Parshas Bamidbar-Shavuos 5782
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With the three day Yom Tov coming up, people are asking how we can use it to maximize our closeness to Hashem as opposed to I guess what some might say is a feeling of cabin fever; as if we’re locked up for a three days siege instead of a three day Yom Tov?
When a three day Yom Tov comes up, it’s a special privilege because in general we’re too busy. We’re too busy with unimportant things. And when a day of leisure comes, Yom Tov, it’s a day when you can finally think a little bit.
And therefore you should thank Hashem for each day, for each one. It’s a great privilege to have some spare time! We need the spare time!
Our trouble in life is that we’re too busy! The Mesilas Yesharim says that one of the biggest obstacles to perfection in this world is hatipul v’hatirdah, being too busy. We’re just too busy, too busy with everything. That’s the biggest obstacle. You hear that? Hatipul v’hatirdah. Of all the obstacles that stand in the way of a person making himself or herself more perfect in this world, the biggest one is the obstacle of being too busy.
And so we say, “Boruch Hashem! Three days of leisure one after the other! It’s mamesh a matanah min haShomayim, a gift from Hashem.” You’ll have time to think a little bit about what you heard here today or similar thoughts. And sometimes as a result of three days your entire life can change – your mind can be transformed into a different mind entirely.
I’ll tell you something. Once a man told a doctor, “I took the medicine you prescribed. It didn’t work.”
So the doctor said, “Take a bigger dose. Take more of the same.”
And therefore, one day, Shabbos, is valuable. One day of Yom Tov after Shabbos is even more valuable. But we need a bigger dose; more and more thoughts. Three days! Shabbos and then Yom Tov and then another day of Yom Tov! Boruch Hashem, He gave us three days! Three days to think!
What should a ben Torah today do to prepare for Matan Torah?
He should sit and learn. He should get into the habit of learning. That’s very important.
But there’s one more thing. He should make the bracha on the Torah with more kavanah. Because we know that this was a ta’anah, a complaint, against the Am Yisroel. עַל שֶׁלֹּא בָּרְכוּ בַּתּוֹרָה תְּחִלָּה – that they did not make a bracha before they learned Torah (Nedarim 81a). And the Ran says that what it means is that they didn’t say the bracha with enough kavanah; they did make the brachos before learning but they didn’t have enough appreciation. So therefore, every ben Torah – not only a ben Torah; a working boy too; every frum Jew, boy and girl, should think, ‘How lucky I am that we received the Torah.”
If you didn’t have the Torah, what would you be already? You’d be nothing. Torah transforms your life. And even though you’re a man who’s in business, the Torah transforms your life. A mother at home is a different mother because of the Torah. A Jewish home is an entirely different institution than any kind of a home just because of the Torah. The Torah changes everything in us.
And therefore the Torah is כִּי הֵם חַיֵּינוּ וְאֹרֶךְ יָמֵינוּ – it’s our life in this world, and also it’s our חַיֵּי עוֹלָם הַבָּא. The Torah is forever and ever; it’s this world and the next world. And so there’s no gift like the gift of Torah.
But if you’re asking about a ben Torah, so in addition to that, he should get busy learning the Torah as much as possible. We have to get into the habit of learning. The habit of learning is something you have to acquire. And you have to get a taste, a geshmak in learning. It should be sweet and delicious to you. וּמְתוּקִים מִדְּבַשׁ וְנֹפֶת צוּפִים – Torah is sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycombs. You should try to get the impression that you’re eating something delicious when you’re learning; as if the Gemara was printed on chocolate cake and as you’re chewing the sugya, you’re enjoying. “Ah! A geshmake sugya it is.” That’s how you should get a geshmak in learning. You can do that if you try it. If you know that’s the purpose, you can do it. It actually becomes מְתוּקִים מִדְּבַשׁ וְנֹפֶת צוּפִים.
So two things. Accustom yourselves to think about the great gift of the Torah. When we make the bracha on the Torah every morning, that’s a good time to practice up. Also, get a haggle, a practice in learning Gemara and learning all the time as much as possible. And try to get a taste for the sweetness of learning Gemara.
How does the Gemara know that yom hashishi means the sixth of Sivan? Isn’t it talking about the sixth day of creation?
The Gemara (Avoda Zarah 3a) says that the Torah is hinting to us that all of creation is dependent on the Am Yisroel accepting the Torah. That’s how the chachomim explain the possuk, וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי – And it was evening and it was morning; it was the sixth day. They took note of the fact that it doesn’t say yom shishi the way it says by all the other days, yom sheini, yom shlishi, yom revi’i. It says yom ha’shishi, the sixth day; a special sixth day. And the Gemara says there that it’s talking about Shavuos, the sixth of Sivan.
So we read the possuk like this: וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר – The creation of day and night, that means the creation of the world, you know when it was? יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי — It was on yom hashishi, on that sixth day of Sivan when the Am Yisroel accepted the Torah; that’s when the world was created. Because Matan Torah is the fulfillment of the creation of the world. If not for Matan Torah, the whole creation would have been a waste.
Now how does the Gemara know that? And the answer is it’s written in big characters all over the entire chumash. As follows.
Let’s say that you enter a house and you see on the walls a picture of the master of the house. A big picture. Then you see his diploma hanging on another wall. Then you see on another wall a framed testimonial that his local synagogue presented to him.
So you start thinking, “Probably this man is somebody important in this house.” At least he thinks he’s important. Because on all sides there are mementos to remind you of him. His personality is being displayed on all sides. Here is his big Morris chair where he sits in the evening. Here is his box of favorite cigars. The man is all over the place even though you don’t see him right now. Here are his slippers. Here is his favorite place where he sits by the television, where he munches let’s say. He munches peanuts or whatever it is. The man is all over the place. All you need is he should come in and show himself.
Now, when you look lehavdil at the Torah, what do you see in the Torah? You see one thing in the Torah, and that’s Torah. Wherever you look in the Torah, you see Torah. You see learning Torah. You see keeping the Torah. It’s reiterated again and again. If there’s anything conspicuous in the chumash it’s Torah.
Now, if the creation of the world was paramount in the Mind of Hakadosh Baruch Hu then that’s all we should talk about. Torah? Alright. You put it someplace in the corner. You mention it in passing. But the continents! That should be the main subject! Why shouldn’t there be a sefer, not Bereishis, not Shemos, not Vayikra, but a sefer Europe and Asia, a sefer North and South America, a sefer Africa? Let’s study geography. Or the chumash should talk about astronomy; this galaxy, this solar system. There’s so much to talk about in the world and they’re all wonders. It should talk about the nature of insects; the wonderful instincts you see in animals. There’s so much to speak about in flowers. There’s no end to the beauties and wonders of nature that demonstrate the Hand of Hakodosh Boruch Hu on all sides. It would bring you to a lot of emunah.
But all that valuable space is sacrificed and it’s all for Torah. Again and again, it says “Keep My laws,” “Study My laws.”
What do we see here? We see that that’s what the Torah is talking about. Not the creation of the world. And therefore it stands to reason whether you’ll interpret vayehi erev vayehi boker yom hashishi means the sixth day of creation or something else makes no difference. It’s as clear as if it had been there. Just like the man in the house, his pictures are all over the place, his things are all over the place and so we see that the man is demonstrating his personality.
And because the Torah demonstrates that everything depends on Torah so we understand that all of creation is dependent, is hanging, on the sixth of Sivan when the Am Yisroel accepted the Torah.
Why do we say Akdamus on Shavuos?
On Shavuos we received the Torah. Now, the Akdamus portrays how the nations of the world are proposing to us that we should go along with them and we’ll share together with them the greatness that they promise us. And we say to them, “No matter what you’ll give us, it’s nothing compared to the greatness that Hashem already gave us.”
There’s no greater happiness than Matan Torah. The greatest gift that Hashem can give, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָנוּ תּוֹרַת אֱמֶת – that’s the gift of all gifts.
Of course, one gift is more important. That’s the gift of life; that’s something else. But life and Torah is the same thing – Toras Chaim. You can’t learn Torah if you’re not alive. The gift of life and Torah, that’s the gift.
The nations have nothing to offer us. And even though they promised us the highest rewards for coming with them, it’s nothing at all compared to what we have.
And therefore, the Akdamus come to emphasize, what is the great happiness of Shavuos? The happiness is that Hakodosh Boruch Hu did for us what He never did for anybody else. That’s the biggest of all possible gifts that He could give. חַיֵּי עוֹלָם נָטַע בְּתוֹכֵנוּ. Because Torah means everlasting life. Torah means Olam Habo. חַיֵּי עוֹלָם נָטַע בְּתוֹכֵנוּ! It’s so important to realize what a happiness Torah is.
What are some thoughts that we should be having on Shavuos?
You have to know that in the yeshivos in Europe, up till not long ago, Shavuos was celebrated as the happiest day of the year – even more than Simchas Torah. It became wild on Shavuos in the yeshivos; a wild simchas haTorah. Why?Because they, the yeshiva men, understood best that אַשְּׁרֵנוּ מַה טוֹב חֶלְקֵנוּ – How fortunate we are to be able to enjoy the special privilege of the being the nation that received the Torah.
That’s the number one thought, that by receiving the Torah, first of all we all became Yisroel. Before Matan Torah even the Avos were called bnei Noach. Our nation became geirim at Sinai. The Gemara says that. We all became geirim at Sinai. We became the Am Yisroel, and once that happened then we were included in all the promises that Hakodosh Boruch Hu made to the Am Yisroel.
Included in those promises was that at Har Sinai everyone received a ticket. כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ לָהֶם חֵלֶק לְעוֹלָם הַבָּא – Every Jew is given a ticket to Olam Habo. Of course you could lose it. You could lose the ticket. It’s a big responsibility. If you have a precious ticket, you have to guard it at all times. You have to hold onto it. You can’t take your eyes off of it. Never to be meisiach da’as from this great privilege that you now possess forever and ever.
And that’s a foundation of being a Jew, to believe implicitly in that. Because included in guarding that ticket is that you have to believe be’emunah sheleima. A person has to believe in it. If you don’t believe in it then forget about it. You have to believe be’emunah sheleima that being a Yisroel gives you the right to Olam Habo.
Now, Avraham Avinu and the kadmonim before Matan Torah when they got Olam Habo, it was not because they were Yisroel; they earned it with a very great merit. Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, they earned it. They were very great people.
But after Matan Torah even if you’re not great, you’re holding that ticket. A plain Jew – as long as he doesn’t rebel against the Torah, as long as goes along with the derech haTorah, he is promised כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ לָהֶם חֵלֶק לְעוֹלָם הַבָּא. That’s why we say חַיֵּי עוֹלָם נָטַע בְּתוֹכֵנוּ. When You gave us the Torah, You planted everlasting life among us.
Now, isn’t that a happy thought? Nothing could be happier because Olam Habo, that’s the greatest happiness that even Hakodosh Boruch Hu could invent.
Now, some ask a kasha . How could I say that? Hashem can’t make a greater happiness than Olam Habo? And the answer is He can’t make anything greater than Himself. And Olam Habo is נֶהֱנֶה מִזִּיו הַשְּׁכִינָה; you’re enjoying looking at the splendor of the Shechinah. And so Olam Habo, that’s the greatest splendor there is.
Right now a generation of tzaddikim are sitting and looking at the Shechinah, and they’re so full of joy. If we had the ability to see for one minute, our nerves, we would be so excited that we would fall apart. Our blood vessels would burst with excitement. That’s why לֹא יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם וָחָי, you can’t see Hashem while you’re alive. You’ll burst. It’s a tremendous excitement! And the longer you sit there, the greater the excitement; the more and more is the pleasure.
And when the Torah was given we are promised, we’re given a guarantee, כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, without any exception. Every one of us was given a ticket: “You are hereby entitled to Olam Habo.” All the great happiness with all the pleasures, unlimited and forever and ever and ever is yours because you received the Torah and you’re now an entitled Yisroel.
The happiness of Olam Habothat our forefathers are now enjoying is unimaginable; it’s infinite. And we achieved all that on Shavuos when we received the Torah and became the Am Yisroel. So how can we not be overwhelmed with everlasting happiness when we celebrate Shavuos?! בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר בָּנוּ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים – We are so happy, so grateful to You, Hashem, that forever and ever You put us on a level far above the rest of the world.
And therefore the first obligation of a Jew on Shavuos is to be full of joy that he has been included in the Klal Yisroel by means of what occurred at Har Sinai when we accepted the Torah. That’s pashut shebepashut. There are no chiddushim here, no drashos. That’s the happiness of Shavuos.
What did Klal Yisroel do in the midbar to prepare for Matan Torah?
What did they do to prepare for Matan Torah? So we know Hakodosh Boruch Hu told Moshe Rabeinu beforehand what to say to the people. כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – So shall you say to the House of Yaakov and tell the sons of Yisroel (Shemos 19:3).
What did He say? וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים – “You, the whole nation, will be for Me a special treasure from all the nations” (Shemos 19:5). “I’m going to do something now,” said Hashem, “that’s going to change the nature of the entire people. The whole Klal Yisroel will become different now. If you will stand at Har Sinai and you say, ‘Na’aseh v’nishma; yes, Hashem, we accept You forever and ever,’ then I’m going to make you into an Am Segulah, an exceptional type of people.”
Now, Am Segulah doesn’t merely mean “I’m going to give you semichah; I’m going to give you a rabbinical certificate to hang on the wall and you’ll be honored just by the title.” No; it’s much more than that. Segulah means that your nature is going to change. Your character will be entirely metamorphosed and you’ll become an entirely different type of people. At Har Sinai not only did we adopt certain attitudes and promise to remain faithful to them, but we became an entirely different people than we were before.
That’s what Hashem said then: וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ – And you will be for Me a Kingdom of Kohanim and a Holy Nation (ibid. 6). אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – Take these words and tell it to the Bnei Yisroel” (Shemos 19:6). “Make sure the people understand what I’m saying now very well,” Hashem said to Moshe Rabeinu. Because it wasn’t just a promise of reward for accepting the Torah – it was being proposed as part of the acceptance, part of Kabolas Hatorah.
And you can be sure that Moshe Rabeinu was masbir to them, he explained to them what it means to be a kingdom of priests. That’s how they prepared. Moshe told them Mamleches Kohanim means we’re all kohanim to serve Hashem. That’s your job in this lifetime. Your entire history should be like a kohen, someone who’s devoted to serving Hashem.
Now, I wasn’t present. I could only guess some things, but that’s the idea that he spoke to them, about the greatness of choosing to accept the Torah and the function in the world as a nation to serve Hashem.
וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ – and when you accept the Torah, you’ll be a holy nation. Moshe spoke at length; he gave them a peirush on that. How accepting the Torah means becoming a holy nation, a nation that strives for perfection.
Why was the mountain that we received the Torah on, called Har Sinai?
Now, it’s called Har Sinai because that’s its name. But the Gemara says that there’s a hint here to something more; Sinai is connected to the word sinah. Sinah means hatred. The Gemara (Shabbos 89a) says, why is it called Sinai? שֶׁיָּרְדָה שִׂנְאָה לְעוֹלָם – a hatred came down on the world. Unfortunately a number of people misinterpret this. They say that it means when the Torah was given, a hatred against Jews developed in the world, antisemitism. But that’s not what the ma’amar is saying. Whether it’s true or not, I can’t tell you, but that’s not what the ma’amar is saying.
Rashi explains like this: When the Torah was given, a hatred came down against the nations. שֶׁיָּרְדָה שִׂנְאָה לְעוֹלָם means Hashem became angry at the nations of the world. That’s the plain meaning.
I’m going to take some time now to explain that because there’s a lot of confusion about this subject. At Matan Torah, a big change took place. Up until Matan Torah, all the nations were equal. Once upon a time, the whole world was one. The gentiles and the family of the Avos were all one. That’s why, Avraham Avinu, when he wanted to practice hospitality and he saw people coming whom he suspected of being idolaters, people that worshiped even the dust of their feet, nevertheless, there was no difference to him. He ran out to greet them. He prostrated himself on the ground. He begged them to eat with him and to rest with him. He went to all the limits that he could to show them hospitality.
But after Matan Torah, we don’t find such a thing. After the Torah was given, no more. Yes, to fellow Jews, yes; but not to others. Yes, you should be polite and kind to everybody but there’s a big difference now, a tremendous difference, between the Am Yisroel and the Umos Ha’olam.
That’s why we have certain dinim in the Torah. לֹא תִחָנֵם: לֹא תִּתֵּן לָהֶם מַתְּנַת חִנָּם (Avodah Zarah 20a). You’re limited in your dealings with the gentiles because they lost out. Up until Matan Torah, all the nations were in Hashem’s good graces but once we accepted the Torah, no more. At that time, יָּרְדָה שִׂנְאָה לְעוֹלָם – a sinah went down to the world. And from now on, you’ll never find Moshe Rabeinu running out of his tent and bowing down and slaughtering oxen for an Amoni or Emori or anybody else. Nothing doing. It’s all over! “Too late,” we say to the nations of the world. “You had your opportunity. Why didn’t you come and try to be included in the opportunity of accepting the Torah?! You had your test and you failed the test.”
Should I stay up on Shavuos night?
There’s no question that it’s a big zechus to stay up on Shavuos night. Now, some people however are ill, they’re physically weak, so I’m not telling you what to do. But if you’re capable, there’s no reason why not because it’s a demonstration of what we said before – for an important event it pays to be up all night.
There was one time when I was in Williamsburg – the old Satmerer Rav was still alive then. So I went in to see him because I was going to do something, a job, for him. I was the one who composed the advertisement against the Zionists that was placed in the New York Times – I wrote it for the Satmerer Rav. So I went in to him and he gave me a bracha that I should succeed. And I was up all night writing that article. Over and over again, I worked on it. All night I was up because it was important!
Now, when you’re going to accept the Torah and you know how important it is, so you stay up all night. Just like they stayed up that night at Har Sinai. That’s our tradition, that they were up all night. (See Eben Ezra Shemos 19:11, Moed L’kol Chai [Palagi] 8:17). They couldn’t sleep; they didn’t want to sleep, they were so excited.
Now, the truth is that you do want to sleep, but l’zeicher, to remember what our forefathers did, we act as if we are excited to stay up all night.
Now, we have to know that everything in the halacha is with a grain of salt, you may need some personal guidance vu ein vu ois. It’s not a mitzvah min haTorah to stay up. It’s not even a takanas chachomim. It’s a minhag of the Am Yisroel. And therefore, if you have any chashoshos, any suspicions, about your health, so consult somebody. And if he’ll tell you it’s better you should sleep, so you go to sleep. But otherwise there’s no question that Klal Yisroel is up that night and it makes a tremendous impression on them. They feel like they’re walking in the footsteps of our fathers who prepared in that manner by staying up all night waiting for that great day of Kabolas HaTorah.
How do we know that our nation stood at Har Sinai and got the Torah?
A Rosh Yeshiva was once talking to a group of boys. It was in America. A Rosh Yeshiva from Europe was talking to American boys. I was there; I was listening. So one of the American boys asked, “How can we prove what happened in the days of old, that we stood at Har Sinai? What’s the proof?”
So the Rosh Yeshiva said, “Do you believe in George Washington?”
The boy said, “Yes.”
“Did you see him?”
“No, I never saw him.”
“Did you see anybody who saw him?”
“No. That also not.”
How many people saw George Washington when he was alive? Maybe 10,000 people at most. A million people for sure didn’t see him. When George Washington was alive, nobody in Poland knew about him. Nobody in Africa knew about him. Even today, if you go to Africa, most people don’t know about him. In America they talk about him a little bit, but in other countries, who knows about George Washington?
Now the Rambam (Yesodei Hatorah ch. 8) explains that when the Torah was given, it was no secret; like it states לֹא מֵרֹאשׁ בַּסֵּתֶר דִּבַּרְתִּי – From the beginning I did not speak to you in secret (Yeshaya 48:16). The entire Jewish nation witnessed the giving of the Torah. How many people were present at Har Sinai? At least two million witnessed it.
That’s a very important point because it’s a claim that is unequaled in the claims of all the nations. All the religions have big claims, they make big promises, and they tell about big incidents, but never will you find a claim that Hakodosh Boruch Hu appeared to the entire nation and spoke to them. Because even the biggest falsifier has limits to what he can claim.
Nobody in the world, no nation had ever claimed that their entire nation had heard the voice of their deity speaking to them. Nobody ever said that. At least let them claim that! No, that’s too much for them to claim, because people will say, “You know it’s not so.”
Muhammad never claimed that a deity appeared to a multitude of Arabs. At best, some miracles are claimed but they were not performed—even according to his statement—in the presence of a great multitude. Yeshu never claimed, or his disciples never claimed, that Hakodosh Baruch Hu spoke to him in the presence of a multitude, and when his followers wanted authority for their claims, they based them all on statements in the Hebrew scriptures.
And yet, all the Mohammadans believe that there was a Matan Torah, that Hashem gave the Torah at Har Sinai. There’s no question about it. It’s clear and open in the Koran. All the Christians believe that Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish nation at Har Sinai. It’s in the New Testament openly; they all believe in it. So the whole civilized world believes that the Torah was given to us. The whole civilized world admits it!
The only case in history that such a claim is made is by the Jewish nation because it happened only once in history. And we’ve been speaking about it and celebrating it and living it since that great day.
Yetzias Mitzrayim we have a mitzvah to remember, to mention it twice a day, by day and by night, and then on Pesach we even have a special night dedicated to it. If Matan Torah is so important, why does it get only a short two day Yom Tov?
The answer is that here the mitzvah is not only in the morning and night, it’s in between the morning and night too. A Jew must be always cognizant of Ma’amad Har Sinai; he must be aware of Matan Torah at all times. Every day of his life and all day long.
There’s a possuk like this: הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמֹר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאֹד – Be on guard and watch yourself very much. You hear that? “Be very much on guard.” What’s this all about? פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ – lest you will forget what you saw with your eyes, יוֹם אֲשֶׁר עָמַדְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ בְּחֹרֵב – the day that you stood before Hashem at Chorev. It means always; never to forget that.
You’ll say, “Well, that’s a very big demand to make.” So I’ll tell you that it’s like saying never forget that you’re a Jew. What does a Jew mean? A Jew means Kabolas HaTorah. It’s like saying that when you wake up in the morning, when you go out in the street, when you’re in business, when you’re in yeshiva, when you’re with your family, when you’re asleep, you have to be a Jew all the time. That you understand, right? Well, being a Jew means only one thing; remember Kabolas HaTorah. A Jew doesn’t mean anything else except Kabolas HaTorah. And that, you should never forget.
And not only to never forget about it, but to speak about it too. That’s the mitzvah of the Torah. הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמֹר נַפְשְׁךָ מְאֹד פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח… וְהוֹדַעְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְלִבְנֵי בָנֶיךָ – you should make it known to your children. Speak to your children and to your grandchildren.
So when you’re an old man and your grandchildren come to your house, say, “Kinderlach, you know what happened on Shavuos? We all were assembled at Har Sinai and we heard a voice.”
The children say, “What kind of voice was it?”
“Kinderlach, I cannot tell you exactly. But it was a sweet and dreadful voice. It was so sweet that נַפְשִׁי יָצְאָה בְדַבְּרוֹ, our souls went out when He spoke (Shir Hashirim 5:6, Shabbos 88b). We all fell down on the floor when we heard that voice. Malachim had to come and revive us! Ooh, was that an experience.” Tell that to the children.
It’s a mitzvah to think about standing at Har Sinai. Once in history, at least two million people were standing in front of Har Sinai and they heard the Voice of Hashem. נַפְשִׁי יָצְאָה בְדַבְּרוֹ – when He spoke, they fainted from happiness. They were delirious. They fell down on the floor in happiness. They had to be revived. They got up; they were groggy, they were intoxicated with happiness. נַפְשִׁי יָצְאָה בְדַבְּרוֹ.
הֲשָׁמַע עָם קוֹל אֱלֹקִים – Was there ever such a thing that a nation should hear such a sweet and dreadful voice?! (ibid. 4:33). They fainted; they died and had to be revived! It was a tremendous excitement, an unbearable experience; and yet it was the most happy and joyous experience ever. You have to speak about that to your children more than you speak about anything else.
About Matan Torah the Rambam in his Iggeres Taiman says, גַּדְּלֵהוּ עַל כָּל גְּדוּלָה – Make this the most important of all great things to speak about. You have to speak about Matan Torah. Speak to your wife about Matan Torah. She should speak to the children about Matan Torah. Get excited about it. Make that bigger than the biggest things. Don’t get excited over small things. Here, people are getting excited, let’s say, over the news of a dybuk in Eretz Yisroel, about water coming out of a rock, about a fish that talks.
People’s minds are on small things. What’s so important? What difference does it make? This is what is important, thinking about Har Sinai!
“I don’t forget about it,” you’ll say. “Of course, I wouldn’t forget about Matan Torah.” But you’re not remembering it.
So why not get busy now, on Shavuos? You’re walking around in the street and you’re trying to recall Ma’amad Har Sinai, how once in history the Jewish nation all stood together – the entire Jewish nation! They weren’t scattered over the world! All together in one place! And they all swore — mushba v’oimed mei’Har Sinai — they swore, “We’re going to keep the Torah.” It was a moment of the greatest excitement! And even Hakodosh Boruch Hu was excited kavyachol. He said, “מִֽי יִתֵּן וְהָיָה לְבָבָם זֶה לָהֶם לְיִרְאָה אֹתִי… כָּל הַיָּמִים – If only this kind of heart that they have today would that would it be forever! Hashem was excited at that great moment!
And therefore as much as possible we have to keep that scene in our minds. The Rambam says that every Jew should make that the greatest of all things to talk about. If you can’t find somebody to talk to, think about it. That glorious one day in history! הֲשָׁמַע עָם קוֹל אֱלֹקִים – Did a nation ever hear the Voice of Hashem כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְתָּ אַתָּה – like you did hear. A glorious experience! Never before or after!
When we lain Rus on Shavuos what’s one of the lessons we should learn from that story?
We learn how great is the middah of loyalty. Here’s a queer situation. There’s a Jewish woman, Naomi, whose husband decided to go away from Eretz Yehuda because there was a famine. And so they went to Eretz Moav to wait until the famine would end in Eretz Yehuda.
In the meantime, the husband died and you know, when the father dies, it’s like a sefer where one of the covers falls off. The cover falls off, so the pages start falling out too. So now his two sons took gentile wives.
And finally Hakodosh Boruch Hu took away the two sons because they married gentile women and they died and now she was left alone with those two women.
Then she heard that in Eretz Yehuda כִּי פָקַד ה’ אֶת עַמּוֹ – that Hashem had pity on His people, לָתֵת לָהֶם לָחֶם – He gave them food once more (1:6). So she said, “I’m going back to Yehuda.”
Everybody knows the story, how these two young women were so much in love with her that they said, “We’re going with you.” And they both set out together to join her.
And she said, “Please, don’t go with me. Stay here. It won’t be good for you. You’ll be strangers. Go back to your people, to your father and mother. Stay here in Moav.”
But they didn’t want to listen. And as they walked on the road, Naomi was begging them to go back and she was arguing with them. You can picture that.
Nobody was present except Hakodosh Boruch Hu and He was watching the proceedings. These three lonely women were on the country road, and Hakodosh Boruch Hu was listening. And finally Orpah broke down and she wept and she kissed Naomi and she turned back to Midyan.
Then Naomi turned to Rus and said, “Look what the other one did. You do the same. Go back home.”
And Rus said, “Nothing doing. Nothing doing!”
And Naomi starts begging her. Rus says, “Nothing doing! אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ – wherever you go I’m going to go, בַּאֲשֶׁר תָּמוּתִי אָמוּת – I’ll die wherever you die, עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי – your people will be my people!”
When Hakodosh Boruch Hu saw that Rus was exercising her free will, her bechirah in the middah of ne’emanus, of emunah, loyalty, that she wanted to stay together with Naomi no matter what, so Hakodosh Boruch Hu pushed her tongue to say one more thing. And she added, “וֵאלֹקַיִךְ אֱלֹקָי – Your G-d is my G-d.” Ooh wah! That’s already something else! That was siyata diShmaya. Hashem said, “I’m going to give you a gift,” and her tongue said these words. That was Hashem’s gift to Rus, her schar for being a ne’eman, for being loyal.
And we know what happened. When Moshiach will come, he won’t deny that he came from his Bubbeh Rus.
And it’s only because of the middah of loyalty that she was zocheh to it. That’s a big lesson for us, that Hashem loves those who are loyal. That’s why we say those words in the Akdamos on Shavuos: בְּרַם בְּאֶמְתָנוּתָא – but because of our emunah. Hakodosh Boruch Hu despite everything, because of our emunah, that’s why sof kol sof He’s going to give us all the things. He’s describing Olam Habo, the happiness of the tzaddikim in Olam Habo, and he says, בְּרַם בְּאֶמְתָנוּתָא – it’s all because of emunah, תְּקוֹף הֵמָנוּתָא – because of the strength of their loyalty.
We have to know that this is the middah because of which the Am Yisroel is a nation forever. We belong to Hashem forever. וְאַתֶּם הַדְּבֵקִים בַּה’ אֱלֹקֵיכֶם – because you’re loyal to Me, because you’ll stick to Me, חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם הַיּוֹם – you’ll be forever. It’s a covenant, a bris Hashem made. If you’re daveik in me, then just as I am forever, then you’ll be forever too. Because of your loyalty to Me, because you never forget what happened that day at Har Sinai when you became My people forever, that’s why you will all be with Me forever – in this world and the next.
Now that we finished counting the Omer and we had Shavuos and we already received the Torah, so what should be the focus of our service of Hashem from after Shavuos until Rosh Hashana?
Now rabosai, I’m going to tell you something that I always say: The happiest season of the year is the summertime; yes, the good old summertime. There’s nothing like the days of summer and so, let’s learn to enjoy life right now.
The summertime is a pleasure! What a great blessing it is! Look how much there is to enjoy in the summertime. You’re getting vitamins free of charge. The sun is a vitamin dispensary. Walk out in the street and the sun is showering vitamins on you. In the wintertime there are clouds and you don’t always get the vitamins you need. Sometimes you have to take extra vitamin pills. But in the summertime, you get all you want. And so, boruch Hashem for the summer.
When you walk out in the street, don’t complain, “Oh, it’s a hot day.” Don’t be a fool. Say, “Thank You Hashem for the heat!” Hakodosh Boruch Hu is giving you so much energy from the sun and it’s free of charge. Millions of tons of horsepower energy are pouring onto this earth and it’s causing the earth to become enriched and the fruits to develop. In the summertime fruits are plentiful. The tasty apples are coming! Ah! Red apples and luscious cherries and plums and peaches! They’re plentiful in the summer and the prices go down in all the fruit stores. Now you’re living!
So, this person asks, “What’s the service of Hashem from Shavuos until Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur?” The service is singing to Hashem! Practice singing to Hashem! What do you think was the avodas Hashem that we were mekabel when we accepted the Torah on Har Sinai? The most important service of Hashem is gratitude to Hashem!
So now you know! From Shavuos until Rosh Hashanah that’s our avodah; we have to get busy singing and thanking Hashem for the manifold benefits He’s giving to us. That’s the very great service in the summertime. It doesn’t mean you have to stop learning. We can continue learning and doing Torah and mitzvos. Nevertheless, the avodah of gratitude for the summertime – the happiness of the summertime and thankfulness for the summertime – that’s a very important avodah to be busy with after Kabolas HaTorah.
“Hi Miram Chana!” said Chayala as the girls walked into their classroom. “Wanna come over after school?”
“Thanks, but maybe another time,” Miram Chana said warmly. “We are going to my Bubby’s house today.”
“Oooh how fun!” said Batsheva, “What are you going to do?”
“Um… I dunno…” Miram Chana said. “Probably just sit in her living room and talk.”
“But she’s your Bubby!” protested Batsheva. “She should do something fun with you guys!”
“My Bubby loves to dance!” said Blima, who was sitting nearby. “When we come over she puts on music and we all dance together in her living room. It’s so fun!”
“My Bubby took us to the ocean and we rented a boat and spent the day on the water,” said Chayala. “You should do that! Or rock climbing – that’s what we’re doing next week!”
“Girls,” said Miram Chana, “my Bubby is 96 years old, bli ayin hora. She can’t take us boating, or rock climbing, or even dance with us in her living room. She can barely walk, even with her walker and cane. When we visit her, we usually just sit in the living room. We talk and she tells us stories.”
The classroom got very quiet. “Oh, I didn’t know that. I’m sorry,” said Chayala, as the teacher walked into the classroom and the girls quickly took their seats.
“Miram Chana! Don’t sit like that”, said Bubby. “It’s not good for your posture. Look at how Genendy and Nechy are sitting. It’s much healthier to sit straight like them.”
“Oh, sorry,” said Miram Chana, straightening herself in her chair.
“Don’t apologize to me!” Bubby said. “It’s for your own good! And why aren’t you eating any of my oatmeal raisin cookies? They’re full of wonderful nutrients!”
Miram Chana took a cookie from the plate on the coffee table, and quickly mumbled a brocha before taking a bite.
“Miram Chana!” said Bubby. “How can you just mumble a brocha like that? Did you even stop for a second to appreciate that Hashem gave you these wonderful cookies?”
“Sorry,” Miram Chana apologized again.
Miram Chana ate her cookie in silence as her two sisters excitedly chatted with Bubby about school and asked her questions about the “olden days”.
“Miram Chana,” said Bubby suddenly after a few minutes. “Why are you so glum? Where is that beautiful smile of yours?”
“Um… it’s kind of hard to explain,” Miram Chana said.
“Nonsense,” said Bubby. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”
Miram Chana didn’t know how to explain what was bothering her without making Bubby feel bad, so she started by talking about what Chayala had said about her boating trip with her Bubby.
“Ah,” Bubby said. “I see what’s going on. You want a young, energetic Bubby like your friends have. You wish I would take you on a boat, or maybe sky-diving or even jump off a cliff into a river with you?”
Miram Chana smiled as Bubby went on.
“I know sitting here is not as exciting as it must be for your friends to go running around with their Bubbies. But let me tell you why it’s actually even better to have an old, wrinkled Bubby like me.”
“Oh Bubby,” Miram Chana said kindly. “You’re not old and wrinkled.”
“Nonsense!” Bubby said. “Why just yesterday I was looking everywhere for my false teeth until I finally found them stuck between the wrinkles in my face!”
Miram Chana laughed at Bubby’s joke as Bubby continued.
“In this week’s parsha Hashem says ‘וְהָיוּ לִי הַלְוִיִּם – and the Levi’im will be Mine’. And do you know what Rav Avigdor Miller says about this possuk? He says that the reason the Levi’im are so special is because Levi lived longer than all of the rest of his brothers – he lived 137 years.
After all of the other Shevatim were niftar, Shevet Levi still had their Great-Zaidy to teach them how to live. This is why Shevet Levi never got involved with any of the bad things in Mitzrayim. And this is why Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam came out of Shevet Levi. Because when you have an old Zaidy or Bubby to teach you what to do, you are zoche to live a better life in this world and the Next World.
“So I may not be able to take you boating or dance with you, but I have the wisdom of many years that you can learn from and become better Ovdei Hashem as a result.”
Miram Chana smiled. After all, Totty and Mommy took them on many fun trips – but having an old Bubby was something she had that none of her friends had!
Takeaway: The earlier generations are closer to Har Sinai and it is a privilege to be connected with them. We should try to be around our Zaidies and Bubbies as much as we can.