In this previously unpublished shmuess, the Mashgiach
carefully builds a panoramic exposition of some fundamental
lessons. It contains many profound yet practical ideas. A
word of advice — it is not casual reading; each section
should be read slowly and carefully and digested before
The paradox of prophecy is the fact that the prophet
experiences "exaltation and sublime levels, joy and gladness
of heart," while at the same time, "he trembles, his strength
vanishes and his mind is thrown into turmoil." HaRav Wolbe
explained that the exaltation is felt by the soul, while the
trembling has its source in the body. The soul longs to be
close to Hashem, while the body cannot stand it. How do these
two opposite forces within man come into balance?
What is the correct path to take? We have seen two extremes.
On the one hand, standing at Sinai the people feel compelled
to flee. The great fire made them run twelve mil, the
length of their encampment. Mal'ochim had to descend
to bring them back and revive them with a life-restoring dew.
On the other hand, crossing through the fire and ascending
the mountain, the elders filled their souls with pleasure and
satisfaction from witnessing the Shechinah and hearing
the word of Hashem. They experienced real satiation, as
though they had eaten and drunk. The dread that their bodies
should have felt was virtually nonexistent and they incurred
death. Which path is correct? How should they have
" `Moshe hid his face, for he was afraid of looking at G-d'
"As a reward for `Moshe hid his face,' `Hashem spoke to Moshe
face to face' (33:11).
"As a reward for `for he was afraid,' `they were afraid to
come near him' (34:30).
"As a reward for `from looking at Hashem,' `he sees an image
of Hashem' (Bamidbor 12:8)" (Shemos Rabboh
The burning bush was Moshe Rabbenu's first prophetic vision -
- without a doubt an exhilarating experience for a prophet.
"I will turn and see" (Shemos 3:3) — he
approached the bush and as soon as the prophecy began he hid
his face, amounting to a spiritual closing of the eyes. He
interrupted his reflections, not wanting to witness more [of
the revelation] just to focus on the actual prophecy itself.
"For he was afraid of looking" — he was afraid of
having his body participate in the revelation.
"Rav Hoshia Rabba said, `Moshe acted correctly in hiding his
face. Hakodosh Boruch Hu told him, "I intended to show
you My Face and you accorded Me honor and hid your face. I
promise that you will be with Me for forty days and forty
nights, neither eating nor drinking and you will benefit from
the luster of the Shechinah," as it says, `And Moshe
did not know that the skin of his face was shining'
(Shemos 34:29). Nodov and Avihu on the other hand,
uncovered their heads and feasted their eyes on the luster of
the Shechinah, as it says, "And He did not harm the
nobles of Yisroel" — did they not [later] receive
[their punishment] for what they did?' " (Shemos Rabba
Moshe Rabbenu's fear, even amid the great joy of experiencing
Hashem's closeness, is the correct measure. The body does not
interfere — Moshe was wholly joyful — but it is
guarded. Moshe Rabbenu did not rise above it.
By contrast, the elders' joy slightly exceeded their fear.
They upset the delicate balance between joy and elevation on
the one hand and fear and awareness of their true situation
on the other. "They looked at Him with over familiarity" as
opposed to "You accorded Me honor and hid your face."
Implications I: Torah
This picture of what took place at matan Torah and
what receiving a prophecy involves ought to strengthen our
faith tremendously with, for one thing, our discovery of the
power of the revelation of Hashem's word. Everything shudders
and shatters. Such is the force of divrei Torah! Fire
Then, as soon as the body's grip has broken, tremendous joy
and limitless elevation and uplifting are experienced. Within
the flickering fire it is "as joyous as when the Torah was
given at Sinai." When a Jew becomes attached to part of Torah
and assimilates it he becomes so uplifted and so attached to
Hashem that he needs to take care not to forget his body
entirely. And after the revelation — "his soul
merges with the level of the angels, who are called
ishim and he becomes a different person"
Would that we realize the full extent of what this entails! A
realization as clear as this can be a wellspring of faith
throughout life. "May this lesson descend into our beis
The gemora (Shabbos 30), tells us that Chazal
considered hiding the book of Koheles, "because its
teachings [seem to] contradict one another. One the one hand
it says, `I praise joy' (8:15) while on the other it says,
`as for joy, what does it achieve?' (2:2) [However] there is
no difficulty. `I praise joy' refers to the joy of [doing] a
mitzvah, while `joy, what does it achieve?' refers to joy
unconnected with a mitzvah. This teaches you that the
Shechinah does not come to rest where there is sadness
or laziness . . . only as the result of joy arising from a
mitzvah, as it says, `And now, take a musician for me . . .
and when the musician played, the Hand of Hashem came upon
him' (Melochim II, 3:15)."
We have already seen this in the Rambam and explained it.
The gemora continues, "Rav Yehuda said, `The same is
true of a matter of Halochoh.' " Learning any area of
Halochoh also demands considerable preparation in order to
enter a happy mood.
The gemora asks that this seemingly contradicts the
statement that a disciple must learn Torah from his teacher
in fear and awe. What role is there for joy and happiness?
To answer, the gemora distinguishes between teacher
and disciple. A disciple receiving Torah must do so amid awe
and trembling. That is his preparation. A teacher
transmitting Hashem's word however, must be in a supremely
happy mood. The divrei Torah he conveys should be "as
joyous as when the Torah was given at Sinai."
The gemora proposes an alternative resolution to the
contradiction: both statements refer to the teacher, "one, to
the moments before he starts teaching, the other, after he
has started." The only way for a teacher to open his
disciples' [minds and hearts] is by starting off in a joyful
and happy manner. Afterwards, when he is about to convey
actual words of Torah, the teacher himself also needs to be
in awe — to feel how words of Torah stir him deeply,
shaking him up and provoking his thoughts and feelings.
Implications II: Prayer
"One should not rise to pray in sadness or laziness . . .
only in joy associated with a mitzvah" (Brochos 31).
Joy is the essence of prayer as well. "When praying, your
heart should be glad that you are praying to a G-d who has no
equal." Sadness and laziness make prayer impossible. Joy
is the only frame of mind.
In his commentary on Brochos, Rabbenu Yonah mentions a
further dimension of prayer. Commenting on the gemora
(Yevomos 105) that says, "When at prayer, a person's
heart should be directed upward," he explains: "This means to
direct [his thoughts] to divesting the soul of the body."
Here, in connection with prayer we see the same idea of
divesting oneself of physicality that we encountered when
considering prophecy. At least while praying, we ought to
forget our bodies entirely and forgo [our constant
preoccupation with] material pleasures.
This is the form prayer should take. Beforehand, sadness and
sluggishness should be shaken off and a joyful frame of mind
entered into. While praying — "when you want to focus
your thoughts" — completely divest your soul of your
Remarkably, identical ideas are encountered in Chazal's
teachings about prophecy, matan Torah, the study of
Halochoh and prayer. Apparently, there is a common factor to
all paths in serving Hashem: "The Shechinah only comes
to rest where there is joy." So it is with learning Halochoh
and with prayer — joy is the way to prepare for them.
At the same time though, "all the prophets' . . . limbs
tremble," a talmid chochom's "lips drip gall" and
prayer involves complete separation from the body.
"Serve Hashem in joy"! (Tehillim 100:2). Allow the
light of the soul to radiate from Hashem's word!
"Serve Hashem in fear"! (Ibid. 2:11). The body and its
desires must be nullified and put aside while Hashem's word
is being revealed! There should be no "biting bread while
speaking to the king"!
Another practical lesson for prayer relates to concentrating
on the meaning of the words of our prayers. With the
elevation and uplifting experienced during prayer comes a
danger. On reflecting on the words (of Bircas Ovos at
the beginning of the Amidah), "the great G-d, the
mighty, the awesome . . ." one's thoughts rush to
picture Hashem's greatness, His might and the awe that He
Here we need to learn from Moshe's behavior at the burning
bush. "Moshe hid his face for he was afraid of looking . . ."
We should not be "looking at" or reflecting upon the Creator
Himself. We ought to be occupied with how we can
arouse love and fear within our hearts towards Him.
Rather than dwelling on the nature of His qualities, when
confronted with His greatness our feeling should be, "I want
to love Him!" When confronted with His might our feeling
should be, "I fear Him!"
Only with Joy
This then, is a Jew's spiritual makeup: a soul full of joy
within a body firmly ensconced in fear and awe. We learn all
this from matan Torah.
Rav Yisroel Salanter zt'l, based mussar study
wholly on this principle — "Serve Hashem in joy!" This
is what a youngster must work at — being "glad and
happy in serving Hashem yisborach" (Or Yahel 4:6), and
preventing sadness and laziness from getting the better of
"Rejoice, young man in your youth"! (Koheles 11:9) The
path to vanquishing the yetzer hora lies in the joy
that rouses one for prayer, for Torah and for every area of
serving Hashem. From afar it seems that mussar study
calls for sadness and brokenheartedness, yet in his letters,
Rav Yisroel repeatedly calls for joy — only joy!