IT’S ALWAYS HARD to believe that we have arrived at this point, two parshios away from completing another cycle of Torah reading. Imagine it…thousands of cycles of Torah readings over three millennia of history. As they say, it never gets old.
At least it’s not supposed to. We have been told to look at Torah as if we just received it that day from Sinai itself. Sitting down to learn Torah or getting up to do a mitzvah should fill us with excitement, and make us eternally grateful for the gift of Torah. And what a gift it is, as the Kli Yakar explains at the beginning of this week’s parsha.
The verse says, and Rashi explains:
Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth! (Devarim 32:1)
Listen, O heavens: that I am warning Israel, and you shall be witnesses in this matter, for I have already told Israel that you will be witnesses. And so is [the clause] “And let the earth hear” [to be similarly understood]. Now why did [Moshe] call upon heaven and earth to be witnesses [for warning Israel]? Moshe said: “I am [just] flesh and blood. Tomorrow I will die. If the Jewish people say, ‘We never accepted the covenant,’ who will come and refute them?” Therefore, he called upon heaven and earth as witnesses for the Jewish people, witnesses that endure forever. Furthermore, if they act meritoriously, the witnesses will come and reward them…And if they act sinfully, the hand of the witnesses will be upon them first [to inflict punishment]… (Rashi)
The Kli Yakar asks if Rashi is providing a second reason beginning with “furthermore,” because it really sounds like the same reason as the first one. Do heaven and earth have mouths to testify? Rather, they give their testimony by how they treat the Jewish people, either with feast or famine. But isn’t that what the “second” reason is saying as well?
No. The first reason alludes to something mentioned in the Talmud:
Reish Lakish said: “Why is it written, ‘And it was evening and it was morning, the sixth—HA-Shishi—day’ (Bereishis 1:31)? What do we learn from the addition of the Heh?” (Shabbos 88a)
Reish Lakish asks this question because the Heh was not used for the previous days of Creation. It doesn’t say Yom HA-Chamishi—THE Fifth Day, only Chamishi. Why the switch on the sixth day? He answers:
“The Holy One, Blessed is He, made a condition with Creation and said: ‘If the Jewish people accept the Torah you (Creation) may continue. If not, then I will return you back to null and void.’ ” (Shabbos 88a)
Since the world depends upon Jewish acceptance of Torah, the fact that heaven and earth are still intact is testimony to Jewish fulfillment of the bris. Otherwise, the chaos of Creation would take over, and the world would return back to the tohu mentioned in the second version of Bereishis. That is a different reason than the first one.
THUS TORAH SAVES the world, the Kli Yakar explains. As the Talmud says, the fulfillment of Torah makes peace between the upper realm and the lower realm, without which the world cannot exist. They are two very opposite realms, and these opposites do NOT attract.
It is man who has the potential, when he learns Torah, to keep them unified peacefully, which makes life a whole lot more pleasant for all of us. It is because man himself is a mixture of both worlds, and this gives him the capacity to interface between heaven and earth, and maintain a very delicate status quo.
Torah makes this possible since it allows man to grow spiritually and maintain his connection to heaven. But, as the Kli Yakar explains, when we don’t learn Torah, or not as well as we should, then we stop “feeding” our spiritual component, and become more animal than human made in the image of God. The connection between heaven and earth is therefore lost, and chaos takes over Creation.
This is easy to say but very difficult to appreciate. It’s like looking at the Atom Bomb dropped on Hiroshima and trying to fathom that it can wipe out an entire city and affect a population for decades to come. How can something so small do something so big?
L’havdil elef havdalos, Torah is so physically “small,” and has an even greater effect on Creation. Rav Shach, zt”l, once told a Bais Midrash, “You know what we learn from the Holocaust? If one person can cause the deaths of the six million Jews, then one man can save six million Jews!” At least.
Likewise, if a single bomb can do so much damage, then a single Torah can can cause so much tikun, at least. A bomb is physical and only impacts the physical world. The Torah is physical and spiritual, and impacts both realms. What counts is not the size of the thing, but the greatness of its impact.
So when you dance with a Sefer Torah this Simchas Torah, be aware of what you hold in your hands, or bend over to kiss. What you see is something that can be held by just about anyone, and is comprised merely of parchment and ink, plus two handles made of wood. But what you hold is power beyond imagination, power beyond anything the physical world can produce.
That is just the version of Torah that we have. As mentioned previously, Torah on the level of the first tablets that Moshe Rabbeinu broke because of the sin of the golden calf was far, far higher and greater than what we learn now. It’s like jumping off a cliff to achieve momentary flight versus going up in an F-16 fighter jet.
This is not hyperbole. These are understatements. Just because people can’t appreciate the greatness of Torah doesn’t mean that Torah is not great. If a shortsighted person can’t take in an awesome view, is it any less awesome? Just to them. They just lack the clarity of vision to correctly see and then appreciate what is right before them.
I remember when I first started dovening in my minyan decades ago. After a short while, I took note of a young man who looked as intelligent as he seemed fervent, but also like he was just one of us. He seemed serious about Torah and prayer, but not about himself, and it made me wonder why people always asked him halachic questions before and after dovening.
It didn’t take long to see that he was a masmid, someone who learned Torah every moment he could. But he was not the only one there who did, and I still wondered what made him such a go-to for halachic questions. There was just nothing about his appearance that screamed out head of a Choshen Mishpat Kollel, dayan, and Physics Major.
It was only after some time when I had occasion to ask him my own shaylah that I saw that he was a lot greater than I had originally thought. Clearly his appearance had fooled me, and his humility had blindsided me.
Within a year of speaking with him on various different topics in learning, my respect for him grew immensely. But here’s the thing. He was already a Torah great long before I realized it. Unlike others of similar stature, he just felt no need to advertise it. It was I who had been blind to his level of greatness, and I quickly stopped looking at him as a peer and instead as a rebi.
THIS BRINGS US to the last parsha of the Torah and the holiday on which we will read it, b”H. This was the essential brochah that Moshe Rabbeinu gave to the Jewish people, because he did not have to. Every once in a while, the Talmud makes an astounding statement, and one of them is that Torah was given only to Moshe Rabbeinu. He was the one that shared it with the Jewish people out of the goodness of his heart (Nedarim 38a).
Astounding, no? Everything we know about Torah and this world is that it was always meant for the Jewish people, not Moshe Rabbeinu. What about “Na’aseh v’nishma”? What about the mountain held over the heads of the Jewish people to make them accept Torah? What about the quote above from Reish Lakish that makes history dependent upon the Jewish people’s acceptance of Torah?
All true. But anyone who has gone to cheder can tell you the difference between a rebi who simply teaches with his mouth, and one who teaches Torah with his heart. You don’t get many lovers of Torah from the first rebi, but you do from the second one. Heads talk to heads, but hearts talk to hearts, and if the heart of a person is not on board then the person will eventually jump ship.
This is one of the main differences of becoming a ba’al teshuvah at a later age. When people are born into a Torah lifestyle, they are too young to appreciate the gift. By the time they are old enough to appreciate the gift, they’ve become so accustomed to Torah that they fail to properly appreciate it.
A ba’al teshuvah has both advantages. They enter the realm of Torah at an age that they can appreciate more and more with each passing day the greatness of Torah. They can learn with excitement, and share their joy with others. This is why many ba’alei teshuvah often seem giddy about their learning, and perhaps share too much of their Torah and enthusiasm with people who have not yet reached the same level.
That’s what Moshe Rabbeinu shared with the Jewish people. The letter of the law was always meant for the Jewish nation, and we have to live by it no matter what we feel about it. That was the message of the mountain over the heads of the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai. The world depends upon our ongoing acceptance of Torah, so it really isn’t an option to reject it. Turn our backs on Torah, and Creation will turn its back on us.
The appreciation of Torah that Moshe earned in his own right, and we did not, he chose to share with us. We may have received the “body” of Torah, but Moshe Rabbeinu showed us how to infuse that body with a soul, and make it light up. There is no greater brochah and simcha in life than to be able to feel the soul of Torah, and that is exactly what we are trying to do on Simchas Torah.
I’M NOT SURE everyone notices where a lot of the simcha comes from on Simchas Torah. Kabbalas HaTorah was back in Sivan, but it was a different experience than the second receiving of Torah after Yom Kippur. The first Kabbalas HaTorah was by a Jewish people who had not yet sinned, and had become elevated to the level of angels.
The second Kabbalas HaTorah was after the golden calf, and retribution had been meted out to the perpetrators. It was after Yom Kippur and the news that Moshe Rabbeinu had once again interceded on behalf of the Jewish people. They were contrite, to say the least, extremely grateful to have been given another chance, and joyful to have Torah.
The pattern has been the same for generations of Jews until this very day. We need Yom Kippur to celebrate Simchas Torah. We need to reach higher heights of humility to be sufficiently open on Simchas Torah to appreciate the blessing we dance with, physically and spiritually. Remember Dovid HaMelech who danced before the Aron HaKodesh to the disgust of his wife?
He got it.
This means a couple of things. First, it means that the more you put into Yom Kippur, the more you will get out of Simchas Torah, and Succos before that. It is Zman Simchasaynu, but only to the extent that you achieve humility from Yom Kippur. That was the basis of the level of k’ish echad b’leiv echad—like a single person with a single heart that the Jewish people reached at Mt. Sinai just before receiving Torah.
The second thing it means is that if a person is not bubbling over with the joy of the gift of Torah on Simchas Torah, something is missing from them, not Torah. Simchas Torah is not about the individual. It is about the brochah of Torah that Moshe Rabbeinu in his generosity gave us access to. This is something we are supposed to feel every day of the year, but it is on Simchas Torah that the year is infused with that energy. It we absorb it fully, then we can enjoy that blessing all year round.
Chag Samayach and Simchas HaTorah