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28 Iyar 5764 - May 19, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Our Present Kabolas HaTorah

by HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz

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 improve ourselves.

"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 manifold.

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. Sinai.

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" (ibid.).

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 house.

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 Tov.


"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 should be.

"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" (Devorim 28:9).

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 (Shabbos 88a).

"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" (Ovos 3:9).

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 their middos.

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 Eretz Yisroel.

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