The Torah states: "If you seek it like silver, like buried
treasures you look for it, then you will understand the fear
of Hashem, and the knowledge of Elokim will you find"
(Mishlei 2:4). The verse compares the effort of
attaining yiras Shomayim to two things: the pursuit of
money and the search for [buried] treasure.
The pursuit of money is a continuous activity for there is a
constant, indefatigable need for it. A person knows that he
needs money now and will need it in the future and he is
therefore always trying to acquire it.
Searching for treasure however, is an activity which a person
engages in if he believes that there is a treasure hidden in
a certain place. He will continue to look without tiring or
despairing, investing all his energies, and exhausting every
possible avenue in the process. He will invest all of his
energy in that search in the hope of his finding it.
In this way must we seek to acquire fear of Hashem. We must
be in a constant state of searching, for the need is
constant, as well — like the ongoing need for money.
And the search must involve all of one's energies and explore
all possibilities, like the search for hidden treasure.
"Then You Will Understand" — A Key to Acquiring
Yir'oh with Ease
It would then seem a difficult thing to acquire yir'oh
if that is the case, if so much needs to be invested. But we
see here that it is not so difficult. It depends mainly on
acknowledging the premise that there is a need for yiras
Shomayim. This is because if a person understands that it
is a basic, necessary thing, like the need for money which he
never stops seeking, then he will understand that
yir'oh is within his grasp and that one can acquire it
as one does a treasure.
"Then you will understand yiras Hashem." Once he
understands that, he will not find it difficult to attain it;
he will not feel the difficulty involved.
This is like what we find by Yaakov Ovinu, who worked for
Rochel seven years, "and they were in his eyes like several
days, so much was his love for her." One might think this is
a long time, but the wait was worthwhile and he dismissed the
difficulty. In everyday terms, we see that people engage in
business and overlook the discomforts of heat and cold in
their avid pursuit for money.
The gemora in Succah 52a tells us that in the
future, Hashem will bring the yetzer hora before the
righteous and the wicked, and slaughter it in their presence.
The tzaddikim will see it as a high mountain, whereas
the wicked will view it as a hairsbreadth.
These will weep and those will weep. The tzaddikim
will weep and say, "How were we able to surmount this huge
The wicked will weep and say, "How were we not able to
overcome this mere hairsbreadth?"
The yetzer hora does not give a person a chance to
think and to try to understand. And this is what makes the
tzaddikim marvel: How were they able to overcome the
yetzer? But once they did overcome it, they saw that
it was not as formidable as it had seemed and they had
feared. This is what is stated in Mechilta Yisro: Rashi
Shemos 19:5: "All beginnings are difficult."
At the moment of understanding the mountain is transformed
into a hairsbreadth. But the tzaddikim are rewarded
for their effort in reaching that point, for having taken the
trouble to contemplate and to want [to overcome it]. They go
on to accrue reward for all that they subsequently do, based
on the understanding they acquired through their efforts.
The wicked weep and say, "How were we not able to vanquish
this mere hairsbreadth?" For they see that in reality, it is
easy to overcome the yetzer if only one makes a
studied effort, if one thinks and wishes to arrive at the
"Shehechiyonu Vekiyemonu . . . Lazman Hazeh"
The practice of contemplation, hisbonenus, is
connected to Shavuos and the Giving of the Torah. We know
that there is special significance to time and season. We see
that when a certain event occurred in history then, when that
time of year rolls around again, we recite the
Shehechiyonu blessing, to the One Who kept us alive,
sustained us and enabled us to reach this season [again].
The same holds true for a place, that a past miracle at a
place continues to exert some influence. When we reach a
place where a miracle was performed for us at some time in
the past, we similarly recite the blessing of " . . . Who
performed for me a miracle upon this site."
We celebrate Pesach as the Festival of our Liberation, which
is followed by the counting of the Omer, which is a
preparation for the Giving of the Torah.
The explanation for this is that this time is conducive to a
renewal of the event of the past. There was at this time in
the past a certain revelation of the Shechinah, and
this revelation repeats and renews itself in the dimension of
time, year after year. The idea is that since it evokes in a
person a desire to reflect and contemplate anew what happened
then, this offers a chance to attain today what one was able
to acquire at that time in the past, when one who was there
reflected upon the Giving of the Torah. Without
introspection, that event will simply slip by unnoticed, with
At the time of the Splitting of Yam Suf, all the waters in
the world split, as well. Chazal tell us (Shemos Rabboh
21:6) that even the waters in springs and cisterns were
split, as it says, "And the waters split" (Shemos
14:21). All the nations of the world beheld this
phenomenon, as is written, "Then were the chieftains of Edom
frightened, the mighty men of Moav — trembling seized
them; the inhabitants of Canaan melted with fear" (Shemos
15:15). All saw the miracle and were seized with terror,
but on the morrow, life carried on as usual.
The Mechilta tells us that a maidservant beheld [a
vision] at the sea that even Yechezkel ben Buzi and all of
the other prophets did not see. How then, were all those
prophets greater than the maids? Because the maids beheld the
miracle but did not stop to contemplate the significance of
it. It made no lasting impact on them. And therefore, the
opportunity, the revelation, was lost on them, and they did
not rise to any further spiritual height because of it.
Yechezkel was shown a prophetic vision and he took it to
heart. By contemplating it, he was able to rise in
This concept applies equally to Zman Mattan Toroseinu.
At that season of the year, one can also merit the giving of
the Torah but it requires preparation and introspection. We
recite the blessing of shehechiyonu for that same
opportunity of revelation which presents itself today, and
not only the commemoration of the event in history.
The Days of Sefirah are a Preparation for a Renewed
The forty-nine days are a preparation for the receiving of
the Torah. Just as then, we count each day with expectancy,
like a person eagerly anticipating something dear. As we are
about to receive the Torah, we count the days in waiting.
This is an even longer period of preparation than the
preparation for Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur, the
anticipation for the ten-day period of, "Seek Hashem when He
is nigh," that is, the Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh from Rosh
Hashonoh until Yom Kippur. Only the thirty days of the month
of Elul are designated for that preparation, and also we do
not count them as we do the days preceding mattan
Torah. In Sefiras HaOmer each day counts, and with each
day we must ask ourselves if we have progressed in our
To Reflect and to Receive the Torah Anew
We must see and we must listen. Today as well. We must
reflect upon the revelation experienced by the Jews at
Mattan Torah when they declared, "We desire to see our
King." The whole world fell silent at that moment. The
Midrash tells us (Shemos Rabboh 29:9), "Not a bird
chirped, not a winged creature flew; an ox did not bellow
etc." Everything was nullified before the Torah.
It is further written in Sifrei, Parshas Brochoh, that
when Hashem revealed Himself to present the Torah to Israel,
He made the whole world in a tumult experienced by its
inhabitants. When the nations heard the thunderous sounds,
they gathered en masse to ask Bilaam and said: "It seems as
if the Creator is bent upon destroying His world!"
He said to them, "But did He already not say, `There will
never again be a great Flood of water' (Bereishis
"What then is this great noise?" they asked.
And he replied, "`Hashem gives oz to His people'
"Oz refers to Torah, as is written (Iyov
12:16), `With Him is oz, strength, and sound
"If so," they rejoined, "then let Him bless His people with
So we see that the revelation of the giving of the Torah
affected all creation, but afterwards, they all carried on,
on the morrow, as if nothing extraordinary had taken
Each one of us was present at the giving of the Torah; our
souls were there. This experience can be relived and renewed
each year, for Hashem gives it to us again in the time of
Shavuos, and the opportunity is even greater. Chazal tell us
additional details of the revelation that took place then,
that those who were present then were unaware of. They tell
us, for example, how the nations of the world gathered . . .
and so on.
What then are we lacking?
Internalization. Introspection. The time of Shavuos is
especially conducive to inner reflection and thought. And, as
during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh, we find ourselves
more easily approaching spirituality and rising to greater
Set Aside for Me a Small Cubicle
We all are aware of the situation out there in the notorious
`street.' People there may seem fine on the outside, but
inside they are rotten, evil, corrupt with pride, lust and
other undesirable traits — because they lack Torah. For
how can a person not be naturally boastful or arrogant
without knowing and learning about how bad it is?
A person must think. You can't build faith on miracles,
because if you like, you can explain them all away. On the
other hand, one who believes in Hashem can see His miracles
in every tiny thing, at every moment, every step, as Iyov
says (19:26), "From my own flesh do I see Hashem."
Just consider: When you think, speak, see and hear —
what power in you does these acts? Is it not a spiritual
power? And where does this originate if not from Hashem,
Himself, the Creator.
A helpless infant outgrows his helplessness to become a
functioning human being. Can we not verily see the Creator in
Only a fool will ignore this and fail to realize what he is
being given all the time. When a person walks in the dark
with someone else, he feels that he is not alone; someone is
by his side. In this same manner, HaRav Isser Zalman
ztvk'l explains the verse, "Even as I walk in the
valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You
are with me," (Tehillim 23:4) by way of a parable:
A father was walking with his son through a forest when the
son wandered off. He lost his way and began crying from fear.
When he finds his father, the latter scolds him for running
away but the son is not upset, for he realizes that it is his
father who is rebuking him. We, similarly, do not fear
anything evil that overtakes us for we know that Hashem is by
One cannot merit this without prayer. Chazal said in
Brochos 6 on the verse, "Vileness is exalted among
mankind" (Tehillim 12:9). There are things that are
truly at the highest point in the heavens, but people abuse
them. When a person is fortunate to be able to pray once with
kavonoh, it is like refreshing water to a weary soul.
A person feels that he is truly communicating with Hashem and
that his pleas rise to a listening Ear.
It is vital to study mussar, which is introspection,
contemplation. One must strengthen the aspiration to increase
Torah knowledge which filled the hearts of all our ancestors.
When R' Isser Zalman came to Volozhin, they said of him that
he thoroughly knew the three Bovos [Kama, Metzia,
Basra] and regarded him highly for this. R' Chaim of
Volozhin said that the rishonim were primarily praised
for their straightforward thinking.
One must not be caught up with externals. One must
contemplate deeply and internalize, as Rabbenu Yonah explains
in Mesillas Yeshorim. We find in Medrash Rabba
Shemos 33:1 that Hashem says to Israel, "Make for Me a
small cubicle." This is the end purpose of the half- hour of
contemplation in mussar each day.
For even if Hashem were to split the sea again, the ones who
beheld that miracle would be awed on that day but revert to
their former unthinking selves on the morrow, forgetting it,
without it having affected them in the least. And if the sea
were to remain split all the time, it would make no
difference, for people would become accustomed to it that
We must, therefore, conclude that we must think and meditate
how to let it affect us, how we can elevate ourselves from
what we saw then. In short: lehisbonen, to reflect and
internalize and derive the proper lesson.
From the work of the thoughts of Maran ztvk'l,
Machsheves Mussar, Vol. II, through the courtesy of
the compiler, HaRav Boruch Mordechai Shenker.