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Parallel Between Forty-Nine Years and Forty-Nine Days

May 12, 2011

One of the opening mitzvoth in the Parsha is that of the counting the 49 years towards Yovel, similar to the 49 day count towards Matan Torah on Shavuot.  Unlike the count towards Shavuot which is incumbent on every individual, the 49 year count towards the Yovel was counted by the Beit Din HaGadol.  There are, however, parallels between these two counts leading up to the respective milestones.  The Torah in Parshat Yitro writes that the Torah was given with the sound of the shofar.  Similarly, the shofar is blown on the Yom Kippur of the Yovel - Yom Kippur is the day in which the second luchot were given.   


The major difference between Shavuot and Yom Kippur, however, is that on Shavuot we are required to eat and drink, as Chazal dictate: "All agree with respect to Shavuot that we require it to be 'for you' too.  What is the reason?  It is the day on which the Torah was given" (Pesachim 68b).  This is in contrast with Yom Kippur where we are forbidden to eat and drink. 


Another difference is that when it came to the first luchot, the entire nation stood by the great fire of Har Sinai and witnessed their being given, while with regards to the second luchot, the Torah writes that Moshe Rabenu should go up alone, "ve-ish lo yaale imach vegam ish al yera bechol hahar gam hatzon vehabakar al yiru el mul hahar hahu".  Receiving the second luchot was a great accomplishment following the breaking of the first luchot.   


Hashem gave us a second chance, although the second Tablets were not on the level of the first ones.  The Torah describes the writing of the first Tablets as being charut - engraved upon the Tablets.  The word charut is spelled with the same letters as cherut - freedom, freedom from the angel of death and from oppression from other nations.  Furthermore, the first luchot were made by HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself while the second luchot were not on the same level, they were made by Moshe Rabenu and written by HaKadosh Baruch Hu.  It may not be on the same level, but great things were accomplished.


Yom Kippur is a time of freedom - the Jewish slaves were freed and the fields were returned to their former proprietors.   Shavuos is freedom from the yetzer hara - we no longer have freedom from the angel of death as we had with the first luchot, but the freedom from the yetzer hara which the Torah gave us also made us into free people.   


In what way are we free?  We went from being slaves to Pharaoh to being servants of Hashem.  The difference is that a slave must follow the dictates of his boss, he may have his own will and desires but the bottom line is that he must yield to the will of the boss.  A free man, on the other hand, follows his own will.  What is our will?  Our true will and desire is to do what Hashem wants.  We are all tzelem Elokim, created in the image of Hashem, we have a soul given to us by Hashem which was carved from under the Holy Throne and yearns to return from whence it came, to be free from sin.  Our soul is our true self and therefore serving Hashem makes us truly free.  


The reason we do not always feel this is due to the interference of our yetzer hara.  The yetzer hara tries to convince us that we want what he wants.  We must be very careful not to pay any attention to him.  Our real self yearns to be holy, to follow the will of Hashem.


Our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were able to master the entire Torah without it being given to them at Har Sinai.  Chazal tell us "Avraham Avinu fulfilled the entire Torah before it was given" (Kiddushin 82a).  How could this be?  Chazal tell us: "Avraham's two kidneys became as two pitchers of water and were flowing with Torah" (Bereishit Rabba 95:3). What is the meaning of this? Avraham Avinu's inner soul knew the demands of the Torah. He knew without being taught by Moshe Rabenu that on Pesach we eat Matzah, and that the Seventh Day is Shabbat. How could his inner soul be aware of the Torah without his being taught?


How was Avraham Avinu's soul able to teach him what it had not yet learned?  Because the soul comes from Hashem and therefore contains Hashem's wisdom.  Avarham Avinu was able to receive the Torah through his soul.  Why are we not able to do the same thing?  Why do we require Moshe Rabenu and others to teach us the Torah?  The pasuk states: "G-d has made man simple, but they sought many intrigues" (Kohelet 7:29). When man is straightforward and simple, everything comes out the way it should. Hashem created man just and simple, when our desire is to fulfill the will of Hashem then we will be able to do so without being taught. When, however, we are seeking only what is good for us, then we require Moshe Rabenu to inform us of what it is that Hashem wants from us. When man searches for "intrigues" he will not find the true Torah.


Regarding Avraham Avinu, the Navi says: "You found his heart faithful before You" (Nehemiah 9:8). Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were honest and upright. In fact, the book of Bereishit is referred to as Sefer HaYashar because yashar, straight, is a fitting description of our forefathers.  One who ascribes nothing to himself has the potential to attain all the Torah knowledge possible. We have not mastered the entire Torah because we are not straight and honest. We only care what is good for us. This can be compared to the merchant who was asked what two times two was. He answered that it depended why the question was being asked.  "If I am buying then it is three, if I am selling then the answer is five!" With arithmetic like that it is impossible for a person to acquire the Torah on his own.   We can only learn Torah after having received it from Moshe Rabenu.  We must learn as much Torah as we can and thereby become better people.


Once we heard what Hashem wants from us through Moshe Rabenu having brought the Torah down to us, then it is incumbent upon us to follow the will and the dictates of Hashem.   As we mentioned, observing the dictates of the Torah brings us freedom, otherwise we are slaves to our yetzer hara and to other foreign influences and powers outside of our own.


We are in the midst of counting the days towards Matan Torah when we rid ourselves of Egyptian influence - of avoda zara, witchcraft and other things.  We must develop our character and purify our middot as preparation for receiving the Torah.  Hashem gave us these days to ready ourselves, under the guidance and leadership of Moshe and Aharon.


We find in the Gemara that the angels asked Hashem why He did not give the Jewish nation the Torah immediately upon leaving Egypt.  Hashem responded that they needed a seven week rest from the hardships they endured in Egypt.  Following that rest they will be able to receive the Torah.  We are aware that the rest had some hardships as well - three days without water, the battle with Amalek - but it was a rest to recover from the negative Egyptian influence.  The people witnessed the splitting of the sea and other miracles, their daily bread fell from the sky, all were part of the preparation towards Matan Torah.  The people then all said in unison "naase venishma".


Although they all proclaimed naase venishma, for many it was not on as deep a level as it should have been.  Chazal teach us: "even at the time when they said: 'everything that Hashem has said, we will do and we will hear' (Shmot 24:7), they said one thing with their mouth and another with their heart, as it is stated: 'but they sought to beguile Him with their mouth and they deceived Him with their tongues their heart was not constant with Him' (Tehillim 78:36)"  (Bamidbar Rabba 7:4).  The Midrash is telling us that the uttering of "naase venishma" was one of "one thing with his mouth and one thing with his heart" (Midrash Tehillim 14).  


I do not believe that this classification applies to everyone, it all depended on whose naase venishma we are speaking of.  Aharon, Yehoshua, Nachshon, and Kalev shout "naase venishma" with a full heart, each in accordance with his level.  When Datan, Aviram, and the "Erev Rav" shout "naase venishma", however, they too feel it in their heart - but what type of heart do they have?  The inferior level of their heart reflects the level of sincerity of their "naase venishma".  Their heart is lacking, "their heart was not constant with Him".  Their spiritual accomplishments cannot compare to one who utters "naase venishma" with a full heart.


While at Har Sinai, the entire Klal Yisrael merited prophecy, they were able to hear the voice of Hashem, and they all arrived at the recognition that "there is none beside Him" (Devarim 4:35).  Even so, not everyone reached the same level, each person absorbed at Matan Torah depending on how he prepared his heart - his level of "naase venishma".   The tzaddikim absorbed more, while the lesser people absorbed less.


 Even though many among the nations did not proclaim naase venishma with a full heart, yet Hashem gave us the Torah.  Every year we have a chance to receive the Torah again and show that our naase venishma is very sincere and we truly wish to receive the Torah.  Why are we commanded to eat a festive meal on Shavuot?  To show that we are happy to have received the Torah - the Torah is not a punishment, it is a gift from Hashem.  There are people who look at Shabbat as a burden - I can't drive a car, I can't light a fire, and much more.  Chazal, however, describe Shabbat as a matana tova - a good gift which Hashem gave us.  If you ask me, Shabbat is true rest in that there is no telephone or radio - I cannot begin to describe what the Shabbat rest does for me.


We must view the Shabbat rest as holy, as we say in our Shabbat Mincha Shmone Esrei: "yakiru banecha veyedu ki meitcha hee menuchatam" "May Your children recognize and know that from You comes their rest"- the rest is from You.  The purpose of the Shabbat rest is to come closer to Hashem.  We must be thankful for what Hashem has given us for this is what we truly want.  We must understand that the yetzer hara is misleading us into thinking otherwise, it is all a bluff.  Our true self, our soul, wants Torah and mitzvoth and to be under the wings of the Divine Presence.


Our joy on Shavuot is at attaining our true freedom to be able to learn Torah.  Shavuot is in fact a continuation of Pesach, our zman cherutenu - festival of freedom.   On Pesach we were freed from Pharaoh and now we are freed from our yetzer hara.  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.  We must take this to heart and feel the great joy associated with the Yom Tov of Matan Torah, celebrating 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.  


What an opportunity we have in Yeshiva - just imagine the reward for a full day of learning.  If our eating and sleeping is in order to have more strength to learn then we are rewarded for that as well - imagine being rewarded for sleeping.  Learning Torah and performing mitzvoth is a good business.  We must rejoice at having received the Torah and having the opportunity to do mitzvoth.  We must run to do what Hashem asks of us and with His help He will rebuild the Beit HaMikdash and we will once again be able to fulfill the special mitzvoth of Yom Tov which we are unable to fulfill today, speedily in our day.  We should merit receiving the Torah anew besimcha uvetuv levav. Amen

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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