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The Special Mattan Torah of 5781

Last week, we attempted to discover some chizuk in the darkness of the Lag Ba’omer tragedy in Meron. However, now that we are about to receive the Torah once again, as we do annually, the chizuk flows from Mattan Torah itself.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (new edition of Kol Rom, page 214, No. 28) points out that the Torah gives us freedom (Avos 6:2). He explains that this not only means that Hashem provides for those who learn Torah, just as He gave us the monn. It means that when we make the decision to learn Torah and be a servant of Hashem, we are freed from the shackles of our body and concentrate primarily upon the needs of our soul. Of course, we have rules of safety and care of our gashmiyus as well as our ruchniyus. But once we know the priorities of our lives, the yoke of concern is off our shoulders. The Creator, Who put us on earth, will take care of us if we concentrate on our part, which is a constant Kabbolas HaTorah.

As Rav Moshe concludes, we are not even permitted to deny our body things that are allowed (Nedorim 10a), since we don’t really “own” our bodies. They are the property of our Master; just as He provides for us, so may we not ruin the gift. Thus, if we are mekabel the Torah properly, we emerge with a tremendous sense of relief, serenity and joy.

Furthermore, we must remember that our heavenly Father rejoices with every positive step that we take. Even when it is temporary, Hashem will perform incredible miracles for us just so that we are elevated even for an ephemeral experience. Let us take note of the incredible experience of Mattan Torah 3,333 years ago. Six hundred thousand fiery angels gave each of us two glorious crowns. Whoever was ill was instantly cured. If someone was, G-d forbid, missing a leg, he grew another. Those who were blind from birth saw for the first time. The poison of the primordial serpent was removed from us (Shabbos 157b). Each of us was sanctified higher than the malachim.

Yet, just 40 days later, when we sadly made the Golden Calf, all was taken away. We lost the crowns, death reentered our lives, and illness was no longer a stranger in our midst. Why did Hashem bother? He knew what would happen, so was it worth His while?

Rav Chaim Kamiel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ofakim, answers that it was all to give us the chizuk to experience a powerful and limitless Mattan Torah so that both the love and reverence for the Torah would become embedded in our DNA forever. Although the day would come when we would fall and fail, the beauty and glory of Torah was already deep inside us. Each of us could return, grow and return to Sinai. The totality will not return until all of Klal Yisroel does, but each of us will hear internal voices urging us to grow, become better, and receive the Torah again and again.

One such story about a voice from heaven that we can all hear at least occasionally was told by Rav Goel Elkarif, once of the great speakers in Eretz Yisroel. A non-religious senior officer in the Israeli Air Force attended an Arachim seminar and began the teshuvah process. His wife was impressed, but not moved as much, and was not ready for a complete transformation. The marriage was threatened by the dichotomy, but she agreed to attend one more lecture by Rav Yehudah Josephy. She decided that she would utter a private quiet prayer. “G-d, please show me a sign if this is the correct path for me. If not, we will have to end our family bond and go our separate ways.”

Rav Josephy somehow addressed every one of the woman’s concerns, eloquently explaining why the Torah path was the only way of life for a Jew and teshuvah was a mandate for those who have strayed. The woman cried for the entire drasha and then expressed her commitment to Torah and Yiddishkeit to the speaker. Then she mentioned the short tefillah she had uttered that morning.

Rav Josephy was quite moved, but then shared with her the “rest of the story.” He described his condition that morning as being painfully ill. He had a high fever, could barely move, and was about to call to cancel his lecture. However, “an inner voice,” he related, “said to me: You may not give in.” The voice returned several times, so Rav Josephy washed his face, and surprisingly moved with ease and went to deliver his teshuvah drasha. When they compared times, Rav Josephy and the new baalas teshuvah discovered that at the exact moment the woman was asking for her sign, Rav Josephy was suddenly “cured.”

We almost never understand the ways of Hashem when they are happening. When Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem “Show me Your glory” (Shemos 33:18), Hashem replied, “When My glory passes by…you will see my back.” The Chasam Sofer explains that we can only understand Hashem’s ways in hindsight, and even then occasionally.

To me, it is far too soon to attempt to understand what happened at Meron just days ago. But Rav Meilech Biderman, somewhat prophetically I believe, writes in his sefer on Shavuos (Be’er Hachaim, page 506) that it is tragedies that bring us the closest to Hashem. Indeed, Mattan Torah was the highest point of our communal lives, just as the Eigel Hazohov was the lowest. But we need to reach deep inside of ourselves to assess what we can improve and change, both in light of Hashem’s love and His chastisement. Hashem showed us at Har Sinai what incredible heights we can reach so that even when we feel low and distraught, we will remember our past and the potential for greatness.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz teaches us an amazing lesson about how far Hashem is willing to go just to save someone from further downfall. He changed the order of creation, giving Bilam’s donkey the power of speech just to stop Bilam from any further descent into evil. This depraved man was already steeped in the worst of sin, but it was worth Hashem’s while, kevayachol, to perform miracles and have placed the miraculous into creation itself just to halt any new deterioration. This toward one of our most implacable enemies, who led Klal Yisrael into some of our own lowest moments.  Imagine, then, how Hashem yearns for each of us to return to Him and receive His Torah in kedusha and taharah.

Let us conclude with another wonderful story told by Rav Elkarif. The Gaon of Teplik, Rav Polansky, once sought out his neighbor in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Shloimka of Zvhill, to learn bechavrusah. They began with a sugya in Bava Basra and both enjoyed each other’s knowledge and devotion to learning. Suddenly, Rav Polansky grabbed his head and cried out, “Woe is to me. When I was a dayan in Teplik in Russia, I once ruled that a defendant owed money to the plaintiff. Now, through our learning, I realize that my ruling was incorrect and I owe the man money.” The rov quickly raised the sum needed and sent it off to Russia.

Some years later, a smiling Russian man knocked at the rov’s door with his amazing story. He had applied to go on aliyah to Eretz Yisroel, but the anti-Semitic Communist government had penalized him for his “disloyalty” to the Motherland and taken away his job and home. He was about to be sent to Siberia, when the government offered him a one-time opportunity to leave if he paid a certain impossible sum, especially since he had been unemployed for so long. However, miraculously, that day, an envelope arrived from Eretz Yisroel with the exact amount of money needed to pay his penalty and move his family to the Holy Land.

“Just think,” said the Tepliker Rov. “Hashem made sure that I would learn that sugya, realize my error, and make sure I sent the payment, so that a Jewish family would be saved both in gashmiyus and in ruchniyus.”

That is the kind of chizuk Hashem provides for us all the time, only we don’t know it. If we merit, then the yeshuah comes directly through Torah study, but even if not, Hashem sends us whatever we need because He so loves us. As Rav Chaim Kamiel taught us, it was worth Hashem’s effort, so to speak, to give us crowns and the glory of Mattan Torah so that we could always feel like the princes and royalty every one of us can be.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz demonstrated that even for Bilam, Hashem changed creation, so he would fall no further than necessary.

This is a time for us to consider Hashem’s great love for us in granting us His holy Torah. Although this year it comes at a time of severe mourning and pain, we must remember to incorporate that as well into our avodas Hashem and grow from the suffering and feelings of loss we have all felt.

If we will each just elevate ourselves a bit higher out of our bodily limitations, as Rav Moshe taught us, we can help the niftarim of Meron have an aliyah as well on this very memorable Mattan Torah of 5781.