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8 Kislev 5767 - November 29, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Ma'amad Har Sinai on a Daily Basis

by Maran HaRav Aharon Kotler, zt'l

"`And you shall make them known to your children and to your children's children.' Afterwards it is written: `the day you stood before Hashem your G-d at Horeiv' (Devorim 4:9- 10). Just as at Mount Sinai there was awe and fear, shaking and trembling (as it is written `the people saw and trembled' — Rashi), so too regarding learning Torah there should be awe and fear, shaking and trembling.

From here the Sages said: "Zovim and metzoro'im (those who are impure due to a zov discharge or tzora'as) are permitted to learn Torah, but baalei keri (those who are impure due to a seminal discharge) are prohibited" (Brochos 22a).

Rashi comments: "All those who are ritually impure are permitted to learn Torah, because they can do so in awe and shaking. But the ba'al keri became impure because of lightheadedness and arrogance" (Ibid.).

The end of the blessing on the Torah is, "Blessed are You, Hashem, Giver of the Torah," which is in the present tense and not the past tense. This teaches us that Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, is a new reality which is renewed every day when we learn Torah, and not just an ancient historical event.

Similarly, in bircas Yotzeir Ohr, the blessing on the luminaries that precedes the Shema, the brochoh concludes: "In His goodness He renews daily, perpetually, the work of creation. As it is said: `[Give thanks] to Him Who makes the great luminaries, for His kindness endures forever.'" The use of the present tense—"Who makes"—even though the creation of the luminaries was long ago, teaches us that Hashem renews the creation perpetually. Creation is not a reality that just continues automatically as a result of an original act of creation.

Similarly, learning Torah is akin to Matan Torah on Mount Sinai, and not an act of study alone. Matan Torah is renewed every time the Jewish people learn the Torah.

This is the reason why we must learn the Torah in the way it was accepted on Mount Sinai: in awe, fear, shaking, and trembling. This isn't a particular halochoh in Hilchos Talmud Torah, but rather it applies to the entire generality of learning Torah. The form of learning Torah is that it should be learned in awe and fear, as was Matan Torah on Mount Sinai.

Eimoh, awe, refers to the fear itself. Yir'oh, fear, is the fear of something beyond one's understanding, whose reality is higher than man's comprehension. Resses, shaking, is a fear to such an extent that one's whole body shakes, to the point where he has no other concern and all his desires are null and void due to his great fear.

When one learns with lightheadedness, or with arrogance, his Torah learning is blemished, because such a way of learning is a contradiction to awe and fear. Since Matan Torah is only with awe and fear, Torah learned with lightheadedness is lacking in its worth. The more his learning resembles the way the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, the more he'll acquire and comprehend the Torah.

We find this principle in another ma'mar Chazal: "Whoever teaches Torah to his son's son is considered as if he received it on Mount Sinai, as it is said (Devorim 4:9-10): `And you shall make them known to your children and to your children's children . . . the day you stood before Hashem your G-d at Horeiv' " (Kiddushin 30a).

This demonstrates that passing the Torah to the next generation is an aspect of Matan Torah. The grandfather who teaches his grandson Torah has the strongest resemblance to Matan Torah, and therefore even the Torah he learns himself is as if he received it from Mount Sinai.

In this way, learning Torah is different from any other aspect of avodas Hashem or keeping mitzvos, because they don't require awe and fear. Observance of mitzvos isn't connected to ma'amad Har Sinai, but the mitzvah of learning Torah is akin to ma'amad Har Sinai, which requires awe and fear.

"Ten who sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Shechinah rests amongst them . . . And from where do we know that such is the case even with a single individual? From the verse (Shemos 20:21): `Every place where I mention My name, I shall come to you and bless you' "(Pirkei Ovos 3:6).

When we learn Torah it's as if we are pronouncing the Divine Name, because the entire Torah is the Names of HaKodosh Boruch Hu. (Similarly, we find that the Torah source for the blessings recited upon learning Torah is the verse: "When I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our G-d" [Devorim 32:3].) When we pronounce His Name there is a promise: "I shall come to you and bless you," and from this verse we derive that when a single individual learns Torah the Shechinah rests with him.

A troubling element remains, though. The verse stated: "Every place where I mention My Name," which implies that HaKodosh Boruch Hu mentions His Name. How did the Sages learn from this verse about an individual who learns Torah that the Shechinah rests with him — when he is the one mentioning the Name and not HaKodosh Boruch Hu?

Maran HaRav Chaim Volozhiner wrote (Nefesh HaChaim 4:6) that when a man learns Torah, HaKodosh Boruch Hu pronounces simultaneously (to the extent that we can express this idea) every word of Torah that comes out of the man's mouth.

We find in the gemora that Rebbe Evyosor and Rebbe Yonoson were discussing the sin of the concubine of Giv'oh. "Rebbe Evyosor met Eliyahu Hanovi; he asked him, `What is HaKodosh Boruch Hu doing now?'

"Eliyahu said, `He's learning the matter of the concubine of Giv'oh.'

"`And what is He saying?' asked Rebbe Evyosor.

"Eliyahu answered, `He is saying: Evyosor my son says this, Yonoson my son says that'" (Gittin 6b).

Rav Chaim concludes that at the very moment Rebbe Evyosor and Rebbe Yonoson discussed the matter of the concubine of Giv'oh, HaKodosh Boruch Hu also reviewed their words in Heaven, word for word.

We saw that when one learns Torah he is mentioning the Names of G-d, and from Rav Chaim's principle we can conclude that at the same moment Hashem repeats the words the man is learning. Therefore, this brings the Shechinah to rest with him, as it is said: "Every place where I mention My Name, I shall come to you and bless you."

The Shechinah's resting on the one learning Torah isn't a reward for the mitzvah. Rather, it's the way to fulfill the mitzvah of learning Torah. Success in Torah isn't achieved the way material success is achieved. All success comes only from Divine Providence. However, the chain of events that brings the success involves natural means.

So we find in the gemora: "Shmuel HaKotton decreed a fast day and it began to rain before sunrise. The people thought this was proof of the praiseworthiness of the congregation. Shmuel said to them: `I'll bring you a parable. What is this comparable to? A servant requested a prize from his master. The master said: Give it to him so I won't have to listen to him anymore'" (Taanis 25b).

Sometimes HaKodosh Boruch Hu may give success to a man because He doesn't want to hear his voice; He doesn't desire his closeness. The good He bestows will come in a natural means; it seems as if another power caused it and it didn't come from Hashem's hand.

In contradistinction, Torah can never come into the world in such a fashion. "For Hashem gives wisdom; from His mouth [come] knowledge and discernment" (Mishlei 2:6). Our Sages refer to this in Pirkei Ovos as "the Shechinah rests with him." This is why bircas HaTorah, the blessing on the Torah, concludes with the words, "Blessed are You, Hashem, Who teaches Torah to His people Yisroel." The blessing stresses that Hashem "teaches," in the present tense and not the past.

For this reason, one who learns only for the sake of argument is not learning properly, nor does he find favor in the eyes of his Creator. It would have been preferable that he'd never been born, said the gemora. He's like the servant who was rejected by his master.

This is the basis for Rav Chaim's principle that learning Torah is in essence closeness to HaKodosh Boruch Hu. One doesn't need to think about cleaving to Hashem while learning. Rather, the very essence of learning is closeness to Hashem. For He, Blessed be His Name, and His will are One and the same (Nefesh HaChaim 4:6).

"The instruction of Your mouth is better for me than thousands of gold and silver" (Tehillim 119:72). Rav Chaim explains: "Dovid Hamelech was exceedingly joyous in toiling in Torah, because every word he uttered was spoken simultaneously by HaKodosh Boruch Hu. When he learned Torah he cleaved to Hashem's will and His word; for He, Blessed be His Name, His will, and His words are One and the same."

As we explained, Ma'amad Har Sinai is a new reality that is renewed every day and every hour when Jews learn, and not just an ancient historical event. "From His mouth [come] knowledge and discernment:" we receive the Torah from His mouth.

According to this insight, we can understand beautifully and simply the gemora which states that Torah must be learnt with awe and fear, shaking and trembling, in the way it was given at Mount Sinai. All the Torah we succeed in learning is from the mouth of HaKodosh Boruch Hu. Our learning is the "second edition" of Matan Torah, and by necessity it must be learned in the way it was received: with awe and fear, shaking and trembling.

The 44th yahrtzeit of HaRav Aharon Kotler, zt"l, was on 2 Kislev.

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