“Once, I visited the home of the Chazon Ish,” related Rav Yaakov Galinsky, the renowned maggid from Bnei Brak. “The year was 1950, when there was a great influx of Jews to Eretz Yisroel from Yemen. I found the Chazon Ish looking with great concentration into an old antique Sefer Torah that was open before him on the table. He was so totally engrossed that he did not notice when I entered. Of course, I didn’t want to disturb him, so I waited there quietly, just taking in the sight of the gadol hador absorbed in a matter of kedusha. A lengthy while passed before he finally lifted his head and his face reflected simcha, light shining from his eyes.
“I worked up the courage to ask, ‘Rebbi, what is this simcha all about?’
“He told me, ‘The Jews of Yemen have a mesorah that when the nevi’im warned the nation about Churban Bayis Rishon and the golus that was rapidly approaching, their ancestors got up and moved to Yemen before the calamity would arrive. Their kehillah has now been in existence for 2,500 years and they brought with them to Eretz Yisroel an ancient Sefer Torah in existence from the time they settled in exile… A Sefer Torah that is 2,500 years old!
“‘I asked them if I could see it,’ said the Chazon Ish. ‘Take a look at every single letter, one after another. They are exactly the way they are in our Sifrei Torah today, without the slightest change whatsoever. Praiseworthy is the people for whom this is so… One long chain that stretches from Maamad Har Sinai to this day! If I would have the strength, I would stand up and dance with this Sefer Torah right now.’”
There are many reasons to celebrate on the Yom Tov of Shavuos, when our position as the Am Hanivchar became solidified, when we received the precious legacy that has kept us connected to Hashem and united as a nation, maintaining its identity throughout three millennia. This despite the hardships and exiles, the persecution and torture that we face throughout our history. Because the Torah is eternal, and the people who hold onto it are the eternal nation.
The Chofetz Chaim was wont to say: “We have to be emotionally moved when we remember that Moshe Rabbeinu donned the very same tefillin that we do and kept the very same Shabbos that we do. From that generation until now, the flame continues to burn and is transmitted in its purity from generation to generation.”
But there is an added dimension to our happiness.
“And Hashem created the great sea-giants” (Bereishis 1:21). Rashi quotes the Medrash, which says that this refers to the great Livyoson and its mate. Hashem saw that if they reproduce and multiply, they would be a menace to the world and it could not continue to exist, so He killed the female and salted it to preserve it for the future, when tzaddikim will merit eating from it.
The Chofetz Chaim asks: Why did Hashem have to set aside food for tzaddikim from the six days of creation and thereby have to add salt and preserve it for all these years to prevent it from spoiling? Aren’t there enough tasty fish in the sea to provide fresh ones when the time of that special seudah arrives? Why would it be necessary to serve a fish that was dead from way back then?
The answer is that there is something special about an original creation made directly by the hands of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. It has much more loftiness, a stronger taste, and a greater nutritional potency than its offspring produced over many generations. For although they are all born through the power of Hashem, who recreates maaseh bereishis every day, still, the fish that fertilize the offspring and the mother that laid the eggs also had a part in their birth. The very first creation made only by Hashem is superior in both holiness and nutrition.
Similarly, the novi says, “No eye has ever seen a god, except for You who acted for those who trust in Him” (Yeshayah 64:3). Chazal say that this refers to special wine that has been preserved in its grapes from the six days of creation that will be served to tzaddikim in the future (Brachos 34b). Now, there are countless expert wineries that produce world-class kosher wines. Why the need for the ancient ones? Because they are the original, straight from the hands of the Borei Olam, with no one in between to compromise its full potency.
Do we possess anything nowadays that is a direct creation of Hashem? Yes we do, says the Chofetz Chaim. It is the holy Torah itself, coming to this world directly from the mouth of Hashem. The Gemara says that the very first word of the Aseres Hadibros, Anochi, is an abbreviation of the words “Ana nafshi kesivas yeshivas – I Myself wrote the Torah and gave it” (Shabbos 105a).
If so, says the Chofetz Chaim, if with material creations there is a great advantage in having the original for its physical and spiritual effectiveness, then, kal vachomer many thousands of times over, how great and exalted is the holy Torah, and how powerful it is to transform a person and to sanctify him in a sublime way, for besides its ruchniyus, it is the original, and that is something very special. It gives us new insight into what we should celebrate on Shavuos, the time we received the Torah.
We find a distinction between the nusach of Birkas HaTorah on the Sefer Torah when we lain in shul and introducing bentching after a seudah. During Birkas HaTorah, one begins, “Borchu es Hashem hamevorach,” uttering the Name of Hashem that represents middas harachamim. Yet, before bentching, one says, “Nevoreich l’Elokeinu she’achalnu mishelo,” using the name of Hashem connoting middas hadin. Why the difference?
The Tosafos Yom Tov explains that reasonable law would dictate that the Creator should provide sustenance for His creations, for He did not create them to die. This is why when we thank Hashem for the food He provided us, we say the name Elokeinu, which represents din. But the Torah was given to us by Hashem purely through His chesed. The law does not dictate that a Creator has to notify His creations of His ways and laws.
It is a pure chesed on the part of Hashem because He loves us. This is indicated in the brachos for Krias Shema that speak about our receiving the Torah from Hashem. They begin with “Ahavah rabbah ahavtanu – With an abundant love You have loved us,” and in Maariv, “Ahavas olam bais Yisroel ahavtanu – With an eternal love have You loved bais Yisroel.”
Now, if, indeed, Hashem gave us the Torah as an act of love, then it stands to reason that He desires that each and every one of His children should pursue learning it, to become absorbed in it, and to reap its fruits. The Torah is not an inheritance given only to a select group of elite scholars who are capable of understanding it in its greatest depths. The Torah is meant for all of us, each on his own level, no matter how simple his understanding.
Rashi (Devorim 29:3) quotes a Medrash that says that on the day Moshe Rabbeinu gave a Sefer Torah to shevet Levi shortly before he was niftar, all of the Yidden went to him complaining, “Moshe Rabbeinu, we also stood at Har Sinai and accepted upon ourselves the Torah and it was given to us. If so, why are you empowering your shevet over it, so that in the future they will say, ‘It wasn’t given to you. It was only given to us’?” When Moshe heard this, he was very happy and he said to them, “This day, you have become a people to Hashem, your G-d” (Devorim 27:9). “Today,” he said, “I understand that you are attached to Hashem and desire Him.”
The Baal HaNesivos, Rav Yaakov Lorberbaum, once approached his rebbi, the brilliant Rav Meshulam Igra, rov of Tizmanitz, with a problem. “The rebbi is greater than the Rashba,” he said, “because when I learn the Rashba, I understand what he is saying, but the rebbi’s shiur is so deep that I cannot grasp it.”
Rav Meshulam answered: “To the contrary, it is because of the Rashba’s greatness that you can understand him. He is able to clothe his words in different layers so that different people can understand them, each on his own level. For example, a child just beginning Chumash learns ‘Bereishis bara Elokim’ and understands it on the simplest of levels, while the seasoned talmid chochom learning it perceives it on a much higher level. Hashem wrote the Torah for everyone so that each individual can learn it according to his ability. The Rashba was capable of doing this with his chiddushim, so you are able to grasp them. But for me, it is difficult to clothe my words for those who have not yet reached my level of understanding.”
“Has a people ever heard the voice of Elokim speaking from amidst the fire as you have heard and survived?” (Devorim 9:33). The heretics asked Rav Simla’i that the word Elokim, in plural, implies that there are many gods. He told them that the word medaber used in the posuk, in the singular, shows that there is only one G-d.
After they left, his talmidim asked him, “Rebbi, you are able to push them away with a simple answer, but what indeed is the reason that Elokim is said in plural?” The Medrash answers that Hashem has various relationships with His children, each one according to his particular ability: the young men according to their level, the elders according to their power, and the children according to theirs (Shemos Rabbah 29:1).
Hashem gave us each a treasure that we can utilize according to our own ability. The Torah is tailor-made for everyone according to his size. As we approach the Yom Tov of Shavuos, it is important to be aware of what the seforim say that a new kabbolah we take upon ourselves on this holy day, even a small kabbolah, goes a very long way in bringing us siyata diShmaya.
Unfortunately, the yeitzer hara has a way of convincing us, “Who am I? I am so far from where I should be in ruchniyus. Does it really matter that I learn a bit more? It’s not like I am being mechadeish any great chiddushim.” These words are bogus. Pure bluff.
Hashem cherishes every single Yid, every single word of Torah that he learns, and every small act of service to Him. He loves us more than we can imagine, and every small step forward in Torah is precious beyond words. Let us utilize this day of Matan Torah to enjoy this original work of Hashem, as potent as it was thousands of years ago, to elevate ourselves and solidify our relationship with Him. Ah gutten Yom Tov!