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26 Iyar 5766 - May 24, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Security Fence Around Torah

by Dovid Leitner

A great amount of emphasis is placed on the demarcation boundaries that were set on Mount Sinai to ensure that none of the people ascended the mountain to a higher point than permitted. As part of their initial preparations, the Torah warned the people (Shemos 19:12), "Guard yourself from ascending the mountain or touching its edge."

As the time for Kabolas Hatorah drew nearer, Moshe was again asked to go and warn the entire population that they should, "surround the mountain and sanctify it."

By the time of the actual Kabolas Hatorah, Har Sinai had four separate demarcation fences. The general public stood at the foot of the mountain behind the lowest fence. The Cohanim stood separately, further up. Aaron Hacohen stood by himself even higher up, and Moshe Rabbenu stood at the highest level.

Each group was warned to stand in their allocated places and not to climb higher. Each group had to "surround the mountain" with a fence at their own level and thereby "sanctify it." The Torah that they were about to receive was Hashem's treasure, regarding which the Yidden were instructed: "Asher Onochi metzave eschem hayom," to view it as if there will be fresh Kabolas Hatorah every single day.

Furthermore, the gemora in Shabbos tells us that Hashem, to ensure that the Yidden accepted the Torah, uprooted the mountain and placed it above their heads — kegiggis — as if it were a barrel.

The Jewish Nation was previously praised for having proclaimed Na'aseh Venishma, willingly accepting the Torah. So why do they need to be pressured to accept it by having a barrel threatening them overhead? What is the connection between all these various details of Kabolas Hatorah and what significance do they have to us?

The Chasam Sofer offers an interesting explanation as to why the building of these fences was such an integral part of Kabolas Hatorah and a prerequisite for it. Each individual person, standing at Har Sinai, is commanded to "surround the mountain and sanctify it."

How does one sanctify a mountain by surrounding it? The Chasam Sofer points out that we can take the letters Hei and Reish that make up the word Har — mountain — and surround these two letters with those that are adjacent to them in the Alef Beis sequence. The letter Hei is surrounded by the letters Daled and Vov, whilst the letter Reish has the letters Kuf and Shin adjacent to it. These four letters - - Kuf, Daled, Vov and Shin — spell out the word Kodosh — sanctified.

Thus, literally surrounding the letters of the word har naturally produces the word kodosh, thereby providing a literal explanation to this important requirement to "surround the mountain in order to sanctify it." The reason why the entire population had to surround the mountain at Kabolas Hatorah was to produce this kedushoh which is an essential requirement to receive the Holy Torah.

The Rokeach takes this theme one step further, and shows how kedushoh is also literally an important prerequisite for receiving and understanding the Torah. It is the four letters that spell the word kedushoh, the letters Kuf, Daled, Shin and Hei, that are followed in the alphabetic progression of the Alef Beis with the letters Reish, Hei, Tov and Vov — which spell out the word Torah!

It is a remarkable fact that even by simply using the natural sequence of the letters of the Alef Beis, we can pictorially build up a `digital' picture of Kabolas Hatorah. Surrounding the mountain, produces kedushoh, which in turn progresses to the word Torah.

The parsha of Kedoshim is unique in that it was said in the presence of the entire nation: "Dabeir el kol adass Bnei Yisroel, Kedoshim tihiyu." Rashi, quoting from the Toras Cohanim, explains this requirement by the fact that "the majority of the essentials of the Torah depends on it." As kedushoh is the pivotal point that allowed us to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai and also an essential requirement for its subsequent upkeep, what is this kedushoh that is required, and how is it obtained?

The Ramban in his commentary to the Chumash points out that kedushoh is obtained by practicing a degree of self-restraint. For example, the Torah allows a person to eat many things, but restricts him to kosher foods. But does that permit a person to be a glutton, and to eat as much kosher food as he wants?

Kedushoh is only obtained by exercising a measure of self-restraint when partaking even of permissible foods. The plate of cake might be your favorite, but kedushoh is acquired by self-restraint. Enjoy some of it, but restrain yourself and do not wipe the plate clean. Some might wait entirely for Shabbos to eat it.

This self-restraint that limits our indulgence in worldly pleasures is the essential requirement in order to attain kedushoh that leads to our accepting the Torah. It is applicable to all the mitzvos and therefore the fact that "the majority of the Torah depends on kedushoh," is a very appropriate statement. By exercising self-restraint on permitted items, we build within ourselves a security fence that will keep us away from the temptations of forbidden foods. These fences act to safeguard and barricade us against transgressing the actual Torah commandments.

These security fences have to be built by each individual according to his personal likes and according to his spiritual stature. The Chofetz Chaim, for example, never partook of sweets and sugar candies. His measure of self- restraint was so high that he was capable of doing this.

We, on the other hand, could not imagine a Simchas Torah without sweets and candies. Our measure of self-restraint would be to limit the number we eat each day. Self-restraint can be practiced by every single person, each at his own level, just like at Kabolas Hatorah itself where each section of the population had its own fence to restrain it.

In order to accomplish this required measure of self- restraint, one might simply decide to become a hermit and live a life in seclusion. This is not what the Torah wants. The parsha of Kedoshim was said to the entire Jewish Nation, because we are meant to live and participate in a social community and to mix with people. It is whilst leading an integrated lifestyle that we have to exercise self- restraint. The instructions for kedushoh were therefore given to the entire community, when living a normal social life.

The second chapter of Pirkei Ovos tells us the virtues of each of the five talmidim of Rabban Yochonon Ben Zakai. The mishnah then continues to assess them, so as to determine which one was the greatest of the group. By knowing this we can learn which of these virtues is the most important one for us to emulate.

The first opinion states that Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanos would outweigh them all. However, Aba Shaul maintains that all the sages, including Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanos, would be outweighed by the greatness of Rabbi Elozor Ben Aroch. His virtue is described as ma'ayon hamisgabeir, an ever strengthening spring, that would bubble over with new explanations to the Torah.

The gemora in Shabbos (147:) tells us that Rabbi Elozor Ben Aroch visited the spa situated in the vicinity of Diumsis and enjoyed its spring waters. According to his very high standard as the acknowledged godol hador of his generation this enjoyment was considered an overindulgence. As a result of this he forgot his learning to such an extent that he even made mistakes in reading a posuk in Chumash. The rabbonim had to daven in order for him to regain his Torah knowledge.

Aba Shaul informs us that Rabbi Elozor Ben Aroch was originally the greatest talmid chochom in his generation, and that he outweighed all the others. However after his degree of self-indulgence, he forgot his Torah wisdom, as a result of which Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanos became the godol hador. The mishna is teaching us that exercising self-restraint in worldly pleasures is an essential ingredient of our understanding of Torah.

As the entire nation stood at Mount Sinai, they all looked upwards towards the top of the mountain to participate and to view the Revelation of Hashem at Kabolas Hatorah. Above their heads they could also see the inverted mountain as if it were a giggis, a barrel. A barrel is a wooden vessel made to hold wine, that is made from curved staves all held together by hoops that surround them. Without the hoops, the walls of the barrel would fall apart and the wine would spill out.

The hoops surround the barrel and have the same purpose as the security fences that surrounded Har Sinai. The hoops retain the wine inside the barrel in a way similar to the way self-restraint secures our Torah knowledge. By practicing a measure of self-restraint daily, we create new vessels that will securely hold our fresh Kabolas Hatorah, every single day of our lives.

Having stood at Har Sinai at Kabolas Hatorah, we all had to exercise self-restraint and stand behind the allocated security fence. After having received the Torah, we are able to proudly proclaim: Torah Zivoh Lonu Moshe — Moshe commanded us the Torah. The Rokeach points out that the first Hebrew letters of these four words spells out the word matzeles — to protect. It was the security fence at Har Sinai that produces kedushoh and then Torah, which then reciprocates to offer protection to those who learn the Torah.

It is with this realization that we can appropriately pronounce, Boruch shenosan Torah le'amo Yisroel Bikedushoso — and thank Hashem for giving the entire Jewish Nation the Torah through His kedushoh. It is only through the sanctity of self-restraint that we are able to secure the upkeep of the entire Torah and retain our Torah knowledge.

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