jews for nonobservance of Torah and mitzvos. Why do we in the middle find a verse telling us of a “good measure”?

The Explanation

The reason why a “good measure” appears in the middle of this passage is understood when we learn the whole passage to its conclusion. At the end of the passage, it states (26:42) “I shall remember My covenant with Ya’akov, and also My covenant with Yitzchok, and also My covenant with Avraham I shall remember.” Further along it states (verse 44), “And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies I will not reject them nor will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly and to break My covenant with them.” And again the next verse, “I shall remember for their sakes the covenant of their ancestors, who I brought out of Egypt ...”

These verses are saying that even when in the land of their enemies G‑d will not reject the Jews, but will remember His covenant with their ancestors. It is thus no wonder that in the passage detailing the punishments that will befall Jews we should find a “good measure” among them. Indeed, it would be surprising if there wasn’t a “good measure”!

Rashi then explains what this “good measure” consists of: “I Myself shall bring them ... in order that they should not say, ‘Since we are exiled among the nations let us do like their deeds.’ I will not permit them, but I will ... bring them back under My wings ...”

Rashi uses the phrase “bring them back under My wings” because its meaning corresponds to the promise that “I Myself shall bring them.” “I Myself shall bring them” means that G‑d is together with Jews in the land of their enemies, and does not leave them there alone. Rashi emphasizes this by writing “bring them back under My wings.” On the verse (Shemos 19:4), “I bore you on eagle’s wings,” Rashi comments: “Like an eagle that carries its fledglings upon its wings. For all the other birds place their offspring between the feet because they are afraid of other birds which fly upon them; but the eagle is afraid only of man, lest he shoot an arrow at him, for there is no bird that flies above him. Therefore he places them upon his wings ...” That is, the expression “on eagle’s wings” and “under My wings” connote intense regard for Jews and concern for their good. Hence, even in their enemies’ land, G‑d is constantly with them and cares for and about them — “I Myself shall bring them.”

But then the question arises (as asked above): If G‑d Himself is with them, why does Rashi write, “I will set up My prophets”?

However, this passage talks of punishment that will befall Jews “If you will walk with Me with keri” (26:21); and Rashi interprets “keri” to mean, “refrain from coming close to Me.” The punishment for such behavior is “Then I also will walk with you with keri,” meaning, G‑d will refrain from coming close to the Jews — although He is with them.

Since G‑d refrains from coming close to the Jews, He cannot speak to them personally, “face to face.” Thus, although together with them, G‑d must inspire them to repent through means other than speaking directly to them — through setting up prophets.

Now we can understand why Rashi quotes only the words, “I shall bring them,” as the basis for his comment, and not also the words, “then their uncircumcised heart will be humbled.” The “good measure” in this verse is the fact that “I Myself shall bring them” — that G‑d is with the Jews in the land of their enemies (“under My wings”). The rest of the verse, “then their uncircumcised heart will be humbled” is not the “good measure” itself, but rather the result of the good measure — and therefore Rashi quotes only the words “I shall bring them” as his basis for his comment that “This is a good measure for Israel.”

6. This Shabbos we learn the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avos, and there is a mishnah in this chapter which is connected to Lag B’omer. In mishnah 13, a saying of Rashbi’s is quoted: “Rabbi Shimon says: There are three crowns — the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship; and the crown of a good name surpasses them all.”

There are some aspects to this mishnah which need clarification:

1) Why does the mishnah say “There are three crowns,” when the mishnah itself cites a fourth crown, that of a good name?

2) The beginning of this mishnah, before it tells us Rabbi Shimon’s saying, states, “Rabbi Yehudah says: Be cautious in [the study of] Talmud, for an unwitting error in Talmud is accounted as wanton transgression.” Since Rabbi Yehudah’s statement and Rabbi Shimon’s statement are cited in the one mishnah, there must be a connection between them. What is that connection?

3) Why in the mishnah is Rabbi Yehudah’s saying placed before Rabbi Shimon’s? True, we find in various instances that Rabbi Yehudah’s opinion is given before Rabbi Shimon’s, for Rabbi Yehudah was “the head of the speakers” (by government decree). However, this applies only when they were together at one gathering, and perhaps even only when arguing on the same topic. In our case, in contrast, they were not at one gathering, and their statements concern different topics. There seems, then, no reason for the mishnah to place R. Yehudah’s statement before Rabbi Shimon’s.

Indeed, the respective themes of their sayings would indicate the reverse order. The previous mishnah (no. twelve) says, “Let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own, the honor of your colleague as the reverence for your teacher,...” Giving honor one to another is similar to the idea of “the crown of a good name” — and therefore Rabbi Shimon’s statement should have directly followed the previous mishnah. Then should have come R. Yehudah’s statement concerning caution in Torah study, which is similar in content to the next mishnah, which says, “Exile yourself to a place of Torah ... for it is your colleagues who will cause it (Torah) to be clearly established with you.” Why, then, is the order of the mishnah the way it is, Rabbi Yehudah’s saying before Rabbi Shimon’s?

The Explanation

The word for “cautious” in Hebrew, “zohir,” is cognate to the word “zohar,” which means “light.” Rabbi Yehudah’s statement “Be zohir in Talmud” thus means that a Jew should infuse extra “light” into his study of Talmud. Although the Torah is from G‑d and “Are not My words as fire,” a Jew can nevertheless add to the Torah’s light.

Rabbi Yehudah says, “Be zohir in Talmud” specifically (and not, for example, “Be zohir in Scripture”) — for the idea of adding light applies only to “Talmud.” One may not add to Scripture, and one learns Scripture by merely reading G‑d’s words (to the extent that even if one doesn’t understand what one is reading, one has nevertheless fulfilled the obligation to learn Torah).

Similarly, when learning Mishnah, one may not add anything, but just learns the laws as set out in Mishnah. It is only in “Talmud,” which is the study of the reasons for the laws, accompanied by discussion and dialectics, that one can add light.

The above interpretation of the words, “Be zohir in Talmud,” corresponds to the plain meaning — “Be cautious in [the study of] Talmud.” Since Talmud involves dialectics, one must be especially cautious not to draw the wrong conclusions and thereby err in a law. In Mishnah, in contrast, one is anyway forbidden to rule on halachah from the words of Mishnah.

Rabbi Yehudah then continues to say, “for an unwitting error in Talmud is accounted as wanton transgression.” He is talking of a Jew who has studied the entire Torah — and therefore certainly would not make a deliberate error in Talmud. Nevertheless, Rabbi Yehudah says, when the error is considered in the light of the person’s lofty qualities “it is accounted as wanton transgression.” Such a person should never have made even an unwitting error; and if he did, then any wrong deed done as a result is considered as wanton transgression.

Rabbi Yehudah’s statement, then, deals with the theme of Torah study as it applies in the world — halachic rulings in actual deed (“Talmud”).

Since Rabbi Shimon’s statement follows Rabbi Yehudah’s, we infer that it too deals with the same theme (Torah study and its affect on the world) — but on a higher level. Rabbi Shimon says, “There are three crowns — the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship.” The main crown is that of Torah, which encompasses the other two — as Rambam writes (Laws of Torah Study 3:1 — based on Yoma 72b): “Do not suppose that the other two crowns are greater than the crown of Torah, for it is said, ‘By me (Torah), kings reign and princes decree justice’. That is, the “crown of kingship” comes about through the “crown of Torah.” Similarly, the concept of the priesthood — service to G‑d — is also achieved through Torah. Rambam writes, “Not only the tribe of Levi, but every person of the inhabitants of the world whose heart moves him ... to stand before the L‑rd to serve Him ... is sanctified as holy of holies.”

The “three crowns,” then, are really encompassed in and come about through the “crown of Torah.” And the reason there are “three crowns” is because “The whole Torah was given to make peace in the world” — to ensure the continuing stable existence of the world. And since the world stands on three pillars, Torah, too, is expressed in three crowns.

Now we can understand the order of the mishnah, in which both Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon talk of Torah study as it affects the world. First comes Rabbi Yehudah’s statement, concerning caution in halachic rulings — i.e., Torah study of the level in which one must be careful of “unwitting errors in Talmud.” Then follows Rabbi Shimon’s statement, which talks of Torah study on a higher level — that of the “crown of Torah,” affecting the entire existence of the world.

Rabbi Shimon speaks further of a level higher than even the “three crowns” — “the crown of a good name” which “surpasses them all.” This refers to Torah study as it transcends the world (“surpasses them all”) — but which level is then revealed in the world.

The relative levels of Torah study expressed in this mishnah — that expressed in Rabbi Shimon’s statement loftier than that in Rabbi Yehudah’s statement — is also paralleled in their names. “Yehudah” is from the meaning “hodo’ah,” “acknowledgement,” which feeling may be present even when full understanding is missing. “Shimon” is from “Shmiyah,” “listening,” which implies understanding and comprehension — a higher level than “hodo’ah.” When one is on the level of only “hodo’ah,” it is necessary to be cautious about “unwitting errors in Talmud.” When one reaches the higher level of “shmiyah,” full comprehension, one’s Torah study is then of the level of the “crown of Torah,” “the three crowns,” and most of all, “the crown of a good name.”

7. A new project has been initiated — the study of Chassidus via the telephone. [By calling a certain number one hears a daily lesson on Chassidus.] By Divine Providence, this has been set to start on Lag B’Omer, the yartzeit of Rashbi, the master of the esoteric portion of Torah. And the study of Chassidus, through Chabad, is the method whereby the esoteric aspect of Torah is absorbed by a person’s intellectual faculties.

One of the advantages to learning Chassidus via telephone (and radio) is that the idea of “your wellsprings shall spread forth to the outside” is achieved in a very lofty manner. The purpose of disseminating Chassidus is that the “wellsprings” should reach the “outside,” to the furthest reaches of this corporeal world. Through the telephone, the wellsprings of Chassidus reaches every part of the world instantaneously — i.e., transcending the spatial-temporal limits of the world.

Study of Chassidus via telephone also emphasizes the element of eternality. Chassidus explains that the creations of the heavens (stars, etc.) possess an element of eternality for they are the same as the day they were created. Something which exists for a set period of time begins to deteriorate from the time of its creation. Something which remains the same as the day it was created must therefore be eternal (by the will of G‑d). They can be destroyed only because it is G‑d’s special desire to do so.

In our case, through the telephone one is able to hear the shiur in Chassidus time and again without any change whatsoever, thereby emphasizing the element of eternality.

This, then, is the special advantage to learning Chassidus via telephone. Everything is ready and prepared for he who wants to learn Chassidus.

May it be G‑d’s will that this project be highly successful.