Everything created by G-d is composed of many parts and facets. For although G-d the Creator is One, He also has the aspect of multiplicity to the point of infinity.
In all the various aspects there is always a main theme, a focal point, to which all other aspects become subordinated. As the Mishnah tells us:
All that the Holy One, Blessed be He created in His world, He created solely for His glory.
This indicates that the sole purpose of all creation is for the glory of G-d, which clearly subordinates any and all other possible reasons.
What is the special content of this Shabbos which will single out for us the main theme of this farbrengen?
At first glance we see that this Shabbos has the theme of Shabbos, as well as the aspect of being the 5th of Sivan, Erev Shavuos. Which aspect dominates?
Halachah will indicate that the aspect of "Shabbos for itself" predominates. As we know, the Halachah rules that we may not prepare food on Shabbos for Yom-Tov. Despite all of the special qualities of Yom-Tov and all the arguments to permit food preparation, the law remains that it is forbidden -- so it becomes clear that the theme of "Shabbos for itself" predominates.
This point needs some clarification relative to this holiday, which is the "season of the Giving of our Torah."
- The importance of the holiness of Shabbos stems from the commandment to observe Shabbos, which was told to us at Mattan Torah (the giving of the Torah), which we commemorate on Shavuos.
The Rambam makes this point very clear in his commentary on the Mishnah in the tractate Chulin. He explains that the reason we do mitzvos today is because of G-d's command to us through Moshe our teacher. We circumcise our children not because Avraham did it, but because Moshe commanded us to do it. The same is certainly true in the case of "Remember the Shabbos day and keep it holy," which we learned from G-d at Mattan Torah.
If so, when Shabbos is Erev Shavuos, it would seem appropriate to subordinate the Shabbos to Shavuos, since the force of Shabbos comes only from Mattan Torah!
- Our sages tell us, "All agree that the Torah was given to the Jewish people on Shabbos" (Shabbos 86b). This indicates the special inner relationship and mutuality between Torah and Shabbos.
Let us take a moment to consider the strange fact that, although the Torah was given on Shabbos, the 6th of Sivan can never again occur on Shabbos according to the intercalation of the calendar.
What does this mean? This means that the connection of Shabbos and Shavuos is so essential and at Mattan Torah this theme was so intense, that it can never happen again, just as Mattan Torah itself was a one-time phenomenon.
- It was on the 5th of Sivan that the Jewish people said "Na'aseh V'nishmah" -- "we will do and we will listen," by virtue of which we merited to receive the Torah.
The Gemara describes it in the following fashion:
You rash people, who gave precedence to your mouths over your ears ... "The integrity of the upright shall guide them." (Shabbos 88 a-b)
The Gemara means to inform us that the sincerity and integrity of the Jewish people was expressed when they said Na'aseh V'nishmah, and through this they merited to receive the Torah.
Now, does this not seem to present us with a strong argument that on this Shabbos we should emphasize the connection to Shavuos?
Nevertheless, since Halachah rules that we may not prepare on Shabbos for Yom-Tov, we must say that the main theme of this Shabbos is Shabbos itself. And, coincidentally, we also have the topic of it being Erev Shavuos.
Consequently, our farbrengen today will deal first and foremost with the main theme of Shabbos.
The theme of the day is expressed through the Torah reading of the day -- both the entire portion of Bemidbar and also the daily reading section from Shevi'i till the end.
The lesson of this week's portion is embodied in its name, Bemidbar. What does it mean for us?
Simply, Bemidbar refers to a wilderness, an uninhabitable land: "... and where no man dwelt" (Yermiyah 2:6). All you find there are "... snakes, vipers, scorpions and thirst" (Devorim 8:15). We are talking about the plain, down-to-earth reality of the desert.
Of course there are the esoteric commentaries which attribute lofty spiritual characteristics to a wilderness that is above the level of human habitation. Or, there is the parable derived from the desert, which the Gemara develops, denoting the attribute of humility as a prerequisite for acceptance of Torah.
We may ignore all of these useful interpretations and say unequivocally that what we mean here is simply a vast, harsh, unfriendly, down-to-earth, dry desert.
Which leads us to the lesson gleaned from "living" with the portion of the week -- to live with the theme of "Bemidbar."
If a Jew looks around himself he realizes that he is trapped in a wilderness. For besides being the smallest of the nations he is in the darkest golus (diaspora), surrounded by countless restrictions and concealments. He cannot earn enough to live (materially and spiritually) by planting and cultivating (normal business activities). The desert is not a fertile place. He is not near a lake where he can fish for food. There is no rhyme, reason or pleasure to his life!
What is there to do? At this point the directive comes: "Live in the desert!" Live a Torah life despite the difficulties, and let Torah permeate all aspects of your life.
As a matter of fact, your behavior in the desert is more critical. When one lives in an inhabited place and he is lazy and goes to sleep, he is labeled a fool. But in the wilderness, if you drop your guard and fall asleep, you could endanger your life. There are "... snakes, vipers, scorpions and thirst."
What do you do if you are tired and want to rest? The only possibility is to conduct yourself according to Torah. Recite the Shema before retiring, sleep with a covering on your head, etc. Then your sleep will be a form of worship to G-d, as was the "sweet sleep" of the Jews on the night before the Torah was given. Your soul will ascend and draw new life and you will be safe from danger.
There is an additional point. Knowing that G-d placed him in this desert he lives and functions and fulfills his mission joyously.
After all, you might argue that if G-d wants pleasure from the Divine service of a Jew, why not place him in Yerushalayim, in the Holy of Hollies in the Temple, where he can do the loftiest service of the fragrant incense! Why is he in a desolate desert?
Despite this reasoning, he lives in the desert with enthusiasm and joy, not in the resigned manner of acceptance of an ordinance decreed by G-d, which cannot be challenged or questioned.
Why? Because he knows -- even the simple person knows -- that ultimately he will not question G-d's decisions, for he cannot fathom the wisdom of G-d. And since he was placed in a desert, "It is also for the good," not only later on, but also now. Therefore, he fulfills his mission with fervor and alacrity and joy.
The gist of it is: Being in the desolation of the desert he comes to the realization that the Supernal Will of the Holy One, Blessed be He, is that he should not be in the Holy of Hollies but that he should be in the physical wilderness, in this last of all physical worlds. In this state of existence, with the Divine soul clothed in an animal soul and physical body, he must still live in accordance with Torah. Strangely enough, it is specifically in this manner that he will reach the loftiest plane:
But the more they oppressed them, the more they proliferated and spread. (Shemos 1:12)
It should be evident that this outlook applies to the average Jew as well as the scholar. The average Jew is the one who is actually involved in the "desert" of life. While the scholars are normally ensconced in the four cubits of Torah and holiness they still need the support of the worldly Jews, who are the supporters of Torah. Hence, they too are in the desert.
However, one thing must be made clear. Our acceptance of the status quo of being in the wilderness does not preclude us from calling out to G-d to redeem us from this situation. We accept G-d's plan and worship Him with fervor and joy, but we still cry out:
O G-d who sits in judgment, silence does not become You, You cannot hold Your peace and be still, O Al-mighty One. (Tehillim 83:2)
And, although there is a certain quality in the Divine service of the golus, which leads to the perfection of the world to come, we do not want to remain in golus even one extra moment. We therefore pray three times a day: "May our eyes behold Your return to Tziyon in mercy." (Siddur, Amidah)
Concerning the next moments, we want Moshiach to come and redeem us -- but at this moment we faithfully fulfill our mission in the "desert."
The section of Bemidbar which is assigned to Shabbos is from Shevi'i till the end of the portion. In this section we learn about the work of the Kehos family in transporting the Mishkan. The Torah begins by telling us about the Holy Ark:
... Aharon and his sons shall come and take down the partition drape, using it to cover the Ark of Testimony. They shall then place a cover of Tachash skins over it ... they will not come and see the sacred (furniture) being packed and they will not die. (Bemidbar 4:5-6,20)
Thus we have a case here of two extremes. On the one hand you have the Holy Ark which held the Tablets of the Decalogue, which is the ultimate form of Torah -- engraved in stone.
On the other hand, the Ark, and the stone Tablets it held, had to be covered by the drape and a second cover made of the skin of the Tachash. We can delineate several points relating to these rules: (1) the covering had to be made of materials from the animal kingdom, (2) void of life, (3) made of the skin, which is a less significant part than the flesh of the animal.
What is the essential point we derive from this? The purpose is clearly not to reveal the Ark and the Tablets, but to hide these sacred objects.
This clearly negates the approach of Nadav and Avihu, who approached too closely and died. As the Or Hachayim explains:
They did not refrain from approaching a state of "dveikus" (intense devotion), pleasantness, friendliness, etc., to the point that their souls took flight from them.
What is the true goal? An abode in the lower worlds, this lowest of all physical worlds, exemplified by the covered Ark. In this concealed state one must live according to Torah and it will be considered like the loftiest service of Kehos who carried the Ark!
Clearly this pertains to all Jews. Just as the law of not carrying on Shabbos is derived from the portage of the Mishkan and the way Kehos carried the Ark on their shoulders, similarly we may apply this Divine service to everyone, men, women and children.
"Practice is the essential thing."
A Jew must know that the utmost goal is that his Divine service will not be in the Holy of Hollies, but in the desert and there the Ark and Tablets will be concealed and covered.
Our goal is to create an abode for the Shechinah in the lower worlds through our Divine service in this lowest of all physical worlds -- and specifically in the time of golus, before we hear the footsteps of Moshiach, while we are still in the "double darkness." For it is this service which evokes the highest pleasure above.
Despite all the restrictions and obstacles of the dark diaspora we withstand the test and actually fulfill Torah and mitzvos. Our sages tell us that even Moshe, our teacher, was humble because he saw the accomplishments of the generations before Moshiach, who overcome overwhelming obstacles and bring tremendous satisfaction, pleasure and joy in the lofty worlds. This is not to say that we don't still hope and pray that the true and complete redemption should come now.
May G-d grant that these words be realized, for my intention is not to say a "nice d'rashah" or a "keen exposition," my intention is that good deeds result. "Not study, but practice is the essential thing," and if no action results then these are idle words. I trust no one wants me to stumble by speaking idle talk....
Therefore, hopefully, those who have heard my words will accept the resolutions to bring them to fruition. G-d attaches a good thought to a deed; when we intend to do good, G-d arranges for the events to set themselves up in a way that gives us the opportunity to do good, so that the good action is bound up with the good thought.
Such action brings the true and complete redemption closer -- may it come through our righteous Moshiach in an instant and in a moment.
The previous Rebbe instituted the custom to study the tractate of Sotah during the 49 days of the Omer, one page of Gemara each day. Consequently the siyyum of the tractate occurs on Erev Shavuos, namely, today, which is the 49th and last day of the Omer.
But first let me broach a "klotz-kashe" which seems to be quite perplexing. It is generally accepted that the tractate Sotah has 49 pages which correspond to the 49 days of Omer. Actually, however, there are only 48 pages in Sotah because, as in all Gemaras, it starts on page 2! What will be studied on the 49th day?
The title page of Sotah will complete the 49 pages to match it to the 49 days of Sefirah.
But this needs some explaining. The title page serves as a guard on the volume just as the gate of a city guards against the entry of unwanted elements. On a simple level, the cover page protects the siddur, or Tehillim or Gemara from curling pages, dirt, tearing, etc. Thus it is connected (albeit subservient) to the contents of the book itself.
However, in the case of Sefirah the first day is the most important, for on that day the measure of barley was actually brought to the Temple and from that day on we begin counting the Omer. How would the title page serve this same important function?
The answer must be that the name of the tractate is printed on the title page. The name, of course, embodies the essence of the whole tractate. When you write the name of a book (from the title page) in a bill of sale, the ownership is transferred to the buyer. This is especially so when we speak of Hebrew names, as the Baal Shem Tov taught, that the Hebrew name brings life and existence.
It should be noted that in Shaloh it says:
Even the absolute ignoramus, who laments his limited understanding and grasps nothing, if he will read with a sincere heart the names of the books of Scriptures and the Oral Torah ... names of all the tractates ... the reading of the names (of the books) will be reckoned as if he had actually read and studied all of them. (Shaloh 13:8)
So the title page, with the name of the tractate, is not just a guardian but also encompasses, invigorates and enlivens all the following pages.
Thus the title page is really associated with the first day of the Omer which is the source from which all the other days flow. By taking the title page you have the whole tractate, which is why we say that the end is bound to the beginning. When you finish learning the tractate you have the whole thing -- but, you also had it in the first day when you read the title page and decided to study one page a day for 49 days!
Accordingly, what lesson do we derive from the name of the tractate Sotah?
The Gemara tells us on the verse, "If any man's wife goes astray" (Bemidbar 5:12):
A person does not commit a transgression unless a spirit of folly enters into him. (Sotah 3a)
It is understandable that because of the doctrine of free will, a person can be filled with a spirit of folly -- but why name a tractate of Gemara, a part of Torah, with that name?
Another point. Even though G-d is omnipotent, the Torah still commands: "You shall have no other gods before Me." So how is it possible that in Torah we find the spirit of folly?
The explanation is that the purpose of descent in the material world is for the goal of rising again to a higher level than previously attainable, e.g. the quality of the baal teshuvah vis-a-vis the tzaddik.
Within this perspective we may also view the "spirit of folly" which "enters" the person. It clearly indicates that somehow this "spirit" has been "superimposed" on the person. "He is terrifying in His acts above the soul of man" (Tehillim 66:5). The purpose of this spirit of folly is to create the potential for the essential elevation on the part of the penitent man.
We may draw a parallel to the case of the Sotah -- the suspected wife. The whole process of the Sotah is really in order to effect the good results of "... then she shall be cleared and shall conceive seed" (Bemidbar 5:28). As the Gemara relates regarding the Prophetess Chana (who was barren):
Chana said before the Holy One, Blessed be He ... "Master of the Universe, if You will look now, (at my plight) it is well, and if You will not look, I will go and seclude myself with someone else in the knowledge of my husband, Elkanah, and as I shall have been alone I will be made to drink the water of the Sotah and You cannot falsify Your Torah which says '... she shall be cleared and shall conceive seed.'" (Berachos 31b)
which shows us that shameful descent can bring positive beneficial results.
However, when we analyze this incident we are faced with an inconsistency. How could Chana have threatened to "seclude" herself, in effect, to put herself in the state of being the suspected wife? This law only applies after the husband has expressed his jealousy. Then, the act of being secluded would be forbidden by Torah even if, in other circumstances, the conditions of seclusion would be permitted. If so, would Chana really have done such a forbidden act?
We may add here the fact that her husband Elkanah was a remarkable and righteous person who went out of his way to encourage people to come to the Temple and fulfill the mitzvah of "Aliyah L'regel (visit the Bais Hamikdosh three times a year during the festivals)," and Chana certainly would not betray his request, even if no sin were involved. How could she threaten such a horrible act, especially if a sin were also involved?
Our original thought was that because the result would be, "She will be cleared and conceive," therefore it would not be wrong. But does this end justify the means? This seems to be similar to a case of, "I shall sin and then repent, in which case he is not given the opportunity to repent" (Yoma 85b).
In posing this question we realize of course, that in fact Chana did not actually commit any wrong act! In her "bargaining" with G-d she threatened that she would seclude herself, therefore our question is: How could Chana even seriously think of and then say that she would do a forbidden act?
On this question we may introduce the following explanation.
Chana's intention was to "be cleared and conceive," a noble and good goal. Thus, in the dimension of her inner essential motive, there was no sin in her thinking of secluding herself, for the intention was pure. The Baal Shem Tov taught us "a person is where his thought is."
Now, on the face of the matter, her actual thought of sinning (as opposed to the intention motivating the thought) -- of secluding herself against the will of her husband and the law -- even though it was a sinful thought, teshuvah will help. Even in the case of one who says, "I will sin and then repent" when he is not given the opportunity to repent, if he persists and breaks through the barrier nothing will stand in the way of true repentance. Thus, since in the inner essential motive, there really was no sin intended, and for the theoretical act there would have been ample repentance, her thought was not out of place.
We can go a step further and say that looking from "above," all sin happens for the purpose of repentance. Thus, no matter what her intention was -- as long as there was the opportunity to return and repent and rise to the loftier level of baal teshuvah, whether in this incarnation or another incarnation, the ultimate goal would have been reached and her position would have been justified.
Thus we can give the name Sotah to a tractate of Gemara, a part of Torah, because surely she will do teshuvah! The ultimate outcome of the transgression will bring -- in effect -- an elevation.
Looking to the inner essential motive we can say that, even if there is the attitude of "I will sin and repent," the supernal objective view is, "Let them come to a more intense teshuvah of persistence and be accepted."
At the end of tractate Sotah, the Mishnah says: "When Rabbi (Rabbi Yehudah the Prince) died, humility and fear of sin ceased" (Mishnah 49a). On which the Gemara concludes:
R. Yosef said to the Tanna, "Do not include the word 'humility' (when reciting this Mishnah) because there is I." R. Nachman said to the Tanna, "Do not include 'fear of sin' because there is I." (Sotah 49b)
R. Yosef considered himself humble and therefore told the reciter of the Mishnah to delete the word "humility" from the list of attributes no longer existing; as did R. Nachman, who considered himself to be fearful of sin, relating to the words "fear of sin."
Rashi comments on the words of R. Yosef, "D'ika Ana" -- (there is I) i.e. "I am humble." Why must Rashi spell it out? This meaning is really quite obvious!
The simple answer here would be that logic dictates that probably R. Yosef would not brag that he was humble, for that would negate his humility. If so, what did he mean "D'ika Ana"? There is a person, whose name is Ana, and he is very humble. So Rashi tells us that he really was referring to himself "Ana" -- "I."
And if this seems to be the antithesis of humility, then turn to the Maharshah who explains that, although it was not customary among the sages of the Talmud to laud oneself, to prevent a misreading of the Mishnah R. Yosef had to say it.
However, there still seems to be some confusion. From the time of Rabbi Yehudah the Prince till the generation of R. Yosef and R. Nachman several generations of great Tanna'im and Amora'im passed , who all knew the Mishnah which said that after Rabbi's death "humility" and "fear of sin" ceased. During that span of time there were many who certainly were humble and fearful of sin. Why are R. Yosef and R. Nachman singled out for these attributes? Clearly, they must have had some outstanding, extraordinary and unique aspect of these characteristics to outshine all their predecessors till the time of Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi (the Prince).
Let us take a closer look.
R. Yosef, the Gemara tells us, was considered to be a Sinai (a scholar well-versed in the Law communicated from Sinai):
R. Yosef was a "Sinai" and Rabbah was a keen dialectician (he could "uproot mountains") ... A "Sinai" is to take precedence, for the Master said, "All are dependent on the owner of the wheat."
The keener intellect may constantly be in an intellectual uncertainty for his mind is always climbing to greater vistas and subsequently he questions his previously held opinions. The "Sinai," however, knows the Mishnayos, the Beraisos and Halachos as certainly as when they were given from Sinai; he will not change his previous halachic ruling, and therefore he must be given preference (to be chosen as Rosh Yeshivah).
How does this relate to the feeling of humility? Simply, when someone has true qualities and really has something to be proud of, and despite that he is humble, then he has reached real humility. The greater the person, the more his humility is evaluated.
Now, all the other Tanna'im and Amora'im from Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi till R. Yosef did not have the quality of being called "Sinai." True, they were all great sages and many had the attribute of true humility, but it was not so lofty as to cause a change in the Mishnah.
This was not so with R. Yosef; he was a "Sinai." Every word of Torah was clear to him. Despite this he was humble, and since he knew that this was truly the case, he had to amend the Mishnah which said that humility had ceased for his great humility was relative to his greatness -- Sinai.
About Rabbi Nachman the Gemara relates:
R. Nachman (b. Yitzchok's) mother was told by astrologers, "Your son will be a thief." So she did not let him be bareheaded. She said to him, "Cover your head so that the fear of heaven may be upon you...." One day he was sitting and studying under a date-palm tree and his hat fell off of his head, he looked up and saw the tree, temptation overcame him and he climbed up the tree and bit off a cluster of dates with his teeth.
It appears that R. Nachman had a very strong negative influence of the "mazal," so much so, that when his hat fell off his evil inclination was able to overpower him to the point of insanity -- to climb to the top of a palm tree (difficult and dangerous) and steal the dates by biting off a cluster! Quite strange and bizarre!
Therefore, in R. Nachman's case, to be fearful of sin was a special and unique quality -- more than in the normal Tanna'im and Amora'im. Despite this abnormal resurgence of the mazal in so bizarre a manner, he overpowered it and was G-d fearing! So it really was appropriate that R. Nachman should say, "Omit 'fear of sin' in the Mishnah, for there is I." Normally one could pray to change or temper the mazal, as "there is no mazal to Israel." In his case however, the power of the mazal for some reason was not weakened; yet, he constantly suppressed it. Thus he is considered to be the paradigmatic embodiment of "fear of sin."
This brings us to the connection to Erev Shavuos. By learning about these two attributes of humility and fear of sin on Erev Shavuos we clearly have a lesson for preparation for Mattan Torah:
In Midrashim as well as Chassidic literature it is explained that Mt. Sinai, the "Low Mountain," teaches us the lesson that Torah must have both conditions: (A) Mountain: pride and loftiness, and yet (B) Low: humility and self-sacrifice.But how can this be? When a Jew knows the great importance of Mattan Torah how can he be humble?!
The answer is that greatness does not preclude humility. We see this by Moshe, our teacher, who knew his qualities, and yet was the most humble man. Why? Because he felt that all his qualities were given to him as a gift and that if someone else had received the same qualities and powers that person would have been even greater!
So we say: "Let my soul be as dust to all. Open my heart to Your Torah." At first glance, if the Torah is so infinitely great, how can you remain humble? The explanation is that you realize that it is given to you from above as a gift: "Open my heart...." So you can be humble.
This we see also in the earth itself. The Midrash says: "Even the sun was only created from the earth" (Koheles Rabbah 3:20) and at the same time the earth is the embodiment of humility, for all tread upon it.
- Fear of sin:
Torah life brings peace in the world. As the Talmud states:
He who studies Torah for its own sake makes peace in the celestial retinue (angels) and the terrestrial retinue (men). (Sanhedrin 99b)
By our Divine service we can effect peace among the G-dly soul, the animal soul and the physical body. How is this brought about, through "fear of sin." Which is what is meant by the verse:
G-d commanded us to keep all these rules, so that we would remain in awe (fear) of G-d for all time.... (Devorim 6:24)
Thus from the conclusion of Gemara Sotah we come to receive the Torah.
On this Shabbos we learn chapter six of Pirkei Avos (a chapter of Braitha attached to the five chapters of Mishnah Avos). This chapter is also called, "The acquisition of Torah," for all the Mishnayos of this chapter speak of the quality of Torah.
This raises a bit of a paradox. The last Mishnah (11) seems not to speak of Torah at all:
All that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory, as it is stated: "All that is called by My Name, indeed, it is for My glory that I have created it, formed it and made it" (Yeshayah 43:7). And it says: "The L-rd shall reign forever and ever." (Shemos 15:18)
There is no mention here of the greatness of Torah. Is this not paradoxical, that the conclusion of Pirkei Avos, and the chapter dealing especially with Torah, should delete the subject completely!
This question also takes on another dimension. In the Chassidic discourses of the Mitteler Rebbe (Toras Chayim, Vayikra) the term "glory" is associated with "will."
... glory is mainly found in will ... the will of G-d is clothed in mitzvos ... in this we can see the greater quality of doing mitzvos over Torah study.
It would seem contradictory that at the conclusion of the chapter dealing with the praise of Torah we should find a Mishnah which praises mitzvos over Torah!
The interpretation to this is:
In an earlier Mishnah we learned:
There is no honor (Kavod) except for Torah, as it is stated: The wise shall inherit honor ...
(Mishlei 3:35 -- Avos 6:3)
Thus, honor and glory relate to Torah. The verse from Mishlei underlines another point, namely, that the wisdom of Torah is loftier than the will of mitzvos.
Therefore (consequently) when the Tanna in the last Mishnah teaches, "All that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory ..." what does he mean by glory? He is certainly consistent with his earlier reference in Mishnah 3; it means Torah! Everything in the world was created for Torah.
(Although in the Chassidic discourse quoted above the interpretation of "honor" was mitzvos and now it is Torah, this may be reconciled; it depends on the context, and here we are within the context of a chapter dealing with Torah.)
Thus, clearly, the last Mishnah is dealing with Torah, and with this great quality Pirkei Avos concludes. Here Torah reaches its apex. In all the previous Mishnayos, which discussed the greatness of Torah, it did not say that the only thing in the world is Torah! Here it clearly and unequivocally states that, "All that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created ... solely for His glory...." All creations of the four spiritual worlds were made for His glory -- for the Torah -- there is nothing else in the world except Torah! Even the mitzvos are only because of Torah!
Being the preparation for Mattan Torah, it makes sense that Chassidic Philosophy will also emphasize the qualities of the study of the wisdom of Torah above the "will" of mitzvos.
At the beginning of this week's portion we are told of G-d's command to count the Jewish people:
G-d spoke to Moshe ... Take a census of the entire Israelite community, do it by families following the paternal line ... take a tally of them by their divisions, you and Aharon and alongside you there shall be one man from each tribe and he shall be the head of his paternal line ... the leaders of Israel's thousands ... Moshe and Aharon took ... Moshe thus took a tally of the Israelites in the Sinai Desert as G-d had commanded him. (Bemidbar 1:1-20)
On the face of it, it is very perplexing. Why was it necessary for the census to be conducted by Moshe, our teacher?
Counting could be done by anyone, even simple people. We see this, in fact, in modern times, that when a national census is conducted, the people employed to do the counting are individuals who would not be capable of doing more sophisticated jobs.
Why was Moshe himself told to do the counting? Can we really take Moshe away from his important activities of teaching and judging the people? The counting could have been done by anyone.
At the time of Mattan Torah, Rashi tells us:
Moshe did not turn to his own affairs, but from the mountain to the people. (Shemos 19:14)
Although Moshe's activities were very lofty, he had to neglect them for the loftiest of all matters, Mattan Torah. But here, why distract Moshe from his normal affairs in order to count the Jews -- it could have been done by anyone?
On the same subject of the census there is another matter which needs clarification. Rashi at the beginning of our portion states:
Because they were dear to Him, He counts them every now and then (lit. all the time). When they went forth from Egypt He counted them, when many of them fell in (consequence of their having worshiped) the golden calf He counted them to ascertain the number of those left; when He was about to make His Shechinah dwell amongst them, He again took their census.
(Rashi, Bemidbar 1:1)
This raises several questions:
- Rashi lists several occasions when G-d counted the Jewish people: when they left Egypt, when they died at the golden calf, and when He came to make His Shechinah dwell on them. These represent special times that G-d counted the Jews. If so, why does Rashi start out by saying that He counts them now and then (all the time)?
- How can Rashi say that G-d counts the Jews "all the time," as we do not find in Scripture any census between this one, taken in the second year, and the next one in Pinchas, taken at the end of the 40th year?
Even more so, according to the Midrash there were nine censuses taken in Biblical times and the tenth will be at the time of Moshiach -- how is this reconciled with Rashi's statement that He counts them "all the time?"
Let us go back to Rashi.
"Because they were dear to Him, He counts them all the time." This means that G-d Himself counts the Jews. If G-d Himself counts the Jews can we ask why He commanded Moshe and Aharon and the princes to do the counting? If G-d can "neglect" His occupation to count the Jews because they are dear to Him, how much more so must Moshe and Aharon and the other leaders put everything else aside and be involved in the census. By commanding Moshe and Aharon and the Princes, G-d expresses His love for the Jewish people -- no ordinary census takers are good enough for the Jews. This explains Moshe's involvement.
Now, Rashi stresses that G-d counts them "all the time" -- this must be taken literally!
Not only does G-d count the Jews at special opportunities, but He is always counting them! After all, the love for the Jews is always there, from the time of the covenant with Avraham till the end of time, and consequently the counting should be continuous.
But does this fit with the example Rashi cites? It would seem from the examples that the counting was done only on special occasions. Therefore we will explain that there are two types of census: (A) a census not enumerated in Scripture -- "He counts them all the time," and (B) a census described in the Torah at specified times.
Rashi must bring some proof that the Holy One,Blessed be He, counts the Jews even when we do not find a census in Scripture. It is precisely this census which Rashi referred to when he said: "When they left Egypt they were counted." There the Torah says:
Then the Israelites travelled ... there were about 600,000 adults males on foot ... (Shemos 12:37)
Wait! Who counted them as they were leaving Egypt? Certainly Pharaoh was not interested in their number when they left. Moshe? He had no time to count them. Then who did? We must certainly say that the Holy One, Blessed be He, counted the Jews Himself.
Now that we have established a precedent, that G-d counts the Jews even though the Torah does not specifically say so, it is no longer surprising that "He counts them all the time."
The second example Rashi brings is that G-d counted them after they died at the golden calf. But there also we don't find a detailed census, and yet it is clear that there also G-d counted them (not a formal census). Why does Rashi tell us this? To show us that even when the Jews were in a decadent state, His love is still there and He counts them. Certainly the same is true in all conditions in between.
Now, in our portion, when the census is undertaken and all the details are described for us, we sense a unique emphasis. What is special about this counting? Rashi tells us that here G-d is about to make His Shechinah dwell amongst them, which would represent an open, obvious love for the Jewish people. Therefore the census too has to be done openly and actively through Moshe.
This brings a powerful message to light. "Because they were dear to Him, He counts them all the time," we must reciprocate in the proper measure. Knowing of G-d's love for us, we must show our love for G-d and fulfill our mission in the world.
This is also expressed in the words:
G-d stands over him and the whole earth is full of His glory and He searches his mind and heart (to see) if he is serving Him as fitting. (Tanya ch. 41)
Certainly he will fulfill his responsibility and mission to serve his Maker in a perfect and complete way.