1. The Shabbos on which a month is blessed (Shabbos Mevorchim) is always situated in the preceding month. Accordingly, the Shabbos which blesses the fourth month (Tammuz) is in the third month (Sivan). That the fourth month is blessed by [a Shabbos in] the third month indicates a connection between the two months.

But is there necessarily a connection? Shabbos Mevorchim, because it blesses the coming month, must be before Rosh Chodesh of the coming month — i.e., it must be in the preceding month. In the order of the months, the third month naturally precedes the fourth. Hence the Shabbos which blesses the fourth month must be in the third month. Why, then, must we conclude that there is a connection between them?

However, the Rogatchover writes that “Everything, although seemingly having to be, was all directed and commanded by G‑d.” Thus, when two things in Torah are joined, there is a connection between them although they seemingly had to be joined. For Torah is master of the universe, and Torah cannot be limited in any way. Although we cannot grasp how it can exist in any other way, we believe with simple faith that it is so. Since these two things are joined — although they didn’t have to be — there is a connection between them.

In our case, although it seems the blessing for the fourth month must stem from the third month, it did not necessarily have to be from Torah’s perspective. The fact that it is indicates a connection between the two months.

To understand the lesson for service to G‑d we can derive from this, let us first analyze the meaning of the third month. That Sivan is the third month is not an incidental aspect, but a primary element. The Talmud (Shabbos 88a) states concerning Mattan Torah: “The threefold Torah (Chumash, Prophets, Writings) [was given] to the threefold people (Priests, Levites, Israelites) through the third born (Moshe — born after Aharon and Miriam) on the third day (of preparation) in the third month.” R. Nissim Gaon enumerates several other factors present at Mattan Torah connected with the number three.

We could perhaps posit that the element of “three” which is present in all these factors is but an incidental aspect, not to be compared with the essential quality of each factor. For example, the fact that Torah is “threefold” — Chumash, Prophets and Writings — does not seem to be the primary quality of Torah, which is that Torah is G‑d’s “nursling” and “delight.” How can the fact that it is “threefold” compare to such qualities which totally transcend the realm of numbers? Similarly, that the Jewish people are comprised of Priests, Levites and Israelites seems incidental to the essential qualities of Jews which is that their souls are “part of G‑d Above,” that they are “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” and that they are G‑d’s only son (“My son, My firstborn, Israel”).

Nevertheless, since the Talmud attaches so much importance to the number “three’ in connection to the giving of the Torah, we must conclude it is a vital concept.

“Three” represents peace: When two parties are in a controversy, the third party makes peace between them, uniting them into one entity. This is the idea of the “threefold” Torah, for “the Torah was given to make peace in the world.” Thus, although there are levels in the Torah which transcend the world (“plaything”, “delight”), the ultimate purpose of Torah is to work its effect in this corporeal world — “to make peace in the world.” And through the Torah descending into the world, it is elevated to a level higher than before, when it was G‑d’s “delight” — for it is specifically through its descent that the Divine will of making this world a dwelling place for G‑d is fulfilled.

Similarly, when a Jew engages in Torah for the purpose of making “peace in the world” — he does not closet himself with the Torah apart from the world — he thereby fulfills the Divine will of making the world a fit abode for G‑dliness.

Let us draw a parable. A person’s possession of an object entails two aspects: his ownership, and his use of it. Normally his ownership is the principal element, and the use is but an external aspect which expresses his ownership. If, for some reason, a person is prevented from using the object, his ownership still remains.

If a person owns a field, for example, his use of it is limited: When sowing, he cannot reap; when reaping, he cannot sow the field. But this does not detract an iota from his ownership, for use is but an external aspect compared to the actual ownership.

The above applies to one’s ownership vis-à-vis the potential uses in the object. In regards to the actual result of that use, however, one’s ownership and therefore potential use in the future cannot effect the actual result. When one needs to reap, for example, his ownership of the field which permits him to reap in the future, has no effect on whether he can actually reap now.

Torah, too, possesses the two aspects of ownership and use. Every Jew, even a newborn, receives the whole Torah as a heritage, and therefore owns the whole Torah. Use of the Torah occurs by stages: A child first learns to recite the verse, “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Ya’akov”; when the child turns five years old, he learns Scripture; when ten, Mishneh; and so on, every year increasing in understanding of Torah.

These stages apply only to his use of the Torah. His ownership of it is total as soon as he is born. Seemingly, his ownership is the principal element, and the different stages of use are but external which express his ownership.

However, concerning the need to use the Torah in a certain way, one’s ownership is irrelevant; the actual use is what counts. In our case, since the purpose of Torah is to “make peace in the world,” it is not enough that one has ownership of the Torah and has the potential to use it in all ways; the main thing is to actually carry out the purpose of making peace. Thus, if for this purpose and need Torah had to descend below, and man has to lower himself to engage in worldly matters — it is not really a “descent,” for the main thing is the fulfillment of this purpose.

Thus the idea of “three” is a principal element in Mattan Torah, for the purpose of Torah is to “make peace in the world.” And that is why the number “three” present in all aspects of Mattan Torah (threefold Torah, threefold people, etc.) is not just a common element, but the principal theme which unites all of them — for the purpose of all of them is to make a dwelling place for G‑d in this world (“to make peace in the world” — the idea of “three”).

2. We can now understand the connection between the “third” month and the “fourth” month. In Scripture, the fourth month is associated with tragedy and evil, as written, “the fast of the fourth.” But the ultimate purpose in this is to transform the evil to good, as Rambam writes: “All the fasts are destined to be abolished in the Messianic era; moreover, they are destined to be festivals and days of joy and gladness, as it is said, ‘So says the L‑rd of Hosts: The fast of the fourth ... shall be to the House of Yehudah for joy and gladness and for festivals.”

A tragedy transformed into a festival is a loftier thing than an ordinary festival, for it possesses “the superiority of light which follows previous darkness.” Thus, there are two types of “good”: that which was always good; that which was once evil and is now transformed into good — which is a higher level. Since G‑d desires this second, higher level also, there had to first exist the evil (“the fast of the fourth”) to be able to transform it into good (“joy and gladness and festivals”).

This is why the “fourth month” follows the “third.” The theme of the third month, as elaborated on above, is that the Torah descends below “to make peace in the world.” The “fourth month” then follows, and teaches that a Jew must descend yet further — to transform darkness into light. That is, not just to make peace in the world, but to transform even evil (“fast”) into good (“joy and festival”). And one thereby reaches a yet loftier level.

The strength to transform darkness into light is taken from the “third month”; and therefore the Shabbos on which the fourth month is blessed and which provides the strength for service in that month — is in the “third month.” For one needs the strength of Torah (the theme of the “third month”) to transform darkness into light: since Torah transcends the nature of both light and darkness, and in it one can see openly that the purpose of darkness is to produce yet greater light, it has the power to actually transform the darkness into light.

In other words, the theme of the “third month” is the giving of the Torah below, to “make peace in the world;” it is not the level of Torah as it transcends the world (when it was a “plaything” and “delight” before G‑d). This serves as the preparation and strength for the service of the “fourth month” — transforming darkness into light.

There is a lesson to be derived from the above for actual service. Some people think that since Torah is such a lofty thing, transcending the world, there is nothing better than to close oneself off in one’s own domain and engage only in Torah. The concepts of the “third month” and “fourth month” teach otherwise: The ultimate purpose of Torah is that “it was given to make peace in the world,” and further, to transform darkness into light. One must “lower” oneself to where darkness is found, and there bring peace and light.

This of itself is enough to make us go out to transform the world. But, as explained previously, through such service — through fulfilling the Divine Will of making this world a dwelling place for G‑d — we also effect a level higher than Torah as it is a “delight” before G‑d.

Simply put, although Torah study is a tremendously lofty pursuit, Torah itself teaches that saving life overrides the whole Torah — Torah commands us to interrupt Torah study to save a Jew who is in danger of spiritual death. Even if one is in doubt if one’s efforts to save this Jew will be successful, Torah law says that even if there is the remotest possibility that the Jew’s life is in danger, the whole Torah must be overridden to help that Jew. Even the High Priest, during his service in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, is obligated to interrupt that service to save a Jew’s life — even if it is very doubtful that it is a life-threatening case!

So too spiritually: A Jew whose service is on the level of the High Priest must interrupt the most lofty of services to save a Jew who is in danger of spiritual death — even if there is a doubt in the matter.

The above is related to the imprisonment and liberation of the previous Rebbe, who was imprisoned on the 15th of Sivan (the “third month”) and released on the 12th-13th of Tammuz (the “fourth month”). The previous Rebbe jeopardized his work of disseminating Torah and Judaism to ensure that children should have a Torah education. He was willing to put his work in jeopardy for it was a life-threatening situation to Jewry (that children, the future generation, should not be educated in Torah) — and as such, it overrode the whole Torah. And it was specifically through such conduct that the liberation of the 12th-13th of Tammuz came about, which led to yet greater success, in the manner of the “superiority of light which follows previous darkness.”

All Jews must emulate his example: They must go rescue Jews whose spiritual life is threatened. For since “the body follows the head,” every part of the “body” — every Jew, must follow the example of the “head” — the previous Rebbe, leader of our generation.

3. The above applies to Shabbos Mevorchim Tammuz every year. In addition, there are lessons to be derived from aspects peculiar to this year — today’s date (23rd of Sivan) and today’s parshah (Korach).

An event which occurred on the 23rd of Sivan is stated explicitly in Megillas Esther. After Queen Esther had interceded with King Achashverosh to have Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews put to naught, the King assented to have orders sent to all provinces permitting the Jews to defend themselves against any who threaten them.

The Megillah then states (8:9-16): “The King’s scribes were summoned at that time, on the twenty third day of the third month, that, is, the month of Sivan, and it was written all as Mordechai had commanded the Jews and to the satraps, the governess and officers of the provinces from Hodu to Cush, a hundred and twenty seven provinces ... He wrote in the name of King Achashverosh and sealed it with the King’s signet; and he sent letters by couriers ... to the effect that the King had permitted the Jews ... to organize and defend themselves ... And the couriers ... went forth in urgent haste by order of the King.” Then, “Mordechai left the King’s presence clad in royal apparel ... and the city of Shushan was cheerful and glad. The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor.”

If a Jew were to be asked when did Mordechai leave the King’s presence “clad in royal apparel ... and the city of Shushan was cheerful and glad” and when did the Jews have “light and gladness, and joy and honor,” he would answer simply that of course it happened on Purim! Yet the plain meaning of the verses says otherwise — that it happened on the 23rd of Sivan.

What does this event of the 23rd of Sivan teach us? When a Jew engages in the service of “making peace in the world” and of transforming darkness into light, there may well be obstacles, especially an outpouring of scorn from the nations of the world. The event of the 23rd of Sivan recounted in the Megillah teaches that the government of that day openly announced that not only will they not disturb Jews from engaging in all aspects of Judaism, but they will help the Jews in whatever they need. This proclamation was written in the King’s name and sealed with the King’s signet, and sent to all places — “from Hodu to Cush.” And it was done with the utmost haste and zeal, as written, “The couriers ... went forth in urgent haste.” As a result, “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor,” to the extent that “the city of Shushan (including its non-Jewish residents) was cheerful and glad.”

“These days are remembered and kept.” This event of the 23rd of Sivan is re-enacted every year; and the knowledge that one has this special assistance infuses great enthusiasm and vitality into the service of “making peace in the world.”

However, although a Jew knows that the nations of the world will not prevent him from carrying out his mission — indeed, will help him — opposition may still arise from Jews themselves. As we see, there was a Korach who opposed Moshe Rabbeinu.

Korach claimed that one should not reach out to bring back Jews who have strayed from their heritage. He said (Bamidbar 16:3), “All the people in the congregation are holy”: If they are holy — they don’t need to be brought back; if they are not holy — they don’t belong to “the congregation”!

Korach did not want to “lower” himself to “make peace in the world”; he wanted to be High Priest. So great was his desire for the High Priesthood that he dared to rebel against Moshe Rabbeinu. The High Priesthood was such a prize that it acted as a “bribe” on him: It was worth rebelling against Moshe and endangering himself on the slim hope that he would be High Priest — if only for one moment!

Had the “bribe” been money or some other type of material lure, he could have been persuaded that the reward of the World to Come is loftier than materialism, and therefore it’s not worth disobeying G‑d for material gain. The High Priesthood, however, is loftier than the World to Come, and therefore it was useless to persuade him to abandon his rebellion in order to receive the World to Come.

Korach was extremely conceited. But he cloaked himself in a guise of piety, and claimed that he wasn’t interested in his own welfare, but was worrying about all Jews. He said to Moshe and Aharon, “All the people in the congregation are holy ... why are you (Moshe and Aharon) setting yourselves above G‑d’s congregation?” Therefore, he continued, he (Korach) should be High Priest (and not Aharon). He was so blinded by the lure of the High Priesthood that he didn’t realize the obvious contradiction in his own words: On the one hand he was railing against setting oneself above others; simultaneously he demanded the High Priesthood for himself! To whom did Korach expound on the virtues of Jews, that they are all holy? To Moshe Rabbeinu, who said (Bamidbar 11:21), “I am in the midst of 600,000 men on foot,” and who carried the Jewish people is his bosom “as a nurse carries an infant” (Ibid., verse 12). Korach wanted to explain the qualities of Jews to Moshe Rabbeinu. Torah says “The man Moshe was the most humble of all men on the face of the earth.” Korach, who was the most conceited of men, claimed that he was the humble one, and railed against Moshe for setting himself over Jews!

Korach had “proofs” from the Torah that he was fit to be the High Priest, owing to his distinguished ancestry and to the fact that he saw a chain of great men issuing from him. He likewise presented “proofs” from the Torah that his opinions were correct. He gained the cooperation of other distinguished people, with 250 Rosh Yeshivos, to be with him against Moshe Rabbeinu.

When a Jew sees that Korach, together with 250 Rosh Yeshivos, rebels against Moshe Rabbeinu, it may cause him to weaken in the fulfillment of Moshe’s mission to bring back to their heritage those who have strayed, and in general, to “make peace in the world.”

Parshas Korach, which relates how Moshe Rabbeinu was vindicated before everyone, teaches that one should not weaken just because there arises a Korach. On the day of Shabbos particularly, we read the whole of parshas Korach, including the section which relates the rectification of Korach’s sin of protesting against Aharon’s right to the Priesthood: G‑d granted Aharon (and all priests thereafter) 24 gifts of priesthood (Rashi, 18:8). Further, in the portion of the parshah learned on Shabbos itself (the seventh section), we learn about the ultimate in the rectification of the protest against the priesthood — that besides the gifts the Israelites give to the priests, the Levites also had to give the priests a tenth of their tenth received from the Jews.

Moreover, in this section (of Shabbos), we read that part of the Levites’ service was to ensure that “the children of Israel shall no longer come near the Ohel Moed, lest they become guilty of sin and die.” In other words, the principal service of the Levites was to guard and admonish the Jews — the idea of bringing near those who have strayed from the right path. Rambam rules that “not just the tribe of Levi, but every person ... whose spirit moves him” can also perform service similar to the Levites — i.e., every Jew can perform the service of working for the spiritual good of Jewry. He needs but that “his spirit moves him to stand before the L‑rd to minister to Him and to serve Him.” Then, “he becomes sanctified as the Holy of Holies, and the L‑rd will be his inheritance and his portion forever.”

That Shabbos Mevorchim Tammuz coincides with parshas Korach teaches, then, that any obstacles to fulfilling the mission of “making peace in the world” — obstacles stemming from Jews — are abolished (in addition to the abolition of disturbances stemming from the nations of the world — which we learn from the events of the 23rd of Sivan).

* * *

4. It has recently become the custom to learn a set portion (3 chapters) of Rambam’s sefer, Mishneh Torah, every day, thus finishing the sefer in a year. Today’s portion is the last chapter of the Laws of Chometz and Matzah and the first two chapters of the Laws of Shofar, Sukkah and Lulav.

Rambam puts the laws of shofar, sukkah and lulav into one section, for these laws all pertain to the festivals of the month of Tishrei, close to each other. The order of the laws follows the order of the festivals: Rosh Hashanah (laws of shofar) and then Sukkos; in Sukkos itself, the mitzvah of sukkah precedes that of lulav.

Rambam puts the laws of Yom Kippur into a separate section for itself, under the title Laws of Resting on the Tenth. This section is found before the Laws of Shofar, Sukkah and Lulav, immediately after the Laws of Shabbos and the Laws of Eruvin. Now, Yom Kippur is part of the festivals of Tishrei, and is situated between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos. Why does Rambam explain its laws in a section separate from the other laws of Tishrei? It is particularly puzzling since all these laws are in Sefer Zemanim — the Book of Seasons; and yet Rambam does not write the laws of Yom Kippur according to its place in the order of the seasons.

In the beginning of the Laws of Resting on the Tenth (i.e., the laws of Yom Kippur), Rambam writes (1:1): “Everything that is prohibited to be done on Shabbos ... is prohibited to be done on Yom Kippur ... The general rule is that there is no difference between Shabbos and Yom Kippur in these matters, except that if one does a “melochoh” on Shabbos deliberately, [the punishment] is stoning, and on Yom Kippur [the punishment] is excision of the soul.” In other words, the laws of Yom Kippur are identical to Shabbos (aside from their punishment). It is for this reason that Rambam writes the “Laws of Resting on the Tenth” immediately after the laws of Shabbos.

Rambam’s placement of the laws of Yom Kippur after the laws of Shabbos emphasizes the principle that Rambam himself laid down concerning his work: that it is wholly laws (“halachos halachos”). There are two possible places where to place the laws of Yom Kippur: In the order of the seasons — between the Laws of Shofar and the Laws of Sukkah and Lulav; or according to the halachic perspective — next to the Laws of Shabbos, since halachically, the laws of Yom Kippur are identical to the laws of Shabbos. Rambam, true to his principle that his work is wholly laws, chooses to place the laws of Yom Kippur next to the Laws of Shabbos.

Let us now proceed to analyze a specific topic in today’s portion of Mishneh Torah. In the laws of Chometz and Matzah, concerning the order of the Seder, Rambam writes, (8:10): “He fills a fifth cup and recites over it the great Hallel, from ‘Offer praise to the L‑rd for He is good’ until ‘By the rivers of Babylon’; this cup is not obligatory as are the four cups.”

There is a perplexing point in this law. When discussing the four cups, Rambam writes that the person makes a blessing over the wine and drinks. Concerning the first cup he writes (8:1), “First, a cup is filled for each person; he recites the blessing ‘Who creates the fruit of the vine,’ recites the day’s kiddush and [the blessing] Shehecheyanu over it, and drinks;” concerning the second cup he writes (8:5), “He recites the blessing ‘Who creates the fruit of the vine’ and drinks the second cup;” concerning the third cup he writes (8:10), “He recites the Blessing after a Meal on the third cup and drinks it;” concerning the fourth cup he writes (8:10), “He recites the blessing ‘Who creates the fruit of the vine,’ and afterwards may not taste anything the whole night except water.”

Yet, regarding the fifth cup, Rambam writes only “He fills a fifth cup and recites over it the great Hallel” — without mentioning anything about reciting the blessing ‘Who creates the fruit of the vine’ or drinking it. Why this change from the other cups?

We may answer that Rambam is of the opinion that the fifth cup is only filled, not drunk. The Talmudic source for a fifth cup is the Braysah in tractate Pesachim (118a) [according to the text of the majority of the Gaonim and Rishonim]: “Our Rabbis taught: At the fifth [cup], he concludes the Hallel and recites the great Hallel; this is the view of R. Tarfon.” In other words, it is R. Tarfon’s opinion that one drinks also a fifth cup, not just four cups. Why? The four cups correspond to the four expressions of redemption; R. Tarfon says a fifth cup should be drunk corresponding to a fifth expression of redemption (“V’Heveisi”).

There is, then, a difference of opinion: R. Tarfon believes five cups should be drunk, and the Rabbis hold only four. Rambam says one should not drink the fifth cup, for the Rabbis hold that only four cups were enacted, and one may not add to these four (“afterwards (after the fourth cup), he may not taste anything the whole night except water”). If Rambam would follow R. Tarfon’s opinion a person would transgress the prohibition of tasting after the four cups according to the Rabbis. Rambam is therefore of the opinion that one should fill a fifth cup — following R. Tarfon, but not drink it — following the Rabbis. Rambam therefore does not write concerning the fifth cup that one should recite the blessing over wine and drink it.

Why should a fifth cup be filled if it is not to be drunken? Where do we find a parallel to such a case? Such a case, is explicitly recorded in the laws of Blessing after a Meal. If one is eating on erev Shabbos and finishes his meal, and it became Shabbos before he recited the Blessing after a Meal, there is an opinion that one fills a cup of wine on which to recite the Blessing after a Meal, but does not drink from it (until after he has made Kiddush on a separate cup of wine).

According to some authorities, one is obligated to recite the Blessing after a Meal on a cup of wine. If we say that in such a case one may fill the cup but not drink it, then certainly in the case of the fifth cup on Pesach, which is “not an obligation as are the four cups,” one may fill the cup but not drink it.

5. As customary, we shall now analyze a passage in this week’s parshah, Korach, and Rashi’s commentary. Rashi, the commentator par excellence on Scripture, always explains any difficulty in a passage. Yet in this week’s parshah there is a difficulty which Rashi does not explain.

Parshas Korach talks of Korach’s rebellion against Moshe. One of his and his party’s complaints was that Aharon should not have received the priesthood. After Korach and his party had received their punishment, G‑d instructed Moshe to conduct a test of staffs, to indicate clearly that the priesthood belonged to Aharon. Moshe should take a staff from each tribe — 12 staffs — with the names of the prince of each tribe written on the staff. On the staff of Levi, Aharon’s name was written. The staffs were placed in the Ohel Moed. The next day, Aharon’s staff, representing the tribe of Levi, had blossomed — a sign to all that Aharon was the chosen one.

In the words of Scripture (Bamidbar 17:16-25): “G‑d spoke to Moshe... take a staff for each tribe (lit. ‘fathers’ house’), from all of the princes of the tribes, twelve staffs; you shall write each one’s name on his staff. You shall write Aharon’s name on the staff of Levi, for there shall be only one staff for the head of each tribe. You shall place them in the Ohel Moed ... And the staff of the man whom I shall choose will blossom ...” After having done so, all saw that “Aharon’s staff, representing the house of Levi, had blossomed.”

Why doesn’t Scripture record the names of the princes written on the staffs, just as the name on the staff of Levi — Aharon — is told to us? We find that in all events in which the princes took part, their names are explicitly recorded by Scripture. In the beginning of Bamidbar, for example, when a census of the Jews was taken, G‑d told Moshe that the princes of each tribe should be with him when he takes the census. And Scripture goes on to say (Bamidbar 1:5) “And these are the names of the men that shall stand with you. Of Reuven, Elitzur ben Shedeur. Of Shimon, Shelumiel ben Tzurishaddai,” etc. Later, concerning the division of the land of Israel, it again explicitly records the names of the princes. Yet in our case, concerning the test of staffs, when the name of each prince was written on the staff of his tribe, their actual names are not told to us.

Rashi makes no comment to resolve this difficulty. We must therefore conclude that the answer is so clear and obvious that Rashi need not explain it.

The answer will be understood by first explaining another difficulty, concerning the whole nature of the test of staffs. The purpose of the test, Scripture says, is so that “I (G‑d) will rid Myself of the complaints of the children of Israel” (17:20), that “they will not again contest the priesthood” (Rashi, 17:25). This would be achieved when of all the staffs only the staff of Levi, with Aharon’s name written on it, would blossom; all would then know that G‑d has chosen him.

But this is difficult to understand. The controversy over the priesthood stemmed from the members of the tribe of Levi itself, who contested Aharon’s right, out of all of them, to be the High Priest (and his sons to be priests). How would Aharon’s right be established by taking only one staff from the tribe of Levi with his name written on it? Surely two staffs should have been taken from the tribe of Levi: one staff for the family of the priesthood with Aharon’s name on it, and one staff for the family of the Levites with the name of the prince of the family of the Levites written on it (as recorded explicitly in Scripture, the family of the Levites had several princes for each of its three houses — Kehos, Gershon and Merori — plus the “prince of the princes of the Levites,” Elazor ben Aharon). When Aharon’s staff would flower, all would know that he, out of all the tribe of Levi, had been chosen for the priesthood.

True, Scripture says (17:18) that Aharon’s name should be written on Levi’s staff “for there shall be one staff for the head of their fathers’ house (i.e., tribe).” Rashi explains that this means, “Although I (G‑d) have divided them into two families, the family of the priesthood separately and the family of the Levites separately, nevertheless it is one tribe.” Nevertheless, although one tribe, the fact remains there are two families, of which it is necessary to determine who is the High Priest. Surely this can best be determined by taking two staffs from the tribe of Levi?

However, the blossoming of Aharon’s staff served to end the complaints against the priesthood in two aspects: 1) It clarified that the priesthood belonged to the tribe of Levi and no other tribe; 2) It clarified that among the tribe of Levi itself, the priesthood belonged to Aharon only.

For this purpose, staffs were taken from all the tribes (and not just two staffs from Levi only). For the blossoming of the staff clarified that of all the tribes, Levi was chosen for the priesthood, and of Levi itself, Aharon was specifically chosen. In other words, Aharon was chosen from all Israel for the priesthood not because of his personal qualities, but because he was of the tribe of Levi — and of Levi, it was Aharon who was specifically chosen.

If two staffs were taken from the tribe of Levi, on one of which Elazor’s name was written (prince of the princes of Levi) and on the other Aharon’s name (the family of the priesthood), nothing would clearly be resolved. If both staffs would blossom, it would still be unclear who among the tribe of Levi itself was chosen for the priesthood. If only Aharon’s staff would blossom, it would remain unclear that the priesthood belonged to the tribe of Levi in general (i.e., that Aharon was chosen because he was of the tribe of Levi) — for perhaps Aharon was chosen because of his personal qualities (unrelated to his belonging to the tribe of Levi).

The only choice remaining, then, is to take one staff from Levi, and write Aharon’s name on it (as head of the tribe). When that staff blossomed it became clear that: 1) the tribe of Levi was chosen for the priesthood in general, since the staff was taken from Aharon in his capacity as the head of the whole tribe, as written (17:23), “The staff of Aharon, representing the house of Levi, blossomed”; 2) Of the tribe of Levi itself, Aharon was chosen, for the blossoming of the staff was a sign of “the man whom I shall choose.” Had G‑d not chosen Aharon as the High Priest, the staff bearing Aharon’s name would not have blossomed.

The blossoming of Aharon’s staff, then, showed not only that Aharon was chosen from the tribe of Levi, but also that the tribe of Levi was chosen from all the other tribes. And now we can understand why Scripture does not tell us the names of the princes of the tribes written on the staffs.

The blossoming of the staff of Levi not only showed the superior quality of Levi — that they were chosen for the priesthood, but simultaneously showed the inferior status of the other tribes compared to Levi — that they were not chosen for the priesthood. In order not to shame the princes of the tribes, Scripture does not enumerate their names.

We find a similar instance earlier in Scripture. On the verse (Bereishis 3:7), “They (Adam and Chavah) sewed together fig leaves,” Rashi comments: “It (the fig tree) is the tree of which they had eaten [in the sin of the Tree of Knowledge]. By the very thing by which they were corrupted they were rectified; but the other trees prevented them from taking their leaves. And why was the tree not identified [in Scripture]? For the Holy One, blessed be He does not wish to cause grievance to any creature, that people should not shame her...”

6. This Shabbos we learn the third chapter of Pirkei Avos. In the second mishnah of this chapter two ideas are propounded, with seemingly no connection between them. It states: “Rabbi Chanina, the deputy High Priest, said: Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow one another alive. Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon said: If two sit together and no words of Torah are exchanged between them, it is a company of scorners ... but if two sit together and do exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence rests between them ... From where do we learn that even one person who sits and occupies himself with Torah, the Holy One, blessed be He, sets a reward for him? From the verse: He sits alone and [studies] in stillness; indeed, he takes [the reward] unto himself.”

There seems to be absolutely no connection between the two parts of this mishnah — between the obligation to pray for the welfare of the government and two people (or one) learning Torah. Why then are they combined into one mishnah?

Further, Pirkei Avos is “mili d’chassidusa,” “words of piety” — not actual laws. The obligation of two people to exchange words of Torah is not an act of piety, beyond the strict letter of law, but an actual halachic obligation. Why then is it included in Pirkei Avos, which are “words of piety”?

Also, the mishnah’s words that “Even one person who sits and occupies himself with Torah, the Holy One, blessed be He, sets a reward for him” does not seem to be telling us anything new, for the same information is recorded in an explicit verse: “If you will walk in My statutes ... I will give your rains in their proper time.”

The Explanation

The part of the mishnah which discusses a single person who learns Torah teaches us that although the person is alone and has no one with whom to discuss and analyze Torah, he nevertheless “sits and occupies himself with Torah.” A person may fulfill his obligation to learn Torah by superficial study, repeating time and again the same subject, and then proceeding to a new subject. He is not obligated to learn the subject in depth, analyzing and debating the points involved.

Superficial learning (“breadth”) is obviously much easier than learning in depth; a person may therefore think he need not involve himself in the questions and difficulties and differences of opinions that will undoubtedly arise if he learns in depth. For a state of doubt is a painful thing: The Talmud (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 4:2) says, “There is no joy greater than the resolution of doubts” — which implies that before the doubt is resolved, one is in a state the antithesis of joy. Thus a person may think that he need not delve into his Torah studies in depth, but fulfill his obligation by learning superficially.

When, despite all this, a person “sits and occupies himself with Torah — “occupies” meaning studying in depth — such conduct is beyond the letter of the law: it is conduct worthy of “words of piety.”

The above applies to “one person who learns Torah.” When two people learn together, it is only natural that there be discussion and analysis in depth with different opinions raised. In the case of “one,” however, the mishnah is telling us the news that although he has no one with whom to discuss and analyze and debate, nevertheless he still learns in depth, with inner analysis.

The mishnah then says of such a person that “the Holy One, blessed be He, sets a reward for him.” As noted above, the fact that reward is given for observance of Torah and mitzvos is not something the mishnah has to tell us, for it is explicitly recorded in Scripture that “If you will walk in My statutes ... I will give your rains in their proper times.” What this mishnah is telling us is that G‑d “sets a reward for him.”

There are two opinions of the nature of a “reward” for mitzvos performed. 1) That it is in the nature of cause and effect — reward naturally follows observance of mitzvos; 2) That really there is no connection between the mitzvah performed and the reward received; instead G‑d gives a person reward in the nature of bestowing a treasure.

In either of these ways, the reward is something set previously. The mishnah, in saying G‑d “sets a reward for him,” tells us that G‑d grants a new reward not previously set, since the person “occupies himself with Torah” above and beyond the letter of the law.

For Torah study to be proper, one needs to be in a settled frame of mind, unhindered by any disturbances. And this is what the first part of the mishnah tells us, “Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow one another alive.” As a prerequisite to people studying Torah properly, in a settled frame of mind (“If two sit together” or “One who sits and occupies himself with Torah” — “sit” implying settledness), one needs to be relieved of the fear of men swallowing each other alive. One should therefore “pray for the welfare of the government” which ensures law and order throughout the realm. Only then can one learn Torah in peace.

As a continuation, the mishnah says, “If two sit together and no words of Torah are exchanged between them, it is a company of scorners.” If no words of Torah are exchanged because of the unsettled state of the country (“men would swallow one another alive”), it is not “a company of scorners.” But if “the welfare of the government” has been assured, and there is consequently no fear of being “swallowed alive,” then if no words of Torah are exchanged it is a “company of scorners.”

That “the welfare of the government” is a prerequisite for proper Torah study is emphasized by the fact that the authors of these two parts of the mishnah are Rabbi Chanina, the Deputy High Priest and Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon. Both were among the “ten who were killed by the [Roman] government” (Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon — according to all opinions; Rabbi Chanina the Deputy High Priest — according to some opinions). Both suffered the most cruel and barbarous treatment, unparalleled in the annals of Jewish history. The inhuman fate inflicted on the “ten who were killed by the government” has remained a symbol for all generations.

Yet, it is specifically these two Sages who emphasize that the “welfare of the government” is an indispensable prerequisite for proper Torah study. When there is no fear of the government, the country becomes a jungle, each person doing whatever he wants. In such a situation, the fear of what might happen at any moment precludes the possibility of learning Torah in a settled frame of mind.

When there is fear of the government, there is law and order in the country. Even when the government itself is evil (to the extent of inflicting the barbarous treatment on the “ten who killed by the government”), there is still order: the evil is perpetrated in an orderly manner with the government issuing the decrees. Individuals do not do whatever they want, and therefore there is no fear that “men would swallow one another alive” — fear that would otherwise be with citizens at every step.

In the light of the above, it is self-evident that we, who through the kindness of G‑d live in a gracious country which not only does not disturb Jews from living according to the Torah but also helps them to do so, should certainly increase in all matters of Torah and Judaism — first and foremost, increasing in Torah study with a settled frame of mind. Consonant with the command, “Love your fellow as yourself,” we must also help others do likewise, beginning with learning Torah with them.