Even as Yaakov studied through the long nights and his sons marched forth, an army of soldiers of the Ribbono Shel Olam, the world was not yet perfect.
It was all a journey, a tunnel leading to Yom Hashishi, the sixth day of Sivan, the pinnacle of creation.
The day the Torah was given.
And then the world was complete.
The defining moment of creation came as this new nation, this am nivra, molded and formed in the oppressive cauldron of Mitzrayim, shouted as one, “Naaseh venishma.”
It was the moment whenKlal Yisroel issued its mission statement, proclaiming that although they were mere mortals fashioned of flesh and blood, they would live on a higher and loftier plane, using the greatest of all gifts, the holy Torah, to guide them.
The Gemara (Shabbos 88a) quotes Rav Sima’i, who teaches that at the time that Klal Yisroel said naaseh before nishma, six hundred thousand malachim came to every individual and tied two crowns on their heads, one for naaseh and one for nishma. Once Klal Yisroel sinned with the Eigel, one million and two hundred thousand destructive malachim descended and removed them.
It appears from the Gemara that while one malach was needed to place the two crowns on each individual’s head, two angels were required to remove the same two crowns. Why could one angel place the two crowns on every person, but two angels were needed to remove them?
Rav Chaim Vital (Eitz Hadas Tov 290) explains this with an extraordinary idea. There are two streams within man, with completely different and competing roles, chomer and tzurah. Chomer refers to the physical matter, while the tzurah is the spiritual, the abstract, the goal, the direction to be taken through utilizing the chomer. There is a perpetual struggle, or perpetual fusion.
At the time that Klal Yisroel said, “Naaseh venishma,” explains Rav Chaim Vital, the chomer announced its intention to serve as a means for thetzurah to move forward, so that man was one whole, complete entity. There was harmony within man, and so only one malach was needed to crown him.
Once the Yidden sinned, however, the two components within them separated; the chomer wentback to being raw material with the tzurah remainingunrealized. Thus, two malachim were necessary to remove the crowns.
There was a national naaseh venishma moment, at the foot of Har Sinai, but there are also individual naaseh venishma moments, when a lone yochid cries out his promise to allow his tzurah to define his path.
One of the most vital links in the chain of our mesorah of Torah Shebaal Peh was Reish Lakish, who famously began his career as a bandit before encountering Rav Yochanan. Rav Yochanan convinced Reish Lakish that his immense strength could be best used in the service of the Creator, and Reish Lakish agreed to join him in the bais medrash.
Suddenly, the strength seeped out of the mighty and courageous bandit and he was too weak to jump back from the water to land. The very acceptance had weakened him, even before he’d learned a single blatt Gemara.
Remarkable!But with Rav Chaim Vital’s explanation, we can well understand what occurred. Reish Lakish’s chomer, his brute physical power, was suddenly subjugated to his tzurah. It was his naaseh venishma moment.
The Zohar inParshas Ki Sisa (190.)tells us that the Toras hasod, the hidden portion of the Torah, was revealed in the time of Rav Shimon bar Yochai, because all the chaveirm in his time were suffusedwith love for each other.
Perhaps we can explain this to mean that since learning Torah is a process of self-perfection, and souls such as the chaveirim in the time of Rav Shimon were consumed by Torahand its transforming properties, they became people oftzurah, of spiritual sophistication, and so the pettiness and self-interest that serve as a barrier to interpersonal relationships were non-existent. There was true ahavas chaveirim. In order for one chaver to love another, he has to subjugate his own personal wants, desires and ego for the betterment of his chaver. This only comes about through dedication to Torah and its study.
The fact that the chaveirim in the time of Rav Shimon bar Yochai were so caring of each other, is testament that they had mastered the 48 kinyanim of Torah. Their communal naaseh venishma, the allegiance to tzurah above chomer, merited another layer of kabbolas haTorah, but since the entire Torah Shebiksav and Torah Shebaal Peh had already been delivered on Har Sinai at the first naaseh venishmah moment, Klal Yisroel nowmerited for the inner dimension to be revealed, generated by their acceptance.
The oft-repeated Gemara tells of Rav Yosi’s declaration of his intention to feast on Shavuos. If not for this day, he said, I would be just like all the others: “Kama Yosi ikka beshuka.”Rashi explains that Rav Yosi was saying that through his Torah study, he became elevated. Perhaps, with this new understanding, we can comprehend this as well. The depth of the statement is that since Rav Yosi lived with a constant kabbolas haTorah, a steady state of reaffirmation of his love for Torah, he was constantly rising above the rest of the Yosefs of the world, because he was living tzurahdik.
This is based upon the Chazal (Pesikta Zutrasa, Va’eschanon) which states that every day a person is obligated to conduct himself as if he accepted the Torah that day at Har Sinai. In other words, every day a person must be prepared to say, “Naaseh venishma,” and subjugate his chomer to his tzurah. That is what Rav Yosi did and that is why he was able to say that he was different than all the other Yosis.
The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (145) teaches that nations of the world are possessed by zuhamah, impurity. The Gemara explains why this is so. When Chava sinned with the snake in Gan Eden, zuhamah entered man and remained there. When the Jews stood at Har Sinai,they were freed of this venom – “paskah zuhamasam.”The akum didn’t stand at Har Sinai, so the zuhamah never left them.
At Har Sinai, when the Jews proclaimed in unison, “Naaseh venishma,” they broke their chomer, regaining the purity of Gan Eden.
At that moment, people became more like angels, rising a bit higher.
But what, asks the Meshech Chochmah at the end of Parshas Yisro, did Moshe Rabbeinu gain from kabbolas haTorah? How was the Ribbono Shel Olam’s beloved servant affected, if he had been worthy and able to rise Heavenward even before the giving of the Torah? Had he not already achieved perfection before Sinai?
The Meshech Chochmah’s answer is instructive and relevant. Until Mattan Torah, he says, Moshe Rabbeinu and man were able to serve Hashem, but only with ruchniyus. The novelty of kabbolas haTorah was that, suddenly, acts of pure gashmiyus were invested with kedushah. Man, with his chomer and his tzurah working together, was charged with a new mandate: to sanctify himself, his corporeal needs, and animal instincts. In other words, at Matan Torah, man attained the ability to rise to the highest levels by subjugating his chomer to his tzurah.
This, says the Meshech Chochmah, is the idea of Hashem telling Moshe Rabbeinuat the sneh, the burning bush, “Shal ne’alecha mei’al raglecha – Remove your shoes, the vehicles for your gashmiyusdike living. Remove your chomer as you approach Me. Here you must be an angel.” That was before Matan Torah. Afterward, the shoes are part of the package – the package called a mentch, to whom the Torah was given.
On Shavuos, we celebrate this chiddush, that Hakadosh Boruch Hu desires us over angels and that we are to use His Torahto guide us and address our very physical existence. We celebrate the potential of lowly man, who can use the Torah as the ladder.
The Gemara states that while regarding other Yomim Tovim the rabbis disagree how much of the day should be dedicated to the purely spiritual, on Shavuos “hakol modim debeinan nami lachem.” They all agree that we need to please the more physical side as well.
We can understand it to mean that the rabbis proclaim that on Shavuos, we definitely need lachem, to proclaim that the physical is the great mechutan of Shavuos. We must demonstrate through our actions that the chomer has become one with our tzurah.
Sometimes, we lose sight of the simplicity of this truth. We, mere people, can connect to the Torahand rise to supernatural heights. We don’t perceive that, though, so we look for shortcuts. We are thirsty for the spiritual rush, but all too often, we are in too much of a rush to climb the straight path. We long for the abstract, but the work of subjugating chomer is too difficult and too time consuming.
We forget that the goal we are after is to overcome the chumrios with which we were created. We jump to the tzurah, thinking that we can leapfrog over the details, but tzurah alone doesn’t cut it as long as we permit the chomer to survive, for it sits there like a malignant bacteria eating away at our essence. Outwardly, we may seem like super-holy beings, but if we haven’t mastered the 48 kinyanim of Torah, it is all but a fleeting facade, sure to be exposed and crumble.
Young bochurim in the Philadelphia Yeshiva once found a small, dusty sefer. It was an old copy of the mystical work Raziel Hamalach, which is said to have been written by an actual malach. With great amazement and their hearts beating fast, the boys passed it around reverently, gazing at the words penned by an emissary from On High.
Out of nowhere, the unforgettable rebbi, Rav Mendel Kaplan, entered the room and walked over nonchalantly to examine the source of the excitement. Upon hearing the explanation, in typical Rav Mendel fashion and with a glint in his eye, he decided to teach the boys a lesson in his loving and understated style. He probably knew that the bochurim regarded him with great reverence, not only for his chochmah, tzidkus and yedios haTorah, but also because they suspected that he was a boki in the Toras hachein as well.
Rav Mendel told the boys that he could show them something even more fascinating than that sefer. “A sefer written by a malach,” he commented, “is very special, but I have something even more precious.”
They couldn’t imagine what could compete with the small booklet that had so impacted them, but they followed him to his desk.
“This sefer,” he announced, picking up a Chumash, “was written by the Ribbono Shel Olam himself.”
Nothing is as remarkable as that. Not angels or mystics or supernatural occurrences. Just man and his Maker, connected through the Torah.
The story is told that Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, upon the birth of a great-great-grandson, was asked to serve as sandek at the bris. The elderly gaon replied that he was unable to travel to Bnei Brak for the bris, since it would tire him out and affect his learning schedule.
“But zaide,” his grandchildren argued, “it is said that the zechus of serving as sandek at the bris of a fifth generation ainikel is a segulah to go straight to Gan Eden.”
The gadol hador’s reply is equally relevant to each of us, on our levels. Rav Elyashiv listened and turned them down. With a smile on his face, he explained that he wants to be granted Olam Haba based upon his limud haTorah, kiyum mitzvos and maasim tovim, not through shortcuts.
This, then, is the message. This is the secret of this Yom Tov.
Not despite the fact that we are mere people, but specifically because we are mere people, can we raise ourselves to perfection.
We, with our feet dragging through the dust of real life, of parnassah and health challenges; and all sorts of temptations, persist in walking with our eyes on Him and on His Torah, knowing that it is meant for us, to give us the tools to climb higher. No, there are no shortcuts, but it is doable. “Pis’chu li pesach kepischo shel machat va’ani eftach lochem pesach kepischo shel ulam.” Show that you want it, show that you care, show that you aim for perfection, and Hashem will be there, walking alongside you, holding your hand, wherever you are.
Show that you are a naaseh venishma Yid and always in your moment. You will be blessed with a life of tzurah, of reality, purpose, accomplishment and joy. Vechayei olam nuta besocheinu.
Ah gutten Yom Tov.