PART 1: Kabbolas HaTorah
What Motivated Yisro?
We have to know that the avodah that we face when it comes to Shavuos is an avodah that is referred to as Kabbalas Ol Torah. Now, hopefully we have experienced, or we are experiencing, or we will yet experience some inspiration, and that inspiration will motivate us to be mekabel Ol Torah. When we think of the individual who was motivated by inspiration to be mekabel Ol Torah, we think about Yisro. Yisro “heard” and was motivated to come and do something about it.
The gemara asks מה שמועה שמע ובא – what did Yisro hear that motivated him to come?[i] Meaning, whatever Yisro heard, everybody else heard as well. Yisro did not hear some kabalistic insights that others did not understand and now those insights opened his eyes. That’s not what happened. So the gemara wants to know what exactly he heard that motivated him to change his way of life and to be mekabel upon himself the Ol Torah and the Ol mitzvos?
Chazal answered that he heard about Krias Yam Suf and then about the subsequent milchemes Amalek.[ii] But what was unique about these two events (and their sequence) that they motivated Yisro to come and change his life? So Chazal say that he first heard about Krias Yam Suf and then he heard about milchemes Amalek, indicating Yisro’s amazement of how Amalek challenged Klal Yisrael in the war in spite of the miraculous Exodus they experienced from Mitzrayim.
The Danger of Motivational Speeches
In this message lies an interesting psychology of human nature. Many times people go to hear speeches. They hear rabbanim or motivational speakers, and they come out and they are inspired. They understand everything the speaker said. It may not even be a Torah shiur. It could be a motivational speaker on the economy, on real estate, on stocks, etc. You hear a person give a drashah, where he makes things clear to you, and you’re motivated as a result of that drashah. If a person does not put that motivation into some action, some immediate ma’aseh, what will likely happen is that he will “fall.” But not just stam fall. He could fall to a lower level than he was holding on before he heard this motivational or inspirational speech! Do you know why? Because yesterday his lack of doing something, or the lack of resolve to improve himself, came from sheer ignorance. When a person behaves based on ignorance, he is not necessarily a bad person. But if you make a conscious choice and fail to act after having heard and understood the necessary information and knowledge, then it’s an indication that you’re missing something.
For example, let’s say a person would like to work. Somebody says to him, “Why don’t you do something?” The guy says, “I don’t know what to do.” So his friend says, “You know, there’s a lecture tomorrow in such and such a place about how to find a job.” The guy goes to this professional talk about finding a job. The speaker gets up and he clearly defines markets and places and ways to get a job. The guy comes home to his wife. His wife says, “Nu, how was it?” He says, “It was very interesting. I didn’t realize that there are so many jobs available. There are actually places to get jobs!” His wife says, “So, what are you going to do about it?” He tells her, “I’m going to think about it. First, let me sleep on it.”
So the guy goes to sleep and he sleeps and he sleeps and he sleeps. A month later the wife says to him, “Nu, what are you doing about it?” He says, “Oh, that? I’m still sleeping on it.”
Now this guy is a bum. You see, before he heard this talk, before he had the information, he didn’t know how to help himself. But now that he knows how to help himself and he refuses to budge, he is now at a much lower madreiga than he was before he heard that lecture.
Change Comes from Within
The Alter from Kelm, one of the greatest mussar masters, was known to have said the following, in the name of his Rebbi, Rav Yisrael Salanter: “The distance between knowledge and the lack of knowledge is just a little bit greater than the distance of knowledge to internalization of that knowledge.” Think about it. When a person knows something, he thinks, “Now that I know what I’m supposed to do, my problem is finally solved.” No, your problem is not solved.
Every one of us sitting in this room has had “issues” and has “issues.” We may have personality disorders, for example. It may not be a disorder to the extent that you can’t function or that you can’t hide it most of the time, but it’s a disorder that you’re at least aware of. It may be an emotional disorder. It may be a behavior disorder. It may be a laziness disorder. It may be a fear disorder. Every single one of us in this room, or those who hear this message, will be faced by some challenge.
Now, there are some people who in their younger years were not aware that their behavior was actually indicative of a personality disorder. They thought it was normal. You can’t sit. You can’t focus. You don’t know how to behave. You’re lazy. You’re this. You’re that. You’re angry. Whatever the disorder might be. Lack of motivation is also a disorder. Being drawn to negative behavior or negativity in thinking is a disorder. And on top of that, you didn’t know there was such a thing as helping yourself. But then, one day, somebody woke you up and told you, “By the way, you’ve got such and such disorder.”
At first, you probably tried to deny it. “No, no, no, it’s normal.” Everybody does this. Then finally you came to terms with it and you said, “You know what? I do have a problem.” Then you took a big, deep breath, and you said, “Ahhh, now I’m cured.” And you know what happened? You may have gone to sleep. If you didn’t do anything about it, you would never come out of it. Let’s say a person sought out help, sought out therapy, psychological counseling – that’s not called “help.” You know what that is? That’s called getting information. The change has to come from within yourself. Have you done anything concrete to make the change happen? A person has bad friends, for example, and he knows that if he’s exposed to certain things, it arouses within himself a bad middah of some sort. How does the person change his life and say to himself, “I’m not going to talk to these friends or I’m not going to expose myself to this behavior?” If you haven’t internalized it yet, that means you have not begun to change. So today – after you’ve received the information – you’re actually much worse than you were yesterday because yesterday, you weren’t aware of this problem and you weren’t aware how to change. However, today, you’re aware of the problem and you are aware of how to make a change, but you refuse to do it.
Do you know what effect Krias Yam Suf had on the world? Do you realize what Krias Yam Suf did to the world? I’m not sure why it did, but it actually had more impact on the world than Yetzias Mitzrayim. The Torah testifies to this actually, חִיל אָחַז יֹשְׁבֵי פְּלָשֶׁת – “Fright gripped the dwellers in Philistia,” meaning that the people in the world were seized with a dread and a fear (Shemos 15:14).
Many of you may not know what it means to be seized with dread and fear. When the IRS calls, you’re seized with dread and fear. If you’re sitting in a doctor’s office and you have a feeling he’s going to tell you bad news, that it’s really cancer, he’s just not sure what stage – that causes you dread and fear. Losing a spouse is dreadful and fearful. Losing a job creates dread and fear, as well. A person has to realize that they could be seized with dread and fear. It says אָז נִבְהֲלוּ אַלּוּפֵי אֱדוֹם, the אלופי, the chiefs of Edom, the kings, were נבהלו, they were confounded (Shemos 15:15). They were lost. And Yisro was aware of this.
Now, what happened next? Amalek came and started up with Klal Yisrael under those world conditions and that mindset. The whole world was petrified and here comes Amelek! Do you know what Yisro saw from that? He said the following, “If it is possible for Amalek to come and fight with Klal Yisrael after Krias Yam Suf, it means that the message has already ‘worn off’.” This means that it’s possible for a person to be struck with the biggest message and to be frightened out of his wits, but he still won’t change. And not only that, but he can actually become worse and fall even further down. That’s what the gemara means. When Yisro heard about the milchemes Amalek (not the conquest that Klal Yisrael had over Amalek), he told himself, “If I don’t come now, I’m finished.” And then he came.
So the first thing we need to realize now, in our preparation for Shavuos, is that it is possible for us to be in the state when we can lose the inspiration and the message of the moment very quickly. We are now living in a very bad era, because we are living in a time when there’s no dread and fear seizing anybody. Most people are unaware of any opportunities that are even available to them to change themselves, and if they would hear about them, they wouldn’t even view them as opportunities. They just want another piece of bread: “please pass the bread, or another piece of cake.” That’s all they’re interested in.
No Mention of Korban Chattas
To introduce ourselves to Shavuos, we have to first get ourselves reacquainted with Shavuos. You have to know there is a yesodesdike Yerushalmi, in Masechta Rosh Hashanah (פרק ד הלכה ח).[iii] You should take a look at it – it’s worth looking at. It says as follows: בכל הקרבנות כתיב חטא – On regalim, on holidays we bring special korbanos, called chovas hayom. They’re called mussafim. These are additional offerings that we bring in the Beis Hamikdash. In all of the offerings which we bring on regalim, there’s always the word חטאת, teaching us that there’s a sin offering besides the offering for the Holiday. However, there’s one Holiday that’s an exception to this rule. Which holiday is that? Shavuos. בעצרת אין כתיב חטא. There’s no mention of the word chatas on Shavuos, the gemara says.
Now, logically this makes no sense, because the idea of a Yom Tov is that it’s a time to come closer to Hashem. If you want to come closer to Hashem, you’ve got to let go of your “garbage,” of your sins. You’ve got to drop the “baggage.” If you’re carrying some dirty laundry, you have to leave it aside. So why then on Shavuos is there no mention of “chatas”?
Zugt the gemara, אמר להם הקב”ה, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu says to them,” מכיוון שקיבלתם עליכם עול תורה, “if you’re mekabel upon yourself the yoke of Torah,” מעלה אני עליכם כאילו לא חטאתם מימיכם, “I will consider it as if you’re a totally new person and as if you have never sinned!”
Now this is a tremendous insight that we have to study in this Yerushalmi. Number one, it’s telling us that Shavuos is not just a historical date – it’s not simply a date when we are celebrating an event that took place thousands of years ago. No. Every year we have an obligation to be mekabel the Torah once again. As the Yerushalmi says: מכיוון שקיבלתם עליכם עול תורה – “Every year that you are mekabel the Torah upon yourselves, I will consider it,” Hashem says, “as if you never sinned.” And that is why on Shavuos we also do not require any korban chatas.
The Special Simcha of Shavuos
So it comes out like this: do you want to know what our kaparah is? What is our saving grace? What gets rid of our “baggage”? Like we said, we usually need a korban for that. However, on Shavuos the getting rid of the “baggage” is actualized when a person is mekabel upon himself Ol HaTorah!
The Rokeach writes that Shavuos is a day on which Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives us the Torah. Therefore, he says, we must have a special joy in Shavuos. Why? שמוחל הקב”ה עונותיהם כדאמרינן בירושלמי. The uniqueness of Hashem celebrating Shavuos with us again, is that if I’m mekabel the Torah and Hashem gives me the Torah in a few days, then I will have mechilas avonos. So besides for Shavuos being one of the three fundamental regalim, there’s a special din of simchah on Shavuos because of the kaparas avonos on this day!
Pay Attention to Kriyas HaTorah this Shavuos!
Is there a specific time when this kabbalah should take place? When are you supposed to be mekabel this Ol HaTorah on Shavuos? The Yalkut Shimoni, in Parshas Yisro, states: אמר הקב”ה, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu says to Yisrael,” בני היו קורין את פרשת בזמנה, “my son, read this parshah of Kabalas HaTorah,” בכל שנה ושנה, “every year,” ואני מעלה עליכם, “and I will consider it,” כאילו אתם עומדים לפני הר סיני ומקבלים את התורה שנאמר, “like you are standing before Har Sinai and accepting the Torah, as it says in the pasuk,” ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני. “And when does that happen?” אימתי בחודש השלישי – “in the third month (Sivan).” The mefarshim explain that this unique kabbalah, which is renewed every single year, happens during the kriah of parshas Kabalas HaTorah!
Now we need to understand one thing. I explained this before, but I’ll say it again: we need to have an insight into what happens during krias HaTorah. Most people grow up as “children,” and krias HaTorah in shul is very boring for them. It has no meaning for them. Most people are ignoramuses and they’re not interested to know what the Torah says, and even those who are interested, have no interest in the word of Hashem. They’re only interested in what Artscroll says, or what Soncino had to say, or some other person used to say. Today people are mostly interested in that. They bring these printed internet Torah sheets and that’s what they read in shul. That’s their krias HaTorah. And if you ask them, “What are you doing?” they’ll tell you, “This has much more meaning to me. Krias HaTorah has no meaning to me.”
Don’t Miss Your Flight!
Imagine that a person has to fly out of a country for some family emergency. So what does the guy do? He goes to the airport, sits down and he watches airport TV. He sits down in one of those chairs and he rents a movie. It’s a three-hour movie. He pays whatever it costs to sit in that chair and watch the movie. Meanwhile, his flight is taking off in 10 minutes. So somebody tells him, “I think you’re missing your flight.” But he calmly responds, “Would you please stop bothering me? That flight has no meaning to me – I’m in the middle of this great movie, a gripping tale of suspense. I am mamash in the middle of this gripping tale! Do you think I’m going to get on this silly flight? What is this flight afterall? This flight is not exciting. It’s not gripping. It’s not a story. It’s boring.” Shoteh what you are. You’ve got to get out of here. The flight is leaving! You will miss it!
Getting Your Spiritual Infusion
The Ramchal, in his sefer Derech Hashem (4:8), writes as follows, צריך שתדע, you need to know that of the great tikunim, one of the great benefits that the Nevi’im, the Prophets, clarified for Klal Yisrael, was the inyan of krias HaTorah, which has two aspects.[iv] Aspect number one: we read the Torah in order to complete the entire Torah. He stresses that a Jew who’s reviewing and reading the entire Torah, turns into a different person. It doesn’t say for no reason that if one reads שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום, he’s going to have arichus yamim. It doesn’t say that you will have arichus yamim if you kiss your tzitzis after Shema or rub your eyeballs with your tzitzis. It doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say if you kiss your tefillin you’ll get that arichus yamim either. It says that about this specific mitzvah – the mitzvah of Krias HaTorah. Obviously, there is a spiritual “infusion” that a person gets after he finishes the entire Torah numerous times, every year, twice, plus the Targum. That’s a tremendous accomplishment to the health and longevity of a person! Second of all, through reading and studying the parshiyos at specific times of the year – through the words of the Sefer Torah that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave us – we get a direct infusion and connection and energy from Hashem. In order to accept and receive this energy constantly, the Chazal were mesaken, they enacted, that in our congregations we should publicly read Torah consistently, and in that exact order. That, of course, is besides the private Torah reading and learning that an individual does by himself, which can also bring the hashpaah of the Torah (as explained by Ramchal in Ch. 2). Through this constant reading of the Torah, there is a continuous, unique source of energy, of kedushah, that we receive. And by reading the sections of the Torah of that particular day, the unique energy and koach that these days have to offer us, is strengthened. Unbelievable!
Don’t Fall Asleep!
You have to know that this is a most powerful koach that we have available to us, because you’re being infused with the letters of the Torah, with the words of the Torah, and the shaliach tzibbur is the one who is granting this to you! He is the messenger. So, on this day of Kabbolas HaTorah, when you read the specific section of the parsha, every one of us should be mechaven. Sadly, for many years, I myself struggled with paying attention because of fatigue after learning a whole night. I could sit on the back bench and just fall asleep during krias HaTorah. It was comfortable. Then I got stuck. After I became a Rav, people started looking at me, so I had to stand on my feet and figure out ways to stay awake. But a person has to realize that this is the time to be mekabel the Ol HaTorah – during the kriah!
The ba’al korei should have this kavanah. He should read the parts of Matan Torah slowly. When we say na’aseh v’nishmah, you should have that kabbalah in mind; think, “Hashem, I am mekabel upon myself Ol Torah.” When you listen to the message that Moshe Rabeinu tells us from Hashem, you have to hear that speech that Hashem gives us every year, constantly,ועתה עם שמוע תשמעו בקולי, Hashem says, והייתם לי סגלה (Shemos 19:5).
Be Zocheh to Refuos!
As a side note, it’s brought down in sefarim that if a person is mekabel upon himself Ol Torah, he can be zocheh to a refuah from all machalos,because at the time of kabalas HaTorah on Shavuos, we became healed from all of our sicknesses!! They asked Rav Elyashiv at what point on Shavuos is the point when this is granted. You know what he said? Krias HaTorah – besha’as krias HaTorah is when this zechus is granted!! That’s when a person could be healed from all of his disorders, his personality disorders, his mental disorders, or his physical disorders, of which we spoke earlier. He couldgain chairus (freedom) from the Yetzer Hara!! Getting that cheirus, Rabosai, is a tremendous ticket! But you’re not getting it just for looking “sharp,” you’re not getting it because you wore a nice tie to shul, and you’re not getting it because you bought a new shirt for Shavuos. That Hashem doesn’t care for. And I don’t care if you ate the whole cheesecake all by yourself. That does not interest Hashem a ki hu zeh klal. All He thinks of you is “cheesy.” That’s it. What’s going to get you there is being mekabel upon yourself some Ol HaTorah. The key is being mekabel upon yourself. There has to be a kabbalas Ol upon yourself to affect this kabbalah.
Describing Matan Torah
Now, the obvious questions is: what am I supposed to be mekabel on Shavuos? I’m already obligated in Torah! What kind of kabbalah am I being mekabel? So I’m going to give you a little insight, and hopefully, we should all be zocheh that no two people are mekabel the same Ol HaTorah. No two people can. One person is on a lower level. Another one is on a higher level. But I’ll tell you what you could be mekabel and what change in your life you can affect with that kabbalah.
First, we need to understand what happened when we were mekabel the Torah more than 3,000 years ago. When we pledged our allegiance to Hashem and we said na’aseh v’nishmah – what happened? You know what happened? We became בנים להשם – “Hashem’s children.” Now, what was the description of that event? If somebody were to ask you, “Could you tell me what the event of ma’amad Har Sinai was all about? What type of event was it?” How would you describe it for that person?
Let me give you an example. Let’s say somebody said, “I had the greatest time last night.” So you would say to him, “What happened last night?” He tells you, “I went to a wedding.” “Well, can you describe to me, what it was at last night’s wedding that made you happy?” you ask. Now, if you’re the parent marrying off your child at that chasunah, maybe what made you happy was the fact that your daughter or your son got married. But for a different person who came to that wedding this wouldn’t apply. Maybe what this person liked was the music. It was a nice musical event, he could say. Or maybe he liked the dancing. Or maybe the guy craved sushi. There are people that go for that, you know. That’s the whole purpose for them to be at a wedding. “Oh, it was a great event, great steak!” How would you describe this event? For that guy it was an “eat fest.”
So what was the event of Matan Torah? Let me explain this to you, because you need to understand it. Sadly, most Yidden don’t get this. Matan Torah was the first time in human history that there was a classroom set up and Hashem taught Torah to Klal Yisrael. Hashem was המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל – Hashem taught Torah to Klal Yisroel. That is what the event of Matan Torah was about. Klal Yisroel sat and learned. That’s what Hashem did at that time. He taught Torah to Klal Yisrael – that’s what happened!
Now, Hashem did it in the most dramatic way. It was the greatest show in the history of the world. It was the event of all events. Maybe some people were watching the lights to report how much thundering there was, how much lightning there was, and they didn’t get the main message. Maybe some of them were looking around how other people were dealing with it and giving their report to others. But some of them were actually focused and we were thinking: “What is Hashem saying to me? What is He teaching me?” The answer is: Hashem is teaching me Torah.
We actually learn out a concept of שומע כעונה from that event. It was mamash considered like we were learning Torah. Hashem was teaching us. We were learning. It was a dual event. For everybody it was a learning event. Hashem was learning with His children. You know why people don’t mention this aspect of Kabbolas HaTorah? Because they can’t relate to that excitement. “What’s the big deal? Was it really so exciting to learn? What do you mean? It sounds boring to me.”
PART 2: Rebbi – Talmid Relationship
Let’s go even deeper, to understand what that event was about. We all read the following statement in Shema, ושננתם לבניך – “you should teach your sons Torah” (Devarim 6:7). Rashi says who are “your sons”? “Your sons” refers to your talmidim. We find throughout the Torah that talmidim are called “your children.”[v]
Now, it’s important to understand that not everyone you teach Torah to, is considered your talmid; but if somebody is your talmid then he is also a “ben.” What does that mean to say? If you simply give over some information to a person, he’s not your talmid. He’s like a guy who asks you, “Rabbi, can I turn on the lights on Shabbos?” “No, you can’t,” you answer him. Does that make him your talmid? No. With some guys, you even sit and learn gemara together – it’s the same thing. They think that a rebbi transfers a bunch of information to them first and then he is done teaching them. It doesn’t work like that. A talmid and a rebbi relationship is the ultimate father and son relationship. And when we think of a father-son relationship, that’s only a mashal. That’s only an example of the true father and son relationship. Talmidim are your children.
It says that Aharon’s children were considered Moshe’s children. Why is that? The answer is because Moshe taught them Torah. Whoever Moshe taught Torah to, it’s כאילו ילדו – “it’s as if he fathered him.” Now didn’t Moshe teach the whole Klal Yisrael Torah? Obviously not, because they weren’t all his talmidim. Moshe may have given them a lot of rules, a lot of edicts, a lot of takanos, a lot of rulings, halachos, etc, but when he taught Aharon’s children, they were his talmidim. They were his sons. But we still need to understand what that really means.
Becoming an Extension of the Rav
The Vilna Gaon says a tremendous insight. He says that when a Rav is teaching his talmidim Torah, he’s not just giving over information. You know what he’s trying to do? He’s actually infusing his talmidim from his own spirit and his own essence, and the talmid becomes an extension of the Rav!!
Some of you look like your parents because you are a physical shtick of your parents. You have their blood. You have their etzem. You have their atzamos. You have their basar v’gidim. These physical organs come from your father and your mother, and that’s why you possess certain physical features of your parents. A talmid of a rebbi is somebody who becomes a child of his rebbi. You could have a fellow that sits for many years by somebody and all that he has learned – if he is even learning – is just information. He never acquired the “imprint” of his rebbi on himself.
I used to be amazed when I was learning by my rebbeim to see them “making” talmidim. I was amazed how some people were just there as bystanders. They were very smart boys, maybe even young budding scholars, but they weren’t looking to become him – the rebbi. They simply wanted information. My Rebbi used to call it “noshing.” They wanted to nosh. They were noshers. They were essentially looking for “treats.”
A talmid is somebody who wants to become the mahus, an extension of his rebbi’s essence. If you look at certain rebbeim: Rav Aharon had certain talmidim, Rav Hutner had certain talmidim, the Brisker Rav had talmidim, the Chazon Ish had talmidim, who were mei’ein, a copy of their rebbi in some form or fashion. Now, this is just like a son is kara d’avuha, a child is the “feet of the father.” You know that’s what he is supposed to be.
Producing Healthy Children and Talmidim
Now I’ll tell you an interesting thing. Listen to this very important yesod. The Vilna Gaon says that there’s a concept of tesha middos in talmidim. You have to know, as the gemara tells us, that when two parents conceive a child, it is very important that the proper emotional state of ahavah and joy be present at the time of conception. If the ahavah and the simchah are not properly present, what happens is you produce freaks of nature. You produce twisted kids. And you have to know that the gemara says, if a child was conceived when there was a distrust or dislike between the parents, you are going to produce a child who is going to be a pagum, chas veshalom. That’s what it says. There’s a whole gemara in Nedarim (20a-20b) that talks at length about nine different elements that need to be present to produce healthy children, and if they’re not present, you could produce problems.
You have to know, says the Vilna Gaon, that the very same concept applies to “producing” talmidim. Producing a talmid has to be done mitoch ahavah and mitoch simchah. If somebody is going to be melamed in a way of kapeidah, that will cause problems. Let’s say a person teaches somebody Torah and he dislikes that person. You know what happens? That talmid will be pagum. He’s going to be a ba’al mum.
Now, this only applies if the guy is considered a talmid. That means, let’s say you have somebody who wants to learn from you. He wants to become your talmid. Only with this person – if you don’t exhibit the proper ahavah and the proper simchah toward him – you will produce a pagum, a defect.
Now, as we have said, when a person decides that he wants to be a talmid, he then has to choose a rebbi who is willing to teach him with that ahavah and simchah in order for him to become a shtick rebbi. That’s why it says, for example, in Pirkei Avos (2:5), אין הקפדן מלמד, a person that’s a kapdan (impatient) will not produce good talmidim because he has neither ahavah nor simchah towards his talmid. This is the essence of mesiras HaTorah, Rabbosai. The mesiras HaTorah must be done with ahavah and simcha. Only then, the talmidim that are produced will be b’shleimus.
Connecting You to your Makor HaChaim
When the Vilna Gaon talks about the mitzvah of kavod rabbo, he asks where the obligation for a person to have kavod rabbo come from? He says that it comes from the sameyesod of כיבוד אב ואם, because he has to give respect to his makor and to his shoresh. The rav is the one who gives the ruach to the talmid. He builds him up spiritually. He becomes his true source. He connects the talmid to his true source, which is Hashem, and that’s why the talmid has to mechabed his rebbi.
The Torah tell us, בנים אתם לה’ אלקיכם – “you are children to Hashem” (Devarim 14:1). I’m not just a creation of Hashem. I’m not just another individual. I’m not just a good friend of Hashem. I have a quality of בנים להשם. Do you know why? Because Hakadosh Baruch Hu was personally melamed Torah to us, and He is continually מלמד תורה לעמו ישראל. When I learn gemara, if I chap something and it happens to be right, it’s because Hashem was melamed me His Torah!! Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives מפיו דעת ותבונה. You have to know that!
When we heard the aseres hadibros at Matan Torah, we became בנים of Hashem. Now, as we know, all the neshamos of the subsequent doros were also at Matan Torah. They were born from the ruach of the piv of Hakadosh Baruch Hu! So just like Hashem ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים, He blew into the nostrils of Adam נשמת חיים, Hashem from His piv put into our souls spirituality, and He made us His children. That’s what it means when we say כי חלק ה’ עמו, “I am a chelek of Hashem”!
Are You Truly Honoring Your Father?
Now, as much as that is true, just like you struggle with your commitment to your parents or you struggle with your commitment to your rebbeim, you struggle even more so with your commitment to Hashem. Just like there are many children who wish that their parents were not their parents, there are many people who wish that Hashem was not their Father. They have their own agendas and their own interests that conflict with being a good child. A good child is one who understands that he needs to honor his parents, and understands that honoring his parents means doing their will. That’s what honoring parents means. A person has to understand that this is what it’s all about.
Banim means bederech ahavah. For a rebbi, for a parent who loves his or her child, the love is enhanced when the child loves the parent back. When a child doesn’t love a parent or doesn’t want to love a parent, the love that the parent feels becomes very discombobulated. This is what we mean when we say that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is בוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה. This is also our job when we are mekabel Ol Malchus Shamayim. Having a parent means having an Ol – it’s a yoke. You know why? If I accept my parents as my parents and now I have to fulfill their will to the degree that the Torah tells me to, do you know what happens? It becomes a yoke. It may conflict with what I want, and it often does. It may even conflict with my interests, but these are my parents and I have to accept that fact, because that’s Hashem’s will!
Becoming a Better Son
So the first step in Kabalas Ol Malchus Shamayim, is that each and every one of us has to say to Hakadosh Baruch Hu – when hearing or saying, כל אשר דיבר ה’ נעשה ונשמע – “Hashem I want to be that son!”
Now, everybody tells me they have problems with relationships. They can’t commit. They have all kinds of excuses. Some people never had parents. Sometimes the reason why you weren’t zocheh to parents is because in the previous lifetime you rejected honoring your parents, or perhaps you just had full faith in your parents and you rejected Hashem. So now Hashem says, “It’s Me and you. You have to commit yourself to Me, to being a son of Hakadoh Baruch Hu.” That means to say, I will reflect the fact that I am a child of Hashem.
If my son carries my name, and keeps the same last family name, that’s fine. But if that’s where the relationship begins and ends, that’s not a relationship. Just because the son calls up when he gets in trouble and he says, “Totty, I need money, or Mommy I need money. I need a car. I need food. I need a shampoo. I need this. I need that.” Whatever the narishkeit is, that doesn’t make him a son. It makes him a taker, a manipulator and a nosher.
Our job on Shavuos is to find an area where we can say, ”Hakadosh Baruch Hu, I’m mekabel. I’m going to start in that area. My general approach to Shavuos is going to be that I want to be more of a son. I’m going to be more committed to You, Hashem. It’s going to be You. And I’m going to think about doing Your will, and I’m going to find some areas in my life where I’m going to mekabel Your will and, specifically, to be a better son.” That’s all. And then Hashem will say to you, “If you do that, מעלה אני עליכם, I consider you as if you’re a new man.”
Bringing Honor to Your Father
Do you know what it means for a son to come to his father and say, “Totty, today, I am not going to be a taker. I’m going to commit myself to living up to your will of being a better son.” And when the father asks his son, “What does that mean?” The son says, “Well, I don’t know yet, but call me in five years and I’ll tell you.” You should know that this means nothing. “My commitment is that I’m going to change. What would you like me to do as your son? Would you like me to change something about myself? To make myself a better person and reflect your honor?” Yes. A father wants a child to reflect him so that he will be honored by his son’s behavior. A son that doesn’t behave properly does not bring honor to his father.
A yid who doesn’t do the will of Hakadosh Baruch Hu doesn’t bring any honor to his Father. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about taking. For one day of the year, Shavuos should not be all about me. It’s got to be about Hashem. I’m committing myself to You, Hashem.
Think about this: when the Yidden said נעשה ונשמע, they signed on the dotted line. They said to Hashem, “We are ready. We are giving ourselves up to You.” I don’t know how it was possible. I can’t even imagine how it was possible. But obviously Hashem made it possible because they went through Mitzrayim and Krias Yam Suf. They saw such amazing miracles, ananei hakavod, manna falling from the heavens. They saw water coming out from rocks. They were wealthy beyond wealthy. They saw the chessed of Hashem. It was just mind blowing.
It doesn’t mean they didn’t cry. It doesn’t mean they didn’t complain. It doesn’t even mean that after Kabalas HaTorah they didn’t go home and cry. They did. After they signed up for that dotted line, it says that many of them cried. You know why? They realized now what they had given up. Many families were torn apart. The Torah says they were בוכים למשפחותם.
But you know what they didn’t say? They didn’t say, “Well, we are going to renege on that, Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Let’s scratch that one.” No, that’s not what they said. They said, “We signed up for this deal, so we are committed to it. We signed up for the deal! So we’ll keep the deal.” That’s what it is. You have to have some loyalty to Hashem.
Let’s say a parent says to a child, “Give me a phone call.” So there are some children who say, “I’m going to call you.” And you know what they do? When they call, they say, “Mom, I need this. Mom, can you get that? Can you do this for me?” It’s all about manipulation and taking. They don’t say, “Mom, I am just calling to say hi. How are you doing?” They just build their own ego through their parents. They never think about their parents for one second. They think about their parents critically: how their parents could become better, be nicer, more generous, I wish they were richer. I wish they were this. All kinds of shtusim like that, but like we already mentioned that this is not called כיבוד אב ואם, like we already mentioned.
A person has to think about loyalty. You have to have loyalty and commitment to Hashem. You’re giving yourself up to Hashem, and if a person gives himself up in one area, if he’s mekabel the ol – that’s what it means to have a rebbi. When you see a talmid become a talmid, he becomes an extension of the rebbi. It doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant. You know why? There’s conflict. You’re conflicted.
I didn’t understand this concept for many years when I pursued my rebbi to the extreme, or what I thought was an extreme. Maybe relative to others it wasn’t extreme, next to a real talmid, but it was extreme for the other fellows there because of what I was trying to do. I was trying to become him. Now I understand what I was trying to do. I was trying to become a shtick of my rebbi. And one day he told me, “You’re trying too hard. Stop.” And I appreciated it. He said, “You can’t become me. You weren’t born me so you can’t become me.” I remember being relieved and shocked at the same time. I said to him, “So am I wasting my time?” He said, “No, you’re not wasting your time. Because a talmid reflects his rebbi. That means you take things that you heard, things that you’ve learned and you now make them to be part and parcel of your life. But it doesn’t mean you have to be me. You can’t be Hashem either. A child can’t be his father. But he could reflect his father. He could reflect his father’s wishes.”
“You Are Not Coming to Nosh Anymore”
I remember once doing that with my rebbi and not even thinking that I was doing anything special, but afterwards I found out. I remember standing on the street in Yerushalayim, Malchei Yisrael, and some Brisker friends of mine invited me to go with them to a restaurant for lunch. I had always wanted to go to that restaurant because I had never gone there before. The chevra used to hang around there. I hesitated at first. Then I said to them, “I can’t go there.” I was surprised with myself, but that is what I told them. They said, “Why not?” I said, “I am not sure if my rebbi approves of that place.” So they said, “Are you out of your mind? Your rebbi has to approve of a place to eat?! They don’t give you food. You get your own food. What do you mean your rebbi has to approve of where you eat?” I said, “I just can’t tell you. I’m not sure if he would approve of me eating here. I have to ask him first.” And I kindly told them, “Thank you, but I’m going to pass up the invitation.” Instead, I went to another place to eat. I went to the dumpy place which I knew he definitely approved of.
Now, I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I just figured, “I signed up for the thing.” I wanted to do what my rebbi wanted me to do. I didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t his will. I just wanted to become like him, to reflect him. A little while later, he told me that somebody had told him about this incident and it made a big impression on him, because from then on, he saw that I wasn’t just “noshing.” After that incident he was mekarev me.
I told him on the first day I came to him, “I’m looking for a rebbi.” I had no idea what a rebbi meant. I didn’t know what the concept meant. I thought it meant just learning how to learn at that time, but I do remember ‘jumping in’ on the first day to ask him, “What can I eat? What can’t I eat? What can I have? What can’t I have? Where should I sleep? Where should I not sleep?” Most people would have said to me, “Listen, your rebbi doesn’t find you room to dorm in. He doesn’t feed you. You have to take care of yourself. You’re a big boy.” They were right. Yes, I could have taken care of myself. I was a very independent guy. I didn’t need a rebbi to feed me. But before I rented my apartment, he told me, “Before you rent an apartment, come to me and bring me a list of all the boys in that apartment.” I was shocked. I wrote down their names. There were six boys in that apartment. I wrote down all the boy’s names and brought him the list. He asked, “So where does this one learn? Where does that one learn?” I told him, “Most of them learn by Rav Yoshe Ber.” He said, “Come back to me in a few hours. I’ll have an answer for you.” At the time, I didn’t know what he did, but what he actually did was that he picked himself up (they didn’t use phones of course), and he walked, almost a mile, to his brother’s house with that list to ask about each bachur. Vas far a bachur is this? Ver is dos? He came back and said, “ir kenit shluffen da” (you can’t sleep there). I brought him another list.
I was trying to conform to him. People said to me, “Are you crazy? No one asks the rebbi who you should rent a room with! You get a place. You get a bed. You like it? Is it comfortable? Is it clean? If it’s comfortable and clean – you sleep there. You make your own decisions!”
That’s what a person has to understand. That’s what a rebbi is. A rebbi is somebody who makes you into someone who embodies his ideals. Rav Baruch Ber was a talmid of Rav Chaim not because he knew a lot of Rav Chaims, but because he embodied Rav Chaim. The Brisker Rav was a talmid of his father because he was a shtick his father. He wasn’t his father. He developed himself in an extension of his father, and he was mevatel himself to his father. My rebbi was also mevatel himself to his father, the Brisker Rav. So you’re getting Brisker Rav, Rav Chaim – it’s not just information anymore. You’re getting the Brisker Rav, Rav Chaim, Beis Halevi, all the doros together rolled up and balled into one. That was amazing.
I wish I would have had a better understanding of this back then. I wish somebody would have explained this to me in those days, but no one did. My rebbi definitely wasn’t explaining this. Now Hashem, at least, opened my mind so I could share it with you – so that you could get an understanding of what we’re trying to acquire and accomplish on Shavuos.
PUTTING INTO PRACTICE:
As I continue to work on developing my she’eifah for Torah and Mitzvos in the remaining days of the Sefira, I will draw on the amazing lesson from Yisro to strengthen my resolve in my Avodas Hashem, even in the face of prevalent societal trends that inevitably surround and influence me. I will remember the incredible potential and opportunities that exist on Shavuos – of coming closer to Hashem, erasing my aveiros, and getting healed physically and spiritually. I will finally pay close attention to the Krias HaTorah – not only to demonstrate my loyalty and love to Hashem – but to experience, perhaps, my first, real and tangible Kabolas HaTorah that I so desperately want to have! And I will finally muster up some courage to approach a particular rebbi with whom I feel a special connection to tell him, “I am looking for a Rebbi who can help me grow closer to Hashem and help correct my character faults. I think you are that person. I want to be your talmid. Can you accept me?”
[i] זבחים קט״ז א
[ii] וישמע יתרו. מַה שְּׁמוּעָה שָׁמַע וּבָא? קְרִיעַת יַם סוּף וּמִלְחֶמֶת עֲמָלֵק (רש”י על שמות יח:א)
[iii] ר’ משרשיא בשם ר’ אידי בכל הקרבנות כתיב חטא ובעצרת אין כתיב חטא אמר להן הקב”ה מכיון שקיבלתם עליכם עול תורה מעלה אני עליכם כאילו לא חטאתם מימיכם
[iv] והנה צריך שתדע שמן התיקונים הגדולים שסידרו הנביאים לישראל היה ענין הקריאה בתורה וזה נכלל בב׳ בחינות. הא׳ קריאת ספר התורה על הסדר עד תומו וחוזר חלילה על דרך זה. והב׳ קריאת פרשיות מיוחדות בזמנים מיוחדים. וזה כי הנה ספר התורה הוא כלל מה שנמסר לנו ממנו ית׳ להיותנו הוגים בו שעי״ז תמשך לנו הארתו וכמ״ש בח״א ובחלק זה ג״כ פ״ב. והנה לקבל הארה זו בתמידות תקנו שנהיה הוגים בו במקהלותינו בתמידות על הסדר וזה מלבד ההגיון הפרטי הראוי לכל אחד ואחד בפרטו. והנה ע״י הקריאה התמידית הזאת מתמיד בנו אור קדושה הזאת; וגם בזמנים המיוחדים כפי ענינם ראוי שנקרא הפרשיות הנוגעות לענינים ההם להחזיק הארת הימים על ידי כח התורה שהוא הכח היותר חזק שיש לנו.
[v] לבניך. אֵלּוּ הַתַּלְמִידִים, מָצִינוּ בְּכָל מָקוֹם שֶׁהַתַּלְמִידִים קְרוּייִם בָּנִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים י”ד) בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, וְאוֹמֵר (מלכים ב ב’) בְּנֵי הַנְּבִיאִים אֲשֶׁר בֵּית אֵל, וְכֵן בְּחִזְקִיָּהוּ, שֶׁלִּמֵּד תּוֹרָה לְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּקְרָאָם בָּנִים שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברי הימים ב’ כ”ט) בָּנַי עַתָּה אַל תִּשָּׁלוּ. וּכְשֵׁם שֶׁהַתַּלְמִידִים קְרוּיִים בָּנִים (שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם) כָּךְ הָרַב קָרוּי אָב, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלכים ב ב’) אָבִי אָבִי רֶכֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹ’ (ספרי)