1. This Shabbos comes after the final days of the holiday of Pesach. Shabbos elevates and completes the six days of the week. This concept is expressed with regard to the first Shabbos, as it says in Bereishis, “the heavens and the earth were completed.” The same process takes place each Shabbos1 — Shabbos elevates the previous six weekdays to a higher level of holiness. In the case of the present week the previous six days include the days of a festival. However, they are still “mundane in comparison to Shabbos.”2

This idea raises a basic question: On the seventh day of Pesach the Red Sea split. At that time there was a revelation of G‑d so great that the entire Jewish people pointed with their fingers and declared, “This is my G‑d.”3 How is it possible that the eighth day of Pesach could possess a greater degree of holiness. Furthermore, how is it possible that the holiness of the following Shabbos could surpass the high level of holiness those days possess.

A concept mentioned in the previous farbrengen answers the question. The question asked at that time was as follows: In the verse, “and Israel saw the mighty hand which the L‑rd had wielded against the Egyptians, and the people feared the L‑rd, and believed in the L‑rd,” why is the verb “believed” used? The term “belief” is only appropriate if there is an absence of knowledge — if we possess definite knowledge, the term “belief” should not be used. If Israel “saw,” why did they have to “believe”? This question was answered with the explanation that there are two levels of the name Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay (the name of G‑d used here), one higher and one lower. For this reason a pause is made in the repetition of this name in the thirteen attributes of mercy. The higher level is “the essential name,” which refers to G‑d as He transcends the world.4

The lower aspect of the name Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay refers to the G‑dliness that is enclothed within creation. This aspect does not express G‑d’s essence, as the Alter Rebbe commented, “The main aspect of G‑d is not His creation of the worlds.” At the Red Sea the Jews saw the lower aspect of Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay and believed in the higher aspect.

According to the above, we can understand the higher quality possessed by the eighth day of Pesach in comparison with the seventh. On the seventh day of Pesach the Jews experienced a revelation of the lower aspect of Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay.5 The eighth day of Pesach is connected to the revelation of Moshiach and brings about the potential to “see” the higher level of Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay, the level that transcends the worlds. Because of these revelations the Haftorah read on the eighth day is connected with Moshiach in which it is described how “a wolf will dwell with a lamb” and “a small child will lead them” — prophecies which transcend the natural limitations of the world.

The nature of these revelations is reflected in our service to G‑d. The service appropriate for the seventh day of Pesach is bound by the limits of the world. It results from meditation on the G‑dliness enclothed in creation, and, hence, is limited — as that revelation is limited. In contrast, the final day of Pesach contains the revelation of the transcendent aspects of G‑dliness. On the eighth day our service, also, goes beyond the limits of the world. We step past all obstacles: those presented by evil, by our limited intellect, and even the limitations of the world as they are found in Torah,6 and reveal a service that is infinite, the service of Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice).7

The above produces a practical directive for action. That directive can be understood in terms of a story of Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi. He and his son and successor, Rav Dov Ber, shared a house. Rav Schneur Zalman lived on the second floor, and Rav Dov Ber on the first. Rav Dov Ber was known for his great powers of concentration. Once, while Rav Dov Ber was immersed in his Torah studies, his son feel from his cradle and began to cry. Though the baby screamed very loudly, his father did not hear him. Finally, Rav Schneur Zalman, who was also very deeply involved in his own studies at the time, heard the baby crying in his apartment. He went downstairs, took the child in his arms and calmed him. Afterwards he turned to his son, Rav Dov Ber, whose attention was still centered on his studies. He had not heard or seen anything that had happened. Rav Schneur Zalman rebuked him explaining that, no matter how deeply one is involved in study, one should always be able to hear a child’s cry. No subject, no matter how intense or involving, should dull one’s basic sensitivity.

Similarly in our lives: If someone is learning Torah L’shmah and he hears the cry of a child, he has two options — to run and help him, or to consider the matter and weigh his choices. The latter approach, might cause him to be indifferent to the child’s cry. He might think: “After all, Torah study is greater than all the Mitzvos.” This is particularly true if he studies with others. How can he interrupt such a worthwhile activity, even to save a child? However, if his service is motivated by Mesirus Nefesh he will not pause to consider the options. When he hears a child cry he will realize that he is crying because he wants G‑dliness. Hence, he will close the Sefer or the Ma’amar he is learning and go to comfort the child.

He will not think to himself: “The child has a mother and a father, let them comfort him.” Instead, he will realize that he must comfort the child himself. If his efforts were not necessary the matter would never have come within his sphere of influence.

It is possible that the Yetzer Hora will try to deceive him, arguing that the desire to work in Mivtzoim, i.e., to answer the child’s cry, is a device of the Yetzer Hora to prevent him from studying. Because the Yetzer Hora knows it cannot tempt such a person with material things, it has chosen this approach.

This argument itself is a device of the Yetzer Hora. The story of the Alter Rebbe is a clear guide of what our behavior should be. The Alter Rebbe opened a path for us to follow. Furthermore, the Alter Rebbe demanded of his son: why didn’t you hear the child’s cry?; and not, “Why didn’t you go comfort him?” We must train ourselves to be sensitive to a child’s cry. Even if the cry is faint, even if it is a cry that is not manifest at all, we must hear it and respond. In such a case, i.e., when the cry for help is inaudible, our efforts are all the more necessary. Someone who feels his lack will cry about it. The fact that the child doesn’t cry outwardly implies that he is not even aware that he is lacking. If we don’t hear the child’s cry at all, we must realize that our Ahavas Yisroel is incomplete. The Previous Rebbe would comment that we must love every Jew, even someone whom we have never seen. We must be sensitive to his feelings and to his pain.8

The celebration of the final day of Pesach (and particularly partaking of Moshiach’s Seudah, which makes the revelations of that day part of our flesh and blood) brings about this unlimited commitment.9 Shabbos also contributes to this service (and adds to the service of both the seventh and eighth day of Pesach). On Shabbos we must feel that “all your work is complete,” and, “declare the Shabbos a delight.” The delight contributed by Shabbos allows for the expansion of the service of the last days of Pesach.10 Hence, we must proceed with unlimited commitment in our efforts in the Mivtzoim: Mivtza Ahavas Yisroel, Chinuch (Torah Education), Torah, Tefillin, Mezuzah, Tzedakah, Bayis Maley Seforim Yavne V’Chachameha (the possession of Jewish holy books), Nairos Shabbos Kodesh (Shabbos candles), Kashrus, Taharas Hamishpachah, and Mihu Yehudi (Who is a Jew?). And through our service we should bring about a Kosher year, and a happy year — a year of pleasure, with the coming of Moshiach.

2. The Baal Shem Tov says that an object’s name communicates its basic nature. Hence, the name “Shemini” brings out the basic nature of the entire Torah portion.

Shemini means “the eighth day.” It refers to the eighth day of the inauguration of the altar. During the seven preceding days Aharon and his sons prepared for their service as priests. They offered various sacrifices and went through the entire process of ‘Miluim’ (consecration) as priests. What new element did the eighth day contribute?

This question can be explained within the context of the fundamental difference between the numbers seven and eight. Seven refers to the completion of the natural order. (Hence, there are seven days in a week.) Eight refers to a level that transcends the natural order and “guards” it. The seven days of consecration refer to the ultimate of human efforts. However, the eighth day refers to a level that transcends human potential. The eighth day brought about the potential for a new and higher service. That service was reflected in the actions of the Jewish people who “gave praise and fell on their faces.”

The practical directive from above is as follows: Even if we are willing to serve G‑d with Mesirus Nefesh (the contribution of the seventh day of Pesach), and unbounded Mesirus Nefesh (the contribution of the final day of Pesach), and true pleasure (the contribution of Shabbos); that is not sufficient. Our service is still bound by the limits of human potential. We must begin a new service, on the level of Shemini, above our natural limitations. The Talmud declares that a sage never rests — he must always proceed from “strength to strength.” Even if one appears to have reached completion of his service — he seems to be a perfect Tzaddik and a true Baal Teshuvah — nevertheless, when compared to G‑d’s infinity, his service is limited.

We might question: We are, after all, human and limited; how can we be expected to carry out a boundless service? Nevertheless, the very fact that Torah tells us, “Go from strength to strength,” and, “man was created to work,” nullifies our question. We must begin the service of Shemini. We cannot sit back and rest, enjoying the reward from our previous service — now is the time to work.

We have the promise from Torah, “If you work you will find,” as the Talmud declares, “(If one says) ‘I worked and I found,’ believe him.” The “finding” will be more than we anticipated to do, in a degree of “a found object comes about unexpectedly.”

The Talmud also says that Moshiach’s coming will be unexpected. May we soon greet him with “our sons and daughters, our youth and our elders,” and proceed to our land with joy, happiness and true pleasure.

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3. The Shabbos on which each new month is blessed always occurs in the preceding month, thus emphasizing a connection between the two months. The relationship existing between the months of Nissan and Iyar can be explained as follows: The Talmud (Berachos 57a) explains that every time a word contains two nuns (in a dream) — as does the word Nissan, — it is a sign of “miracles of miracles.” Similarly, Nissan is the month of redemption — the month when the Jews were redeemed from Egypt and the month we will be redeemed by Moshiach. [It is a month in which each individual is lifted out of his/her particular exile.]

The month of Iyar is not distinguished by such revelations. However, it also possesses a unique characteristic. Iyar is an acronym for the names Avraham, Yitzchok, Ya’akov, and Rochel, who are referred to as the four legs of the chariot. A chariot has no will of its own, it is completely subjugated to its driver’s will. Likewise, the forefathers were “holy, and separate from the matters of this world, and, all of their days, they were a chariot to G‑d’s will alone.”11 This refers to the service of self-nullification which was epitomized in the forefathers. Hence, the month of Iyar represents the service of man.12

This difference is reflected in our daily service. During the month of Nissan, no Tachnun is recited. The purpose of Tachnun is to atone for sins. When no Tachnun is recited the intention is not to omit the service of atonement. On the contrary, the fundamental nature of the day brings about atonement, without the recitation of Tachnun. This quality parallels the revelation from above, mentioned previously.

Iyar is unique in that there is a specific MitzvahSefiras HaOmer — related to every day of the month.13 It is the only month of the year in which every day is connected to a Mitzvah, i.e., to our service. Hence, the progress from Nissan, the month of revelation, to Iyar, the month of personal service, needs to be reinforced by a special power. For that reason, Iyar is connected to “G‑d’s chariot.” When one is a chariot for G‑dliness, i.e., when one has no individual will of his own, he will not mind going from a state of revelation to a state of concealment since that it G‑d’s will.

The above brings out a practical lesson. In Nissan there was much activity in the Mivtzoim, and particularly in the Mivtza “to turn the hearts of the fathers through the children.” There were many special Mitzvos; burning the Chometz, running the Seder, etc., on which this campaign — in which prizes were distributed — focused. In contrast, our efforts in the month of Iyar should concentrate on our normal daily experience of Torah and Mitzvos, and our service of “Know Him in all your ways,” and, “all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.” Also, the blessing of the month of Iyar in the month of Nissan contributes the power behind that service. Then, through the efforts of the children in “turning the hearts of the parents,” we will merit the coming of Eliyahu, the prophet who will herald the Messianic redemption.

4. An example of “Know Him in all your ways” can be taken from the game of soccer.

When a child has studied Torah and he wants to go out and play ball, he should not be criticized. Rather, we must “educate the child according to his way,” i.e. show him how he can play ball “for the sake of Heaven.” Recreation contributes to his health which will, in turn, give him a greater capacity to learn Torah. Playing ball is like taking a pill. When someone is sick, he must take pills to regain his health. Is taking a pill good? In this context, yes. Similarly, is playing ball good? Since it contributes to the study of Torah, yes. The purpose of a Jewish child’s life is to learn Torah and fulfill Mitzvos. Playing ball can also contribute toward this goal.14

Furthermore, the actual approach to the game provides a lesson. When a Jew plays ball with a non-Jew, the non-Jewish child seeks a personal victory. In contrast, the Jewish child seeks the victory of Yiddishkeit. He wears Tzitzis, eats Kosher, and prays before he plays ball. This makes him play better. If he wins, he thanks G‑d for his victory.

This lesson can help a child influence his parents. They also are faced with competition, for example, in business. An adult might think that rather than follow the prescribed pattern of, “from the synagogue, to the house of study, and then to business,” it might be more profitable to go directly to business and minimize the time spent in study and prayer. The child can teach him: “In my limited sphere — under Bar Mitzvah age — I know that the prayers and the Mitzvos will bring me closer to victory. If I left out a line in prayer, or if, in the midst of prayer, I thought about ball, I will not succeed. Just as my success is dependent on Torah and prayer, so also is yours.

Since ball is being mentioned at a farbrengen, there are probably those who are beginning to whisper among themselves: How can one speak about ball in a farbrengen? And particularly on Shabbos, when “it is forbidden to play ball.”

We can learn a lesson from ball. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Avodah Zora Ch. 3, Hal. 1, also note commentaries) tells us that an eagle carried Alexander the Great into the heavens. From there the world looked to him like a ball. Similarly, the Zohar comments “the entire world revolves in a circle like a ball.”15

In soccer the intent of the game is to propel the ball through a gate. Similarly, the ball, i.e., the world, has been given to every Jew with a similar intent. The Mishnah comments: “Each individual is obligated to say ‘For my sake the world was created’.” The world is given to each individual with the purpose that he bring it through the “gates of the King.” There are many obstacles and difficulties that must be overcome. In soccer, the members of the opposing team try to prevent the scoring of a goal. Furthermore, they try to put the ball through the goal, “the opening of Gehinnom.” We all have similar challenges in our lives: These challenges must arouse in us the attribute of victory, a quality which activates the essence of the soul.16 In soccer, the presence of the opposing team causes one to run and to jump — not to be content with slow, step by step, progression. Also, the game is won through the efforts of the feet, symbolic of deed and action, rather than the head. Surely the game must be played with thought. However, the most important aspect is deed and action. Similarly, in our services there are parallels to these concepts.

These remarks are not intended to take a person away from his studies and cause him to go out and play ball. That would be ridiculous. However, since there are children who, as of yet, do not fully appreciate the dearness of Torah and want to play ball, they should be able to do so “for the sake of Heaven.” By “educating a child according to his way,” i.e., taking something like soccer, which he enjoys, and showing him how it can be done “for the sake of Heaven,” we assure that “even when he grows older he will not depart from it.” (Furthermore, even those who have not played ball “for the sake of Heaven” can, as many in the past have become, G‑d fearing scholars and even Chassidim. This is accomplished through the service of Teshuvah.) By explaining to the child the lessons he can learn from playing ball, he will understand that the purpose of playing the game and the purpose of his entire life is to progress higher in the service of Torah and Mitzvos.

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5. The second Mishnah in the first chapter of Pirkei Avos reads: “Shimon the Righteous was one of the last of the Men of the Great Assembly. He used to say: The world stands on three things — on [the study of] Torah, the service [of G‑d], and deeds of kindness.” This statement raises a number of questions:

1) G‑d created the world with ten utterances. How can Shimon HaTzaddik hold that G‑d’s creative power cannot maintain the world, and that the services of Torah, Avodah, and deeds of kindness are required?17

2) The Torah was given 2,448 years after creation. How was the world maintained until then? Even according to the Medrashim that state that the forefathers fulfilled the Torah (and even Adam, the first man, fulfilled the Torah,) still, there was a certain amount of time (at least the six days before Adam was created) that the world would have had to exist without Torah.

3) Pirkei Avos is intended to teach behavior that is beyond the measure of the law. If these services are necessary for the very maintenance of the world, how can their fulfillment be considered “beyond the measure of the law?”

The answer to the above depends on one basic principle: Shimon HaTzaddik was not referring to the actual existence of the world. That is maintained by the ten utterances of creation. However, besides maintaining the existence of the world, there is a need for stability — for the world to stand without changes. This is accomplished through the three services mentioned by Shimon HaTzaddik. Each day of the week (and, similarly, each millennia of creation (note the Ramban’s commentary of the Torah, Bereishis) is governed by a different one of G‑d’s emotional qualities. The first thousand years by kindness — hence, G‑d’s influence and blessings were abundant; the second by severity — hence, the flood; the third by beauty — hence, the giving of the Torah. Every day, and similarly, every millennia, is in itself “good.” However, there is a change and fluctuation from day to day. In our personal worlds, as well, each emotional characteristic is self-contained; and hence the combination of a number of qualities can create dissonance and instability in a person.

Shimon HaTzaddik wanted to establish harmony and stability. Through these three services — Torah, Avodah, deeds of kindness — harmony can be established. Torah teaches us how to use each emotional quality in a manner which will not negate the existence of the others. Avodah — the service of prayer and of sacrifices-brings about the internalization of these qualities and deeds of kindness represents their actual expression. Then harmony can be established within each person and that harmony can be spread throughout the world.

The above relates to behavior beyond the measure of the law. According to the strict letter of the law a person need not harmonize his emotional characteristics. He can fluctuate from one quality to another. However, the best path — in the Rambam’s words “the straight path” — is to develop inner harmony. This will produce greater success in one’s dealings with others. Everyone would rather deal with a stable person instead of someone who is constantly shifting from one quality to another.18

This concept sheds light on the connection this Mishnah has to the time of Shimon HaTzaddik. He was one of the last men of the Great Assembly. An assembly implies a collection of different qualities in the world. While the Great Assembly functioned as a body, the lesson taught by Shimon HaTzaddik was unnecessary. It was emphasized by their behavior. However, after the body ceased to exist — one of the last men of the Great Assembly —, the teaching became necessary.

The above is related to the personal nature of Shimon HaTzaddik. The Talmud (Nedarim 9b) relates that never in his life did he partake of the offering of a ‘Nazir’ (one who had taken a vow not to drink wine for at least 30 days) who had become impure although he was the High Priest and was permitted to do so. When a Nazir becomes impure, all of the days he has observed of his vow are nullified and he must start counting the days anew. Shimon HaTzaddik tells us that since, generally, the Nazir would take his vow upon himself out of anger (either at himself or at wine), he would regret his vow if he was forced to keep it for an extended period of time. Therefore if the Nazir became impure he would consequently have to observe his vow for a longer period of time than he originally conceived, and he would no longer keep his vow with a full feeling. Since each of these phases, the anger and the regret over it, exceed the bounds of normalcy; Shimon HaTzaddik, who stressed the quality of harmony and stability, would not partake of such an offering.

Shimon HaTzaddik’s reward also stressed harmony and stability. He served as High Priest for 40 years. The Talmud (Yoma 39a) relates that during his tenure many of the revelations associated with the Temple continued in a stable, regular manner. “The lot (‘for the L‑rd’) would always come up in the right hand. ... And the crimson-colored strap (which was tied between the horns of the bullock sent to Azazel) would become white... The westernmost light (a sign that the Shechinah rested over Israel) was shining... Also the fire of the pile of wood kept burning strong, so that the priests would not have to bring to the pile any other wood besides the two logs.... A blessing was bestowed upon the ‘Omer,’ the two breads, and the showbread...” After his tenure that stability ceased. At times there was a revelation and at times there wasn’t.