1. Shabbos Mevorchim Iyar joins the months of Nissan and Iyar together. There is an intrinsic connection between these two months. Each centers on a festival. Nissan contains the holiday of Pesach; and Iyar, the festival of Pesach Sheni.1 The two holidays indicate that there is a relation between the two months.2

Nissan and Iyar commemorate two stages in the Jews’ early history: Nissan was a month of miracles (in fact, the Hebrew word for miracle, “Nais,” shares the same Hebrew letters as “Nissan”). During that month, the Jews were redeemed from Egypt. Iyar was the first whole month which the Jewish people lived as free men. They were guided by G‑d through the desert and He supplied them with all their needs.

These two stages can be compared to the two basic components of Torah service described in the words of Psalms as “Turn away from evil, and do good.” The Torah also recognizes these two movements, when it classifies its commandments in two categories: positive and negative.

These two services relate to basic questions facing our Torah observance. A look at the world around us provokes the question “How can we make sure to ‘turn away from evil’ completely, even in thought?” The world covers and hides its G‑dly nature. Furthermore, that veil of darkness is powerful and difficult to penetrate.3 Torah service must be constant, in every place, at every time. How can we carry out such a service?4

The question is answered by the month of Nissan. Egypt represented the greatest challenge to Torah, the lowest and most decadent society of that age. The Jews had lived there for over two hundred years, and had become part of Egyptian society in its time. Furthermore, the Jews were slaves and under the direct control and influence of the Egyptians. Nevertheless, they were able to leave Egypt, to break away from their slavery. The month of Nissan communicates this lesson to each Jew in every age. It teaches him that even when an objective view of his situation does not present an encouraging picture — when he sees no chance or possibility for complete Jewish expression — he must realize that his nature is not bound by any limits. He has the potential to bring about miracles. This is the lesson of the Exodus from Egypt. Because of its general relevance, we are commanded to recall it each day.

Furthermore, the Jew’s potential to rise above the limitations of nature is not a one-time event. It has to do with his everyday approach to life. In business, for example, the world around him maintains that the only way to be successful is to work seven days a week. A Jew on the other hand, can achieve success only by resting and not working on the seventh day.

In the other direction — the service of “do good,” — the month of Iyar contributes a valuable lesson. In certain ways, doing good is a more difficult service than “turning away from bad.” When “turning away,” one merely has to stand up to temptations and not to remake anything. Doing good means taking something from the world — the “gold and silver from Egypt,” — and using it to perform a Mitzvah.5 This is the thrust of Iyar’s lesson.6

In Iyar, we find the Jewish people in a desert, a desolate land filled with “snakes and scorpions.” They took no provisions with them from Egypt. All their needs were met by the desert itself.7 There, they carried out G‑d’s mission of elevating the world. (This concept relates to the Hebrew name for the month of Iyar, “Ziv,” which means “ray.” The Jew’s service of refinement produces “rays” of light.8 )

The fact that Nissan precedes Iyar, is significant. Even though the entire purpose of the redemption was to bring about change in the world — (the result of the service of “doing good”) — the service of “turning away from evil” is necessary as a prerequisite. An example given by the Previous Rebbe illustrates this point. “What happens,” he asked, “if you place good food in a dirty container? Not only does its taste diminish, but it becomes spoiled entirely.”

The lesson of the months must be combined together9 and continue to effect us throughout the entire year to come. Then we will have a year of miracles including the ultimate miracle, the complete and total redemption.

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2. The above concepts apply every year. However, according to the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that we can learn a lesson in the service of G‑d from everything we see or hear, it is necessary to search for a particular point of instruction connected with this year. That instruction is related to the Torah portion of the week10 Parshas Shemini. (The importance of the Torah portion is also emphasized by the Alter Rebbe’s adage “we must live with the times”.)

The main events of Parshas Shemini are the completion of the Sanctuary and the revelation of the Shechinah therein. This revelation was perceived not only by Moshe, Aharon, and the elders, but by the entire Jewish people. They all witnessed the revelation of G‑dliness; they all saw it with their own eyes.

The revelation of G‑dliness in the Sanctuary had a broad effect. It gave the potential for each of us11 to make his own home a miniature sanctuary. Furthermore, our service possesses advantages over theirs. It took the Jews in the days of the Sanctuary eight days of preparation to bring about the revelation of the Shechinah, while now we can draw down G‑dliness instantly12 at every moment. Each of us has the potential to make his house a sanctuary for G‑d, a place where G‑dliness can be perceived with our physical eyes.

That lesson must be connected to the lesson of Shabbos Mevorchim Iyar — the fusion of Nissan and Iyar — the combination of the services “turn away from evil, and do good.” On the contrary the Jews must leave Egypt by transcending all confining influences. Furthermore, this perspective must feel natural to him. It must become part of his everyday behavior in a manner similar to the sage, who according to the Talmud, would bow at “Modim” as a reflex action. Torah had been integrated into his natural set of reactions. He didn’t have to think about it.13 Likewise, we have the potential to internalize the freedom of Nissan into our behavior.

We all have the potential to build a sanctuary, an eternal resting place for G‑d’s presence. Furthermore, G‑d Himself, is observing our efforts and helping us in the task. All that is necessary is for us to make a firm decision to relive the events of Shemini — and then G‑d’s presence will be revealed with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days.

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3. The ninth Mishnah of the first chapter of Pirkei Avos reads: “Shimon ben Shattach said: ‘Examine the witnesses thoroughly, but be cautious with your words, lest through them they will learn to tell lies’.”

On a surface level, the Mishnah warns a judge not to accept the testimony of a witness immediately, but rather to probe deeper and “examine the witnesses thoroughly.” However, in this process interrogation, it is necessary for the judge to “be careful with his words,” because his line of questioning may tip off the witnesses and bring them to tell lies.

According to this interpretation, this Mishnah’s message is restricted only to judges (and not even to all judges, only those who preside over Bais Din, a very exclusive category, as is obvious from the statements of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch). However, the two principles: 1) the tractate Avos was written to instruct one who wanted to learn how to live piously; and 2) the concept that its study between Pesach and Shavuos was intended to prepare us for the acceptance of the Torah14 imply that the entire tractate is relevant to each of us in our service of G‑d.

The Talmud explains that the testimony of witnesses can apply to our personal lives as well. It states “the walls of one’s house testify about him.” By looking at the books on the shelves, the pictures on the wall, and the absence or presence of Mezuzahs, we can get some idea of who we’re talking to.

In a different sense, our eyes and ears are considered witnesses because they perceived the revelation at Mt. Sinai.15 Just as in Torah law, two witnesses are necessary, in the individual person, both senses — sight and hearing — are important. Each one contributes qualities lacking in the other. Also, our eyes and ears observe our daily behavior. If we ask our witnesses a lot of questions — that is, constantly confront our powers of perception with the question “Am I following Torah?” — we will be able to carry out G‑d’s will. At each doubt, if we look into Torah (a body of unchanging truth) and honestly evaluate our own feelings, we will arrive at a Torah decision.

This applies to a person who is not bribed by self-interest. However, if someone is motivated by self-love and particularly if he has sinned a number of times (in which case, sinning will have become second nature to him and have effected his entire perspective) then we must “be careful with our question.” The witnesses (our own eyes and ears) may lie. We may rationalize our behavior by any means possible.

Each man is given his own particular set of challenges to overcome. In some cases the obstacles are not difficult. In others, we might question ourselves (or understand that others may question) our ability to stand the test. In the latter case, by asking the witnesses many questions — constantly involving ourselves in self-examination — we will be able to overcome the difficulties.

This concept expressed by the Mishnah is closely related to the nature of its author Rabbi Shimon ben Shattach.16 The Talmud relates how he was forced to preside over a Sanhedrin in which all seventy of its members were non-believers (Sadducees). Instead of giving up, he began the slow task of teaching them one by one until he was able to change each one of their beliefs. Rather than give up, he accepted the challenge (and his service of self-confrontation — always questioning his own witnesses; gave him the personal strength and fortitude to bring about a true Torah court.

This concept can be further understood through analysis of his name (in accord with the Kabbalistic principle that a name is a “small prophecy” describing the life force of an individual). The name “Shimon” refers to the sense of hearing — “the ear that heard on Mt. Sinai” and “Shattach” means broad expanses. “Shimon ben Shattach” then, means the ability to express the lessons of Mt. Sinai over the entire expanse of personal experience.17

4. Trans. note: Within the context of the previous Sicha, the Rebbe spoke at length about those who “interpret the Torah in a manner contradictory to Halachah.” He explained the last phrase at great length noting that its Hebrew original “M’galah Panim b’Torah” means “reveal the face of Torah.” “Just as a person has a face,” he explained “which reveals his feelings and character, Torah has a face, as aspect, that reveals its true nature. Not everyone relates to Torah at this level. Much study and effort is necessary. Therefore, he who “interprets the Torah, etc.” — is not a simple person.”

[Parenthetically, the Rebbe recalled a story told by the Previous Rebbe about someone who called himself an ‘Apikoras.’ “You might be unlearned” answered the Previous Rebbe, “but you are not an Apikoras. An Apikoras is someone who knows his master and rebels against him. From ‘snapping seeds’ (a Russian expression for wasting time), one doesn’t become an Apikoras.”]

Yet, because one is bribed by self-love,18 he goes against Torah. He lacks the will-power to correct his behavior. He is afraid to publicly admit that he made a mistake. Therefore, he takes his Torah knowledge and uses it to justify his own weakness of character.

The Rebbe then explained how this weakness is manifested not only individually but must be “justified” by the opinion of committees. And who is chosen for these committees — doctors, psychologists, sport players,19 people who have studied in every type of educational environment except one that teaches how “we must put on Tefillin every day and eat Kosher every day.” These are the people selected to decide on what is correct Halachah.20 The Rebbe also added the Tzedakah monies, funds that could go to support necessary projects in Jewish education, are used to pay for this project.

What are the results of their decision? — That they will drive to shul on Shabbos! They’ll tell their followers to transgress several open Torah commandments! Why, for what purpose? To pray out of Siddurim in which the entire order of prayers has been changed, or to hear a Rabbi’s sermon that centers on a best-Seller.

At this point, the Rebbe attacked those Rabbis who base their sermons on non-Jewish sources rather than on Torah ones. “If you don’t consider Torah of primary importance” he demanded, “give it at least secondary importance. Don’t quote secular sources. Show that the same concepts are present in Torah.”

He also noted a unique difference between Torah and other realms of knowledge. “A doctor may be very knowledgeable but practice poor health habits himself. An architect may be an expert in his field, yet construct his own home improperly. Such a dichotomy cannot exist in Torah. The only way to reach full success in Torah study is to practice Torah and observe all of its laws.”