By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
In the Torah, there are several references to mountains that are central to our history. We are introduced to Har Hamoriah, when Avrohom Avinu approached it to offer his son, Yitzchok, as a korban.
On that mountain, malochim appeared to Avrohom and Yitzchok. On that mountain, Yaakov Avinu experienced kedusha and received tremendous brachos. On the mountain, the Bais Hamikdosh was built.
The mountain that hosted much holiness also had its share of tragedy. Though it beheld so much kedusha, during the period of churban its kedusha was defiled and tumah found a home there.
The Torah writes about Har Gerizim and Har Eivol, mountains near Sh’chem. On one, eternal brachos were delivered. On the other, eternal damnations rang out for those who don’t follow the Torah. One mountain was covered with greenery. The other was desolate and barren. They remain so until today.
In Nach, we learn of the peak on which Eliyohu Hanovi faced off against the nevi’ei habaal.
Most central to who we are is Har Sinai. Though small as far as mountains are concerned, its summit towers over the landscape of Jewish history. On Shavuos, we are reminded of the mountain as we conjure up the image of millions camped around its perimeter, experiencing tangible awe. They had traveled for forty-five days, following Moshe Rabbeinu through a hot, dusty desert to get there.
Journeying on a trek that began at creation, the nation headed towards its destiny. Bereishis – bishvil haTorah shenikra reishis.
There was thunder and lightning. The sound of a shofar boomed, growing increasingly louder. Smoke rose from the mountain, which sat under a heavy cloud. The Divine Voice resonated throughout the universe, shaking the earth’s foundations. The Bnei Yisroel were fearful. They watched as their leader ascended the mountain and disappeared inside the arofel, foggy clouds.
As we study the story of Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai, we recognize that to reach supreme holiness, we often have to make our way through fog. We have to ensure that we persevere and do not become deterred when enveloped by darkness.
Wherever there is kedusha, there is tumah seeking to break through and destroy it. The more we build and the larger we grow, the more the forces of tumah seek to seep in and spread their poison.
Throughout the ages, inspired people yearned to raise and purify themselves, so that they would not be weighed down by fog, smoke and loud noises that surrounded them. They courageously pressed forward towards kedusha.
Ever since Har Sinai, Jews have been confronted by darkness and fog. The urge is to shirk from the challenge and retreat. But just as Moshe did as he entered the arofel atop the mountain, people who are drawn towards kedusha and taharah understand that they must advance undeterred by the tishtush hamochin that affects others.
The Brisker Rov was the mesader kiddushin at a wedding. Standing under the chupah, it was time for the chosson to place the ring on the kallah’s finger and pronounce her his wife. As the young man attempted to place the ring on her finger, he was so nervous that he was shaking and dropped the ring.
His father bent down, picked up the ring from the floor, and returned it to the chosson. Once again, the chosson’s hand was shaking so much as he tried to place the ring on his kallah’s finger that it fell to the ground. His father picked it up and returned it to him.
The nervous chosson made a third attempt at placing the ring on the girl’s finger. The seemingly simple task escaped him once again and the ring dropped to the ground. This time, people began murmuring. Someone turned to the Rov and said, “This seems like a sign that they should not be getting married. Perhaps the whole thing should just be called off.”
The Rov shook his head. “This is a sign,” he said, “that the couple was meant to marry now and not three minutes earlier.”
Upon hearing that, the boy calmed down. His father handed him the ring, he placed it on the kallah’s finger, and he said, “Harei at mekudeshes li… kedas Moshe v’Yisroel.”
Many times, the future looks bleak and we see signs from heaven pointing this way and that. We must always remain focused on our goal and not permit anything to deter us. We don’t look at setbacks as signs of defeat. We see them as challenges that we must overcome.
The study of Torah is difficult, and many times, while learning, we feel as if we are in arofel, lost in a fog of misunderstanding. We can’t follow the back and forth of the Gemara or don’t get the kushya or teretz of Tosafos. We say that the sugya is too difficult for us to comprehend. We just want to close the Gemara and find something easier to do.
We must remember that this is the way of the Torah. It doesn’t come easy, but we immerse ourselves in it anyway, and after much work, we begin to understand it and appreciate its beauty and brilliance.
Rav Shmuel Auerbach told a story he heard from a witness, ish mipi ish. One of the holy tzaddikim of Yerushalayim had a kemei’a that he would lend to people in need of a yeshuah. The Kabbalistic document was written by the Taz, author of the Turei Zohov on Shulchan Aruch. The kemei’a was especially powerful and many people who used it saw their issues resolved.
The owner of the kemei’a was very curious as to what was written on the concealed piece of parchment that beheld such power. Though an amulet generally loses its powers when opened, he reasoned that he could copy the secret names of Hashem and malochim written on it onto a new parchment and preserve the ability to help people in dire straits.
Upon opening the antique sacred text, the man was astonished to see that it didn’t bear holy names or names of ministering angels. Instead, in the handwriting of the Taz was one line that read: “Dear Creator of the world, please bring salvation and blessings to the person wearing this amulet in the merit of my deep toil to understand the words of Tosafos in Chulin on daf 96.”
This is the power of Torah. This is the reward for diligence in understanding the words of a Tosafos.
The Torah gives life to those who struggle through the arofel to understand and grasp its holy words and messages. The strength it grants its adherents is eternal. But we must exercise patience, discipline and intelligence to attain a proper understanding of Torah. We must not quit and surrender.
In Nach (Shmuel I, perek 13) we read that shortly after Shaul was appointed king, the Pelishtim gathered to battle Am Yisroel. The Jews hid in caves and pits, while Shaul and his small army prepared for the battle. Shmuel Hanovi had told Shaul to wait for him to come and offer korbanos – an olah and a shelomim – prior to going to war.
The people grew testy and began leaving Shaul. Under increasing pressure, Shaul Hamelech decided to offer the korbanos himself and not wait for Shmuel. He brought the olah and then Shmuel came. The novi admonished the king for not waiting for him to bring the korbanos as Hashem had wished. Shmuel informed Shaul that because he did not follow the word of Hashem, his reign, which was destined to last forever, would soon end.
There is nothing as blinding and fearful as the fog of war, but because Shaul feared that he would fail if he would follow the command of the novi, he was punished and soon vanquished from his rule.
Threatened by forces of nature, deserted by man, with everything seemingly stacked against us, if we remain loyal and do not succumb to the temptation of veering from the commands of Hashem, we will be blessed with success and eternal blessings.
The first Jews to receive the Torah had their own arofel, servitude in Mitzrayim, sinking to the lowest levels of tumah. Their faith sustained them as they followed Moshe out of the country through the Yam Suf. Within 49 days, they prepared themselves to receive the Torah at Har Sinai. They fought their way through the fog of Mitzrayim’s tumah and raised themselves to the highest levels man can attain.
On Shavuos, we read Megillas Rus, the tale of Na’ami and her daughter-in-law, Rus. Two courageous women survived tragedy and lifted themselves through their personal arofel to give birth to the progenitor of Dovid Hamelech and Moshiach. Rus Hamoaviah rose from the depravity of her native land and became a dedicated giyores. Nothing was able to deter her from remaining loyal to Torah and the Jewish people. She endured poverty and loneliness as she pursued her chosen path. She was rewarded with royal offspring and eternal blessings. We all await the arrival of her descendant, the ultimate redeemer.
Rus had many reasons to return to Moav and the wealth she had left behind when marrying into Elimelech’s family, yet she so eloquently cast her lot with the Jewish people. Her story encourages us to persevere in our times of hardship. Her story is yet another demonstration that those who follow the path of Hashem and cleave to Torah and mitzvos, determined to prevail, will flourish and thrive.
Rather than stepping away, she moved forward. Instead of succumbing to what seemed to be insurmountable deterrents, she showed us that fidelity to Torah is always preferable to any alternative. We must also never quit, no matter the difficulties we encounter in the observance or study of Torah.
When Hashem appeared to the Bnei Yisroel and offered them the Torah, they responded in unison, “Na’aseh venishma – We will do and we will hear whatever you tell us.” The response was so praiseworthy that the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (88a) relates that following their response, malochim placed two crowns on the head of each Jew, one for na’aseh and one for nishma. A bas kol rang out, proclaiming, “Who taught my children this secret?”
Many question what was so extraordinary about na’aseh venishma that it engendered such a dramatic response. Perhaps we can explain that by responding in this way, they were declaring, “Na’aseh, we will act according to the dictates of the Torah and follow its commands. Venishma, and we will accomplish through dedicating ourselves to the study of Torah. No difficulty will stop us from working as hard as we can to understand the words of the Torah. We will not get lost or deterred in the arofel.
Na’aseh venishma. We have been reciting that pledge for thousands of years. Wherever we are, whatever language we speak, irrespective of geographical distance from major Jewish centers, of the ravages of the exile, of golus, churban and pogroms, we all proclaim together, “Na’aseh venishma.”
Those words are what set us apart and have kept us through the ages. We have been guarded by the Torah and our fidelity to it and what it demands of us. The other nations of the world throughout our history are all gone. We are here because of those two words that guide and define us.
On the Yom Tov of Kabbolas HaTorah, we are regifted the Torah and proclaim, “Na’aseh venishma,” yet again. We focus on the positive, we remain mindful of our objective and mission, and we rededicate ourselves to fulfilling it, this day and every day.
My uncle, Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Telz, shared an incident at a Torah Umesorah convention. He recalled a sad period in Telz when something happened that provoked the ire of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch. Rav Elya Meir addressed the yeshiva. As he began, the bochurim were expecting a severe lecture about the depths to which some had sunk. Rav Elya Meir told them something else entirely. “We know how low a person can fall,” he said, “but now we shall focus on how high man can soar.”
With a classic mussar message of gadlus ha’odom, he delivered a shmuess about the potential to grow, helping the talmidim realize the heights they could reach.
Rav Levin concluded by telling the gathered mechanchim not to limit their focus on protecting their talmidim from the darkness. “We also have to inspire them to rise above it,” he clamored.
We are a great people. The fire of Torah has the ability to glow in our souls, incinerating the tumah that seeks to envelop us, and light our path through the darkness. We each have a spark waiting to be kindled, so that we will have the motivation and strength to walk through the arofel, as kedoshim, reaching for the Heavens.
Have a good Yom Tov.