Shavuos: Total Commitment

Shavuos: The Yom Tov of Torah. וַיִּקַּח סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית, וַיִּקְרָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר ה’ נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע, and he (Moshe) took the Book of the Covenant, and he read it in the ears of the nation, and they said: All that Hashem has spoken, we will do and we will listen (Shemos 24:7).  The covenant at Sinai was not only binding for the yotzei Mitzrayim, it was binding for all generations since, down to our day and time, and onwards to the future.

As we celebrate and commemorate Zman Matan Torasainu, we might ask ourselves: Is the focus of Shavuos the varieties of cheesecake, or is our focus on the halachos (laws) of basar b’chalav (prohibition of mixing meat and milk)?  Is the focus the refreshments served during tikun leil Shavuos, or the Torah learned during the night?  What is our commitment level to a Torah life?  What is our priority in this world?  Is Torah our guidebook for everything we do or is it a secondary to everything else we feel we have to do?  What is the ikar (primary) and what is the tafel (secondary)? 

Is it enough to simply practice the laws of Torah, or must we live Torah?

R’ Soloveitchik teaches, “Birkas HaTorah (the morning blessings recited upon limud Torah) are related to the emotional consecration and involvement associated with a state of mind, with love for and devotion to the Word – and this involvement is a permanent, continuous experience which cannot be interrupted or canceled…

“Let us take our relationship to children.  There is certainly emotional involvement with children, devotion, but you cannot say that experience is at all times identical.  Sometimes it is an acute experience, when I play with the child, when my heart overflows with love for the child, I experience an explosive feeling which demonstrates itself in some external traits, like an expression on my face and so forth.  It is an acute experience.  And frequently, when the father is in his office or in his shop and his mind is occupied with other matters, it loses its acuteness and explosiveness and turns into a latent feeling.  Yet he can never forfeit its greatness and depth.

“This is exactly my relationship to Torah.  The emotional involvement is a continuous experience, sometimes in an acute stage, sometimes in a latent stage, in an inactive stage.  Yes, sometimes the acute experience is sharp with passion, and overabundant feelings, and sometimes, under other circumstances, it is a quiet experience; when the mind is occupied with other matters it loses its acuteness and explosiveness and turns into a latent feeling.  Yet the father can never forget the child and can never stop loving the child, and this is exactly valid with reference to Torah.  The emotional attachment is never broken…

“(And this is why women are obligated to recite Birkas HaTorah) because women have also witnessed Ma’amad Har Sinai, and the Torah says: הַקְהֵל אֶת-הָעָם, הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף – assemble the people, the men and the women, and the little ones (Devarim 31:12).  Women are duty bound to attend hakhel because hakhel is not an intellectual limud; it is more a demonstration of our total commitment to the Torah.  Men and women might differ in their respective obligations in the intellectual limud, but there is no difference between men and women regarding emotional involvement, and that is why women recite Birkas Ha’Torah” (Blessings and Thanksgiving, p.56-57).

Avos 6:9

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בֶן קִסְמָא, פַּעַם אַחַת הָיִיתִי מְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וּפָגַע בִּי אָדָם אֶחָד, וְנָתַן לִי שָׁלוֹם, וְהֶחֱזַרְתִּי לוֹ שָׁלוֹם. אָמַר לִי, רַבִּי, מֵאֵיזֶה מָקוֹם אַתָּה. אָמַרְתִּי לוֹ, מֵעִיר גְּדוֹלָה שֶׁל חֲכָמִים וְשֶׁל סוֹפְרִים אָנִי. אָמַר לִי, רַבִּי, רְצוֹנְךָ שֶׁתָּדוּר עִמָּנוּ בִמְקוֹמֵנוּ, וַאֲנִי אֶתֵּן לְךָ אֶלֶף אֲלָפִים דִּינְרֵי זָהָב וַאֲבָנִים טוֹבוֹת וּמַרְגָּלִיּוֹת. אָמַרְתִּי לוֹ, בְּנִי, אִם אַתָּה נוֹתֵן לִי כָל כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב וַאֲבָנִים טוֹבוֹת וּמַרְגָּלִיּוֹת שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם, אֵינִי דָר אֶלָּא בִמְקוֹם תּוֹרָה. וְלֹא עוֹד, אֶלָּא שֶׁבִּשְׁעַת פְּטִירָתוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם אֵין מְלַוִּין לוֹ לָאָדָם לֹא כֶסֶף וְלֹא זָהָב וְלֹא אֲבָנִים טוֹבוֹת וּמַרְגָּלִיּוֹת, אֶלָּא תוֹרָה וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים בִּלְבַד

Rabi Yose ben Kisma said: Once I was walking on the way when a man met me, and greeted me and I greeted him. He said to me, “Rabbi, what place are you from?” I said to him, “I am from a great city of sages and scribes.”  He said to me, “Rabbi, do you want to live with us, in our place? And I will give you a thousand thousand denarii of gold, and precious stones and pearls.” I said to him: “My son, even if you were to give me all the silver and gold, precious stones and pearls that are in the world, I would not dwell anywhere except in a place of Torah; for when a man passes away, neither gold nor silver, nor precious stones nor pearls accompanies him, (rather) only Torah and good deeds alone… And so it is written in the book of Tehillim by David, king of Israel, “The Torah of Your Mouth is better to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver (Tehillim 119:72)” (Pirkei Avos 6:9 – recited this coming Shabbos afternoon, erev Shavuos). 

R’ Soloveitchik says, “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 NewYork).  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).  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 (my grandsons) Mosheh [R’ Mosheh Twersky, zt’l HY”D ] three hours at least, and I study with Mayer [R’ 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 Rav, The World of R’ JB Soloveitchik v.2, by Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, 1999, p.201).

May we be zocheh to learn Torah, live Torah, love Torah and always remember that it is our life and the length of our days.

בברכת שבת שלום וחג שבועות שמח,


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