Parshas Shekalim1

הפטורה: וַיִכְרוֹת יְהוֹיָדַע גו' וּמוֹסִיפִים פָּסוּק רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן שֶׁל הַפְטוֹרַת מָחָר חֹדֶשׁ. מְבָרְכִים רֹאשׁ חֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר שֵׁנִי. אֲמִירַת כָּל הַתְּהִלִּים בְּהַשְׁכָּמָה. יוֹם הִתְוַעֲדוּת.

The haftarah [for the Shabbos of Parshas Shekalim] begins Vayichros Yehoyada (II Melachim 11:17-12:17). At its conclusion, the maftir adds the first and last verses of the haftarah beginning Vayomer lo...machar chodesh2 (I Shmuel 20:18-42).

[On the Shabbos preceding Rosh Chodesh,] we bless the new month, Adar II. [It is our custom] to recite the entire Book of Tehillim early in the morning and to hold a farbrengen on that day.

בַּאֲמִירַת לְחַיִּים יֵשׁ שְׁתֵּי נוּסְחָאוֹת: א) לְחַיִּים טוֹבִים וּלְשָׁלוֹם, וְטַעַם הַבְּרָכָה — לִהְיוֹת כִּי בִּשְׁתִיַּת הַיַּיִן הַנִּזְכֶּרֶת בַּפַּעַם הָרִאשׁוֹנָה בַּתּוֹרָה הָיוּ תּוֹצָאוֹת לֹא טוֹבִים — וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ גו', וְעֵץ הַדַּעַת גֶּפֶן הָיָה, וְלָכֵן מְבָרְכִים שֶׁיַּיִן זֶה יִהְיֶה לְחַיִּים טוֹבִים.

בּ) הָרַב הַמַּגִּיד מִמּעֶזְרִיטְשׁ הָיָה עוֹנֶה לְחַיִּים וְלִבְרָכָה. פַּעַם בְּהִתְוַעֲדוּת שֶׁהָיָה נוֹכֵחַ רַבֵּנוּ הַזָּקֵן, עָנָה רַבֵּנוּ הַזָּקֵן: לְחַיִּים וְלִבְרָכָה. אַחֲרֵי הַהִתְוַעֲדוּת שׂוֹחֲחוּ הַחֲסִידִים בְּטַעַם נוּסַח זֶה, שֶׁשָּׁמְעֻהוּ אָז פַּעַם הָרִאשׁוֹנָה. אֶחָד הַחֲסִידִים אָמַר, אֲשֶׁר לִהְיוֹת כִּי נִכְנַס יַיִן יָצָא סוֹד, וּבַעֲבוֹדָה הוּא הִתְגַּלּוּת הַמִּדּוֹת, לָכֵן זְקוּקִים לִבְרָכָה. וְהַנּוּסַח הוּא “לְחַיִּים וְלִבְרָכָה" — אוֹתִיוֹת לֵב-רַכָּה. הַצֶּמַח צֶדֶק אָמַר עַל זֶה: דאָס קעֶן זאָגעֶן אַ חָסִיד, וואָס האָט געֶדאַוועֶנט אוּן געֶטאָן אִין עֲבוֹדָה דְרַייסִיג יאָהְר.

There are two common responses to the traditional toast of LeChayim (lit., “To life!”):

(a) LeChayim tovim u’leshalom (“For a good life and for peace”). The explanation for this blessing is that the Torah’s first mention of drinking wine — “And Noach began….”3 — involved negative consequences.4 [Similarly, according to one view,]5 the Tree of Knowledge [which was the subject of Adam’s sin6 ] was a grapevine. Hence, [when a person drinks,] we bless him that this wine should lead to a good life.

(b) The Maggid of Mezritch would respond LeChayim veliverachah (“For life and for blessing”). Once, at a farbrengen attended by the Alter Rebbe, [a chassid said LeChayim, and] the Alter Rebbe responded LeChayim veliverachah. After the farbrengen, the chassidim discussed the possible reasons for this version, which they had just heard for the first time.

One of the chassidim commented that since “when wine enters, secrets emerge”7 — which in terms of one’s labors of self-refinement signifies the revelation of one’s spiritual emotions8 — one stands in need of a blessing [that this endeavor should succeed]. Moreover, [that chassid continued,] the wording of the blessing is “for life and for blessing” — LeChayim veliverachah, because in the Holy Tongue, the word liverachah (לברכה) shares the same letters as lev rakah (לב רכה), and this spelling suggests9 “a heart that is soft.” [I.e., chassidim wish each other life, and a heart that is sensitive and responsive to spiritual stimuli.]

The Tzemach Tzedek commented on this: “Such words could come only from a chassid who had davened [as a Chabad chassid should] and toiled in avodah10 for thirty years.”11

Peering Over the Horizon

A soft heart is one that is responsive to the intellect and to the stirrings of the soul. We often understand something intellectually, but it does not necessarily affect our emotions, let alone our conduct.

In the era of Mashiach, we will be sensitized anew. Indeed, in one of the prophecies describing that era, a Divine promise is made concerning the returning exiles: “I shall remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.”12 At that time our spirituality will not merely be in our heads, for our hearts will respond sensitively to all that we understand.