IN THE QARDEN
OF THE TORAH
Insights of the
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
on the weekly Torah Readings
הועתק והוכנט לאינטרנט
ע״י חיים תע1ט"ז
IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Published and Copyrighted © by
Sichos In English
788 Eastern Parkway • Brooklyn, New York 11213
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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
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copyright holder or the publisher.
5754 • 1994
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Table of Contents
PUBLISHER'S FOREWORD v
"In the beginning"; A Dwelling for G-d 1
Genuine Satisfaction; Noach's Legacy 7
A Journey To One's True Self: Avraham's Odyssey As A
Lesson For His Descendants 13
Seeing Truth: The Nature of the Revelation to Avraham 21
Ongoing Life: The Continuing Effects of Sarah's Influence 27
Inwardness: The Path To Posterity 33
Yaakov's Journey: Transition, Challenge, and Achievement 39
Empowerment And Its Purpose 45
The Desire For Prosperity 51
An End And A Beginning 57
Inspiring Change 63
True Life 69
Challenge, Growth, and Transition 75
IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Seeing And Believing 81
Confronting Pharaoh 87
The Expression of Inner Good 93
Ripples of Inner Movement 99
After Sinai; Making the Torah a Part of Ourselves 105
A Dwelling Among Mortals 111
A Paradigm Of Leadership 117
Towards A Purpose Beyond Our Conception 125
More than Gathering Together 133
The Power of the Individual 139
The Dearness of Every Jew 145
Making Connections: The Message of Mitzvos 151
Transcendence and Immanence 157
Conceiving New Life 163
Mashiach's Name 169
Founders of Chassidism & Leaders of Chabad-Lubavitch 175
Glossary and Biographical Index 177
Before he passed away, the Rebbe Rashab said: "I'm
going to heaven; I am leaving my writings for you." 1
quently, the Rebbe would explain 2
that the Rebbe Rashab's
intent was to inform his followers that by studying his
writings, they could maintain a connection with him as he is
"The righteous will never forsake their flock;" 3
they exist in the spiritual realms, they continue caring for all
their followers. By studying their teachings, however, an
interactive pathway is opened and all those whose lives
were touched by the Rebbe can continue their conscious
bond with him through this study.
The emphasis on the connection to the Rebbe should
not be interpreted as an attempt to recreate the past. Our
intent is to look to the Rebbe as a source of life and vitality,
encouraging each person to reach deeper into himself and
beyond himself to fulfill his human potential. Even now, the
Rebbe's example and his teachings provide us with the
insight and energy to enhance our lives in the present and
in the future.
Both these dimensions — connecting to the Rebbe
through his teachings, and using those teachings as a
springboard for continued growth and personal develop-
See Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. I, p. 113.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVII, p. 24, et al.
Cf. Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. I, letter 72.
IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
ment — are reflected in the essays that follow. On one hand,
these essays are the Rebbe's thoughts. And yet, they are
presented in the form of adaptations. Instead of merely
translating the original texts, an effort has been made to
structure the presentation in a form that internalizes the
ideas and relates them to our contemporary experience. It
is our hope that our readers will continue this process and
focus on the Rebbe's thoughts not merely as abstract the¬
ory, but as truths to be applied in their lives.
Living with the Times
The above thrust relates to one of the more frequently
retold Chabad stories: 4
The Alter Rebbe once told his chassidim:
"We have to live with the times."
The chassidim, trained as they were in holding fast to
the eternal standards of the Torah despite the shifting
trends of contemporary thought, reacted with puzzlement.
They asked R. Yehudah Leib, the Alter Rebbe's brother, to
inquire about the Rebbe's intent.
In reply, the Alter Rebbe answered that he had meant
that the chassidim should "live with the weekly Torah
reading." And as the Rebbe frequently explained, this does
not mean merely studying the weekly portion; this means
living with the lessons of the portion and seeing them as
practical directives for more meaningful and more satisfying
What's In a Name
The above endeavor is challenging, for the Torah is
multifaceted, and every Torah reading provides a multitude
of different lessons. Frequently, the Rebbe would resolve
this challenge by highlighting the lesson to be derived from
4. SeferHaSichos 5702, p. 29ff.
the name of the Torah reading. For the name is a
comprehensive theme, summarizing and conveying the
thrust of the Torah reading as a whole. The Alter Rebbe
that an object's name reflects its essential life
force. If this applies with regard to worldly matters, surely it
is true with regard to the names of the Torah readings.
The essays to follow blend together several of the
Rebbe's talks, underscoring a lesson to be derived from the
names of every one of the Torah readings. Several of the
essays, e.g., "Ongoing Life" from Parshas Chayei Sarah, il¬
lustrate how the lesson derived from the name relates to
the entire Torah reading. In others, the connection is shown
between the name of the parshah and only certain elements
of the Torah reading. And in certain instances, the lesson of
the name alone is explained, leaving to the reader the task
of connecting this insight to the Torah reading as a whole.
"Out of the Many, One"
There are two unique dimensions to a Torah scroll: a)
every letter must be a separate entity, surrounded by blank
parchment. If two letters are touching, the scroll is
b) If any one of the letters is missing, the scroll as a
whole is invalid.
When viewing these laws in a homiletical sense, two
concepts stand out: a) the importance of every individual
and the uniqueness of his contribution; and
b) the awareness that the most complete contribution
an individual can make is when he joins together with oth¬
ers in a more encompassing mission.
These two initiatives found expression in the composi¬
tion of the text which fused together the unique contribu-
5. Tanya, ShaarHaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1.
IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
tions of many individuals, each one enhancing the text as a
whole. Acknowledgment must be made of Rabbi Eliyahu
Touger, who adapted the Rebbe's talks from their sources;
Gershon Gale, who edited the text; Rabbi Aharon Leib
Raskin, who researched the sources and references; Uri
Kaploun, who gave many hours of consultation and critical
reading; Yosef Yitzchak Turner, who took charge of the
layout and typography; and Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, Director
of Sichos In English, who harmonized all these different
efforts and brought them to fruition in a polished work.
Writing a foreword to a collection of the Rebbe's works
is very different after Gimmel Tammuz. There's a lot that
could be said, so much that the foreword could be turned
into a volume of its own.
But that would blur the focus. And the processing of
focusing — telescoping multidimensional ideas into prac¬
tical applicable truths — was one of the fundamental
dimensions of the Rebbe's leadership.
During 5748-5749 (1988-1989), the year which followed
the passing of his wife, Rebbitzin Chayah Mushka, the
Rebbe gave chassidim focus by continuously referred to the
Biblical phrase, 6
"And the living should take it to heart."
This is what is necessary at present — to take the Rebbe's
message to heart, to apply it vigorously in our own lives,
and to share it with our families, our friends, and all those
with whom we come in contact.
And this will enable us to go forward with heads held
high, in touch with ourselves, with the world around us, and
with our spiritual purpose, and to dedicate ourselves to the
task the Rebbe set out for us: To make the world conscious
6. Ecclesiates 7:2.
of the Redemption and to create an environment in which
this ideal can be manifest.
Erev Rosh HaShanah, 5755
Sichos In English
"In the beginning")
A Dwelling for G-d
Sefer HaSichos 5751, p. 62
Purpose and Its Realization
When a person is sent to accomplish a task, the goal
should be clearly outlined. Sometimes, however, only an
allusion is given; the person charged with the mission is not
given explicit instructions. Instead, he is left to discover its
purpose on his own.
Why would someone choose to issue instructions in
such a manner When the intent of the exercise is not only
the accomplishment of the mission, but also the spiritual
growth of the agent. Were the purpose of the mission
spelled out, the agent would be denied the opportunity of
self-discovery, and thus his efforts would lose much of their
2 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
value. His vision would depend on someone else's light.
When, by contrast, the agent comes to the realization of the
goal on his own, it arouses more than his sense of duty; the
revelation rings deep within him and becomes part of his
Similar ideas apply with regard to G-d's creation of the
world. When the Torah describes creation, its first words
are not "Let there be light." Instead, it speaks of "void and
Why Our Sages explain 2
that G-d's motive in creating
the universe was "a desire for a dwelling in the lower
realms." A dwelling means a home, a place where one's
essence is manifest. The term "lower realms" refers to our
material universe, in which G-dliness cannot ordinarily be
G-d wants His dwelling to be part and parcel of these
lower realms. His intent is not to nullify the limitations of
our material existence, but rather to manifest Himself within
Where Opposites Meet
Had G-d begun creation with light — were He to have
created a world that recognizes Him effortlessly — all exis¬
tence would have been one with Him; there would have
been no "lower realms." This was not His desire.
G-d wants man to exist in a universe which by its very
nature seems to separate creation from its Creator. And the
intent is that man realize the connection for himself, and
develop it until the world proceeds to the state of ultimate
1. Genesis 1:2.
2. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3; See Tanya, chs. 33 and 36.
fulfillment: "The world will be filled with the knowledge of
G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed." 3
For mortals to reach such heights requires a fusion of
opposites, and it is in such a fusion that G-d's essence is
revealed. For He is neither light nor darkness, neither finite
nor infinite. No worldly quality — nor its antithesis — can
define Him. When, however, we see two apparently con¬
tradictory qualities joining, we can appreciate that this is
possible only because He has manifested Himself. 4
Precisely such a manifestation will characterize the Era
of the Redemption, when it will be revealed that the physi¬
cal world has indeed become G-d's dwelling.
To ensure that the "lower realms" would be capable of
transformation into a "dwelling" for Him, G-d embedded two
distinct elements within creation from the outset. Thus,
with regard to the Torah reading, Bereishis, Rashi
It is as if this word בראשית] (bereishis, "In the begin¬
ning")] begs: "Extrapolate upon my meaning!" [The
word can be read as ב׳ ראשית ("two entities which are
called 'beginning' ").] As our Sages commented:
[Creation is] for the sake of the Torah — which is
referred to 6
as "the beginning of His path" — and for
4. To cite a parallel: our Sages (Yoma 21a) relate that the place taken up by the
ark was not included in the measurement of the Holy of Holies. Although
there were 10 cubits from each wall to the ark, and the ark itself was two and
a half cubits long, the width of the entire Holy of Holies was only 20 cubits.
5. Genesis 1:1.
6. Proverbs 8:22.
4 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
the sake of the righteous^ who are referred to 8
"the beginning of His crop."
In a similar context, our Sages state 9
that both the Jew¬
ish people and the Torah predate the world. This is not to
say that there was a precedence in time, for time — like
space — did not exist before creation. 10
Rather, the concept
of precedence highlights the unique spiritual potential of
the Jewish people and the Torah.
As opposed to the world at large, which appears to exist
independent of its G-dly source, "Israel, the Torah, and the
Holy One, blessed be He, are all one." 11
Every Jew's soul is
"an actual part of G-d," 12
and the Torah is G-d's will and
Since the Torah and the Jewish people are one with G-d,
observance of the mitzvos by the Jews expresses the
purpose of creation. "A mitzvah is a candle, and the Torah,
By the light of Torah, Jews can thus reveal the G-dly
intent with which the world is imbued, and demonstrate
that it is G-d's dwelling.
Partners in Creation
The above emphasis on Torah and the Jewish people is
not explicit in the word Bereishis. On the contrary, the
simple meaning of the word is "In the beginning," indicating
that creation is only the first phase in an ongoing process.
7. Which in an extended sense applies to the entire Jewish people, as it is writ¬
ten (Isaiah 60:21): "Your nation are all righteous."
8. Isaiah 11:9.
9. Bereishis Rabbah 1:4.
10. See the Guide to the Perplexed, Vol. II, ch. 30. See also Igros Kodesh of the
Rebbe, Vol. I, p. 293ff.
11. Zohar, Vol. III, p. 73a.
12. See Tanya, ch. 2.
13. See Tanya, ch. 4.
14. Proverbs 6:23.
This highlights the importance of man's contribution.
For man is intended to be G-d's "partner in creation," 15
helping G-d realize His desire for a dwelling. G-d created the
material world, but left to man the task of revealing the
spiritual within it.
So it is that man begins in a world of darkness, and en¬
deavors to endow it with light. And each glimmer of light
kindles others, for "a little light banishes a great deal of
and leads to the ultimate light of Redemption,
when it will be openly revealed that the world is G-d's
The Tzemach Tzedek used to say: 18
"According to the
stance one adopts on Shabbos Bereishis, the entire year
follows." For every year 19
is a renewal of the cycle of crea¬
tion. The Zohar 20
states that "G-d looked into the Torah and
created the world. Man looks into the Torah and maintains
the world." As we begin the study of the Torah anew on this
Shabbos, we have the potential to renew creation, and bring
it to its ultimate goal.
15. Shabbos 10a.
16. Tanya, ch. 12.
17. In this vein, our Sages (Sanhedrin 98b) commented that the world was created
solely for the purpose of Mashiach. Moreover, this purpose was expressed at
the beginning of creation. Thus on the verse (Genesis 1:2): "And the spirit of
G-d hovered over the waters," our Sages (Midrash Rabbah 2:4, quoted by
Rashi) comment: "This refers to the spirit of Mashiach. "
18. As quoted in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 556.
19. Although creation is renewed every moment (Tanya, Shaar HaYichud
VehaEmunah, ch. 1), there is also a yearly cycle. It is at the beginning of every
year that the life-energy for creation as a whole is renewed.
20. II, p. 161a,b.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 285ff;
Vol. XXV, p. 23ff
The Maggid of Mezritch interpreted 1
our Sages' statement:
"Know what is above you," as: "Know that everything
'above' — all that transpires in the spiritual realms — is
'from you,' dependent on your conduct. Each of us has the
potential to influence even the most elevated spiritual
Cited in Or Torah al Aggados Chazal, p. 112b, explained in Likkutei Sichos, Vol.
XX, p. 331. See also In the Paths of Our Fathers (Kehot, N.Y., 1994).
8 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
The Torah alludes to this potential in the opening verse
of our reading: 3
"These are the chronicles of Noach. Noach
was a righteous man."
The word noach refers to satisfaction and repose. 4
repeating the word, the Torah implies that Noach — and by
extension, every one of his descendants — can sow these
qualities in two different fields, both among his fellow men,
and in the spiritual worlds above.
Every person affects his environment. Our thoughts,
words and deeds can inspire peace and tranquillity in our
fellow men, helping create meaningful pleasure. And by
establishing such conditions in our world, we accentuate
similar qualities in the worlds above. To highlight our
obligation to spread these virtues, this week's Torah por¬
tion is called Noach. 5
Being Sensitive to G-d's Cues
The name Noach is, however, problematic, for the por¬
tion as a whole does not deal with these qualities. On the
contrary, the majority of the portion describes the Flood,
and its conclusion relates the story of the Tower of Bavel.
These events — and the conduct of mankind which led to
them — are diametrically opposed to the satisfaction and
repose personified by Noach.
The resolution of this difficulty underscores the inter¬
relation between the patterns with which G-d imbued our
world and man's response to them. Noach's birth was to
begin a period of repose and satisfaction that would
3. Genesis 10:9.
4. The name Noach (נח) means "rest" in Hebrew, and is associated with the word
nachas ,(נחת) which means "pleasure." See Bereishis Rabbah 30:5. Zohar Vol. I,
5. Were the name to have been given merely because "Noach" is one of the first
words of the portion, this reading should have been called Toldos, for this
word appears before Noach, and the subsequent portion, which is called
Toldos, should have been named Yitzchak.
encompass the globe. Mankind had the option of taking an
active part in this undertaking. Instead, each person con¬
tinued to live with a narrow focus, concerned only with
himself. What another person felt, or questions of Right and
Wrong, did not matter. And as a result, 6
"The world was
corrupt... the land was filled with crime."
Waters of Blessing
Then it started to rain. On the verse: 7
"And it rained for
forty days and forty nights," our Sages commented: 8
outset, the water descended with mercy, so that if they had
repented, the rains would have been rains of blessing. Since
they did not repent, the rains became a flood."
The flood waters, then, were intended to be waters of
blessing. For the blessing to be manifest, however, mankind
had to make itself fit to receive G-d's influence, and
therefore teshuvah — a return to G-d — was necessary. As
the rain began to fall, humanity continued to ignore this
opportunity, refusing to make such efforts.
But even though mankind did not turn to G-d in teshuvah,
the rains remained waters of blessing. 9
The forty days
of rain resemble the forty seah of a mikveh. 10
immersion in a mikveh is associated with re-experiencing
the act of creation, 11
so too the forty days and forty nights
of rain brought about the dawning of a new age: "Noach saw
a new world." 12
6. Genesis 10:11.
7. Genesis 7:10.
8. Zohar Chadash 22a, quoted in Rashi's commentary on the verse.
9. This is implied by the wording of the verse, "And it rained for forty days," i.e.,
the entire forty-day period was intended to be one of "rains of blessing."
10. Torah Or, Noach 8c.
11. Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 174, explains that just as initially, all creation
emerged from a watery mass, so too, after immersion in a mikveh, a person
becomes a new entity, charged with new spiritual vitality.
12. Bereishis Rabbah 30:8.
10 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Therefore, the waters of the Flood are called "the waters
of Noach," 13 because the intent — and the actual effect —
was to bring rest and pleasure to the world. Unfortunately,
however, because man did not respond positively, this
constructive outcome was coupled with destruction — the
Flood obliterated every living creature on the face of the
Kindness with Purpose
A similar motif applies with regard to the Tower of
Babel, as reflected in our Sages' teaching: 15
"There were ten
generations from Noach to Avraham All those generations
repeatedly angered Him, until Avraham our father came and
received the reward of them all."
The generations that preceded Avraham treated each
other with love. 16
Nevertheless, since they "repeatedly
angered G-d," their conduct did not reflect the repose and
satisfaction which G-d intended for mankind. Therefore He
punished them, scattering them throughout the earth.
Avraham performed deeds of kindness and hospitality
with a single purpose — to make all mankind conscious of
Through his actions, he displayed the desired form of
repose and satisfaction, and therefore received the reward
generated by all the comradely deeds of the generations
which preceded him. 18
13. Isaiah 54:9, included in the Haftorah of Parshas Noach. The Haftorah expresses
the fundamental intent of the Torah reading.
It is often explained that the flood waters are called "the waters of Noach"
to indicate that Noach bears a certain responsibility for the Flood. For he did
not try hard enough to reach out to the people of his generation and motivate
them to do teshuvah.
14. Genesis 7:23.
15. Avos 5:2. See the explanation in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 753.
16. Sanhedrin 109a.
17. Sotah 10a ff.
18. In contrast, as mentioned in the mishnah from Avos cited previously, Noach
did not receive the reward for the generations which preceded him. There are
When the Rainbow Shines
On the ark were lions, tigers, and other predators, and
yet they dwelt in peace with the other animals, anticipating
the fulfillment of the prophecy: 19
"The wolf will dwell with
lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat."
Thus our Torah portion foreshadows the ultimate repose
and satisfaction that mankind will be granted in the era 20
when "there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy
nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance." 21
By vigorously following in the footsteps of Avraham,
spreading kindness and love, we can help precipitate the
coming of that age. And then, like Noach and his family, we
will merit the shining of the rainbow. As the Zohar 22
"The rainbow reflects spiritual secrets When you see the
rainbow shining with bright colors, wait for Mashiach's
two reasons for this: a) the conduct of these people did not generate reward,
for they did not show love to their fellow men; b) as mentioned in footnote 13,
Noach did not reach out to his contemporaries, nor did he endeavor to teach
them as Avraham did.
19. Isaiah 11:6.
20. Sefer HaMaamarim, Eshaleich Liozna, p. 57. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXV, Parshas
Noach, et al.
21. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5.
22. Vol. I, p. 72b.
LECH LECHA 13
לךלך Lech Lecha
A Journey To One's Self:
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 57ff; Vol. XX, p. 59ff, p. 301ff;
Vol. XXV, p. 52; Sefer HaSichos
5750, p. 96ff.
What the Torah Chooses to Highlight
Every child knows the story of Avraham — how he dis¬
covered G-d as a lad, broke his father's idols, was thrown
into the furnace by Nimrod and saved by G-d. 1
None of these details, however, can be found in the
Written Torah. The Torah mentions Avraham 2
at the close of Parshas Noach, 3
telling us that he was born,
that he married, and that he accompanied his father on his
See Bereishis Rabbah 38:13, Tana d'bei Eliyahu Zuta, ch. 25.
Referring to him with his initial name Avram.
14 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
journey from Ur towards Canaan. But the focus of these
verses is on Terach, not on Avraham. It is only in Parshas
Lech Lecha, with the command, 4
"Go out of your land, your
native country, and your father's house," that the Torah
begins unfolding the history of the founder of our people.
Why this emphasis Before receiving this command to
leave his father's house, Avraham had already attained a
high level of Divine service. He had "recognized his Creator"
at three, and from that age onward continued to grow
in faith. He had been willing to sacrifice his life for G-d, and
a miracle was performed to save him.
All this, however, represented merely his own striving to
approach G-d. The command Lech Lecha, "Go out of your
land," began a new and deeper relationship with his Maker.
For as our Sages state: 6
"A person who observes a mitzvah
because he is commanded to do so is greater than one who
observes it without having been so commanded."
,(צותא) and the word tzavta (מצוה) The word mitzvah
meaning "together," share the same root. 7
When a person
fulfills a divine command because he has been commanded
to do so, the act connects him to G-d in all His infinity. Were,
by contrast, the person to perform the same deed without
having been commanded to do so, the act, however worthy,
would remain merely a good deed.
This is implied by the command, "Go out." Avraham was
commanded to travel beyond his limited frame of reference
and establish an unlimited connection with G-d. 8
so, he defined the constantly flowering nature of the link
4. Genesis 12:1.
5. Nedarim 32a; Bereishis Rabbah 30:8.
6. Kiddushin 31a.
7. See Likkutei Torah, Parshas Bechukosai 45c.
8. There is also another dimension to this point of transition. Previously,
Avraham's service was primarily inner-directed, focused on his own spiritual
discovery and growth. His journey to Eretz Yisrael began a phase in which he
worked with others. These two concepts are interrelated, for the infinite
power of a mitzvah allows a person to go beyond his own individual limits.
LECH LECHA 15
between G-d and the Jewish people for all time. Our
connection to G-d is not dependent on our love, under¬
standing or belief, but comes as a response to G-d's initia¬
Our Rabbis 9
underscore this concept, stating that
Avraham's service anticipated the bond with G-d made
possible for everyone by the giving of the Torah.
Lech also means "proceed," referring to the beginning of
a journey. This concept is alluded to in the Torah's
description of Avraham "continuing on his way, steadily
progressing southward," 10
i.e., in the direction of Jerusalem,
the place where G-d's presence is most manifest.
Real spiritual progress requires that one leaves one's
current state behind. Yet as long as an individual's growth
depends entirely on his own power, his progress will be
nobody can exceed the bounds of his own under¬
standing. When, by contrast, one's progress is guided by
G-d, there are no limits to the potential for growth. The
Torah and its mitzvos can take a person far beyond his
natural horizons. To accentuate this point, G-d tells Avraham
to proceed "to the land which I will show you," without
specifying a destination.
9. Torah Or, Parshas Lech Lecha 11c. Sefer HaArachim Chabad, erech Avraham,
10. Genesis 9:12.
11. Bereishis Rabbah and Rashi on this verse.
12. In this vein, chassidic thought interprets the command, "Go out of your land,
your native country, and your father's house," as a charge to abandon one's
ordinary way of thinking. In this context, it is significant that this charge was
addressed to Avraham. Avraham's habits and way of thinking were already on
a high plane. Nevertheless, he was instructed to proceed to a higher level,
one which transcends the limits of mortal potential.
16 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
The expression "I will show you," arecka in Hebrew, can
also be rendered "I will reveal you," i.e., through the journey
to Eretz Yisrael, Avraham's true self was revealed to him.
This is also indicated by the expression Lech Lecha, which
literally means "go to yourself," i.e., "to your essence." 13
Avraham's willingness to put his individual will on the
side and respond to G-d's command allowed a more direct
connection between the Creator and the created. And in the
process, a boundless potential was unleashed, for every
Jew's soul is "an actual part of G-d." 14
This is the essence of
every man's spiritual journey: to transcend his ordinary way
of thinking, and to tap this G-dly core. 15
As we proceed through life, each of us is given the
chance to discover who he is, what G-d is, and that the two
Passing Through Shadows
In the course of one's spiritual travels, a person
encounters situations which can only be overcome with a
struggle, and which may even cause one to fall. Neverthe¬
less, since all phases of life's journey are guided by Divine
Providence, we must realize that the purpose of every
experience is positive. Even when we fall, we are being
given an opportunity — to borrow an expression from our
— to descend in order to ascend.
Why must a person face such challenges Two reasons
13. Alshich on this verse, Or HaTorah, Lech Lecha, Vol. IV, p. 680b et al.
14. Tanya, ch. 2.
15. This also relates to teshuvah, which chassidic thought interprets, not as
"repentance," but as a "return" to one's G-dly core. See the essay entitled
"Teshuvah — Return, not Repentance" in Timeless Patterns In Time, Vol. I,
(Kehot, N.Y., 1993).
16. Cf. Makkos 8a.
LECH LECHA 17
a) To bring out the power of one's soul. As long as a
person remains untested, he can "get by" without having to
tap his core. When, by contrast, one faces a fundamental
challenge, it becomes necessary to call upon one's spiritual
resources in order to succeed.
b) In the process of overcoming a challenge, a person
recognizes and thus elevates the sparks of G-dliness con¬
tained therein. For all existence is maintained by G-d's
creative energy; that energy is hidden within the world's
material substance. As a result of this "hiddeness," chal¬
lenges arise. By overcoming these challenges, a human
reveals the true G-dly nature of existence.
Avraham's spiritual journey contained such challenges.
Shortly after he entered Eretz Yisrael, he was forced to de¬
scend to Egypt, described as "the nakedness of the land." 17
The very name of the land, mitzrayim, is related to the word
meitzarim, meaning "boundaries" or "limitations." 18
And yet even Avraham's descent brought him blessing.
He left Egypt "very rich in cattle, in silver, and gold." 19
Moreover, this wealth came from spiritual effort; Avraham
had elevated some of the sparks of G-dliness invested in
that country. 20
To Journey With Others
A person's spiritual quest should not be a lonely jour¬
ney. On the contrary, one of the hallmarks of personal
development is an increasing capacity to inspire others.
17. Cf. Genesis 42:9, 12.
18. Torah Or, Va'eira, p. 57b ff.
19. Genesis 13:2.
20. In this vein, our Sages (Bereishis Rabbah 40:6) explain that Avraham's jour¬
neys to and from Egypt served as a forerunner for the subsequent descent
and ascent of his offspring. Like him, they suffered difficulty in that land, but
ultimately left (as G-d promised to Avraham, Genesis 15:14) with "great
wealth." And as explained with regard to Avraham, this wealth symbolized
the elevation of the G-dly sparks contained within the land.
18 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Avraham surely gained such an ability, as our Sages comment
21 with regard to the verse, 22 "And he called in the
name of the G-d of the universe": "Do not read ויקרא ('And he
called'), read ויקריא ('And he had others call')."
This concept is also reflected in the changing of his
name from Avram to Avraham. 23 Rashi 24 explains that Avram
implies merely "father of Aram," while Avraham alludes to
the Hebrew words meaning "father of many nations." The
change implies that Avraham had been given the potential
to inspire and influence all the nations of the world to begin
striving toward spiritual goals.
A Sign in Our Flesh
Significantly, Avraham was given this name in connec¬
tion with the mitzvah of circumcision. Circumcision — an
act which affects the most basic physical aspect of our
being, demonstrates that our spiritual quest is not an
attempt to escape worldly reality, but is rather an attempt
to refine it. Circumcision represents a "covenant in the
and endows even our physical bodies with sanctity.
21. Sotah 10a.
22. Genesis 21:33.
23. Ibid. 17:5.
24. In his commentary to that verse.
25. Genesis 17:13.
26. Our Sages (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:3; see also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 8, p. 58 and
sources cited there) contrast the mitzvos performed by the forefathers with
those performed after the giving of the Torah, explaining that the mitzvos
performed by the forefathers were "ethereal," i.e., they did not affect this
material world. In contrast, the mitzvos we perform infuse material existence
with holiness, to the extent that the articles with which mitzvos are
performed become consecrated. [See the essay entitled "What Happened at
Sinai What the Giving of the Torah Means to Us" (Timeless Patterns In Time,
Vol. II, Kehot, N.Y., 1994). Note also the connection developed in that essay
with the concept of performing mitzvos in response to G-d's command.]
Circumcision is, however, unique. Even when performed by the forefa¬
thers, it affected physical reality, achieving as it did a unity between the
physical and the spiritual. Evidence of this can be seen from Avraham's
LECH LECHA 19
The Promise of Eretz Yisrael
The above concepts enable us to appreciate why the
promise of Eretz Yisrael to Avraham's descendants is men¬
tioned in connection with circumcision. Circumcision
reflects the unification of the spiritual and the physical in
one's person, while the relationship between the Jews and
Eretz Yisrael reflects a unification of spirituality and physicality
in the world at large.
In this sense, the attainment of physical Eretz Yisrael
represents the culmination of Avraham's spiritual journey.
For the most complete departure from any cultural envi¬
ronment is reflected in the transformation of that envi¬
ronment. Thus the fulfillment of G-d's command for Avraham
to break the chains of material existence (Lech Lecha)
comes about as his descendants struggle to transform Eretz
Yisrael into a dwelling fit for G-d.
The promise of Eretz Yisrael will not truly be fulfilled
until the Era of the Redemption. In that sense, the journey
that began with the command Lech Lecha remains an ongo¬
ing mission for all of Avraham's descendants. Until the
coming of Mashiach, we must be constantly exceeding our
spiritual limitations, striving to bring ourselves and our
environment to fulfillment.
instructions to Eliezer in the method of taking an oath (Genesis 24:2), which
had to be taken while holding an object of holiness. Lacking any other such
object, Avraham told Eliezer: "Place your hand beneath my thigh."
The Revelation to Avraham
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, p. 49ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayeira 5749, 5750, 5751, 5752
A Child's Tears
When Rabbi Sholem Dov Ber, the fifth of the Lubavitcher
Rebbeim, was a young child, he was taken to his
grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek for a birthday blessing.
When he entered his grandfather's room, he began to cry.
After calming him, his grandfather asked him the reason
for his tears. The child replied: "In cheder, we learned that
G-d revealed Himself to Avraham. Why doesn't He reveal
Himself to me"
22 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
The Tzemach Tzedek replied: "When a Jew 1 who is 99
years old recognizes that he must circumcise himself, he
deserves that G-d reveal Himself to him." 2
The Zohar 3
highlights Avraham's circumcision as a
turning point in the nature of the revelations he received.
When describing the revelations Avraham was granted
before the circumcision, the Torah states: 4
appeared to him in a vision," using the Aramaic term
machezeh (מחזה) for the word "vision." In contrast, Parshas
Vayeira begins "And G-d appeared to him," 5
Hebrew term ,(וירא) which implies direct revelation.
Hebrew is Lashon HaKodesh, "the holy tongue," the
language which G-d employs to express Himself. Other
languages, by contrast, are human inventions. By using an
Aramaic term, the Torah implies that the revelations
Avraham experienced before circumcision were clothed in
the trappings of our material world. He could conceive of
G-d only in human terms; he could not appreciate Him as He
A great gap separates mortal man from G-d's infinity. By
definition, any human conception can be only a restricted
view. The act of circumcision transformed Avraham,
enabling him to perceive G-d as He is. Therefore the
revelation of Vayeira was direct, without veils or con¬
straints. G-d manifested Himself for Avraham openly,
spanning the gap separating every created being from its
1. According to an alternate version "a tzaddik."
2. Sichos Chof Cheshvan, 5693; appears in a condensed form in HaYom Yom,
entry 9 Cheshvan.
3. Vol. I, p. 88b, see also p. 98a.
4. Genesis 15:1.
5. Ibid. 18:1.
Man's Striving, G-d's Response
The above clarifies the distinction between Parshas Lech
Lecha and Parshas Vayeira. Parshas Lech Lecha describes
Avraham's struggle to exceed the limits of mortal existence
and develop a complete bond with G-d. 6
The culmination of
this spiritual quest was his circumcision, which established
such a bond in his actual flesh. 7
Parshas Vayeira, by contrast, represents a different
mode of conduct. The direct revelation of G-dliness remade
Avraham's nature. While he continued to exist within a
material body and function within his worldly environment,
he was able to share a complete and all-encompassing link
Avraham left this heritage to his descendants, for "the
deeds of the forefathers serve as a sign to their children." 8
By observing the Torah and its mitzvos, every Jew has the
potential to transcend his individual nature and enter into a
limitless bond with G-d.
Sickness and Healing
The revelation of Parshas Vayeira is associated with
healing. Avraham was suffering from the pain of circumci¬
sion. G-d came to "visit the sick," 9
and with that visit, healed
,חולה To explain this phenomenon: The Hebrew word
meaning "afflicted by sickness," is numerically equivalent to
6. See the previous essay entitled "A Journey To One's Self."
7. See Genesis 17:13.
8. OrHaTorah, Lech Lecha; cf. Ramban on Genesis 12:6, Bereishis Rabbah 40:6.
9. Sotah 14a.
10. See the commentary of the Ramban to Genesis 18:2. In explanation, one might
say that with regard to visiting the sick, our Sages (Nedarim 39b) state that
the visit removes a sixtieth of the infirmity. When, however, a sick person is
visited by G-d Himself, the infirmity is removed entirely. See Likkutei Sichos,
Vol. V, p. 84.
24 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
49. 11 Our Sages 12 speak of the "50 gates of understanding"
which grant man knowledge of G-d. Within the scope of
mortal knowledge, it is possible to "enter" only 49 of these
gates. The fiftieth is by definition above our grasp.
A person who has attained the forty-ninth level appre¬
ciates his inadequacy^3
and wants to rise above it. The fact
that his very humanity prevents him from doing so makes
him sick at heart. King Solomon alluded to this malady with
his allegory, 14
"Support me with the stout trunks; let me rest
among the apple trees, for I am lovesick."
Such a sickness is healed through the consummate
revelation of Vayeira. Only the direct manifestation of G-d
fulfills this yearning, and remakes a person's nature, allow¬
ing him to realize his innate G-dly essence and function
beyond his mortal limitations. 15
With the Heart of a Child
The desire for a direct bond with G-d is a fundamental
element of every person's makeup. When the Rebbe Rashab
came to his grandfather for a birthday blessing, he merely
expressed this longing.
The moral of the story is universal. Within every one of
us there is a simple, childlike dimension that yearns to
11. Taamei HaMitzvos from the AriZal, Parshas Vayeira.
12. Rosh HaShanah 21b.
13. Needless to say, this should also apply to a person on a lower rung. Never¬
theless, when an individual has not developed himself, he is often content
with his inadequacy. A person who has attained the forty-ninth gate, by con¬
trast, has long been concerned with his personal development, and under¬
stands the nature of his limitations.
14. Song of Songs 2:5. See the interpretation of this concept in Or HaTorah, Parshas
15. With the expression "And G-d appeared to him," the Torah indicates that the
revelation permeated Avraham, suffusing every aspect of his personality.
Moreover, the Torah mentions that this revelation took place "in the plains of
Mamre," indicating that Avraham was to extend the revelation beyond his
own person, transforming his environment.
cleave to G-d. Without ceasing to function as mature indi¬
viduals, each of us can share an all-encompassing relation¬
ship with G-d. 16
The above is particularly relevant in the present age,
brief moments before Mashiach's coming. For the essence of
the Era of the Redemption will be the direct revelation of
G-d; "Your Master will conceal Himself no longer, and your
eyes will perceive your Master." 17
As we stand on the
threshold of this era, the inner thirst can be felt more
Moreover, the potential exists to experience a foretaste
of the Redemption in the present age. We can develop an
awareness of G-d and recognize Him as an actual force
pervading every aspect of our lives.
Measure for Measure
The Torah tells us that G-d appeared to Avraham while
he was "sitting at the entrance of his tent, in the heat of the
Why was he sitting there To look for guests. 19
dedicated himself to deeds of kindness, feeding hungry
wayfarers in an effort to heighten their awareness of G-d. 20
16. In addition to the lesson the story holds for us as individuals, it communi¬
cates a lesson for us as parents: we must appreciate the unique sensitivity of
our children and educate them in a manner that makes G-d a real and
powerful force in their lives. They should desire a bond with G-d with an
intensity that brings them to tears.
17. Isaiah 30:20; see also Tanya, ch. 36.
18. Genesis 18:1.
19. Rashi on this verse.
20. Thus after providing them with food and drink, Avraham insisted that his
guests bless "He from whose bounty you have eaten... He who spoke and
brought the world into being" (Sotah 10a).
26 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Because he extended himself 21
to bring others closer to G-d,
G-d showed him a supreme expression of closeness.
"Days are coming..., [when people will be] hungry, but
not for bread; thirsty, but not for water, but to hear the
word of G-d." 22
Only at times, as in the story of the Rebbe
Rashab, is this thirst consciously expressed. In most
instances, a person will be unaware of his own thirst. Nev¬
ertheless, when we emulate Avraham's example and extend
ourselves to others, we will discover an eager readiness to
respond that reflects their inner need.
And as in the example of Avraham, these outreach
efforts will benefit not only the recipients, but also the giv¬
ers, precipitating a deeper connection to G-dliness. This
bond will continue to blossom until it reaches perfection in
the Era of the Redemption. May this be realized in the
21. Avraham's dedication can be seen in the fact that he sought guests despite
the fact that he was: a) 99 years old; b) recovering from circumcision; and c)
exposed to the heat of the day.
22. Amos 8:11.
CHAYEI SARAH 27
ח״שרה Chayei Sarah
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 338ff; Vol. XV, p. 145ff
What Death Cannot Kill
The reading Chayei Sarah ("The life of Sarah") begins by
telling of Sarah's death, which features in much of the
subsequent narrative. This evokes an obvious question:
Why is the reading entitled "The life of Sarah"
This question can be resolved on the basis of our Sages'
"Yaakov our Patriarch did not die." Although he
was mourned and buried, his descendants perpetuate his
spiritual heritage. And so, Yaakov is still alive.
1. Taanis 5a.
28 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
The same can be true for any individual. It is the spiri¬
tual content of our lives, and not our physical existence,
which is fundamental. 2
The boundaries of mortal existence
cannot contain this spiritual dimension.
This is the message hidden in the name of this Torah
reading: that Sarah's spiritual "tree" continued to bear fruit
long after her physical life ended. The three main elements
of the reading: the acquisition of the Cave of Machpelah,
Eliezer's mission to find a wife for Yitzchak, and Avraham's
subsequent remarriage and fathering of other children, are
part of the continuing work of Sarah's spirit.
Concentration and Focus
What constituted the essence of Sarah's Divine service
She was Avraham's wife. She nurtured his potential, making
sure it was applied in the most beneficial manner possible.
Avraham dispensed kindness freely, granting hospitality
to all wayfarers, even to those who would bow to the dust
on their own feet. 3
He gave generously, unconcerned
whether his influence would leave a lasting impression.
Sarah, by contrast, (particularly after the birth of Yitzchak)
strived to focus her husband's influence. She sought to
direct it to those recipients who would give it expression in
This pattern is reflected in Avraham's progeny. He
fathered many children. Sarah, by contrast, bore only
Yitzchak. Avraham's unbounded generosity caused him to
consider even Yishmael worthy. After G-d told him of the
impending birth of Yitzchak, he prayed: 5
"May Yishmael live
2. See Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 27. Although the Alter Rebbe's statements apply
to tzaddikim, that is because a tzaddik realizes this potential and devotes his
life to these spiritual goals.
3. Rashi, Genesis 18:4.
4. See Or HaTorah, Chayei Sarah 120a ff based on Bava Basra 58a.
5. Genesis 17:18.
CHAYEI SARAH 29
before You." Afterwards, although G-d had told Avraham
"I will keep My covenant with [Yitzchak] as a bond,"
Avraham still loved Yishmael 7
and desired to raise him in
It was Sarah who demanded: 8
"Drive away this maid¬
servant and her son, for [he]... will not inherit together with
my son, with Yitzchak." Sarah understood that all the
members of Avraham's household had to be individuals
whose conduct reflected Avraham's spiritual heritage.
Eretz Yisrael — Our Heritage
On this basis, we can appreciate Sarah's influence on the
events described in our Torah reading. Avraham had
already been promised Eretz Yisrael, but that promise had
yet to be realized. It was through the acquisition of the Cave
of Machpelah — obviously associated with Sarah — that a
part of Eretz Yisrael first became an eternal heritage for the
Jewish people. For the first time, the spiritual nature of our
holy land was given actual expression.
There is also a deeper dimension. Our Sages state 9
Adam and Chavah, ancestors of the entire human race, were
also buried in Machpelah. Thus before Sarah's burial, the
Cave of Machpelah shared a connection with mankind as a
whole. Sarah's burial there — in continuation of the drive
she exhibited throughout her life — established the site as
the exclusive heritage of the Jewish people.
7. Note Rashi's commentary to Genesis 22:2, which states that, from Avraham's
perspective, the phrase "your son, your only one whom you love" could also
have referred to Yishmael.
8. Op. cit. 21:10.
9. Eruvin 53a.
30 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
A Wife for Yitzchak
Similarly, with regard to the marriage of Yitzchak and
Rivkah, it was the fact that Sarah's spiritual virtues were
reflected in Rivkah which endeared her to Yitzchak. When
he saw that her candles burned from Shabbos to Shabbos,
that her dough rose with a special blessing, and that a cloud
of glory hovered over her tent, 10
he knew his mother's
lifework hadn't ended. It was then that "Yitzchak was
Moreover, the entire narrative of Eliezer's journey and
selection of Rivkah reflects Sarah's initiative, ensuring that
the wife chosen for Yitzchak would serve as an appropriate
channel for the blessings of Avraham's household. For that
reason, although Eliezer was a devoted servant and a
diligent disciple of Avraham, when he proposed his own
daughter as a match for Yitzchak, Avraham refused. 12
Yitzchak's wife had to come from the same roots that made
possible the focused spiritual purpose and kindness
exemplified by Avraham and Sarah. 13
Even the final element of the Torah reading, Avraham's
fathering of other children, shows Sarah's influence. For
although Avraham fathered these children, "he gave eve¬
rything he owned to Yitzchak." 14
To these children "he gave
10. Rashi, Genesis 24:67; Bereishis Rabbah 60:15. These three signs reflect the
three mitzvos granted to women: the kindling of the Sabbath candles, the
separation of challah (and by extension the entire realm of kashrus), and the
observance of taharas hamishpochah (the Torah's guidelines for marital life).
See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, p. 163ff.
11. Genesis, loc. cit.
12. Rashi, Genesis 24:39, Bereishis Rabbah 59:9.
13. Moreover, she would have to show these virtues in her conduct. This explains
the sign chosen by Eliezer: acts of hospitality. This would show that the
maiden would be an appropriate wife for Yitzchak, and fit to take up her role
in the household of Avraham (Rashi, Genesis 24:14).
14. Genesis 25:4.
CHAYEI SARAH 31
gifts, and while he was still alive, he sent them eastward, to
the eastern lands, away from his son Yitzchak." 15
Responding to the continuing influence of Sarah, 16 Avraham
thus demonstrated that he considered Yitzchak alone his
Moreover, even Yishmael acknowledged this distinction
and, at Avraham's burial, gave Yitzchak precedence despite
the fact that Yishmael was older. By conceding that it was
Yitzchak who was obligated to bury Avraham, he
underscored the fact that Yitzchak was the one who
perpetuated Avraham's spiritual heritage.
This was the contribution of Sarah. It was she who,
when Yishmael boasted that he was the firstborn and thus
deserved a double share of Avraham's inheritance, 17
sure he understood that Yitzchak was Avraham's sole
The name Sarah (שרה) is associated with the Hebrew
word ,שררה meaning "dominion." 18 For Sarah's lifework was
to show the supremacy of Avraham's spirit, and to reveal
that the purpose of his existence was to express that spirit.
Her death did not end her influence. As the events in the
Torah reading indicate, her "tree" continued to bear fruit;
she was possessed of true life.
The deeds a person performs in life precipitate others. 19
Thus the goodness with which a person endows his family
and environment creates an ongoing dynamic toward good.
16. See the gloss of the Baalei Tosafos and the Kli Yakor.
17. See Rashi, Genesis 21:10, Bereishis Rabbah 53:11.
18. See Rashi, Genesis 17:15, Berachos 13a.
19. Thus our Sages (Sanhedrin 104a) comment that when a person brings merit to
others, the merit the recipients generate afterwards is also credited to him,
for he is the source of this good.
32 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
And this dynamic continues to bear fruit after the person's
passing, helping increase the goodness and virtue in the
world until the coming of the Era of the Redemption, when
these forces will permeate all existence.
The Path To Posterity
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, p. 191ff; Vol. XXV, p. 123ff
A Lasting Legacy
All of us want to be remembered. We want our lives to
bring something lasting into the world. This is the message
of Parshas Toldos: that a person can leave a legacy that will
continue to thrive after his passing.
Our Rabbis offer two definitions of the word Toldos:
a) Progeny, 1 this includes a person's biological children
and his "spiritual children," i.e., individuals whom he has
1. Rashi, Genesis 25:19.
34 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Both types of children perpetuate a person's influ¬
b) The chronicles of one's life and experiences. 3 When a
person's life is filled with inner meaning, stories about his
life provide inspiration for people in coming generations.
A Fountain of Inner Strength
With whom does the Torah choose to associate the
message of Toldos Yitzchak. 4
Two things reflect the nature
of Yitzchak's Divine service: a) unlike his father Avraham,
he never left Eretz Yisrael, 5
and b) his efforts were focused
on digging wells. 6
Avraham spread G-dliness in the lands in which he
sojourned. He "proclaimed... to the entire world... that there
is one G-d and it is befitting to serve Him. He would travel
from city to city and from country to country, gathering
people and proclaiming [G-d's existence]." 7
Yitzchak, by contrast, never traveled outside the Holy
Land, and even within Eretz Yisrael, we do not find many
stories of his efforts to reach out to others. His Divine
service had an inward focus.
This is reflected in his preoccupation with digging wells.
Digging a well involves removing layers of earth to uncover
hidden sources of life-giving water. Spiritually, "digging"
2. See Sanhedrin 19b, Rashi, Numbers 3:1.
3. Seforno, loc. cit.
4. This is borne out by the fact that both Parshas Noach and Parshas Toldos
begin with the words: Eleh toldos, 'These are the chronicles of...." Neverthe¬
less, Parshas Noach is given that name because the lessons it teaches center
on the concepts of satisfaction and repose (see the essay entitled "Genuine
Satisfaction: Noach's Legacy"). By contrast, Parshas Toldos, which focuses on
the chronicles of Yitzchak's life, communicates the importance of creating a
5. See Genesis 26:2-3, and Rashi's commentary. See also Bereishis Rabbah 64:3.
6. Genesis 26:18ff.
7. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 1:2, based on Sotah 10a,
Bereishis Rabbah, the conclusion of sec. 54.
refers to the work of reaching one's G-dly core and tapping
it as a source of inner strength. Each of us has a neshamah
which is "an actual part of G-d;" 8
every entity is maintained
by a G-dly spark. Yitzchak's goal was to activate these inner
potentials, bring them to the surface and, use them to
initiate positive change.
In this manner, the awareness of G-d becomes an inte¬
gral part of one's life. It does not remain dependent on the
teachings of others, but comes from one's own insight. This
in turn enables one to realize the G-dliness present in every
element of existence.
In this context, our Sages interpret 9 the verse, 10 "Dwell in
this land," as "Cause the Divine Presence to rest in this
land" — help the world manifest its G-dly core.
inwardness Which Leads Outward
This is surely a worthy path of Divine service, but why is
it associated with the name Toldos, which means
"progeny" It would seem more appropriate to associate the
concept of Toldos with the Divine service of Avraham, for he
actively sought to communicate the awareness of G-d to
By naming this reading Toldos, our Rabbis underscore
the fact that the inwardness of Yitzchak also produces
"progeny." Yitzchak's Divine service and the positive influ¬
ence it generated attracted the attention of others and
motivated them to follow his guidance. In this vein, our
Torah reading relates that Avimelech, king of the Philistines,
and Phicol, his general, came to visit Yitzchak and told him:
"We have seen that G-d is with you." 11
8. Tanya, ch. 2.
9. Bereishis Rabbah 64:3.
10. Genesis 26:2.
11. Ibid. :28.
36 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Yitzchak's Divine service brought them to a recognition
of G-d's active presence in the world. Indeed, the awareness
inspired by Yitzchak was more permanent than that
generated by Avraham, for it came from the people
themselves. Yitzchak's internalized bond with G-d inspired
the people around him to perceive G-d's influence. 12
To Communicate to Our Children
In the most complete sense, our desire to be remem¬
bered is focused on our children. We want them to continue
and further our principles and values. And here a difficulty
arises: Yitzchak's children were Esav and Yaakov. Yaakov
indeed perpetuated and enhanced Yitzchak's Divine service.
Esav, however, rejected Yitzchak's path entirely. Moreover,
this difficulty is compounded by the fact that a major
portion of the Torah reading concerns itself with Esav.
Indeed, on the phrase "And these are the toldos of
Yitzchak," the Midrash states 13
that the word toldos refers
specifically to Esav.
Although Esav's conduct did not openly demonstrate
that he was Yitzchak's son, the connection nevertheless
existed. This is reflected by our Sages' statement 14
Esav's head was buried "in the bosom of Yitzchak his
father." Similarly, our Sages explain 15
that, in contrast to
Yishmael, who is not considered an heir of Avraham, Esav is
considered one of Yitzchak's heirs. For the home of Esav's
soul, his head, contained powerful divine sparks associated
12. In this way, Yitzchak's "progeny" resembled him as children resemble a
13. Shmos Rabbah 30:3.
14. Targum Yonason, Genesis 50:13. Toras Chayim 89d cites this statement in the
name of the Zohar. See also similar quotes in Sotah 13a, Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer,
15. Kiddushin 18a.
For this reason, Yitzchak desired to give his blessing to
Esav rather than to Yaakov. As a father, Yitzchak was con¬
stantly struggling to motivate Esav to live up to his spiritual
potential, and he thought that granting these blessings to
him would further this purpose. 16
The pattern which G-d invested in the world, however, is
that Esav will not uncover his spiritual potential inde¬
pendently. Instead, it is Yaakov — and his descendants —
whose Divine service reveal this resource. This is reflected
in the labors of the Jewish people in the present exile,
identified as "the exile of Edom (Esav)" — to uncover the
spiritual potential which Esav possesses. 17
The final consummation of these efforts will come in the
Era of the Redemption, when "deliverers will go up to Mount
Zion to judge the mountain of Esav, and the sovereignty will
be G-d's." 18
At that time, the powerful spiritual energies
which Esav possesses will surface and be given appropriate
A Source of Light for All Mankind
Our Sages relate 19
that in the Era of the Redemption,
Jews will praise Yitzchak, telling him: "You are our Patri¬
arch." For in that era, the inward thrust of Yitzchak will
permeate all existence. "The occupation of the entire world
will be solely to know G-d. The Jews will be great sages and
,חייו if, 16. This provides every parent with a lesson in relating to children, even
their conduct — like Esav's — is lacking. A parent should never give up, and
should continue trying to develop his child's inner potential foreover.
Since "all Jews are responsible for one another" (Shavuos 39a), this lesson
applies not only to our children, but with regard to every member of the
Jewish nation. We must, to quote the Mishnah (Avos 1:12): "Love the created
beings and bring them close to the Torah."
17. Examples of the realization of Esav's spiritual potential can be seen in the
converts from among his descendants: the prophet Ovadiah, Onkelos, and
Rabbi Meir (Torah Or, Toldos 20c).
18. Ovadiah 1:21.
19. Shabbos 89b.
38 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
will know the hidden matters, attaining an understanding of
their Creator to the [full] extent of mortal expression." 20
Although all Jews will then live in Eretz Yisrael, they will
— as their ancestor Yitzchak did — influence mankind as a
whole, motivating all to seek G-dly knowledge. "And it shall
come to pass in the end of days that the mountain of G-d's
house will be established on the top of the mountains and
all the nations shall flow unto it. Many people shall say:
'Come let us ascend the mountain of G-d... and He will teach
us of His ways.' " 21
May this take place in the immediate
20. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5.
21. Isaiah 2:2-3.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, p. 88ff; Vol. IX, p. 26ff;
Vol. XV, p. 231ff, 243ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5748, p. 125ff
From Eretz Yisrael to Charan
We all live in several environments. Some of these — like
our homes, our workplaces, and the social environments we
create — are within our sphere of influence. They are small
systems, and the contribution each person makes clearly
On the other hand, there are also larger environments
— our community, the country in which we live, the world
40 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
at large — where our influence is not felt as strongly. On the
contrary, these environments often force us to adjust.
Parshas Vayeitzei focuses on the transition from one
environment to another, and the changes this brings about
in a person's conduct. Vayeitzei means "and he went out,"
and the reading describes how Yaakov departed from Eretz
and went to Charan, an alien environment. The
Hebrew word charan is associated with anger, and thus our
Sages interpret 2
this name as referring to the arousal of
There are three dimensions to Yaakov's stay in Charan:
a) He was confronted by a personal challenge. In the
company of Lavan and others like him, he had to struggle to
maintain his virtue.
b) He built his family. During his stay in Charan, he
married and fathered twelve of his thirteen children.
Despite the influences that prevailed in the community at
large, Yaakov infused his family with the spiritual heritage
received from Avraham: "to keep the way of G-d and to
implement righteousness and judgment." 3
In doing so, he
established the Jewish modus vivendi for all time.
c) He elevated the environment of Charan, lifting up the
G-dly sparks enclothed in that land's material substance.
This was reflected by his acquisition of Lavan's sheep and
the great wealth which he amassed.
1. The nature of the transition undergone by Yaakov is amplified by our Sages
(Megillah 17a, quoted by Rashi in his gloss to Genesis 28:9) who state that
during the 14 years prior to his departure to Charan, Yaakov studied in the
yeshivah of Shem and Ever. During this time, he was devoted solely to spiri¬
tuality. In contrast, in Charan, material concerns dominated his time and
effort: "Twenty years I worked for you... By day, I was consumed by scorching
heat, and at night by the frost; sleep was snatched from my eyes" (Genesis
2. Rashi, Genesis 11:32.
3. Genesis 18:19.
Extending the Sphere of Holiness
Each of these endeavors required unique spiritual
powers. By overcoming the personal challenges posed by
his surroundings, Yaakov showed the infinite power of the
G-dly soul: even a hostile environment cannot prevent its
expression. By raising a family, he extended his circle of
influence, enabling it to encompass others.
Yaakov's acquisition of wealth — and the refinement of
the environment it symbolizes — represents a far greater
extension. The material possessions acquired by Yaakov
were not, by nature, holy. On the contrary, without
Yaakov's influence, Charan and all of its elements aroused
G-d's anger. By elevating them, Yaakov was thus working to
fulfill the purpose of creation, showing how even the lowest
dimensions of existence can be transformed into a dwelling
for G-d. 4
Since Yaakov and his family shared an inherent con¬
nection to holiness, the fact that they were able to maintain
this connection despite the challenges of a foreign
environment, although a worthy attainment, cannot be
considered an accomplishment of their own. The refinement
Yaakov brought about in Charan, by contrast, was his own
achievement, one which changed the nature of his
In this manner, he set a pattern for his descendants,
demonstrating how they would become G-d's partner in
creation. 5 They would journey throughout the world
uncovering the spiritual potential invested in the different
elements of existence, revealing that "everything that the
Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created
solely for His glory." 6
See Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.
42 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Kindness, Might, and Beauty
These efforts distinguish the Divine service of Yaakov
from that of his forebears, Avraham and Yitzchak. Our
have identified Avraham's service with the attribute
of kindness (chesed), Yitzchak's with might (gevurah), and
Yaakov's with beauty (tiferes).
Chesed reflects a thrust outward; the person gives gen¬
erously, without considering whether the recipients are
worthy or not. Thus Avraham showered kindness on people
"who bowed down to the dust on their own feet." 8
fact that this generosity is given indiscriminately allows for
the possibility that it will not change the inner nature of the
recipients. For this reason, although Avraham lived among
the Canaanites for decades, and they recognized him as "a
prince of G-d," 9 they did not alter their conduct.
Gevurah is directed inward. As our Sages commented: 10
"Who is a mighty man One who conquers his natural
inclination." Inner-directed activity produces change, but
that change is primarily within oneself. Although this inner
light also radiates outward and inspires others, in the final
analysis, each person must elevate himself, and thus
gevurah will not affect those resistant to change. Therefore
Yitzchak lived only in the Holy Land; he could not relate to
life outside the realm of holiness. Even in Eretz Yisrael, he
had contact with far fewer people than did his father.
In Kabbalistic texts, it is explained that Yaakov's attrib¬
ute, tiferes, beauty, comes from a fusion of chesed and
gevurah. For neither a single motif, nor its opposite, is
beautiful. Beauty comes from the fusing of different and
7. Zohar, Vol. III, p. 179b; Torah Or, Bereishis, p. 17c.
8. See Bava Metzia 86b; Rashi, Genesis 18:4.
9. Ibid. 23:6.
10. Avos 4:1.
even opposite tendencies. This reflects the influence of the
Ein Sof, an infinite quality. 11
Similarly, Yaakov is identified with the quality of Truth.
For Truth has a dimension that transcends mortal limits,
being above all possibility of change or interruption. With
Truth, one can reach out and change environments, for
nothing can oppose Truth.
Thus Yaakov is described 12
as receiving "a heritage that
has no boundaries," and is given the blessing: 13
shall spread out eastward, westward, northward, and
southward." For as evidenced by his journey to Charan (and
later to Egypt), he was able to elevate even foreign settings.
"The Deeds of the Patriarchs are Signs
for Their Descendants" 14
Yaakov's journey to Charan serves as an analogy for the
descent of our souls into our bodies. 15
In the spiritual realm,
our souls experience direct revelations of G-dliness.
Nevertheless, they "go out" from that realm and descend
into bodies to live in this material world. Following the
pattern set by our Patriarch Yaakov, every soul confronts
the challenge of physical existence.
As a person matures, he establishes a family, creating an
environment in which his values are expressed. Similarly,
through contact with the world at large, he refines and
elevates the G-dly life-force invested in creation.
11. This is a restatement of the Kabbalistic expression (Toras Chayim, Bereishis,
55b): "the middle vector [in which tiferes is located] ascends to the inner
dimensions of Keser."
12. Shabbos 118a.
13. Genesis 28:14.
14. See Ramban, commentary to Genesis 12:6; Or HaTorah, beginning of Parshas
15. The commentary of Or HaChaim to Genesis 28:14. See also Kitzurim VeHaaros
LeTanya, p. 57.
44 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
This pattern is also reflected in the exiles of the Jewish
people at large. 16
Our people have been forced to leave the
holiness of Eretz Yisrael and journey among the nations.
Throughout the centuries, despite the challenges presented
by the societies in which we dwelt, we have held true to our
spiritual heritage, have maintained a tradition of family life,
and have elevated the material substance of the world,
showing how it is G-d's dwelling.
Exile is Only Temporary
On the way to Charan, Yaakov experienced a vision of
G-d in which G-d promised him: 17
"I will return you to this
soil." This indicates that Yaakov's mission (to go to Charan)
and the mission of the Jewish people at large (to make the
world a dwelling for G-d) are not ends in themselves.
Yaakov was not intended to stay in Charan forever, and our
exile too will come to an end. For every Jew's true place is
in Eretz Yisrael.
This is no longer a dream, but a reality that is becoming
manifest. To borrow an expression from the Previous
"There is nothing left to do. The coat is already
sewn. We have even polished the buttons." We are on the
threshold of the Redemption, and indeed are crossing that
threshold. Soon Mashiach will lead every Jew out of exile
and back to our Holy Land.
See Zohar Chadash, Bereishis 147a; Bereishis Rabbah 68:13.
See Sichos Simchas Torah, 5689.
And its Purpose
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, pgs. 323-324;
5748, p. 138ff;
Sichos Simchas Torah, 5748
Three Conceptions of an Agent's Function
Delegation of responsibility is one of the primary chal¬
lenges in all successful enterprises, for there is no way one
individual can deal successfully with every detail of a
complex undertaking. In seeking to define the dynamics of
delegation, our Rabbis have offered 1
three different con¬
ceptions of the relationship between a principal (meshaleiach)
and his agent (shliach):
1. See Lekach Tov (by Rav Yosef Engel), sec. 1.
46 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
a) An agent is considered an independent entity, and
must take responsibility for the deed he performs. Never¬
theless, the consequences of the deed — both positive and
negative — are borne by the principal.
b) Although an agent is considered an independent
entity, since he is acting under the aegis of the principal, the
deed he performs is considered as if performed by the
c) As implied by the simple meaning of the expression, 2
"A person's agent is considered as the person himself," an
agent is considered to be an extension of the principal — a
"long hand," as it were. 3
In this regard, every aspect of an
agent's being is associated with the principal.
An Agency Entrusted to Every One of Us
Two features are common to all three perspectives:
a) An agent's ability to act on behalf of a principal
depends on the principal's empowering him to do so.
Therefore, if an agent deviates from the instructions of his
principal, his agency is revoked. 4
b) To be successful, an agent must use his own abilities,
devoting his intellect and energy to the task at hand. For
even an agent who acts as an extension of his principal
appreciates that, in fact, he is a separate entity, and must
execute the assigned task using his own initiative. 5
These concepts have parallels in our Divine service. For
every human being is an agent of G-d, 6
entrusted with the
2. Kiddushin 41b.
3. See the Kuntres Acharon to Shulchan Aruch HaRav 263:25.
4. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shluchim 1:2; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 182:2.
5. As a reflection of this concept, Gittin 23a states that an agent must be an
intellectually mature individual, able to accept and discharge responsibility.
6. See Likkutei Torah, Vayikra 1c.
responsibility of bringing the world to its desired purpose
by demonstrating that the world is G-d's dwelling. 7
In accomplishing this task, we must remember that we
are only agents; the world is G-d's dwelling, and He has
outlined His plans for the functioning of that dwelling in the
Torah's teachings. Any other conception, however
beneficial it may appear, is a deviation from our mission. 8
Nonetheless, G-d expects us to use our own initiative to
accomplish this task. For life is not a textbook, and the
practical application of the Torah and its mitzvos in the
particular environments and situations which confront us
requires that we use our own minds and hearts to discern
the appropriate response at any given time.
Changing Ourselves as We Change the World
As we apply ourselves to our mission, we also internal¬
ize it. Not only do we effect changes in the world, we our¬
selves change. Just as an agent must be identified with his
principal, we must give ourselves over to G-d's will and
identify with it. The extent of that identification differs from
person to person. In this respect, the three conceptions of
shlichus mentioned above can be seen as three different
approaches to Divine service.
There are tzaddikim, righteous men, whose commitment
to G-dliness dominates their personality; every aspect of
their being is permeated with G-dliness. Their thoughts —
and even their will and their pleasure — reflect G-d's.
This, however, is a rung which most people cannot
attain. But the second level — in which each person
remains an independent entity although his deeds are not
his own — is within the reach of more individuals. For the
7. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.
8. Moreover, our power to effect change in the world is not our own; the soul,
"an actual part of G-d" (Tanya, ch. 2), was granted to each of us.
48 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
mitzvos we perform are not human acts; they are G-dly, so a
person who performs them selflessly expresses their inner
G-dly power. 9
There are individuals at an even lower level; they are not
concerned with the G-dly nature of the mitzvos they
perform. Nevertheless, they perform mitzvos — for even
"the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvos as a pome¬
granate is filled with seeds" 10
— and the consequences of
the deeds they perform represent an expression of G-d's
will. Thus they also contribute toward the transformation of
Regardless of the differences between individuals, all
mankind possesses a fundamental commonalty: we are all
G-d's agents, charged with various dimensions of a shared
mission. The setting in which each individual functions, the
task he is given, and the intent with which he performs it
may differ, but the goal is the same.
The Scope of Our Mission
This is the message of Parshas Vayishlach: that every
one of us is a shliach, an agent of G-d. We are sent "to Esav"
— to refine and reveal the G-dliness within the material
existence that is identified with Esav.
Significantly, Vayishlach is not just the beginning of the
Torah reading; it is the name of the Torah reading. The
name of an entity reflects its essence. 11
Thus every element
of the reading is connected with this concept, highlighting
the many facets of the mission with which we are charged.
For being engaged on a mission to make the world G-d's
9. In this sense, the mitzvos are also referred to as shluchim (agents), for their
observance is a G-dly act (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayigash, sec. 6).
10. Chagigah 27a.
11. Tanya, ShaarHaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1.
dwelling challenges us to encompass every aspect of exis¬
The word vayishlach means "And he sent," implying that
our mission includes the empowerment of other shluchim. A
person must inspire others to shoulder a portion of the
endeavor; to borrow an expression from our Sages: 12
another." "One shliach makes שליח עושה
Keeping the Purpose in Focus
The Hebrew word shliach (שליח) also alludes to the
consummation of the mission, for its numerical equivalent,
together with the number 10, equals the numerical equiva¬
lent of the word Mashiach .(משיח) This implies that
Mashiach's coming requires that every person dedicate the
ten powers of his soul to the mission of making the world a
dwelling for G-d. Our efforts to spread the awareness of G-d
throughout the world and have that awareness permeate
every individual will precipitate the coming of the age when
"the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the
waters cover the ocean bed." 13
12. Kiddushin 41a.
13. Isaiah 11:9.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXX, p. 176ff
Does G-d Approve of the Desire of the Righteous
On the verse, 1
"And Yaakov settled in the land of his
father's wandering," Rashi comments: 2
Yaakov desired to dwell in prosperity, but the dis¬
tress of Yosef's [disappearance] beset him. The
righteous desire to dwell in prosperity, but the Holy
One, blessed be He, says: "Is not what is prepared
for them in the World to Come enough for the
righteous Must they also desire prosperity in this
1. Genesis 37:2.
2. Commentary to the above verse.
52 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Rashi's statement is problematic, for a casual reading
gives the impression that G-d does not approve of the
righteous wanting prosperity. On the other hand, the fact
that "the righteous" follow this path of conduct indicates
that the desire for prosperity is a positive trait and not a
character flaw. 3
Seeking internal not External Challenges
This difficulty can be resolved by focusing on the fact
that Rashi speaks about a desire for prosperity expressed
by the righteous. Why only the righteous Everyone wants
to enjoy an abundance of good without strife, contention, or
The desire for prosperity by the righteous, however, is
of a different type entirely. To cite a parallel: with regard to
the Era of the Redemption, the Rambam writes:
When a person is beset... with sickness, war, and
hunger, he cannot occupy himself neither with wis¬
dom nor with mitzvos. For this reason, all Israel —
and [in particular,] their prophets and sages — have
desired the Era of the Mashiach. 4
The Sages and the prophets did not yearn for the Era
of the Mashiach so that [the Jewish people] would
rule the world... nor to eat, drink, and celebrate.
Rather, their aspiration was to be free [to involve
themselves] in the Torah and its wisdom, without
anyone oppressing or disturbing them. 5
3. The positive nature of the desire for prosperity is indicated by the slight
differences between Rashi's text and his apparent source, Bereishis Rabbah
84:3. The Midrash states: "When the righteous... desire to dwell in prosper¬
ity... " Rashi, however, states: "The righteous desire to dwell in prosperity... "
indicating that this is the natural and proper course of behavior for a person
who is "righteous."
4. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2.
5. Ibid., Hilchos Melachim 12:4.
On the surface, such a condition describes the World to
Come, where the righteous will "sit... and derive benefit
from the radiance of the Divine Presence." 6
unnatural, however, in our present material circumstances.
Nevertheless, a distinction must be made. The World to
Come represents G-d's reward to man — just recompense
for man's Divine service. This is a departure from the
pattern of our present existence, of which it is said, 7
" Today — to perform them (the mitzvos); tomorrow — to
receive their reward."
The righteous, by contrast, are not concerned with
reward. On the contrary, to refer to the passage cited
above, they long to involve themselves in the Torah and its
mitzvos. Their aspiration is only that they be freed from
external difficulties. They want to grow in understanding
and personal development. Why must they be confronted
with challenges from the outside Let all their efforts be
devoted to the internal challenges of spiritual growth.
The Fulfillment of Yaakov's Desire
In this light, we can understand G-d's response to
Yaakov's request. G-d wanted Yaakov's wish for prosperity
to be fulfilled — as it was indeed fulfilled in the 17 years of
prosperity which he enjoyed in Egypt. But such prosperity
must be earned by an appropriate measure of Divine serv¬
ice. Since Yaakov in his current state was not worthy to
receive such prosperity, G-d subjected him to a further trial
through which he could advance himself. 8
caused by the sale of Yosef initiated a process of refinement
6. Berachos 17a.
7. Eruvin 22a.
8. Similarly, our Sages' state (Menachos 53b, Shmos Rabbah 36:1) that just as an
olive releases its oil when pressed, so too, the Jewish people attain their
greatest spiritual heights when put under pressure.
54 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
by which Yaakov ultimately merited to attain the spiritual
and material prosperity he sought.
This concept resolves a problematic point. The name of
a Torah reading communicates not merely a significant
lesson in itself, but the message and theme of the reading as
a whole. Seemingly, the name Vayeishev, which indicates
prosperity, is not at all appropriate for this reading, which
deals primarily with travail and sorrow.
Based on the above, however, it can be explained that
the name is deserved, for it is only this travail which
enabled Yaakov to attain true prosperity.
Two Levels of Prosperity
But further clarification is necessary. Yaakov must have
known that the spiritual prosperity he desired would be
granted only as result of Divine service, and that this would
require that he overcome challenges. Nevertheless, he
thought it was sufficient for him to have confronted the
challenges posed by Esav and Lavan.
Our Sages identify 9
Yaakov with the attribute of Truth;
thus we can assume his self-appraisal was honest. Since
Yaakov saw himself as being worthy of prosperity, why was
it necessary for him to undergo a further challenge
In resolution, it can be explained that there are two
levels of prosperity fitting for the righteous:
a) One which can be appreciated by mortals: that a
person, his children and his grandchildren should be able
to serve G-d without difficulty, free to pursue the spiritual
b) One above mortal conception, a foretaste of the
World to Come: "you will see your [portion of] the World [to
9. Zohar, Vol. I, p. 139a.
Come] in your lifetime." 10
Just as the nature of the World to
Come cannot be comprehended by mortals, 11
so too, this
foretaste transcends our understanding.
Yaakov asked for a level of prosperity that could be
conceived by mortals. G-d granted this to him, and thus for
nine years he enjoyed success and happiness in Eretz Yisrael.
But G-d also wanted Yaakov to appreciate a higher
level of prosperity, and therefore subjected him to the trials
beginning with the sale of Yosef so that Yaakov would
become worthy of this greater Divine favor. 13
A Challenge of a Unique Nature
Since the prosperity G-d desired to grant Yaakov was
above the limits of worldly existence, the Divine service
which made him worthy of it differed from the challenges he
had already faced. Yaakov's confrontations with Lavan and
Esav were symbolic of the struggle between good and evil,
and man's efforts to refine and elevate his environment.
The tribulations brought about by the sale of Yosef, by
contrast, did not reflect these goals at all. The challenge —
and the refinement it brought about — was strictly internal.
It was a trial that seemingly had no purpose, bringing only
aggravation and suffering, and initially lowering Yaakov's
spiritual level. 14
Nevertheless, this was the process by
10. Berachos 17a. See also Bava Basra 17a, which states that the Patriarchs were
granted a foretaste of the World to Come.
11. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 8:7.
12. In this context, the opening verse "And Yaakov settled in the land of his
father's wandering," can be interpreted to mean that in the land where his
fathers, Avraham and Yitzchak, were forced to wander, Yaakov was able to
dwell in prosperity. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVI, p. 316.
13. Significantly, this higher level of prosperity was granted to Yaakov in Egypt.
Although Egypt was "a foreign land (Genesis 15:13)" and a morally decadent
country (see Toras Kohanim and Rashi, commenting on Leviticus 18:3), Yaakov
and his descendants enjoyed material and spiritual prosperity there. This
paradox was possible because of the transcendent nature of the Divine favor.
14. For as the verse states (Genesis 37:34), for all the years he was separated
from Yosef, Yaakov was in a state of mourning, and "the spirit of prophecy
56 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
which G-d chose to lift Yaakov to a more elevated spiritual
rung and make him fit to receive the ultimate blessings.
The Necessity to Ask
One might ask: Since the prosperity which Yaakov was
ultimately granted was not the prosperity he initially
sought, why was his request the catalyst that triggered the
sequence of events which would lead to this prosperity
Since the initiative was G-d's alone, why was it at all
dependent on man
The answer is that "the Holy One, blessed be He, desires
the prayers of the righteous." 15
Until Yaakov asked for
prosperity, G-d did not grant it to him. But when he asked,
G-d set him tasks that would bring him not only the limited
prosperity which man can comprehend, but the prosperity
that transcends understanding.
A similar concept applies with regard to our requests for
the coming of the Redemption. The true nature of the
Redemption is beyond human conception. 16
our prayers hasten its coming.
departed from him" (Zohar, Vol. I, p. 180a, see Rashi, Targum Onkelos, and
Targum Yonason to Genesis 45:27).
15. Yevamos 64a.
16. And therefore, despite our requests for its coming, the advent of the
Redemption will be הדעת ,בהיסח "unexpected" (Sanhedrin 97a).
An End And A Beginning
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 198ff; Vol. XXill, pgs. 37-38
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Mikeitz, 5751
The Truth of the Torah
In the world at large, there are many opinions regarding
the narratives of the Torah. Some maintain that all the
stories should be understood as symbolism and allegory.
Their intent, they say, is to teach us lessons in Divine serv¬
ice, not to chronicle history.
The traditional view holds that every narrative in the
Torah must be considered a record of events which actually
1. See the Responsa of the Rashba, Vol. I, Responsum 413.
58 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Chassidic thought takes a third approach. To quote a
kabbalistic expression: 2
The Torah speaks about the upper
realms, and alludes to the lower realms.
This means that the narratives of the Torah are
descriptions of the interrelation between Divine attributes
in the spiritual realms. Nevertheless, since material exis¬
tence is an outgrowth of spiritual existence, whatever
happens in the spiritual realms is reflected in this world.
Thus, every narrative in the Torah is a record of an actual
event, but that event represents far more than what tran¬
spires in the material world. It is a dynamic movement
beginning within the sublime spiritual planes and having
ramifications on all levels of existence.
This approach expresses the positive dimensions of
both the views mentioned. On one hand, the historical
integrity of the Torah is preserved. Conversely, the rele¬
vance of the Torah is not as a book of records, 3
but as a
guide, reflecting spiritual truths that should be applied in
our Divine service.
infinity in Shackles
These concept are reflected in this week's Torah read¬
ing, Parshas Mikeitz, which focuses on the release of Yosef
from prison. Yosef serves as an analogy for the entire Jew¬
ish people. 4
For the name Yosef, meaning "increase," refers
to an infinite and unbounded potential for growth, 5
soul we all possess, which is "an actual part of G-d from
2. Asarah Maamaros, Maamar ChakorHaDin, sec. 3, ch. 22; Shaloh, p. 13b, 161a.
3. See Zohar, Vol. III, p. 152a, which states: "Woe to the sinners who say that the
words of the Torah are just ordinary stories."
4. Therefore the entire Jewish people are at times referred to by the name
Yosef, as Psalms 80:2 states: "You lead Yosef as [a shepherd leads] sheep."
See Rashi and Metzudas David to that verse.
5. See Toras Chayim, Bereishis, 87b.
6. Tanya, ch. 2.
Moreover, the prayer Rachel recited when naming
"May G-d add on (yosef) to me another son (ben
acher)," reflects the spiritual mission of the Jewish people.
Entities which have hitherto been acher ("other" —
estranged from their G-dly core) — are brought close and
manifest the intimacy of ben ("a son"). 8
The prison in which Yosef is held refers to the body, and
to material existence as a whole. These tend to confine the
infinite power of the soul and deny it expression. Although
G-d gave man His Torah, His will and wisdom, 9
the Torah is
also affected by the limits of material existence, and its
G-dly source is not always evident.
An End to Limits
These concepts are alluded to in the opening phrase of
this week's reading: Vayehi mikeitz shenasayim yamim, "And
it came to pass at the end of two years." "Two years" refers
to the Torah, which contains two elements, the Written Law
and the Oral Law. 10
As the Torah exists within the confines
of material existence, its power appears to have a ketz, an
end and a limit. Nevertheless, because Yosef — in analogy,
the Jewish people — is essentially unlimited, the ketz, the
restrictions of worldly existence, ultimately become vayehi,
a thing of the past. Yosef leaves prison and becomes the
ruler of Egypt.
In the analog: a Jew is sent into this world to reveal
G-dliness. This is the purpose of his being, and eventually
this purpose will be achieved. The material nature of
worldly existence may initially restrict the expression of a
Jew's true nature, but the constraints will be temporary.
Ultimately, just as Yosef became the ruler of Egypt, every
7. Genesis 30:24.
8. See Or HaTorah, Vayeitzei, p. 202a.
9. Tanya, ch. 4.
10. Torah Or 31b.
60 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Jew will become a source of influence and power, showing
how infinite G-dliness can permeate finite material exis¬
Making the End a Beginning
The latter concept can be amplified by coupling a point
of Hebrew grammar with a mystical concept. The word
mikeitz can mean either "at the beginning" 11
or "at the
Similarly, the Zohar speaks of the ketz dismola, "the
left end," 13 and the ketz hayamin, "the right end." 14
To apply these concepts to our Torah reading: the
question is whether mikeitz refers to the end — the final
two years — of the trials and tribulations Yosef suffered in
Egypt, or to the beginning — the two years leading to his
assumption of power. According to the first interpretation,
mikeitz refers to the most difficult challenges Yosef faced in
Egypt, for it is before daybreak that the darkness becomes
most powerful. 15
According to the second interpretation,
mikeitz refers to the dawning of Yosef's redemption.
There is a connection between the two. Hidden within
the challenges of ketz dismola — the last moments of exile
— are G-dly sparks. Confronting these challenges taps these
G-dly energies and brings ketz hayamin, the beginning of the
11. See the gloss of Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra to Numbers 13:25, Deuteronomy 15:1,
31:10, Psalms 119:96. See also the gloss of the Maharsha to Niddah 58b.
12. Rashi in our Torah reading.
13. Zohar, Vol. I, p. 193b.
14. Zohar, Vol. I, p. 54a; cf. the conclusion of the Book of Daniel.
15. Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. I, p. 68a, b [English trans. p. 150].
16. This enables us to appreciate the interrelation between the name Mikeitz and
the Torah reading which follows. Even according to the interpretation that
mikeitz refers to the last two years of Yosef's imprisonment, it is still
appropriate that it serve as the name of the reading dealing with his
redemption. For it was the final challenges of his imprisonment that brought
about his redemption.
The entire Jewish people are at times referred to by the
name Yosef. 2
May the transition experienced by Yosef
become manifest for our people as a whole. For we too have
confronted the hardships of exile and are awaiting the
revelation of ketz hayamin, the first rays of the Redemption.
May this take place in the immediate future.
Sefer HaSkhos 5750, p. 212ff;
Sefer HaSkhos 5751, p. 206ff
Making a Potential Kinetic
In his Siddur, the Alter Rebbe writes: 1
It is proper to say before prayer: I hereby accept
upon myself the positive commandment, 2
fellowman as yourself."
Showing love for one's fellowman prepares a person to
intensify his relationship with G-d. For a genuine commit-
1. Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 12. This practice has its source in the teachings of
the AriZal (Shaar HaKavanos). Nevertheless, attention is drawn to the Alter
Rebbe's inclusion of it in his Siddur because this indicates its universal
2. Leviticus 19:18.
64 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
ment to all of mankind requires true selflessness, 3
is the approach which should characterize our relationship
with G-d. But why is a verbal declaration required Why
isn't the emphasis placed on contemplating the concept,
rather than making a statement
It can be explained that on an essential level, oneness
exists among our entire people: "They are all complemen¬
tary, and share one Father. Because of this common root in
the One G-d, all Israel are called 'brothers' in the full sense
of the word." 3
All too often, however, that oneness is not manifest in a
person's relations with his fellowmen. By actually making a
statement, a person has activated this potential, bringing it
into expression within our material world. 4
The importance of this statement exceeds by far its few
measured words. The objective is that one deed lead to
another, in a self-reinforcing cycle that will motivate a per¬
son to express love for his fellowmen and stir his fellowmen
to reciprocate in kind. Making a statement of purpose opens
a channel to our inner feelings of love^ with the intent that
these feelings will become manifest in activity on behalf of
A similar paradigm applies to this week's Torah reading.
Vayigash means: "And he approached;" Yehudah
approached Yosef. 6
But Yehudah's approach was intended
to establish more than physical closeness. Rashi explains 7
3. See Tanya, ch. 32.
4. See Sanhedrin 65a, which states that speech is considered a deed. Separation
comes as a result of people's bodies. As such, deeds — which relate more
closely than thoughts to the material plane — are necessary to erase it.
5. This is relevant every day, for every day we should strive to open up new
vistas in love and care for our fellowmen.
6. Genesis 44:18.
7. Rashi's commentary to the above verse.
that Yehudah told Yosef: "May my words enter your ears,"
i.e., he desired to initiate communication.
Yehudah's deed had tremendous repercussions. 8
narrative continues, "Yosef could no longer restrain
After years of separation, the brothers embraced,
kissed each other, and spoke freely. 10
returned to him with the message that Yosef was alive and
Yaakov descended to Egypt to join him, establishing
oneness and unity between all Jews.
From the inside Out
The spiral touched off by Yehudah's approach to Yosef
had larger ramifications. 11 The Zohar 12 understands their
union as symbolizing the approach of the physical world to
the spiritual world.
To explain: In essence, the world at large is at one with
G-d. This is the meaning of the phrase "G-d is one" in the
— not merely that there is one G-d, but that all
existence is at one with Him. 14
Nevertheless, the oneness
that pervades creation is not openly revealed. On the con¬
trary, the world appears to exist as a collection of discrete
Expressing the inner oneness that exists between people
serves as a catalyst to achieve oneness in the world at large,
allowing the material world to serve as a medium for the
8. This concept explains why Vayigash is the name of this Torah reading. For the
establishment of unity — within Yaakov's family and within the world at large
— is the theme which characterizes all the events mentioned in the Torah
9. Genesis 45:1.
10. Ibid.: 15.
11. In this light, we can understand the famous adage of the Alter Rebbe (Igros
Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. III, p. 413ff): A chassidic farbrengen can
generate greater blessings than the Angel Michael.
12. Vol. I, p. 205b.
13. Deuteronomy 4:4.
14. See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 61:6 and commentaries.
66 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
expression of spiritual truth. This was reflected in the
conduct of Yaakov and his sons in Egypt. Although settling
in Egypt involved a descent into exile, and Egypt was a
morally depraved land, 15
Yaakov and his sons established a
model of spiritually oriented existence there. 16
granted them the finest portion of the land, 17
best of Egypt will be yours." 18
Yaakov and his sons made maximum use of this oppor¬
tunity. Indeed, our Rabbis explain 19
that these were
Yaakov's best years. Throughout his life, he endeavored to
express spiritual values within the day-to-day realities of
ordinary living. In Egypt, he was given the ability to bring
this ideal to fruition.
The relevance of the above concepts is not confined to
periods when G-dliness is openly apparent. Quite the con¬
trary, the narrative begins in the ultimate of concealment.
Yehudah did not know he was speaking to Yosef. He
thought he was addressing the Egyptian viceroy, and he had
to plead for Binyamin's freedom after the youth had been
discovered in a compromising situation. Despite the
weakness of his position, Yehudah advanced in the direc¬
tion of oneness, 20
and his approach led to the revelation
that the Egyptian ruler was Yosef.
15. See Rashi's commentary to Leviticus 18:3.
16. The primacy of spiritual values in Yaakov's life in Egypt is reflected in his
"sending Yehudah to show the way" (Genesis 46:28), "to open a yeshivah"
17. Genesis 47:11 and commentaries.
18. Genesis 45:20.
19. Baal HaTurim, commenting on the beginning of Parshas Vayechi. See HaYom
Yom, entry for the 18th of Teves.
20. Also significant is the inner meaning of the phrase Vayigash eilav Yehudah,
that "Yehudah" — every individual Jew — "approaches him," draws close to
G-d through prayer. See Sefer HaMaamarim 5629, p. 13. It is the relationship
Similarly, although today Jews may need the assistance
of non-Jewish authorities for their security, they must real¬
ize that there is a subtle, inner dynamic at work. It is not an
Egyptian who charts our destiny; "The hearts of kings and
officers are in the hands of G-d." 21
He — and not the non-
Jewish powers — controls the fate of our people as a whole,
and of each individual in particular.
Our conduct and choice of priorities should be struc¬
tured accordingly. There is no need to accept the standards
of the world at large. By emulating Yehudah's example and
striving toward oneness within our present situation, we
can initiate a sequence that will lead to the open expression
of our world's G-dly nature.
Egypt is not the End of the Journey
During his journey to Egypt, Yaakov had a vision in
which G-d reassured him: 22
"Do not fear to descend to
Egypt," and promised "I will descend to Egypt with you and I
will surely have you ascend." Although Yaakov realized
what he could achieve in Egypt, he was reluctant to descend
there. For prosperity in exile — even prosperity that is used
to create a model of spiritually oriented existence — is not
the goal of a Jew's life.
A Jew's true life is in Eretz Yisrael — and more particu¬
larly, Eretz Yisrael as it will exist in the Era of the Redemp¬
tion. This is the promise Yaakov received from G-d — that
his descendants would be redeemed from Egypt and live in
Eretz Yisrael together with Mashiach. 23
with G-d, established through prayer, that brings success to all one's activi¬
21. Midrash Mishlei, commenting on Proverbs 21:1.
22. Genesis 46:3-4.
23. Note Torah Or (beginning of Parshas Shmos), which interprets the repetition
in G-d's promise אעלך גם עלה as reflecting two states of ascent: a) the
redemption from Egypt, and b) the ultimate Redemption to be led by
68 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Why then did Yaakov descend to Egypt Because he
appreciated that the Redemption must be brought about by
the Divine service of man. The establishment of a spiritually
oriented society amidst material prosperity provides man
with a foretaste of the Redemption, and prepares the world
for the time when redemption will become manifest.
Yaakov's life in Egypt was dedicated to this purpose.
The theme of redemption is underscored by the Haftorah,
which speaks about the ultimate union 24
of Yosef and
"I will take the children of Israel from among the
nations... and bring them to their own land. I will make them
one nation in the land No longer will they be two nations,
no longer divided into two kingdoms." And it promises :26
"And My servant David will be their prince forever," for it is
in the Era of the Redemption that the selfless striving for
unity will receive the prominence it deserves.
24. There is also a connection between the theme of Redemption and the concept
of unity emphasized by Vayigash. For the destruction of the Second Temple
came about because of unwarranted hatred (Yoma 9b, Gittin 55b). Removing
the cause, hatred, will make the effect, exile, disappear.
25. Ezekiel 37:21-22.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, p. 160ff; Vol. XV, p. 422ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayechi, 5751
Yaakov's Best Years
When the Tzemach Tzedek was a young boy, his cheder
teacher taught him the verse: "And Yaakov lived in the land
of Egypt for 17 years," 1
explaining that these were the best
years of Yaakov's life. 2
The Tzemach Tzedek asked his
grandfather, the Alter Rebbe: How was it possible that the
best years of Yaakov's life would be spent in a depraved
1. Genesis 47:28.
2. Baal HaTurim on the above verse. This is reflected in the fact that 17 is
numerically equivalent to the Hebrew word ,טוב meaning "good" (Or HaTorah,
Vayechi p. 354a).
70 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
The Alter Rebbe answered him: Even before he arrived,
Yaakov sent Yehudah to Egypt to establish a yeshivah. 3
one studies the Torah, one comes close to G-d. This
closeness allows one to live with true and genuine vitality,
even in Egypt. 4
Indeed, the depravity of Egypt enhanced the vitality
experienced by Yaakov. For the transformation of darkness
reveals a higher quality of light. Yaakov's establishment of
Torah life amid the darkness of Egyptian society expressed
the essential vitality he possessed and endowed to his
To Live with the Torah
True life can be ascribed only to G-d, as it is written: 5
"And G-d your L-rd is true; He is the living G-d." Just as Truth
is uninterrupted and unchanging, so too life is in essence
unchanging and eternal. Thus our Sages describe 6
as "living water" only when it flows constantly. 7
Mortal existence, by contrast, is ephemeral and subject to
Nevertheless, by drawing close to G-d through
Torah study, a person can tap a dimension of G-d's immor¬
tality, as it is written: 9
"And you who cling to G-d your L-rd
are all alive today."
This was the thrust of Yaakov's entire life. When the
Torah sets out to convey the nature of his personality, it
3. Rashi, Midrash Tanchuma to Genesis 46:28.
4. HaYom Yom, entry for the 18th of Teves.
5. Jeremiah 10:10.
6. Parah 8:9, using the terminology of Numbers 19:17.
7. To be considered "living water," a stream may not dry out within a seven-year
period. This limit was chosen because our world is structured in cycles of
seven. Since our existence as a whole is temporary, the timelessness of "living
water" need not be absolute.
8. Note the distinction made by the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodai
HaTorah 2:10) between G-d's life and mortal existence. G-d's life is one with
Him, while a mortal is, by nature, separate from his own life-force.
9. Deuteronomy 4:4. See also Avos deRabbi Nassan, ch. 34.
him as "a simple man, dwelling in tents," i.e., the
tents of Shem and Ever, 11
the leading houses of study of that
age. In these domains, Yaakov's character was shaped and
And yet Yaakov did not remain in these houses of study
forever. His life encompassed a variety of circumstances and
challenges, allowing him the opportunity to prove that the
connection to G-d he established through Torah study was
Light in Darkness
Yaakov reached the pinnacle of this lifetime journey in
Egypt. There he was presented with challenges of a different
nature than he had experienced previously, for he dwelt in
fabulous wealth amid a land of decadent people. But as
mentioned, even before Yaakov entered Egypt, he anticipated
these difficulties by sending Yehudah to establish a yeshivah
there. By this act, he set the tone for his future in Egypt.
Moreover, not only did Yaakov himself study, he involved
his children and grandchildren. Rather than accept the
values of the surrounding culture, Yaakov's descendants
joined him in study. For them, the descent to Egypt
represented a radical transition; the majority of their adult
lives had been spent in Eretz Yisrael. Yet motivated by
Yaakov's example and guidance, they were able to extend the
holy atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael into Egypt.
Yaakov's unchanging and uninterrupted commitment to
the Torah demonstrates the true life with which the Torah
endowed him. His connection with G-d was all-encompassing.
10. Genesis 25:27.
11. Bereishis Rabbah 63:10, and Rashi on the above verse. The connection of
Yaakov with the Torah is also emphasized by the verse (Psalms 78:5): "He
established statutes in Yaakov and placed the Torah in Yisrael."
72 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Yaakov Still Lives
The above enables us to understand why the Torah
reading is named Vayechi — "And he lived" — although it
speaks of Yaakov's death. As the events of the reading
demonstrate, Yaakov's life was one of connection to G-d that
transcended material settings. And since he shared this
quality with his descendants, it was perpetuated beyond his
mortal lifetime. As our Sages say: 12
"Yaakov, our ancestor, did
not die. As his descendants are alive, he is alive."
This concept applies to all Jews at all times. The vitality
we experience in our Divine service today is made possible
by the life of Yaakov our ancestor. 13
And conversely, the
connection to the Torah which strengthened Yaakov is the
source of life for all his descendants throughout the
True, within Jewish history, there have always been some
Jews who — at least to outward appearances — do not
conduct their lives according to the directives of the Torah.
But that is merely the external reality. The truth is that they
are alive inside, and their vitality stems from the Torah and
its mitzvos. 14
Our Sages state: 15
"Although a Jew sins, he remains a Jew"
and the Rambam rules: 16
12. Taanis 5b.
13. This concept of continued life is mentioned with regard to Yaakov and not
with regard to Avraham and Yitzchak because, in a complete sense, the
concept that "his descendants are alive" applies only to Yaakov. "Yaakov's
bed was perfect" (Rashi, Genesis 47:31), i.e., all his sons were righteous. In
contrast, Yishmael descended from Avraham and Esav from Yitzchak
(Pesachim 56a). (See also Maharshah to Taanis, ibid.)
14. A parallel exists with regard to Yaakov himself. In the Talmudic passage
which states: "Yaakov, our ancestor, did not die," a question is raised: Was he
not mourned, embalmed, and buried Our Sages answer: "It only appears that
he died; in truth, He is alive," i.e., here too, there is a spiritual reality which
runs contrary to outward appearances.
15. Sanhedrin 44a.
16. Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Gerushin 2:20.
A person whose evil inclination compels him to
negate the performance of a mitzvah or to commit a
sin... [still] wishes to be part of the Jewish people and
desires to fulfill all the mitzvos and separate himself
from sin. It is only his [evil] inclination which forces
him [to do otherwise].
Regardless of his conduct, every member of our people
remains a Jew and shares a connection to the entire Torah.
"The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the heritage of
the congregation of Yaakov." 17
This is the spiritual legacy
which Yaakov bequeathed us, the sign of his continued life
and of our own vitality.
(The above also encourages us to help each other ex¬
press a connection to the Torah. Any potential tends to seek
expression, and that tendency is enhanced by the very
knowledge of its existence. Spreading the awareness of the
inner nature of every Jew will spur the desire to have that
nature realized through observance of the Torah.
This is more than theory; it is borne out by experience.
Conversely, an approach which castigates Jews who do not
observe the Torah and its mitzvos, threatening them with
Divine retribution, does not encourage greater observance.
Quite the contrary, it weakens many people's feeling for
Judaism and moves them further from teshuvah. 18 )
Egypt is not Forever
Although his ability to create a Torah center for his de¬
scendants in Egypt is a sign of Yaakov's life, it is not the
culmination of his achievements. For the ultimate place for
17. Deuteronomy 33:4.
18. See the essay "Every Jew Has a Silver Lining" (Sichos In English, Vol. 47, p.
11ff) and the sources mentioned there, in which these concepts are explained
74 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Yaakov and his descendants is not in Egypt, but in Eretz
Therefore, Yaakov called his sons together with the intent
of revealing the time of the Redemption to them. 19
them that they would be redeemed from Egypt, promising: 20
"G-d will be with you, and He will bring you back to your
ancestral land." For it is in Eretz Yisrael — and more
particularly, in the Eretz Yisrael of the Redemption — that
Yaakov and his descendants will truly flourish.
Strength and Encouragement
This Shabbos is called Shabbos Chazak, "the Shabbos of
reinforcement," because of the custom 21
of declaring, Chazak,
Chazak, Vinischazaik ("Be strong, be strong, and may you be
strengthened") at the conclusion of the Torah reading, in
acknowledgment of the completion of the Book of Genesis.
The awareness nurtured by the reading of Vayechi
generates strength. When a Jew knows he has been granted a
heritage of life expressed through a connection with the
Torah, and that there will come a time when this connection
will blossom, he will acquire the inner strength to confront
the challenges presented by his environment.
By heightening the expression of this potential in our
people as a whole, we hasten the coming of its fruition in the
Era of the Redemption. May this take place in the immediate
19. Rashi, Genesis 49:1.
20. Genesis 48:21. See also Rashi, Exodus 3:18, which relates that the promise
(Genesis 50:24): "G-d will remember and bring you out of this land," which
served as the code for the redemption, was originally conveyed to the Jews
21. See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim in the conclusion of Chapter 139. See also
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 25, page 474.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. Ill, 843ff; Vol. XVI, p. 36ff;
Vol. XXVI, p. 301ff;
5751, p. 240ff
On one hand, people shy away from challenges. There is
a danger of failure — were there not, it would not be a
challenge — and no one likes to fail. On the other hand, we
seek challenge, for confronting a challenge lifts us out of the
doldrums of ordinary experience.
Similar concepts apply with regard to our Divine service.
G-d does not want our Divine service to be merely routine.
And so, He presents us with challenges. Some of these
challenges are limited in scope, and some are more daunt¬
ing, forcing us to summon up our deepest resources.
76 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
This is the nature of the challenge of exile. During the
Era of the Beis HaMikdash, the open revelation of G-dliness
inspired Jews to serve G-d with heightened feeling and
intent. In the era of exile, by contrast, G-dliness is hidden,
and we are presented with many obstacles to our obser¬
vance of the Torah and its mitzvos. We can no longer rely on
our environment to deepen our feeling for G-dliness.
Instead, our focus must become internal. In this manner,
exile arouses our deepest spiritual resources, 1 and
strengthens our connection to G-d.
The Paradox of Exile
These concepts are reflected in our Torah reading,
which describes the successive descents experienced by
the Jewish people in Egypt. As long as Yosef and his
brothers lived, the Jews enjoyed prosperity and security.
But with the death of the last of Yaakov's sons came forced
the casting of Jewish infants into the Nile, and other
acts of cruelty. Even after Moshe brought the promise of
redemption, the oppression of the Jewish people worsened,
to the extent that Moshe himself cried out: 3 "Since I came to
Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this
Nevertheless, the Torah reading also tells how the Jews
cried out to G-d, awakening His attention. 4
In response, G-d
conveyed the promise of Redemption and His pledge that,
"when you take this people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d
on this mountain," 5
i.e., G-d committed Himself to give the
1. More specifically, the reference is to the level of yechidah, the dimension of
soul which is absolutely one with G-d. This level is revealed through the
challenges of exile.
2. See Shmos Rabbah 1:4. Rashi's notes to Exodus 6:16.
3. Exodus 5:23.
4. Ibid. 2:23-24.
5. Ibid. 3:12.
Jews the Torah. This revealed the possibility of a higher and
deeper bond with G-d than could have been reached before.
The Story of a Name
These two polarities are reflected in the name of the
reading, Shmos, which means "names." There are two
dimensions to a person's name. On one hand, it represents
the external aspects of one's being, as apparent from the
fact that a person's name is necessary only insomuch as he
relates to others. For himself, he does not require a name.
Moreover, several individuals with totally different
personalities can share the same name, demonstrating that,
on the surface at least, a person's name does not describe
who he or she is. 6
Nevertheless, as the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya, 7
name represents an entity's nature and life-force. It is a
channel that allows this inner nature to be expressed. 8
is not merely a theoretical concept; it affects a person's dayto-day
conduct. We see that when a person is called by
name, he turns to the caller with attention. For many
people, no sound is dearer than that of their own name.
Moreover, we find that when a person faints, it is often
possible to rouse him by merely whispering his name in his
To relate these observations to the concepts of exile and
redemption: As long as what is revealed is merely the
external dimension of the Jews' name, it is possible for them
to be subjugated by worldly powers. But when the essence
of the Jews' name, Yisrael, is expressed, there is no
6. And yet a person with insight can see how an individual's name tells volumes
about his character. In that vein, Yoma 83b relates that Rabbi Meir could
deduce a person's character from his name.
7. ShaarHaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1.
8. Likkutei Torah, Behar 41c.
78 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
potential for exile. For the name Yisrael indicates that we
"contended with G-d and with men and prevailed." 9
This points to the fundamental difference between exile
and redemption. For exile does not represent a change in
the essence of our relationship with G-d. From His
perspective, even in exile we are "[His] children, and to
change [us] for another nation, [He] cannot." 10
regard to the Jewish people, on the verse, 11
"I am asleep,
but my heart is awake," our Sages comment: 12
am sleeping in exile, my heart is awake for the Holy One,
blessed be He."
What is the difference between exile and redemption
Whether "our name is being called" and we are responding,
i.e., whether this relationship is openly expressed or
Destiny and Direction
There is nothing random about the cycle of exile and
redemption; it is a Divinely ordained process. G-d desired
that the Jews reach higher peaks of Divine service, and so
He structured the challenges of exile to compel us to
express our deepest spiritual potential. And He gave us the
ability to overcome these challenges.
9. Genesis 32:29.
10. Kiddushin 36a; Rus Rabbah, Pesichta 3; see also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, p. 3
and sources cited there.
11. Song of Songs 5:2.
12. Zohar, Vol. III, p. 95a; see ShirHaShirim Rabbah on the verse.
13. This concept also gives us insight into the nature of redemption: redemption
does not require the creation of anything new, but the revelation of a
potential which already exists.
Similarly, this idea points to the manner in which we can endeavor to bring
this potential into expression by all Jews. What is necessary is to call the
person by his name Yisrael, and to give him an opportunity to reveal who he
is. Since he is a Jew and by nature "desires to fulfill all the mitzvos and
separate himself from sin" (Rambam, Hilchos Gerushin 2:20), he will respond,
expressing his inner nature.
This is alluded to in the Torah's mention of the names of
the tribes at the beginning of the reading. Our Sages
that this is an example of how deeply G-d cher¬
ishes our people. "Since they are like stars, He called each
of them by name."
In Torah law, 15
we find the principle: "An important
entity can never be nullified." By repeating the names of the
Jewish people, 16
the Torah emphasizes how important they
are to G-d, and ensures that their existence will not by
nullified by exile.
The Torah mentions, not the name of our people as a
whole, but rather the names of each of the tribes, for each
tribe represents a different approach to Divine service. In
doing so, it endows not only the essence of the Jewish
people, but also our various individual approaches, with the
strength to endure exile, and grow through this experience.
From Exile to Redemption
The cycle of Jewish exile and redemption is significant
for the world at large. The purpose of creation is to estab¬
lish a dwelling for G-d. 17
This dwelling is fashioned by the
involvement of the Jewish people in different aspects of
worldly experience. During exile, the Jews are scattered into
different lands and brought into contact with diverse
cultures. As such, as the challenge of exile brings the Jews
to a deeper connection with G-d, it also elevates their sur¬
roundings, making manifest the G-dliness which permeates
14. Shmos Rabbah 1:3 (quoted by Rashi in his commentary to Exodus 1:1) explains
why the names of the tribes are repeated in this Torah reading after having
been mentioned in the Book of Genesis.
15. Zevachim 73a, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 110:1.
16. See also Pe'ah 7:1 (and Rambam, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 5:23), which states
that no entity with a name is ever considered forgotten. The fact that its
owner gave it a name indicates its constant importance in his eyes.
17. Midrash Tanchuma, Bechukosai, sec. 3. See Tanya, chs. 33 and 36.
80 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
The saga of exile and redemption is not merely a story of
the past. On the contrary, heralds of the final transition
from exile and redemption are affecting all dimensions of
existence today. To borrow an expression from the Previ¬
ous Rebbe: 18
"Everything is ready for the Redemption; even
the buttons have been polished." All that is necessary is
that we open our eyes, recognize Mashiach's influence, and
create a means for it to encompass mankind. 19
18. Sichos Simchas Torah, 5689.
19. Sound the GreatShofar (Kehot, N.Y., 1992), p. 112-113.
Seeing And Believing
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVI, p. 52ff; Vol. XXXI, p. 25ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Va'eira, 5743;
and Sichos Chof-Vav Nissan, 5751
Prisons of the Mind
When the Torah names a place, the name describes not
only a geographic location, but also a state of mind, and a
spiritual set of circumstances. In this context, Mitzrayim, the
Hebrew name for Egypt, serves as a paradigm, teaching us
what exile is, and demonstrating the essence of the spiritual
challenge which our people have confronted throughout
Mitzrayim relates to the Hebrew word meitzarim, mean¬
ing "boundaries," or "limitations." 1
Material existence con¬
fines and limits the expression of G-dliness in the world at
1. See Torah Or, Shmos 71c.
82 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
large, and the expression of the G-dly spark within our
souls. This is exile, an unnatural state. For the true reality —
that the world was created to be a dwelling for G-d, 2
that a person's soul is an actual part of G-d 3 — is concealed.
In such a setting, a person becomes absorbed in the daily
routine of his life. Spiritual values — if he considers them at
all — are interpreted according to his own world view. 4
Moreover, exile naturally perpetuates itself. Our Sages
that not one slave could escape from Egypt. Simi¬
larly, any setting in which a person lives creates an inertia
that resists change. To borrow an expression from our
"A person in fetters cannot set himself free." Since
every person's thought processes are today shaped by the
environment of exile, many find it difficult to see beyond
An End to Exile
And yet, although man may not be able to free himself,
G-d refuses to allow exile to continue indefinitely. The first
step of redemption is a direct revelation of G-dliness. Since
the fundamental characteristic of exile is the concealment of
G-d's presence, the nullification of exile involves a clearer
2. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3. See Tanya, chs. 33 and 36.
3. Tanya, ch. 2.
4. In this context, the concept of Mitzrayim — Egypt — becomes personal.
Everyone has his "Egypt" which confines him and from which he must be
redeemed. For one person, the forces preventing his inner G-dly nature from
being expressed may be his unchecked physical desires, and for another they
might be the reservations of his intellect.
There is even an "Egypt of holiness," which constrains a person who is
devoted to the study of the Torah and the observance of its mitzvos, but who
is held back by an unwillingness to make an unrestrained commitment. The
nature of our personal "Egypts" may differ, but the obligation to struggle to
transcend these limits is universal. This is the meaning of the requirement to
recall the exodus from Egypt every day.
5. Mechilta quoted in Rashi, Shmos 18:9.
6. Berachos 5b.
revelation of G-dliness. This will shake people out of their
self-absorption and open them to spiritual awareness.
This is the message of Parshas Va'eira. Va'eira means
"And I revealed Myself." The root of Va'eira is the word
re'iyah, meaning "sight." Va'eira refers to something that
can be seen directly. This theme is continued throughout
the Torah reading, which describes seven of the ten plagues
— open miracles which had a twofold purpose, as the Torah
"I will display My power,... I will bring forth My
hosts from Egypt And Egypt will know that I am G-d."
These plagues made the whole world conscious of G-d's
presence. Even the Egyptians whose ruler had proudly
"I do not know G-d," became aware of Him and
"This is the finger of G-d!"
Because the miracles were openly seen, they trans¬
formed peoples' thinking. When an idea is communicated
intellectually, it takes time to assimilate it to the point that
it affects one's conduct. When, by contrast, a person sees
something with his own eyes, it immediately changes the
way he thinks. Once a person sees an event, there is no way
he can be convinced that it did not take place. 10
A Rich inheritance
It is, however, natural for a person to ask: "When have I
seen G-dliness Perhaps there were miracles in the past, but
of what relevance are they at present
7. Exodus 7:4-5.
8. Ibid. 5:2.
9. Ibid. 8:15.
10. The effect of sight is reflected in Jewish law: a witness cannot serve as a judge
(Rosh HaShanah 26a). Once a person has seen the commission of a crime, he
is unable to fairly appreciate an argument advanced on behalf of the
84 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
The answer is found in Rashi's commentary to the verse
from which the Torah reading takes its name: 11
revealed Myself to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov."
Rashi comments: "To the forefathers."
Seemingly, this observation is superfluous. We all know
that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were the forefathers of
the Jewish people. Having mentioned each by name, there is
no need to mention their title. Rashi, however, is
emphasizing that the revelations were granted to them, not
because of their individual virtues, but because they were
"forefathers" and their spiritual attainments would be
transferred as an inheritance to their descendants. 12
revealing Himself to our forefathers, G-d made the aware¬
ness of His existence a fundamental element in the makeup
of their descendants for all time.
Taking Possession of the Legacy
Nevertheless, although the legacy of our forefathers is
within our hearts, it is not always in our conscious
thoughts. Each of us must endeavor to internalize the faith
of our forefathers, and make it his or her own. This will not
necessarily happen by itself. Unless we make efforts to unite
faith and thought, we can create a dichotomy between belief
and actual life. Indeed, evidence of such a dichotomy is all
The need to resolve this schism explains why the pre¬
vious Torah reading, Parshas Shmos, concludes by describ-
11. Exodus 6:4.
12. This concept is also accentuated by Jewish law. The transfer of property to
an heir is unique in that, unlike a purchaser or the receiver of a present, an
heir is not considered a new owner, but a continuation of the testator. (See
Bava Batra 159a, Tzafnat Paneach, Milluim 13a, et al). Similarly, with regard to
our inheritance of our forefather's spiritual legacy, the revelations which they
received are passed on to us as they were received, without modification.
ing how Moshe approached G-d, and asked: 13
do You mistreat Your people"
"O G-d, why
Moshe's question did not reflect a lack of faith.
Undoubtedly, Moshe believed; and so did all the people, for
Jews are by nature "believers, and the descendants of
But Moshe realized that his responsibility was
to be a shepherd of faith, 15
to nurture the people's faith until
it affected their thinking processes. This is why he asked.
Miracles in Our Lives
In response to Moshe's question, G-d brought about the
miracles described in our Torah reading. Moshe's
endeavors to make faith a factor in everyday life evoked a
response from G-d.
Similar concepts apply in every generation, for miracles
are not a thing of the past. 16
In every generation, G-d shows
His great love for His people by performing deeds that
transcend the natural order. At times, a person for whom a
miracle occurs may not recognize what has happened, 17
on other occasions the miracles are open, obvious for all to
see. Indeed, in the recent past, we have seen great wonders
which G-d has wrought on our behalf, among them: the Gulf
War, the fall of Communism, and the massive waves of Jews
coming to Eretz Yisrael.
13. Exodus 6:22.
14. Shabbos 97a. See Rashi, Exodus 4:2.
15. See Torah Or, Ki Sisa 111a, and the maamar, ViKibeil HaYehudim 5687. The
רועה title: Pesichta to Eichah Rabbah, sec. 24, refers to Moshe by the Hebrew
(which רעיא מהמנא version, meaning "faithful shepherd." The Aramaic ,נאמן
serves as the title of one of the parts of the Zohar), has that meaning too, but
also connotes "shepherd of faith."
16. Therefore the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 218:9), a text which contains
only laws applicable in the present era, includes a requirement to recite a
blessing acknowledging a miracle that transpired in one life's.
17. See Niddah 31a.
86 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Our prophets have promised: 18
"As in the days of your
exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders." Just as the
miracles which G-d wrought in Egypt heralded the exodus,
so too, may the miracles we have witnessed — and will
witness in the future — foreshadow the ultimate Redemp¬
tion. And may this take place in the immediate future.
18. Michah 7:15.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, p. 48-49; Vol. XXXI, p. 32-33;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Bo, 5733, 5751
A Twofold Challenge
"[G-d] placed the world within [man's] heart." 1
mission of mankind — to transform the world into a dwell¬
ing for G-d — mirrors the challenges confronted by every
individual in cultivating the G-dly nature of his own char¬
acter. For every person is a world in microcosm. 2
There are two dimensions to our personal task of selfrefinement:
First, we must use the abilities we have been
granted for a positive purpose. For example, our ability to
feel love should be expressed in love for G-d, and selfless
1. Ecclesiastes 3:11.
2. Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei, sec. 3.
88 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
love for our fellow man. 3
And our potential for achievement
should be directed to making contributions that are lasting
in nature. Each of our abilities should be dedicated toward
the most comprehensive good possible.
But there is a challenge which is more fundamental.
Every person should ask himself: What am I living for Is my
goal merely self-gratification, or am I living for a higher
Chassidus explains 4
that we have two souls. One is an
animal soul, concerned only with its own needs and drives.
It is not necessarily bad, but it cannot see beyond itself. The
second soul is "an actual part of G-d," and its fulfillment
comes through service, encouraging the expression of this
G-dly nature and revealing the G-dliness invested in the
world at large.
The appearance of conflict between these souls reflects
the challenge which man faces: to break through his selfconcern
and reveal his G-dly core. When this is
accomplished, the first task mentioned above — making
positive use of the potentials and opportunities we are
granted — can be achieved with far greater ease.
Within the Macrocosm
These same thrusts are reflected within the world at
large. One of mankind's missions is to use the physical
world for a positive purpose. Every element of being con¬
tains sparks of G-dliness concealed within it. By using these
objects for a spiritual purpose, e.g., eating a meal with the
intent of using the energy generated to serve G-d, we tap the
G-dly energy invested in the physical, and cause it to be
vented. This goal has varied means of expression, for it
must be achieved in a way suitable to every given situation.
See Avos 5:16.
Tanya, chs. 1 and 2.
There is, however, a second, more general goal — to
nurture selflessness. For worldly existence encourages selfcenterdness,
and man's task is to break through this barrier
and reveal the inner truth.
The words "break through" are used intentionally. For
with regard to self-concern — to borrow a Talmudic phrase 5
— "its destruction is its purification." Our desires can be
redirected and given a positive orientation, but first the
fundamental selfishness which characterizes worldly
existence must be broken.
What the Plagues Accomplished
Egypt, Mitzrayim in Hebrew, serves as an analogy for
material existence as a whole. 6
As such, both motifs men¬
tioned above are reflected in the story of the Exodus. The
miracles G-d wrought in Egypt had two purposes:
a) that Pharaoh should release the Jews, and that when
they depart, they would "ask every man of his friend, and
every women from her neighbor, gold and silver articles." 7
In this way, they would "drain Egypt of her wealth." 8
reflects the Jews' effort to refine the sparks of holiness
concealed within Egypt, allowing these resources to find
b) "So that you will be able to tell your children and
grandchildren how I have made sport from Egypt, perform¬
ing miraculous signs there." 9
Pharaoh is identified with the stubborn boasts, "I do not
know G-d," 10
and "The river is mine and I have fashioned
5. Keilim 2:1.
6. See the previous essay entitled "Seeing and Believing."
7. Exodus 11:2.
8. Ibid. 11:36.
9. Ibid. 10:2.
10. Ibid. 5:2.
90 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
denying G-d's influence in our world. The fundamental
purpose of the plagues was to shatter this illusion, to
manifest G-dliness so that all could see, and in doing so, to
break the pride of Pharaoh and his nation.
G-d persisted in this endeavor until Pharaoh's pride was
crushed, and he came in his nightclothes to Moshe,
entreating G-d's mercy. 12
Personally, Pharaoh would have
been prepared to release the Jews much earlier; he was
held back (and the plagues continued) because G-d hard¬
ened his heart. 13
Why was this necessary Had Pharaoh released the Jews
earlier, he and his nation would not have been sufficiently
humbled. The refinement of the G-dliness concealed within
Egypt would have been accomplished, but some of the
power which opposed G-d would have remained intact. The
plagues continued until "Egypt [knew] that I am G-d," 14
the self-oriented approach which their leader personified
was shattered utterly.
Reaching to the Core
Just as the defeat of Pharaoh had to be absolute, in a
personal sense the negation of selfishness must also be
complete, encompassing every aspect of our being. This
requirement is reflected in the name of this week's Torah
reading, Bo. The most common meaning of Bo is "come,"
but it also means "enter," or "penetrate." 15
Moshe is com¬
manded to penetrate to Pharaoh's core and negate his
strength. As the Zohar states: 16
G-d caused Moshe to enter
11. Ezekiel 29:3.
12. Exodus 12:30-32.
13. Ibid. 10:1.
14. Exodus 7:5.
15. Therefore one of the Hebrew terms for marital relations is biah.
16. Zohar, Vol. II, 34a.
room after room, penetrating to the very heart of Pharaoh's
Come With Me
The command to confront Pharaoh and negate his
influence is given to Moshe, representative of mankind,
because the negation of selfishness is a fundamental
dimension of man's service. Man was given the mission of
making this world a dwelling for G-d, and this is possible
only when selfishness is nullified. Haughty self-interest
prevents the Divine Presence from being manifest. 17
And yet, this nullification of self cannot be accomplished
by man alone; it requires G-d's power. For this reason,
Moshe shrank at G-d's command; he realized that the task
was beyond him. That is why G-d instructed him: "Come to
Pharaoh," i.e., come with Me, and not "Go to Pharaoh." G-d
would confront Pharaoh together with Moshe.
Moshe was not shirking responsibility. He was willing to
go, but not with his own resources alone. By hesitating, he
invited G-d's assistance, emphasizing that he would be
acting only as an agent, and that the power to nullify Phar¬
aoh's pride would be G-d's.
The Dynamic of Redemption
Penetrating and nullifying self-orientation makes possi¬
ble the revelation of a positive dimension. And thus the
Zohar refers to the House of Pharaoh as: 18
"the place where
all lights are revealed in an unrestrained manner."
Carrying this concept further, the Exodus from Egypt is
connected to the ultimate Redemption. Indeed, had the
17. See Sotah 5a.
18. Zohar, Vol. I, 210a.
92 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Jews merited, they would have entered Eretz Yisrael im¬
mediately after leaving Egypt. 19
As it is, the entire period from the Exodus until the final
Redemption is referred to as "the days of your exodus from
For nullifying the selfishness of Pharaoh and
breaking through the limitations of Egypt began — and
begins for each of us as we relive the Exodus — a self-rein¬
forcing dynamic destined to take our nation beyond all
natural limitations and lead to the Redemption.
19. See Sifri, commenting on Deuteronomy 1:2.
20. Michah 7:15, note the explanation in Likkutei Torah, Masei, p. 88c ff; Sefer
HaMaamarim 5708, p. 159ff.
of inner Good
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 188ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Beshallach, 5732, 5735
A Name Should Be Telling
The division of the Torah into weekly readings was not
made at random, nor is the choice of the names of those
readings a phenomenon of chance. The name of every
reading is a capsulized summary of the reading as a whole,
and expresses its fundamental theme.
This week's reading contains many significant narratives
demonstrating G-d's love for the Jewish people, and the
Jews' response to Him. It tells of several of the more striking
miracles in our people's history: the splitting of the Red Sea,
the descent of the manna, and the victory over Amalek. And
94 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
with regard to the Jews' response, it includes the song at
the Red Sea — so powerful an acknowledgment of G-d's
hand as to enable even the most common person to attain
And yet the wondrous nature of these events does not
seem to be reflected in the name of the Torah reading. The
Shabbos is called Shabbos Shirah ("the Shabbos of Song")
recalling the song at the Red Sea, but the name of the Torah
reading, Beshallach, meaning "When he sent forth," has no
obvious reference to these happenings. On the contrary,
Beshallach has negative connotations, implying that we had
to be sent forth from Egypt against our will. The Torah
attributes the "sending forth" to Pharaoh; it was he who
motivated us to leave Egypt.
Why it Was Pharaoh Who Sent Forth the Jews
Describing Pharaoh as the agent of the Exodus points to
one of its purposes, and alludes to our ultimate mission
within creation. To highlight this factor, G-d told Moshe at
the very beginning of the process of Redemption: 2
strong hand, [Pharaoh] will drive them from his land."
For the intent of creation is that this material world and
all of its elements be transformed into a dwelling for G-d. 3
This includes even those elements which at first which
oppose the forces of holiness. Ultimately, every aspect of
being will serve a positive purpose.
In certain cases, as with Pharaoh, a transformation is
necessary first. In their original state, such people cannot
serve a positive purpose, so "their destruction is their
1. Mechilta, quoted in Rashi, Exodus 15:2.
2. Exodus 6:1.
3. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.
i.e., only when they are broken will their
positive nature be revealed.
This concept is highlighted by prophecies of the
Redemption which state: 5
"And I will rid the land of dan¬
gerous animals." Our Sages interpret this to mean, 6
animals will be transformed, so that they will no longer
cause harm, as it is written: 7
"The wolf will dwell with the
lamb." In the era of ultimate good, predators will continue
to exist, but "they will neither prey, nor destroy." 8
negative tendencies will be eliminated.
G-d's intent in creation was not merely to reveal the
unbounded spiritual light within material existence. Were
this His purpose, He would not have created a material
world, for revelations in the spiritual realms are far greater. 9
Nor is His purpose merely to nullify the influence of those
entities which oppose holiness, for then their creation
would not have contributed anything. Instead, G-d's desire
is that every aspect of existence become part of His
dwelling. And just as a mortal's dwelling reveals the
character of its owner, every element of G-d's dwelling is
intended to reveal a different facet of His Being.
As a foretaste 10
of this ultimate state, the name of our
Torah reading focuses on the transformation of Pharaoh.
The other miracles mentioned also involve the negation of
undesirable influences and/or the expression of wondrous
spiritual forces, but by directing our attention to Pharaoh's
role in sending forth the Jews, the name Beshallach
4. Keilim 2:1.
5. Leviticus 26:6.
6. Toras Kohanim on the above verse.
7. Isaiah 11:6.
9. For an explanation of this and the concepts to follow, see Likkutei Sichos, Vol.
VI, p. 18ff, and the sources mentioned there.
10. This was indeed only a foretaste, for the transformation of Pharaoh was not
fully complete at the time of the exodus. Shortly afterwards, he experienced
yet another change of heart and pursued the Jewish people.
96 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
underscores the message that even the most perverse
elements of existence can generate positive influences. 11
Looking Beyond Exile
A question, nevertheless, remains unresolved: Why was
it necessary for Pharaoh to send the Jews out of Egypt Why
weren't we eager to leave
One might say that we had no reason to hurry. After the
initial plagues — more than six months before the Exodus
— the enslavement of the Jewish people had ended. 12 The
Jews were living in the most select portion of a rich land ,13
and the Egyptians were ready to give them anything they
Moreover, they also had spiritual sustenance, for
our Sages relate 15
that yeshivos functioned throughout the
Egyptian exile. Why then should we have desired to leave
Egypt What did we have to gain
Our Sages state that all the people who did not want to
leave died in the plague of darkness. 16
All the Jews who
remained wanted to leave. They realized that living in exile
— even amidst security and prosperity — is not a Jew's
Why then did Pharaoh have to force us to go
11. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XII, p. 33ff and other sources which offer a similar
explanation in interpreting the reason the Alter Rebbe (Shulchan Aruch
HaRav, ch. 430) gives for the observance of Shabbos HaGadol ("the Great
Shabbos," the Shabbos preceding Pesach). The Alter Rebbe states that this
Shabbos commemorates the miracle of the Egyptians' firstborn rebelling
against Pharaoh and demanding that he release the Jews. What was so great
about this miracle The transformation of darkness to light it represents, that
the Egyptians themselves demanded the Jews' release.
12. Rosh HaShanah 11:1.
13. Genesis 47:6.
14. Exodus 12:35-36. See also Rashi's commentary.
15. Yoma 28b.
16. Mechilta, quoted by Rashi, Exodus 13:18; see Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, p. 1
footnote 10 and sources cited there.
To Evoke a Higher Will
This question can be resolved on the basis of a parallel
concept: G-d had promised Moshe that He would give the
Jews the Torah, as it is written: 17
"After you lead the people
out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain." The Jews
rejoiced in this promise, and eagerly counted the days until
it would be fulfilled. 18
When they reached Mount Sinai, they
camped in a spirit of oneness. 19
And yet we find, that "G-d
held Mt. Sinai over them," 20
apparently compelling them to
receive His Torah. If we were so eager, why was this
The point is that there are levels of desire. G-d wanted
the Jews to accept the Torah with a total commitment, with
feelings so powerful that it was as if our lives depended on
it. We were not capable of summoning up this level of
commitment on our own, so G-d compelled us to reach this
peak through external means.
Similarly, with regard to the Exodus, G-d wanted the
Jews to desire freedom with a deeper-than-ordinary will.
Therefore He brought about circumstances that awakened
profound and encompassing commitment.
Beshallach is also a lesson in our relations with others.
Every Jew possesses an inner desire to follow the Torah and
its mitzvos. 21
Nevertheless, for this desire to manifest itself
17. Exodus 3:12.
18. The commemoration of their counting is one of the reasons given for the
mitzvah of Counting the Omer. Rabbeinu Nissim, end of Pesachim.
19. Rashi and Mechilta, commenting on Exodus 19:2.
20. Shabbos 88a. See Torah Or, maamar Chayav Inesh Livsumei, sec. 4, and the
maamar Vikibeil HaYehudim, 5687, sec. 2 which explain that our Sages were
employing an analogy. The Jews witnessed Divine revelations so powerful
that they had no choice but to receive the Torah; it was as if a tub was held
over their head.
21. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Gerushin 2:20.
98 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
in deed, a friend is often needed to gently lead one to a
deeper level of will.
This concept is connected to the Redemption. For one of
the qualities Mashiach will manifest is an ability "to compel
all Israel to strengthen their Torah observance." 22
Why compulsion Because Mashiach will awaken a level
of soul that will motivate each of us to a commitment that
surpasses our individual will. We will feel that something
beyond ourselves is pushing us forward, and propelling us
to positive efforts.
The manifestation of this commitment will in turn enable
Mashiach to fulfill his mission: 22
fight[ing] the wars of G-d...
and succeeding], build[ing] the [Beis Ha]Mikdash on its
site, and gather[ing] in the dispersed remnant of Israel."
May this take place in the immediate future.
22. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 11:4.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, p. 74ff; Vol. XV, p. 379ff;
Vol. XVI, p. 198; Sichos Shabbos Pashas Yisro, 5751
Few of the weekly Torah readings are named after indi¬
viduals, so whenever such an association is made, it com¬
mands special attention. And if this is true with regard to
other Torah readings, it surely applies to Parshas Yisro, the
story of the giving of the Torah. Naming the reading Yisro
indicates a connection between him and the event.
100 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Who was Yisro The Torah describes 1
him as the kohen
of Midian. Our Sages offer two definitions for the word
a) "Ruler." Yisro governed the land of Midian.
b) "Priest." He led the Midianites in their worship.
Indeed, our Sages relate 3
that Yisro had recognized all the
false divinities in the world.
The connection between the first interpretation and the
giving of the Torah is obvious, for it reflects the extent of
Yisro's commitment. Although he lived amidst wealth and
comfort, he was prepared to journey into the desert to hear
the words of the Torah. 4
But the second interpretation is
problematic. Our Sages teach 5
that it is forbidden to tell a
convert: "Remember your previous deeds."
Recognizing Deities, Acknowledging G-d
To resolve this question, it is necessary to understand
the source of idol worship. The Rambam writes: 6
During the time of Enosh, mankind made a great
error They said that G-d created stars and spheres
with which to control the world. He placed them on
high and treated them with honor Accordingly, it
is fit [for man] to praise and glorify [these entities],
and to treat them with honor.
Thus the worship of false divinities is rooted in a mis¬
understanding of the fact that G-d influences this world
1. Exodus 18:1.
2. See the Mechilta to this verse.
3. Mechilta to Exodus 18:11; Zohar, Vol. II, p. 69a; Rashi, Exodus 18:9.
4. Rashi, Exodus 18:5.
5. See Bava Metzia 58:13, quoted in Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Mechirah 14:13.
6. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 1:1.
Our Sages comment: 7
"There is not a blade of grass on
this [material] plane that does not have a spiritual force
compelling it to grow." Idol worshippers, however, attach
independent authority to these intermediaries, thinking
they have control over the influence they disperse. In truth,
these "gods" are merely "an ax in the hand of a chopper," 8
with no importance or will of their own, and therefore it is
wrong — and forbidden — to worship them. 9
By saying Yisro had recognized all the false deities in
the world, our Sages implied that he was aware of all the
different media through which G-d channels energy to the
world. Despite his knowledge of these spiritual powers, he
rejected their worship, declaring: 10
"Blessed be G-d.... Now I
know that G-d is greater than all the deities."
The Microcosm Encouraging the Macrocosm
Yisro's acknowledgment of G-d was not merely a per¬
sonal matter. His words of praise brought about "the reve¬
lation of G-d in His glory in the higher and lower realms.
Afterwards, He gave the Torah, in perfect [confirmation of]
His dominion over all existence." 11
Yisro's individual acknowledgment of G-d expressed the
purpose of the giving of the Torah. This prepared the
macrocosm, the world at large, for such a revelation.
To explain: The Rambam states: 12
"The Torah was given
solely to create peace within the world." Yet peace is not
7. Bereishis Rabbah 10:6, Zohar, Vol. I, p. 251a.
8. Cf. Isaiah 10:15. See the maamar VeYadaata 5657 (English translation, Kehot,
1993) where this concept is explained at length.
9. See the fifth of the Rambam's Thirteen Principles of Faith (Commentary to the
Mishnah, Introduction to the Tenth Chapter of Sanhedrin).
10. Exodus 18:10-11.
11. Zohar, Vol. II, p. 67b.
12. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, the conclusion of Hilchos Chanukah. The Rambam's
source is a matter of question. The Tzemach Tzedek (Or HaTorah, Mishlei, p.
553) cites Gittin 59b. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, p. 349ff.
102 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
the purpose for the Torah's existence; the Torah existed
before the creation of the world. 13 It is G-d's wisdom, 14 at
one with Him. 15
Thus just as G-d transcends the concept of purpose, so
too does the Torah. The Rambam, however, focuses, not on
the purpose of the Torah itself, but on that of the giving of
the Torah — why the Torah was granted to mortals. He
explains that the Torah was given, not merely to spread
Divine light, but to cultivate peace.
When the Twains Meet
Peace refers to harmony between opposites. In an
ultimate sense, it refers to a resolution of the dichotomy
between the physical and the spiritual, the forward move¬
ment enabling a world in which G-d's presence is not out¬
wardly evident to recognize and be permeated by the truth
of His Being.
On the verse: 16
"The heavens are the heavens of G-d, but
the earth He gave to the children of man," our Sages
that originally, there was a Divine decree separat¬
ing the physical from the spiritual, i.e., the nature of mate¬
rial existence prevented one from truly appreciating spiri¬
tual reality .18
At the time of the giving of the Torah, how¬
ever, G-d "nullified this decree" and allowed for unity to be
established between the two.
Moreover, true peace involves more than the mere
negation of opposition. The intent is that forces which were
previously at odds should recognize a common ground and
13. Midrash Tehillim 90:4, Bereishis Rabbah 88:2.
14. Tanya, ch. 3.
15. Zohar, Vol. I, p. 24a.
16. Psalms 115:16.
17. Shmos Rabbah 12:3. See the essay entitled What Happened at Sinai (Timeless
Patterns in Time, Vol. II, p. 91ff, Kehot, 1994) which elaborates on this concept.
,עולם 37d) 18. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "world." (Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar
shares the same root as the word ,העלם meaning "concealment."
join together in positive activity. Similarly, the peace which
the Torah fosters does not merely involve a revelation of
G-dliness so great that the material world is forced to
acknowledge it. Instead, the Torah's intent is to bring about
an awareness of G-d within the context of the world itself.
There is G-dliness in every element of existence. At
every moment Creation is being renewed; were G-d's crea¬
tive energy to be lacking, the world would return to abso¬
lute nothingness. 19
The Torah allows us to appreciate this
inner G-dliness, and enables us to live in harmony with it.
In a personal sense, Yisro's acknowledgment of G-d's
supremacy accomplished this objective. From his
involvement with "all the false deities in the world," he
came to a deep recognition of G-d's sovereignty. 20
transformation of Yisro made possible the giving of the
Torah, which in turn transforms the world.
From Darkness to Light
The Zohar 21
associates the transformation of material
existence with the verse: 22
"I saw an advantage to the light
over the darkness." The word Yisaron, ,יתרון) sharing the
same root as the name Yisro, (יתרו translated as
"advantage," can also be rendered as "higher quality." Thus
the verse can be interpreted to indicate that light which
comes from the transformation of darkness possesses a
19. Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1.
20. Yisro willingly acknowledged G-d's presence and endeavored to modify his
life to conform with this appreciation. Other nations were also awed by the
miracles of the Red Sea and recognized G-d's power, as it is written (Exodus
15:14-16): "Nations heard and shuddered.... The [inhabitants of] Canaan
melted away. Fear and dread fell upon them." Unlike Yisro, however, they did
not reflect this appreciation of G-d in their conduct.
21. Zohar, Vol. III, p. 47b.
22. Ecclesiastes 2:17.
104 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
There are two implications to this. Firstly, that the
transformation of darkness results in a higher quality of
light than would otherwise be revealed, and secondly, that
this higher light does not stand in opposition to the material
world. On the contrary, the darkness of the world is its
The Path to Redemption
The Tanya 23
describes the giving of the Torah as a fore¬
taste of the Era of the Redemption. For when the Torah was
given, all existence stood in a state of absolute oneness with
At the time of the giving of the Torah, however, the
revelation was dependent on G-d's initiative. Since the
world had not yet been refined, its nature stood in opposi¬
tion to the manifestation of G-dliness, and so the miraculous
revelation did not endure. In the centuries that followed,
however, mankind's observance of the Torah and its
mitzvos has slowly woven G-dliness into the fabric of the
world. In the Era of the Redemption, the dichotomy will be
permanently dissolved, and we will realize that our world is
G-d's dwelling. 24
23. Ch. 36.
24. Cf. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.
Making the Torah
a Part of Ourselves
Sichos, Vol. III, p. 896ff; Vol. XVI, p. 242ff;
5749, p. 243ff.
When the World Stood Still
When G-d gave the Torah, "There was thunder and
lightning, and a heavy cloud on the mountain Mount Sinai
was all asmoke... the entire mountain trembled violently." 1
"And all the people saw the sounds, the flames, the blast of
the ram's horn, and the mountain smoking. And the people
trembled, standing far off." 2
1. Exodus 19:16-18.
2. Ibid. 20:15.
106 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Far more intense than these physical phenomena was
the power of G-d's voice. And so, upon hearing the Ten
Commandments, the people's "souls took flight." 3
over, the effects of this revelation reverberated throughout
the world: "No bird chirped... , nor did an ox bellow, nor did
the sea roar." 4
Silence reigned while G-d spoke.
After describing such an all-encompassing experience,
one might think the Torah would continue with a discussion
of matters that reflect such self-transcendence. Instead, the
Torah continues: 5
"And these are the judgments."
What is the difficulty Our Rabbis 6
divide the mitzvos
into three general categories:
a) Mishpatim (lit., "judgments"): those mitzvos which are
also dictated by reason, such as the prohibitions against
,ח״ו given, theft and murder. Even if the Torah had not been
we would probably have instituted laws of this nature. 7
b) Eidus (lit., "testimonials"): commemorative mitzvos,
e.g., observing the Shabbos or eating matzah on Pesach,
which enable us to relive the events of history, and more
easily grasp their spiritual significance.
c) Chukim (lit., "decrees"): mitzvos that are superrational,
that are "a decree from Me, [which] you have no
permission to question." 8
Presumably, the Giving of the Torah should have been
followed by chukim, for their superrational nature reflects
3. Shabbos 88b.
4. Shmos Rabbah 29:9.
5. Exodus 21:1.
6. See the Ramban on Deuteronomy 6:20, SeferHaMaamarrim 5700, p. 51ff.
7. Cf. Yoma 67b.
8. Rashi to Numbers 19:2;cf. Yoma 67b, Midrash Tanchuma, Chukas, sec. 7.
Seemingly, our Rabbis should have said "you have no permission to disobey."
By stating "you have no permission to question," they implied that the
devotion to G-d's will expressed by chukim must be internalized to the point
where not only is the mitzvah observed, but it is fulfilled with unquestioning
the spiritual feelings aroused at Mount Sinai. Why instead
does the Torah continue with laws that could (seemingly)
be postulated by reason, parallels to which exist in all civi¬
To Advance, Not to Withdraw
This question can be resolved based on a point of
Hebrew grammar. Rashi states: 9
Whenever [the Torah] uses the term אלה ("These
are"), it negates what was mentioned previously.
Whenever it uses the term ואלה ("And these are"), it
adds to what was mentioned previously. Just as
those mentioned first (the Ten Commandments)
[were revealed] at Sinai, so too, these (the laws of
Parshas Mishpatim) [were revealed] at Sinai.
Rashi is emphasizing that the judgments which are the
subject of our Torah reading are not a departure from the
revelation of Mount Sinai, but an outgrowth of it. The Torah
is more than transcendent spirituality. On the contrary, the
main thrust of the Giving of the Torah is the clothing of
G-d's will and wisdom in concepts which mortals can
understand. 10 When a person studies Torah, he is
comprehending G-dliness, and joining his mind with G-d's.
For intellectual comprehension involves the establishment
of a bond between one's mind and the concept under con¬
sideration. Indeed, such a bond is most completely estab¬
lished in the study of those dimensions of the Torah which
9. Rashi, Exodus 21:1, based on Shmos Rabbah 30:3, and the Mechilta to this
10. The fact that the Torah speaks of entities on the material plane does not
diminish its G-dly core. To borrow an analogy from Tanya, ch. 4, it is like
embracing a king who is wearing garments. It doesn't matter how many
garments the king is wearing; what is significant is being in the king's
108 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
relate to worldly matters, for these are ideas which human
intellect can thoroughly comprehend .11
Fulfilling G-d's Purpose
The giving of the Torah completes the purpose of crea¬
tion. G-d brought all existence into being because He
desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds. 12 The objective
of creation is thus not the revelation of G-d's transcendent
power, but rather that worldly entities as they exist be
permeated by the truth of His Being.
This is accomplished through the mishpatim of the
Torah. For they communicate G-dliness in relation to the
everyday lives of mortals. 13
The comprehension of these
laws brings G-dliness into each person's mind, making it a
"dwelling for G-d." And the application of these laws creates
a society that enables man to achieve spiritual goals in
peace, and to satisfy material needs in righteousness —
establishing a "dwelling for G-d" in the most complete
Back to Sinai
Parshas Mishpatim concludes with a description of some
of the details of the giving of the Torah, 14
11. See Tanya, Kuntres Acharon, Epistle 4.
12. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.
13. Although mishpatim express the purpose of the Giving of the Torah, the
Torah first highlights the transcendent revelations described in Parshas Yisro.
This is necessary, for it must be clear that the intellectual content of
Mishpatim is not merely human reason, but rather an expression of G-d's
infinity. After the transcendent dimension of the Torah is underscored, it is
possible to clarify that G-d's absolute infinity extends into the realm of the
finite, and becomes manifest in the wisdom of Torah law.
14. Although this portion of the Torah reading took place previously (according
to Rashi), it is mentioned at the reading's conclusion because the Torah does
not always follow a chronological order Pesachim 6b; Rashi, Shmos 19:11.
Were the narratives in the Torah merely historical chronicles, it would be
preferable for the sequence to be kept. The fact that this sequence is from
declaration naaseh venishmah ("We will do, and we will
listen"), which represents the ultimate declaration of faith.
Even before one has been told what to do, one promises to
This complements the lesson of Mishpatim. 15
person has been able to internalize G-dliness through the
systematic study and application of the Torah's laws, he is
fit to experience dimensions of G-dliness which transcend
human comprehension — the heart of the Sinai experience.
The study and practice of mishpatim refine the
believer's personality, making it possible for the infinite
dimension of the Torah to erase any dichotomy that might
exist between his self and his faith.
Knowing, and Not Knowing
The above allows for an extended interpretation of a
famous statement of our Rabbis: 16
"The ultimate of knowl¬
edge is not to know You." The simple meaning of this
statement is that a person should realize the limits of his
intellect, and therefore understand that knowing G-d is
impossible, for He transcends all limits. There is, however,
an allusion to the concept that when a person has fully
developed his mind, he appreciates that even the concepts
which he knows possess an inner dimension which tran¬
scends intellect. 17
And going further, one can infer dimentime
to time transposed indicates that the fundamental purpose is to teach
lessons pertaining to Divine service.
15. This explanation enables us to understand why the name Mishpatim applies
to the entire Torah reading, including its conclusion. Similarly, it can be
explained that the passages of the reading that describe the festivals also
relate to the name Mishpatim, for the thorough comprehension of Torah law
evokes feelings of happiness, and that is the essence of the festivals.
16. Bechinos Olam, sec. 8, ch. 2; Ikarim, Discourse II, ch. 30; Shaloh 191b.
17. To state this in the context of our Torah reading: even the mishpatim are
expressions of G-d's infinity.
110 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
sions of G-d that are infinite, internalizing this knowledge to
the point that it shapes our personalities. 18
Knowledge of G-d in this manner anticipates — and
precipitates — the coming of the Redemption, the era when
"A man will no longer teach his friend... , for all will know Me,
from the small to the great." 19
In the context of the Torah reading, the study and the practice of mishpatim
lead to an internalized appreciation of the experience at Sinai.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 902;
Vol. XVI, p. 286ff; Vol. XXI, p. 146ff
A Contradiction in Terms
When dedicating the Beis HaMikdash, King Shlomo
exclaimed in wonderment: 1
"Will G-d indeed dwell on this
earth The heavens and the celestial heights cannot contain
You, how much less this house!" For the Beis HaMikdash
was not merely a centralized location for man's worship of
G-d, it was a place where G-d's Presence was — and is 2 —
1. I Kings 8:27.
2. For even in the present age, when the Beis HaMikdash is destroyed, G-d's
Presence rests upon its site. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Beis
112 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
manifest. 3 Although "the entire earth is full of His glory," 4
G-d's Presence is not tangibly felt. He permeates all
existence, but in a hidden way. 5
The Beis HaMikdash, by
contrast, was "the place where He chose to cause His name
to dwell." 6
There was no concealment; His Presence was
This seems impossible; there is no apparent way that
spirituality can be openly manifest in our material world.
For material existence to come into being, G-d condensed
and contracted His light and life-energy so that it could
become enclothed in material entities. This is absolutely
necessary; were G-dly light to be revealed without restraint,
it would nullify all matter.
To allow for our world to continue in a stable manner,
G-d structured this process of self-containment with laws
and principles as binding as those governing nature. He
brought into being an entire framework of spiritual worlds
whose purpose is to convey Divine energy from level to
level until it undergoes the degree of contraction necessary
to be enclothed in material form. An open revelation of
G-dliness runs contrary to this entire pattern, defying the
limits which He Himself established.
Nevertheless, although G-d limited the extent of His
revelation when structuring the world, He did not limit
Himself. He created a world with set bounds, but He Himself
is not bound by them, and can alter them at will. He can
invest His Presence in our material realm, and did so in the
Sanctuary and in the Beis HaMikdash.
3. See the essay entitled, "G-d's Chosen House" in Seek Out the Welfare of
Jerusalem (S.I.E., N.Y., 1994), where these concepts are explained.
4. Isaiah 6:3.
5. In human terms, concealment means that one object is obscured by another.
With regard to G-d, there is nothing which can conceal Him. Instead, His
concealment is a willful act on His part. See the maamar Adam Ki Yakriv in the
series of discourses entitled, Yom Tov Shel Rosh HaShanah, 5666.
6. Deuteronomy 12:11.
in G-d's inner Chamber
The Divine Presence was revealed in the Holy of Holies,
where an ongoing miracle reflected the nature of the revela¬
tion in the Beis HaMikdash. The width of the Holy of Holies
was 20 cubits. The Ark of the Covenant, positioned
lengthwise in the chamber, was two and one half cubits
long, yet there were ten cubits from either edge of the ark to
the wall. In other words, the physical ark occupied no
In the Beis HaMikdash, precise measurement was a
necessity. Even a slight deviation from the required
dimensions would render an article or building invalid. The
fact that the place of the ark transcended the limits of space
thus represents a fusion of finiteness and infinity. This
communicates the nature of G-d's Being. He transcends
both finiteness and infinity, and yet manifests Himself in
This is the Torah's intent when speaking of G-d
"choos[ing] a place for His name to dwell": the physical
limits of our world will not be negated, yet the spiritual will
be revealed. And this fusion of opposites will enable us to
become conscious of His essence, which transcends — and
encompasses — both the physical and the spiritual.
What Man Contributes
G-d did not want this revelation to be dependent on His
influence alone. As reflected in the verse: 9
"And you shall
make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within," He chose to
make the revelation of His Presence dependent on man's
activity. Since any revelation of G-d's Presence transcends
7. Yoma 21a.
8. See the essay entitled, "A Dwelling Place for G-d in Our World" in Seek Out the
Welfare of Jerusalem (S.I.E., N.Y. 1994), which elaborates on this concept.
9. Exodus 25:8.
114 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
the limits of our existence, the initiative must come from
Him. Nevertheless, "G-d did not have His Presence rest upon
Israel until they performed labor" 10 — building the
Sanctuary where His Presence would dwell.
Why was man's activity necessary Because G-d's intent
is that the revelation of His Presence be internalized within
the world, becoming part of the fabric of its existence. Were
the revelation to come only from above, it would merely
nullify worldliness. To cite a parallel: when G-d revealed
Himself on Mount Sinai, the world ground to a standstill.
"No bird chirped... nor did an ox bellow, nor the sea roar." 11
Although G-dliness was revealed within the world, material
existence did not play a contributory role.
When, by contrast, the dwelling for G-d is built by man
— himself part of the material world — the nature of the
materials used is elevated. This enables G-d's Presence to
be revealed within these entities while they continue to
exist within their own context.
When a revelation of G-dliness comes from above, it is
dependent on His influence, and is therefore temporary. For
example, when G-d descended on Mount Sinai, the mountain
became holy and therefore, "all that ascend the mountain
must die." 12
When, however, G-d's Presence was withdrawn
from the mountain, the Jews were allowed to ascend it, 13 for
the fundamental nature of the mountain had not changed; it
remained an ordinary mountain.
With regard to the Sanctuary — and to a greater extent
the Beis HaMikdash — holiness became a permanent part of
their own being. And thus on the verse: 14
"I will lay waste to
your Sanctuaries," our Sages commented: 15
10. Avos d'Rabbi Nosson, ch. 11.
11. Shmos Rabbah 29:9.
12. Exodus 19:12.
14. Leviticus 26:31.
15. Megillah 28a.
they have been devastated, their sanctity remains." And
therefore, it is forbidden to ascend to the site of the Beis
HaMikdash in the present age. 2
The above concepts are highlighted by the name of the
Torah reading. Terumah, 16 meaning "lifting up" 17 or
puts the focus on man's attempts to estab¬
lish a dwelling for G-d. The Torah proceeds to state 19
this terumah must involve 13 different articles: 20
brass This indicates that man's task is to incorporate the
various elements of worldly existence into G-d's dwelling. 21
More particularly, the double interpretation of the name
Terumah reflects two factors necessary in creating a
dwelling for G-d. First, a person must designate his gift,
separating it from his other worldly property. And then
through its consecration, its nature becomes elevated
above the ordinary material plane. 22
16. The choice of the word Terumah as the name of the Torah reading is signifi¬
cant because it is further from the beginning of the reading than most of the
other names chosen.
17. Zohar, Vol. II, p. 147a.
18. Rashi, Targum Onkelos, and others commenting on the opening verse of the
19. Exodus 25:3-7.
20. This follows the interpretation of Rashi (Exodus 25:2). Rabbeinu Bachaye and
others reckon 15 items donated for the Sanctuary.
21. These concepts indicate a sequence to the readings of Yisro, Mishpatim, and
Terumah. Yisro focuses on the Giving of the Torah, when the division between
the physical and the spiritual was nullified. Mishpatim reflects the extension
of the bond between the spiritual and the physical into human reason.
Moreover, it provides us with guidelines for living spiritually within the
material world. With the command for the construction of the Sanctuary,
Terumah represents the consummation of the process, the transformation of
material existence into a dwelling for G-d.
22. This concept has halachic ramifications. Once an object is consecrated, it can
no longer be used for mundane purposes. The concept of elevation that
results from the transfer of an article to the Sanctuary is reflected in
Genesis 23:20 which states: "And Efron's field in Machpelah ascended to
Avraham." Rashi explains that the word "ascended" is used because through
116 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
These two phases relate to the two services mentioned
in the verse, 23
"turn away from evil and do good." When a
person prepares a dwelling for a king, he must first clean it.
Afterwards, he brings in attractive articles. 24
make our world a dwelling for G-d, "separation" is necessary
to purge the self-orientation encouraged by worldly
existence. Only then is the world "elevated," becoming a
medium to draw down G-d's light.
Not an island
The Beis HaMikdash was not intended to be an isolated
corner of holiness. Instead, its windows were designed to
spread light outward. 25
For the holiness of the Beis HaMikdash
was intended to illuminate the world.
The most complete expression of this concept will come
in the Era of the Redemption. 26
From "the mountain of G-d's
will spread forth light and holiness, motivating all
people to learn G-d's ways and "walk in His paths." 28
These revelations are dependent on our efforts to en¬
courage the manifestation of the Divine Presence. Making
our homes and our surroundings "sanctuaries in microcosm"
will cause G-d to reveal His Presence in the world.
the transfer the field became elevated, departing from the ownership of an
ordinary person and entering Avraham's possession.
23. Psalms 34:15.
24. Likkutei Torah, Balak 70c.
25. Menachos 86b, Vayikra Rabbah 31:7. See the essay entitled "The Design of the
Menorah" in Seek Out the Welfare of Jerusalem, where this concept is
26. See the maamar entitled Gadol Yiheyeh Kavod HaBayis HaZeh in Anticipating
the Redemption (S.I.E., N.Y., 1994).
27. Isaiah 2:2.
29. Yechezkel 11:6; see the essay of this title in Sound the Great Shofar (Kehot,
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, p. 34ff;
Vol. XVI p. 204ff; Vol. XXI, p. 173ff;
Sefer Maamarim Melukat, Vol. VI, p. 129ff
A Leader's Commitment
Leadership involves self-sacrifice. Everyone understands
that to receive you have to give, but true leadership is
above this type of barter. A genuine leader rises above selfconcern
entirely. He identifies totally with his people and
their purpose, and is willing to give up everything for them.
Moshe Rabbeinu epitomized this type of leadership.
When G-d told him that He would destroy the Jewish people
because of the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe responded: 1
1. Exodus 32:32.
118 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
You would, forgive their sin. And if not, please obliterate me
from the book You have written."
By making this statement, Moshe offered to sacrifice
more than his life; he was willing to give up even his soul.
"The book You have written" refers to the entire Torah. 2
Although Moshe is identified with the Torah, 3
his soul for it," 4
he was, nevertheless, willing to sacrifice his
connection with the Torah for the sake of Jewish people.
Why Because Moshe is one with the Jewish people.
"Moshe is Israel, and Israel is Moshe." 5
However deep his
connection with the Torah, Moshe's connection with the
Jewish people was deeper. 6
This bond connects Moshe to every single Jew, regard¬
less of his level of Divine service. 7
For whom was Moshe
willing to sacrifice everything For all the Jews, including
those who had been party to the worship of the Golden Calf.
Regardless of what they had done, Moshe's commitment to
them remained unchanged. Since that connection stemmed
from the essence of his being — and touched the essence of
their being — their conduct, however far removed from the
spirit of Moshe's teachings, could not sever the bond
2. Rashi on the above verse, Shmos Rabbah 47:9.
3. Cf. Malachi 3:22.
4. Mechilta commenting on Exodus 15:1; Shmos Rabbah 30:4.
5. Rashi, Numbers 21:21.
6. This approach has its source in a more encompassing motif. Our Sages state
(Rus Rabbah 1:4, Tana d'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah, ch. 14): "The righteous resemble
their Creator." G-d invests Himself in the Torah, and thus the word Anochi
the first word of the Ten Commandments, serves as an acronym for the ,(אנכי)
Aramaic phrase נפשי כתבית יהבית ,אנא "I wrote down and gave over Myself"
(Shabbos 105a)]. And yet G-d's bond with the Jewish people is deeper — they
are considered His firstborn (Exodus 4:22) as it were. Thus "Israel comes
before the Torah" (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4, Tana d'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah, ch. 14).
For this reason, even when the Jewish people sin, G-d is willing to overlook
their transgressions. See also Timeless Patterns in Time (Kehot, N.Y., 1993),
Vol. I, p. 49ff).
7. Although Moshe and "the extensions of Moshe" who lead the Jews in every
generation share a bond with every Jew, special closeness is reserved for
those who nurture their bond with the "Moshe" of their age.
Three Prototypes of Righteous Conduct
Our Sages compare three righteous men: 8
Avraham, and Moshe. Noach was himself totally righteous,
but showed little concern for the people around him. He
spent 120 years building an ark to arouse the people's
curiosity, and would tell them of the need to repent if they
But nothing more. He didn't seek to influence his
neighbors to change their conduct, nor did he pray that G-d
avert the coming of the Flood. 10
Avraham, by contrast, sought to improve the people
among whom he lived. On the verse: 11
"He proclaimed there
the name of G-d, eternal L-rd," our Sages comment: 12
read vayikra — 'he proclaimed,' but vayakri — 'he made
others proclaim.' " Avraham publicized G-d's presence and
motivated others to call on Him. Moreover, when G-d told
Avraham that He was going to destroy Sodom, Avraham
prayed for the city, even challenging G-d: 13
"Will You wipe
out the righteous and the wicked... It would be sacrilege for
You... to kill the righteous with the wicked Shall not the
whole world's Judge act justly"
Moshe, however, showed an even more encompassing
commitment. Avraham's prayer was for "the righteous."
Moshe, by contrast, prayed for the Jews after the worship of
the Golden Calf. As leader of his people, his commitment
extended to every Jew, even to those whose conduct stood
in direct opposition to his own values. It was for the sake of
these people that Moshe asked G-d to relent: "If not, please
obliterate me from the book."
8. Zohar I, 67b; See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, p. 40 and sources cited there.
9. Aggadas Bereishis 1:2.
10. And therefore the Flood is referred to as "the waters of Noach" (Isaiah 54:9),
indicting him for his failure to influence the people of his age.
11. Genesis 13:4.
12. Sotah 10b.
13. Genesis 18:23-25.
120 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Deeper than a Name
Our Sages state: 14
"A curse uttered by a wise man, even
when conditional, becomes manifest." On that basis, our
Rabbis explain 15
that even though G-d accepted Moshe's
prayer for the Jews, the malediction he pronounced on
himself had an effect. Moshe's name is mentioned in every
Torah reading from Parshas Shmos (which describes his
birth) until the Book of Deuteronomy which conveys his
farewell addresses with one exception: Parshas Tetzaveh. In
this reading, Moshe's name — in keeping with his request —
was stricken out.
This does not, however, mean that Moshe is not asso¬
ciated with Parshas Tetzaveh. On the contrary, a name
reflects merely that dimension of a person which relates to
others. The essence of a person, who he really is, is above
his name. Parshas Tetzaveh does not mention Moshe's
name, but communicates an aspect of his being which
cannot be expressed in a name.
Moshe's self-sacrifice for the Jewish people stemmed
from the essence of his being. It is this fact which Parshas
Tetzaveh brings to our attention.
These concepts are reflected in the opening phrase of
the Torah reading: 16
VeAtah tetzaveh es bnai Yisrael, "And
you shall command the children of Israel." Tetzaveh, trans¬
lated as "command," relates to the word tzavsa, which
means "connection." The verse charges "you," the very
essence of Moshe, 17
to connect with every Jew.
14. Makkos 11a.
15. Baal HaTurim on the opening verse of Parshas Tetzaveh; Zohar Chodash, Shir
HaShirim; Rabbeinu Bechaye on Exodus 32:32; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, p. 674ff.
16. Exodus 27:20.
17. Kli Yakar on the above verse. The word tetzaveh itself alludes to Moshe's
essence, which is above his name. Tetzaveh (תצוה) is numerically equivalent
The connection displayed by Moshe echoes within the
Jews themselves, joining our entire people — even those on
the lowest levels — together as one entity. Simultaneously,
our connection with Moshe links the Jewish people to the
Or Ein Sof, G-d's infinite light. 18
Moshe serves as a "shepherd
of faith," 19
sustaining and nurturing the Jewish people's faith
in G-d by prompting the expression of the essential bond we
share with Him. 20
The two descriptions of the bonds evoked by Moshe are
interrelated. By revealing the G-dly potential which every
Jew possesses, Moshe established bonds among the Jewish
people. For it is only by highlighting a shared spiritual
resource that true unity can be established. 21
So that an Eternal Light Will Shine
The above concepts relate not only to the name, but
also to the content of the Torah reading. Although the
reading focuses on the priesthood and Aharon's service,
Moshe's influence was necessary to lift Aharon's service to
a level it could not reach on its own.
to 501. With regard to the number 500, our Sages state (Koheles Rabbah, ch. 7,
1:2): "[G-d] traveled a distance of 500 years to acquire a name." Thus 501
refers to the essence which transcends the name.
18. This concept is explained in the maamar, VeAtah Tetzaveh, 5679 (Sefer
Maamarim, 5679, p. 254) and in other sources. The Previous Rebbe's maamar,
VeKibeil HaYehudim, 5687 (ch. 4), mentions a similar but not identical
concept. In that maamar, the Previous Rebbe does not, however, mention
that Moshe connects the Jews with the Or Ein Sof.
19. We find the Hebrew original of this term רועה נאמן in the Pesichta to Eichah
Rabbah, sec. 24. The Aramaic version of the term, also alluding to Moshe
Rabbeinu, serves as the title of one part of the Zohar. See also Torah Or, Ki
20. In the Previous Rebbe's maamar, VeKibeil HaYehudim, 5687, the emphasis on
Moshe's efforts as a "shepherd of faith" is on his infusing the Jewish people
with knowledge that allows them to bridge the dichotomy between their G-dly
potential and their conscious thoughts. This activity, however, is possible
only because Moshe sparked the expression of the essence of the Jewish soul.
21. See Tanya, ch. 32.
122 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
This is reflected in the continuation of the charge to
"And they shall bring you clear olive oil, crushed
for the lamp." One might ask: why should the oil be brought
to Moshe It was Aharon who kindled the menorah.
The answer is found in the continuation of the verse, "to
raise an eternal light." Aharon has the potential to kindle
Divine service and inspire people with light and warmth, but
for the flame to burn as "an eternal light," "from evening
until morning," 23
Moshe's influence is necessary. For it is
Moshe that enables every Jew to tap his innermost spiritual
resources and maintain a constant commitment.
For similar reasons, as the Torah reading continues to
relate, the investiture of Aharon and his sons was per¬
formed by Moshe. For the seven days of the initiation of the
altar, Moshe served as a priest. His service set the standard
for Aharon's subsequent efforts. 24
The Agent of Redemption
With regard to Moshe, our Sages state: 25
"He is the first
redeemer, and will be the ultimate redeemer." Redemption
is the natural result of the arousal of the essential connec¬
tion of man to G-d and man to man. Our Sages explain 26
the redemption from Egypt could have been the ultimate
redemption. Had the Jews' sins not prevented Moshe from
leading the people directly into Eretz Yisrael, there never
would have been another exile. 27
22. Exodus, loc. cit.
24. A connection to Moshe's service is also seen in another subject mentioned in
this reading: the incense altar. Ketores, Hebrew for "incense" shares the same
root as ketar, Aramaic for "bond." The ketores offering was intended, in a way
similar to Moshe's influence, to intensify the inner bond which all mankind,
even the wicked (see Kerisos 6b), share with G-d.
25. Shmos Rabbah 2:4; Zohar, Vol. I, p. 253a. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, p. 8ff.
26. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 230 and sources cited there.
27. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIX, p. 346 and sources cited there.
Similarly, in subsequent generations, it is the men who
act as "extensions of Moshe Rabbeinu" 7
who infuse the
yearning for redemption among our people, uniting us in the
desire for Mashiach's coming. These efforts serve as an
"eternal light," guiding our people and mankind as a whole
to the ultimate goal.
KI SISSA 125
Towards A Purpose
Vol. XVII, p. 410 ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Ki Sissa, 5751, 5752
The Path Upward
The name of this week's reading, Ki Sissa, raises a
question. Literally, Ki Sissa means "when you raise up," and
refers to the elevation of "the heads of the children of
Since the majority of the reading centers on the sin
of the Golden Calf and its consequences, one is prompted to
ask: How can this terrible sin contribute to the elevation of
the Jewish people
1. Exodus 30:12. Within the context of the Torah reading, the verse should be
rendered: "When you take a census of the children of Israel."
126 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
The sin of the Golden Calf represented a tragic descent.
The impurity imparted by the sin of the Tree of Knowledge
had departed from the souls of the Jewish people at the
Giving of the Torah, but returned after the sin of the Golden
Thus this sin is the source of all subsequent sins.
Similarly, all the punishments suffered by the Jewish people
throughout the centuries are connected to this sin. 3
place can such an event have in a portion whose name
points to the Jews' ascent
For Man to Become More than Man
To answer this question, we must expand our concep¬
tual framework, for the state to which G-d desires to bring
mankind is above ordinary human conception. This is in¬
dicated by the very expression: "When you lift up the
heads"; "the heads," human intellect, must be elevated.
The essence of our souls is "an actual part of G-d from
and G-d desires that man transcend himself and
experience this Divine potential. Moreover, the intent is not
merely that we rise above our human intellect, but that we
"lift up the heads" themselves, reshape our minds. Tasting a
superrational connection to G-d is not sufficient; our very
thoughts, the way we understand the world, must
encompass a Truth which transcends intellect.
A Journey Charted by G-d
Intellect is a crossroads. On one hand, it is the faculty
which enables humanity to grow and expand its horizons.
On the other hand, a mortal's intellect is by definition lim¬
ited. Moreover, all intellect is rooted in self; the more one
understands, the stronger one's sense of selfhood becomes.
Shabbos 146a; Zohar I, 52b, II, 193b; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, p. 9.
Sanhedrin 102b; Rashi, Exodus 32:35.
Tanya, ch. 2.
KI SISSA 127
Following one's own understanding can lead to seeing
material existence — or at least certain aspects of it — as
being apart from G-d. Our minds can understand how cer¬
tain entities and experiences might serve as conduits for the
expression of G-dliness. Other material entities and
practices, however, appear to be foreign to that purpose,
and we reject the possibility that they might also serve this
Taking this approach to the extreme, some modes of
Divine service endeavor to avoid confronting material
existence altogether, staying instead within the realm of the
spiritual. Although there are certain virtues to this
approach, it contains an inherent shortcoming: It encour¬
ages the notion that material reality exists apart from holiness.
The ultimate truth — the "heights" to which Jewish
heads should be lifted — is that every aspect of existence
can express the truth of His Being. 6
This is reflected in the
Torah's description of Avraham's efforts to spread the
awareness of G-d's existence: 7
"And he proclaimed there the
א-ל העולם name of G-d, eternal L-rd." The verse does not state
— "G-d of the world," 8 which would imply that G-d is an
entity unto Himself and the world is a separate entity unto
itself. Instead, it states עולם ,א-ל implying that G-dliness and
the world are one.
Even after this thrust is accepted, however, there exist
certain aspects of being that appear separate from Him. Is
there G-dliness in evil, for example And if so, how can man
cause this G-dliness to be revealed
5. In an ultimate sense, such an approach can be equated with the worship of
false gods. For the notion that there is an entity separate from G-d is the
source of idol worship. See the maamar Veyadaata, 5657 [English translation:
To Know G-d (Kehot, N.Y., 1993)].
6. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodai HaTorah 1:1.
7. Genesis 21:33.
8. See Likkutei Torah, Devarim, 42d; conclusion of maamar beginning Anochi
Havayah Elokecha, 5673
128 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Although mortals cannot conceive of a meeting point
between evil and sanctity, G-d can. Indeed, He charts paths
leading each individual, and the world at large, to such an
intersection. With Divine Providence, He creates situations
into which no righteous man would enter voluntarily, forc¬
ing the righteous to become involved with (and thus ele¬
vate) the most base material concerns.
This is the intent of the command to "lift up the heads of
the children of Israel"; that even within the realm char¬
acterized by separation, evil and self, there may flourish an
awareness of G-d's unbounded spiritual truth.
G-d's Awesome intrigue
In this vein, Chassidic thought describes sin as, 9
awesome intrigue devised against man." Jews by nature are
above any connection with sin. 10
If a person's yetzer hora
overcomes him and makes him sin, this is because the
yetzer hora was prompted from Above to bring him to this
act. This is purposeful, "an awesome intrigue" devised by
G-d to bring about a higher and more complete unity
between G-d, that individual, and the world at large.
In his explanation of our Sages' statement 11
that "In the
place of baalei teshuvah, even the completely righteous
cannot stand," the Rambam states 12
that baalei teshuvah are
on a higher level because "they conquer their [evil]
inclination more." The righteous do not have to struggle so
hard against their evil inclination; to the extent that they are
righteous, their evil inclination is nullified. 13
A baal teshuvah,
by contrast, possesses a powerful evil inclination — as
evidenced by his sin — and yet still desires to cling to G-d.
9. Cf. Psalms 66:5.
10. See Avodah Zarah 4b-5a and Rashi's commentary.
11. Berachos 34b.
12. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:4.
13. See Tanya, ch. 10.
KI SISSA 129
Moreover, our Sages teach 14
that teshuvah transforms
even sins which a person commits intentionally into merits.
This elevates the lowest aspects of existence — which
derive sustenance from the realm of kelipah — and brings
them into a bond with G-d.
Why does a baal teshuvah have the potential to elevate
aspects of existence which are by nature distant from
G-dliness Because in order to strive for teshuvah, a person
must tap his deepest spiritual resources, that soul which is
"an actual part of G-d." When he reaches this point, he is
able to appreciate that nothing is apart from Him. And in his
life, he is able to show how every element of existence
expresses His Truth.
This process is an example of the pattern, "a descent for
the purpose of an ascent." 15
Our climb to those peaks which
our intellect cannot reach on its own involves a descent to
levels which our intellect would normally reject.
Based on the above, we can appreciate the sequence of
parshas Ki Sissa. The purpose — the ascent of the Jewish
people — is stated in the opening verse. Afterwards, the
reading continues with the final commands for the con¬
struction and dedication of the Sanctuary, the incense
offering and the giving of the First Tablets. All these sub¬
jects reflect a connection to G-d above the limits of ordinary
In order for that connection to penetrate the worldly
realm, and to have it permeate even the lowest aspects of
existence, follows the narrative of the Sin of the Golden Calf
and the breaking of the Tablets. This terrible fall motivated
the Jewish people to turn to G-d in teshuvah, evoking a third
14. Yoma 86b.
15. Cf. Makkos 7b.
130 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
— the revelation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy
— a totally unbounded level of G-dliness that encompasses
even the lowest levels.
This highest peak finds expression in the giving of the
Second Tablets 17
and the final event mentioned in this
week's Torah reading, the shining of Moshe's countenance.
The shining of Moshe's face manifested the ultimate
fusion of the physical and the spiritual. G-dly light shone
from Moshe's physical body.
And Ultimately, Ascents Without Descent
Similar cycles of descent and ascent have shaped the
history of our people. The aim of this process is a final
16. Based on the above, we can also draw a connection to the three pilgrimage
festivals mentioned in this Torah reading. These festivals also follow a similar
pattern of three: Pesach represents a G-dly revelation beyond the limits of
worldly experience. Afterwards comes Shavuos, a holiday associated with the
wheat harvest — an emphasis on man's service. And then Sukkos, the harvest
festival, which alludes to the ultimate Ingathering.
17. Although the First Tablets were the "work of G-d," while the Second Tablets
were hewn by Moshe, the latter reflect a more encompassing union between
G-dliness and our world. This is reflected in the very fact that the First Tab¬
lets were broken, for their holiness could not coexist with the crass realities
of worldly existence, while the Second Tablets are eternal (Rambam, Mishneh
Torah, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 4:1), representing the fusion of holiness with
Not only are the Second Tablets associated with a deeper bond, they also
represent a more complete treasury of Torah knowledge. Our Sages relate
(Nedarim 22b) that if Moshe had not destroyed the First Tablets, we would
have received only the Five Books of the Chumash and the Book of Yehoshua.
In contrast, the Second Tablets are associated with the Oral Law, the aspect
of Torah which is truly boundless.
18. In this context, we can appreciate why Parshas Ki Sissa follows the parshiyos
Terumah and Tetzaveh — which describe G-d's commands to Moshe regard¬
ing the construction of the Sanctuary — although the events described in
Parshas Ki Sissa took place first. The construction of the Sanctuary represents
the transformation of the world into a dwelling for G-d, the ultimate purpose
of the world's existence. Therefore, after the commandment to create such a
dwelling is given, but before Moshe communicates it to the people, the Torah
relates the three-phased pattern through which the Divine intent for this
world can be fulfilled.
KI SISSA 131
union between the spiritual and the material — the Era of
the Redemption, when "the world will be filled with the
knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed." 19
When seen in this context, all the years of exile appear
as merely "a fleeting moment." 20
For exile has no purpose in
and of itself; it is merely a means by which to evoke a
deeper connection to G-d, and a medium which enables that
bond to permeate every aspect of experience. When this
purpose is accomplished, the exile will conclude; to quote
the Rambam: 21
"The Torah has promised that ultimately, at
the end of her exile, Israel will repent and immediately be
And then will begin a never-ending ascent, as it is written:
"They will proceed from strength to strength, and
appear before G-d in Zion."
19. Isaiah 11:9, quoted by the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5) at
the conclusion of his discussion of the Era of the Redemption.
20. Isaiah 54:7.
21. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5.
22. Psalms 84:8.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, p. 250ff;
5749, p. 292ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayakhel, 5752
A Whole That is Greater than its Parts
The Hebrew language does not lack synonyms, and
there are several other verbs (e.g., ויאסוף or (ויקבץ which
could have been chosen to begin the verse: 1
gathered together the children of Israel." The word
employed, vayakhel ,(ויקהל) is significant, for it implies the
fusion of the people into a kahal or communal entity, far
more than a collection of individuals. 2
1. Exodus 35:1.
2. See Tzafnas Paneach, Klalei HaTorah VehaMitzvos, entry tzibbur.
134 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
A group which gathers together can also move apart,
and even while together, the union is not complete. A kahal,
by contrast, represents an eternal 3
entity that unites
individuals in a new framework, highlighting the funda¬
mental bond that joins them.
The purpose for which Moshe called the people
together was to collect donations toward the construction
of the Sanctuary. For the Sanctuary could not be built from
the private resources of any individual. Instead, it was
necessary that the money be donated by the collective, and
that the Sanctuary be built by that body. Thus the unity,
Moshe established among the Jews extended even into their
By nature, we are all concerned with possessions; our
Sages have granted many concessions because "A person is
anxious about his property." 4
As such, money is frequently
a source of strife. In this instance, however, the people will¬
ingly pooled their resources in the construction of a struc¬
ture which itself reflected their oneness.
Oneness as a Dynamic
The fact that the Sanctuary was constructed by the
Jewish people 5 in a spirit of unity 6 caused the finished
structure to be permeated by oneness. This is reflected in
3. For "a collective can never die" (Temurah 15b).
4. Shabbos 117b, et al.
5. In contrast to the parshiyos Terumah and Tetzaveh, which relate G-d's com¬
mand to Moshe to build the Sanctuary, its actual construction is the focus of
this week's Torah reading. Since this involves activity within ordinary reality,
and because such activity is often characterized by a lack of harmony, there
was a greater need to stress unity.
6. The construction of the Sanctuary is a continuation of the synthesis between
the material and the spiritual which began with the Giving of the Torah. In
preparing for the Giving of the Torah, the Jews camped before Mount Sinai
"as one man, with one heart" (Rashi, Exodus 19:2). And similarly, before the
construction of the Sanctuary, there was again a need to highlight their
the fact that the construction of its various components,
e.g., the ark, the altar, the menorah, are not considered as
separate mitzvos, but rather as part of the overall charge to
construct a dwelling for G-d. 7
Although each of these
elements was a separate item, their discrete identities were
subordinated to that of the Sanctuary as a whole. 8
G-d's Presence was revealed within the Sanctuary. There
it was overtly manifest that the world is His dwelling, and
that all the diverse elements of existence are permeated by
His oneness. And from the Sanctuary, light spread
throughout the world. 9
This leads to a second concept: The Jews are "one
nation on earth." 10
The implication is that we are bound
together through an internal connection, and this enables
us to spread G-d's oneness throughout the world. 11
unity of the Jewish people is an active force rather than a
passive state. Establishing oneness among our people spurs
the manifestation of G-d's unity in all existence.
7. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Sefer HaMitzvos, pos. mitzvah 20, Hilchos Beis
HaBechirah 1:6. See the essay "A Guardrail for the Roof of the Beis HaMikdash"
in Seek Out the Welfare of Jerusalem, which discusses the halachic
ramifications of this concept.
8. Our prayer service parallels the worship in the Sanctuary and the Beis
HaMikdash. As such, the concept of the subordination of the individual to the
collective is reflected in prayer.
Prayer is essentially a request for the fulfillment of personal needs
(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Tefillah 1:2). Nevertheless, our requests are
always made in the first person plural, emphasizing that one is joined to all
The stress on oneness was further underscored by the custom of the Alter
Rebbe, who placed the declaration, "Behold I accept upon myself the
fulfillment of the mitzvah, 'Love your fellowman as yourself,' " at the very
beginning of the prayer service (Siddur Tehillat HaShem p. 12).
9. Cf. the Jerusalem Talmud, Berachos 4:5.
10. IISamuel 7:23.
11. Maamar Issa B'Midrash Tehillim (Sefer HaMaamarim 5708, p. 271, English
translation, S.I.E., N.Y., 5753).
136 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
From inside Out
What motivates our people to rise above their individual
identities The call of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe Rabbeinu was
the epitome of self-transcendence; every aspect of his being
was committed to others. 12
And thus he was able to inspire
Moshe is described as "a shepherd of faith." He infused
the Jewish people with knowledge, enabling us to establish
harmony between the different dimensions of our being. 13
To illustrate the concept with a story: Rav Yosef
Yitzchak, the father-in-law of the Rebbe Maharash, was once
asked by his own father-in-law, Rav Yaakov Yisrael of
Chirkas, concerning his mode of prayer. Rav Yosef Yitzchak
answered that he recited his prayers betzibbur, "with the
Once, however, Rav Yaakov Yisrael of Chirkas sent for
his son-in-law and discovered that he prolonged his pray¬
ers, lingering far longer than any congregation would.
"You told me you prayed betzibbur" he asked.
"I do," his son-in-law replied. "Betzibbur literally means
'with the collective.' After I marshall together the ten com¬
ponents of my soul, I pray." 14
Such efforts are essential to the establishment of unity
among our people. For when a person develops inner har¬
mony, he will be more open to others and willing to relate to
them as equals. This will encourage the expression of the
inner bond that all Jews share.
A person's Divine service begins with the marshaling of
the different aspects of his own being. Afterwards, he
12. See the essay entitled "A Paradigm Of Leadership."
13. See the maamar, VeKibeil HaYehudim, 5687, English translation, S.I.E., N.Y.,
14. See HaTomim 70ff; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, p. 477.
gathers together with other men, and then extends this
unity until it encompasses every element of existence,
showing how the entire world exists to reveal G-d's glory. 15
The Ultimate Ingathering
The most complete expression of this oneness will come
in the Era of the Redemption, 16
when "a great congregation
(kahal gadol) will return there." 17
Jews from all over the
world will stream together to Eretz Yisrael. This ingathering
will be more than geographic in nature. G-d will "bring us
together from the four corners of the earth." 18
importantly, there will be unity and harmony among us, and
this unity will embrace all existence. "The world will be
filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the
ocean bed." 19
These are not merely promises for the future, but
potentials that can be anticipated today. The massive waves
of immigration that have reached Eretz Yisrael in recent
years are obvious harbingers of the ultimate ingathering of
our nation. And even as the physical reality of the
Redemption is coming to pass, so too we can have a
foretaste of its spiritual elements. We have the potential to
establish a new harmony within ourselves, and to spread
that harmony among others. And by these efforts to
anticipate the Redemption, we will help make it a reality.
15. Cf. the conclusion of Pirkei Avos, ch. 6.
16. Shabbos is described as me'ein olam habaah, a microcosm of the World to
Come. Since the ultimate fulfillment of the unity of Parshas Vayakhel will be in
the Era of the Redemption, the parshah begins with the commandment to
observe Shabbos, the day when this unity is expressed.
17. Jeremiah 31:8.
18. Daily liturgy, Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 55.
19. Isaiah 11:9, quoted by the Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5, as
the conclusion of his discussion of the Era of the Redemption.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, p. 250ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 313ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Pekudei, 5743;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayakhel, 5752
Contrast and Concord
What is the true importance of an individual On one
hand, our society often exaggerates the importance of per¬
sonal gratification. In actual life, however, many people feel
dwarfed by their surroundings, insignificant before the
raging sea of experience to which contemporary life
These concepts receive focus in Parshas Pekudei. The
word pekudei means "reckoning," and refers to the tallying
140 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
of the gold, silver, and brass donated for the Sanctuary, and
the inventory of all its utensils and services. 1
Any reckoning involves an interplay of antithetical
concepts. The fact that a reckoning is required presumes
the existence of a multitude of elements. The focus of a
reckoning, however, is not the multitude, but rather the
individual entities which comprise it. And yet the ultimate
importance of each individual element stems from the fact
that it exists as a part of a whole.
On one hand, the Sanctuary is dependent on its indi¬
vidual elements. If one of those elements, no matter how
tiny, is lacking, the Sanctuary as a whole is incomplete, and
unfit to serve as G-d's resting place.
Simultaneously, the whole which is forged by the com¬
bination of these elements is far more than the sum of its
parts. When brought together, the different elements of the
Sanctuary are granted a measure of importance that
surpasses their individual value. By being a part of the
Sanctuary, each element fosters the revelation of G-d's
Every person's heart is described as "a sanctuary in
and every act of worship in the Sanctuary is
reflected in our Divine service. 3
Similarly, with regard to the
above concepts, every individual must appreciate that he is
far greater than his individual self. He contains the potential
to serve as part of klal Yisrael, the Jewish people as a whole
1. Rashi, Exodus 38:21.
2. For the Torah states (Exodus 25:8): "And you shall make Me a Sanctuary and I
will dwell within." A plural form for the word "within" (בתוכם) is used, implying
that G-d causes His Presence to rest, not only within the Sanctuary, but within
the heart of every individual. (Reishis Chochmah, Shaar HaAhavah, sec. 6,
Sheloh, p. 325b.)
3. See the text Toras HaOleh authored by the Ramah, the commentary of Rabbeinu
Bechaye to Parshas Terumah, and other works.
— the medium for the revelation of G-d's Presence within
How is this potential realized When a person a) devel¬
ops his own abilities to the utmost, shouldering all the
responsibility that he has been given. And when b) he joins
together with others engaged in the same task, thus
becoming part of a greater whole.
The importance of the latter step is also highlighted in
Parshas Vayakhel. 4
Thus it is more than coincidence that
these two Torah portions are often read together. On one
hand, their messages may appear contradictory: Vayakhel
emphasizes the fusion of individuals into a spiritual collec¬
tive, while Pekudei underscores the personal contribution of
every individual. But a collective will be incomplete unless
it includes every individual, 5
and unless it allows each of
those individuals to fully developed himself. Simul¬
taneously, each individual must realize that he will not
reach his full potential until he joins with others. 6
What Lies At the Core
The possibility exists of forging a unified whole from
divergent parts only because each of these components
already shares a fundamental connection. Every person's
soul is "an actual part of G-d." 7
Therefore, despite the dif¬
ferences between individuals, they are bound together by a
basic commonalty. Similarly, in the world at large, every
4. See the previous essay entitled, "More than Gathering Together."
5. In Derech Mitzvosecho, mitzvas ahavas Yisrael, the Tzemach Tzedek employs
the classic analogy of a human body to describe the Jewish people. As he
emphasizes, a lack of well-being in one limb affects the organism as a whole.
6. In this context, the sequence of Torah readings is also significant. Vayakhel,
the fusion into a collective, precedes Pekudei. Were a person to begin with
self-concern, he might never leave the confines of his self-interest. When,
however, a goal above self is established first, self-development becomes part
of a larger framework.
7. Tanya, ch. 2.
142 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
particle of existence is maintained by G-d's creative energy,
and this common ground generates the potential for unity.
Keeping One's Balance Sheet
As mentioned, the reckoning of Parshas Pekudei includes
"the account of the sums of gold, silver, and brass donated
for the Sanctuary, and the account of all its utensils and its
services." First, an inventory was taken of the resources
available, and then a reckoning was made as to how these
resources were used.
These concepts are also relevant in our Divine service.
First, a person must take inventory; he must know who he is
and what he can do. Afterwards, from time to time, he must
determine how well these abilities are being employed, and
what he has accomplished with them. The sequence is also
significant; awareness of the existence of one's potential
serves as a prod, spurring its realization.
The Catalyst For Personal Development
The Torah reading begins: 8
"This is the reckoning of the
Sanctuary... which was calculated by Moshe," i.e., the
reckoning of the different elements of the Sanctuary — and
correspondingly, the reckoning of the abilities of every
individual — is dependent on the input of Moshe Rabbeinu.
It is Moshe Rabbeinu who arouses the inner G-dly potential
that every individual possesses.
And after all the elements of the Sanctuary were com¬
plete, it was Moshe who actually erected it and inaugurated
its service. For it is Moshe's leadership which stimulates the
expression of each individual's inner potential and
encourages its synergistic interaction with that of others.
8. Exodus 38:21.
No End to Growth
Parshas Pekudei does not conclude with the construc¬
tion of the Sanctuary, but mentions two further points:
a) That "the cloud rested upon it, and the glory of G-d
filled the Sanctuary," 9
i.e., the Sanctuary had become a
resting place for the Divine Presence, and
b) "When the cloud arose... the children of Israel set
forth on all their journeys" 10
— that our Divine service
requires constant progress.
These two points are fundamental to the reckoning that
every person must make. Each must know that the ultimate
goal is the revelation of G-d's Presence. And each must
realize that it is impossible to rest on one's laurels; the
ongoing revelation of G-d's Presence involves continual
Ultimately, as we "proceed from strength to strength," 11
we will "appear before G-d in Zion," in the Third Beis
HaMikdash with the coming of the Redemption.
9. Exodus 40:35.
11. Psalms 84:8.
of Every Jew
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, pgs. 24-26;
Vol. XVII, pgs. 12-15;
5750, Vol. I, p. 327ff
Within the Many — One
Even a brief look at our people reveals a great hetero¬
geneity, for there is hardly a country or a setting in which
Jews have not lived. Jews have featured prominently in
almost every major civilization and race, and in so doing
have adapted themselves to these different environments.
Nor is it merely the settings in which our people live; the
nature of the individuals themselves varies greatly. Our
146 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Sages comment 1
that just as the faces of no two people are
alike, so too, their thought processes differ.
This variety does not, however, obscure the fundamen¬
tal oneness that links every member of our people in every
country and in every age. Every Jew — every man, woman,
and child — has a soul that is "an actual part of G-d," 2
which permeates every dimension of his being. Of this
people, G-d says: 3
"I created this nation for Myself; they will
recite My praise."
Every Jew is heir to the entire spiritual legacy of our
people. There is a golden chain extending throughout the
generations, reaching back to our forefathers, Avraham,
Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and to our Matriarchs Sarah, Rivkah,
Rachel, and Leah. Every Jew in the present generation is a
representative of the entire collective as it has existed and
evolved throughout history. As such, G-d cherishes every
Jew as a father cherishes an only son. 4
Closeness with G-d
The unique love which G-d shows the Jewish people is
reflected in the beginning of our Torah reading, which
states: 5 "And He 6 called to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him."
Before G-d spoke to Moshe, He called to him, showing him a
1. Sanhedrin 38a.
2. Tanya, ch. 2. The expression "a part of G-d" is taken from Job 31:2. The Alter
Rebbe adds the word "actual," for two reasons: a) to emphasize that our souls
are truly a part of G-d, as it were, and not merely a ray of His light; b) to
underscore that even as the souls are "actual," enclothed in the material
world, they remain "a part of G-d," for the word ,ממש translated as "actual,"
also means "material." (Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. IV, p. 404,
3. Isaiah 43:21; the beginning of the Haftorah for Parshas Vayikra.
4. The Baal Shem Tov as quoted in Keser Shem Tov, Hosafos 133.
5. Leviticus 1:1.
6. When mentioning the call to Moshe, the Torah does not refer to any of the
different names of G-d. For every name represents a reflection of only one
aspect of His Being, while the call to Moshe expressed a connection to G-d's
essence, a level which transcends all names.
unique measure of endearment. 7
G-d did not call Moshe to
impart information; on the contrary, He called him to express
the fundamental love He shares with our people. (For
although it was Moshe alone who was called, this call was
addressed to him as the leader of our people as a whole.) 8
The inner G-dly nature which we possess constantly
"calls" to us, seeking to express itself. This is reflected by
the subject of the Torah reading, the sacrificial offerings.
The Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban ,(קרבן) shares a root
with the word kerov ,(קרב) meaning "close." Sacrifices bring
the Jews' spiritual potential to the surface, 9
people and each individual closer to G-d. 10
The above concepts are fundamental when it comes to
relationships with fellow Jews, even those whose conduct
(at present) is estranged from our heritage. 11
foremost, we must appreciate who the other person truly is.
When speaking to a Jew, we must be aware that we are
speaking to a soul that is "an actual part of G-d."
There is no need to focus on the negative aspects of the
other person's conduct. Instead, one should highlight his
positive potential, making him conscious of the G-dly spark
7. Rashi, op. cit.
8. For "it is only for the sake of Israel that I have given you greatness" (Berachos
32b, Rashi, Exodus 32:7).
9. The connection between the sacrifices and the essential G-dly nature of the
Jewish soul is reflected by the verse (Leviticus 1:2): "When a man... brings a
sacrifice." Why does the Torah use the word man, adam in Hebrew Because
adam is related to the word adamoh, "I resemble," and thus refers to the
verse (Isaiah 14:14), "I will resemble the One above;" i.e., man is rep¬
resentative of G-d, as it were (Sheloh, Parshas Vayeishev). A man's ability to
draw close to G-d stems from the fact that G-dliness lies at the core of his
10. Sefer HaBahir, sec. 46.
11. This concept is also alluded to by our Torah reading, for its latter sections
describe the sin offerings and guilt offerings brought to atone for undesirable
148 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
within him. We must emulate the example provided by our
Torah reading, and show our fellow man a special degree of
closeness, inviting him to join in activities that encourage
the expression of his G-dly core.
We should pursue this approach with confidence, for it
speaks to the very essence of our fellow man. "No Jew can
— or desires to — separate himself from G-d." 12 When he is
invited to affirm his heritage with warmth and openness, he
will respond, proceeding at his own pace to "come close to
G-d." Since he is part of the nation "created for Myself," it is
inevitable that he will ultimately "relate My praise" by
following the path of Torah and mitzvos.
Seek the Silver Lining
There is a natural tendency to be impatient, to hasten a
person towards complete observance of the Torah and its
mitzvos, and perhaps to criticize him if he hesitates or falls
back. The Torah does not approve of this approach. When
Yeshayahu the prophet made harsh statements about the
Jewish people, G-d rebuked him severely although his
words were justified. 13
Instead of being critical, we must
endeavor to appreciate — and always accentuate — the
positive qualities which every member of our people pos¬
sesses. For indeed, the very fact of a Jew's existence is an
expression of G-d's praise, independent of any Divine serv¬
ice which he may perform.
Despite the fact that the Jews are "one lamb among 70
and have faced severe persecution, we have
endured while nations seemingly far greater and more
powerful have disappeared. This clearly shows that G-d has
invested a dimension of His eternality within His people.
12. HaYom Yom, entry 25 Tammuz; Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. IV, p.
13. See Isaiah 6:5-7.
14. Cf. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Toldos, sec. 5.
Our continued existence — as a nation and as individuals —
is an expression of Divine Providence.
In the present age, every Jew is a living miracle.
This is particularly relevant today, barely a generation
after the Holocaust. The fact that we were able to endure
that terrible era and give birth to a new generation
(regardless of any apparent spiritual shortcomings it may
possess) reveals the working of G-d's hand. 15
The G-dly potential within every Jew and within our
people as a whole will not remain dormant. Its blossoming
will lead to an age when the G-dliness latent in the world at
large will become manifest, the Era of the Redemption. At
that time, the Jewish people will "relate [G-d's] praise" in a
complete manner, showing our gratitude for the miracles
performed on our behalf. 16
Herein we see a connection to the month of Nissan,
during which Parshas Vayikra usually falls. Our Sages
associate Nissan with miracles. 17
Further, Nissan is the
month in which the Jews were redeemed, 18
and the month
in which we will be redeemed in the future. 19
At that time,
our entire nation will proceed to our Holy Land and "relate
[G-d's] praise" in the Beis HaMikdash. May this take place in
the immediate future.
15. Moreover, most non-observant Jews today are generally not responsible for
their lack of practice. They are like "children captured by the gentiles," who
were never given an opportunity to learn about their heritage.
16. See the commentary of the Radak to Isaiah 43:21. See also Rashi's commen¬
tary to that passage, and the Midrash Leckach Tov, Bo 12:2.
17. Berachos 57a.
18. Shmos Rabbah 15:11.
19. Rosh HaShanah 11a.
The Message of Mitzvos
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 30ff;
Vol. VIII, p. 232ff; Vol. XXXII, p. 1ff
To Leap a Chasm
From the earliest ages, men have been aware of a reality
beyond the material — a reality which transcends man's
senses and intellect. And yet, that very awareness is
confounding, for this spiritual reality is on a higher plane than
we can comprehend.
Some kinds of religious practice attempt to resolve this
difficulty by attempting to reach beyond our limited world.
There are, however, two fundamental difficulties with these
152 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
a) Since spiritual reality is by definition above our con¬
ception, how is it possible for man to relate to it
b) Moreover, otherworldliness runs contrary to G-d's
intent. G-d brought our world into being for a reason, and a
fixation on going beyond that purpose implies a rejection of
invitation From Above
Judaism offers a different alternative. A bond can indeed
be established between the material and the spiritual, but the
initiative must be G-d's. 1
G-d has "reached down" into our
world to give us a means whereby we can relate to Him and,
by so doing, elevate our environment. This is the purpose of
'What difference does it make to the Holy One,
blessed be He, whether one slaughters an animal from
the front or the back The mitzvos were given solely
to refine the created beings." 2
Most of the mitzvos involve material things .3
In and of
themselves, these entities are of little importance to G-d.
Nevertheless, in order to give mankind a means by which to
relate to Him, He attaches importance to these entities.
Moreover, the bond established with G-d through the ful¬
fillment of His mitzvos permeates our environment, and the
1. Shir HaShirim Rabbah, commenting on the Song of Songs 1:3, speaks of the
material and the spiritual as discrete planes. Synthesis between them became
possible only because G-d said: "I will take the initiative," and gave the Torah
to man. See the essay entitled "What Happened at Sinai" (Timeless Patterns in
Time, Vol. II, p. 91ff) where these concepts are explained.
2. Bereishis Rabbah 44:1.
3. There are certain mitzvos, e.g., the love and fear of G-d, which involve service
within our hearts and souls. These, however, represent a distinct minority;
the overwhelming proportion focus on deeds. Moreover, even the mitzvos
which deal with thoughts and feelings must be fulfilled in a manner which
affects our bodies. Our hearts must beat faster because of the love of G-d, and
the physical phenomena associated with fear must accompany our awe of
Him (Sefer HaMaamarim 5697, p. 215 and sources cited there).
entities used in this observance are subsumed in this
To explain by way of analogy: 4
An intellectual lives in the
realm of thought; his life centers on ideas and concepts. A
simple water carrier will not attract his attention. It's not that
he looks down on him, or views him negatively. The two
simply seem to have nothing in common. There seems to be
no way that the water carrier can relate to the intellectual; he
does not have the capacity. Nor does what preoccupies the
water carrier hold any interest for the thinker.
If, however, the intellectual asks the water carrier for a
drink and the water carrier obliges, their connection is made
The gap between the Creator and the created is far
greater than that separating the water carrier and the
intellectual, and yet G-d asks us a favor: "Perform My mitzvos."
The very word mitzvah (מצוה) hints at this relationship,
for it shares a root with the word tzavsa ,(צותא) which means
There is a deeper dimension to the above concept. It is
G-d's command — not man's fulfillment of it — which es¬
tablishes a connection between the two. Man has the choice
to obey or disobey, but by giving him a command, G-d has
already entered his world. If man chooses to fulfill the
command, he affirms the connection, and if he refuses, he
denies it. But regardless of man's decision, G-d has already
established a relationship. Man's option lies in the extent of
his willingness to recognize and develop that bond.
Herein lies a connection with the weekly Torah reading,
Parshas Tzav. The name Tzav means "command," and is
4. Sefer HaMaamarim 5698, p. 52.
154 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
taken from the opening verse: 5
'Command Aharon....' "
"And G-d spoke to Moshe:
Throughout the Torah, three terms are used to introduce
a commandment: emor — "tell," dabber — "speak to," and
tzav — "command." All three terms communicate G-d's will,
but the term tzav is most closely related — conceptually as
well as etymologically — to the concept of mitzvah explained
The terms "tell" or "speak to" appear to leave the option
in the hands of the listener. Yes, he has been given a
directive, but the tone used implies that he has a choice. He
has been told what he should do, but the decision whether to
do it or not remains his.
When, by contrast, the word "command" is used, the
implication is that the matter is imperative. 6
instances, the initiative which G-d has taken is so encom¬
passing that it propels man toward fulfillment of the charge.
Strength in the Center
This concept can be amplified by combining teachings
from Midrashic and Kabbalistic sources. Emor, translated as
"tell," is associated with gentle speech, 7 while dabber,
translated as "speak to," is associated with harsh tones. 8
the Kabbalistic arrangement of the Sefiros — the ten spiritual
realms which connect G-dliness with worldliness — there are
three pathways, or vectors. The right vector is associated
with kindness, and the left vector with harshness. Tzav is
5. Leviticus 6:1.
6. This does not mean man's free will is taken from him. He still has the choice
to fulfill the mitzvah or not. Nevertheless, when a mitzvah is communicated
using the term tzav, the command itself spurs man to its observance.
7. Mechilta and Rashi, commenting on Exodus 19:3, Sifri and Rashi, commenting
on Numbers 12:1.
8. Makkos 11a; Sifri and Rashi, loc. cit.
associated with the middle vector — a balanced approach
which combines these two extremes.
For example, mercy (one of the attributes of the middle
vector) represents a fusion of kindness (from the right
vector) and judgment (from the left vector). Kindness implies
a willingness to give without consideration of whether the
recipient is worthy. Judgment, by contrast, involves a
scrutiny of the recipient to evaluate his worthiness.
Mercy takes the nature of the recipient into considera¬
tion, yet may grant him assistance although he is not worthy.
Acting out of mercy, one gives because one has established
an inner connection to the recipient and provides for his
How is it possible for two opposite tendencies to be
combined in a single attribute The middle vector implies the
action of G-dliness on opposite thrusts. 9
It is able to bring
about a synthesis between different approaches. In doing so,
it conveys unbounded influence to even the lowest levels. 10
The mitzvos associated with the word tzav reflect this
synthesis. They relate to the transcendent dimension of G-d,
and penetrate to the inner dimension of man, binding the two
in comprehensive unity.
Service for His Sake
The above concepts are reflected in the subject of this
week's Torah reading: the sacrifices offered in the Sanctuary,
and later in the Beis HaMikdash.
The implications of sacrificial worship are above our
understanding. Human intellect cannot appreciate why G-d
9. In Kabbalistic terminology, "the middle vector ascends to the inner dimension
of Kesser." See Sefer HaMaamarim 5707, p. 150ff, where this concept is
10. To refer again to Kabbalistic terminology: "The middle vector extends from
one end to the other" (op. cit.).
156 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
would desire the slaughter of an animal or the burning of
flour on an altar. By way of explanation, our Sages tell us 11
that G-d says: "It is pleasurable before Me that I gave a
directive and My will was done."
There are mitzvos which bring benefits that are readily
appreciated, and others whose benefits we cannot comprehend.
The sacrifices, however, are not for man's sake at
all, not even to train him in obedience. They are for G-d's
sake. Thus the Torah refers to them 13
as Lachmi, "My
sustenance," implying that G-d needs this spiritual service, as
Why does G-d "need" sacrifices Only to provide man
with a means of connecting to Him in a complete way. 14
a person brings a sacrifice, the emphasis is not on his
commitment to G-d's will, but that "My will was done." A
person sees himself as no more than a medium by which
G-d's will can be carried out.
The complete performance of all the mitzvos, and par¬
ticularly the sacrifices, will take place only in the Era of the
Redemption. As we say in our prayers: 15
"Bring us with joy to
Zion Your city, and with everlasting joy to Jerusalem Your
sanctuary. There we will offer to You our obligatory
sacrifices... in accordance with the command of Your will."
11. Rashi and Toras Kohanim, commenting on Leviticus 1:9.
12. See Ramban, commenting on Leviticus 19:19, who explains that even the
chukim, mitzvos which we cannot explain, are Divine decrees with sublime
rationales that will bring us benefit. See also the comments of Ibn Ezra to
Exodus 20:1, and Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim, Vol. III, ch. 26.
13. Leviticus 21:6, 8, 17, 21 et al.
14. See Sefer HaBahir, sec. 46, which states that the Hebrew word for sacrifice,
korban ,(קרבן) shares a root with the word karov ,(קרב) meaning "close." The
sacrifices bring our people and each individual close to G-d.
15. Mussaf service for Festivals, Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 259. See Hemshech
VeKocha 5637, ch. 17ff.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. Ill, p. 973ff;
Vol. XVII, p. 92ff;
5749, p. 475ff
Learning What it Means To Count
In Jewish thought, numbers represent not only concepts
in our material world, but spiritual forces which mold our
Seven is a fundamental number, representative of the
seven Divine middos, the attributes which are the source for
1. There are two explanations for this concept: a) In Hebrew, letters correspond
to numbers. Since G-d created the world through speech, the numerical
patterns created by the letters of the Ten Utterances of Creation reflect the
interplay of G-d's creative forces (Tanya, ShaarHaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1).
b) The Hebrew word for number is mispar .(מספר) Accordingly, the
statement of Sefer Yetzirah (1:1) that the world was created bisofar, bisefer,
ubisippur ,בספר ,ובספור) (בסופר is interpreted as referring to the merging of
158 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
— and which parallel — our emotions. These middos
comprise the active force which brings our material world
into being. 2
For this reason, time is structured in cycles of
seven. There are seven days in the week, seven years in the
Shemittah cycle, 3 and our Sages speak 4 of seven millennia as
the span of the world's existence.
Shabbos, the seventh day, reflects perfection within the
natural order. Just as the original Shabbos brought Creation
to a close, on Shabbos a person should feel that "all his work
is completed." 5
Moreover, Shabbos does not symbolize only
material perfection; referring to it as Shabbos Kodesh, "the
holy Sabbath," indicates that the G-dly light enclothed within
the world is manifest at that time.
The number eight, however, refers to an even higher level
of holiness — the G-dly light which transcends the limits of
our world. Indeed, it eclipses the number seven to the extent
that our Rabbis state 6
that "the number seven is always
mundane, while the number eight is holy."
"The Eighth Day"
These concepts are reflected in this week's Torah read¬
ing, Parshas Shemini. Shemini means "the eighth." It refers to
the first of Nissan, the day on which the Sanctuary was
established. It is called "the eighth day" 7
because it was
preceded by seven days of dedication, during which Moshe
2. See the commentary of the Ramban to Genesis 2:3. Note as well the maamar
Issa BiMidrash Tehillim (SeferHaMaamarim 5708, p. 272ff.)
3. The cycle upon which the agricultural laws observed in Eretz Yisrael are
4. Rosh HaShanah 31a.
5. Mechilta, quoted in Rashi, Shmos 20:9.
6. Kli Yakar, commenting on Leviticus 9:1, the opening verse of our Torah read¬
ing. See also the Responsa of the Rashba (Vol. I, Responsum 9), which
explains that eight refers to a rung of holiness that transcends the limits of
7. Leviticus 9:1.
erected and took down the Sanctuary each day, and taught
Aharon and his sons the order of sacrificial worship.
The Kli Yakar asks why the Torah employs the term, "the
eighth day." For this day is not one of the seven days of
dedication, and indeed represents a totally different plane.
For it was on this day that G-d's presence manifested itself in
the Sanctuary: "G-d's glory was revealed to the people and a
fire came forth from before G-d." 8
In resolution, he explains that the day is associated with
this number to highlight its uniqueness. For the number eight
is "set aside for G-d," representing a transcendence of the
world's natural limits.
But this resolution is itself problematic. Since the number
eight reflects such a high level, how can it be associated with
the seven days that precede it Calling it "the eighth day"
implies the continuation of a sequence. Thus the very term
used to accentuate the day's uniqueness points to its
connection with the previous days.
Earning More Than We Can
The above difficulty can be resolved on the basis of a
ruling with regard to monetary law: 9
Giving a present is
equated with a sale, because if the recipient had not gen¬
erated satisfaction for the giver, he would not have granted
him the gift.
Similarly with the concepts mentioned previously: the
manifestation of G-d's presence cannot be drawn down by
man's service, for it is a transcendent light. Instead, it must
be granted as a gift from above. Nevertheless, when does G-d
endow us with such a revelation When we have created a fit
9. Gittin 50b, et al.
160 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
setting for it — when we have refined and developed our
environment and ourselves to the limit of our abilities.
Thus the seven days of dedication represented man's
efforts to refine our environment — an objective within man's
capacity. And by carrying out this objective, a setting is
created for the revelations of the eighth day, the
transcendent light. 10
Focus on This World, Not on the Next
Moreover, when this transcendent revelation is brought
about by man's Divine service, it does not remain an isolated
occurrence, but permeates our environment, showing the
immanence of infinite spirituality.
This concept is underscored by the continuation of the
״, Torah reading
which speaks of the death of Aharon's sons,
Nadav and Avihu. The Torah relates 12
that they brought an
unauthorized incense offering and as a result, "Fire came
forth from G-d and consumed them."
Many explanations are offered as to why the brothers
were punished by death. 13
From a mystical perspective, it is
that they died because their souls soared to such
heights that they could no longer remain in their bodies.
Nevertheless, their conduct is judged unfavorably because
10. We find a similar motif with regard to Sefiras HaOmer — the Counting of the
Omer, a mitzvah which in many years is associated with the time when Parshas
Shemini is read. We are obligated to count 49 (7x7) days to observe this
mitzvah. Each day involves an effort to refine a specific dimension of our
characters. The fiftieth day marks the celebration of Shavuos, which is
associated with Divine light. See the essay entitled "Counting More than Days"
(Timeless Patterns in Time, Vol. II, p. 63ff).
11. This reflects the fact that the name Shemini is associated with the entire
Torah portion, and not merely the opening verse.
12. Leviticus 10:1-2.
13. See the commentary of Rashi to the above verse, Eruvin 63a, Toras Kohanim,
commenting on Leviticus 16:1, Vayikra Rabbah 20:8-9.
14. Or HaChayim, commenting on Leviticus 16:1; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 987ff;
Timeless Patterns in Time, Vol. I, p. 52ff.
their spiritual quest ran contrary to G-d's intent in creation:
the establishment of a dwelling for Himself amidst the day-to¬
day realities of our existence. 15
Their deaths show that our
spiritual quest should not be directed towards the attainment
of lofty rapture, but instead should remain firmly grounded in
our actual lives.
This theme is also reflected in the conclusion of the
Torah reading, which focuses on kosher food. For the
establishment of a dietary code indicates that Judaism's
conception of Divine service involves living within the world.
A Fusion of Opposites
This fusion of transcendence and immanence is also
alluded to by the name Shemini. Shemini shares a root with
the Hebrew word shemen, meaning "oil." Oil has two
On one hand, it floats above other liquids, to
the extent that if an impure person touches oil floating on
another liquid, the lower liquid is not rendered impure, for
the two are not considered to be joined. 17
On the other hand, oil permeates the entities on which it
is placed. Therefore, if a non-kosher substance which is fat or
oily is roasted together with other food, it makes the entire
quantity of food non-kosher, although ordinarily only the
food actually touching the non-kosher substance would be
Similarly, with regard to the subject at hand, the essential
light associated with the eighth day transcends the limits of
our material realm. Nevertheless, G-d's intent is not that this
light remain in a sublime state, but that it permeate the
material world, endowing it with holiness.
15. See Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3; Tanya, chs. 33 and 36.
16. See Inyano Shel Torah HaChassidus (English translation, "The Essence of the
Teachings of Chassidus"), sec. 7.
17. Tivul Yom 2:5. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Tumas Ochalin 8.10.
18. See Chulin 97a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 105:5.
162 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
New Doors of Perception
The number eight shares a connection to the Era of the
Redemption, as our Sages state: 19
"The harp of the Era of the
Redemption will be of eight strands" (while the harp used in
the Beis HaMikdash had seven strands).
The revelations of the Era of the Redemption will also
follow the motif described above. Thus in describing those
revelations, our prophets say: 20
"And the glory of G-d will be
revealed and all flesh will see." "The glory of G-d" refers to a
spiritual peak 21
above the natural order. This level will be
"seen," perceived openly, by "all flesh"; mortals within our
material world will realize this spiritual truth.
Moreover, these revelations will be an intrinsic part of
that era. Just as today it is natural for our eyes to see material
objects, in that era, all flesh will perceive the glory of G-d.
This involves a remaking of the natural order through our
Divine service. For as stated in Tanya, 22
the revelations of the
Era of the Redemption depend on our service during the time
To refer to concepts mentioned previously: seven pre¬
pares for eight. By refining and elevating ourselves and our
environment in the present age, we precipitate the tran¬
scendent revelations of the Era of the Redemption. Our
Divine service creates a framework for the fusion of the
spiritual and the material, allowing for these revelations to
permeate and remake our worldly existence.
19. Archin 13b. See Likkutei Torah, Vayikra 21d. Note also the connection to this
concept in the commentary of the Kli Yakar cited previously.
20. Isaiah 40:5.
21. In the series of maamarim entitled BeShaah Shehikdimu, Vol. II, p. 930, it is
explained that this level refers to the dimension of Malchus within the Ein Sof
as it exists before the tzimtzum.
22. Ch. 37.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 236ff; Vol. VII, p. 78-79;
Vol. XII, p. 70ff; Vol. XXII, p. 70ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 379ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5751, p. 490ff
The Deepest intimacy
One of the analogies used to describe the relationship
between G-d and the Jewish people is the love between a man
and a woman. 1
On the human level, this relationship is
multidimensional, including the deepest levels of intimacy.
Similarly, the love between the Jews and G-d is a complex,
dynamic union. "The Holy One, Blessed be He, and Israel are
1. See the commentaries to the Song of Songs.
164 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
one" 2 — joined in an ardent bond. Indeed, the prophet 3 uses
the simile, "Your Maker is your mate."
On the mortal plane, physical intimacy is more than a
connection between man and woman; new life is conceived. 4
Similarly with regard to the bond between G-d and the Jewish
people, the relationship propagates vitality.
The opening verse of our Torah reading alludes to this
concept, stating: "When a woman conceives and gives birth."
The "woman" refers to the Jewish people, who bring new life
into the world.
More particularly, tazria, the term translated as
"conceives" means "gives seed." This term also is of metaphoric
significance. For after a seed is planted in the earth, its
shell must decompose. Only then will the growth potential of
the earth be expressed.
This motif applies to our people as a whole, and to every
individual. Our lives center around material concerns. Even
with regard to our Divine service, it is the actual observance
of the mitzvos, not the feelings they arouse, which is of
primary importance. Yes, "G-d desires the heart." 5
But if one
meditates on the Shema all morning with love and fear, yet
doesn't actually recite the words, or if one is inspired with
heartfelt compassion for a poor person, but fails to actually
2. Zohar, Vol. III, 73a.
3. Isaiah 54:5. Note the connection between this verse and the opening of our
Torah reading in the commentary of the Or HaChayim.
4. See the commentary of the Or HaChayim mentioned previously, which states
that all marital relations create new souls. If a couple are found worthy, the
creation of a soul is also associated with the conception of new life in the
5. Cf. Sanhedrin 106b. Note Rashi's commentary. See also the association of this
phrase with the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.
give him charity, one's Divine service would be inadequate.
For "deed is what is most essential." 6
And thus mitzvos are referred to as "seeds," as it is
"Sow for yourselves for charity." 8 For every mitzvah
is an infusion of Divine energy into our material world, which
when cultivated will blossom and bear fruit.
The ultimate fruit will be the Redemption, the era when
the G-dliness invested in the world by the Divine service of the
Jewish people over thousands of years will flourish. 9
remake the nature of existence, allowing us to appreciate the
Divine core of all being. Since the world itself will then become
conscious of its G-dly nature, this redemption will never be
followed by exile. For G-dliness will never again be concealed.
The Wonder of Conception
Our Sages 10
interpret the expression "When a woman
conceives" as implying that it is she who initiates the
intensification of the relationship. Similarly, in the analog, the
implication is that man does not merely respond to G-d.
Instead, he taps the core of his being and summons up the
energy needed to heighten his connection with Him.
On this basis, we can understand why the verse high¬
lights the importance of conception rather than birth.
Although new life is brought into the world at birth, the fetus
already exists; conception is the closest example in our lives
to the creation of something from nothing. 11
6. Cf. Avos 1:17.
7. Hoshea 10:12. Note the reference to this verse in the commentary of the Or
HaChayim cited previously.
8. Here too, there is a connection with the analogy of birth for our Sages say
(Rashi, beginning of Parshas Noach): "The progeny of the righteous are good
9. See also the commentary of the Or HaChayim mentioned previously.
10. Niddah 31a, cited in the commentary of the Or HaChayim mentioned previ¬
11. See the series of maamarim entitled Sameach Tisamach, 5657.
166 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Chassidic thought 12
explains that the potential to create
something from nothing lies with G-d alone. Since He is not,
Heaven forbid, dependent on any other cause, it is within His
ability to create something — material existence — out of
G-d has imparted His essence to man, and thus the core
of every soul is "an actual part of G-d." 13
As such, man also
has the power of creation, but in reverse. He lives in this
material world, and makes "nothing from something,"
revealing the G-dly potential that exists within himself and his
ephemeral environment. This is the power of conception
possessed by "the woman," mankind. Through the
expression of this potential, we become G-d's "partner in
creation," 14 fashioning the world into a dwelling for Him. 15
Life and Death
The name Tazria, which underscores the theme of
conception, is connected not only to the opening passages,
but to the reading in its entirety. This appears to present a
difficulty, for although the first passages speak about birth,
the main body of the reading concerns itself with tzaraas, a
bodily affliction resembling leprosy.
Tzaraas is the very opposite of new life. Indeed, our Sages
that a person afflicted with tzaraas is considered dead.
What place does such a subject have in a Torah reading
associated with new life
This difficulty can be resolved on the basis of two con¬
cepts: Firstly, tzaraas is not merely a physical malady, it is, to
quote the Rambam. 17
"beyond the natural pattern of the
12. See Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 20.
13. Tanya, ch. 2.
14. Shabbos 119b.
15. Cf. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Behaalos'cha, sec. 3.
16. Nedarim 64b. See the commentary of the Maharsha in his Chiddushei Aggados.
17. Mishneh Torah, the conclusion of Hilchos Tzaraas.
world... a Divine sign and a wonder 18
for the Jewish people to
warn them against speaking Lashon Hora [gossip and
Secondly, the punishments prescribed by the Torah are
not for the sake of retribution, but rather to absolve a
person's sin and enable him to correct his faults. 19
clearly expresses this principle. Because a person creates
strife and friction between others, he becomes afflicted with
tzaraas, and as a result is required to remain alone .20
when he has removed the influence of friction from himself it
is possible for his body to be purified and for him to rejoin
Thus tzaraas is a Divine instrument intended to prod an
individual towards personal refinement and encourage the
spread of peace and love. As such, it is an extension of the
theme of Tazria, focusing on our efforts to bring something
new and pure into ourselves and our environment.
Tzaraas is employed as an analogy 21
to describe the
status of our people in the present age, for we are in exile —
"alone, with [our] dwelling outside the camp." 22
Divine service centers on Tazria, sowing seeds of G-dly
influence through our observance of the mitzvos. And we will
reap the harvests of these efforts with the coming of
Mashiach; may this be in the immediate future.
18. Therefore, in the present age, when the spiritual level of the Jewish people
has descended, they are not fit for such Divine wonders to be openly revealed
in their flesh. Hence, the phenomenon of tzaraas is no longer present (Likkutei
Torah, Vayikra 22b).
19. See Berachos 5a. Note also Kuzari, Discourse II, ch. 44.
20. Erchin 16b, Rashi, commenting on Leviticus 13:46.
21. Vayikra Rabbah, the conclusion of sec. 17.
22. Leviticus 13:46.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 100ff;
Vol. XXII, p. 77ff; Parshas Tazria, 5751;
Sefer HaSichos 5751, p. 491ff
Consummate Perfection and Superficial Flaws
Our Sages ask: 1
"What is Mashiach's name" and reply
"The leper of the House of Rebbi." 2
This is very difficult to
understand. Mashiach will initiate the Redemption, and is
associated with the pinnacle of life and vitality. How can his
1. Sanhedrin 98b.
2. See also Rashi, Sanhedrin 98a, who states that Mashiach will be afflicted by
tzaraas and will sit among others who share this affliction. See the comments
of the Maharal in his Chiddushei Aggados (Sanhedrin, loc. cit.:a,b), which state
that just as a leper must be separate from all other people, so too, a king —
and how much more so Mashiach — is distinguished from others.
170 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
name be linked with leprosy (tzaraas), which is identified
with death 3 and exile 4
This difficulty can be resolved based on the statements
of Likkutei Torah, which explain that a person affected by
tzaraas will be:
A man of great stature, of consummate perfection.... 5
Although such a person's conduct is desirable, and
he has corrected everything,... it is still possible that
on the flesh of his skin there will be lower levels on
which evil has not been refined. This will result in
physical signs on his flesh, in a way which
transcends the natural order
Since the filth on the periphery of his garments has
not been refined, therefore [blemishes] appear on
his skin Moreover, these blemishes reflect very
high levels, as indicated by the fact that they are not
considered impure until they have been designated
as such by a priest.
The passage implies that there are sublime spiritual
influences which, because of the lack of appropriate vessels
(as evidenced by the "filth on the periphery"), can produce
negative effects. For when powerful energy is released
without being harnessed, it can cause injury. This is the
reason for the tzaraas with which Mashiach is afflicted.
The Jewish people as a whole are compared to a human
body. This applies within every generation, and also to the
3. Nedarim 64b. See the commentary of the Maharsha in his Chiddushei Aggados.
4. Vayikra Rabbah, the conclusion of ch. 15.
5. See Zohar, Vol. III, p. 48a.
6. See the Mishneh Torah, conclusion of Hilchos Tzaraas, where the Rambam
states that tzaraas is not a physical disease, but a Divine sign above the
entire nation throughout history. 7
All Jews — those of the
past, present, and future — are part of a single organic
Since good is eternal, while evil is only temporary, 8
people's spiritual level has been constantly advancing. A
vast reservoir of good has been filling up over the centuries.
The Jewish people as they exist in ikvesa diMeshicha, the
age when Mashiach's approaching footsteps can be heard,
have attained the level of perfection mentioned in Likkutei
Nevertheless, there are still blotches of evil "on the
periphery," for the world is still scarred by injustice and
strife. And thus the light of redemption cannot yet become
manifest; this is reflected in the leprous blemishes which
are visited on Mashiach himself. For as the prophet states: 9
"He has borne our sicknesses and endured our pain... with
blemishes, smitten of G-d, and afflicted." Mashiach endures
suffering, not for his own sake, but for the Jewish people as
There is still a difficulty. Although the above passage
explains why Mashiach must endure suffering, it does not
show why that suffering is identified with Mashiach.
Mashiach's name — who he is — should be positive.
This difficulty can also be resolved on the basis of the
passage from Likkutei Torah cited previously. For that
passage explains that leprous blemishes reflect "very high
levels," their source being transcendent spiritual light 10
7. See Tanya, ch. 2, Iggeres HaKodesh 7, based on Zohar, Vol. II, p. 141b and other
8. See Tanya, ch. 25.
9. Isaiah 53:4.
10. This is reflected in the fact that the Hebrew word for leprous blemish, ,נגע has
the same letters as the Hebrew word ,ענג meaning "pleasure" (Zohar, Vol. I, p.
172 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
are associated with Mashiach. Nevertheless, for this light to
be expressed in a positive manner, suitable vessels are
Mashiach's suffering will bring about a final refinement in
the world at large, making it a fit vessel for the revelation of
its transcendent potential. Since this revelation lies at the
heart of the Era of the Redemption, the catalyst necessary
to bring it about is therefore associated with Mashiach's
The Name of the Torah Reading
The above concepts also clarify a difficulty with regard
to the name of our Torah reading, Parshas Metzora. Metzora
means "leper." One might think that the name of a reading
in the holy Torah would be associated with a word of more
positive import. This question is reinforced by the fact that
in the works of the early Rabbinic sages, Rav Saadia Gaon, 11
Rashi, 12 and the Rambam, 13 a different name was employed
for this reading. All of these authorities refer to the reading
by the name Zos Tihiyeh ("This shall be"). It is only in the
later generations that the name Metzora became prevalent.
The explanation is that in these later generations, cracks
have appeared in the wall of exile, and through them the
light of Mashiach shines. In the light of Mashiach, Metzora is
not a negative factor but, as explained above, an expression
of transcendent G-dliness.
26b). As explained by the Kabbalah (see Tanya, ShaarHaYichud VehaEmunah,
ch. 1), the letters which make up a word reflect its inner life-force. The inner
life-force of נגע is the expression of Divine pleasure. See also Sefer HaYetzirah
11. In his Siddur, with regard to the laws of the reading of the Torah.
12. In his commentary to Leviticus 13:8.
13. In his Seder Tefillos at the conclusion of Sefer HaAhavah.
Through the Medium of Study
The Torah reading begins with a description of the
purification process to be undergone by a person afflicted
with tzaraas, saying "These are the laws of the metzora."By
focusing on Toras hametzora (the laws of the metzora), not
taharas hametzora, "the purification of the metzora," an
allusion is made to a fundamental concept.
Torah study develops human vessels that allow light —
all light, even the most sublime — to be accepted by and
internalized in our world. Through Torah study, the tran¬
scendent influence of tzaraas can be channeled into a posi¬
Similarly, with regard to Mashiach: studying the teach¬
ings about Mashiach precipitate his revelation, drawing his
influence into our world.
With New Life
Often, Parshas Metzora is read in connection with Parshas
Tazria, which is associated with the sowing of seeds
and the conception of life. 14
This implies that the seeds of
our Divine service will not wait endlessly in the dark ground
of exile, but that Metzora, the Redemption, will blossom
immediately after the last seeds have been sown.
Conversely, the fusion of the two readings implies that
Metzora, the Redemption, has already been conceived; we
are only waiting for the birth. For the suffering which
Mashiach endures is the final step before his revelation. May
it take place in the immediate future.
14. Note the previous essay, entitled "Conceiving New Life."
FOUNDERS OF CHASSIDISM & LEADERS OF CHABAD-LUBAVITCH 175
Founders of Chassidism &
Leaders of Chabad-Lubavitch
Baal Shem Tov שם טוב) ;בעל lit., "Master of the Good Name"): R. Yisrael
ben R. Eliezer (1698-1760), founder of Chassidism.
The Maggid of Mezritch (lit., "the preacher of Mezritch"): R. Dov Ber
(d. 1772), disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, and mentor of the Alter
The Alter Rebbe אלטער רבי) ;דער lit., "the Old Rebbe"; Yid.): R. Shneur
Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), also known as "the Rav" and as Baal
HaTanya; founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch trend within the
The Mitteler Rebbe מיטעלער רבי) ;דער lit., "the Middle Rebbe"; Yid.): R.
Dov Ber of Lubavitch (1773-1827), son and successor of the Alter
Rebbe, and uncle and father-in-law of the Tzemach Tzedek.
Tzemach Tzedek צדק) :(צמח R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (1789¬
1866), the third Lubavitcher Rebbe; known by the title of his halachic
responsa as "the Tzemach Tzedek"; nephew and son-in-law
of the Mitteler Rebbe, and father of the Rebbe Maharash.
The Rebbe Maharash ;מהר״ש) acronym for Moreinu ("our teacher")
HaRav Shmuel): R. Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch (1834-1882),
the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe; youngest son of the Tzemach
Tzedek, and father of the Rebbe Rashab.
The Rebbe Rashab ;רש״ב) acronym for Rabbi Shalom Ber): R. Shalom
Dov Ber Schneersohn of Lubavitch (1860-1920), the fifth
Lubavitcher Rebbe; second son of the Rebbe Maharash, and
father of the Rebbe Rayatz.
The Rebbe Rayatz ;ריי״ץ) acronym for Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak), also
known (in Yiddish) as "der frierdiker Rebbe" (i.e., "the Previous
Rebbe"): R. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), the sixth
Lubavitcher Rebbe; only son of the Rebbe Rashab, and father-inlaw
of the Rebbe.
The Rebbe: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), the
seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe; eldest son of the saintly Kabbalist,
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, rav of Yekaterinoslav; fifth in direct paternal
line from the Tzemach Tzedek; son-in-law of the Rebbe Rayatz.
GLOSSARY AND BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX 177
Glossary and Biographical Index
An asterisk indicates a cross reference within this Glossary.
baal teshuvah (pl. baalei teshuvah, lit. "master of return"): a per¬
son who turns to G-d in repentance, after willful or unknowing
transgression of the Torah's commandments
Beis HaMikdash: the temple in Jerusalem
bittul: self-nullification, a commitment to G-d and divine service
that transcends self-concern
Chabad (acronym for the Hebrew words meaning "wisdom,
understanding, and knowledge"): the approach to Chassidism
which filters its spiritual and emotional power through the
intellect; a synonym for Chabad is *Lubavitch, the name of the
town where this movement originally flourished
Chassidus: Chassidic thought
cheder: a Torah school for young children
Ein Sof: the Infinite, one of the Kabbalistic terms for G-d
Eretz Yisrael (lit., "the land of Israel")
Haftorah: (lit., "the final passage"): the passage from the Prophets
read in the synagogue after the conclusion of the Torah read¬
ikvesa diMeshicha: the age when Mashiach's approaching foot¬
steps can be heard
Kabbalah (lit., "received tradition"): the Jewish mystical tradition
kelipah (lit., "rind" or "shell"): used figuratively (on a personal or
universal level) to signify an outer covering which conceals
the light within; hence, the unholy side of the universe;
Kli Yakar: A commentary to the Torah which highlights the mode
of D'rush, written by Shlomo Ephraim of Luntshits (1550¬
1619), a student of the Maharshal
Lashon Hora: gossip and slander
178 IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH
Likkutei Torah: a collection of chassidic discourses by Rabbi
Shneur Zalman of Liadi (see Alter Rebbe)
Lubavitch: name of the village in White Russia which for a century
was the home of the Rebbeim of *Chabad, and which is hence
used as a name for the movement
Mashiach: the Messiah
metzora: a person afflicted with *tzaraas
menorah: the golden candelabrum lit in the Temple
middos: Within our human framework, this refers to our character
traits and emotions. The same term also is used as an allegory
to refer to Divine powers whose function can be compared to
these human qualities
Midrash: the classical collection of our Sages' homiletical teach¬
ings on the Bible
mikveh: a ritual bath in which a person must immerse to attain a
state of ritual purity
Mitzrayim: The Land of Egypt
mitzvah (lit., "commandment; pl., mitzvos}: one of the 613 Com¬
mandments; in a larger sense, any religious obligation
neshamah (pl. neshamos): soul
Or Ein Sof: G-d's infinite light
Parshah (possessive, Parshas): One of the weekly Torah portions
read publicly each week
Rabbeinu (lit. "our teacher"): the title appended to the name of
Moshe and subsequently other Jewish leaders in history
Rambam (acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon; 1135-1204):
Maimonides, one of the foremost Jewish thinkers of the Mid¬
dle Ages; his Mishneh Torah is one of the pillars of Jewish law,
and his Guide to the Perplexed, one of the classics of Jewish
Rashi (acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki; 1040-1105): the
author of the foremost commentaries to the Torah and the
Rebbe (lit., "my teacher [or master]"): saintly Torah leader who
serves as spiritual guide to a following of chassidim
seah: a liquid measure of the Talmudic period; 40 seah equals
87.59 gallons or 331.78 liter in modern measure according to
Shiurei Torah by Rav Chayim Neah
GLOSSARY AND BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX 179
Sefirah, pl. Sefiros: the Kabbalistic term for the attributes of
G-dliness which serve as a medium between His infinite light
and our limited framework of reference
Shabbos: the Sabbath
Shema: the fundamental Jewish prayer which we are obligated to
recite each day, in the evening and in the morning
Shemittah: the seventh year in the seven year agricultural cycle
when the land is left to lie fallow
shliach (pl. shluchim): agent
siddur: a prayer book
Talmud: the basic compendium of Jewish law, thought, and Bibli¬
cal commentary, comprising Mishnah and Gemara; when
unspecified refers to the Talmud Bavli, the edition developed
in Babylonia, and edited at end of the fifth century C.E.; the
Talmud Yerushalmi is the edition compiled in *Eretz Yisrael at
end of the fourth century C.E.
Tanya: the classic text of Chabad chassidic thought authored by
the Alter Rebbe
teshuvah (lit., "return [to G-d]"): repentance
tzaddik (pl., tzaddikim): (a) completely righteous individual (b)
tzaraas: a bodily affliction resembling leprosy
yeshivah (pl. yeshivos): Academies for the study of the Torah's
yetzer hora (lit. "evil inclination")
Zohar (lit., "radiance"): The title of the classic mystical work
embodying the teachings of the *Kabbalah