Parshas Va’eschanan – Remembering Har Sinai and Remembering Hashem

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פרשת ואתחנן

In the Parsha that we read this week, the עם ישראל, after witnessing that great spectacle of Hashem revealing Himself to us on Har Sinai, receive a stern warning: רק השמר לך ושמר נפשך מאד פן תשכח את הדברים אשר ראו עיניך ופן יסורו מלבבך כל ימי חייך והודעתם לבניך ולבני בניך יום אשר עמדת לפני ד׳ אלוקיך בחרב. “Only beware for yourself and guard yourself exceedingly lest you forget the things that your eyes saw [at Har Sinai] and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And you should make known to your children and to your children’s children the day when you stood before Hashem your G-d at Chorev” (Dvarim 4:9-10). So are the words of הקדוש ברוך הוא when he commands us to remember, more than remember, to internalize and to inscribe on our hearts, the מעמד הר סיני forever and ever.

The Rambam, in his famous letter to the Jewish community in Teman explains further: “You should raise your children with the thoughts of this great spectacle, and you should narrate its greatness in the presence of congregations and gatherings; for this is the pillar on which the Faith stands, and it is the proof that leads to the truth. You should elevate the experience at Har Sinai above all great matters, just as הקדוש ברוך הוא did when He said: ‘Inquire of the earliest days that were before you, from the day that G-d created man, from one end of the heavens to the other, was there ever anything like this great event…Did any nation hear the voice of G-d speak to them from the midst of fire as you heard?’ (4:32-33).”

Notwithstanding all the great miracles during our forty year sojourn in the Wilderness, the day of the giving of the Torah towers over all the episodes in the world’s history because of the supreme experience of hearing the voice of Hashem and experiencing an awareness of His greatness that has never been surpassed in history. This greatest day in the history of the world deserves our greatest attention. That earth-shaking experience – literally earth-shaking – when our ancestors heard the voice of Hashem on that glorious day, should invigorate us, all the days of our lives. The knowledge and awareness that Hashem spoke directly to us should be utilized as a catalyst for our עבודת ה׳ in all areas. Every mitzvah, every Torah principle, every thought that you think of in service of Hashem, traces itself back to that great day when our bond with Hashem was cemented forever. The generation that left Mitzraim was chosen for the purpose of serving as eye-witnesses who would testify to all the generations that followed, and it became their duty to testify to their posterity and to relate what they had seen with their own eyes. And we, the faithful descendants, continue to bring that great day to life for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren. The sound of Hashem’s voice rings in our ears today and drowns out all the empty clamor of the nations – the atheists and the falsifiers.

Now, you know that here we like to speak on a practical level. We like to speak words and ideas that we can translate into service of Hashem. So, let us ask, what is the function of remembering this great day? What are the practical ramifications in our daily lives of always being aware of מעמד הר סיני?

And the answer comes a few פסוקים further on: אתה הראת לדעת כי ד׳ הוא האלוקים…וידעת היום והשבת אל לבבך כי ד׳ הוא האלוקים. “You have been made to see in order to know that Hashem is G-d…And you should know today, and you should lay it in your heart [i.e. mind] that Hashem is G-d” (4:35,39).

Hashem says that we should lay on our heart this fundamental principle of being aware of Hashem as the one G-d of the Universe. And this means that we are enjoined to impress upon our hearts all the fundamental Torah ideals that are included in recognizing that Hashem is our G-d. Hashem is telling us in this פסוק that we are expected to take all the ideals of the Torah, the ideals that are founded on the grand event of מעמד הר סיני, and engrave them on our hearts.

However, in order to understand what Hashem wants from us, we’re going to have to first understand what the word לב, heart, means in this פסוק. What does Hashem require of us when he says that we must place these fundamental truths onto our “hearts”? Is it just some poetic expression and form of speech? No, absolutely not. It is a fundamental requirement that we must understand very well in order to succeed in our life’s purpose.

We have already explained here many times that the word לב in לשון קודש actually refers to the mind, to a person’s thoughts. Why is that? Why do we say “heart” if we mean thoughts?

And the answer is this. The language of the Torah is not a bluff language. It’s honest. Now, when a person thinks with his mind, but he’s not really interested in it, that’s not the מחשבה that Hashem desires. Hashem wants you to be excited over it. That’s when it turns into a מחשבה. Your heart starts beating. When you’re really interested in something, when a thought really interests you, your heart starts beating stronger. When it’s more than just a superficial מחשבה, your heart starts beating quicker because your emotions are being awakened as well. It’s through the heartbeat, the emotions, that you can find out if someone is really interested in the subject.

So when Hashem tells us that we must lay these fundamental Torah principles onto our hearts, He is telling us that we have to take these ideas, these thoughts of מעמד הר סיני, of יציאת מצרים and of Hashem Echad, of closeness to Hashem being our sole purpose in life, and make them more than just a general and pale idea in our minds. How many years will we slumber through life, with the same superficial Torah-thoughts in our minds? In this פסוק, Hashem is demanding the mobilization of our complete thinking process, for the singular purpose of becoming aware of Hashem. “Lay it on your heart that Hashem is your G-d.”

So you’re thinking, “I know that Hashem is my G-d. Why is Rabbi Miller speaking about such simple matters? I’ve know that since I was a small child.” And therein lies the problem that we will be speaking about now. We are still relying on the thoughts and ideas that we acquired as young children. But here, Hashem is demanding a mind that is completely dedicated to Him at all times. So let us get started on fulfilling what Hashem really wants from us in these words והשבת אל לבבך.

When Rabeinu Yonah (Sha’arei Teshuva 3:17) discusses this mitzvah of והשבת אל לבבך he refers to it as “the high merit of thinking about the greatness of Hashem,” and he quotes from Tehillim (14:2): “Hashem looks down from the heavens upon the sons of men to see if there is some wise one that inquires concerning G-d.” Hashem is looking down at us at this moment to see if we are thinking and contemplating that ד׳ הוא האלוקים. Although the בני ישראל declare the greatness of Hashem constantly in their prayers, blessings and even in their daily speech, Rabeinu Yonah explains that this mitzvah is specifically regarding the לב, the mind. To place these ideas into our minds, to engrave them on our personalities, is what Hashem demands here. And this requires constant and consistent study and meditation of these ideas.

Chazal tell us that רחמנא ליבא בעי. The Merciful One requires the heart” (Sanhedrin 106b), meaning our mind and our thoughts. Indeed Hashem requires deeds and sometimes words. We, the loyal Nation of Hashem, spend our lives fulfilling the actions required of us and calling out to Hashem in prayer and thanksgiving. But even these deeds and words are only an expression of our will and thoughts. And these expressions are often too superficial in and of themselves. Hashem desires that we should intensify our will and our thoughts. רחמנא ליבא בעי. He wants the consistency and intensity of out thoughts. And we intensify them by the application of our minds. Through constant repetition of the most important foundations of our service to Hashem we achieve this intensity of thought and fulfill והשבת אל לבבך. And that is what Hashem truly desires from us: רחמנא ליבא בעי – “Hashem desires our thoughts.”

And there’s another fundamental reason why your thoughts are so important. Chazal tell us (Makos 24a) that Michah came and established for us three pillars of service of Hashem. הגיד לך אדם מה טוב ומה ד׳ דורש ממך, – I tell you Oh man, what is good and what Hashem demands of you – כי אם עשות משפט, – only that you should do justice, ואהבת חסד, – and the love of kindliness, and the third pillar, והצנע לכת עם אלוקיך, – You should walk secretly with Hashem.

And this fundamental pillar of walking secretly with Hashem is what we have been discussing. When one fills his mind with thoughts of Hashem – while he eats, while he works, while he drives, while he walks and even while he talks – he is walking secretly with Hashem. When you are thinking about Hashem, even though you may even be walking amongst a big crowd of people, but you are alone with Hashem in your mind. And by doing so, you are establishing for yourself one of the three pillars that your service of Hashem should stand upon. Whatever thoughts of Hashem you are thinking, just the fact itself that you are actively choosing to think about Him, to the exclusion of everything else, is a fulfillment of והשבת אל לבבך כי ד׳ הוא האלוקים. And in one important respect, Micha’s third pillar of עבודת ד׳, the ideal of keeping Hashem in your thoughts always, is superior to the others. And that is because serving Hashem in your thoughts is not apparent to others and is therefore most sincere. When thinking in matters of service of Hashem, you walk in secret with Hashem without any intention of gaining favor in the eyes of men. And therefore, this effort to think about Hashem always, to acquire a deeper understanding of Hashem’s ways, to remind yourself of the benefits which He bestows upon us, and of our duties towards Him, comprises one of the three chief forms of service of Hashem.

It is not enough though, to merely recognize the importance of serving Hashem with your thoughts. It’s a first step, but you must get busy fulfilling this important aspect of עבודת ד׳. Pushing it off till tomorrow means pushing it off till next week. And pushing it off till next week, means pushing it off forever. And then you’ll remain the nobody that you are now, חלילה. You will have to start sometime and there’s no better time than now.

Now, I’m not even telling you that you have to find a quiet and secluded place to meditate on these important thoughts. Although that would be wonderful – you can reach the heights of greatness by being in seclusion with nobody but Hashem – I’m telling you now about how to fulfill והשבת אל לבבך and how to walk secretly with Hashem, without changing your daily routine at all. A person’s thoughts are wandering all day long. Even during our davening we are lucky if we are thinking about Hashem. All the more so during our daily activities. While we eat, while we walk down the avenue, while we work and while we speak with others, we often forget about Hashem completely. A person can begin training himself to think thoughts of Hashem all day long, if he would be willing to put in some effort. And there are an endless amount of things to think about. The opportunities are endless. I mentioned in the beginning of the lecture that the Rambam writes that one must always be thinking about the great event, the great spectacle, of מעמד הר סיני. That great day when we, as a Nation, heard the voice of Hashem speaking to us, should be forefront in our minds. Have you ever spent even two minutes reliving this great event in your thoughts? The electrifying event of immense awe and intense excitement, will never be surpassed. The loud booms of thunder and the flaming mountain accompanying the powerful voice of Hashem. The Rambam says that you should “make this event greater in your mind than all other great events.” And that can only be accomplished with your thoughts.

And thinking of מעמד הר סיני is only one example of the myriad of thoughts that you should be filling your mind with, in order to fulfill the commandment of והשבת אל לבבך כי ד׳ הוא האלוקים. While the service of Hashem through deeds and words is limited according to the opportunities that we encounter, the service of Hashem by use of our thoughts is an unlimited opportunity to gain perfection. One must think about loving Hashem and about His benevolence and wisdom if he wishes to arrive at true love of Hashem. Do you think that you have fulfilled your requirement to love Hashem by just saying the words ואהבת את ה׳ אלוקיך during קריאת שמע. A nechtiger tug! That’s not love of Hashem. And to fear Hashem? Fear of Hashem requires thought as well. And it won’t come on its own.

You will have to train yourself systematically to a program of thinking thoughts of Hashem. While walking down this block, I will think only about the kindness of Hashem. My heart is pumping. I’m so thankful to You for my healthy heart. And my feet are transporting me from place to place effortlessly. I’m so grateful to You Hashem that I’m not imprisoned in a wheelchair. If you would sincerely think about these ideas you would go meshuga from happiness! And that would be a fulfillment of והשבת אל לבבך.

And the next block, you move on to other thoughts of Hashem. Thoughts of remembering all of His laws. Of loving your fellow Jew. Or remembering all of His miracles. Thinking about the בית המקדש and how a person gained tangible awareness of Hashem when he visited His house. To meditate on the greatness of the עם ישראל. Contemplate the benefits of righteous behavior and Torah-living as contrasted to the licentiousness of all the nations. Every block, a new thought. Every block a new level of perfection in והשבת אל לבבך.

And if you want to succeed at this, it will take some preparation. Don’t be lazy. Make for yourself a list of some important ideas that you want to think about and keep it in your pocket. Keep it with you because you’re not going to remember all the ideas we spoke about. So make that list and refer back to the paper when you’re in the street and whenever you can. And these are only some of what is an endless list of thoughts which Hashem expects of us. רחמנא ליבא בעי. Hashem wants us to dedicate our lives to Him primarily through our minds and our thoughts. And it is in your hands, more precisely it is in your mind, to make yourself great in this world by training yourself to this service of והשבת אל לבבך כי ד׳ הוא האלוקים. And in that way, you will be prepared to greet the שכינה on that final day when you finish your service in this world and enter the Next World to receive your reward.

 

Have a wonderful Shabbos.