Festival of the Giving of the Torah
From the book “Israel Redeemed” by HaRav Dov Begon, Head of Yeshivat Machon Meir. Translation by Rabbi Menachem Weinberg.
The Torah was given to the Jewish People, and not to this individual or that, neither to any particular party or stream within the Jewish People. Only when Israel was united as one man with one heart did they receive the Torah at Sinai. Before the Sinai Revelation, the Jewish people repented, abandoning their divisiveness and uniting, as it says, “They had departed from Rephidim and had arrived in the Sinai Desert, camping in the wilderness. Israel camped opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2). Rashi comments, “As one man, with one heart.” From the receiving of the Torah, some 3000 years ago, until today, the Jewish people have never ceased to learn, teach, and fulfill our holy Torah. The Torah is a book of life. As it says, “It is a tree of life for those who take hold of it” (Proverbs 3:18).
The knowledge that the Torah was imparted to the entire Jewish People is bequeathed to every Jewish child when he is learning to talk. His father then teaches him, “Moses prescribed the Torah to us, an eternal heritage to the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4; Rambam, Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:6). Our holy Torah is a heritage for the entire Jewish People.
Likewise each day, before we learn Torah, we bless God, “who chose us from amongst all nations and gave us His Torah.” The blessing refers to us in the plural. Every approach to Torah learning must start with an awareness that God chose us from amongst all the nations, that the Jewish People are a chosen people, a “kingdom of priests and a holy people” (see Exodus 19:5–6). Torah learning that does not begin with recitation of the Torah blessing to God “who chose us from amongst all nations,” is what brought the exile upon us. As our sages say, “Why was the Land lost? Because they did not recite the blessings before Torah learning” (see Bava Metzia 85, Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Talmud Torah 2).
Today, how fortunate we are and how pleasant our lot that after two thousand years of exile we have finally merited to return to our land. And we are not only returning to our land, but to ourselves and to our Torah, our heritage. Here in Eretz Yisrael, the special soul of the Jewish People as a chosen people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, is increasingly being revealed for all to see. True, we are still only at the start of the process of rebirth, and there is still enormous confusion and lack of knowledge and understanding regarding the essence, identity and purpose of our people, chosen by God to bring light to the world. Yet we can already see the light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of tens of thousands of our Jewish brethren who are returning to our holy Torah, filling the synagogues and study halls, and reciting the Torah blessing, praising God “who chose us from amongst all nations and gave us His Torah.” On Shavuot, we recite with enormous joy, “You chose us from amongst all peoples. You loved us and wanted us . . . and You lovingly gave us holidays for joy, festivals and good times for rejoicing, including this Shavuot holiday, the festival of the giving of the Torah.”
Today, our generation, the generation of the rebirth and of ingathering of the exiles, is facing spiritual, social and political crises. The means of rectifying this complex situation is to foment a change in culture and education, and to establish Torah learning as a national value of the first order. All Jewish children, and adults as well, should be learning Torah, as was the situation during the time of King Hezekiah, who passed a compulsory education law. If during the dark exile, Torah learning illuminated the Jewish souls, ensuring their survival, all the more so in the Land of Israel and the State of Israel, that the Torah learning of myriad Jews should strengthen the spirit of the nation.
Our holy Torah belongs to the entire Jewish people, and to every individual Jew. We shall certainly be the living fulfillment of the blessing, “Our Father! Merciful Father! You, who are ever compassionate! Have pity on us and inspire us to understand and discern, to perceive, learn and teach, to observe, do and fulfill gladly all the teachings of Your Torah” (Blessings of the Shema).
“My spirit . . . and My words . . . shall not depart from your mouth nor from the mouth of your children.”
At the Sinai Revelation, “Moses led the people out of the camp toward the divine presence. They stood transfixed at the foot of the mountain” (Exodus 19:17). Rashi comments, “The mountain was torn from its place and overturned upon them like a basin. God said, ‘if you accept the Torah, fine. Otherwise, this shall be your burial place” (Shabbat 88a). And why did God overturn the mountain upon them in this way? To make known the Torah’s virtue, that Israel cannot survive without it. Had Israel accepted the Torah willingly, they would say that it is not essential and they can get along without it. After all, they received it of their own free will and they could have rejected it just as well. God therefore overturned the mountain upon them, to show that Israel cannot survive without the Torah, just as the world cannot exist without the Torah (see Maharal, Gur Arye).
Likewise, Scripture says of King Hezekiah, who was a penitent, “He drove a sword into the door of the study hall and he said, ‘Whoever does not study Torah shall be impaled with this sword.’ An examination was made from Dan to Beersheva and not a single ignoramus was found. . . . No one, child or adult, was found to be unfamiliar with Jewish law. . . .” (Sanhedrin 94b).
Rav Kook had a vision of “our nation being rebuilt and consolidated, regaining its strength and resuming all aspects of its life as a nation.” This, he said, would occur “by way of their faith and reverence, their divine, hallowed, noble content spreading, gaining control, developing and becoming strong. All the nation’s builders will arrive at the profound truth of this point” (Orot HeTeshuvah 15:11). How will the nation return to its spiritual nature? “Through mass Torah learning, through schools who will raise up Torah scholars and other schools where the masses can learn Torah on a regular basis.”
Today, in the Jewish People’s process of rebirth, we distinguish two stages. The first is the ingathering of the exiles and the establishment of a Jewish state, with economic and military might. The second stage is spiritual rebirth, fulfillment of the prophetic promise, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you. . . . A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you” (Ezekiel 36:25–6). This refers to the renewal of prophecy in Israel, as Rav Kook wrote:
The great repentance that will revive the nation, and that will bring redemption to Israel and to the world, will be repentance that derives from the ruach hakodesh [prophetic intuition] that abounds amongst them” (ibid, 97).
What will lead to this spiritual renewal and rebirth? Torah learning.
The day is not far off when Israel, willingly and agreeably, will enact a Compulsory Torah Education Law. Then all Jewish children will learn Torah, which is the heritage of the entire Jewish People, just as it was given at Sinai to all of Israel. Then, with our own eyes we will see the fulfillment of the divine promise, “This is My covenant with them – says the Lord: ‘My spirit shall be upon you and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your children, nor from the mouth of your children’s children’ – says the Lord – ‘henceforth and forever’” (Isaiah 59:20–21).
The Jewish People – As One Man and Of One Mind
It says, “Israel camped opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2). Rashi explains, “As one man and of one mind, but all their other encampments were made in a spirit of resentment and dissension.” The precondition for Israel’s being ready for the Sinai Revelation was being as one man and of one mind, without resentment or dissension.
We can derive a lesson from a precise analysis of Rashi’s wording: “As one man.” Every individual has numerous limbs and organs and diverse attributes. Yet they all add up to one person, with each limb and organ and every attribute supplementing what is lacking in the others. It is the same with the Jewish People. Every Jew is different, “for neither in mind or appearance do they resemble one another” (Berachot 58). All the same, we are one people marching through history to our divine destiny, to serve as a light unto the nations.
Why was it necessary for Rashi to add “and of one mind”? Rashi was hinting that it is not enough that the Jewish people possess one “body,” one national framework. That national framework needs a heart, a human heart, a center in which the whole Jewish People can be united and draw strength. Indeed, from time immemorial the Jewish People have always had one center, one heart. In the Desert, the Mishkan (tabernacle) was that heart, and in the Land, it was the First and Second Temples. They were the source from which the nation drew its psychological and spiritual strength. When we went into exile for two thousand years, the synagogues and study houses constituted a miniature Temple, and from them the nation drew strength to survive the darkness of exile.
Today, the Jewish People are in the midst of the ingathering of the exiles. Moreover, their renewed political entity is taking shape after two thousand years of exile, during which we were “one nation, scattered and divided” (Esther 3:8). At this time, we need not just external, physical unity, but even more so, and especially, internal unity, the unity of having one heart which can cause spiritual blood to flow to all parts of the nation. We need an exclusively Jewish culture, a culture based on and deriving nourishment from our holy Torah and eternal Jewish values. At the same time, that culture must be connected to the rebirth of our people in its land, as well as to the world that is progressively developing scientifically and technologically.
Just as the roots and trunk unite the branches of a tree, so too our traditions and Jewish roots will unite our people in its land. The great political change that has taken place calls for a change in attitude, such that school children of the whole nation will be educated, with love and faith, towards real Judaism. Through this, we will march upward together on the path to complete redemption.
Now, on our return to our land and to Jerusalem our capital, on the way to building the Third Temple – may it be soon in our day – the centrality of the State of Israel for the Jewish People and for all of mankind is being revealed more and more. Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem are becoming the center of Torah on earth, leading to fulfillment of Isaiah’s words: “For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).
Right now, despite all of the political struggles, we must remember and imbue in our hearts that when all is said and done, we are one nation – as one man, of one mind – whose purpose is to publicize that the Lord God of Israel is One and His kingdom rules over all.
From Lot, via Ruth, to David the Anointed
King David was a descendant of Ruth the Moabite. “Moab” (lit., “from-father”) received that name due to the shameful deed of Lot’s daughter, who cohabited with her father while he was drunk, and thus bore Moab. She not only did this deed, but she immortalized this terrible act by calling her son “Moab.”
All the same, from Moab emerged Ruth, who converted and entered under the wings of the Divine Presence. From her emerged King David, from whom the Messiah will be descended.
From here we learn that we must not mock or disdain any human being, even the most lowly. An example of such a person is Lot, a drunkard who became the symbol of a man who loses his Divine image during his drunkenness. We thus use the expression “Drunk as Lot” to describe those drunkards who have lost their Divine image.
We must learn from the stories of Ruth the Moabite, and from the chain of events leading from Lot to the Messiah, that we must not mock or dismiss any human being, even when he falls down low. We ask, “Who is like the Lord our God, enthroned on high?” (Psalm 113:5). At the same time, however, we believe that the same God who is “enthroned on high,” also “looks far down to behold the things that are in heaven and earth” (Ibid. v. 6). He also “raises up the poor out of the dust and lifts the needy out of the ashes” (v. 7).
On Shavuot we encounter the two faithful shepherds of Israel, from Israel’s beginnings and from the end of days. We encounter Moses, who led God’s “flock” (Psalm 100:3) from when they were just starting out in Egypt and the desert, up until they reached the threshold of Eretz Yisrael. We also encounter King David, who led Israel in the heart of the Land and Jerusalem, and who will continue to lead when the Messianic King arrives and bestows his pure spirit upon the whole world: “For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).
The two great rulers of the Jewish People were each shepherds when they started out: “Moses tended the sheep of his father-inlaw Jethro, sheik of Midian. He led the flock to the edge of the desert” (Exodus 3:1). Regarding King David as well, we find, “David said to Saul, ‘Your servant kept his father’s sheep’” (I Samuel 17:34). It is well known how faithful and devoted a shepherd was Moses. When he discerned that a young goat was missing, he went out to look for him until he found him and returned him. He supervised every small detail involving his flock. When David set out to persuade Saul that he could beat Goliath, he told him how he had killed the lion and the bear when they were coming to attack sheep from his flock, and he concluded, “This uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them” (I Samuel 17:36).
Moses, the shepherd and leader of the Jewish People as they were starting out, devoted himself, body and soul, to the Jewish People as a group and as individuals, starting in Egypt. King David, for his part, led the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael, when they were being attacked by cruel enemies who went to war against Israel “in order to “taunt the armies of the Living God” (I Samuel 17:26). King David was revealed to be a strong, courageous fighter who smote and subjugated the enemies of Israel just as he had done to the lion and the bear. Simultaneously he was a holy man who employed his ruach hakodesh, his holy spirit, to write the Psalms.
These two leaders overcame internal crises and defeated external enemies out of their faith in the Eternal One of Israel, the uniqueness of the Jewish People and Israel’s destiny as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). This faith gave them the strength, courage and determination to withstand all of the difficulties and complications.
Today, our enemies are fighting us with the intent of extinguishing the light of Israel, but it will never come to pass. Internally we face difficulties and complications. Part of our nation has become far removed from its roots and from Jewish tradition, and Jewish identity has been weakened. At this time, we are in great need of strong, powerful leadership, faithful shepherds like Moses and King David. We need leaders who will strengthen the people’s spirit and return them to their roots and to Jewish tradition, with love and faith, leaders who will fight the wars of Israel with courage and strength, and will subjugate our enemies speedily. By such means we will merit complete redemption speedily in our day. Amen!