1. At Mattan Torah (Giving of the Torah), G‑d chose the Jews — “You have chosen us from all peoples and tongues.” The Torah was given as a result of this choice, as we say in the blessing over the Torah, “Blessed are You ... Who chose us from all nations and gave us the Torah.”

True choice means that nothing forces the choice: nothing superior shapes the choice, nor do the advantages of the chosen thing make any difference. Free choice means there are absolutely no reasons to choose one thing over another. It is simply chosen.

Two conclusions follow from this:

1) True choice can only come from G‑d’s Essence, which has no preceding cause. Anything lower, because it stems from a higher source, has automatic dimensions, dimensions over which it has no choice. Thus true free choice can only be made by G‑d Who is the First Cause. Jews also have free choice, because Jews are made similar to G‑d in this respect.

2) The choice made is not because of the advantages possessed by the chosen object, for if one’s choice were dictated by this, it would not be a true free choice. Thus choice is made in the aspect which is totally similar to the other objects.

This is what happened at Mattan Torah: The Jewish people were chosen by G‑d’s Essence. Not because of any superiority possessed by Jews not enjoyed by non-Jews, but, as explained in Tanya (ch. 49), G‑d’s choice in the Jewish people over all other nations was in the corporeal body, which is similar to non-Jewish bodies. Because Jewish and non-Jewish bodies are totally similar in their corporeality, true free choice, which comes from G‑d’s Essence, could be made.

Thus, although before Mattan Torah the advantage of Jews over the nations of the world already existed — G‑d’s revelation to them at the exodus from Egypt and the Splitting of the Sea — at Mattan Torah a new phenomenon occurred: “You chose us from all peoples and languages,” a completely free choice independent of any superiority enjoyed by Jews. A choice not in their souls, but in their corporeal bodies.

This resolves the question why the principal event of Mattan Torah — the Ten Commandments — consists of simple things. The command, “You shall not murder,” for example, is a simple thing understood by everyone. People, including non-Jews, would understand the necessity of a prohibition against murder — out of simple logic, without a Divine command.

Likewise, the positive commands in the Ten Commandments, such as, “Honor your father and your mother,” are understood by the human intellect. Even the command, “I am the L‑rd your G‑d,” is comprehensible, for, as the verse continues, “G‑d took you out of the land of Egypt.” It is logical that because G‑d took us out of Egypt, we should be His servants.

But because the choice made by G‑d at Mattan Torah was in the corporeal bodies of Jews, which are similar to non-Jewish bodies, it was expressed in simple things — the Ten Commandments which are understood also by non-Jews.

In other words: Just as G‑d’s choice of the Jews at Mattan Torah is not associated with any superiority not enjoyed by non-Jews, so too the Torah openly given at Mattan Torah — the Ten Commandments — is not associated with any superiority not enjoyed by non-Jews. Instead, they are simple commandments which are also relevant to non-Jews — and nevertheless, Jews fulfill them because G‑d has commanded them.

This is also the meaning of the command, “You shall choose life.” The Torah itself previously says, “See I have given before you today life and good,” and also the opposite. Surely logic would compel a person to choose that which is life. Why then does Torah say, “You shall choose life,” as if there can be true unbiased choice between life and death?

However, although logic indeed compels one to go in the path of life, Torah still commands, “You shall choose life,” telling us that we should conduct ourselves in the right manner not because of logical compulsion, but out of free choice which transcends logic. This is similar to fulfilling the Ten Commandments not because they are simple, comprehensible directives, but because they are commanded by G‑d.

This is why the giving of the Ten Commandments was such an important event, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The fulfillment of these simple commandments, not because they are rationally comprehensible, but because they are G‑d’s commands, is much more significant than fulfilling commands which are of themselves beyond comprehension.

For example: Creation ex nihilo is a wondrous event, of which only G‑d is capable. Yet in a certain respect, it is more significant to take something already created and formed and to change it to a different form. In our case, this corresponds to taking things which are rationally understood, and changing their form such that they are fulfilled in a manner of choice, transcending logical comprehension.

This is the greatness of the service of Jews. G‑d created the world ex nihilo and made it in a certain form. Jews, through their service, change the nature of the world and sanctify it.

The lesson from all the above: A Jew at this time of the year, when the “Season of the Giving of our Torah” has just passed, knows that G‑d has chosen him and given him the Torah. He may therefore think that he need do nothing except think about G‑dliness, learn the exoteric part of Torah, and need not engage in physical things such as to influence other Jews to observe physical mitzvos.

Moreover, such a Jew thinks, in the Messianic era, the esoteric aspects of Torah will be fully revealed. Since everything depends on our deeds now in exile, the proper preparation to the Messianic revelation should be the study of the esoteric, Chassidus.

The answer to this is that discussed above: The principle idea of Mattan Torah was G‑d’s choice in the corporeal bodies of Jews, and correspondingly, the Ten Commandments are simple things. Thus the emphasis in Mattan Torah is on physical things, actual deed.

So, too, in the future: Whereas then there will be the revelation of the esoteric in the manner of “a new Torah will go forth from Me,” simultaneously, the halachic ruling will be that “deed is greater” (in contrast to now, when the ruling is that “study is greater”).

In greater clarification: Shavuos is the “Season of the Giving of our Torah,” and therefore, the stress is seemingly on Torah study, not deed. Indeed, Shavuos, unlike Pesach and Sukkos, has no special mitzvos such as matzah or lulav. Nevertheless, Torah itself rules that “deed is paramount,” to the extent that the greatness of Torah study (“study is greater”) is specifically because “it brings one to deed.” Indeed, the precondition for the giving of the Torah was that the Jews said, “we will do,” before, “we will hear.” Thus, Shavuos stresses deed together with study, to the extent that “deed is paramount.”

The special stress on deed on Shavuos is expressed in physical things, eating and drinking, in which there is a greater obligation than on other festivals. The Shulchan Aruch rules that “it is prohibited to fast a dream-fast on Shavuos, for it is the day on which the Torah was given. One must eat and rejoice on this festival, to show that the day the Torah was given is pleasant and acceptable to Israel. Therefore it is not as other festivals and Shabbosim when it is permissible to fast a dream-fast.”

This stress on physical things (eating and drinking), applies also to the revelation of the esoteric in the future. On the one hand, Torah study will be emphasized, the study of Mashiach’s Torah. Simultaneously, special emphasis will be placed on deed, for then “deed will be greater.”

Just as in the future, when both study and deed will be prominent, with deed “greater,” so too, now, in our preparations to the future, including the dissemination of the wellsprings of Chassidus to the outside, both deed and study must be present: dissemination of the study of Chassidus, and also the dissemination of actual mitzvos.

In practical terms: On Shavuos, a Jew is told that “deed is paramount,” and therefore, after the Giving of the Torah, he must endeavor to influence a Jew to put on tefillin, and perform the other mitzvos. If such a Jew claims he would rather influence another Jew in Torah study (“the Season of the Giving of our Torah”), but it is unseemly for him to “lower” himself to engage in propagating mitzvos, actual deed — the answer is that the precondition for the receiving of the Torah was that deed would precede understanding.

Moreover, endeavoring to influence another Jew to perform mitzvos is not so that eventually he will bring him to learn Chassidus, the esoteric in Torah. Instead, the performance of mitzvos is a goal in itself, since deed is of such paramount importance.

Through our endeavors in the sphere of deed during the exile, we merit the future redemption, when the concept of “deed is great” will be revealed.

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2. In light of the above, we will understand the difference between Shavuos and the other festivals. One of the principle matters of Yom Tov is to go up to the Bais HaMikdash and there offer sacrifices. If one did not offer his sacrifice on the first day of Yom Tov, he may compensate for his omission on the rest of the festival days.

Although Shavuos is only a one-day festival, it too has these “days of compensation.” The difference between Shavuos and Pesach and Sukkos is that in the latter, the “days of compensation” for the sacrifices omitted on the first day of the festival are the latter days of the festival. In the case of Shavuos, however, since it is only a one-day festival, the “days of compensation” are the days following Shavuos — weekdays. It is not so startling an idea that one should be able to compensate on festival days, as on Pesach and Sukkos. It is startling that we can do so on weekdays, as in the case of Shavuos.

The reason for this is associated with the very nature of Mattan Torah, as discussed earlier. The choice of Jews at Mattan Torah transcends reason. It was not because of any lofty distinction possessed by Jews, such as being a “kingdom of priests,” but simply out of pure free choice. And, as explained previously, this choice is expressed by the Ten Commandments consisting of simple things, the observance of which is nevertheless not because of logic, but out of free choice.

Thus a basic difference between Shavuos and other festivals is that the latter (Pesach and Sukkos) are associated with logic and reason, as stated: “You shall keep the festival of Pesach ... because on it you left Egypt” and Sukkos is kept “so that your generations shall know that I made Israel dwell in Sukkos.” Shavuos, however, transcends reason — the idea of free choice.

This is expressed in the “days of compensation.” Because Shavuos emphasizes free choice, unassociated with any distinction or advantages, its “days of compensation” can be even when the distinction of Yom Tov is missing — on weekdays. But the “days of compensation” of Pesach and Sukkos, which are associated with reason and logic, can only be on days which have the distinction of Yom Tov.

The ability to infuse the concept of Shavuos into weekdays is possessed only by the “days of compensation,” not by the first day of Shavuos itself (Yom Tov). Indeed, this is similar to the lofty distinction enjoyed in general by the “days of compensation” compared to the first day — that they not only compensate for any omission of sacrifices or service on the first day, but also make the concept of Yom Tov whole, in greater measure than on the first day. This distinction is enjoyed by the “days of compensation” of all the festivals, not just Shavuos.

An example of this is found in Halachah, Jewish law. One is allowed to compensate for the omission of sacrifices on the first day of Yom Tov because “the Torah absolves one who is unable” to offer them. This applies only if for some reason he was unable to bring the sacrifices on the first day. But if he was able to bring it on the first day, and did not do so, and then was unable to bring it on the “days of compensation,” we do not say “the Torah absolves one who is unable.” His inability to bring the sacrifices on the “days of compensation” cannot absolve him of the obligation of the first days when he was able to bring the sacrifice. That one is not absolved because of inability on the “days of compensation” indicates that these days have a greater severity and distinction than the first day.

The above lends encouragement to involvement in the dissemination of Judaism with zeal and alacrity — through the mitzvah campaigns for example. One may think that while it is necessary to engage in these campaigns, it is not so urgent as to warrant immediate action.

The answer to this is that the Torah does not absolve one if he was unable to perform his obligation in the days of compensation. Thus, when one involves himself in the mitzvah campaigns immediately upon being told to do so, with zeal, then, if something happens to prevent him from fulfilling it, he can always compensate in the following days. But if a person is lazy, and delays his involvement for another time, if something happens to prevent him doing so then, no excuse will help, for the inability excuse can absolve him only at the immediate time, not in the “days of compensation.”

Thus the above lends encouragement and strength to involve oneself in the mitzvah campaigns immediately — in addition to the fact that these efforts are made in the mission of the Previous Rebbe, and therefore automatically one has the strength of he who sends him.

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3. Shavuos, the “Season of the Giving of our Torah,” is a general concept applicable to Jewry in general. Simultaneously, it applies to each Jew as an individual, for each Jew inherits the entire Torah — it is a “heritage for the congregation of Yaakov.” The Ten Commandments were said in singular tense, to each Jew as an individual — and the Ten Commandments encompass the entire Torah.

There are thus two aspects in Mattan Torah: A general principle, that the general Torah (the Ten Commandments) was given to Jewry in general; and that every individual detail in Torah was given to each Jew as an individual.

The same thing applies to each concept and mitzvah in Torah: Each is a particular detail in Torah; simultaneously, it encompasses the entire Torah. So, too, with the festivals: Each festival has its individual character; simultaneously, it encompasses all the other festivals. Understandably, the principle emphasis of a festival is on its particular character, that which is peculiar to itself. On Pesach, it is the Season of our Liberation; on Sukkos, it is the Season of our Rejoicing; on Shavuos, it is the Season of the Giving of our Torah.

Just as each festival has its own individual character, so too, each festival is associated with individual people. Pesach is associated with Moshe Rabbeinu, who is the “first redeemer” who took the Jews out of Egypt. Sukkos is associated with Aharon, for the Sukkos (clouds of glory) in which G‑d made the Jews dwell when they left Egypt were in Aharon’s merit. Shavuos is associated with Miriam, for the Torah (given on Shavuos) is compared to water which descends from a high place to a low place — and the well of water used by the Jews in the desert was in Miriam’s merit.

We have explained on previous occasions that Shavuos is associated [also] with Moshe Rabbeinu, King David, and the Baal Shem Tov. Moshe Rabbeinu, for he received the Torah from Sinai; King David, for he passed away on Shavuos; the Baal Shem Tov, for he too passed away on [the first day of] Shavuos.

Although we have talked of this many times before in previous years, it is still proper to mention every year that Shavuos is associated with these three people. For although these people are remembered the entire year, special emphasis applies on Shavuos. The idea of receiving the Torah — associated with Moshe — applies the entire year, as we recite every day, “Blessed are You ... who gives (present tense) the Torah.” Yet on Shavuos, all that is associated with Moshe Rabbeinu is given added emphasis.

Likewise, David is “King of Israel” the entire year, as our Sages say, “David King of Israel lives and endures.” But again, it is particularly emphasized on Shavuos, the day he passed on.

The Baal Shem Tov was the founder of Chassidus, which is relevant the entire year. And as with King David and Moshe Rabbeinu, it is particularly emphasized on Shavuos, the day he passed on.

Thus it behooves us to mention these three every year on Shavuos, and what is more important, to derive lessons from them.

The lesson from Moshe Rabbeinu: Moshe was the “shepherd of Israel.” The Midrash relates that G‑d tested Moshe by his conduct as a shepherd of sheep. When a kid ran from the flock, Moshe ran after it, caught it, and tenderly carried it back on his shoulders. When G‑d saw this, He said, “You are merciful to shepherd the sheep of mortal man” — and therefore chose Moshe to be the “shepherd of Israel,” the “faithful shepherd” for all generations.

The above story demonstrates that the function of a shepherd is to provide the sheep with their needs, and to protect them from any harmful or undesirable things. This extends even to a kid who runs away from the flock, where it lives and pastures, and goes to a desert which is desolate of vegetation or water. Moshe left the entire flock, chased after the wayward kid to return it to the flock, and seeing it was too weak to go on its own feet, carried it back on his shoulders.

The lesson from this to every Jew is that since Moshe is the “faithful shepherd” of all Jewry for all generations, he must conduct himself consonant to the shepherd’s desire.

Moreover, every Jew can learn from Moshe how to act towards others. Even a simple Jew keeps some part of Torah and mitzvos, which he observes faithfully. When he sees a Jew who is, spiritually, a “straying sheep,” in a desert where there is no spiritual water but is instead filled with spiritual snakes and scorpions, he must, like Moshe, try to return this Jew to Judaism by influencing him to observe Torah and mitzvos.

Although his own spiritual standing is not perfect, and therefore he may think that he should concentrate on himself rather than worry about others, he must learn from Moshe Rabbeinu how to conduct himself. Moshe could have abandoned the straying sheep and concentrated on the flock — which was quantitatively and qualitatively superior to the kid which ran away from the flock. Yet Moshe left the flock and chased after the kid to return it to where it belonged!

If the above applies to simple Jews, it certainly is relevant to Jews of loftier spiritual stature. When the “Season of the Giving of our Torah” approaches, such a Jew takes pride and says: “Aha! This is my day!” This is the day Moshe Rabbeinu received the Torah. And since Torah says that a Jew who learns Torah properly is on the level of “Moshe,” then it is also his day. If so, then just as Moshe is termed a king, he too will act as a “king,” and certainly will not demean himself to worry about a Jew who is on an inferior level, a “strayed sheep.”

The above story of Moshe’s conduct with the sheep, that he left the entire flock and went to bring back one wayward kid — which conduct earned him the privilege of being the “shepherd of Israel” — teaches that a Jew, even one who considers himself so great as to be the “Moshe of his generation,” must devote himself to bringing wayward Jews back to the community of Israel.

It is a matter of pikuach nefesh, saving life, which takes precedence over the whole Torah. How can one sit with folded hands and continue to learn Torah when a Jewish child, who has strayed into a “desert,” must be saved?!

The lesson from King David:

Just as Moshe Rabbeinu is the “faithful shepherd” of Israel, so too, King David. The Midrash relates: “G‑d checked David by means of sheep and found him a good shepherd.... Said G‑d, ‘He who knows how to tend to the sheep each according to its needs, shall come and shepherd My people....’” Thus David merited to become the “King of Israel” for all generations — “David the King of Israel lives and endures.”

“Shepherd of Israel” and “King of Israel” are the same concept, for just as a shepherd takes care of the flock’s needs, so too, a king takes care of the citizens’ needs. Conversely, just as the sheep are under the control of the shepherd, so too, the people of a country must be subservient to the king’s decrees.

However, the idea of “shepherd of Israel” is not the principal concept of King David, for Moshe was also the “shepherd of Israel,” and indeed, was the original one. That which was peculiar to David was the idea of war — “the wars of G‑d.”

Although Moshe also engaged in war — against Amalek, and later against Sichon and Og — this was only at special times. King David however was engaged in the “wars of G‑d” during the majority of his lifetime. True, he also worried about providing his people with their needs, but war was his principal function.

The lesson from this: When worrying about Jew’s needs (the function of a “shepherd”), it can sometimes be achieved without war, and other times only through war. King David teaches that one must endeavor to help a Jew — materially and spiritually — to the extent of not even refraining from war if necessary.

The lesson from the Baal Shem Tov:

The Baal Shem Tov’s name is “Yisrael,” the name of all Jewry. “Yisrael,” as distinct from “Yaakov” is the distinguished name of Jewry, and it being the Baal Shem Tov’s name emphasizes that all Jews are on the level of “Yisrael.” As our Sages have said, “Even though he has sinned, he is a Yisrael.” Although he has sinned, he not only remains on the level of “Yaakov,” but he is still a member of Yisrael. And Yisrael has the same letters as “Li Rosh,” which means, “He is the head to Me” — such a Jew is still on the level of “head” to G‑d, so to speak.

Thus we see the greatness of every Jew, not just unique individuals. Moreover, “Yisrael” is an acronym for, “There are 600,000 letters in the Torah,” which means that Jewry is similar to a Sefer Torah, which is whole and kosher only when all its letters are present. That is, every Jew affects all Jewry.

This is emphasized by our Sages, who note that if one single Jew of the 600,000 Jews had been missing at Mattan Torah, the Torah would not have been given even to Moshe Rabbeinu! Even the lowest Jew, the most base sinner, was essential for the Torah to be given.

Shavuos is the Yahrzeit of the Baal Shem Tov, whose name “Yisrael” emphasizes that every Jew is a “Yisrael” and therefore has a share in the World to Come. On his Yahrzeit, all the work of the tzaddik is revealed in the most complete fashion, and “effects wonders in the midst of the earth.” Thus on Shavuos, the Baal Shem Tov’s Yahrzeit, there is special help and encouragement to follow in his ways, notably the emphasis on the greatness of every Jew, who is a “Yisrael.” As a result, a person will have the proper Ahavas Yisrael to every Jew, as emphasized in the conduct and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.