Receiving the Torah

June 11 2009

The section in Parshat Behaalotcha dealing with the Ark's journey (see Bamidbar 10:35) is surrounded by two letters nun which are inverted. Rashi cites the Gemara in Shabbat 116a which explains: "The Torah made signs for this passage, in front of it and after, to say that this is not its place. But why was it written here? In order to make an interruption between one trouble and another". Preceding this section, the Torah describes the beginning of the Jewish people's journey from Har Sinai, where they had just received the Torah, to Eretz Yisrael: "vayisu mehar Hashem" "They journeyed from the mountain of Hashem" (Bamidbar 10:33). Following the description of the Ark's journey we find: "vayehi haam kemitonenim" "The people took to seeking complaints" (Bamidbar 11:1).

It is readily apparent how the psukim describing the mitonenim, complainers, are a form of trouble. What is not clear at first glance is what is wrong with "Vayisu meHar Hashem". Were they not following Hashem's command to proceed onward? Were they not lead by Moshe Rabenu and the pillar of cloud? The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) commentates that they fled quickly like a child running away from school. The motivation of the people's leaving Har Sinai was not only due to their desire to continue their sojourn to the land of Israel, but to flee from Har Sinai, to flee from Moshe who was teaching them new mitzvoth every day. One day they would learn about Shabbat, the next day about kashrut, and a third day about their oxen being liable for damage! Enough with these chumrot! How much more of this could they take?

Their emphasis was not on journeying towards Eretz Yisrael but on leaving Har Sinai. The people who fled from Har Sinai were a people that did not wish to learn anymore. They were as a child who eagerly awaits the moment the teacher closes the book or the bell rings signaling the time to go home. One should not think that the entire nation was guilty of this infraction. There were many tzaddikim such as Aharon HaKohen and Yehoshua bin Nun who were not amongst those wishing to flee Har Sinai, they departed with the goal of entering the land of Israel in order to serve Hashem, build the Beit Hamikdash, and fulfill the mitzvoth associated with the land. A significant portion of the Jewish people, however, fled Har Sinai like a child leaving school.

Why did Chazal interpret the actions of the people as those of a child running away? The reason is that the pasuk emphasizes that they left the Mountain of Hashem, rather than saying "vayisu l'Eretz Yisrael" "they journeyed towards the Land of Israel". We see a similar distinction in the laws of Shabbat. There is a prohibition to transfer an object from reshut hayachid, a private domain, to reshut harabim, a public domain. This action referred to as hotzaa, can be done with one of two possible intents. One may wish to transfer the object to its destination in the reshut harabim, or one may simply wish to remove the object from its current location, the reshut hayachid, without regard to its destination. The first action falls under the category of melacha hatzricha legufa (a prohibited action on Shabbat is defined according to physical act as well as intent. This refers to an action performed with the proper intent in mind), whereas the second one falls under the category of melacha she-eina tzricha legufa (without the defined intent - the prohibition is to transfer an object from a private to a public domain with intent of bringing it to the public domain, not with intent of removing it from the private domain). The Jewish nation did not leave Har Sinai with the desire to arrive at any place in particular rather they no longer wished to remain in Har Sinai - as a child running away from school.

Perhaps the Gemara also derives this idea from the wording of the pasuk - they journeyed MEHAR Hashem, which has the same letters as maher - quickly - they wished to make a quick getaway. In their actions they dutifully obeyed Hashem, they obediently followed Moshe Rabenu and the cloud, but in their heart their intent was not so much to reach Eretz Yisrael as it was to leave the Mountain of Hashem.

As we mentioned, entire nation was not guilty of this, just as when the Gemara teaches us that the first Beit HaMikdash was destroyed as punishment for the Jewish people's being guilty of the three cardinal sins of avoda zara, murder, and illicit relations, it was not referring to every member of Klal Yisrael. Chazal teach us the principle of Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh "all Jewish people are responsible for one another" (Sanhedrin 27b). This means that we are all to blame when a fellow Jew sins. The Gemara limits this to a case when one could have prevented the other person from sinning.

The Torah commands us regarding the mitzvah of eglah arufah: Should a corpse be found without knowing the identity of the murderer, the elders of the nearest town must then take a calf, bring it down to a valley, and break its neck. Chazal comment that the eglah arufah atones for all generations dating back to Yetziat Mitzrayim. Rav Sholom Schwadron zt"l asks why we require atonement for all generations dating so far back. He explains that the existence of even one murderer implies a lack of proper education. If the Jewish people did not succeed in inculcating the Har Sinaic message of lo tirzach throughout the generations, all generations must atone for this sin. The fact that we can bring atonement for those who have left this world perhaps explains why we recite Yizkor on Yom Kippur and the three Yom Tovim - all generations require atonement for our sins, not only our parents and grandparents.

As we mentioned, when a member of Klal Yisrael sins, we are all responsible. Given that Hashem's "measure of beneficence is greater than His measure of retribution" (Sanhedrin 100b), the rest of the nation is also rewarded for our mitzvoth. When Hashem wished to destroy Sodom, He promised Avraham Avinu: "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous people in the midst of the city, then I would spare the entire place on their account" (Bereishit 18:26). We must remember that when we perform mitzvoth we are benefiting not only ourselves but the entire Jewish people and the entire world.

Chazal teach us: "a person should always perceive himself as though he were half-guilty and half-meritorious. If he performed one mitzvah, he is fortunate for he has tipped the balance for himself toward the side of merit. If he committed a single transgression, woe to him - for he has tipped the balance for himself toward the side of guilt ... R' Elazar the son of R' Shimon says: because the world is judged on the basis of the majority of its inhabitants, and the individual is judged on the basis of the majority of his deeds, if he performed a single mitzvah, he is fortunate for he has tipped the balance for himself and for the entire world toward the side of merit, if he committed a single transgression, woe to him for he has tipped the balance for himself and for the entire world toward the side of guilt" (Kiddushin 40a).

How can we understand this passage from Chazal? There are billions of people in this world, among them millions of our Jewish brethren, may their numbers increase. At any given moment thousands upon thousands of acts are being performed. If we incorporate the fact that the degrees of lishma and zrizut are taken into account, the number of debits and credits being exchanged at any one moment is infinite. What are the chances of the scales being precisely even? Would anyone purchase a raffle ticket with odds such as these? Is this remote possibility of the scales being even, sufficient motivation for me to put in that extra effort in my mitzvoth? Why would Chazal encourage us to view the world in such a balanced state when there is almost no chance of it being so in fact?

Perhaps what Chazal mean is that we must view every act of ours as having a positive or negative effect on the world. When we perform a mitzvah we raise the status of the world, when we, G-d forbid, transgress and sin, we lower the status of the world. Even if the world is not literally half meritorious and half guilty, we must view our actions as having the power to tip the scales in one direction or the other.

The greatest mitzvah a person can perform is learning Torah. Chazal write that with every word of Torah which we learn, we make the world a better place. There is no object, not even a holy object that is as valuable as Torah. How many mitzvoth do I fulfill when I learn Torah? The Chafetz Chaim calculates that a person has the ability to speak about 200 words a minute, this means that I have the chance to perform 200 mitzvoth per minute. Given that we do not receive a statement from the Heavenly Bank, we have no way of ascertaining how much we have in our account. If we were able to witness our account growing every minute, we would be unable to tear ourselves away from our learning.

We have no way of relating to the immensity of the reward for Torah study. Perhaps a well-known Baraita can help to give us some idea of what reward is in store for us: We recite each morning: "these are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in This World but whose principle remains intact for him in the World to Come .... visiting the sick, providing for a bride ... and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all" (Shabbat 127a). What does the Baraita mean when it says that the study of Torah is equivalent to them all? Of course the real payment for mitzvoth is in the Next World, but let us try to understand things in terms that we can relate to. The mitzvah of visiting the sick does not only include inquiring about his welfare and wishing him a "refuah shlema betoch she-ar cholei Yisrael". Bikur cholim means insuring that he has proper medical care even if that entails having a doctor or nurse on the premises. There are sick people who need to be flown to Chutz la'Aretz for an operation (chas vechalila). Fulfilling this Mitzvah can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Similarly hachnassat kallah goes beyond dancing at the wedding and eating a piece of meat. To fulfill this mitzvah one has to make sure the bride has everything she needs, whether it is an apartment, clothing, furniture, a washing machine, dishwasher, clothing, or anything else. The expenses here too can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hashem's reward for performance of a mitzvah is certainly greater than the expenses incurred.


If after all this we declare that "the study of Torah is equivalent to them all" then the reward for each word of Torah we learn is at the very least hundreds of thousands of dollars. Learning Torah is worth even more, because Olam Haba currency is worth more than all the dollars in the world! If we truly understood the vast reward awaiting us we would not waste a single minute but would spend any free moment we have learning Torah, for time is money. In fact time is even more than money. Why then are we in need of mussar in order to inspire us to learn? The answer is that our minds may understand, but we need the mussar to inspire our hearts as well. Rav Yisrael Salanter was known to have said that when we learn, it must be not only with our sechel but with our hearts to. We must feel what we learn.

Imagine!! Hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute! We have the opportunity to be wealthier than all the millionaires and billionaires in the world. If we only understood this, we would not flee from Har Sinai. We just celebrated the Yom Tov of Matan Torah, the special gift that Hashem gave us. Learning Torah gives us the chance to become closer to Hashem and to raise ourselves, the Jewish people, and the entire world to a higher level. At Har Sinai we received Shabbat, Kashrut, and so many other mitzvoth. We must want to run towards it, not away from it.

A person, whom I must say is not the greatest of Talmidei Chachamim, once asked me at what point we can stop learning Torah. I answered him that Moshe Rabenu lived for 120 years without wasting a single moment, when you learn as much as Moshe Rabenu then perhaps you can stop. The fact is that Moshe has spent the past 3000 years in Gan Eden learning, yet he still has not mastered the entire Torah. The Torah is endless, only Hashem understands the Torah in its entirety.

Baruch Hashem we are in Yeshiva and we have the opportunity to rise to greater and great heights. We have just been given the Torah at Har Sinai but we will not journey away from Har Hashem. Of course, we want to be in Eretz Yisrael, after all Chazal teach us that there is no Torah like that of Eretz Yisrael and Rashi and the Ramban write that true fulfillment of Torah can only take place in Eretz Yisrael. However, the greatest mitzvah we can perform is to learn Torah. Although we received the Torah on Shavuot, we must view every day as a new Matan Torah: "these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart" (Devarim 6:6). We must want to grow in Torah, whether we are in Eretz Yisrael, America, or any other country. We must feel that we are close to Hashem and we must want to be still closer and grow higher and higher. The sky is the limit.

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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