By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman and Rabbi Rosen
The fact that Yisro and Mishpatim – two of the parshiyos in the Torah that describe Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah on Sinai) – are read in the middle of the winter is quite advantageous. It affords us the opportunity to reassess our commitment to the mandates of the Torah well before the Yomtov of Shavuos. That said, it is appropriate to clarify and examine the purpose of Matan Torah. There is a well-known statement of the Gra in his commentary on Mishlei (22:19) which has aroused a great deal of curiosity amongst the later commentators. The Gra asserts that the goal of Matan Torah is to facilitate acquiring the attribute of bitachon (trust in Hashem). This seems to be a tremendous chiddush! One would certainly have thought that the primary aim of Matan Torah is to enable Jews to learn Torah, or perhaps to become fully-committed servants of Hashem. And, of course, these rationale are indeed true; yet, the Gra nevertheless singles out bitachon! Perhaps we can understand this as follows. Essentially, Torah is the declaration of ratzon Hashem, the will of the Almighty Creator of the Universe. It is our reference book, if you will, of the Divine will. What it is that Hashem wants out of this whole creation that He created. Torah is the guidebook of instructions for how Hashem wants us to act in this world. But not only in this temporal realm. Equally, it is the expression of the will of Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu in all of the olamos, for every realm and level of existence that He brought into being and sustains constantly. Rav Chaim Volozhiner, in Nefesh Ha’Chaim (4:27), writes that the Torah travelled down through all the upper worlds until it was given to us as in its this-worldly version. Nevertheless, elaborates Rav Chaim Volozhiner, the Torah retains its essential purity and loftiness that finds expression in the higher worlds. One could thus sum up the basic definition of Torah with the phrase “Torah is ratzon Hashem”. In the higher, spiritual worlds, ratzon Hashem refers to Hashem’s absolute sovereignty. In our physical world, in addition to Hashem’s absolute kingship and control, ratzon Hashem is directed at us. Namely, in terms of the instructions it provides regarding the myriad specifics of how we are meant to utilize our free will to become the best servants of Hashem that we can possibly be. The fact that we don’t always perceive the ratzon Hashem in this world is a function of Hashem deliberately hiding His presence which creates a limitation on our perception of Hashem’s involvement in the world, which, in turn, ensures there will in fact be room for man to exercise his power of free will choice. So, in essence, as one internalizes the overarching missive of the Torah, he is in fact thereby becoming a baal bitachon, a person who trusts in Hashem. True Torah there cannot be without bitachon. Torah is synonymous with the reality that ratzon Hashem encompasses the entire world. Hashem is pulling the strings in every detail of this world and in all of the cosmos, and higher spiritual realms. In a very real sense, then, the basic message that the Torah conveys is that everything that happens to us is with an all-embracing hashgacha pratis (Divine providence). The Torah is one hundred percent, from the beginning until the very end, conveying ratzon Hashem. To not grow in one’s bitachon as one learns and upholds the Torah is to be missing out on an integral part of what Torah is all about. (Audio recording)
ביום הזה…ויסעו מרפידים יט:א-ב Note that the specific word that the pasuk employs is ha’zeh, which means “on this day”, instead of ha’hu, which would mean “on that day”. The latter, of course, is what we would have expected. Rashi explains that the expression “on this day” connotes the mandate for every generation to view Matan Torah, not as a one-time event that took place in ancient history, but as though every day we are receiving the Torah anew. The words of Torah should be as fresh and exciting every day, just as they were on the day of Matan Torah. As though today is the day of Matan Torah. It is important to take note of the fact that this missive appears within a context. In the next pasuk, Rashi explains that the Torah’s repetition of the fact that the Jewish People traveled from Refidim indicates that, just like the Jewish People left Refidim in a state of teshuvah, so too did they approach Har Sinai in a state of teshuvah. We see, then, that it is teshuvah that is the mechanism that enables us to maintain a sense of vivacious freshness for Torah every day of life! Teshuvah is not limited to self-improvement vis a vis stopping/correcting aveiros. It also includes, in a broader sense, the concept of rededicating oneself to avodas Hashem, and continuously working on filling in what is heretofore lacking in his avodas Hashem. Engaging in this ongoing process is a significant part of what brings one to experience true excitement in learning Torah and a tangible sense of vibrancy in avodas Hashem in general.
ומשה עלה אל האלקים יט:ג The Torah says that Moshe went up to Hashem. Notice, my grandfather (Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l) pointed out, that the Torah does not say that Hashem called him up. A simple reading of the pasuk seems to indicate that Moshe went up to the top of Har Sinai of his own volition. This seems odd, my grandfather continued, because we are used to Moshe acting and doing things based on a direct mandate that Hashem instructed. What this seeming anomaly shows us, my grandfather explained, is that every Jew has an inborn, natural pull to get close to Hashem! Moshe didn’t need to be told to alight the mountain. He was driven of his own, internal desire to go up to Hashem. It’s an inherent drive to achieve kirvas Elokim that exists within the heart of each and every Jew! An example of this innate drive to connect to Hashem, we find in the writings of the Rishonim who describe that, in the times of shmad (Gentile religious coercion at threat of death), men, women, and children – even the most simple people; even people who may not have been particularly scrupulous about their observance – willingly gave up their lives al kiddush Hashem. When a person is faced with the terrible choice of either death or shmad, the latent pull towards closeness to Hashem – which heretofore may have been largely dormant – is awakened. That natural strength comes to the fore, and the individual is filled with the realization that shmad is not an option, and the only real choice is to give up his life al kiddush Hashem. (Maamarei Shavuos, pg 14)
Quotables “Matan Torah is not merely an intellectual proof that the Torah is true; it is an eidus (testimony).”
Vignettes “I was fortunate enough to be in Rav Twersky’s shiur during my tenure in Yeshivas Toras Moshe. After I moved on from the Yeshiva to my next station in life, I made a point to call Rav Twersky before the Yamim Tovim, especially before the Yamim Noraim, to wish him a good Yomtov and a good year. I didn’t think it was such a big deal. In my mind I thought that was the natural thing to do. I thought it was a nice gesture and a way to keep up the connection, at least in some small way. One Erev Rosh Hashanah, a good few years after I had left Toras Moshe, I called Rav Twersky to wish him a good year. As always. This particular time, I didn’t get through. So, I did the next best thing. I left a message on Rav Twersky’s answering machine. It didn’t take long for the call to exit my mind, and I didn’t give it another thought. That is, until about three months later when I visited Toras Moshe to take care of something. I was standing in the Beis Medrash when, out of the corner of my eye I noticed Rav Twersky practically jumping up on the other side of the Beis Medrash, and beginning to make his way over to me. ‘Hello!’ he said to me, ‘Thank you so much for calling me before Rosh Ha’Shana! I’m sorry I missed your call!’ Well, as you could imagine, I wasn’t expecting that and was quite amazed that it meant so much to him. It gave me an entirely new level of appreciation of what we, Rav Twersky’s talmidim, meant to him.” (A talmid)