By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
As the Yom Tov of Shavuos is upon us, we celebrate that which we say daily in the blessings on the Torah. “Asher bochar bonu mikol ha’amim, v’nosan lanu es Toraso,” that Hashem chose us from all of the nations and gave us His Torah. In the very first posuk in the Torah, we are taught “Bereishis borah Elokim,” which Rashi explains to mean that the world was created because of the Torah.
What is unique about the Torah that It is different from other types of wisdom such as medicine, physics, or mathematics? A superficial answer would be that the Torah encompasses all of the other wisdoms. As Ben Bag-Bag teaches us in Pirkei Avos, “Hafoch bah, hafoch bah, d’kula bah – Turn It (the Torah) around and turn It around and you will find everything contained in It.” Or as the Zohar states, “Istakeil baOraisah u’borah alma – Hashem looked in the Torah and created the world.” So, It is the true blueprint of all of creation.
But, there is much more to the Torah than that. A professor in Cambridge who is a genius at teaching complicated mathematics can be – at the same time – a notorious philanderer; the cruelest Nazi could be a brilliant physician. There can be a total disconnect between one’s character and their specialty knowledge. This is absolutely not the case with our Holy Torah. In order to properly understand and absorb the Torah, one has to first be a mentch. This is the basic concept of “Naaseh v’nishmah – We will do and we will listen.” Listen essentially means to hear the word of G-d via the learning the Torah, both the written law and the oral law. One cannot succeed unless he or she excels at the naaseh first, which means fulfilling the Torah.
In the morning after we wash our hands and we can say Hashem’s Name, the very first verse we say is, “Reshis chochma yiras Hashem seichel tov l’chol oseihem – The very first wisdom is awareness of Hashem, a good mind for all who perform them (the mitzvos). Rav Yecheskal Abromsky, zt”l, zy”a, points out that it does not say, “L’chol lomdeihem – All those who learn them,” but all those oseihem, who perform them because one cannot acquire Torah sechel without living what they study. Similarly, we are taught, “Sur mei-rah v’aseh tov – Avoid evil and do good.” You cannot excel at the tov, which is Torah [as it says “Ki leckach tov nasati lachem, Torasi al taazovu – A goodly merchandise I have given to you, do not forsake My Torah.”], unless we avoid the evil first. As Rabbeinu Yonah explains so beautifully, the finest aged wine is spoiled when you pour it into a soapy, smelly glass. So too, a person with flawed midos will ruin the Torah that they try to absorb.
It is for this reason that we read the Megillah of Rus on Shavuos. Rus, which the Medrash reveals to us is the Megillah of kindness is the perfect synthesis to the holiday of kabbalah HaTorah- accepting the Torah, for it is only with a posture of kindness that one can excel at Torah excellence.
It is for this reason that we are taught that the Torah is acquired with 48 acts of acquisition. For unlike other knowledge, diligence and intelligence does not suffice. One must also have finely chiseled character traits such as empathy and humility to name but a few.
Be aware that this is not readily recognizable to the human eye. One might erroneously think that they are actually succeeding at Torah even though they come home in the evening and scream at their wife or cheat in business during the day. But, the true cheishek haTorah, desire of learning, and simchas haTorah, the joy of learning, and the mesikus haTorah, the sweetness of Torah, is only given to a person who makes themselves a keili, a receptacle, worthy to receive It. As the Tosefos HaRosh says, the Torah was given in blackness and smoke instead of with strobes of light and a shining sun, because we would pollute ourselves shortly thereafter with the golden calf and therefore didn’t merit the shine of the Torah.
If we want to experience the true beauty of the Torah, then we should make a commitment this Shavuos that we will attempt to rid our minds and our hearts of hatred and grudges, of envy and lust, and in that merit may we all be blessed to experience the sheer wonders of the Torah and all of Its delicious blessings.
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