1. There are three aspects present on Shavuos. First and foremost, it is the “Season of the Giving of our Torah.” In later generations, it also marks the day King David passed on; and, consonant to our Sages’ saying that “the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and fills the years of the righteous from day to day” — meaning, the lives of the righteous are full years, with the day of their passing coinciding with their birthday — we can posit that Shavuos marks also King David’s birthday. Later yet, the Baal Shem Tov passed away on Shavuos.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that every thing in the world happens by Divine Providence. If this applies to even mundane things, it certainly applies to Jews, the “holy nation;” everything concerning them, and most particularly matters of Torah and mitzvos, happens by Divine Providence. It thus follows that the above three events of Shavuos must be connected. That connection is not just that they share a common theme in one detail, but in an important, general matter.

The common theme derived from the events of Shavuos must also be expressed in actual deed, for, as the mishnah says (Pirkei Avos 1:17), “Not study, but deed is the essential thing.” The paramount importance of deed is emphasized particularly now, in the times of the “footsteps of Moshiach” (i.e., close to Moshiach’s coming) — for although now the rule is that “study is great,” the rule in the future will be that “deed is great.”

In addition to the common theme between King David’s and the Baal Shem Tov’s passing and the “Season of the Giving of our Torah” (which theme we shall shortly discuss), there is a connection and the passing of a righteous person (tzaddik) in general (in our case, the passing of King David and the Baal Shem Tov). Torah existed in the world even before Mattan Torah, for the forefathers kept Torah, and, indeed, our Sages say (Midrash Tehillim 9:3) that “Torah preceded the world by 2000 years.” Higher still, Torah exists in a form totally removed from the world. At Mattan Torah, however, the Torah was given below, to work its effect on this low, corporeal world. For example, “Torah was given to make peace in the world”: “Peace” is necessary only when there is disquiet and controversy — and Torah was given to work its effect (“make peace”) in even such a circumstance.

What Mattan Torah achieved, then, is that the loftiest of all things — the essence of Torah as it transcends the world — was given to and revealed in the lowest of all places: this corporeal world. This is the same idea as the passing of a tzaddik: The Alter Rebbe writes (Iggeres Hakodesh 28) that “all the effort of man, which his soul toiled during his lifetime, is above in a hidden and concealed state. It becomes revealed and radiates in a manifest way from above downward at the time at the time of his passing ... and effects salvations in the midst of the earth.” That is, at the time of a tzaddik’s passing, the highest levels (his efforts, which are concealed above) are revealed in the lowest place (“in the midst of the earth”).

But not all is clear: How can we say that the day a tzaddik passes on is such a lofty event, to the extent that a yartzeit is a joyous occasion, when our Sages say, “the passing of the righteous is as difficult as the burning of the House of our G‑d (the Bais Hamikdosh)”? However, even the “burning of the House of our G‑d” possessed a positive aspect. Our Sages say (Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachos 2:4) that when the cow of a certain Arab lowed, it was a sign that the Bais Hamikdosh was burned. When the cow lowed a second time immediately afterwards, it was a sign that the savior of Israel had been born. Thus, the moment after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh saw the beginning of the redemption.

That the savior of Israel should be born immediately after the destruction is simply understood. The reason for the exile is that “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land;” when the cause of the exile is abolished (when we repent of our sins), the effect (the exile) is automatically abolished. In the words of Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5): “Torah has promised that Israel will eventually repent ... and immediately they are redeemed.”

Teshuvah, repentance, depends solely on the Jews, for “Everything is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven.” Had Israel desired, they could have repented in the moment immediately following the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. Since repentance may be “in one moment,” G‑d would have brought the redemption immediately after the destruction (for, as noted above, Rambam rules that when Israel will repent, they will be redeemed immediately). And since the redemption must happen through a flesh and blood person — our righteous Moshiach — it follows that immediately after the destruction “the savior of Israel” had to be born, to allow the redemption (which must be through Moshiach) to occur the moment Israel repents.

Not only could Israel have repented immediately after the destruction, but indeed, it was the most appropriate time for repentance. As long as the Bais Hamikdosh was intact, the Jews, although warned by the prophets of impending calamity, could fool themselves that nothing would happen. Once they saw that G‑d had burned His Sanctuary, and had exiled His sons, that moment should certainly have inspired them to repent.

Thus, the time of “the burning of the House of our G‑d” also possesses a positive element: It was the most opportune time for repentance, and therefore the “savior of Israel” was born then, through whom will come the future and final redemption.

This positive element in the destruction is alluded to in the Talmud (Yoma 54b): “When the heathens entered the Sanctuary, they saw the Cherubim [on top of the Ark] intertwined one with another.” It is explained that this phenomenon was similar to the law that states that “before a man departs on a journey he must visit (i.e., have relations with) his wife.” From its inner perspective, G‑d’s love for the Jews at the instant of the Bais Hamikdosh’s destruction was at its peak, to the extent that it was expressed in the intertwining of the Cherubim — absolute union — below.

Thus, that “the passing of the righteous is as difficult as the burning of the House of our G‑d,” is no contradiction to the fact that the passing of a tzaddik is a lofty matter — for in its inner perspective, there is a positive aspect also in the “burning of the House of our G‑d.”

2. Thus far the general connection between the passing of a tzaddik — in our case, King David and the Baal Shem Tov — and Shavuos (both being the concept of the higher levels being revealed in the lowest place). In addition, as noted previously, there is a theme common to the “Season of the Giving of our Torah” and to King David and the Baal Shem Tov as individuals (not just the general connection between the passing of the righteous — any righteous — and the Giving of the Torah, which was elaborated on above). Both King David and the Baal Shem Tov represented concepts that are part of the theme of Mattan Torah.

King David is renowned as the “Sweet Singer of Israel,” the author of the Book of Psalms (Tehillim) which are praises to G‑d. Although praising G‑d is the idea of prayer, King David’s service is associated also with the Giving of the Torah, for King David is called (II Shmuel 23:8) “Adino the Etznite”, which the Talmud (Moed Koton 16b) interprets to mean that “when he was sitting engaged in Torah he made himself pliant as a worm.” Further, even concerning the recital of psalms (prayer, not Torah), the Midrash states that King David requested from G‑d that “May they read [the psalms] and receive reward for them as [if they studied the laws] of Negaim and Oh’holos” — the most profound subjects in Torah.

So too concerning the Baal Shem Tov: His unique accomplishment is that he revealed Chassidus, the inner dimension of Torah; and the connection to the Giving of the Torah is that at Mattan Torah all aspects of Torah was given, including the inner dimension. Although in the future, “A new Torah shall go forth from Me” — the revelation of the inner dimension through our righteous Moshiach (the preparation to which is the propagation of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings) — nevertheless, “Mattan Torah” was a one-time event never to be repeated, since at that event all aspects of Torah were given, including the Torah of Moshiach (but then it was in concealed fashion, whereas it will be revealed through Moshiach).

Proof of this assertion is from the Midrash’s words that “‘Shir Hashirim’ was said at Sinai, as it is said, ‘He shall kiss me with the kisses of His mouth” — and .”He shall kiss me with the kisses of His mouth” refers to the inner dimension of Torah, as Rashi says, it is the “secrets of its reasons and the innermost mysteries.”

What does it mean that the esoteric aspect of Torah was also given at Sinai, but will be fully revealed only by Moshiach? At Mattan Torah Moshe Rabbeinu was given the whole Torah: the Written Torah with its interpretation, the Oral Torah, including the “soul of the Torah” (the esoteric aspect). There were, however, differences in how these various aspects were given. In the reveled aspect of Torah, for example, some parts were given in written form (the Written Torah) and some orally (the Oral Torah). Of these themselves, some were given in revealed fashion, and some concealed, which would be revealed only when later students of the Torah would elucidate them. Similarly, the revealed aspect of Torah in general was given in revealed fashion, whereas its inner aspect was in concealed fashion.

The difference between the revealed and inner dimensions of Torah may be summed up in general as follows: In the revealed dimension, even the concealed aspects were given such that they should be understood. The inner dimension, in contrast, was given such that it remained concealed — until the time of the Arizal, when it became “permitted and a mitzvah to reveal this wisdom.” Further, in the time of the Baal Shem Tov, Chassidus in general was revealed, and then finally Chassidus Chabad, through which the inner dimension of Torah was able to be comprehended and understood with the intellect. The understanding of Chassidus through the framework of Chabad is a “taste” of Moshiach’s Torah, when the full revelation of Torah’s inner dimension will take place — “A new Torah shall go forth from Me.”

What this means is that although Moshe Rabbeinu had knowledge of the inner dimension of Torah, and transmitted that knowledge fully to his disciple, Yehoshua, and from him, in turn, it was transmitted from generation to generation, that knowledge was transmitted only to a select few in each generation; what was transmitted openly to everyone was the revealed dimension of Torah.

The above applies only to what was given openly and what was given in a concealed fashion. Regarding the actual giving of the Torah, however, Scripture states (Devorim 33:4), “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Ya’akov” — the whole Torah was given as a heritage to all Jews.

Let’s draw an analogy: A person is given a locked box full of precious stones; he is given also the key to the box. That he does not actually use the precious stones during a certain period of time does not detract one iota from his ownership of them, for the box is in his possession. This is particularly so since he possesses also the key to the box, and can open the box and use the stones whenever he wishes.

The giving of the inner dimension of Torah in a concealed fashion is analogous to the giving of precious stones in a box, together with the key. Although the stones are concealed in the box, they belong to the person, especially since he has the key wherewith to open the box whenever he wishes — i.e., the future redemption, when we will learn Moshiach’s Torah (the precious stones) depends entirely on our own actions (the key).

Thus the revelation of Chassidus by the Baal Shem Tov, which is the preparation to learning the Torah of Moshiach — who will be a descendant of King David — is an intrinsic part of Mattan Torah.

We said above that Moshe Rabbeinu gave the Jews openly only the revealed dimension of Torah, whereas the inner dimension was revealed by the Baal Shem Tov. This lends understanding as to why the yartzeit of a tzaddik is a joyous event.

We explained that although our Sages said, “The passing of the righteous is as difficult as the burning of the House of our G‑d,” nevertheless, the passing of a tzaddik is a lofty, joyous event, for in its inner dimension, there is a positive aspect to both events. Precisely because this positive aspect is seen only in its inner dimension (for externally it is a tragic event), the joy on the day of passing of a tzaddik is present only concerning those tzaddikim whose service was to reveal the inner dimension of Torah (such as Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai — Rashbi).

For this reason, we find that in contrast to Lag B’Omer, the yartzeit of Rashbi, which is celebrated as a joyous day, the seventh of Adar, the day Moshe Rabbeinu passed on, is a day of fasting and mourning — even for Chassidim, who usually celebrate a yartzeit. For Moshe’s principal function was the transmittal of the revealed dimension of Torah; and since in its revealed (external) aspect the passing of a tzaddik is a tragic event, Moshe Rabbeinu’s yarzeit is a fast day. The yartzeit of Rashbi, however, who openly revealed the inner dimension of Torah, is a day of joy, for the inner dimension of a passing is openly revealed in his case.

3. Another theme common to the three aspects of Shavuos concerns the personalities of the people who figure in Shavuos — Moshe Rabbeinu, King David and the Baal Shem Toy. Despite the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu lived in a generation much earlier than King David, and certainly far earlier than the Baal Shem Toy, all three share the characteristic of being the shepherd and leader of Israel, concerned for Jewry in general and each Jew in particular.

Moshe Rabbeinu

Scripture (Shemos 3:1) says “Moshe was a shepherd,” and the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 2:2) notes that when G‑d saw that Moshe worried about even a “stray sheep,” He knew that Moshe was fit to be the shepherd of the people of Israel. In the words of Scripture (Bamidbar 11:21): “Moshe said: I am in the midst of six hundred thousand men on foot,” meaning, that Moshe Rabbeinu encompassed within himself all the souls of Israel — and therefore the level of Moshe is present in every one of the 600,000 souls of Jewry (“I am in the midst”).

King David

The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 2:2) notes that like Moshe Rabbeinu, G‑d tested King David to see if he was fit to be shepherd of the Jewish people by seeing how he shepherded sheep. And King David also encompassed all Israel, for King David’s soul is connected to Adam’s soul — and Adam’s soul encompassed all the souls of Israel. Moreover, David was king, the leader of the people and on whom the existence of the people depends. In the words of Rambam (Hilchos Melochim 6:3), the king is “the heart of the whole community of Israel,” and the heart pumps blood, which is the life of the person, to all the limbs of the body — to the extent that the soul’s essence (“yechidah”) is found in the heart even more than in the mind.

Because “David, King of Israel, lives and endures” — meaning that David is present at all times, in all places, as “king of Israel” — he is the “heart” of all Israel for all generations.

The Baal Shem Toy

The Baal Shem Tov showed love and concern for each and every Jew, small and great, young and old. He also encompassed all Israel, for his name “Yisroel” (“Israel”) is both the general name given to Jewry and the individual name given to each Jew (“Israelite”) — including those who have sinned (“Although he has sinned, he is an Israelite”).

The quality of loving each Jew was bequeathed by the Baal Shem Tov to his disciples, particularly his successor, the Alter Rebbe, who was wont to call himself the spiritual grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. And from the Alter Rebbe this legacy was passed on to the later Rebbeim.

Because Moshe Rabbeinu, King David and the Baal Shem Tov were the shepherds and leaders of Israel, their individual qualities are relevant to every Jew, from the “heads of your tribes” to “the drawers of your water.”

Moshe Rabbeinu

The Torah was given at Sinai through Moshe Rabbeinu, as stated, “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai.” Our Sages (Shemos Rabbah 30:4) say that the Torah is called after his name because he devoted his life to it. And in Torah, all Jews are equal, as written, “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Ya’akov”: Torah is the heritage of everyone who belongs to the “congregation of Ya’akov.”

King David

The recital of Tehillim, authored by King David, is relevant to all Jews, even the most simple. Simultaneously, it is comparable to learning the most profound subjects in Torah, “Negaim” and “Oh’holos.”

The Baal Shem Tov

The Baal Shem Tov revealed the inner dimension of Torah through his teachings of Chassidus, which, through Chassidus Chabad, can be understood by the rational intellect. This, too, is relevant to all Jews, for the Baal Shem Tov was wont to bring even the simplest Jews near to the teachings of Chassidus. Indeed, the Alter Rebbe writes that “kabbalah” (the inner dimension of Torah) falls in the category of “Scripture” — and all Jews can learn Scripture, even if they do not understand what they are saying. Simultaneously, even if these simple Jews do not understand the Chassidus they learn, it still remains the “soul of the Torah.”

The three personalities that feature in the festival of Shavuos — Moshe Rabbeinu, King David and the Baal Shem Tov — and the concepts they represent, are not separate concepts, but are as a threefold strand: one concept which embraces the others.

Thus, the revelation of Chassidus by the Baal Shem Tov — the third of the three personalities in Shavuos — is not something extra to the accomplishments of Moshe Rabbeinu and King David, but rather the revelation of their inner dimension, which infuses extra life and vitality into them.

Moshe Rabbeinu, we have said, gave the revealed Torah to Israel. The inner dimension of Torah, which was revealed in Chassidus, is “the soul of the Torah,” the soul and innermost aspect of the revealed dimension in Torah. Thus the revelation of Chassidus by the Baal Shem Tov infused new life and distinction into the study of the revealed dimension (Moshe’s accomplishment).

The revelation of Chassidus likewise infused vitality into King David’s contribution, the recital of psalms, prayer. The Baal Shem Toy praised the recital of Tehillim very highly, especially when recited by the simple folk. And, in one particular instance, he extolled the virtues of the simple folk’s recital of Tehillim to his disciples specifically, men of extremely lofty standing.

The extra vitality infused by the Shem Toy into the contributions of Moshe Rabbeinu and King David is alluded to in his very name: the “Baal Shem Toy” — “Master of the Good Name.” Our Sages say (Pirkei Avos 4:13): “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.” The “crown of Torah” corresponds to Moshe Rabbeinu; the “crown of kingship” corresponds to King David; the “crown of a good name” corresponds to the Baal Shem Toy. The “crown of a good name surpasses them all” because through it (through the revelation of Chassidus by the Baal Shem Toy), the “crown of Torah” (Moshe Rabbeinu) and the “crown of kingship” (King David) are elevated and infused with extra vitality.

That the Baal Shem Toy is the third strand of the threefold stand, in which the first two strands are embraced, will be expressed also in the future. The dissemination of Chassidus brings the future redemption through our righteous Moshiach; and Moshiach is associated with King David, from whom he will be descended, and with Moshe Rabbeinu, for “the first redeemer (Moshe) is the last redeemer (Moshiach).”

As a result, the Bais Hamikdosh of the future, the third Sanctuary, will encompass also the first two Bais Hamikdoshes. Rashi (Vayikra 38:21), commenting on the words “Mishkan, Mishkan,” writes that this is “an allusion to the Sanctuary which was taken as a pledge at the two destructions” — and a pledge is something taken only temporarily, and is then returned whole. Thus, in the Bais Hamikdosh, the first two Bais Hamikdosh will return whole.

The three personalities associated with Shavuos are also associated with the three pillars upon which the world stands: Torah, prayer and deeds of loving kindness. Torah — Moshe; Prayer — King David; Deeds of loving kindness — the Baal Shem Tov, for when a person does deeds of loving kindness, he acquires a “good name” (“Shem Tov”) for himself.

We must derive a lesson from all the above for actual deed, for “deed is paramount.” Since Shavuos is associated with Moshe Rabbeinu, King David and the Baal Shem Tov, we must increase in the concepts associated with them: Torah (Moshe Rabbeinu), prayer and recital of Tehillim (King David), and the study and dissemination of Chassidus (the Baal Shem Tov).

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4. The above is relevant to Shavuos every year. There are also concepts associated with this year particularly, with the day of the week on which Shavuos falls, and the weekly parshah. Shavuos this year is Wednesday and Thursday, and the weekly parshah is Baha’alosecho. Consonant to the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that everything in the world, and certainly Torah concepts, can provide lessons for service to G‑d, and particularly consonant to the Alter Rebbe’s dictum that a Jew must live according to the directives derived from the weekly parshah, we can take lessons from the day and daily portion of Chumash on which Shavuos falls this year.

The central theme of the portion of the weekly parshah for both days of Shavuos, the fourth and fifth sections of parshas Beha’alosecho, concerns the travels of the Jews in the desert. The fourth section states: “Whenever the cloud rose up from the Tent (Ohel), the children of Israel would afterwards journey ... At the commandment of G‑d the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of G‑d they encamped... And when the cloud remained over the Mishkan for many days ... they would not travel. And sometimes the cloud was upon the Mishkan for just a few days ... And sometimes the cloud remained just from evening to morning ... or for a day and night ... or two days, a month, or a full year.”

The fifth section details the actual travels made by the Jews: “In the second year, on the twentieth of the second month, the cloud rose from the Mishkan of Testimony, and the children of Israel travelled according to their arrangements from the Sinai desert ... The standard of the camp of the children of Yehudah travelled first ... And they travelled from the mountain of G‑d ... and the ark of the covenant of the L‑rd travelled ahead of them ... And the cloud of G‑d was over them by day when they set forward to travel from the camp.”

It is difficult to understand how these sections, which this year are the daily portions of Chumash for Shavuos, accord with the idea of Shavuos. On Shavuos the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, the “mountain of G‑d.” Yet these sections talk about departing from Mt. Sinai — “They travelled from the mountain of G‑d”!

Let us clarify the question further: “Sinai” refers to the concept of Torah, as written, “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai.” Although “Sinai” was and is an actual mountain, physical stones and earth, Moshe received Torah “from Sinai,” because at Mattan Torah the mountain lost its entire identity and became but a receptacle for receiving the Torah.

Torah existed even before Mattan Torah. What was special about Mattan Torah was that Torah was given below, as written, “The L‑rd came down upon Mt. Sinai.” As a result, the Jews were commanded, “Be careful not to climb the mountain, or touch its edge.” And, “Mt. Sinai was all in smoke, because the L‑rd came down upon it in fire.” The smoke resulted from the fire, symbolizing that the mountain’s existence and identity had been abolished, and it was now only a vehicle for the revelation of G‑dliness.

Because Mt. Sinai was nothing but a vehicle for giving the Torah, it is possible to say that Moshe received the Torah from it — “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai.” So much so was Sinai only a receptacle for Torah, that even after Mattan Torah it kept this unique status: A Torah scholar who is versed in the entire Torah is called “Sinai,” for “Mishneh and Braisah are set before him as at their giving from Mt. Sinai.” That is, a Torah scholar must be like “Mt. Sinai” — no ego, no self-identity, just a receptacle for Torah.

Thus, as long as the Jews were in the vicinity of Mt. Sinai, the very presence of the mountain was a constant inspiration of everything they had witnessed there — and they needed no special commandment to remind them to learn Torah day and night; the mountain itself, “Sinai,” reminded them to try to reach the level where they, too, would be called “Sinai.” When they departed from the mountain, however, they needed a reminder about “Sinai” and the necessity of striving to be on that level. Obviously, such a state of affairs cannot be compared to being in the vicinity of Sinai itself.

Yet, this year, the daily portion of Chumash learned on Shavuos, when the Torah was given, talks of the Jews’ departure from Mt. Sinai! And we are expected to “live” with the lesson derived from this?!

There are, however, two contradictory aspects to Mattan Torah. On the one hand, Mattan Torah is associated with the negation of corporeality, for Torah, even after it was given below, remains in the category of “Are not My words as fire?” Torah is “fire” for its purpose is to negate existence independent of G‑d — consume the ego, corporeality. As explained above, this is the meaning of “Mt. Sinai was all in smoke,” to the extent that the world’s existence was negated at Mattan Torah, as our Sages have said (Shemos Rabbah 29:9), that at that time “no bird twitted, no ox lowed ... the world was hushed into silence.”

Simultaneously, the Ten Commandments concern only the most simple of things, some of which belong to the Seven Noachide Laws, things which are logically compelling. Thus, even if the Torah was not given, G‑d forbid, these mitzvos would have been fulfilled because the human mind would find them necessary. We find, for example, that the mitzvah to honor one’s parents was kept in Avraham’s times. Rashi, upon the words “Terach died in Choron” (Bereishis 11:32), comments: “[This occurred] after Avram has left Choron ... why then did Scripture relate the death of Terach before Avram’s departure? So that the matter should not become known to everyone, and they would say, ‘Avram did not fulfill [the mitzvah] of honoring his father, for he left him an old man and went away.’” In other words, the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents was prevalent even before Mattan Torah.

The latter commandments of the Ten Commandments are surely things that deal with simple matters, things which would be kept even if not commanded by G‑d — “You shall not murder”, “You shall not rob.” It is necessary of command about these things only for the lowest and most coarse people, for a person with some understanding of spirituality, or at least one who is not gross, does not need to be commanded about such things. Indeed, even the commandment, “I am the L‑rd your G‑d” is unnecessary for one who has a minimum of spiritual sensitivity — for since G‑d took the Jews out of Egypt, it is self-understood that they should serve Him.

Hence, the Ten Commandments given at Sinai concern the most basic of things, things which are necessary to command only to those who are on a coarse, corporeal level — although Mattan Torah had the effect of abolishing physicality and corporeality!

The reason for this paradox is that the Torah was given specifically to affect this corporeal world: Although we live in such a low world, we must still live according to the directives given at Mattan Torah.

In man’s spiritual service, this teaches that a Jew should not think that he need only engage in Torah study — the theme of Shavuos, “the Season of the Giving of our Torah.” For our Sages teach (Yevomos 109b) that “Whoever says he has only [an interest in the study of] Torah, has not even Torah.” Instead, one must engage in Torah and good deeds: Torah study alone is not enough; one must also attend to the world.

We find the same idea in the way Torah instructs a person to celebrate Shavuos. From all the festivals, we find that “Everyone agrees that on Atzeres (i.e., Shavuos), ‘for you’ is also necessary.” That is, on the other festivals it is permitted to fast (under certain circumstances); on Shavuos, in contrast, one must eat and drink and celebrate (“for you”), “to show that the day on which the Torah was given is pleasant and acceptable to Israel.”

Thus, although on Shavuos a Jew is permeated with the concept of Torah — “Sinai” — and his G‑dly soul has overcome the physical body, simultaneously, “Everyone agrees that on Shavuos ‘for you’ is necessary” — the physical body must also celebrate this festival. For, as noted above, the principal reason for Mattan Torah is so that the world may feel Torah’s effect: that G‑dliness be revealed even in this lowest of all worlds.

The portions of the weekly parshah read on Shavuos — the fourth and fifth sections of parshas Beha’alosecho — emphasize just this point. They tell of the Jews journey from Mt. Sinai, stressing on “the Season of the Giving of the Torah” itself that the purpose of the giving of the Torah is not to remain always at Sinai (i.e., to engage only in Torah study) but to leave from Mt. Sinai to engage in good deeds, to refine and elevate the world.

5. That a Jew must leave Mt. Sinai to deal with the world is a lesson derived from Mt. Sinai itself; and the strength to do so also derives from Mt. Sinai. But before we see how this is so, we shall first examine how within the study of Torah itself there is the concept of leaving “Sinai” — which leaving is itself derived from Sinai.

In the study of Torah, we noted previously, “Sinai” refers to a Torah scholar who is conversant with the whole Torah. There is also the concept of “Oker Horim” — “one who uproots mountains,” meaning one who dissects a subject totally, subjecting it to careful dialectic study, and by virtue of profound reasoning gets to the very “root” of it. In contrast to one who is “Sinai,” who has knowledge of every topic in Torah, the “Oker Horim” constantly propounds new ideas by virtue of his in-depth analysis of a subject. (“Breadth” vs “depth”).

Just as there are subjects in Torah where “Sinai” has an advantage, so there are subjects which need an “Oker Horim” specifically. Examples of these two types of Torah personalities are R. Eliezer ben Horkenus and R. Elazar ben Arach (Avos 2:9). Their teacher, R. Yochanan ben Zakkai, when enumerating their praiseworthy qualities, said R. Eliezer ben Horkenus was “a cemented cistern which does not lose a drop” — the quality of “Sinai;” R. Elazar ben Arach was “like a fountain which flows with ever-increasing strength” — the quality of “Oker Horim.” R. Yochanan ben Zakkai further said that “If all the Sages of Israel were on one side of the scale and Eliezer ben Horkenus were on the other, he would outweigh them all” — so great is the quality of “Sinai.” But, continues the mishnah, “If all the Sages of Israel, including even Eliezer ben Horkenus, were on one side of the scale, and Elazar ben Arach were on the other, he would outweigh them all” — so great is the quality of “Oker Horim.”

Notwithstanding the greatness of “Oker Horim,” this quality is nevertheless associated with and derived from the idea of “Sinai.” The Written Torah was given together with its interpretation, the Oral Torah. Hence, even when one deduces new concepts in Torah (“Oker Horim”), the source of these concepts is what was told to Moshe at Sinai. For an “oker horim” to learn properly, therefore, he must always remain attached to “Sinai” — to derive new concepts only according to the principles given to Moshe at Sinai.

In the example cited above, R. Elazar ben Arach, who was “like a fountain which flows with ever-increasing strength” — an “Oker Horim” — had to always remain in the company of his colleagues (i.e., remain attached to “Sinai”), for “it is your colleagues who will cause [Torah] to be clearly established with you.” If the “Oker Horim” leaves his colleagues to go learn by himself, then his learning will fall in quality — as happened to R. Elazar ben Arach.

On the other hand, of course, one who is a “Sinai,” well versed in the Torah, should not remain static, but as Torah directs, should then strive to become “like a fountain which flows with ever-increasing strength” — an “Oker Horim.” Indeed, sometimes the situation demands that one “go out and learn”: Some subjects can be studied while remaining on one’s level; for others, important and new ones, one must go out from his present level, although that level may be “Sinai.” We find, for example, that there are some concepts in Torah for which both a “Sinai” and an “Oker Horim” must go out from their own places to learn from the simple folk. In the words of the Talmud (Berachos 45a), “Go out and see what the people say.” But, as above, even when one leaves the level of “Sinai” to reach the quality of “Oker Horim,” he must always remain attached to “Sinai.”

Just as in Torah study, Torah itself (“Sinai”) says that one should also possess the quality of “Oker Horim,” so too concerning Torah vis-à-vis other aspects of service: Torah itself (“Sinai”) says that Torah study alone is not enough, but one must also do good deeds — for “Whoever says he has only Torah, he has not even Torah” (as elaborated on earlier).

This is the idea of the journeys recounted in the daily portion of Torah learned on Shavuos. At Mt. Sinai, the Jews were told to leave Mt. Sinai. That is, “Sinai” itself announces to a Jew that he cannot remain at Mt. Sinai and engage only in Torah, but he must also leave Sinai and deal with the world, to refine and elevate it, to do good deeds therein.

While in the proximity of Mt. Sinai, upon which the Torah was given to them, Jews could not engage in worldly pursuits (ploughing, sowing, etc.), for the mountain was a continual reminder that they must be on the level of “Sinai.” To be able to engage in worldly pursuits and refine and elevate them, they had to journey away from Mt. Sinai.

Of course, their journey from Sinai had to be connected to Mt. Sinai, consonant to the directives they received from it. Thus, even when they left the mountain to deal with the world, they were always united with Sinai (similar to the fact that “Oker Horim” must be attached to the idea of “Sinai”). Thus, not only were the Jews given the directive to deal with the world while still in Sinai, but the actual journey was also continually connected with Mt. Sinai. As emphasized in the daily portion learned on Shavuos: “Whenever the cloud rose up from the tent, the children of Israel would afterwards journey ... At the commandment of G‑d the children of Israel journeyed.”

When a Jew journeys in such a fashion, there is nothing to fear from dealing with the world — for when one goes together with “the ark of the covenant of G‑d” and with “the cloud of G‑d,” one will not err on the way.

Thus this year, when we learn about the journeys from Mt. Sinai on Shavuos, the purpose of Mattan Torah is given the utmost emphasis — not just to engage in Torah study, but to go from Sinai and refine and elevate the world.

6. A “Kinus Torah” (Torah gathering) has been planned for “Isru Chag” (the day following Shavuos), and as customary, we shall participate by both giving food and drink from this farbrengen to the “Kinus Torah” and by saying words of Torah. Since the daily study of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah has recently become widespread, we shall discuss a subject in Mishneh Torah.

There is a special connection between Rambam’s book and “the Season of the Giving of our Torah,” for Rambam called his work “Mishneh Torah” — “Repetition of the Torah.” He writes in the Introduction: “I have entitled this work ‘Mishneh Torah,’ for the reason that a person, who first reads the Written Torah and then this work, will know from it the whole of the Oral Torah, without needing to consult any other book between them.” In other words, immediately after learning the five books of the Torah which Moshe received from Sinai on Shavuos, one learns the Oral Torah in Rambam’s Mishneh Torah.

Another connection between the Written Torah and Mishneh Torah is the way in which both are studied. The reason he wrote this work, Rambam writes, is because one needs “a broad mind, a wise soul and much time” to be able to study and understand the Torah’s laws from the words of the Talmud (Bavli and Yerushalmi), Sifra, Sifri, Tosefta, the Gaonim, etc. Therefore, writes Rambam, “I intently studied all these works with the view of putting together the results obtained from them in regard to what is forbidden and permitted, clean and unclean, and the other laws of the Torah — all in clear language and terse style ... without citing questions and solutions, or differences of opinions ... so that all the laws be accessible to small and great...”

“That all the laws be accessible to small and great” means that even one who has scant knowledge of Torah (“small”), who is incapable of deducing the actual halachah from the Talmud’s discussion, will know the law by learning Mishneh Torah. Similarly, even one who is capable of following the involved reasoning and dialectics of the Talmud (“great”), should first learn the straight laws in Mishneh Torah, as does a person “small” in Torah knowledge. For this reason, Rambam wrote the laws in “clear language and terse style ... without citing questions and solutions” — and to the extent that he did not write the reasons for the laws, nor did he cite the sources for his rulings.

It is in this aspect that Mishneh Torah is similar to the five books of the Torah. When one learns the Written Torah, he has fulfilled his obligation of Torah study oven if “he does not know what he is saying” — i.e. he doesn’t even know the meaning of the words. In the study of the Oral Torah, the study of Mishneh Torah — study of the laws without the reasons — is in the category of “he does not know what he is saying.” Of course, in studying the Oral Torah, one has fulfilled his obligation only if he understands what he learns. But in regard to the reasons for the laws, which are the “soul” and inner dimension of the laws, the study of the laws without the reasons (as in the study of Mishneh Torah) is in the category of “he does not know what he is saying.”

To return to our point: Participation in the forthcoming “Kinus Torah” by an analysis of a subject in Mishneh Torah which is being learned in the daily portion of Mishneh Torah learned at this time. Recently, the study of the laws of milah (circumcision) was concluded; and circumcision is connected to “the Season of the Giving of our Torah,” for at Mattan Torah the Jewish people underwent conversion through accepting the mitzvos, immersion, and circumcision. We shall therefore analyze what Rambam writes about the mitzvah of milah.

At the end of the laws of Milah, Rambam writes: “Come and see how strict is the observance of circumcision ... Concerning all the mitzvos of the Torah, only three covenants were made ... but concerning circumcision, thirteen covenants were made with Avraham our father: ‘And I will make My covenant between Me and you’; ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you’ ... ‘And My covenant I will establish with Yitzchok.’”

Rambam is saying that besides the strictness in the observance of the mitzvah of circumcision witnessed by the fact that circumcision overrides Shabbos, milah is stricter even than all the mitzvos of the Torah — for concerning the latter, only three covenants were made, whereas concerning circumcision, thirteen were made.

The source for these words of Rambam is the mishnah in Nedarim (3:11): “Great is circumcision, for thirteen covenants were made upon it.” There are, however, some differences between this mishnah and what Rambam writes. Rambam adds to the mishnah: 1) He says that these thirteen covenants were made “with Avraham our Father”; 2) He cites each of the thirteen covenants (whereas the mishnah says only there are thirteen without citing each one). In his commentary to mishnah, Rambam adds that “these thirteen covenants are the words ‘covenant’ and ‘My covenant’ which were repeated in G‑d’s command to Avraham our father at the covenant of circumcision on a single occasion ...” In other words, when G‑d made the covenant of circumcision with Avraham, He repeated the covenant thirteen times on that occasion.

In addition to what Rambam adds, there are some things in the Talmud Yerushalmi which Rambam omits. Explaining the mishnah, “Great is circumcision, for thirteen covenants were made upon it,” the Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedarim 12b) states: “Rabbi Yochanan bar Mariah says: It is written, ‘On that day the L‑rd made a covenant with Avram, saying, etc.,’ until ‘My covenant I will establish with Yitzchok’; thirteen covenants.”

Why does Rambam omit the verse cited by the Talmud Yerushalmi, “On that day the L‑rd made a covenant with Avram, saying, etc.” — particularly since this verse precedes the first verse cited by Rambam, “I will make My covenant between Me and you”?

There is another, more perplexing question — not just on the Rambam but on the Talmud Yerushalmi also. The Talmud Yerushalmi says that the covenants cited in Scripture are from “On that day the L‑rd made a covenant with Avram,” until “My covenant I will establish with Yitzchok.” But the word “covenant” appears fourteen times between these two verses. How does this accord with the mishnah which says thirteen covenants were made on circumcision?

Some people answer that Rambam does not cite the verse, “On that day the L‑rd established a covenant with Avram,” for this verse does not refer to the covenant of circumcision but to the covenant between the pieces. Also, Rambam in his Commentary on Mishneh says that the thirteen covenants were made with Avraham at the covenant of circumcision on a single occasion. The verse, “On that day the L‑rd made a covenant” was not only not said on the same occasion as the other verses concerning the covenant, but there was a thirteen year interval between them: The verse, “On that day the L‑rd made a covenant” was said at the covenant between the pieces, before Yishmael’s birth, when Avram was 86, and the command to Avram to circumcise himself, when the other covenants were said, was given when he was 99.

However, since the Talmud Yerushalmi does cite this verse, it follows that the Yerushalmi is of the opinion that this verse is connected with the 13 covenants made concerning circumcision.

We cannot say that there is a difference of opinion in this matter between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi, and that Rambam rules like the Talmud Bavli (i.e., excludes the verse, “On that day the L‑rd made a covenant” as one of the covenants of circumcision), for two reasons: 1) It is a rule that whenever possible, one should try to minimize differences of opinion between the Talmud’s Bavli and Yerushalmi — even if the reconciliation is forced. 2) In our case, the Talmud Bavli does not cite any of the verses concerning the circumcision covenant. Thus, to say that Rambam follows the Talmud Bavli because there is an argument between the Bavli and Yerushalmi is doubtful in the extreme since we don’t know that the Bavli argues with the Yerushalmi. We must conclude, therefore, that there is some other reason why the Talmud Yerushalmi cites the verse “on that day the L‑rd made a covenant” and Rambam does not (other than that Rambam follows the Talmud Bavli — for, as noted above, there is absolutely no indication what the Bavli considers as the thirteen covenants).

Rambam, when enumerating the mitzvos in the Torah, writes (Sefer HaMitzvos, Fourth Principle) that “One should not count those mitzvos which encompass the whole Torah” — unless there is a special command concerning some specific aspect of that mitzvah. The mitzvah of prayer is an example: Although the command “to serve Him” (which is the basis for prayer — “service of the heart”) is an all-encompassing mitzvah, prayer is still counted as one of the 613 mitzvos, for the command “to serve Him” contains a particular aspect, which is the command about prayer (Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvah 5).

There are, then, two aspects to prayer: 1) A general, all-encompassing aspect — “To serve Him with all your heart,” which is not counted as one of the 613 mitzvos; 2) A specific aspect — verbal prayer, which is counted as one of the 613 mitzvos.

Teshuvah, repentance, is another example, and it too contains two aspects: 1) A general one — regret for the past and resolve for the future, the acceptance of the yoke of heaven, which is not counted as one of the 613 mitzvos; 2) A specific aspect — verbal confession, as it is written “They shall confess their sin which they did” (Rambam, beginning of Hilchos Teshuvah), which is counted as one of the 613 mitzvos.

Torah study is a further example. Its two aspects are: 1) A general one — to know how to fulfill mitzvos; 2) A specific one — verbal study.

Thus each of the above three mitzvos (prayer, repentance and Torah study) comprises two aspects: 1) A general aspect which embraces the whole Torah and its mitzvos, and, because it is an all-embracing aspect, is not counted amongst the mitzvos; 2) A specific command, associated with speech, which is counted as one of the 613 mitzvos.

When one fulfills the specific aspect, the all-encompassing aspect is also present. Indeed, the reason the all-encompassing aspect is not counted as one of the mitzvos is not because it is not worthy enough, but the reverse: Specifically because it is so lofty, because it embraces the whole Torah, it cannot be counted as a regular, specific mitzvah.

We can posit that these two aspects are present also in the mitzvah of circumcision. Rambam writes in Moreh Nevuchim (Part III, ch. 49, and may also be adduced from Mishneh Torah) that one of the principal reasons for circumcision is “It gives to all members of the same faith, i.e., to all believers in the unity of G‑d, a common bodily sign ... It is the covenant which Avraham made in connection with belief in G‑d’s unity. So also everyone that is circumcised enters the covenant of Avraham to believe in the unity of G‑d ... And the perfection of this Torah and its fulfillment can be complete only with circumcision.” This shows that circumcision is a concept which embraces the whole Torah.

There are, then, two aspects in circumcision: 1) An all-encompassing aspect — a Jew’s union with G‑d, which is a general commandment, similar to the commandments, “You shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart” and “the L‑rd your G‑d will circumcise your heart”; 2) Its specific aspect — the literal mitzvah, “You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin”, “It is My covenant in your flesh, an eternal covenant.”

In slightly different words: There are two aspects to a Jew’s bond with G‑d: 1) A general bond, as written, “On that day the L‑rd made a covenant with Avram” — a general covenant between Avraham and his descendants and G‑d; 2) A bond effected through the specific mitzvah of milah — “My covenant in your flesh.” As noted above, when one performs the specific mitzvah, the general aspect is also present — although it is not counted as one of the 613 mitzvos.

That there is a general aspect to circumcision in addition to the specific mitzvah is expressed also in halachah, as the following law attests: “[If one says] ‘Konan [i.e. takes a vow] that I do not benefit from the uncircumcised,’ he may benefit from uncircumcised Israelites but not from circumcised heathens. [If he says ‘Konan] that I do not benefit from the circumcised,’ he is forbidden to benefit from uncircumcised Israelites but not from circumcised heathens.” This law is saying that a Jew who was not actually circumcised in his flesh is still considered as “circumcised” — for in his essence he is a Jew. This is connected to the all-encompassing aspect of circumcision: the essential bond between Jew and G‑d.

Now we can understand why the Talmud Yerushalmi cites the verse “On that day the L‑rd made a covenant with Avram,” and Rambam does not. When the Talmud Yerushalmi explains the lofty qualities in the mitzvah of circumcision, it begins with its general, all-encompassing aspect, expressed in the verse, “On that day G‑d made a covenant with Avram.” For not only is this general aspect included in the performance of the specific aspect, but, indeed, it is much loftier.

This is the method of study of the Talmud Yerushalmi in general: It is wont to explain the basis and general principle of a concept; and thus in our case, it cites the verse, “On that day G‑d made a covenant with Avram,” for it refers to the all-encompassing aspect in circumcision.

Besides this general aspect, there are thirteen covenants associated with the specific aspect of circumcision (“My covenant in your flesh”). Since the verse, “On that day the L‑rd made a covenant with Avram” refers to the general aspect of circumcision, it is not included as one of the thirteen covenants.

Rambam, however, is interested in explaining the qualities of circumcision vis-à-vis the other mitzvos in Torah. That is, Rambam explains that even the specific aspect of circumcision (the actual circumcision in the flesh) is more strict than all mitzvos — for “concerning all the mitzvos of the Torah, only three covenants were made ... but concerning circumcision (in its specific aspect) thirteen covenants were made.”

Because the verse, “On that day the L‑rd made a covenant with Avram” refers to the general, all-encompassing aspect of circumcision, Rambam does not cite it, but begins with the verse, “I will make My covenant between My and you” and then enumerates all the covenants until the last one, “My covenant I will establish with Yitzchok” — for all these thirteen covenants concerning the specific aspect of circumcision were said “on a single occasion.” Rambam thus stresses the lofty nature and strictness of the mitzvah of circumcision: Even its specific aspect is stricter than all the mitzvos of the Torah.