By Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel
Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim
We are approaching the great day of יום מתן תורה when we reunite with הקב״ה. The entire בריאה was anticipating this day, and when Klal Yisrael finally received the Torah, the עולם העליון rejoiced, and the עולם התחתונים was overjoyed. On Shavuos in the Chasam Sofer’s yeshiva, the recitation of אהבה רבה before קריאת שמע took hours. It is impossible to describe the kind of night they experienced beforehand and how much they were elevated because of it. אשרינו מה טוב חלקנו—“How fortunate is our lot that Hashem created us for His honor, separated us from those who stray, gave us the Torah, and planted everlasting life within us.” The Torah is the desire of all of the nations, and Hashem Himself is constantly occupied with it. The Ohr Hachaim writes in Parshas Ki Savo that if people would taste how sweet the Torah really is, they would go crazy and be ignited with passion over it to the point that all the wealth in the world would be worthless to them in comparison. At מתן תורה, every single person reached a higher level of Divine revelation than even the Navi Yechezkel did at מעשה המרכבה; they returned to the level that Adam HaRishon was on before he sinned, a level that Avraham Avinu did not even reach! It was as if Hashem gave Himself over together with the Torah and was sitting and learning with each individual. The Medrash Socher Tov says that Hashem opened all seven levels of the heavens and allowed Klal Yisrael to see Him and His surroundings in all their glory. Because there is no pleasure in the world other than that of talmidei chachamim sitting and learning.
The Purpose of the Torah. The foundation of the entire Torah is ואהבת לרעך כמוך. It is true that the Torah on its own is a fire that is only suitable for the עולם העליון, but specifically because man, a lowly and materialistic being living in a lowly world, is the one who received the Torah, the purpose of the Torah is fulfilled in this world. אמת מארץ תצמח—The purpose of the Torah is to bring out man’s potential to be עומד בנסיון.
The height of the kedusha of the Aron HaKodesh was when the Kruvim atop the Aron were facing each other. The Ohr Hachaim writes in Parshas Yisro (י״ט,ב) that there were three preconditions in order for Klal Yisrael to be able to receive the Torah: They needed to be strong in Torah, they needed to be humble, and they needed to be unified כאיש אחד בלב אחד.
Rav Meir Chodosh and the Sabba Mi-Slabodka. When the mashgiach Rav Meir Chodosh זצ״ל came to Slabodka, he was not even bar mitzvah yet, and the policy was not to accept such young students. But he wanted to learn Torah and mussar so badly that he hid under a table when the Sabba MiSlabodka was giving a shmuez. The Sabba spoke very quietly with long pauses interspersed throughout. At one point, Rav Meir thought the shmuez was over so he came out from under the table. When the Sabba saw the boy, he asked what he heard. Rav Meir responded that he did not understand the depth of the shiur, but he understood one thing, and that was that the בין אדם למקום aspect of מצות בין אדם לחבירו is greater than the בין אדם למקום aspect of מצות בין אדם למקום. When the Sabba heard that, he kissed Rav Meir and gave him permission to remain in the yeshiva. Rav Meir focused on the importance of בין אדם לחבירו his entire life. Once he was asked to give an inspirational speech before תקיעת שופר on Rosh Hashanah, and he spoke about בין אדם לחבירו. One of his sons commented that the speech was very nice, but people really wanted to hear about יום הדין… Rav Meir responded that if that was his reaction, then he did not understand a thing. Getting to the point of ceasing to oppress others is the pinnacle of Yom Kippur.
The Sabba from Slabodka knew how to see into the depths of each person’s נשמה. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer once brought an ilui to the Sabba and presented the bochur as a great gaon. The Sabba served the bochur tea with sugar, which was a rare commodity then. Some sugar spilled on the table, and the bochur used his finger to lick it up. After the bochur left, the Sabba pronounced that he would not amount to anything, much to Rav Isser Zalman’s shock. Rav Meir said that he knew this person as an adult, and the Sabba’s assessment was correct. The Sabba knew that someone who does not have derech eretz cannot be a vessel to contain Torah.
Preparation for קבלת התורה. The main preparation we must do before קבלת התורה is to work on our middos, specifically in the areas of כבוד התורה and כבוד הבריות. Therefore, the improper behavior of the students of Rabi Akiva, who treated each other disrespectfully, was a serious affront to the central focus of approaching קבלת התורה. That is why they died precisely during the days between Pesach and Shavuos (although there are those who say that the deaths stopped on Lag Ba’omer), as those days are ימי דין in the area of כבוד התורה and for all שפע רוחני.
The עשרת הדברות were said in the singular because אחדות is the foundation for קבלת התורה, “and the Nation answered with one voice.” In truth, we are all part of one נשמה, and we have one Torah, given by One Shepherd. Even though we are divided into 600,000 individual נשמות, and the Torah is divided into 600,000 individual letters, all the נשמות and all the letters are really a part of one greater whole.
אחדות. When Klal Yisrael willingly accepted the Torah on Purim, the whole point was that it came from a place of אחדות—they gathered together and sent each other mishloach manos, in direct opposition to the accusation (the “זוהמה”) of Haman that the Yidden were scattered and divided. The same thing happened at Har Sinai; because Klal Yisrael “removed their זוהמה” and were באחדות, they were therefore able to be באחדות with the שכינה. The Maharal writes that is what וקרבנו לפני הר סיני means; by Klal Yisrael’s “removing the זוהמה” and becoming unified, they were turned into a receptacle that was able to receive the Torah. What was this “זוהמה”? We see from the snake in Gan Eden that the main part of the זוהמה was self-centeredness; he tempted Chava to eat from the עץ הדעת by promising her that they would become כאלקים, powerful, able to separate and fulfill their desires. All separation comes from physicality, and by setting limits and becoming unified, they were no longer “מזוהמים” and were able to receive the Torah.
Someone once asked the Chazon Ish why ואהבת לרעך כמוך is considered the foundation of the entire Torah if there are so many מצוות בין אדם למקום. The Chazon Ish replied that one who has room in his heart for another person will surely have room in his heart for Hashem. This means that if the whole point of the Torah is not to do something to your friend that you do not want done to you, then all you need to do is nullify your independence, and you are all ready to accept the whole Torah. The more a person nullifies his individual “אני,” the more he is able to accept the revelation of “אני ה׳ אלקיכם.” The rest of the mitzvos are like limbs from the same body. Just like limbs are not jealous of each other, so too Yidden are not jealous of each other because we are one נשמה. That is why Klal Yisrael responded in the plural at מתן תורה, נעשה ונשמה, “WE will do, and WE will listen” and not “אעשה,” because they were speaking as one unit.
The Rambam in Hilchos Chanukah (ד׳, י״ד) writes that shalom is so important that the entire Torah was given only for the purpose of bringing shalom to the world, as it says, דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום. It is not enough to give and take. One must have a receptacle to hold ברכה, and the Torah is that vessel. The Torah is above all physicality, and it unifies different opinions to the point where we say אלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים, even two opposing opinions are both considered to be correct. We do not find such a concept anywhere in the physical world. If even one Yid had been missing at the time of מתן תורה or if even one person had not been completely at peace with his fellow, then the Torah would not have been able to be given. That is what we mean when we say ותן חלקנו בתורתך—by all of the parts being unified, it is clear that it is one Torah that came from One Shepard.
Appreciating the Greatness of Others. It is human nature to forget about or fail to see another person’s greatness and good points. Even if he did see the person’s greatness, over time, the good he saw pales in comparison to his perception of his own greatness. The biggest example of this is what happened with Moshe Rabbeinu; he performed so many miracles for Klal Yisrael, taking them out of Mitzrayim, קריעת ים סוף, etc. Yet when he did not return, the Satan had such an easy time convincing Klal Yisrael that all was lost, and they strayed from the path unbelievably quickly. It does not seem to make sense that this happened, but in reality, it was in accordance with human nature. If a person does not accustom himself to looking for and recognizing the good in and greatness of others, especially of גדולי תורה, then no matter what good he did recognize and acknowledge over the course of many years, it will not take very much for the “זוהמה” of self-centeredness to blind him to that good in the face of a perceived fault. When someone is thus focused on his “I,” he cannot be מקבל תורה.
We must emphasize and drill into ourselves the idea that the Torah way is for one to share his friend’s burden, and to always look for the good in others. Through loving others, one will be able to draw them closer to Torah. One should broaden his horizons to the point where he is able to respect and look up to each person for who he is. One should be especially careful with the honor of גדולי תורה, as they are on an exalted level, and one who fails to show them the proper respect is failing to show the שכינה the proper respect. A person who behaves this way has an incurable disease.
The Mir’s Legacy. The main loftiness of Torah is seen through one who learns Torah לשמה. As it says in Pirkei Avos, the entire world’s existence is worthwhile just for him. He is glorious among men, the epitome of good middos, and he unifies שמים וארץ. He is called “Friend, Beloved,” and he gladdens Hashem and man. Some items from the list of prerequisites for acquiring Torah include distancing oneself from honor, sharing his friend’s burden, judging a person favorably, setting others on the path to peace, gently, good-naturedly, with אמונת חכמים, etc. These characteristics have been the symbol of the Mir Yeshiva for generations. Two hundred years of toil in Torah, two hundred years of אחדות and pure middos, to the point where the Chazon Ish said that the success of the Mir Yeshiva was due to the greatness of its founders, giants in middos. We see that this has held true until today with all of our rabbonim. The Mir is still flourishing בלע״ה, and its crowning glory is the אחדות that reigns among all of the rabbonim and talmidim, regardless of which part of the world they are from and which חבורה they are a part of; it’s a shining example of כאיש אחד בלב אחד.
All of our past roshei yeshiva were so focused on honoring others and sharing their burden. My great-grandfather, the rosh hayeshiva, Rav Lazer Yudel זצ״ל supported numerous individuals who did not learn in the Mir and also a number of institutions besides his own. He once told Rav Shamshon Refoel Weiss that the Mir was in dire straits and that they desperately needed to raise a respectable amount of money. Money was sent from the United States, and Rav Lazer Yudel immediately distributed it among some of the elderly talmidei chachamim of Yerushalayim. Rav Weiss was very disappointed, and he asked Rav Lazer Yudel why he gave out the money elsewhere if the Mir was in such a bad situation. Rav Lazer Yudel got up, stamped his feet, and answered him that this is how he taught him: “What difference does it make, my Torah, your Torah, or others’ Torah? It’s all the same Torah.”
The rosh hayeshiva Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz זצ״ל used to show his family members and his students, both in his shmuezen and by personal example, incredible levels of chessed, hakaras hatov, and performing good deeds for other people. He made supreme efforts to both rejoice in people’s joy and be distressed by their sorrow. It is well known that he used to attend students’ weddings on a daily basis and stay the whole time, even when he had to travel far distances to do so. He endured personal suffering if it was necessary in order to benefit others. v
Translation reprinted from Bishvilei Haparsha vol. 103.