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4 Sivan 5766 - May 31, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Might and Joy in His Place

A Shmuess from the Mashgiach HaRav Shlomo Wolbe, zt'l

In this previously unpublished shmuess, the Mashgiach carefully builds a panoramic exposition of some fundamental lessons.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 continuing.

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?

Part II

The 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 behaved?

" `Moshe hid his face, for he was afraid of looking at G-d' (Shemos 3:6).

"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 3:1).

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 ibid.)

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 surrounds them!

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" (Rambam).

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 hamedrash."

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 body.

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 inspires.

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 him.

"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!

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