1. The Shabbos Mevorchim of every month occurs in the preceding month. For example, in the present case Shabbos Mevorchim comes out in the month of Sivan. However, according to the Baal Shem Tov’s axiom that everything that we see or hear must serve as a lesson in the service of G‑d,1 it is necessary to derive a point of instruction from that relationship as well.

That lesson must also be related to (the destruction of the Temple and) the Galus. The custom of Shabbos Mevorchim was instituted only after the Temple’s destruction when the fixed calendar for the Jewish year had been adopted. Until then, the calendar was decided by the testimony of witnesses2 hence, it was impossible to determine the day of Rosh Chodesh, and therefore to bless the month on the preceding Shabbos.

The commentary of the Maggid of Mezritch on the saying of

the Mishnah “Da ma lema’aleh mimach” — “Know what is above you” — provides a basis for deriving this lesson. The Maggid explained that the Hebrew words “lema’aleh mimach” — generally translated together as one phrase meaning “above you” — if translated separately mean “above-from you.” He taught that everything in this world — which is controlled “above” i.e. by G‑d — is “from you.” G‑d has made His decision making process (with regard to this World) dependent on the Jews’ service of Torah and Mitzvos.

[On the surface the fixation of the monthly calendar was brought about by Rav Hillel and is not dependent on our service. (On the contrary, any deviation from this system would be considered a transgression of a Biblical command). Nevertheless, the renewal of the strength of each Rosh Chodesh, and its relation to our lives on a personal level is dependent on our own service.3 ]

The strength to approach Rosh Chodesh from the proper perspective is derived from Shabbos Mevorchim,4 when we bless the upcoming month. Shabbos is a day of spiritual pleasure and its blessings are infused with those powers. The blessings are given even greater strength through their public recitation when “many people enhance the glory of the King.” These blessings add to the celebration of Rosh Chodesh and contribute to the service of the entire month.5

The above lesson applies to every Shabbos Mevorchim. In particular the present case, Shabbos Mevorchim Tammuz provides a unique lesson of its own. Shabbos Mevorchim Tammuz falls in the month of Sivan, the month described by the Torah as “the third month.” The Midrash elaborates on this concept explaining how in the third month G‑d gave the Jews, a three-fold people (containing Kohanim, Levi’im, and Israelites) a three-fold Torah (the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings).6 This quality strengthens all the above mentioned blessings. It is also reinforced by the occurrence of the second day of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz on Tuesday, the third day of the week. In the biblical narrative of creation, on that (the third) day, the Torah repeated the expression “and G‑d saw that it was good.” Our Sages explain that the good was two-fold, good to Heaven and good to the creations.7 May we in the coming month realize the ultimate good, the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.

2. The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle. The Midrash notes an intrinsic connection between them, commenting that the moon is the smaller luminary just as the Jews are the smallest among the peoples and David, their King, was the smallest among his brothers. The phases that the moon goes through parallel stages in the Jew’s process of spiritual growth. Even the waning of the moon, at which time its power is seemingly being decreased, is itself a step in the growth process. The moon has two aspects: a revealed side that shines forth to the Earth and a hidden side whose light is not revealed. However, both sides of the moon are important and both produce different effects here on Earth. When the revealed portion of the moon is waning, its hidden dimension is increasing in size. This growth is also important. The total growth process must include both aspects. Likewise, in our service to G‑d which is connected with “illuminating the world and those who dwell upon it,” creating an “abode for G‑d in the lower realms” there are two aspects. There are certain things which are accomplished in a revealed manner and others which are accomplished in a hidden, indirect manner. Both aspects are important in our service of G‑d and spiritual growth.

In light of the above, it follows we can learn important lessons from the different phases of the Jewish calendar. This particularly applies to the day Shabbos Mevorchim occurs and the Torah portion of the week. This week, a unique connection between the two exists. The portion read this Shabbos was Parshas Shelach, the portion that describes the mission of the spies, and the date of the Shabbos Mevorchim Farbrengen (Motzaei Shabbos) is the 29th of Sivan, the day Moshe sent out the spies.

A basic question arises.8 Even though sending the spies was not a direct command of G‑d, but rather a matter left to the discretion of Moshe, nevertheless Moshe was a “faithful shepherd,” “Moshe is true and his Torah is true.” Why did Moshe make such a decision?9

The aim of sending out the spies is expressed in the Torah. The spies were sent out ‘LaTour es Ha’aretz’ literally meaning to survey the land. However, the word LaTour is etymologically related to the word ‘Yitur’ — to make an addition. The purpose of the spies’ mission was to add light to the land of Israel.10

There are two reasons for sending the spies: 1) to find out the most practical means of conquering Israel 2) to show the Jewish people that Israel was a good land. Even though they were given G‑d’s promise that it was a good land, it was necessary that they see and appreciate these factors with their own eyes.

Why was it necessary for them to see with their own eyes? Because “a man prefers to have one ‘kab’ (measure) of his own to nine ‘kab’ of his friends.” This is a basic element of human nature. It is not necessarily a selfish quality. In our service to G‑d, we don’t have to fight this tendency, only to make sure that we direct it in a Torah manner and not for our personal needs.

This concept is related to the descent of the soul into the body. That descent is for the purpose of ascent; i.e. that through the service of Torah and Mitzvos in this world the soul is elevated to a higher spiritual level. Why didn’t G‑d elevate the soul directly? Why must the ascent come through a descent? Because without the descent the elevation would be incomplete. The ascent is only complete when it comes through the soul’s own efforts — i.e. its service of Torah and Mitzvos. — and is “his own” not “of his friends.”11

Since the purpose of the spies’ mission was to emphasize the importance of man’s efforts, the command to send them was left to Moshe’s discretion and not ordered as a Mitzvah. When a Jew follows G‑d’s command, even when he does so with Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice) he is still a receiver. However, through initiating his own activities, for example actions in the realm of “Make yourself holy in what is permitted to you.” — and “May all your deeds be for the sake of heaven” — and “Know G‑d in all your ways,” his service is on the elevated level of “one measure of his own.”

The same concept is expressed in “pious behavior” — actions which go beyond the measure of the law. It is possible for a Jew to be observant, to fulfill Torah and Mitzvos to the letter, but never consider going beyond the measure of the law. The lesson that we have from Pirkei Avos and from the spies is that such actions as “going beyond the measure of law” are of utmost importance. Through such actions, we become partners to G‑d in the work of creation. Therefore, G‑d “yearns for the work of your hands.”

3. A further question arises concerning the story of the spies. In the book of Deuteronomy when Moshe recalls the episode of the spies, he explains that they returned proclaiming “the land is very good.” However, on the surface, only Caleb and Yehoshua gave such a report. The other spies protested against entering Israel.

When the spies returned from Eretz Yisroel only Caleb and Yehoshua said “the land is very good.” However, when Moshe Rabbeinu related the story of the spies after forty years of wandering in the desert their sin had been expiated and its “bitterness transformed into sweetness.” At that time it was written in Torah (as a lesson for all coming generations) the “sum total” of the whole story of the spies — that in Caleb and Yehoshua we find the total service of the spies. And they say that “the land is very good.”12

A similar concept is expressed in this week’s portion. Directly after the episode of the spies, G‑d swore He would keep the Jewish people wandering in the desert for 40 years. However, immediately thereafter He commanded Moshe — “Speak to the children of Israel — tell them ‘When you will come into the land of your habitations’...” (and as Rashi explains) G‑d announced that they would enter the Land (of Israel).

Why did G‑d tell them about entering Israel at this time? Why directly after punishing the Jewish people did He announce their entry into Israel? Because directly after the decree the sin of the spies was rectified and G‑d said “I have pardoned (the Jewish people) according to your word.” “A lack of time is not a lack of deed” hence G‑d said immediately that the Jews would enter the Land of Israel [although they didn’t enter until 40 years later] (for “the word of G‑d is considered a deed”).

4. The entire story of the spies provides a lesson for us in our service to G‑d. Our souls have descended to a “low pit” — the physical realm — , a land that “eats up its inhabitants.”

Though we find ourselves in a land of plenty, a land where it’s possible to think that the prevailing morality, the custom of the land, the dollar and the entire culture it brings about is of utmost importance. This culture consumes its inhabitants. Instead of man controlling the land, the land controls him. Rather than transforming the land and making it a dwelling place for G‑d, the culture of the land dominates him.

When confronted with such a situation a Jew might ask — ”Why take on such a challenge? Why not sit closeted in an environment of Torah and Mitzvos? Why shouldn’t he stay in the land of Israel, a land ‘that desires13 to fulfill his masters will’? Why should, he enter a land whose inhabitants are men of stature — a land where everything is big, a country that is a super-power?”14

However, there is nothing to fear. A non Jew can never affect a Jew’s service of Torah and Mitzvos. Whatever the customs of the surrounding community, a Jew can and must study Torah, fulfill Mitzvos, and educate his children without any restrictions. The episode of the spies teaches how a Jew cannot lock himself up in the world of Torah but must take and bring it into contact with the world. Even when we are faced with an environment that challenges and conflicts with Torah we must obtain our observance.

What gives a Jew the strength to carry out this mission? He is like Yehoshua about whom it is written “G‑d save you from the counsel of the spies,” and Caleb who “went and prostrated himself (in prayer) upon the burial places of the patriarchs.” Every Jew has G‑d’s help, the merit of our forefathers and the guidance of the teachers of Israel. (Eels Din are referred to as the “fathers of Israel.”)

This enables us, to transform the Yetzer Hora (evil inclination)15 and reach the level of “love G‑d with both your hearts” — both the Yetzer Hora and the Yetzer Tov (good inclination). For in truth, the Yetzer Hora itself wants good, it desires that it be conquered. However, it was charged with a task, to give man a test and a choice so that he may develop a relationship with G‑d based on his own efforts.

This concept is particularly applicable in a generous country, a place where Jews are not persecuted (in fact, the government aids and assists their Jewish expression.) In these countries special efforts must be made to educate ourselves and our children and impress upon them the necessity of being holy in all our affairs. We must be sure that our hero models are Avraham, Yitzchok and Ya’akov and not those of the surrounding peoples.

This is the lesson for the month of Tammuz. We must realize that we have been sent out on a mission at our own discretion. We must work to lift our discretion to the point where it equals that of Moshe’s. Then we will “inherit the portion of the spies” — make from the land of Canaan, the land of Israel — an eternal inheritance for the eternal nation.