Parshas Yisro-Torah Or-The purpose of Matan Torah-Dveikus

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Parshas Yisro

Bachodesh Hashlishi…”

[Torah Or, p. 132]

The Mamar of this week’s Parsha discusses the greatest event in the history of the Jewish people-the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai. Hashem told Moshe that the reason why he was taking us out of Egypt and performing nature-defying miracles on our behalf was because He planned to give us the Torah on Har Sinai. Hence Yetzias Mitzrayim and all of the events associated with it finally reached their climax in this week’s Parsha. The Rishonim[1] mention a tradition that when we were told in Egypt that we would receive the Torah, we were so excited that we began counting down the days until Matan Torah. This eventually became known as the Mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer.[2] After slight contemplation, however, the above matter seems puzzling. Chazal state that since the times of Avraham Avinu, people were learning Torah and keeping Mitzvos. Even Adam Harishon, Chanoch, and Mesushelach learned Torah.[3] In fact, Avraham observed all of the Torah laws, including the future Rabbinical decrees that would be enacted.[4] His son Yitzchak followed the same path, and so did Yaakov and the Twelve Tribes. This therefore begs the question: “What was so novel and significant about Matan Torah that we make it the greatest experience of our nation?” We already had the Torah and we already observed Mitzvos. What happened at Matan Torah that suddenly changed our relationship with Hashem and His Torah, magnifying the experience to the point that we consider it as if the Torah and Mitzvos did not exist prior? Before Matan Torah, the Torah and Mitzvos were not obligatory upon our nation, but rather voluntary, and hence the great novelty of Matan Torah was the fact that the Torah and Mitzvos now became an obligation. Nevertheless, this in itself requires clarification. Why do we need the Torah and Mitzvos to be obligatory? What was wrong with the voluntary Mitzvos performed by our forefathers, and why did this obligation excite us to the point of counting down the days until it came into force? This Mamar leads us to a new fundamental understanding of the purpose of Matan Torah, its novel effect on the Jewish soul, and its novel effect on the world. In general, Chassidus emphasizes two great innovations that came into being as a result of Matan Torah. One is that our learning of Torah is no longer simply the recitation of our own personal words, but is rather the repetition of the words of Hashem, which we merit to recite through uniting with Him. The second is the effect that our Mitzvos have on this world, now having the ability to permeate the physical creations with G-dliness and making the world a dwelling place for Hashem. This Mamar mainly focuses on the first aspect, the novelty of Torah learning that resulted from Matan Torah. The Rebbe[5] talks extensively about the second aspect, the novelty of the Mitzvos, and how they can now fulfill the purpose of the world within a Dirah Betachtonim. This Mamar of the Alter Rebbe was requested by the Rebbe to be learned by every individual prior to the festival of Shavuos, which commemorates Matan Torah.

 

Explorations of the Mamar:

1.      On what day did we arrive at Har Sinai? Why is this day not mentioned in the Passuk?

2.      What was the great novelty of Matan Torah if we were already observing the Torah since the days of our forefathers?

3.      What is the difference between one who learned Torah before Matan Torah and one who learns Torah today?

4.      How can one experience fear of Hashem upon learning Torah in the way that it was experienced at Har Sinai?

 

The Questions:

The verse states, “And on the third month of the Jewish people leaving Mitzrayim, on this day they came to Midbar Sinai.” What does “this day” refer to? Chazal derived from juxtaposition [Hekesh] of the word “Hazeh/This” that it refers to Rosh Chodesh, because where the commandment of Rosh Chodesh is written, it also says the word “Hazeh/This”. The question, however, arises as to why the verse doesn’t simply explicitly state that the day when we arrived was Rosh Chodesh? Why use hidden terms that require juxtapositions in order to reveal their true intent? To understand this, we must first introduce a general question on the entire episode of Matan Torah. Chazal state that since the times of Avraham Avinu, people were learning Torah and keeping Mitzvos. Even Adam Harishon, Chanoch, and Mesushelach learned Torah.[6] “From the days of our forefathers Yeshivas have been opened. They were in Mitzrayim and had Yeshivos. They were in the Midbar and had Yeshivos. Avraham Avinu was an elder and sat in a Yeshiva. Yitzchak Avinu was an elder and sat in a Yeshiva. Yaakov Avinu was an elder and sat in a Yeshiva.”[7] In fact, Avraham observed all the Torah laws, including the future Rabbinical decrees that would be enacted.[8] His son Yitzchak followed the same path and so did Yaakov and the Twelve Tribes. This raises the question, “What was so novel and significant about Matan Torah that it was the greatest experience of our nation?” We already had the Torah and we already observed Mitzvos. How did Matan Torah change in our relationship with Hashem and His Torah to the point that we consider it as if the Torah and Mitzvos did not exist prior?

Avraham was a southerner:

The verse states that Avraham traveled to the south. This is not a mere description of Avraham’s geographical positioning on the globe, but is a description of Avraham’s form of service of Hashem. “South” in Kabbalah refers to the level of Ahavah Ilaah, the higher level of love. Avraham spiritually traveled from level to level until he reached the state of Ahavah Ilaah. He rose from level to level, to the point that he became a Divine chariot for G-d and experienced a constant revelation of this love. This level, however, did not come to Avraham without setbacks and deterrents. Avraham had to overcome his animal soul, which limited and concealed his spiritual side that derived from his G-dly soul. This love was reached through contemplating Hashem’s greatness, as we see in the worlds, and all of these matters are derived from a mere glimmer of G-dliness and have no effect on Hashem’s essence whatsoever.

 

Reaching the level of south-Ahavas Hashem:

All of this was true for Avraham Avinu. His contemplation on the above matters helped take him out of the constraints and limitations of his animal soul, until he became a chariot for G-d. However we, his descendants, are unable to achieve the above results simply through contemplation. We can contemplate Hashem’s greatness and thoroughly understand it, yet nevertheless our hearts will remain insensitive and not budge, to the point that even in the midst of sin we can be thinking of G-d. This knowledge does not penetrate our heart or feelings. On this the verse laments, “Ani Havayah Lo Shanisi Veatem Bnei Yaakov Lo Kalisem”, meaning that although you understand My Greatness and how the world is but a mere ray of My essence, nevertheless this does not bring you to have passion to attach to me. Why? What changed from the times of Avraham Avinu that caused this lack of ability? The answer for this is the weakness of our G-dly soul. Our G-dly souls have been weakened and diluted of their spiritual powers as a result of the coarse and corporeal human body in which the G-dly soul is housed. The soul is considered tied into the animalistic desires of the body and is drawn after them.

 

The strength the Torah gives to the G-dly soul: 

It was for this exact purpose that the Torah was given to the Jewish people. The Torah is called Oz, which means “strength”, as the Torah gives strength to the G-dly soul to overcome the concealments of the body and material temptations experienced by the animal soul. Through the Torah, the G-dly soul is able to exit its incarceration within materialism and soar to the levels of love for Hashem that it once experienced above. This is the inner meaning behind the statement of the Sages, “Torah brings Shalom to the Pamalya of below”. This means that the Torah gives strength to the G-dly soul so that it is able to overcome the animal soul, to the point that even the animal soul agrees to this unity and also desires to attach to Hashem.

How does the Torah give strength?

How does the Torah have the power to strengthen the G-dly soul? The Torah itself is invested within the physical world and discusses physical matters. The Torah we have today is not the Torah of Atzilus, but is the Torah as it descended and became invested in physicality, just as occurred to the G-dly soul. So why does the Torah contain any greater power than the G-dly soul, and furthermore can serve as the G-dly soul’s source of rejuvenation?

Lamor”-The novelty of Matan Torah:

The explanation for this is found in the word “Lamor” that was said in the Aseres Hadibros. Normally the word “Lamor/to say” is only used as a form of command to the listener, when telling the listener to relate the matter to another person. However, as every single Jewish soul was present and heard the commandments at Matan Torah, to whom exactly was Hashem telling us to relate the commandments? The explanation is as follows: The Torah as it exists within this world has received physical connotations as explained above. Nevertheless, these physical connotations do not conceal the Holiness of the Torah, and its original level of Holiness remains intact. Hence the Torah that we are learning is the exact same Torah that exists at its source in the Or Ein Sof. This connection of the Torah below and the Or Ein Sof above comes about as a result of the level of Bittul one has when learning Torah. When one learns Torah for the proper motives, and feels nullified to Hashem through this learning, he causes that there will be no interference between the physical Torah and its spiritual root. When this occurs, the words of Torah that one is reciting are actually the words of G-d that were stated on Har Sinai. The person becomes nullified to G-d to the point that he is simply repeating after the words of Hashem, “Onah Achar Hakoreh”, as the verse states, “Taan Leshoni Imrasecha”, that my tongue repeats Your words. This is the meaning of the word Lamor. There is a commandment for every Jew in every generation to learn the Torah of Hashem with nullification, in a way that he is simply repeating the words of G-d. This is the main aspect of Kabbalas Hatorah, the power that we received through Bittul, to become a chariot for G-d’s speech and repeat His words. The power that we received at Matan Torah was to have Bittul to the point that the Torah we learn reveals what was said at Sinai. Based on this, we can understand the statement of the Sages that every Torah novelty that was innovated after Matan Torah is considered as given to Moshe at Sinai, because a Torah novelty that comes as the result of proper Torah learning is actually a continuation of Matan Torah. It is this form of learning Torah that gives strength to the G-dly soul to overcome the animal soul. When one contemplates this matter upon learning Torah, one can come to feel a great fear and fright, as if he is now receiving the Torah at Matan Torah, as in truth every time he learns Torah the same revelation of the words of Hashem that were uttered at Matan Torah are now being spoken.

The connection between Matan Torah and Rosh Chodesh:

Based on the above, one can now understand the connection between Matan Torah and Rosh Chodesh, which the Sages had juxtaposed. The Jewish people are compared to the moon. This is because of the attribute of Bittul witnessed in the moon. The moon has no light of its own, and all the light it has is received from the sun. As the moon rotates and becomes closer to the sun, it loses more and more of its light until it becomes completely invisible. This is similar to the Jewish people, who are completely nullified to Hashem, and all of their learning and Mitzvos have no sense of self but rather contain a complete nullification to the Or Ein Sof. The closer one becomes to Hashem, the more Bittul one has. This is the reason why the Torah juxtaposes the verses of Matan Torah with Rosh Chodesh, as they both share this similarity of Bittul. The renewal of the moon on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, which occurred when we arrived at Har Sinai, represents the radiance of the Or Ein Sof to the Jewish people, in preparation for receiving their full Bittul at the time of Matan Torah.

 

Lessons of the Mamar:

·         When one is learning Torah, he is not just studying a religious wisdom. He is actually entering a unity with Hashem to the point that the words he is reciting are being said at that very moment by Hashem and are being invested within his mouth. Upon learning Torah, one should have this Kavana in mind of learning Torah in order to unite with Hashem and become a chariot for Him.

·         Having set times for Torah study is not just another commandment of the Torah, but is the power source of our G-dly soul to overcome the animal soul, and is hence an essential necessity in our service of G-d. Establish times of Torah study every day, and make it an essential action that carries you through your Avodas Hashem throughout the day.

 

 

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[1] Ran Pesachim 28a

[2] Ran ibid

[3] Torah Or 73b

[4] Yuma 28b; Kiddushin 82

[5] See Likkutei Sichos 16 p. 211; Shaareiy Hamoadim Shavuos

[6] Torah Or 73b

[7] Yuma 28b; see Tanchuma Vayigash; Rashi 46/28

[8] Yuma 28b; Kiddushin 82

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