The 20th of Av is the yartzeit of my father, (Harav Levi Yitzchok). Everything, including the significance of this day, is hinted to in the Torah. The 20th of Av is mentioned in the Mishnah in Ta'anis, as the day in which the children of Pachas Moav Ben Yehudah would donate wood to the Bais Hamikdosh for the sacrifices.
Wood was an integral part of the Bais Hamikdosh, not merely an accessory. The central purpose of the Bais Hamikdosh was, as the Rambam rules, to enable the offering of sacrifices. It was impossible to bring sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdosh without wood (although before it was built, they could be offered even without any wood).
In the Gemara, two opinions are presented as to the ancestry of this family. One opinion traces them to King Dovid, and the other to King Dovid's general, Yoav. By examining the difference between them, we can derive a lesson in how to better serve G-d.
King Dovid was unique in his intense and complete devotion to Torah study. He is well known for prayer as well -- especially for his composing the Book of Psalms. However, even this book of prayer is included among the 24 Books of the Written Torah.
Yoav was, as we mentioned, a general, whose function is to conquer and control the world around him. On a personal level, as applied to every Jew, this refers to purifying the world around us; elevating the sparks of holiness within it and making it a dwelling place for G-d.
In short, the service corresponding to King Dovid is that of self-improvement through Torah and prayer, while that of Yoav is to purify the world around us through doing mitzvos and spreading them to those around us.
We find that my father exerted himself in both these areas, even to the extent of literal self-sacrifice, as this was the cause of his exile and subsequent passing. Every year, on a yartzeit, the soul of the deceased undergoes an additional spiritual elevation. Therefore, when a yartzeit comes along, we must also add on, in both the areas mentioned above, working on ourselves and working with the world around us.
This gathering is given a special quality by the participation of the children who are returning from their summer in Camp Gan Yisroel. Since we are dealing with small children, who are unable to remain for too long a time, we shall give them precedence by discussing them now.
The purpose of this camp is to provide an atmosphere of Torah and mitzvos throughout the summer months. Part of the necessity for this arises from the attitude of the yeshivos to the summer. Some of them cut down the hours of learning; others close completely, G-d forbid!
Therefore it was necessary to create a kosher atmosphere for the summer months. The result of this is that in the summer, the children have an even better environment than they do the rest of the year:
During the year, the children are guaranteed to have a holy environment only during school hours. Afterwards, however, they go onto the streets, where there are numerous negative influences. Even as far as the home is concerned, not every home has the same degree of holiness as the Yeshivah!
In Camp Gan Yisroel, however, the children are in a holy environment, far from undesirable influences, for the entire summer. The impact on the child lasts for the entire year.
Since everything in the world, including the name of this camp, is by Divine Providence, we can derive a lesson from the three words of its name.
"Camp" (machaneh): This word is found in the Chumash in the phrase, "According to G-d's word they encamped." The Gemara explains that the word "encamped" implies a type of permanence, although it might last only a short time. This permanence stems from the fact that the encampment was done "according to G-d's word." Similarly the summer camp experience; although it lasts only a short time, it has a lasting effect, since it is run "according to G-d's word," i.e. in the true spirit of Torah and mitzvos.
"Gan" ("garden"): The function of a garden is not merely to provide a haven, but rather to be a source of pleasure and enjoyment. This concept is stressed in the phrase Bosi L'Gani; that G-d desired that the world be a place of enjoyment, in addition to being a "mere" dwelling place for G-dliness.
The camp, as a source of pleasure for G-d, serves as a microcosm for the entire universe, which is also meant to be a "garden," i.e. a place of enjoyment. This idea also finds expression in the children themselves, who learn to fulfill Torah and mitzvos with a feeling of pleasure, which in turn causes G-d pleasure.
"Yisroel": This stresses the connection of the Jewish people to Torah, since the word forms the acronym, "yesh shishim ribo osiyos l'Torah ("The Torah has 600,000 letters").
The last two words are connected, since the words of Torah are, as Scripture puts it, "ways of pleasure," similar to the idea of Gan. Conversely, the word gan alludes to the Torah, since the Torah consists fo 53 portions, 53 being the numerical value of the word, gan.
It is fitting that the children lead us in a song, with the liveliness and "storm" characteristic of the young. All those present should join in, and thereby be caught up in their spirit.
We can also derive a lesson from the weekly Torah portion, both from the portion as a whole and from the particular section which applies to this day.
The parshah begins with the word, Eikev: "Because you listen to these laws, safeguarding and keeping them, then G-d your L-rd will guard the covenant and love with which He made an oath to your fathers."
This word "because" is difficult to understand, for it implies that Torah and mitzvos are secondary to something else, namely G-d preserving His covenant. How can it be said that Torah and mitzvos, which are the will and wisdom of G-d, are secondary to something else?
The explanation of this can be found in another verse (Devarim 6:24), which states, "G-d commanded us to keep all these mitzvos, in order that we shall fear G-d." The verse states clearly that Torah and mitzvos have a purpose, namely to instill "fear of G-d."
Included in this phrase is the idea of uniting and connecting oneself to G-d. This is similar to the necessity of saying the blessings over the Torah -- in addition to learning Torah, one must have the intention of uniting oneself with G-d through the study.
This lesson can be conveyed even to small children, campers in Gan Yisroel. On the contrary, children have an even easier time feeling a direct connection with Him, as implied in the expression, "I pray with the intention of a small child," i.e., to the Essence of G-d.
An additional lesson can be drawn from today's segment of the parshah (shvi'i), which states (11:22-24), "If you carefully keep this commandment...then G-d will drive out all these nations before you...from the desert to the Lebanon, from the Euphrates River as far as the Mediterranean Sea." These boundaries include areas beyond the seven Canaanite nations, and even beyond the three nations (Keini, Kenizi, Kadmoni) which will be added in the days of Moshiach.
We can draw a practical lesson in the service of G-d based on the explanation of the Mitteler Rebbe in his discourse, "Al Totzar." There, he explains that the conquest of the "seven nations" corresponds to purification of the seven emotional attributes (middos), and of the three additional nations, to the three intellectual faculties (mochin).
Therefore, as preparation for the conquest of these lands we must do so in the spiritual sense, by purifying not only our middos, but also our mochin. This is the general idea of Chassidus Chabad, which stresses the importance of fully utilizing one's intellect for understanding G-dliness.
This segment of the parshah teaches us something more: we must even reach places which are not technically parts of Eretz Yisroel -- in the spiritual sense. This points out the importance of spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus to every possible location, as the verse puts it, "Every area upon which your feet tread shall belong to you." Any opposition which may be confronted is only to serve as a test (as mentioned in the parshah), in order to overcome it.
There is an additional lesson to be derived from this final section of the parshah. After the regular seven people have been called to the Torah, an additional person is called for maftir. Maftir originated because of a ban which was once placed on public Torah reading. The Sages of that generation selected sections of the Prophets which bore resemblance to the parshah, and are called haftorah. After the ban was removed, the haftorah remained, and they added on a portion from the end of the parshah to be read by the same person.
At least three verses from the Torah must be read, and usually the section read for maftir is shorter than the seventh aliyah. In this week's parshah, however, the maftir is identical to the seventh aliyah itself.
The significance of this is as follows: the maftir was established by the later Sages and therefore doesn't have the same status as the Torah reading itself. This halachic status is usually reflected in the size of the reading, since the maftir is shorter. In this parshah, however, they are equal in length, indicating the equal status shared by both the maftir and the Torah reading itself.
This occurrence teaches us a lesson in how to approach the Previous Rebbe's directive of spreading Torah and mitzvos. Although his instructions are "merely" in the category of "words of the Sages," they have the same status of the words of Torah themselves, and must be fulfilled to the fullest extent with extra vigor and enthusiasm.
It is customary to discuss one of Rashi's comments on the parshah. In this week's parshah, Rashi makes a short, yet puzzling comment. In Devarim, chapter 9, Rashi discusses the word "tablets," luchos, which is given an unusual spelling. The word is spelled in a way which could be read luchas, which would indicate a singular form ("tablet"). Rashi explains that the variant spelling comes to teach us that the two tablets were identical.
One difficulty we have is determining to which verse Rashi is referring. All the handwritten versions of Rashi's commentary I have seen do not have any indication as to which verse Rashi is discussing. Since the words from the verse are always quoted, it is usually simple to determine where they belong. Here, however, there are many instances of this variant spelling.
It is clear, though, that this comment belongs somewhere between verse 9 and verse 18 (since they are the previous and subsequent comments, respectively). It is therefore puzzling; why does Rashi not explain this on one of the previous instances of such a variant spelling of this word?
The explanation is that Rashi comments on the verse in which it is most obvious that the spelling is changed. That would be verse 11, which stands out in that the word appears twice in the same verse, and has two different spellings! [See Shabbos Parshas Re'ey for further discussion.]
An additional question is on Rashi's comment itself. Why should we need a verse to teach us that the two tablets are identical -- what reason would we have to think that they are different?
To the five-year-old child learning Chumash, it seems obvious that the two tablets were of different size. When he studies the Ten Commandments, he sees that the number of words and letters in the first five commandments are much more than those in the last five. Accordingly, the first tablet should be larger than the second. Therefore, we need a special lesson to teach us that they were identical.
This week we learn the 5th chapter of Pirkei Avos, in which Mishnah 5 says, "Ten miracles were wrought for our forefathers in the Bais Hamikdosh...no serpent or scorpion caused harm in Jerusalem; nor did any man say to his fellowman, 'The place is too crowded for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem.'"
This Mishnah presents several obvious questions. First of all, if the Mishnah sets out to list ten miracles which occurred in the Bais Hamikdosh, why does it include events which transpired in the entire Jerusalem?
Furthermore, how can the Mishnah say that there was always sufficient room in Jerusalem? The Mishnah refers to the time of the second Bais Hamikdosh, whereas the prophet tells us (in this week's Haftorah) that in the Messianic Age, people will say, "The place is too crowded for me, give me a place to dwell."
The explanation is that the Mishnah doesn't say that no serpents or scorpions existed in Jerusalem. It implies that they did exist, but they did not cause any harm. As far as the Bais Hamikdosh itself is concerned, it is sensible to say that there were no serpents or scorpions altogether. If even flies weren't present (as the Mishnah relates), certainly dangerous creatures, which would make the Temple service more difficult, would be miraculously prevented from appearing.
This effect in the Bais Hamikdosh spread beyond its boundaries to the entire city of Jerusalem. In the city, however, it was not necessary to have the miracle of such creatures not existing. It was sufficient they did no harm.
The final part of the Mishnah has a similar explanation. In the Bais Hamikdosh itself, the Mishnah tells us that, "When the people stood, they were crowded together, yet when they prostrated themselves they had ample space." The Mishnah does not say this about the entire city, however, rather that the people did not say that there was no room. This implies that indeed there was not sufficient room, but the people did not complain about it.
The reason for this difference is simple. In the Bais Hamikdosh, it was necessary to have distance between people in order that one not hear the confession of another, which would cause unnecessary embarrassment, etc. This was not necessary in Jerusalem, where such confessions were not made.
As for the discomfort, the people didn't think of complaining. Should someone give him a kvetch -- no big deal! Maybe it will kvetch out some of his own undesirable qualities, the person thought to himself. He was busy thinking about his good fortune to be in Jerusalem, and wouldn't think of complaining! Therefore, when it comes to the city, the Mishnah stresses that no man said that he had no room.
We can now understand the quote from the prophet, that in the Messianic Age, people will indeed say that Jerusalem is "too crowded." In earlier times, such a statement would be a sign of the person's arrogance, that he is so concerned about himself he thinks only of his own comfort. In the Messianic Age, however, there will be no trace of evil remaining. All that will be lacking is the total spread of holiness throughout the world. That will be the meaning of saying, "the place is too cramped," i.e. holiness has not yet been spread out as much as it can.
Since we have mentioned Jerusalem, it is timely to mention the Convention of Shluchim which will be taking place there shortly. Although that convention is for Shluchim living in Eretz Yisroel, many Shluchim from other areas are present at this farbrengen. Therefore, they should all take something to say l'chaim on, and bring it back with them and have a farbrengen there. To facilitate this, it will be distributed after Shabbos in 770.
[After reciting the berachah acharonah, the Rebbe Shlita said the following:]
Jewish writings mention that the 20th of Av begins the preparation for Rosh Hashanah. The reason for this is that we have entered the period of "40 days before the child is formed," in this case, before the creation of Adam. Therefore, everyone should begin their preparations to accept G-d as their "King," and immediately merit the time when the entire world will perceive how He is King, with the arrival of Moshiach.