In this previously unpublished shmuess, the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
The Paradox of Matan Torah
"`Your neck [is comely] with strung pearls' (Shir
"When they discussed a sequence of divrei Torah, going
from divrei Torah to Nevi'im and
Kesuvim, fire burned around them and the discussion
was as joyous as when the Torah was given at Sinai. Was there
not fire when the Torah itself was given from Sinai, as it
says (Devorim 4:11), `and the mountain was burning
with fire to the heart of the Heavens?' " (Shir Hashirim
When Chazal threaded together divrei Torah, burning
fire appeared around them and their discussion filled them
with great joy. Matan Torah is identified as the
source of both the joy and the fire. It was a supremely
joyous occasion and fire burned all around.
Chazal cite a further manifestation of the joy at matan
Torah. "Every utterance went around to each and every
member of Yisroel . . ." As soon as the Israelite accepted
it, the utterance kissed him on his mouth (para. 2 of Shir
Hashirim Rabbah on posuk 1:2, `He will kiss me . .
The pesukim in the Chumash reveal a very
different picture however. "And the people saw and they moved
and stood far away. And they said to Moshe, `You speak to us
and we will listen but let Hashem not speak to us lest we
die' "(Shemos 20:15-16). The Mechilta adds that
they recoiled, retreating a distance of twelve mil,
the entire length of their encampment.
The sights they witnessed at Sinai were so awe-inspiring that
"they did not have the strength to remain standing. When they
came to Sinai and He was revealed, their souls flew from
their bodies when He spoke to them, as it says (Shir
Hashirim 5:6), `My soul went out when he spoke' "
(Shemos Rabboh 29:4).
Matan Torah was traumatic. The people were frightened
to death. Where was the joy when they fled the entire length
of the camp? Where were the "kisses of the utterances" when
their souls flew from their bodies?
The Paradox of Prophecy
The same paradox is found elsewhere too. The Rambam sets out
the halochos governing prophecy, in the seventh
chapter of Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah. "The only way any
of them see a prophetic vision is either in the form of a
dream, a nighttime vision or, during the day, after a deep
trance comes over them . . . When they prophesy their limbs
tremble, their physical strength collapses and their thoughts
are thrown into confusion, as it says about Avrohom, `Lo,
dread [and] great darkness fell upon him' (Bereishis
15:12) and Daniel, `And my luster [of face] was ruined; I
could not retain my strength' (Daniel 10:8)"
Here the Rambam portrays prophecy as an awesome experience
that leaves the prophet drained of strength, limbs shaking
and thoughts run amok. Prophetic revelation is so awe-
inspiring that it cannot take place when the prophet is awake
and alert; it would be too much for him to bear. It can only
be revealed in a dream or in a nighttime vision — and
even then, he trembles, his strength vanishes and his mind is
thrown into turmoil. To encounter prophecy is to experience
"dread and great darkness falling . . ."
Yet, on the other hand, in Halochoh 7 the Rambam
writes the following. "None of the prophets can prophesy at
will. They channel their thoughts and sit [waiting] in joy
and with a glad heart, in solitude, for sadness or laziness
will not bring on prophecy, only joy." Joy is the sole
preparation. "Therefore, before the disciples of the prophets
are lyre, timbrel, flute and harp and they seek prophecy . .
Once prophecy rests on the prophet, "his soul merges with the
level of the angels who are called Ishim, and he
becomes a different person. He comprehends that he is no
longer as he was but has risen above the level of other wise
men" (Halochoh 1). Here we are told about exaltation
and sublime levels, joy and gladness of heart.
Apparently, this is the essential nature of encountering
Hashem's word. However it is being revealed, whether at
matan Torah or as prophecy, it is accompanied by fear
and dread on the one hand, and joy and exaltation on the
other. Tremendous fear grips the recipient while within, in
his innermost self, all is joy and gladness.
Further explanation is needed in order to understand this.
Subduing the Body
The body cannot withstand the revelation of Hashem's
Shechinoh! The dread that comes over it causes it
literally to collapse. It is the body that experiences the
trauma of the revelation of Hashem's word that Chazal
describe. The more a person's physicality holds sway over
him, the more pronounced the traits of sluggishness and
depression are in his personality — and the greater
will be the shock to his body of the revelation of Hashem's
A prophet must raise himself above his own physicality and
banish sadness and laziness completely. Preparation for
encountering Hashem's word involves overcoming the
"earthbound" element within his character makeup from which
these traits arise, for "the Shechinoh does not come
to rest where there is sadness or laziness . . ." Sadness is
the manifestation of being under the control of
physicality. It is imperative that he rise above it.
How to achieve this? The key is joy. Happiness enables a
person to break the grip of the "earthbound" element and its
attendant traits, allowing the light of the soul to radiate
from him and Hashem's word to rest upon him.
"All the prophets . . .sit [waiting] in joy and with a
glad heart, in solitude, for sadness or laziness will not
bring on prophecy, only joy and gladness at the Creator's
closeness." With the body's physicality no longer
interfering, man can encounter the Shechinoh!
"Therefore, before the disciples of the prophets are lyre,
timbrel, flute and harp and they seek prophecy . . ."
Once he has elevated himself and prophecy has come to rest on
him, a further, enormous elevation awaits him. "His soul
merges with the level of the angels, who are called
Ishim" (Rambam). He feels that he has become a different
person; he is no longer the person that he was.
The body cannot bear any part of this process, from the
preparatory stage to the actual revelation; it must
recede completely. No prophet is capable of receiving
prophecy with his body awake and senses alert. The demand
that receiving Hashem's word makes to rise above oneself is
so strong that the body is compelled to collapse; the only
options are a dream or nighttime vision, or in a trance by
Impossible to Maintain
"Hashem spoke to you face to face from the fire . . ."
(Devorim 5:4). At Sinai, Klal Yisroel merited
the tremendously high level of receiving prophecy while they
were awake and alert. On receiving the Torah they arrived at
the level on which Moshe Rabbenu, father of all prophets,
lived all the time — "I speak to him mouth to mouth,
with clarity, not in riddles" (Bamidbor 12:8). This
brought boundless joy and love; each of Hashem's utterances
attached itself to each member of Klal Yisroel.
But, standing there fully alert, in a way that no other
prophet (besides Moshe) ever received Hashem's word, they
felt their bodies giving way and their souls flying out of
them — they felt that they were dying. They felt
incapable of meeting such a demand — of having
everything ascend to a totally spiritual plane, with the body
of each and every one of them becoming [purged of the
yetzer hora] like that of Odom Horishon before he
sinned. This was the source of the fear and dread. This was
why they fled and moved far away.
This demand for elevation of both body and soul, while still
together, explains the "fire burning on the mountain to the
heart of the Heavens . . ." Fire leaps upward. The fire at
Sinai was the expression of the elevation and uplifting that
every single being in creation, without any exception,
underwent. To continue being bound by the body's physicality
was now impossible — yet the body was incapable of
attaining such heights. The result was that their souls flew
out of them.
Coming Too Close
The pesukim at the end of parshas Mishpotim
show how far these effects reached. Nodov, Avihu and the
elders began ascending the mountain with Moshe and Aharon.
"They saw the G-d of Yisroel and beneath His Feet was akin to
the sapphire brick and like the essence of the Heavens in
purity." They were witness to wondrous revelations of how the
Shechinah suffered with each and every Jew during the
period of slavery and of the light and the joy that were
before Him at their redemption (Shemos 24:10 and Rashi
"And He did not harm the nobles of Yisroel; they saw G-d and
they ate and drank." They incurred death for gazing upon
Hashem with over-familiarity, as though they were eating and
drinking — like someone who takes a bite from his bread
while speaking to the king. Not wanting to mar the joy of
giving of the Torah, Hashem waited until a later time to
punish them (posuk 11, Rashi).
These pesukim are not speaking about the ordinary
people who were scared and ran away when their souls started
leaving them. They are speaking about the nobles — the
nation's very greatest men.
What was their shortcoming? They were so happy at hearing
Hashem's words that they longed to hear more and to draw
closer and closer. Their bodies were of no consequence to
them. Let them collapse! Let them expire! All they wanted was
to get closer, to see more . . .
For this they incurred death. They got too close, dismissing
their bodies entirely. When the body becomes irrelevant, it
upsets the delicate balance between joy and fear and there is
only joy. This is what Chazal refer to as "over-
familiarity." They became too familiar as a result of the
tremendous closeness, for which they became liable to die.
Nodov and Avihu died when, "Fire went out from before Hashem
and consumed them" (Vayikra 10:2), while the elders
were punished when "Hashem's fire burned among them and
consumed the upper echelons of the camp" (Bamidbor
11:11). This was the very same fire.
End of Part I
In Part II: Finding the balance between the two.