1. This Shabbos is significant for a number of reasons. First of all it is Shabbos Parshas Mishpotim. The Alter Rebbe teaches us that we must “live with the times,” i.e., apply the lessons of the weekly portion to our lives and adapt them accordingly. It is also Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Adar (the Shabbos on which we bless the month of Adar). It is also Machor Chodesh (the day before Rosh Chodesh), which serves to further accentuate the connection this Shabbos has with the coming month. This Shabbos also bears a unique phenomenon — it is Shabbos Parshas Shekalim (the Shabbos during which there is a special Torah reading describing the annual donation of a half-shekel which every Jew gave toward the communal offerings in the Temple).

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that everything we encounter should serve us as a lesson in our service of G‑d. Hence, each of the above factors must provide us with a lesson. Additionally the combination of these four factors can provide us with lessons many times the number that can be derived from each factor individually. Even though all of these concepts are general in nature, nevertheless, each one embodies a particular lesson that applies to our service of G‑d.1 Since we are in the month of Shvat, it follows that all of the above is influenced by the central aspect of the month, the Yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe, which occurred on the tenth of Shvat.2

The Previous Rebbe’s has a profound effect on each and every individual Jew, including those who did not have a personal relationship with him. Moreover, what took place on Yud Shvat many years ago continuously effects our lives and the lives of every Jew, including those who do not know what happened on that date. The Previous Rebbe writes about his redemption from prison saying that it is an experience which effects “all who cherish our sacred Torah, who observe the Mitzvos, and all those who are called by the name Israel.” Similarly, the day of his passing effects the totality of our people, for, “a shepherd will not leave his flock.” These effects are particularly poignant at this time since the thirtieth anniversary of his Yahrzeit has passed.

The lessons we shall derive from the above will surely bring about the revelation of G‑d’s kindness. The Previous Rebbe requested that all matters connected with his position as Rebbe be carried out in a manner of kindness. (Everything connected with Torah is kindness, however, that kindness is not always obvious. The intent of the Rebbe’s request was that the kindness be openly revealed to us.) Bringing about the ultimate kindness, the revelation of an era when the Mishpotim — judgments of the Torah — will be delivered by the Sanhedrin in the courtyard of the Temple, with the coming of the true and complete redemption, speedily in our days.

2. The four matters which are related to this Shabbos are also connected with the four tractates which were discussed in the Siyum during the Yud Shvat farbrengen. There it was mentioned that four tractates — Berachos, Kerisus, Nazir, and Yevamos — conclude with the exact same statement: “Talmidei Chachomim [Torah scholars] increase peace in the world, for it is said: ‘And all your children shall be learners of the [Torah of the] L‑rd, and great will be the peace of banayich (your children). (Do not read banayich, but bonayich — your builders.)” i.e., Talmidei Chachomim build and increase the peace of the world. These traits are also uniquely connected to Yud Shvat for the Previous Rebbe sacrificed his life in order to spread Torah, Mitzvos and Chassidus throughout the world.3

The tractate of Berachos (blessings) and Shabbos Mevorchim are related because both are involved with blessings. The relationship between the two is profound, as we see from examining the details. The Halachah regarding making a blessing over food allows one Brachah — “SheHakol N’heyah B’dvoro — by whose word all things came to be” — to cover all foods. However, it is Halachicly preferable to make an individual blessing for each different type of food. A parallel situation exists regarding blessing each of the months. The same blessing is used; however, for each particular month there are different intentions which are appropriate.

Parshas Shekalim is related to the tractate of Kerisus. The Shekalim were primarily used to buy sacrifices for the Temple. The purpose of the sacrifices was to bring about atonement for the Jewish people. Similarly the tractate of Kerisus deals with matters of atonement and sacrifices. The connection between the two concepts is further emphasized by the fact that the conclusion of the tractate of Kerisus deals with the Tamid offering which was bought with the Shekalim — Parshas Shekalim.

The concept of Mishpotim (judgments) is related to the tractate of Yevamos. The conclusion of that tractate deals with the process of judicial inquiry.

The last concept, Machor Chodesh, is related to the tractate of Nazir (one who has taken on certain vows of abstinence). The Haftorah of Machor Chodesh begins with the verse (Shmuel I, 20:18) “and you will be missed for your seat will be empty.” Similarly, on the day of Machor Chodesh — the day before Rosh Chodesh — the moon is empty. No trace of it is seen in the heavens. A Nazir is involved in a similar type of service — his are vows of abstinence and holding oneself back, not self-expression.

The service of the Nazir presents the following difficult question. The goal of our service is expressed by the first Mitzvah the Torah gives us: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill up the earth and subdue it.” Our goal is achieved when we elevate the material aspects of the world by using them for a spiritual purpose. When the Nazir abstains from wine he is unable to elevate this material aspect of the world.4 This abstinence is seemingly contrary to the statement of the Talmud Yerushalmi: “It is enough what the Torah has forbidden.” A man can elevate wine simply by drinking it in a permitted fashion; how much more so would he be able to elevate it were he to use it for Kiddush or Havdalah.

We can ask the same question is regard to the moon. The purpose of the moon’s creation is “to shine upon the earth.” If so, how is it possible that there is a time when the moon’s light is hidden?

The answer to these questions is based on the following principles: 1) It is a Mitzvah to take Nezirus (vows). Taking Nezirus is not simply an act of cutting oneself away from the world; according to the Torah it is a path of service in this world. 2) The moon’s concealment on Erev Rosh Chodesh is actually a revelation of its true nature. The moon has no light of its own. During the majority of the month the moon is shining and this is not apparent. However, on Erev Rosh Chodesh it is clearly evident that the moon has no light of its own. This is the service of concealment which brings out the quality of Bitul (self-annulment). It is related to the service of Iscafia (subjugating evil).5 This also brings about a revelation of G‑dliness,6 as the Zohar declares “when the ‘other side’ [the Kabbalistic term for the forces of evil] is subjugated, then the glory of G‑d will be revealed in all the worlds.”

With an understanding of the above, we can grasp the relationship between Machor Chodesh and the service of a Nazir. The name Machor (tomorrow) Chodesh stresses the fact that the service of Iscafia is followed by a revelation of G‑dliness on a higher spiritual place. This concept is more clearly illustrated when we compare the names ‘Erev Rosh Chodesh’ and ‘Machor Chodesh.’ The name Erev Rosh Chodesh emphasizes the service of preparation, as the Talmud states, “He who prepares on Erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos.” The word Erev always indicates a preparation for the day that follows; this day itself not having an importance of its own. By contrast the name Machor Chodesh stresses that this day has an importance of its own; not that it is merely a preparation for the day that follows.

In our personal service, the principle of Machor Chodesh is expressed as follows: the services of Iscafia and self-annulment are not ends in themselves. Their purpose is to bring about a Machor; which is the service of Ishopchah (transformation of evil into good). Rather than remain on a level of self-annulment, one must progress to a level of “Chodesh,” the shining of a new light that will illuminate the darkness in the world.

The same concept is exemplified by the service of the Nazir. His service is one of Iscafia. At first glance, it is impossible to know whether the Nazir will proceed to the service of Ishopchah, or whether his self-annulment, because its source is a desire for personal fulfillment rather than service, will result in evil. [By comparing the service of the Nazir to the concept of Machor Chodesh, we emphasize that the intent of this service is to go beyond the level of self-annulment — to become an entity and shed light in the world.]

This principle is expressed in the world at large. A person may say, “I want to sit in my own corner and study Torah diligently. I cannot effect others.” Even when this person sees the Jewish world being destroyed he will argue: “What can I do? I cannot do anything about other people. Therefore isn’t it better that I work with myself?” We must tell this person that this person that this kind of self-annulment destroys the Jewish people. One must take a strong stand, reach out and try to influence others toward Torah and Mitzvos. Even though self-annulment is an important quality, and pride is the source of evil, still, once one has already begun the service of G‑d [through Bitul] pride is necessary. This is the concept of Machor Chodesh — that the entire point of self-annulment is to come to a higher level of light.

On the surface this stress on ‘Machor’ seems counter productive. A person must always live in the present, as the Zohar declares, “Each day performs its service.” One must always concentrate on what he is doing at the moment, and not live in the future. The Rashba personified this type of service. Each day he was involved in three major endeavors. He was a practicing doctor, he wrote Responsa, and he gave classes in the Yeshiva. Each of these occupations demands complete involvement. Despite his rigorous schedule the Rashba took a stroll through the gardens each day, an activity that brings about pleasure. He was completely devoted to each of his tasks, yet he still found the peace of mind to relax and walk through the gardens. The Rashba was totally involved with what he was doing at the moment. He lived fully in the present. For this reason he was able to act with great flexibility.7 What then is the significance of calling a day Machor Chodesh where the stress appears to be on the following day and not on the present? The reason is that for our service of Iscafia to be “true” it is necessary that we have a feeling of Ishopchah. Although the light of ‘Chodesh’ does not come till later, and presently the situation is one of darkness, we know that in the immediate future our service will approach the level of Ishopchah. Then even when we are at the level of Iscafia our service is a Torah service.

Thus, the lesson is clear: Even if one is truly humble by nature, and he has spent his entire life in the study of Torah, and never has he been involved in community affairs, nonetheless, because G‑d has sent him down to a physical world, in a physical body, we know that he has a mission to fulfill in the world. His mission is to refine and elevate the world in holiness. Now is the time when our service must be in a manner of “Grab and eat, Grab and drink.” I.E., we must seize every possible opportunity to elevate the world and make it holy. This is particularly true after Yud Shvat, the time when we derive strength from the Previous Rebbe who is “a faithful shepherd, who will not leave his flock.” We must work to spread Torah and Chassidus throughout the world, and then, “when the wellsprings of your teachings spread outward,” Moshiach will come. Then we will merit the fulfillment of the prophecy “and those who lie in dust will arise and sing” with the Previous Rebbe among them, speedily in our days.

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3. Trans. note: In the Rebbe Shlita’s explanation of his father’s commentary of the Zohar he dwelt on the fact that milk and meat represent the spiritual qualities of kindness and severity respectively. Because they are different in nature they must be kept separate and cannot be eaten together. This same reason is given for the prohibition of Shatnes — mixing wool and linen — and for the prohibition of Kilai’im — mixing different plants. However, there are differences between these prohibitions. Shatnes was permitted in Tzitzis and in the garments of the priests, while milk and meat and Kilai’im were never permitted.

In explanation the Rebbe Shlita stated that there were two general principles that allowed for the combination of kindness and severity: 1) that the possibility for their elevation exist, and, 2) that severity be included in kindness — and not vice versa — thus making kindness dominant. [This is accomplished when a light which is more powerful than either of the two qualities brings about their combination.] The clothes of the priest in the Temple is one illustration. It was the Temple’s influence that allowed for the combination. Similarly, the power of the Mitzvah of Tzitzis also makes a union of wool and linen possible. Another example is that mixing milk and meat becomes permissible when someone’s life is in danger. (From the Alter Rebbe’s statement that it becomes “completely permitted” it appears that he holds that the nature of the food changes and it is permitted.) Because of the importance of a Jewish life these two opposites can be combined.