By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
ביום הזה יט:א שיהיו דברי תורה חדשים עליך כאילו היום ניתנו רש”י
The day that Klal Yisrael arrived in Midbar Sinai was Rosh Chodesh, as Rashi explains on the spot. Matan Torah was not until the sixth of Sivan. So why are we being taught about “this day” – that Torah should have fresh newness every day just as on the day it was given – on a day that was not the day of Matan Torah?
Klal Yisrael’s arrival to Midbar Sinai was not merely a chronological technicality. In terms of the preparation on their part, leading up to the day of kabbalas ha’Torah, it was their first approach. That is when they began their preparations. This is evident from the fact that they left Refidim in a state of teshuva and arrived at Midbar Sinai in a state of teshuva, as Rashi brings from Chazal. The Mishna teaches, haskein atzmecha lilmod Torah – there is a need for one to prepare himself to learn Torah.
What we see from the derasha of ba’yom ha’zeh – that Torah should have fresh newness every day – is that even the preliminary preparation should be with an attitude of fresh newness. The truth is, that the learning itself really doesn’t need this encouragement. If it’s a new masechta or a new sugya that you’ve never learned before, who doesn’t get excited? Of course it’s exciting. And if it’s a masechta you’ve already learned before, then you know it already! It’s like reuniting with an old, beloved friend. But the preliminaries, that needs special prodding that we should do it with excitement.
This matter is like an alyah v’kotz bah. On the one hand, everyone has a strong desire and ambition to learn a lot of Torah and become a talmid chacham. There isn’t a Yid who is not struck by this drive. But the urge alone is not enough. One needs to capitalize on it, to immediately grab it with both hands. Open the Gemara right away and start learning. Then you’re already on the way. But you have to sit down and do it. And it is against this that the sitrah acharah works very hard.
Rashi also brings the yesod of kol haschalos kashos, all beginnings are difficult. But, mi’kan v’eilach ye’erav lachem – once you get past the beginning, it’s exhilarating and sweet. Really, we are always fluctuating between the state of “difficult beginnings” and “sweet continuum”. To get yourself into the Beis Ha’Medrash, that’s hard. That’s the difficult beginning. A lot of times, one can become distracted by this and that that he feels he has to do, or he remembers that he needs to take care of such-and-such, or that a certain thing needs to be done better. We don’t even realize sometimes how much the sitrah acharah distracts us from getting past this beginning point. That is why it is critical to try as much as possible to incorporate excitement – the yihiyu chadashim alecha k’ilu ha’yom nitnu – even into the avodah of the preliminary of getting oneself to the Gemara.
Even once a person has gotten himself into the Beis Ha’Medrash, there is still a flux from “difficult beginnings” to “sweet continuum” from hour to hour. Of course, it is easier than the stage of actually getting yourself into the Beis Ha’Medrash, but the challenge is still there. At least until one gets to the point of learning six hours without interruption. At the point, says the Chazon Ish, the ecstatic pleasure is so great that the doors of Gan Eiden open up. He is as if in Gan Eiden in this world and the material world becomes completely and utterly irrelevant to him. He could go on forever.
(Audio recording available here)
ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר יט:ב
“Vayichan sham Yisrael neged ha’har — and Yisrael encamped there opposite the mountain.” What exactly is the gadlus of the fact that Klal Yisrael camped opposite Har Sinai? After all, in anticipation of receiving the Torah on Har Sinai, where else would Klal Yisrael have pitched camp?! Neged ha’har almost seems superfluous.
The Chiddushei Ha’Rim explained that the pasuk isn’t coming to tell us where the Jewish People were facing as much as it is coming to tell us where they were not facing. The real gadlus of neged ha’har is that their backs were to the Midbar. Meaning that they turned away from the rest of the world. To properly receive the Torah, one has to have his back turned to the rest of the world; to forgo interest and involvement with material pursuit.
The Nefesh Ha’Chaim writes that every time a person learns Torah it is considered a new kabbalas ha’Torah, as though he is receiving the Torah right at that moment. Just as the Jews in the midbar had to engage in teshuva and appropriate preparation in order to receive the Torah, elaborates the Nefesh Ha’Chaim, so too are we enjoined to do in order to facilitate our person kabbalas ha’Torah each time we learn Torah.
Whenever a person is engaged in learning Torah, he should conduct himself as the Jews in the midbar did and “turn his back on the world”. Meaning, he should focus solely on the words of Torah that he is learning to the exclusion of all else. He should ignore anything and everything that may be going on in the world around him. To do so is to employ the characteristic of k’shei oref (“stiff-necked”) in a positive manner.
This concept of having one’s back figuratively turned to the world – neged ha’har – doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Every little bit that one turns his back to the rest of the world and removes himself from mundane pursuit, that’s how much stronger of a kabbalas ha’Torah he can have.
(From Reb Yehuda Eisenstein and the notes of Reb Danny Fast)
זכור את יום השבת לקדשו כ:ז
Rashi explains that the word zachor implies an ongoing state of action, something that you are doing all the time. Accordingly, Rashi elaborates, what the mitzvah is requiring is that one make a point to always remember the Shabbos day and bear it in mind. The practical manifestation of this, says Rashi, is that if at any point during the week one comes across something nice that could be used for Shabbos, one is cognizant of that fact and indeed sets it aside for Shabbos. Rashi is therein quoting the Gemara in Beitzah (16a).
In a similar vein, the Ramban says that saying the introductory line to the shir shel yom each day is a fulfillment of this mitzvah. By saying “today is rishon l’Shabbos, sheini l’Shabbos, etc.” one is remembering Shabbos every day.
The common denominator of Rashi’s and the Ramban’s explanations is that the mitzvah of zachor es yom ha’Shabbos is to constantly remember Shabbos.
On the other hand, the Ramban notes that Chazal extrapolate the mitzvah of making kiddush on Shabbos from this pasuk of zachor es yom ha’Shabbos l’kadsho. Indeed, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 29:1) says that it is saying Kiddush that is the fulfillment of this mitzvah.
According to this understanding of the mitzvah, it is not a mitzvah to be zocher (remember) Shabbos, rather l’hazkir (to proclaim/announce) Shabbos. What emerges, then, is that we have two approaches regarding how to understand the mitzvah of zachor – a) to remember, b) to announce/proclaim.
We find a similar dichotomy in reference to the mitzvah of zachor es ha’yom ha’zeh asher yetzasem mi’mitzrayim (Bo 13:3). Rashi explains it to mean that you have to recall the day of Hashem taking us out of Mitzrayim every single day of the year. The Rambam (Hilchos Chametz u’Matzah 7:1), on the other hand, says that this pasuk is the source for reciting the Haggadah – relating the story of yetzias Mitzrayim to one’s children on the first night of Pesach – and he brings the pasuk of zachor es yom ha’Shabbos l’lakdsho as a similar example of this type of mitzvah. So once again we see these two different approaches of how to understand the mitzvah of zachor.
(From the notes of Reb Danny Fast)