Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

Center Stage

 

The great Amora Shmuel said to his talmid, Rav Yehuda: “Sharp one, grab and eat, grab and drink, for this world, which we will eventually leave, is like a wedding” (Eiruvin 54a). The simple explanation of this is that at a wedding, the guests indulge in the delicacies with the realization that the next day they won’t have this opportunity. So too, in Olam Hazeh, one must grab mitzvos as much as one can, for his time here is limited, and when one leaves this world, there will no longer be opportunities for mitzvos. Many other explanations are given.

Rav Reuven Karelenstein explains with a moshol. The preparations for the chasunah lasted months. So many details to arrange. There was buying a dirah, booking the chasunah hall, making a menu, hiring a band, the photographer, the flowers, the invitations, suits for the men and boys, and gowns for the womenfolk. Not to mention the shaitels and hairdresser, and the expense of it all. In the last days before the chasunah, the family reaches the last lap in a frenzy to make sure that everything is done, every detail taken care of.

Then, that eventful day finally arrives. All the expenditures, all the preparations, all the efforts were meant for this occasion. Emotions are running high. Hearts are humming. The chosson and kallah and their families say silent tefillos to Hashem that the couple together build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel.

The exciting moment is here. The chupah begins. Tears are shed by the zaidies and bubbies, happy tears that express gratitude to Hashem. The rov, the mesader kiddushin, is up there, leading the ceremony. After reciting the birkas ha’eirusin, he instructs the chosson to take out the ring and give it to the kallah. The chosson reaches into his jacket, but…it isn’t there. He reaches nervously into his other pocket, then in his pants pockets, but no ring. There is tension in the air.

Where is the ring? Could he have left it back at home? If there is no ring, there is no chupah, and nothing here matters. Finally, a good friend of the chosson runs up and gives him the ring. They remember now that the chosson had left it with him for safekeeping. There is a collective sigh of relief throughout the room.

Now they can continue with the chupah. The chosson slips the ring on the kallah’s finger and says out loud, “Harei at mekudeshes kedas Moshe v’Yisroel.” The sheva brachos are recited and the glass goblet is broken. Mazel tov! The music blares. There is singing and dancing to Od Yishama, and hugs and kisses. Slowly, the crowd moves on to the dining hall.

Then, one man says to another, “I might be mistaken, but it seemed to me that when the chosson said the words of the kiddushin, he left out the word ‘lee.’”

“I thought the same thing,” says the other. “But since nobody said anything about it, I thought it was just my imagination.”

They check with other guests, and they all agree. Again, panic sets in. They run to the rov; something must be done quickly. All the preparations, all of the arrangements, and all of the anticipation with the expenses are for naught. One small word, “lee,” is so consequential. Without it, everything here has no value, for the ikkar, the central point of it all, is missing.

This world is like the chasunah. It involves so much effort, so many struggles, so many interests and so many disappointments. If they are all centered by a tachlis, by a purpose, by a commitment to Torah and serving Hashem, then everything is here. But if that purpose is missing, then all is for naught. If a person doesn’t realize what his true purpose is in this world and does not focus his attention on that goal, his entire life can be for naught, just like the chasunah where the central theme was not fulfilled properly.

“From heaven You made heard judgment, the earth feared and subsided…” (Tehillim 76:9). What was the earth’s fear and why did it eventually calm down? The Gemara explains that from the time it was created, it was dependent on that one special day, the 6th of Sivan. For Hashem created this world on condition that Klal Yisroel accepts the Torah. If not, the world would return to emptiness (Shabbos 88a). Without the acceptance of the Torah, the world would have no purpose and there would be no reason for its existence.

It is no wonder, then, that there is a machlokes Tannaim as to how we should celebrate our Yomim Tovim – in a totally spiritual way or with eating and drinking. Everyone agrees that on Shavuos we must also rejoice in a physical way, for it is the day that the Torah was given to us (Pesochim 68b). The meforshim ask: Should it not be quite the opposite? On this, the day that the Torah was given, we should concentrate on limud haTorah only, should we not?

Because the physical world was not a sure thing until the Yidden said “naaseh venishma,” it was not until Shavuos that this world became fully established and secure. We must remember that only because of the Torah do we have a physical world. It gives all our mundane matters a purpose and elevates them. That is why we also celebrate this happy day by eating and drinking.

How appropriate it is, then, that usually, the sedrah that we lain the Shabbos preceding Shavuos is Bamidbar. A desert is barren, void of any civilization. There are no distractions there. One of the reasons provided for Hashem giving the Yidden the Torah in the midbar was to have them totally focus on this wondrous acquisition, the klei chemda, the coveted vessels, without any other side interests or any influences from other nations. Hashem wanted to ingrain in them that Torah must be the focal point in their lives. Yes, eventually, they would return to regular life in Eretz Yisroel, with its many responsibilities and chores, but they would have this ideal that everything centers around Torah.

This is also why the Mishkon, with the Aron, was at the center of the degalim and everyone camped facing the Mishkon, showing that this should be the center of their life. The Sefer Chareidim, in his hakdamah, writes that not only was it like this in the midbar, but even in Eretz Yisroel, when each man dwelled under his own vine, the communities were centered around Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdosh. Even nowadays, in golus, say the seforim, when Hashem has scattered us like the four directions of the heavens (Zechariah 2:10), wherever we are, when we daven, we face towards the center, the place of the holy Shechinah, the place of the Bais Hamikdosh. For serving Hashem is what life is all about.

One of the lessons that we learn from Megillas Rus is the importance of zerizus, quickness in performing a mitzvah. From the moment Boaz heard from Rus that there is a mitzvah to be performed, he told her, “Stay the night. Then in the morning, if he will redeem you, fine! But if he does not want to redeem you, then I will redeem you.” Boaz stressed “in the morning” to imply that he will not delay; he will take care of the matter immediately. And that is, in fact, what he did. The very next day, he spoke to the closest redeemer to see if he wanted to marry Rus.

Once the redeemer declined, Boaz immediately married her. Had Boaz not been quick to perform the mitzvah, he would have forfeited everything, for Chazal tell us that he died the very next day. This means that the entire foundation of Malchus Bais Dovid was dependent on the zerizus of Boaz.

This conduct was not self-understood. Boaz was the gadol hador. He was the shofeit who, at that period in our history, was treated like a king. He was already in his old age. Normally, that would mean that he wouldn’t take care of the matter himself. He would send a messenger to the close redeemer to ask him what he wants to do. Even after he refused, it would make sense to try and convince him to perform the mitzvah, because it was beneath his dignity to marry a woman from Moav, especially since she was forty years younger than him. Yet, Boaz saw only one thing before him: the opportunity to perform a mitzvah. When one can fulfill the word of Hashem, all excuses and all distractions fall by the wayside. A Yid’s focal point is always the Torah, and he mustn’t let anything – not time and not circumstances – get between him and the mitzvah (Sifsei Chaim).

Rav Yaakov Galinsky, the maggid of Bnei Brak, related: “In my younger years, before World War II, I knew a man who was anti-religious to an extreme. He would ridicule anybody who was frum and anything that had to do with Torah and kedusha. One could not hold a regular conversation with him in spiritual matters, as he would rant and rave against it. A few years after the war, I encountered him again in Eretz Yisroel, and I was shocked at what I saw. He had become a full-fledged baal teshuvah, a meticulous shomer Torah umitzvos. I asked him how this remarkable transition occurred. The Yid became emotional to the point of shedding tears and he told me his story.

“‘When the Nazis ym”sh started bombarding our town, I was in middle of the street and I could not find shelter other than an open bais medrash. I quickly entered and hid under a table. Then, to my astonishment, I saw under the next table that there were two bnei Torah speaking in learning in fiery, animated discussion, oblivious to the rest of the world. The scene shook me up completely. From where did they draw such terrific inner strength to be engaged in learning under such trying circumstances? How were they able to remain so tranquil while they were hiding under a table in fear of the thundering bombs?

“‘That short encounter so shook me up and got me to start thinking about the proper path to take. Little by little, I returned to a life of Torah and fulfilling mitzvos. And today, I am proud to say that I am boruch Hashem a full baal teshuvah!’”

When the Torah is central in one’s life, no situation can get in the way of his being immersed in it even in perilous times, and this dedication can attract even those who are far from Torah.

As we prepare for Yom Tov, it is important for us to think about how central Torah is in our lives. In our Kabbolas HaTorah, when we hear the words naaseh venishma, we can resolve to eliminate even one or two of the distractions that get in our way. Even a small step is a giant leap in getting closer to Hashem.

Ah freilichen Yom Tov to all.

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