1. Today is the Shabbos which immediately precedes the previous Rebbe’s liberation from prison on the 12th-13th of Tammuz. Shabbos blesses all the days of the following week that they should have all their needs completely filled. Thus this Shabbos provides the complete blessing for everything necessary concerning the 12th-13th of Tammuz. And since that which gives the blessing must be on a level loftier than that which receives the blessing, it follows that this Shabbos is in some respects loftier even than the 12th-13th of Tammuz.

The blessing that is drawn from this Shabbos for the 12th-13th of Tammuz is the idea of “lechatchilah ariber!” — “in the first place, surpass!” (The famous dictum of the Rebbe Maharash: One should not seek to attain an objective by first going about it in a routine manner and only when encountering obstacles surpass them; instead, the Rebbe Maharash said, one should in the first place surpass all obstacles; i.e., head straight for the objective ignoring everything else.) A blessing is the idea of “surpassing,” for when one gives another a blessing for a particular matter, the blessing draws down the matter to the person from its root and source Above. Further, one thereby creates a “vessel” to draw down from a level that surpasses its root and source.

A blessing, however, can be in two ways. It can be in addition to the matter itself, meaning, that the matter for which the blessing is given is there first, and the blessing for it comes afterwards. Or the blessing can precede the matter. In our case, the blessing for the 12th-13th of Tammuz stems from the Shabbos preceding these days of liberation, thus effecting that these days be in the manner of “lechatchilah ariber!” — “in the first place, surpass!” In other words, it is not that these days are there first, and then in addition they are blessed. Instead, these days arrive in the first place with full blessings (“surpass”).

The connection between the Rebbe Maharash’s dictum, “in the first place, surpass!” and the 12th-13th of Tammuz, is that there is a special bond between the Rebbe Maharash and the previous Rebbe. It is written (Mishlei 7:6) that “Children’s children are the crown of old men.” Thus the “crown” of the Rebbe Maharash is revealed in his child’s child — the previous Rebbe, the Rebbe Maharash’s grandson. Indeed, the previous Rebbe’s visage was extraordinary similar to the Rebbe Maharash’s.

The reason for a farbrengen today, then, is that this Shabbos, which blesses the 12th-13th of Tammuz in a manner of “lechatchilah ariber,” is very lofty indeed. The very idea of a farbrengen effects an increase in the blessings, for the farbrengen is being held with a congregation present, and the qualities of a congregation effect an increase in the blessings drawn down.

Moreover, the blessings stemming from this Shabbos should be well utilized by undertaking good resolutions concerning the 12th-13th of Tammuz. This too is reinforced when a congregation is present, for resolutions undertaken as a congregation have a special force. Although each person undertakes resolutions as an individual, regarding his private service to G‑d, nevertheless, since all are gathered together in connection with a single matter and for a single purpose, love of a Jew and unity between Jews ensure that there will be resolutions undertaken common to all present.

Since the whole congregation undertakes some common resolutions, the qualities of a congregation effects that the individual resolutions also acquire the qualities pertaining to a congregation. We find something similar concerning Miriam’s well, which provided water for the Jews in the desert. How did the water from the well get to the Jews? Rashi says (Bamidbar 21:20), “Every prince, when they encamped, took his staff and drew [a line] to his standard and his camp, and the waters of the well flowed by way of that sign and came before the encampment of every tribe.” Thus we see that Miriam’s well, which was for Jewry in general, flowed to each tribe’s individual encampment.

In our case, each individual is the “prince” of his private domain, where he makes resolutions concerning his private, individual service to G‑d. Just as the waters of Miriam’s well flowed to the private domain of each tribe, so the qualities of a congregation concerning the common resolutions undertaken by the congregation flow to each individual’s resolutions.

“Deed is paramount,” and therefore these resolutions must be translated into actual deed. Deed is the province of mitzvos; and it is to perform mitzvos in actual deed that a soul descends to this world to be clothed in a body. Torah is relevant to a soul also when it is Above; it is relevant also before the person is born, as the Talmud says (Niddah 30b), a fetus in its mother’s womb is taught the whole Torah. When the child is born, “an angel comes, slaps its mouth, and makes it forget the whole Torah.” It then takes time and many stages before the person will again know the whole Torah — if at all. Not all Jews will necessarily learn and know the whole Torah. Jews are divided into two general categories: Yissachar and Zevulun. Yissachar is the category of Jews whose whole involvement is with Torah study; they may therefore be able to learn the whole Torah. Zevulun is the category of Jews whose primary involvement is with good deeds; they are obligated to have only fixed times for Torah study. Since Torah study is not their primary goal (but good deeds), they may not have the opportunity to learn the whole Torah.

It follows, then, that a soul descends below not for the sake of Torah study, but to perform mitzvos, in the area of actual deed. If one had the loftiest intentions concerning a mitzvah but did not actually perform it, he has not fulfilled his obligation.

Today, Shabbos, when we cannot actually do some things, we must instead accept upon ourselves good resolutions with the firmness necessary to ensure they will be implemented immediately after Shabbos. And since “G‑d joins a good thought to deed,” the resolutions undertaken today will be joined by G‑d to actual deed. This means that when a Jew has a good thought to do something, then, if for some reason he cannot carry it out, G‑d arranges circumstances to ensure that eventually this good thought can be carried out. “G‑d joins a good thought to deed” means that G‑d joins the original thought together with the later action, making it a whole entity. Deed by itself is the “body” of the mitzvah; the thought and intention in the mitzvah is its “soul.” When G‑d joins the two together, a whole entity results; the soul within the body.

Through our service in these two aspects — thought and deed, body and soul — we effect the joining together of the entire world’s body and soul. The “soul” of the world is G‑d’s thought and intention to have a dwelling place for Himself in this corporeal world. The “body” of the world is the actual existence of the world. Through our service we join the two together — we actually transform the world into a dwelling place for G‑d. Then we merit the ultimate in this: the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, when the promise, “The glory of the L‑rd will be revealed and all flesh will see that the mouth of the L‑rd has spoken” will be fulfilled — may it be speedily in our days.

2. The above applies to the 12th-13th of Tammuz every year. There are additional lessons to be derived from the fact that this year the 12th-13th of Tammuz are Thursday and Friday, and that the parshah of that week is Pinchus.

When the 12th-13th of Tammuz are in the middle of the week with weekdays following them (unlike this year), there is a “descent” from the days of liberation to the work of weekday. When the 12th-13th of Tammuz is at the end of the week with Shabbos immediately following (as this year), not only is there no descent into weekday work, but, since Shabbos elevates the days of the preceding week, there is an added elevation in all aspects of the liberation.

Further, our Sages say (Avodah Zorah 3a), “Whoever toils on erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos,” meaning in our case that the eating on Shabbos is achieved through the toil and service of the 12th-13th of Tammuz. And just as the food one eats becomes one’s flesh and blood, so the service of the 12th-13th of Tammuz permeates a person’s entire being.

That this year is special in that Shabbos immediately follows the days of liberation, elevating all their aspects, applies also to this Shabbos, today. This Shabbos blesses all aspects of the 12th-13th of Tammuz, including the distinction that this year they are immediately followed by Shabbos. Also, since Shabbos blesses all the days of the coming week, it follows that the Shabbos following the 12th-13th of Tammuz is also blessed by this Shabbos. Knowing the lofty qualities of this Shabbos — and that it is therefore the appropriate time to undertake resolutions — adds joy and delight to the undertaking of the resolutions, and therefore automatically to their implementation.

3. As is customary, we shall analyze a verse in today’s parshah, Balak, with its commentary by Rashi. Because we are in the era of the “footsteps of Moshiach” — i.e., immediately prior to his coming — it is proper that we analyze a subject associated with Moshiach’s coming. Rambam rules in Mishneh Torah (Laws of Kings, ch. 11) that Bila’am’s words recorded in parshas Balak are prophecies concerning Moshiach. Bila’am was hired by Balak, King of Moav, to curse the Jews who, on their way to Eretz Yisroel. were close to his territory. Instead, G‑d put blessings in Bila’am’s mouth. Certain words of Bila’am, Rambam says, are prophecies concerning the two Moshiachs: the first Moshiach who is David, and the last Moshiach who will finally redeem the Jews from exile. Rashi, too, interprets these certain verses as referring to David and Moshiach (but with a different approach than Rambam).

One of the verses in Bila’am’s prophecy concerning Moshiach states (Bamidbar 24:17): “A star shall go forth from Ya’akov, and a staff shall rise from Israel; it shall smite the corners of Moav, and it shall drill through all the sons of Shes.” Rashi, commenting on the words “all the sons of Shes,” says that this refers to “all the nations, for all of them descended from Shes, the son of Adam the first man.”

Rashi is saying that “all the sons of Shes” refers to all the nations of the world, for Shes was the ancestor of them all. Noach and his sons were the only survivors of the flood which destroyed all mankind, and Noach was a descendant of Shes. Hence Shes is the father of all mankind.

This is puzzling. The verse says “all the sons of Shes,” for since Shes was the son of Adam and the ancestor of Noach, he is therefore the father of all mankind. But if the verse wanted to include all mankind, it could have said “all the sons of Adam the first man” or “all the sons of Noach,” rather than “all the sons of Shes.” For if the purpose of the verse is to include all mankind, as the sons of one person, it should have chosen either the first person from whom all men issued or the last person from whom all men issued. The first person is Adam, the first man. The last person is Noach, who, as the survivor of the flood, is the ancestor of all men. (Noach’s three sons, who also survived the flood, are not each the father of all mankind, for each son was the ancestor of different peoples. Noach, their father, is the father of all mankind.) Why then does the verse say “the sons of Shes” — not the first or last person to be the father of all men, but one in the middle, between Adam and Noach (the son of Adam and the ancestor of Noach)?

The question is intensified by the fact that in this same parshah we find the term “son of Adam” — “G‑d is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of Adam that he should change His mind” (23:19). This means simply that G‑d is not like a mortal man (“son of Adam” — everyone of mankind) that he should change His mind once He has said something. Yet in our verse, it says “the sons of Shes,” not the “sons of Adam.” Why?

The term “sons of Shes” is used to denote all mankind for thereby the verse is informing us of another thing. “Shes” derives from a root meaning “foundation,” as in the phrase, “Even Shesiyah,” the “foundation stone,” “from which the world was founded” (Yoma 54b); and as in the verse (Tehillim 11:3), “Ki Hashosos Yehoreysun” — “You have torn down the foundations.” In other words, the names “Shes” implies the root from which the world was founded.

The verse says “It shall drill through all the sons of Shes,” meaning that Moshiach will bring to naught the existence of all the nations of the world. By saying “It shall drill through all the sons of Shes,” the verse is emphasizing that Moshiach will bring to naught the very foundation of the nations. For when one drills through the walls or the roof of a building, the building still remains; when one drills through its foundation, the entire edifice is destroyed. Thus this verse is telling us that Moshiach will destroy the root and foundation of the nations’ existence.

4. As usual, we shall analyze a point in today’s portion of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah (Laws of Marriage, chapters 2-4), which talks of the laws of betrothal (“kiddushin”). Chapter three, halachah 1, discusses the law when the betrothal is made with money. It states, “If the man betroths [the woman] with money, it may not be with less than a perutah of money or the worth of a perutah (i.e., goods to the value of a perutah).”

Ramah (R. Moshe Isserles) writes (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 27:1), “And there are those who have the custom to make the betrothal with a ring, and the reason for them [doing so] is [written] in Tikkunei HaZohar.” Usually, in a dispute between the masters of the Kabbalah and Zohar and the Talmud or the Codifiers who follow the Talmud, the decision follows the Talmud or the Codifiers. However, there are instances when the Codifiers themselves rule on a matter basing themselves on the words of the Kabbalah and Zohar (although not always mentioning the source). In our case, Ramah not only cites a custom (to betroth with a ring) based on the Zohar, but writes explicitly that the source for the custom is in the Tikkunei HaZohar.

Although reasons for betrothing with a ring are to be found also in the revealed aspect of Torah (“nigleh”), Ramah nevertheless emphasizes that the reason comes from “Tikkunei HaZohar,” the inner aspect of Torah. One of the reasons in the revealed aspect is recorded in Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 552): “Of the roots of this mitzvah ... that she shall remember always that she is bound to that man, and she shall not be unfaithful to him and not rebel against him. She shall give him honor and respect forever, as a servant to his master ... Since the root of the mitzvah is as I have mentioned, Jews are accustomed to betroth with a ring, so that it shall be on her hand continually as a reminder.”

We can posit that the reason for betrothal with a ring advanced by the Sefer HaChinuch accords with the reason advanced by the Tikkunei HaZohar. The Tikkunei HaZohar connects it with the winding of the tefillin straps about the man’s finger, and tefillin is the concept of subjugating one’s mind and heart (to G‑d). This is similar to the reason given by the Sefer HaChinuch — that the ring be a reminder of a woman’s allegiance to her husband, that she should be “a worthy woman who does her husband’s will.”

Rambam does not mention the custom to betroth with a ring; nor does the Bais Yosef (R. Yosef Karo), although he delved also into the inner aspect of Torah. We can understand why from the words of the Rogatchover (R. Yosef Rosen) on Rambam’s words quoted above — “If the man betroths with money ...”

The Rogatchover explains that the custom to betroth with a ring and not with money can be related to the law that when the man gives the woman money or an object with which to betroth her, that money or object must then belong wholly to the woman, and the man from then on can have no proprietary interest in it whatever. If the man still has some type of ownership in the money or object with which he betroths the woman, the betrothal is invalid.

In our times, it is customary that the marriage ceremony immediately follows the betrothal (unlike the times of Rambam, which we shall shortly discuss) — i.e., both ceremonies take place one after the other under the “chuppah,” with no time interval in between.

Now, once man and woman are married, the law is that the profits or benefits produced from the woman’s possessions belong to the husband. If the betrothal were to be made with money, it would mean that immediately afterwards, at the time of the marriage ceremony, the husband would have the rights to the profits or benefits deriving from the betrothal money. Since he would thereby be retaining some kind of proprietary interest in the betrothal money (any profits deriving from it), the betrothal would be invalid.

Therefore, concludes the Rogatchover, the betrothal should be made with a “vessel that is like a garment” — a ring — from which no profits can be derived (unlike money). Once the man has given the ring to the woman, he cannot even benefit from it (e.g. himself wear it), for: 1) Only one person can wear a ring at any one time; when, therefore, the woman wears it, the husband cannot. 2) Even when the woman removes the ring from her finger, the husband may not wear it by virtue of the prohibition, “A man shall not wear the garments of a woman.”

The above applies to our times, when the betrothal ceremony is immediately followed by the marriage ceremony. In the times of Rambam, however, there was a twelve-month interval between betrothal and marriage (Laws of Marriage 10:7). Thus the betrothal could be made with money (and not a ring specifically), since during this 12 month period the betrothal money belongs exclusively to the woman — for a husband has the right to the profits and benefits from his wife’s possessions only from the time of marriage, not from betrothal.

The above explanation of the reason for betrothal with a ring specifically (in our times), helps us also understand why it is customary that, when betrothing, the man places the ring on the woman’s finger, and not just gives it to her. The ring with which the betrothal is made, we have said, is “a vessel that is like a garment.” The law is that if a person betroths a woman with a vessel, the betrothal is not valid until she uses the vessel. Thus the man must put the ring on the woman’s finger and not just give it to her, for by so doing she uses the ring, thereby acquiring it, and is then betrothed.

What can we learn from this? The Midrash states (Shemos Rabbah 15:3) that at Mattan Torah G‑d and Jewry were betrothed, and the marriage ceremony will take place in the Messianic era. We said above that in our times the marriage ceremony immediately follows the betrothal. Thus the marriage between G‑d and Jewry must take place immediately after Mattan Torah — and the concept of Mattan Torah is present every day. Thus the marriage ceremony must take place today. Simply put, the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach should happen immediately, as Rambam rules (Laws of Repentance 7:5): “Israel does repentance and immediately they are redeemed” — and repentance can occur in a single instant.

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Another point in Rambam needing clarification is why Rambam opens Sefer Noshim (Book of Women) with the verse, “The Torah of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.” What is the connection between the “snares of death” and Sefer Noshim? True, this Book talks of prohibitions concerning forbidden relations — but there are other Books which also talk of severe prohibitions. Moreover, the principal element in the Book of Women is a positive one: the union of man and wife into “one flesh,” thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of “Be fruitful and multiply” — the loftiest of matters. Why then does Rambam begin this book with this verse?

Rambam writes at the beginning of the Book of Women (1:1,4) that before Mattan Torah man and woman cohabited without any restrictions; after Mattan Torah, restrictions and regulations were set by Torah.

Rambam, to emphasize that these restrictions do not constitute a deficiency, writes as the opening to the Book of Women the verse, “The Torah of the wise is a foundation of life, to depart from the snares of death.” The laws regulating family life are a boon, for they prevent one falling into the “snares of death,’ strife and controversy, a situation when “I find the woman more bitter than death.”

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[The Rebbe’s analysis of chapter 5, mishnah nine of Pirkei Avos is published as a separate essay.]