1. Shortly before this farbrengen, we davened Ma’ariv and counted Sefiras HaOmer. At that time, we mentioned that tonight’s Sefirah is connected to “Tiferes sh’eb’Tiferes,”1 the day that commemorates the birthday of the Rebbe Maharash. In his Sichos, the Previous Rebbe explained the significance of a birthday. On that day. a person’s “Mazel (Trans. note: spiritual source of influence) shines.”2 This concept surely applies in the case of the Rebbe Maharash, a Tzaddik and a leader of the entire Jewish people.

The Rebbe Maharash described his own service with the adage, “If faced with an obstacle, people generally try to crawl under. If that’s impossible, they try to climb over. My first impulse is to climb over.” In fact, the Maharash followed this pattern in every aspect of his behavior. He directed the Chassidic community in a “Baal Shemska”3 manner: i.e., in a manner transcending the natural order, revealing open miracles.

Since the Alter Rebbe writes in his Siddur4 that it is proper to have in mind the particular Sefirah of the day and “rectify the blemish I have caused in it,” it is obvious that each of us can relate to the service of the Rebbe Maharash. In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explains that after his death, the energy of a Tzaddik is drawn down to all of his followers.

In the Siddur, the Alter Rebbe writes that the counting of the Omer5 causes “The Merciful One (G‑d) to restore the Bais Hamikdosh, in its place, speedily in our days” and also causes “abundant bounty to be bestowed in all the worlds.”

May we witness the fulfillment of all these promises with the coming of Moshiach. Then we will count the Omer in Yerushalayim, in the third Bais Hamikdosh.6

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2. The day of Tiferes sh’b’Tiferes, the second of Iyar, is connected with the day preceding it, Rosh Chodesh Iyar. Rosh Chodesh Iyar is a significant date in Jewish history, since it marks the beginning of the census taken in the desert (and recorded in the beginning of the Book of Bamidbar7 ).

The Zohar writes that the month of Iyar is called the month of “Ziv” (ray), a month in which G‑dly energy shines in all matters. It is an appropriate time to begin the census of the Jewishpeople. Rashi writes that the census shows the dearness G‑d feels for the Jewish people. He compares them to stars8 which G‑d counts when He brings them in and takes them out.9

Furthermore, the importance of the census can be understood from the phraseology the Torah uses in expressing the command. It uses the term “lift up the heads of Israel,” implying that through the census, the heads, representing the most elevated powers of a Jew, can be raised to an even higher level.

At this point the question arises: Why does the census have such a great power? Counting does not produce anything new or different. It merely reveals the sum total of the energies and / or objects possessed. Why does the Torah consider it so important? Why does it name an entire book, the Book of Bamidbar, Numbers?

The same question can be asked about Sefiras HaOmer.10 As mentioned above, Sefirah brings about “abundant bounty” and also hastens the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh. Why? The day would pass whether we counted it or not. How can our counting have such powerful effects?

The answer to these questions can be understood in terms of a principle of Halachic law. Torah teaches us that if non-Kosher foods had been accidently mixed in with Kosher ones, the dish may be eaten if there is an overwhelming ratio of Kosher to non-Kosher (in most cases 60:1, in others 100:1). Then the non-Kosher food is considered “butel” (of negligible importance). However, an object that is normally counted (e.g. eggs) is considered important to the degree that it never becomes butel. From this example we see that counting endows an object with an everlasting importance and value.

This concept applies in a personal sense as well. We are confronted with a world that has many non-Torah influences. Sometimes it might appear that Kedushah — holiness — is “butel” in the face of such an environment. The census addresses itself to this feeling. It teaches a Jew that once he’s been counted (or regarding Sefirah, he has counted the day) the Kedushah will never be considered insignificant. On the contrary, it will always remain a power and eventually bring about “abundant bounty” from G‑d Himself.

This lesson gives us an added insight into the power of a Jew and the power of Torah. It shows how each Jew, with a slight activity — such as counting — can produce great effects. This lesson in turn, demonstrates how important it is to encourage each Jew to use the powers he has and to increase his observance of Torah and Mitzvos.

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3. “Tiferes” literally translates as beauty. Kabbalah teaches that it represents the fusion of opposites, e.g. the combination of Chesed (the quality of kindness) and Gevurah (the quality of severity). Through this combination, true beauty is revealed.

This concept can be explained further and understood in personal terms as well. Kabbalah explains that G‑d has many different attributes. Each attribute relates to a specific name of G‑d; e.g., Chesed relates to the name “E-l,” Gevurah to the name “Elo-him,” etc. However, this correlation applies only to the effects and revelations of that quality in the world. All of G‑d’s qualities and attributes in essence, as they are for themselves, relate to G‑d’s name — “Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay,” — that describes His true infinite nature. The unique aspect of the attribute of Tiferes is that even its expression in the world — its revealed state — is connected with “Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay,” total infinity.

The same concept applies to the service of each Jew. We all possess an unlimited, infinite soul, that is “truly a part of G‑d.” Yet, in our day to day service, we use and express particular, limited qualities. The unique aspect of our quality of Tiferes is that within the realm of our revealed qualities, the infinite essence of the G‑dly soul can be expressed. Our unlimited G‑dly nature, can pervade and permeate our entire personality.11

This same principle applies not only with regard to the revealed qualities of the soul but to the body and to the surrounding environment as well. Often they will be regarded as opposite, and even contradictory in nature to the soul. However, from the standpoint of Tiferes, the body is considered holy and one’s surroundings, a place to express G‑dliness. This perspective brings us to fuller, more complete service of G‑d and paves the way for the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.

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4. The farbrengen coincides with the Melave Malkah Seudah, the time when each Jew accompanies and shares the presence of12 the King and Queen. This is the influence with which the Jew begins his week of work. This influence helps him concentrate on his true task, the service of G‑d through Torah and Mitzvos. Then, the Shabbos atmosphere is drawn down into the entire week. In the physical sphere, the Jew feels that “all his work is accomplished” and no obstacles stand in front of him. This perspective allows him to focus his major energies on Torah and Mitzvos. Then G‑d gives him full blessings in all his affairs.

This point is illustrated by a story of the Baal Shem Tov. Once when the Baal Shem Tov needed a large sum of money, he went to the house of a rich man, knocked on the window and walked away. The rich man ran out, caught up with the Besht, and gave him the money he needed. Afterwards, the Besht’s students confronted him: “If you wanted something from that man,” they asked, “why didn’t you wait to speak to him? If you didn’t want anything from him — why did you knock on his window?”

The Besht answered (according to Chassidus): Torah teaches G‑d will bless you in all your deeds. A Jew must realize that G‑d is the source of all his blessings, even the material ones. However, he must appreciate the need for his activity. G‑d’s blessings come “in your deeds,” and the knocking on the window was also a deed.

Chassidic thought explains that wealth comes from G‑d’s blessings. However, that blessing needs a “garment” of physical activity in order for it to be brought down from the spiritual realms to the physical. The metaphor used, “garment,” was carefully chosen. A garment is useful only if it is cut to size. If it is too small or too large, it detracts and sometimes entirely cancels out its usefulness. If we really desire so, we can follow the Besht’s example. “Knocking on a window” will be enough. We will be able to secure an income with little physical effort, and devote the larger portion of the day to Torah and Mitzvos.

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5. The third Mishnah of the second Perek of Pirkei Avos reads: “Be wary of those in power,13 for they befriend a person only for their own benefit. When it is to their advantage, they seem to be friends, but they do not stand by a man in hour of need.”

This Mishnah raises a number of obvious questions: What
relevance does it have to the entire realm of Torah and Mitzvos? Why should the Mishnah, particularly, a Mishnah in Avos (the tractate dedicated to teaching pious behavior and preparing us for the acceptance of the Torah) teach us this concept?14

Some commentaries try to answer these questions by explaining that this Mishnah is related to the preceding one that deals with those who “Occupy themselves with the affairs of the community.” Many of these individuals are forced to come in contact with the ruling authorities. Therefore, it is imperative for them to know that “they befriend a person only for their own benefit, etc.” However, this explanation is unacceptable because: 1) Not everyone is involved in communal affairs and not everyone who is involved in communal affairs must deal with the government. A proper explanation for this Mishnah must relate to everyone, not just to a restricted minority. 2) The order of the Mishnayos of Pirkei Avos was not structured in this manner. A connection does not always exist between two successive Mishnayos.

To appreciate the relevance of this Mishnah, we must understand it in personal terms. In all of our lives, there are ruling authorities. The Talmud writes that three powers control our lives: the brain (which controls the intellectual realm); the heart (the realm of feeling), and the liver (the realm of natural desires). A full life is made up of a balanced use of all three. Generally, intelligence must govern our approach. But the coldness of intellect,15 forces us to look to the heart to contribute life and vitality.16 The liver, also, plays a necessary role in helping us carry out the normal life procession.

The Mishnah teaches us” “Be wary of the ruling powers.” Of course, it is necessary to use them, but be careful how you use them. This lesson applies to Jews on both extremes of the spectrum: the Jew who has elevated and refined his nature to the point where he wants to follow Torah (a classic example is the Rebbe Rashab who had trained his body to follow Torah as a reflex action) and also a Jew who is still given over to the whims of his animal desires. In both cases, ruling authorities appear to be their friends, but in fact this friendship is “only for their own benefit.” The individual who cannot control his desires must be brought to realize that these desires may seem his friends, but that is only on the surface, “for their own good.” He must learn to appreciate that his true good is a life of Torah and Mitzvos.

Likewise, even someone whose tendency (either by nature or because of his own efforts) is to follow Torah must “be wary of the ruling authorities.” Superficially, it would seem better for him to forget about them entirely. After all, his intellect, feelings, and desires, don’t stand in the way of his Torah service. Why should he bother with them? In fact, straight Torah law would probably support him. However, Pirkei Avos teaches pious behavior, dedication beyond the limits of law. From that perspective, it is necessary to deal with the fueling powers, the body and one’s Yetzer Hora, and elevate and refine them to the point where they, too, feel a love for G‑d.17

From a deeper perspective, the term ruling authorities can even be interpreted as a reference to the controlling influence of the Yetzer Tov. The Yetzer Tov is also limited, bound by the constraints of creation. The Jew’s true nature is Mesirus Nefesh, total self-sacrifice, devotion to G‑d beyond the limits of nature. Therefore, he must regard the Yetzer Tov as a friend, but be careful of him, realizing that he has limited desires in that he still focuses on the self. He defines self in a holy manner, but still remains within his own limitations. Instead of wanting physical things, he desires the rewards promised him in the world to come. This service is still restricted to the confines of the self, and does not approach Mesirus Nefesh, the true goal of a Jew.18

A story of the Besht illustrates this difference in perspective. Once the Besht promised a man a son, even though by nature he was to have been childless. Based on the principle “a Tzaddik decrees and G‑d fulfills,” the Besht’s brocha came to fruition. However, since carrying out his promise had caused the natural order to be disturbed, the heavenly court punished the Besht by taking away his share in the World to Come. When he was informed of this decree, the Besht became happy. “At last,” he proclaimed “I can serve G‑d without any thought of reward.”

The same concept is expressed by a story of Rav Yosef Karo. Once he was informed from Heaven that he had merited to be burnt on the stake “Al Kiddush Hashem” (for the sanctification of G‑d’s name). After a considerable time had passed and the promise had not been fulfilled, it was explained to Rav Yosef that his behavior had not been constant and he had lost his privilege. Only afterwards, did Rav Yosef write his great classic the Shulchan Aruch. Though authorship of that text must be considered a great merit, Mesirus Nefesh is nevertheless to be considered a higher service.

A Jewmust express both types of service in his life. He must find out who he is and carry out a service appropriate to his particular nature and also realize that if necessary, he must rise above that nature and express Mesirus Nefesh.19

Particularly now, in the time of “Ikvas HaMoshiach” (the period directly before Moshiach’s coming), there is a tremendous need for Mesirus Nefesh. So many obstacles stand in the way of complete observance that the only way to overcome them is with Mesirus Nefesh.20

Emphasis on this quality is a proper preparation for the holiday of Shavuos. At Mattan Torah, the Jew’s promised “Na’aseh V’Nishmah” — “we will do and we will listen” (implying a commitment to do before hearing what the prescribed deeds will be). The Talmud calls this reply “wildness” but explains that precisely this wildness leads to full acceptance of the Torah.