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9 Tammuz 5766 - July 5, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Thinking Deeply About Torah

by Maran HaRav Shach, zt"l

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 mountain?"

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 truth.

"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 nothing gained.

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 spirituality.

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 Revelation

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 preparations.

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 9:15)?"

"What then is this great noise?" they asked.

And he replied, "`Hashem gives oz to His people' (Tehillim 29:11).

"Oz refers to Torah, as is written (Iyov 12:16), `With Him is oz, strength, and sound wisdom.'"

"If so," they rejoined, "then let Him bless His people with peace."

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 place.

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 heights.

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 this miracle?

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 our side.

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 way.

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.

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