Parshas Yisro: A Covenant of Life

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Yisro, our national destiny, our personal missions, our past, present and future are all dramatically altered, shaped and forged with the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai.  For the Revelation at Sinai and the Aseres Ha’Dibros (Ten Declarations) – which form the foundation for all other mitzvos (see Rashi to Shemos 24:12) – was the purpose of yetzias Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt). 

Way back when we first meet Moshe the Shepherd at the Burning Bush, Hashem tells him that the purpose of leaving the servitude and affliction of Egypt is so that: בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת-הָעָם מִמִּצְרַיִם, תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת האלקים עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה – When you take this nation out of Egypt, you will serve Hashem on this mountain (Shemos 3:12). 

Without Torah, we are a groundless people; without Torah we are aimless wanderers; without Torah we have questions but no answers; without Torah, we have no direction, purpose or trajectory in life. 

With the giving of the Torah, we went from a nomadic, rootless group of people to a grounded nation of members, united with a common cause and shared goal.

In a shiur given in 1975, R’ Soloveitchik zt’l related, “When I teach Torah, time comes to a stop for me.  I do not look at the timepiece, the clock, or at my wristwatch – I just teach… When I teach Torah, I feel the breath of eternity on my face… If not for the study and teaching of Torah, I would have lost my sanity in the year of my triple mourning in 1967 when I lost my mother, brother and wife… I did not break down; I emerged victorious.  That victory over despair was due to one thing only – dedication to Torah and teaching Torah…

“I felt somehow that I was not alone and that I had Somebody.  I felt His presence, I could confide in Him, cry on His shoulder, Somebody from Whom I could almost demand words of solace and comfort.

“People do not know – and again, please take it in the proper spirit, I am not bragging – how busy I am and what my schedule is.  They know I teach shiurim here (in New York).  All right, fine, I say shiurim three times a week in the Yeshiva.  And you know that these shiurim should be an hour and a half each.  It never happens that I get through with the shiur in an hour and a half.  So two hours, sometimes three hours, and sometimes the shiur is even more than three hours.  It is very strange; the boys in my class are very young… Yet they come out exhausted and I come out refreshed after the shiur. 

“Then I return to Boston.  Every Friday morning, from half past eight for three hours, until half past eleven, I study with my son-in-law (Rabbi Isadore Twersky zt’l).  Shabbos – believe me that I cannot afford to take a nap on Shabbos afternoon.  I have not taken a nap on Shabbos afternoon for the last, I would say, twenty years, because I study with Mosheh [Twersky zt’l HY”D] three hours at least, and I study with Mayer [Twersky, shlita] two and a half hours.  The same with Sunday and the same with Monday; and I simply have no time sometimes to sit down and relax…

“The study of Torah is basically, for me, an ecstatic experience in which one meets G-d…The Gemara expresses this very idea.  Our Sages equate the study of Torah with the Revelation, the great event and drama of G-d’s Revelation on Har Sinai.  This event is reenacted, restaged, and relived every time a Jew opens the Gemara.” (The Rav, The World of R’ JB Soloveitchik v.2, by Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, 1999, p.200-201, 203)

Without Torah we are lost and confused; with Torah we are found and redeemed. 

The fourth of the Aseres Ha’Dibros instructs us regarding Shabbos Kodesh: זָכוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, לְקַדְּשׁוֹ – Remember the Shabbos day to keep it holy (Shemos 20:7).  And elsewhere: שָׁמוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, לְקַדְּשׁוֹ – Guard the Shabbos day to keep it holy (Devarim 5:11).  Both זָכוֹר and שָׁמוֹר – remember and guard the Shabbos day – were uttered by Hashem at the same time.  Shabbos is intrinsically, by its very essence, connected to both aspects of shemiras Shabbos

For R’ Mosheh Twersky HY”D, whose formative years were shaped by the Shabbos afternoon three hour learning sessions (at least!) with his illustrious grandfather zt’l, Shabbos was truly from a different world.

It happened one time that R’ Mosheh had to be transported to the hospital on Shabbos.  “When he finally reached the exit (of his apartment building) and saw the ambulance waiting, the harsh reality fully set in.  He was going to have to get into a vehicle on Shabbos. 

“At that moment, he burst into violent sobs.  He put his head down on the railing – the spot where he lit his Chanukah candles every year – and wept.  R’ Twersky was a man who was always in total control of his emotions, but at that moment – when he saw how Shabbos was about to be broken for him – the dam burst forth.  Never before did any of even his closest family members see him cry like that.  Ever.  R’ Twersky quickly pulled himself together, though, to do what he knew he must… Because the kedusha (holiness) of Shabbos was not an abstract concept for R’ Twersky, but a most concrete reality.”

בְּנִי, תּוֹרָתִי אַל-תִּשְׁכָּח; וּמִצְו‍ֹתַי, יִצֹּר לִבֶּךָ – My son, My Torah do not forget, and let your heart keep My mitzvos; כִּי אֹרֶךְ יָמִים, וּשְׁנוֹת חַיִּים– וְשָׁלוֹם, יוֹסִיפוּ לָךְ – For length of days, and years of life, and peace they will add to you (Mishlei 3:1-2).

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,

Michal

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