One year on Motzoei Shavuos, two young talmidei chachomim asked the Satmar Rov, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, for a brocha. He blessed them that the hashpa’os of Shavuos, and birkas mo’adecha, should remain with them and add meaning and light to the upcoming months.
“You have a special task,” the rebbe said. “You have to work hard in Torah, you have to hureveh, and you must develop new insights, being mechadeish chiddushim. While a wedding is a joyous affair, filled with excitement and anticipation, the focus is really on the future generations that will emerge from the new couple. Shavuos was essentially the wedding, but now is the time to focus on what the union of Yisroel, Hakadosh Boruch Hu and the Torah is able to produce. Your task now is to write chiddushim.”
The message is valid for each of us in our own way. We have each just celebrated and reaffirmed our connection and commitment to the Torah.
Through our celebration, we proclaimed that after 3,329 years, we are holding on. Moshe tells us (Devorim 4:10) not to forget the great events at Har Sinai, the wonders our eyes beheld. He says that every father should transmit to his children the awesomeness of the experience.
We remember the wonders at Har Sinai. We remember that Hashem gave us the Luchos and the Torah. As we recall the awesomeness of the wonders that transpired, we marvel that thousands of years later, we remain as committed, loyal and faithful as ever.
Our children study the same halachos discussed over the millennia. Every day we wear the very same tefillin worn by all Jews, according to the instructions passed down by Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai.
There is no other commitment ever made by flesh and blood that has endured that way.
On Shavuos, we commemorated and renewed the bond. Now, we struggle to assimilate our emotions – the spiritual high we experienced on Shavuos as the first vague brushstrokes of a new day painted the dark sky, the majesty of a daf of Gemara, the intensity of Akdamus, and the meaning of certain lines we are able to grasp as they fly by in the traditional tune – into ordinary life.
But now, the wedding is over. The guests and the band have gone home. Now it’s time to go home together and create a viable and fruitful relationship. We davened, learned, sang and danced, but now it’s back to real life. We have to build and live according to the Torah. Now is the time.
In this week’s parsha (Bamidbar 10:31), Moshe asks Yisro not to leave the Jewish people behind and return home. He says to him, “Al ta’azov osanu.” The Seforno explains that Moshe told him that if he were to leave, the nations of the world would assume that he didn’t agree with a Torah life. They would surmise that Yisro, who was famed for seeking the truth, was back on the hunt, unsatisfied with what he had found.
There is an inherent chillul Hashem in seeing the glory and then turning your back on it.
That call rings out to us as well in these days following Shavuos. After having reconnected with the light of Har Sinai, there is a call to each one of us: “Al na ta’azov.” The Torah calls out to us, “Don’t leave me. You’ve been with me. We celebrated together. You studied my words and became familiar with me. Don’t go back to the way you were before Shavuos. Show that it affected you. Show that you appreciate the Torah and its way of life. Stay with me.”
There are those who hear that call every day.
After a family simcha, as relatives stood around chatting, Chacham Ovadia Yosef urged his wife that it was time to return home. “Please. They’re waiting for me,” he said. “I can’t stay here any longer.”
One of his sons asked who was coming to speak with the rav at that late hour. Who was waiting for him at his home?
“The Rambam is on my desk,” he explained. “The Rashba is right next to it. I’ve been away for too long already. They are waiting for me.”
Rav Elazar Menachem Mann Shach had a piece of paper on his desk for months. Periodically, he would look at it and shake his head. One of his attendants finally asked what the precious paper was. The rosh yeshiva explained: “A bochur came over to me after shiur one day with a question pertaining to Maseches Bava Kamma. He posed a good question and it deserves a good answer, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to delve into it and find a solution. I keep the paper with me to remind me that I am a ba’al chov. Ich bin em shuldik ah terutz. I owe that boy something. I owe him an explanation. This is more important than anything.”
With all that occupied his day, explaining a sugya to a talmid was his primary occupation, for the transmission of Torah is supreme. Uppermost in his mind was finding a teretz for a bochur’s question.
Rebbetzin Esther Finkel, wife of Rav Beinish Finkel, was a niece of the Chazon Ish. She would often retell something that she heard from the Chazon Ish’s mother.
At the age of eight years old, young Avrohom Yeshaya remarked to his mother, “Mammeh, do you know why I learn? I learn because I know how good it is.”
That perception of “ein tov ela Torah” drove him to continue learning and leading a life of Torah lishmah, mastering it all. For the remainder of his life, his joy and cheishek came from ameilus baTorah.
An encounter comes with obligations.
Reb Moshe Reichmann once had a small dispute with another respected ba’al tzedakah that was resolved at a din Torah. Someone badmouthed the other person to Mr. Reichmann, who waved away the claim. “Don’t say that,” he responded. “He is a good person who means well. The only reason he acts this way and I don’t is because I was zoche to learn in yeshivos and know the Chazon Ish and he never did.”
Becoming acquainted with holiness affects us, changes us, and makes us into better people.
Torah is not merely theoretical. It is not enough to study it, sing about it, and talk about it. Torah has to touch our souls and affect the way we act, talk, conduct ourselves, and deal with other people.
Torah Jews don’t get personal when they have disagreements. They seek to resolve differences according to the ways of the Torah. They speak kindly and act with kindness. They help each other, assisting even people they don’t know. They are respectful and dignified. They cause kiddush Hashem, not chillul Hashem.
Moshe Reichmann was recognized throughout the Jewish world and the world of finance as an impeccably honest gentleman. He derived his standing and the way he comported himself from viewing himself as a yeshiva bochur, as a student of great men, influenced from basking in the glow of the Chazon Ish.
A Bobover chossid explained to his grandchildren how he survived Auschwitz. He told them that as a child, he had been at seudah shlishis tishen of the Kedushas Tzion many times. “I understood that an experience like that was a zechus, and it was up to me to use it to the fullest. I bottled up the energy of the tish, memorizing the Torah, the niggunim, and the look on the rebbe’s face. Years later, when I was surrounded by death and despair, I would close my eyes and draw on that reservoir of purity and joy. That was how I survived.”
We have all seen greatness in our lives. There have been experiences that have greatly impressed us. Torah lessons that have impacted us. Rabbeim who made a mark on our souls. They should not be fading memories of fleeting moments. They should be etched into our consciences and influence us every day of our lives.
I, for one, merited receiving guidance and instruction in years past from such giants as Rav Elazar Menachem Mann Shach and Rav Elya Svei zichronam livrocha. I constantly consult with my memories of our conversations to help me proceed. Of course, it is not sufficient to be guided by memories of those no longer with us, but it is upon the foundation they established within me and so many others that we build, and the reminiscences of the discussions with them that provide us with the strength and conviction to carry on.
I spent the past week in Yerushalayim and had the special zechus to daven with and speak to residents of Yerushalayim Shel Maalah. So many scenes impacted me, so many people whose faces are etched with the lines of emunah and bitachon. Poor and destitute people who know the truth about life, smiling as they perform mitzvos. Giants sitting among common folk, each concentrating on impressing the One who counts and not looking over their shoulders or considering where they sit and who they daven with. All Jews are special and they know it. There is holiness in every soul. Everyone has a spark of ruach hakodesh, some more than others (see Gr”a, Mishlei 16:4).
I hope that lesson stays with me.
To be in the presence of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, revered by all the world over for his incredible hasmodah and yediah of kol haTorah kulah, combined with tzidkus, is very hard to describe. We ask and we follow, for we know that the Torah flows through him.
I traveled to Naharia to receive the blessing of Rav Dovid Abuchatzeira. Just to hear the words he speaks and his tone provides chizuk.
Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, is a personal guide, mentor and rebbi. A gaon in Torah and mussar, to sit with him nourishes the soul.
As we spend time with our rabbeim and manhigim, we are reminded of greatness and the heights man can reach. Their dedication to Torah, basking in it and dedicating their lives to it raises them and imbues them with the ability to provide light, guidance and leadership.
The cycle of the Jewish year is a series of peaks and valleys. Shavuos allows us to reach the mountain of old, to hear the kol gadol, the voice that has never stopped calling, to feel the thunder in our souls.
We live in scary times. It often appears as if madness has taken over the Western world. Terror grips foreign capitals, fake news is treated as gospel, and the media is consumed with fostering a Russian connection with the president, who hasn’t been able to gain traction and pass the bills necessary to push his agenda forward and get the economy back on course. There is misdirection everywhere as critical thought has gone AWOL.
The Torah provides us with light and understanding. By devoting ourselves to learning Torah, we are able to find a path through the darkness, an oasis of sanity and truth. Learning Torah lishmah spares us from falling prey to ever-present temptations. It makes us into better people and allows us to lead a fruitful, satisfying life, enhancing those around us and the world.
Shavuos has passed us by. Let its memory not fade. The inspiration should stimulate us as we go about our daily activities and allow us to live lives unscathed by the depravity and futility of so much that surrounds us.