“You have seen that I spoke to you from the heavens. You shall not make images of what is with Me, gods of silver and gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves” (Shemos/Exodus 20:19-20) Ramban (1) explains that after presenting the Decalogue (2) – the first of which attests to the presence of the Omnipresent G-d, while the second forbids idolatrous worship – G-d commanded Moshe to remind the nation of their experience, warning them to maintain a mindfulness of that which they saw and to be careful with the commandments they accepted. With each component of Moshe’s statement corresponding to one of these two Commandments, Moshe cautioned them to profoundly contemplate their mandate and scrupulously adhere to it.
Chidushei HaLev (3) observes the implicit converse: had Moshe not reminded the masses to reflect on the Sinaitic Revelation, even though they had just experienced this national prophecy, they would not have properly adhered to these Divine mandates. The nation witnessed the fire and smoke, thunder and lightning upon Mount Sinai, and heard the Divine “Voice” deliver these first two Statements. But had they not been directly instructed to do so, they would not have given these Divine declarations proper contemplation and would not have exercised due caution with the commandments – even then, immediately after their utterance. The most miraculous Divine feats lack the long-lasting impact to truly calibrate the Jew’s G-d consciousness. Only extensive meditation upon these miraculous Divine kindnesses can have the desired effect.
And we know from life’s experiences that the impact of momentary stimuli is fleeting. How often have we left the funeral of a young person promising ourselves that we were going to make more of our lives, spend more time with family and tell them more often how dear they are to us? Do we follow through? How often have we left the testimonial dinner of a person of an otherwise ordinary person who, with superhuman passion and persistence, achieved the impossible, created realities out of their dreams, transformed a community, impacted lives…we were going to follow in their footsteps, were we not? “If only G-d would appear and show me some miracle, then I would truly believe and serve Him” is a nice fantasy, one that we know has no veracity.
In all true and worthy accomplishments, genuine satisfaction and pleasure come from toil and effort. Knowledge of G-d and His will, and connecting to it, come no more easily. As Mesilas Yesharim (4) teaches, “A person must, as a constant state of mind, and at specific times in solitude, contemplate what the true Torah path is that a person needs to follow. And then he will come to consider his deeds, whether or not they are on this path. Through this exercise he will easily cleanse himself of all evil and correct all of his ways…As it says, ‘Let us seek our ways and analyze them and we will return to G-d.’ (Eicha/Lamentations 3:40)”
We approach the holiday of Shavuos, having cleansed ourselves of the vestiges of slavery from our personal exodus seven weeks ago, ready to recommit to our relationship with the Divine. As with all relationships, there will be challenges, situations where we will need to put aside our own desires to facilitate the building of the relationship. But like our forebears 3318 years ago, with proper contemplation and mindfulness, we will succeed in forging a personal bond with the Divine, indeed, the greatest of all pleasures.
Have a Good Yom Tov and a Good Shabbos!
(1) 1194-1270; acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Nachmanides; native of Gerona, Spain, he was of the leading scholars of the Middle Ages, successfully defending Judaism at the famed debate in Barcelona in 1263
(2) often referred to as the Ten Commandments, they were actually ten statements involving more than ten commandments (3) the ethical discourses of Rabbi Alter Henach Leibowitz, Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim of Kew Gardens Hills, New York (4) “Path of the Just”, popular Mussar (introspective Jewish self-improvement) works in Jewish literature; an inspiring work describing how a thoughtful Jew may climb the ladder of purification until he attains the level of holiness; authored by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, 1707-1746, of Padua, Italy, and Amsterdam; quotation from the end of chapter 3
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