1. The Preparation Needed to Appreciate Torah
The Torah tells us that in the Shmitta year (the Seventh year) the land must remain fallow and one is not permitted to engage in agricultural pursuits because it is, “Shabbos L’Hashem (A Sabbath for Hashem)”. The Sforno explains that “Shabbos L’Hashem” means that the Shmitta year should be a time of dedicating oneself to introspection, meditation, and the study of Torah. The Shmitta year is devoted completely spiritual endeavors.
The Torah tells us that during the first day of Chol HaMoad Succos of the eight year (the year after Shmitta), the King of Israel must gather the entire Klal Yisroel for Hakail at the Temple mount and read to them Mishna Torah (The Book of Devorim). The Torah states explicitly that the value of the reading of The Book of Devorim is, “So that they (the Jewish people) should listen and study to fear Hashem all the days of their lives.” Clearly the purpose of Hakail is to instill reverence for Hashem in the hearts of the entire Jewish people.
The question is – why does the reading of the Book of Devorim for Hakail occur after the Shmitta year? In order to understand the question let us consider the order of events that took place for the Jewish people every six years. Every six years the Jewish people were required to cease all agricultural pursuits and devote themselves to a year of introspection and study during the Seventh Year – Shmitta. After this year of intensive spiritual involvements the Jews experienced the Rosh Hashanah of the eighth year, followed by the Ten Days of Penitence, and followed by Yom Kippur.
By this point in time, the Jews were at a very special level of spirituality- having experienced Shmitta and all of the Festivals that followed. It is at this point in time that the Torah prescribes that the King of Israel read the Book of Devorim so that the Jewish people “…should listen and study to fear Hashem all the days of their lives.” One would think that after all of their spiritual endeavors the Jewish people would have already been at a point of having reverence for Hashem. One could argue that the reading of the Book of Devorim should be done before the Shmitta year in order to prepare the Jewish people for the spiritual experience of the Seventh Year. One would think that in order to have the proper mindset to gain most benefit from the year of introspection and Torah study that one should hear the reading of the Book of Devorim (Hakail) before that year.
Since the Torah says that the reading of Devorim must follow the Shmitta year cycle evidently the order of events is deliberate to maximize spiritual benefits. What is the Torah teaching us? The Torah is telling us that one regardless of the level of the teach or the power of his delivery, one needs to have the spiritual capacity and sensitivity in order to receive, absorb, and internalize what is being taught. The Jewish people needed to experience the Shmitta year of Torah study and introspection, the Rosh Hashanah of the eighth year and the Yom Kippur that followed in order to be able to have the capacity to internalize the reading of the King of Israel -“So that they (the Jewish people) should listen and study to fear Hashem all the days of their lives.” From this we understand that there must be a level of preparation in order to be able to be affected by spiritual pursuits.
The Torah tells us that Man is made from earth (Adam- from “adamah” meaning “earth”). Just like the fields of the earth, regardless of the quality of the soil and the seeds, needs to be plowed and prepared in order to maximize its absorption, so too does man need to be cultivated. If one does not prepare himself to be able to absorb the words of the Torah sage his words will not be effective and will not affect the person. Chazal tell us, “Hashem created the Yeitzer HaRah and He created the Torah as its antidote.” Meaning the Torah itself is the “plough” which cultivates us in order to be able to absorb spirituality. Therefore it is understandable that the reading of the Book of Devorim must occur only after the Shmitta year and the subsequent events.
If for example, one rushes through their prayers without any degree of preparation how can that prayer be effective? If one studies Torah, and involves himself in the discussion of Torah then he will be affected and sensitized to be able to pray properly and effectively. The sacrifice is minimal and the reward is limitless.
2. Complaining is not the Answer
The Torah tells us that for the forty-year period that the Jewish people were wandering in the desert, Hashem provided for all of their needs. Every day the Munn (Manna – heavenly food) would fall from heaven to feed the Klal Yisroel and before Shabbos they would receive a double portion since it was forbidden to gather the Munn from the field during Shabbos. The Torah tells us that as much Munn a person gathered he always had enough for his sustenance- he never had too much or too little.
Chazal tell us that the effort needed to gather the Munn and the level of preparation that was required to make it edible was determined by the spiritual level of each individual gathering the Munn. The Tzaddik received his portion of the Munn on his doorstep and did not require any preparation. The Benonie (The Middle level Jew) would need to go further from his house to gather the Munn and would need to prepare it to some small degree. The Rasha (who was at a relatively lower level) needed to go far into the field to gather the Munn and it required a full degree of preparation. The Torah is telling us that Hashem provides our total sustenance; however, the level of effort and initiative that each individual needs to exercise in order to receive this sustenance is determined by their spiritual level and their priorities. For example, the tzaddik who devotes his time to the service of Hashem and the study of Torah, Hashem provides his sustenance with little effort so as not to distract the tzaddik.
The Gemara tells us that Hashem on Rosh Hashanah determines one’s yearly livelihood. Every person receives his stipend based only on this allocation determined by Hashem. This concept was demonstrated in the desert as we discussed above. While in the desert, each Jew received exactly the amount of sustenance he required – regardless of how much he gathered or how much effort he utilized to gather it. Our state of existence in the desert was a paradigm for our existence since the desert – Hashem provides to each person depending on their level.
The Gemara tells us that the Munn in the desert assumed the flavor of almost any imaginable food. If one ate the Munn and intended to eat meat it would taste like meet (there is an opinion in the Gemara that states that the Munn even had the same consistency as the desired foods). The Munn not only tasted like the food that was desired it also provided all the nourishment required for the person. There where a number of foods however that the Munn would not assume their taste such as garlic, onions, melons, and gourds. The reason why Munn did not assume these tastes is because they were not healthy for nursing women; therefore, Hashem decreed that the Munn should taste like very imaginable food except these food items.
The Torah tells us that when the Jews began complaining to Moshe in the desert, they complained that back in Egypt they were had garlic, onions, melons, and gourds; however here in the desert they are being denied such foods. They fondly remembered the cuisine they ate in Egypt without regard of the fact that they were slaves living under the worst conditions. In response to these complaints Hashem said, “In the desert of Sinai – did I treat you as if it were a desert?” Hashem provided the Jews with sustenance. He protected them from the elements and enemies. Hashem also caused there to be no disease, sickness, or fatigue in the desert. He performed almost endless miracles to accommodate the Jewish people – yet they complained.
If a person is involved in a relationship continuously complains about how he is being treated it must be an indication that he is not interested in the relationship. If the person had interested in the relationship he would praise his partner as well as praise Hashem. Regardless of how good the relationship is he will complain. This is what happened in the desert.
When the Jews complained, Hashem responded by telling the people that He treated them as if they were not in a desert. Therefore they should be beholden to Hashem- yet they complained. Evidently this was an indication about who they were as people and their level of interest in their relationship with Hashem.
Often when we have difficulties and we believe that we have legitimate complaints rather than evaluating ourselves or our relationship with Hashem. The fact that we experience difficulties is only an indication that we have problems that need to be understood and resolved. When one understands his problems and that he has no basis to complain, he will feel shame and appreciate Hashem’s Kindness. Hashem told the Jews that He treated them in the desert as if it were not a desert. We can learn from this that Hashem provides us everything we need and that our complaints only reflect on the type of people we are
3. The Pedigree of the Jewish people is Pure
The Torah tells us that Hashem Commanded Moshe to take a census of the Klal Yisroel in the desert saying,” Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after their exodus from the land of Egypt, saying ‘Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel according to their families…'” The Torah states further,” They gathered together the entire assembly on the first day of the second month, and they established their genealogy according to their families, according to their fathers’ household, by number of the names…” Rashi explains that “they established their genealogy” means that each Jew brought his documents of pedigree which established his paternal connection with a particular tribe. The question is – why is it important for the Torah to tell us that each person established his pedigree? It seems understood that whoever claimed to be from a particular tribe was actually a valid member of that tribe?
The Midrash tells us that after the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the nations of the world asked Hashem, “Why did You give the Torah to the Jews and not to us?” Hashem responded to them, “Can you prove you legitimacy – that you are the sons of your fathers? My children can prove their legitimacy.” Unlike the Jewish people who are pure and can prove their legitimacy, the nations of the world could not prove their legitimacy. When the nations of the world understood the purity of the Jewish people they praised them for maintaining their legitimacy and purity.
The Torah tells us that the Jews at a later time engaged in the worship of the Baal Paor and the intermingling with the Daughters of Moav. After this incident the nations of the world believed that the Jews had lost their status of purity and approached Hashem with this claim – “The Jews are now as impure as we are.” Hashem responded that all who engaged in the incident with the Baal Paor were killed and the Jewish people remain pure and the rightful recipients of the Torah. Just because the Jews maintained their legitimacy and were able to prove their pedigree they had relevance to the Torah. However the nations of the world who could not prove their legitimacy had no relevance to the Torah. What does the purity of pedigree have to do with being qualified to receive the Torah?
The Torah itself is the marriage contract between Hashem and the Jewish people. As part of the contract, the Jewish people were obligated to accept and uphold the laws of the Torah. Therefore the relationship between the Klal Yisroel and Hashem is established through the terms and conditions of Torah. The Jew needs to maintain a spiritual posture in order to have relevance to the Torah and thus connect with Hashem. The Zohar states, “Hashem, the Torah, and the Jewish people are all one.” Meaning that the Jewish people are bound to Hashem through the observance of the Torah. This means that the Jew must be spiritual and not to be subject to or influenced by his evil inclination. We are able to affect the physical world but it does not influence or affect us. We imbue the world with spirituality.
Hashem says that if one cannot prove his pedigree this must mean that he and his family succumbed to their evil inclination and did not adhere to the laws of the Torah. If one has been overcome by his inclination to the point that his pedigree is in question then he has no relevance to the Torah. Despite the fact that the Jewish people were in Egypt for 210 years they maintained their legitimacy and did not succumb to their inclination.
The Gemara in Tractate Makkos states that all human beings are compelled by their inclination to engage in forbidden relations and stealing. Despite the fact that the average person is consumed with the desire to engage in these forbidden activities, the Jewish people maintained their purity and were able to control their inclination. This is the spiritual posture that the Jews were able to maintain and is a testimony that the Jews do have relevance to Hashem and the Torah. The fact that the Jews brought their documents to prove their pedigree is an indication that we are the Am Hashem – The spiritual people of Hashem.
4. Each of us Can and Must Perfect the World Every Day.
The Torah tells us that Hashem commanded Moshe to take a census of the Jewish people except for the tribe of Levi. The Torah says,” But you shall not count the tribe of Levi, and you shall not take a census of them among the Children of Israel.” Rashi cites the Chazal explaining that Hashem had foreseen that there would be a decree against the Jewish people who were counted in the desert as a result of the Jewish spies (Meraglim) who reported negatively about the land of Israel. All the Jews above the age of twenty who were part of the census were destined to perish in the desert over the forty-year period of wandering because of the incident of the Meraglim. Hashem therefore decreed to Moshe that the tribe of Levi should not be included in this census because, “They are Mine because they did not participate in the Chet Ha’Agail (Sin of the Golden Calf) and I do not want them to be included in the census of the rest of the Jewish people.”
Seemingly the Torah is telling us that if the tribe of Levi were to be included in the census along with the rest of the Klal Yisroel that they too would perish in the desert as a result of the decree stemming from the incident of the Meraglim (the spies). However, since the Leviim belong to Hashem they should not be included with the rest of Klal Yisroel. What determined that the tribe of Levi belonged to Hashem? The fact that they did not participate in the Chet Ha’Agail (Sin of the Golden Calf) made them Hashem’s people.
The Torah tells us that the tribe of Levi did not have a portion in the Land of Israel as the rest of the tribes of the Jewish people because “their portion is Hashem.” The Leviim were the officiants of Hashem and were responsible for the service in the Mishkan (the Temple). The Rambam tells us in the Laws of Shmitta and Yovel that every Jew has relevance to being a member of the tribe of Levi. How is it possible that any Jew can join the tribe of Levi? The Rambam explains that if a Jew devotes his life to the pursuit and study of Torah then he is counted as a member of the tribe of Levi and Hashem will provide for him just as He does for the Leviim. That person does not need to be distracted in the mundane. We see from the Rambam that the one can be counted as “belonging to Hashem (as the Leviim)” by devoting oneself to the study of Torah.
Apparently performing mitzvos alone is not enough to be classified as “belonging to Hashem.” In addition to performing mitzvos one must devote himself to the study of Torah. Chazal tell us in Pirkei Avos (The ethics of Our Fathers) to “Make you Torah study primary and your work secondary.” This is not to say that the only one that can achieve the status of “belonging to Hashem” is be only studying Torah. This principle is not based on quantitative elements but rather qualitative issues. It is teaching us that if our primary focus is Torah then we will have the special status of the Levi and Hashem will provide for us as He does for the Leviim. A person may have to work for eighteen hours a day and study Torah for only two hours; however, if his work is only a means to an end (which is Torah) then he has made the “Torah primary.”
We read in Pirkei Avos that that there were ten generations from Adam to Noach and ten generations from Noach to Avraham. The Mishna tells us that Avraham was worthy of receiving all the merit of the ten generations. How is this possible? One would think that we receive reward based on what we personally accomplish. Rabbeinu Yona in his commentary explains that the world needs a certain degree of perfection and the way it is perfected is through performing mitzvos. Avraham was the only individual in existence to introduce Hashem into the world. The remainder of the generations did not perfect the world because they were pagans and therefore had not relevance to elevating existence. Therefore Avraham through his bringing about of monotheism and his service of Hashem, he merited all the reward of the generations because he personally brought the world to a level of perfection that was intended to be brought about by all mankind.
Unfortunately, in our times the vast majority of the Jewish people are not committed to lives of observing mitzvos and studying Torah. Nevertheless the world needs to be continuously perfected through the performance of mitzvos and the study of Torah. Therefore any Jew whose life is focused on Torah and mitzvos in a qualitative manner has incalculable merit because he brings about the perfection of the world at a time when so many others are not. The tribe of Levi “belongs to Hashem” because they bring about the perfection of the world and as we discussed earlier the one who engages in Torah study can also be classified as “belonging to Hashem.”
The Rambam says in Hilchos Talmid Torah that there were three crowns given to the Jewish people – one of which is the Crown of Torah. He says that the Crown of Torah can be found lying in the corner of the room available to any Jew who wishes to partake of it. Every Jew has the opportunity to have the Crown of Torah and to perfect the world.
5. The Center of the Jewish People is Truth
The Torah tells us that the five camps of Klal Yisroel traveled through the desert in a specific formation. The center camp was the Machne (Camp) of the Shechina (Divine Presence) which was the location of the Mishkan (the Temple). The Camp of the Shechina (Machne Shechina) was surrounded by the Camp of Levi who performed the services in the Mishkan and who were the officiants of G-d. The Camp of Levi was in turn surrounded by three other camps each containing three tribes of the Children of Israel. The Torah tells us that the tribe of Yehudah was at the head of all of the camps and would be the first to travel when the Klal Yisroel moved through the desert. Included in this first camp of Yehudah were the tribes of Zevulun and Yisasschar.
The Torah tells us that when there was a draught in Israel, Yosef’s brothers went to Egypt in search of food. Before leaving the land of Israel, Yehudah assumed full responsibility for his youngest brother Binyamin. Yehudah’s father, Yaakov would not permit him to take Binyamin to Egypt unless he assumed absolute responsibility for his brother Binyamin. Yehudah promised that he would protect Binyamin to the utmost degree and if something were to happen to Binyamin, Yehudah would be willing to forfeit his share in the World to Come. Yehudah accepted upon himself a spiritual ban from the World to Come if he would be unsuccessful in protecting Binyamin. The Gemara tells us that if one accepts upon himself a spiritual ban based on which rests on circumstances beyond his control, that person will be subject to the ban regardless of the outcome of the events. Therefore, even though Yehudah was successful in protecting Binyamin, he nevertheless was subject to his spiritual ban from the World to Come.
The Gemara tells us that Yehudah’s Nishama (Soul) was not permitted to enter the Divine Yeshivah in Heaven because of his spiritual ban. Moshe prayed that Yehudah be admitted into the Divine Yeshiva and Hashem accepted Moshe’s prayer, but Yehudah was not permitted to engage in the Torah discussion in the Yeshiva. Moshe once again prayed for Yehudah and was successful in his prayers. Moshe prayed further that the Halacha (the Legal Rulings) should be according to Yehudah and Hashem accepted.
The tribe of Yehudah represents Kinship and royalty. Dovid HaMelech (King David) was a member of the tribe of Yehudah and was not only a King in the physical sense but also was a king in spirituality. The Gemara in Tractate Sanhedrin tells us that Dovid HaMelech was even greater in Torah then the head of the Sanhedrin (The High Court). Every legal ruling given by Dovid was accurate because of his own special dimension. This is a manifestation of the spirituality of Yehudah and the reason why Moshe prayed to Hashem that the Halacha should be according to Yehudah. From this we see that Yehudah is synonymous with Kingship which itself is synonymous with Torah.
The tribe of Yehudah was at the head of all of the camps and would be the first to travel when the Klal Yisroel moved through the desert. As we discussed, Yehudah represents Torah and by association, the other two tribes of Zevulun and Yisasschar also represent Torah. We can see this clearly from Yaakov’s blessing to Yehudah, Zevulun, and Yisasschar. The fact that Yehudah, Zevulun, and Yisasschar lead the Jewish people through the desert is an indication that the strength of the Jewish people is rooted in Torah.
The Gemara tells us in Tractate Avodah Zarah that Torah is unadulterated Emmes (Truth) and Truth is synonymous with Din (Judgment). Within Truth and Judgment, there is no place for Rachamim (Mercy) – either something is Kosher or not Kosher. There is no compromise or deviation in Torah and Truth. The Gemara in Tractate Berachos tells us, “The Signet of Hashem is Truth.” The nature of Truth is that it must be completely pure and unadulterated. The Maharal states that Truth must be completely unadulterated and even if it is 99.999% true – it is not Truth. This is indicated by the word Emmes (which means Truth). The spelling of the word Emmes is spelled aleph mem tuf. If even the smallest letter “aleph”(which indicates an iota) is removed from the word Emmes, what remains is “mem tuf” which spells “mes” (death). We find that if the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) entered into the Holy of Holies (location of the Divine Presence) and experienced a moment of distraction he would be killed.
Chazal explain that the camps of the Jews in the desert were configured in the same manner as the children of Yaakov were arranged when they carried him from Egypt to be buried in Israel. Yaakov instructed Yehudah, Zevulun, and Yisasschar to lead the way in carrying his remains out of Egypt. As we know from various verses Yaakov represents Truth (“Teetain Emmes L’Yaakov – Give Truth to Yaakov”). Rabbenu Bachya explains that Yaakov reflected every aspect of Hashem in this world. Yaakov was the being of Truth and he was synonymous with the Shechina.
We see that Truth is at the center of the Jewish people. It was in the center when we left Egypt as demonstrated by the Machne (Camp) of the Shechina (Divine Presence) being situated as the center camp. Yaakov, who represents truth, was carried out of Egypt surrounded by his children (the origin of the tribes). The strength of the Jews emanates from Truth because Torah is Truth. Since Yehudah, Zevulun, and Yisasschar represent Torah and Truth they are the appropriate tribes to lead the Jews through the desert. Just as the Yehudah (representing Torah) lead us through the desert so too should we have Torah guiding our lives. We need to follow the Torah as the Jews followed the tribe of Yehudah and only then will we be triumphant. The nations of the world may have weapons and physical strength, but the Jews have the power of the Torah and Truth.
6. What is the Heritage of Torah?
The Torah says,” These are the offspring of Aaron and Moshe on the day Hashem spoke to Moshe at Sinai: These are the names of the sons of Aaron…” Event though the verse begins by saying “These are the offspring of Aaron and Moshe” it only enumerates and identifies the offspring of Aaron. Rashi cites the Gemara in Tractate Sanhedrin which says that because Moshe taught Torah to the sons of Aaron they are counted as his children also. As it states, “If a person teaches Torah to his friend’s child it is as if he fathered that child.” Teaching Torah in this context means that the majority of the child’s Torah knowledge comes from his teacher and that the teacher is also the child’s mentor.
The Rambam states in Hilchos Talmid Torah that there are three crowns given to the Jewish people: the Crown of Torah, the Crown of Kahuna (priesthood), and the Crown of Malchus (kingship). The Crown of Kahuna was given to Aaron and his sons. The Crown of Kingship was given to Dovid and his decedents. However, the greatest of the three is the Crown of Torah and it is “lying in the corner of the room.” Meaning, the Crown of Torah is available to any Jew who desires it as it says in the verse,” The Torah is the Heritage of the Congregation of Yaakov (every Jew).”
The question is- if a commoner wears a crown does it make him a king? Or if a person is not a descendent of Aaron and wears the vestments of the Kohan does it make that person a Kohan? – Surely not. Evidently, the Crown of Kahuna and the Crown of Kingship are identifiers for the essence of the person. One must be the descendent of Aaron to be a Kohan or the descendent of Dovid to be a King. The same must be true with the Crown of Torah since it is enumerated along with the Crown if Kahuna and the Crown of Kingship. The Crown of Torah is an identifier that the essence of the person who wears it rooted in Torah and purity that is passed on from a lineage of other people whose essence is Torah. Evidently if a Jew were to wear the Crown of Torah by teaching himself Torah or by learning from someone who is not part of that special lineage then his crown would be no more meaningful than the commoner wearing a Crown pretending to be a king. That person would simply be a repository of knowledge lacking the essence of Torah.
Chazal are teaching us that an ordinary Jew has the ability to change his essence and acquire the Crown of Torah. If a Jew studies Torah with dedication and commitment from a rebbe who is rooted in Torah then it is possible for that person to transform himself and change his essence. Just like a child is the product and a descendent of his father and mother so too is the student the product of his rebbe. This is because the rebbe mentors the child and teaches him Torah in a way that transforms the child’s essence. The student is the essence and the extension of the rebbe because the entire development of the person is based in Torah. This person can acquire the Crown of Torah and he will be more than a repository of knowledge because his essence is the same as his rebbe who is the embodiment of Torah. We can now understand the Gemara – “If a person teaches Torah to his friend’s child it is as if he fathered that child.”
The question is why is this principle so important for us to know that the Torah needs to teach us it from the verse dealing with the offspring of Aaron and Moshe? The answer is that the only way that Torah itself can be transmitted and internalized is through a rebbe. Just as the sons of Aaron became the sons of Moshe only through the transmission of Torah from Moshe so too the student becomes the son and the extension of his rebbe through is teaching and mentoring. It is only through this transmission that Torah can impact the individual and transform his essence. Therefore the verse in Pirkei Avos, “Make for yourself a rebbe and acquire a friend” is more than just “good advice”. It is a fundamental aspect of Judaism and the transmission of Torah from generation to generation.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.