We are now approaching Shavuos, the yom tov
commemorating our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, which
is a time of genuine simchah for Klal Yisroel.
We have a well-based principle: All our yomim tovim
teach us invaluable lessons. Hashem designated these special
days to the Jewish Nation to bond each one of us to the past.
Through examining the parsha that Chazal chose for us
to read in krias haTorah on Shavuos, we gain the
desired benefit of these yomim tovim for both the
present and the future.
This is especially true in connection with Shavuos, Zman
Mattan Toroseinu, which is our nation's unique yom
tov. At Shavuos we become a singular nation, different
from all other people in the world. We surely want to be
bnei Torah, to attain Torah knowledge, to grow in
Torah. The way to reach our yearned-for goals is to study
what Shavuos teaches us, to think deeply into the meaning of
this yom tov, and to become stimulated to better
ourselves. In this way we can reap the utmost benefits from
this yom tov.
Let us talk together like two friends about what we can
discern from the parsha of our receiving the Torah, so
that with Hashem's help this analysis will motivate us to
"Make them known to your children and your children's
children the day that you stood before Hashem, your G-d, at
Chorev" (Devorim 4:9-10). Hashem has commanded us in a
mitzvas aseih to pass down to our descendants the
remembrance of that momentous event of receiving the Torah.
Generation after generation, one person to the other,
starting from those who left their bondage in Egypt and were
privileged to receive the Torah, until the end of all
generations, are all commanded to bequeath to their offspring
the knowledge of our receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. This
obligation, its benefits, and the reasons for it, are
First of all the knowledge of our receiving the Torah on Mt.
Sinai helps us acquire emunoh, solid faith, in Hashem,
His Unity and Oneness in all worlds.
When bnei Yisroel received the Torah they were
zocheh to, "You have been shown to know that Hashem is
G-d, there is none else beside Him" (Devorim 4:35).
Chazal (Pesikta Rabbosi 20, quoted in Rashi,
Devorim 4:35) write that HaKodosh Boruch Hu
revealed to them all the higher and lower firmaments until
they saw that Hashem is the Only Power in the world. At this
pivotal event all the forces in the Creation attested to
Hashem's Oneness, as Chazal (Midrash Rabba Shemos
28:9) teach us that not even a bird chirped during Ma'amad
Har Sinai. No power in the world existed except for the
revelation of Hashem's honor.
We need to convey this remembrance from one generation to the
other, from father to son, and from son to his own son. Every
Jew throughout history must live with undeviating
emunoh. A Jew must "Know therefore this day and
consider it in your heart, that Hashem is G-d in heaven
above, and upon the earth beneath; there is no other"
(Devorim 4:39). We must live with an absolute
emunoh that HaKodosh Boruch Hu is the Creator
Who created everything ex nihilo, that Hashem is the
Master of the World and only from His Power does anything in
the world exist. "He Alone made, makes, and will make
everything" (First principle of Rambam's Thirteen Principles
of Faith). This is the emunoh in His Oneness--
believing that "there is none else beside Him."
We also learn from Chazal that the purpose of Ma'amad Har
Sinai was not only to teach bnei Yisroel of
Hashem's Oneness, of His being Master of the World, but also
to teach all nations of the world. The gemora
(Zevochim 116a) writes that the commotion when Hashem
endowed the Torah to Yisroel echoed throughout the world. All
non-Jewish kings trembled in their castles and sang praise to
Hashem . . . They afterward gathered near Bilaam and asked
him what is this tremendous noise that they heard . . .
Bilaam answered: "[Hashem] has a precious treasure in His
treasure house that was hidden for 574 generations before the
world was created and He wants to give it to His children . .
. Immediately they all said, `Hashem blesses His people with
peace' (Tehillim 29:11)."
An additional part of the mitzvah of remembering Ma'amad
Har Sinai that is learned from, "Make them known to your
children and your children's children the day that you stood
before Hashem, your G-d, at Chorev," is inferred from the
gemora (Brochos 22a): "Just as [at Ma'amad Har
Sinai] was fear, trembling, and shivering, also [studying
Torah] must be done with fear, trembling, and shivering."
Chazal are teaching us that each individual must study Torah
in the same way and under the same conditions as when bnei
Yisroel received the Torah. (Parenthetically, unusual
intelligence is not mentioned as a prerequisite for studying
Torah. The cornerstone for studying Torah is preparing the
heart: fear, trembling, and so on. When a person prepares his
heart properly he succeeds in his study and is graced with
intellectual perception and genuine growth in Torah).
This can be explained according to what we learned from what
the Ramban writes in parshas Terumah (Shemos 25:1, and
repeated in the beginning of Bamidbar). The secret of
the Mishkan is that the same Divine glory present at
Mt. Sinai was also present in a covert way in the
Mishkan. The Ramban indicates at length that every
detail of the Mishkan alludes to the revelation at Mt.
This is a sublime principle: When the Torah was given,
bnei Yisroel experienced a revelation of the
Shechinah, an unveiling of Hashem's glory on an
extraordinarily lofty level. This was not a temporary
revelation; HaKodosh Boruch Hu wanted this condition
to continue forever. The giving and receiving of the Torah
for Yisroel is perpetual. To receive Torah, one needs the
identical level and revelation of glory of the
Shechinah as experienced during Ma'amad Har
Sinai. The Mishkan was set up so that this Divine
influence would be everlasting. We are obligated to, "Make
for Me a Mikdosh" (Shemos 25:8), to prepare ourselves
so we can reach this level of "and I will dwell within you"
Therefore, each individual who studies Torah should try to
attain the same spiritual level as when Yisroel saw the
revelation of the Shechinah on Mount Sinai. When he
studies Torah it is as if he is right then receiving the
Torah from HaKodosh Boruch Hu. It is as if standing
before Mount Sinai during Mattan Torah.
This is what Rabbenu Chaim of Volozhin zy'a succinctly
writes in Nefesh HaChaim (4:13): "Whenever a person is
engaged and cleaves to Torah properly (with all the
conditions of yiras Shomayim and yiras cheit,
clinging to HaKodosh Boruch Hu to feel that the Torah
is from Shomayim) what he learns is as delightful as
when received on Sinai. It is just like [bnei Yisroel]
clung to Hashem's words at Mattan Torah.
"Also today when a person studies Torah this is still true
because it is all from Hashem's mouth, and even what the most
minor talmid will ask his mentor -- and not only a
chiddush or extensive ma'arochoh -- was given
on Sinai. That word [of Torah] was carved from the flame of
fire [at Mattan Torah] and is as if he right now
receives it at Sinai."
Do we ever think about this? Do we ever think that every
child, boy, young or mature man, who studies Torah clings to
what Hashem has taught us? We are obliged to believe fully in
all the above. Some individuals are even privileged to
tangibly feel this.
These fiery words should encourage us to toil over our Torah
study. If we would really feel and grasp this, our Torah
study would look different. We would not stop in the middle
of our study, but would invest all of our powers and thought
to analyze the Torah deeply.
This is actually an explicit gemora (Niddah 70b):
"What should a person do so he can become wise? He should
study Torah a long time. But did not many do that but did not
succeed? He should appeal for pity from the One Whose wisdom
is His, as is written, `Hashem gives wisdom from His mouth,
intelligence and understanding'(Mishlei 2:6). R' Chiya
taught: `This can be compared to a king who prepared a meal
for his acquaintances. The king would give each one his
portion but to the one whom he loved he would send from his
own [portion].'" Rashi explains that also wisdom Hashem gives
to those He loves from His lips and not from another treasure
How awe-inspiring! After a person intensively studies a deep
topic, Hashem helps him. He begins to understand it until he
later wonders how he did not understand it before. Indeed a
Jew needs to realize that when he toils over understanding
Torah he is as if he is now receiving it from Hashem's mouth.
He is zocheh to such nearness to Hashem that it is as
if he receives the Torah "from his own."
I once heard Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l talk about the
greatness of the Shach. He said we must realize HaKodosh
Boruch Hu held the Shach's hands and told him "Write this
letter and that letter."
When a person studies Torah properly, Hashem sends him an
abundance of spiritual closeness and assistance since he is
now receiving the Torah from His mouth, viz. "Hashem gives
wisdom from His mouth, intelligence and understanding." What
he comprehends is not what a mortal can possibly comprehend
by himself, as the abovementioned Nefesh HaChaim
writes. Everyone who studies Torah properly can reach a level
of clinging to Hashem as during Mattan Torah.
"Chizkiyah said: `What is the meaning of, "You caused
judgment to be heard from Heaven; the earth feared and was
still" (Tehillim 76:9). If frightened then why still,
and if still then why frightened? Initially [the earth] was
frightened but later [the earth became] still.' And why was
it frightened? Resh Lokish said: `HaKodosh Boruch Hu
stipulated when He created the world that if Yisroel accept
the Torah the world exists but if not He turns it back to
desolation.'" (Shabbos 88a)
Even after Hashem created the world from nothing, the world
had no independent existence. Only through the Creator's
constant Will does it exist, and Hashem made the existence of
the world solely dependent upon the Jewish Nation's receiving
the Torah. The entire world is reliant upon Yisroel's
choosing to receive the Torah.
We need to know all this before Mattan Torah so that
we will grasp what Mattan Torah truly means for us. We
must analyze the above sayings of Chazal thoroughly to
prepare ourselves to benefit from the upcoming Yom
"For ask now of the days that are past, which were before
you, since the day that G-d created man upon the earth, and
from the one side of Heaven to the other, whether there has
been any such thing as this great thing is, or whether
anything has been heard like it? Did ever people hear the
voice of G-d speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you
have heard, and live?" (Devorim 4:32- 33).
It is insufficient just to accept the yoke of Torah. One
needs to contemplate and realize the enormous delight for the
Jewish Nation in general and for every individual in
particular to receive the Torah. "Has there been any such
thing as this great thing is?" When a person thinks deeply
about this he reaches the realistic conclusion that only in
Torah and the Torah World should he search for happiness. He
should realize that happiness is only through toiling over
Torah studies and living according to the Torah.
However, to live according to the Torah, to feel this
enjoyment and the Torah's brilliance, to inherit the Torah's
crown, a person must perfect his soul in all parts of
avodas Hashem. Torah studied with yiras
Shomayim and yiras cheit is perfect, but without
those critical elements it is remote from what studying Torah
"Shimon Hatzaddik was among the survivors of the Great
Assembly. He used to say: The world depends on three things --
on Torah study, on avodoh and on gemilus chassodim"
(Ovos 1:2). Rabbenu Yonah (ibid.) explains that
for these three things the world was created. The world was
created for them because they are the will of HaKodosh
Boruch Hu. All of these three: Torah, avodoh (that
is tefilloh, as Rabbenu Yonah explains) and gemilus
chassodim, are part and parcel of, "Walk in His ways"
We must cling to Hashem's attributes: "Be similar to Him.
Just as He is merciful and gracious so you should be"
(Shabbos 133b). The three components complete each
other: No avodoh and chessed is complete
without Torah, and no Torah is complete without the part of
avodoh--the avodoh of tefillah done
properly, and engaging in chessed, perfecting one's
personal relationships to others.
Chazal (Brochos 8a) write, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu
only has the four amos of halocho in His
world." Furthermore, Chazal (Brochos 33b) write that
HaKodosh Boruch Hu only has the treasure house of
yiras Shomayim. Apparently a contradiction exists
between the two sayings of Chazal. Does HaKodosh Boruch
Hu only have the four amos of halocho or
the treasure house of yiras Shomayim?
The explanation is that Torah in the way given at Sinai, the
way we should study the Torah, is only when studied together
with a strong foundation of yiras Shomayim, with fear
and trembling of Hashem, as we wrote above at length.
"R' Elazar said: When Yisroel said "We shall do" before "We
shall hear" (Shemos 24:7) a bas kol emerged
announcing: Who revealed this secret that the mal'achei
hashoreis use, as it is written, `Bless Hashem, all His
hosts, you angels of His, you mighty ones who perform his
bidding, hearkening to the voice of His word'
(Tehillim 103:20). First `who perform' and afterward
`hearkening' (Shabbos 88a)."
At Ma'amad Har Sinai the Jews reached a vivid
recognition and understanding that anyone aware of Hashem's
Will must "do" before "hearing." Klal Yisroel
comprehended and realized that Hashem's Will is only to
benefit His creations, and the aim of the whole Creation is
to help all He has created. If so, surely all that He
commands us is for our welfare. Bnei Yisroel therefore
first proclaimed "We shall do," and added afterward that "We
shall hear" all we need to do.
This level is one of mal'achei hashoreis, and that is
the "secret" of the "mighty ones," the secret that
mal'achei hashoreis use.
After Yisroel realized this they elevated themselves to a
level even higher than mal'achei hashoreis. The
mal'ochim lack free choice and are therefore
spiritually lower than Klal Yisroel who must choose
between good and evil.
The truth is that the power of free choice is a dreadful
danger for man. In reality we see many stumble and choose to,
Rachmono litzlan, do evil. They change and falsify the
truth of the Torah, fabricating lies. Nonetheless, those who
withstand temptations and elect to follow the Torah's truth
are more elevated than mal'achei hashoreis.
Through reaching such a recognition and understanding and
choosing "We shall do," they are zocheh to receive the
Torah. And through this reasoning, Moshe Rabbenu refuted the
argument of the mal'ochim who wanted to receive the
Torah and to prevent him from receiving the Torah on earth
for bnei Yisroel, as we see in the gemora
"R' Chanina ben Dosa says: Anyone whose fear of sin takes
priority over his wisdom, his wisdom will remain; but anyone
whose wisdom takes priority over his fear of sin, his wisdom
will not remain. He used to say: Anyone whose good deeds
exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will remain, but anyone whose
wisdom exceeds his good deeds, his wisdom will not remain"
Rabbenu Yonah explains: "This Mishnah is reliable
advice. It is proper and acceptable for someone who does not
want to lose his nefesh, to adopt all that
contemporary Sages advise him. He should not deviate right or
left after hearing their advice. He should exert himself to
follow the ways of Torah and justice that they counsel him,
as it is written, `We shall do and we shall hear'- - bnei
Yisroel mentioned first doing and only afterward
hearing." (See what Rabbenu Yonah writes at length).
We learn from Rabbenu Yonah that just like bnei
Yisroel in the Sinai Desert at Kabolas HaTorah
said, "We shall do," before "We shall hear," so today we must
also first "do" when we individually receive the Torah.
What do we have to do before hearing? Rabbenu Yonah teaches
us that prior to Mattan Torah the "doing" before
"hearing" was from Hashem's mouth, but today it is from our
contemporary Torah Sages. We must be submissive to today's
Sages and listen to them without deviating whatsoever. In
that way we are accepting to do all that the chachomim
instruct us in Torah and mitzvos. We are then like bnei
Yisroel at Mattan Torah. This is "fear of sin
taking priority over wisdom" that is considered as "good
deeds exceeding his wisdom, his wisdom will remain."
We furthermore learn in Ovos (3:17): "R' Elozor ben
Azarya says: If there is no Torah, there is no derech
eretz; if there is no derech eretz, there is no
Torah." Rabbenu Yonah explains that first a person must
refine his character traits (derech eretz) and only in
that way Torah can reside in him. Torah can never reside in a
body without refined character traits. It is impossible to
first learn Torah and afterward adopt refined character
traits. We must do as the Torah writes, `We shall do and we
shall hear,' [first doing and then hearing]."
We learn from Rabbenu Yonah another salient principle: The
effort to obtain good character traits, making an effort to
uproot bad character traits is the "we shall do" that
precedes the "we shall hear," needed to receive the Torah.
Gedolei Torah must be also gedolim in exemplary
middos. Their level in Torah is parallel to that of
If we want to know to what degree a person has perfected
himself, how much he has really grown in Torah, we must weigh
his refined character traits. That is his true level. If he
was zocheh to greatness in Torah, he must have
commendable character traits, since Torah cannot reside in a
body without good character traits.
Our avodoh before Shavuos is to become more submissive
to accepting Hashem's word from His chachomim, to be
obedient to daas Torah and those who study Torah, to
acquire good character traits, and to distance from ourselves
anything rooted in unworthy character traits. Let us
strengthen ourselves in the ways to acquire Torah, according
to the conditions Chazal teach us, and in that way we will be
zocheh to "we shall hear" -- for each individual to
accept the Torah with an abundance of siyata deShmaya
and success, and each person will have his own part in Torah.
May we be privileged to see the building of the Beis
Hamikdosh speedily in our days.
HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz is the rosh yeshiva of
Yeshiva LeTze'irim of Yeshivas Ponovezh in Bnei Brak and a
member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah in