ישיבת כרם ביבנה

Kabalat Hatorah and Ruth

הרב יוסף קריץ

The Rosh Hayeshiva of Kelm used to say that it is not time that passes through man, but rather man that passes through time. For example, on the very first Shabbat of creation, Shabbat Bereishit, a "station" was established, and every week we return to that station. It is an influence ("hashpa'a") of kedusha in the creation that has the properties of that original Shabbat. The same is true of the holidays. Every year, on Pesach, we go back to the original station of Pesach, to that same point of time in our yearly cycle, to that original Pesach. Just as Bnei Yisrael left Egypt on Pesach from their enslavement to Pharaoh, so too, everyone is enslaved by his yetzarim (inclinations) and goes free on Pesach.

Similarly, the same revelation, the same influence of Matan Torah that occurred on Shavuot, repeats itself every year. We have a tradition that Matan Torah is not a one-time phenomenon, but rather the Torah is given again in each and every generation, each and every year. A condition for Matan Torah, and the degree to which it is given, is our readiness to receive it. Each year it is incumbent upon us to accept the Torah again, and, for this, we must contemplate three points:

1) What is Matan Torah? What does this commitment entail?

2) How is the Torah given? How does one achieve this level?

3) What happens when we accept Torah? What does this do for us?

It is important for us to understand and reflect deeply on these points in order to appreciate "mah tov chelkeinu," how fortunate we are.

Chazal say that the main point of Matan Torah is what Bnei Yisrael said "na'aseh v'nishma" -- that they preceded "we will do" to "we will hear." Without knowing what they were getting themselves into, Bnei Yisrael accepted "ol malchut shamayim" (the yoke of Heaven) with a full heart. Through this, they merited all madreigot (spiritual heights). Hashem said to the angels, "Who revealed this secret to my children?" This is the formula that the angels use, and it is their essence, as it says "Bless Hashem, O His angels; the strong warriors who do his bidding, to hear the voice of His words." (Tehillim 103:20) We see that they do G-d's will first, regardless of hearing why.

Chazal say that through saying "na'aseh v'nishma," Bnei Yisrael rectified the sin of Adam Harishon and returned to his level, to the state of human perfection. Had they remained faithful and not fallen at the sin of the golden calf forty days later, Matan Torah would have been the Geulah (final redemption); Moshe would have been Mashiach, led Bnei Yisrael into Israel, and built the Beit Hamikdash, which would have lasted forever. The last 3500 years would have then been spent perfecting the world, instead of straightening out ourselves.

At first glance, what was so special about saying "na'aseh v'nishma?" If we had seen what Bnei Yisrael saw in Egypt -- Moshe and Aharon going into Pharaoh and coming out alive, the ten plagues, topped by Makkat Bechorot; had we seen Kriat Yam Suf, the manna; had we seen all of these miracles, would we have done otherwise? The whole point of leaving Egypt was for this, to receive the Torah. If you can't trust Hashem, then who can you, and we were told that this is good for you and your descendents, to bring you into Eretz Yisrael. Add to this that Chazal say "Kafah aleihem har kegigit" -- He overturned the mountain on them like a barrel and told them that if they would not receive the Torah this would be their grave -- it would seem only pragmatic to say "na'aseh v'nishma." So why is it viewed as such a great madreiga, like the angels, and a perfection of the creation?

It seems that we can understand the answer to this by examining a minhag of Shavuot. Before laining, we read Megillat Ruth. Ruth was the daughter of the royal family of Moav, who converted and joined Am Yisrael. Why do we read Megillat Ruth on Shavuot? Because Ruth is the personification of KabalatHatorah. How so? Everybody has all kinds of different midot (character traits) that operate within him -- truth and falsehood, humility and arrogance, cruelty and compassion. In general, the bad traits are divided into "ta'avah" (lust, desire) and "bakashat hakavod" (desire for honor) -- the physical passions (such as eating, drinking, sleeping) and ego passions (such as jealousy, anger, arrogance).

In the ancient world who had the most of ta'avah and kavod? The royalty. Today we are not overly impressed by royalty; every other week there is a debate in the English papers whether to abolish the monarchy in England. But monarchy used to be serious business. The kings and queens were the wealthiest people, lived in magnificent palaces, and had every material thing that the human race could desire. They also had the greatest honor. Who is lacking all this? A poor person who does not have basic bodily needs, who has to put out his hand and beg from door to door to keep his body and soul together. In addition to his dismal physical status, he also has no self-honor, because he is totally dependent on others. And if he is a foreigner, it is even more difficult. And if he is a Moabite in Eretz Yisrael -- a country whose Constitution, the Torah, says "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of Hashem," that a male convert from Moav may not marry an Israelite woman -- all the more so! And why is Moav excluded? Because they were descendents of Lot and owed their whole existence to Avraham, yet they didn't come out in to greet Yisrael in a hospitable manner in the desert. They are lacking in chesed, they are selfish and ungrateful people, and because they have this bad trait the Torah distanced them.

Imagine the disgrace of such a convert. Ruth left everything! In order to accept the Torah, to come under the wings of G-d, she dropped from the heights of royalty to the pit of disgraceful poverty. To accept the Torah she left Moav and came to Eretz Yisrael knowing that there was nothing waiting for her other than to be pauper. In her own land she had the most, she was the daughter of royalty, and in Israel she was a member of a despised nation. Moreover, in that time, the hero of Israel was Ehud ben Gera, who was famous for taking his dagger and killing Eglon, king of Moav -- Ruth's father!

Our ancestors in the desert, Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai, did the same thing as Ruth. They understood that Hashem would give them laws -- commandments and prohibitions. He could prohibit all desires of the world, and could impose on them fasts and suffering -- who knows what! They accepted to serve Hashem through mitzvot aseh (positive commandments) that could keep them busy all year long, all day long. So when they said that they were willing to accept the Torah, that means that they were willing to give up everything material in this world. And as far as pride, what bigger "hitbatlut" (self-submission) is there than giving themselves and all their generations to an eternally bonding contract not knowing exactly what it entails?!

What Ruth did in practice, on a personal level, Bnei Yisrael were fully willing to do when they stood at the foot of Har Sinai and were willing to give up and do everything. Regardless of what a person sees, no matter how many miracles he experiences -- to be willing to honestly give up everything in the world is above nature. That a person should do this is awesome! However, since G-d did not actually impose such extreme deprivation on Israel, and it was only an abstract willingness and commitment, it is not as easy to sense. Therefore, we first read the story of Ruth, who did this in practice, to help appreciate the significance of Bnei Yisrael's commitment, to help imagine the Kabalat Hatorah of Bnei Yisrael better.

In short, then, what is Kabalat Hatorah? Completely turning away from olam hazeh towards Hashem, and accepting His yoke with full self-negation.

Having answered the first question, what is Kabalat Hatorah, in this way, makes the second question all the more difficult to deal with; how do we come to Kabalat Hatorah? How did Ruth accept the Torah? How did our ancestors accept the Torah? Could the Queen of England snap her fingers, step down from her throne and turn herself into a Negro maid in a broken down motel in a Mississippi town in the '50's? This is what Ruth and our ancestors did! This question is so basic that it must be answered in the psukim in Megillat Ruth and Sefer Shemot. If the answer were not found, or at least hinted to, a main point of the sefer would be missing.

Let us first introduce a "chakira;" let us explain a fundamental principle. It will be somewhat long, but we will return to summarize. What brings a person happiness in life? A human being is a creature of needs and wants. A baby wakes up in morning crying; he is wet, wants to eat, seeks attention and love, etc. There is nothing evil about this; Hashem created him with needs. The same is true with an adult, just that he has more sophisticated needs and wants. So what gives him fulfillment? Material things alone will not. Let's be clear that we are not talking about extreme "perishut" (abstinence). Everyone has certain basic real needs: food, shelter and clothing, and in our days we require them on a certain standard. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot says, "This is the way of Torah: You will eat bread with salt, and drink water in measure, etc." Try it for a week, and you will find yourself seeing a doctor! We are not on this level. The Mashgiach in Lakewood explained that every generation has to fulfill this Mishna on its appropriate level. The idea is that one cannot accept the Torah and expect his material standing to be in perfect order. The Mishna was talking on the level of that time. What is our madreiga? The Mashgiach once said that if the food in the Yeshiva is not on par with mother's cooking -- for us this is a fulfillment of "bread in salt" lemahadrin!

Everyone had needs, including the need for nachat ruach (satisfaction), to feel comfortable. "Im ain kemach ain Torah" -- If a person's essential needs are lacking, the person doesn't function.

Having clarified this, what gives satisfaction? Chazal comment that whoever has 100 wants 200; a person doesn't die with half of what he wants in his hands. Shlomo Hamelech explains that this is because, "The soul will not be filled." Essentially, man is a spiritual being, and the only thing that will satisfy him is something spiritual. Rav Hutner, in Pachad Yitzchak, explains that essentially the same is true with non-Jews, but with Jews all the more so!

Just as "Im ain kemach ain Torah," so too, "Im ain Torah ain kemach." A friend explained this Mishna based on his own experience. In his childhood, he lived in Haifa in terrible economic conditions. His family came on a steamer to the United States, where they lived in a tenement in Brooklyn, still in poverty. The last year that they lived in the States, his father made connections in the jewelry business, was very successful, and made a lot of money. They returned to Israel and bought houses for the family and, later, for the married children. Despite this seemingly good fortune, he found himself sitting around the house reading the newspaper trying to find something to do. "Im ain kemach ain Torah." Without basic needs fulfilled, spirituality simply doesn't exist; one cannot think about it at all. The converse is also true, "Im ain Torah ain kemach" -- without Torah, material success is unreal, it simply does not exist. You would think that the Mishna means that the kemach is lacking, missing something. No! It is an emptiness that cannot be described; kemach alone is basically nothing.

This can be seen through life experience. I once taught a class in Aish Hatorah for people, ranging from age 18-29, who attended the seminar and wanted to hear more. I mentioned these ideas and asked people what they thought. Those who were 23 or older didn't want to hear more. Everyone had a story to relate either involving themselves or a friend, showing that without meaning -- life is nothing. The younger people were basically silent, and said that if they had house, nice car and pool they think they would be happy. It simply is an issue of experience. The truth is that a person is part of the Divine, and only through this is he happy.

To summarize: A person has certain real needs, yet if "ain Torah ain kemach" -- the neshama wants limud Torah and mitzvot. We see this by real bnei Torah; the "metikut hatorah" (sweetness of Torah) gives them life. When I was learning in Lakewood, my roommate got engaged to girl from Lakewood. The crowd at the seudat eisrusin (vort) was yeshivish, except for two guests who were dressed modern. I sat down and engaged them in conversation. They were not a religious family, but had strong Jewish sentiments. They were invited from the kallah's side, and came from Yardley, PA, where the kallah had taught their son in the day school in an earlier grade. They had kept contact, and their son would come to the kallah's family to visit for Shabbat, and enjoyed the atmosphere of the home. The son was now approaching high school age, and the family had started to find out about yeshiva high schools. They knew nothing, but were extremely interested.

Out of curiosity I asked, "I see that you are tremendously enthusiastic, but you yourself are not observant. Why?" He said dramatically, "I see the young girls from Lakewood drive into Yardley every morning. They have nothing, nothing, but nevertheless come in riding a tremendous high. Whatever it is -- I want my son to have it!" Someone saw plainly that "Pikudei Hashem yesharim mesamchei lev" -- that people who had so much less found happiness, and their son linked to it. The sweetness of Torah is what the inner human being is truly seeking.

We asked, how did Ruth find the strength of character to leave life in Moav and come to Eretz Yisrael? It says in Ruth (1:22), "And so Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, with her -- who returned from the Sedei Moav. They came to Beth-Lehem at the beginning of the barley harvest." "Who returned" is written in singular ('hashava"), and seems to be referring back to Ruth. But Ruth wasn't returning? She always lived in Moav, and was coming for first time! The commentaries explain that the simple meaning of the verse is that this phrase refers back to Naomi, but if the phrase is written adjacent to Ruth, it must have meaning. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that Ruth was doing Teshuva (repentance) from Sedei Moav. What exactly is the experience of Sedei Moav, and what kind of Teshuva does it require?

Let us understand the nature of Sedei Moav. They lacked gratitude and were selfish. Such people know how to take care of themselves, and certainly lived a "good life," with a house, Mercedes, golf course, and nightclub. Elimelech had a good idea, to leave the famine in Israel, where the poor would destroy his fortune, and move to Moav. He lived a "good life," and married off his children to the king's daughters. However, it did not work. It was an empty life, and emptiness swept them down. It left him and his two sons dead, his wife, Naomi, impoverished, and his two daughters-in-law young widows, poverty stricken. As Naomi said to them, "The hand of Hashem has gone forth against me." This is how Hashem created the world. An empty life leaves no satisfaction; everyone ended up miserable.

We asked, how could Ruth do this? She would say, "How could I not do it?" I've lived in Sedei Moav; I've seen the other side. It was an empty life; it destroyed everything. Sedei Moav -- No thank you! Just give me Torah! A life without "tochen" (content) has no meaning, and I am willing to take the seemingly difficult way, despite any amount of disgrace and poverty. I must have meaning!

A Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Galinsky, was asked by an American "baal Teshuva" who abandoned his career to sit and learn in Bnei Brak, "Who is greater? An avreich who lived in Bnei Brak all his life, or me, who saw the outside world, and is now learning?" The Rosh Yeshiva answered that the baal teshuva is greater, as the Gemara states, "In the place where baalei teshuva stand, even the completely righteous cannot stand." The avreich said, "I don't understand. The avreich from Bnei Brak probably thinks in the back of his mind that out there maybe there is a better life, while I know the truth, that 'the well is empty'."

Our ancestors at Matan Torah did what Ruth did. The story of Matan Torah begins in Shemot with the psukim, "In the third month ... they arrived at Midbar Sinai. They journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at Midbar Sinai." Why does the Torah repeat itself? We know that they were previously in Rephidim, and so it should have just said, "they arrived at Midbar Sinai? The Midrash answers that this is to compare their arriving at Sinai to their leaving of Rephidim in a mindset of Teshuva. The place was called Rephidim because "raphu yedeihem min hatorah;" they weakened their grasp of the Torah. At Makkat Bechorot they had a great desire for spirituality; at Rephidim things went down. What happened? Jews are ambitious people, always striving for something. They must have found something in Rephidim which found their fancy and pulled them away from their interest in the Torah. Because of this, Amalek came, and when Yisrael saw their emptiness -- they did Teshuva and left.

Our second question was, how could a person give up everything for Torah? When it becomes clear and true to a person that he does not find fulfillment and happiness in Rephidim, in Sedei Moav, it gives him the strength to say, "No thank you Rephidim, no thank you Sedei Moav, I must have content!" It says in Mishlei (24:16), "The righteous one will fall seven times, and he will rise." Rav Hutner, in Pachad Yitzchak explains that foolish people think that the pasuk means despite falling seven times, still the tzaddik will rise. Actually, though, it is saying that the process of building is only through falling. Seven is complete number; a tzaddik first falls completely and then gets up.

Why must Rephidim precede Har Sinai? The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained as follows: It says by Matan Torah, "All the people saw the sounds." Rashi brings Chazal's statement, "They saw that which is normally heard, and heard what is normally seen, that which is impossible elsewhere." Rav Hutner explains that what one hears is usually ideas and values that are understood, whereas seeing is of physical, material objects. The primary perception is seeing, while hearing is secondary. Normally, spiritual issues people hear, understand and have to apply, while physical issue are instantaneously seen. At Matan Torah we had such a glimpse of spirituality, that they saw the sounds; Torah and mitzvot was their primary perception and were real, and they only heard and understood that the Torah has to be fulfilled in a physical world.

Yet, we threw it all away for materialism. In this way physical life fools; it makes the person think that this is real and will give me satisfaction. A person has to try it to one degree or another until he comes to the realization that material life is not emet. The only option is Torah. Only after, "The righteous one will fall seven times, and he will rise," he is able to accept fully the Torah. This is what Ruth did; the appreciation that Sedei Moav is not the way gave her the strength to come to Eretz Yisrael. So too with our ancestors, after leaving the disgrace of Egypt they realized that life needs meaning. These are the first two issues

The third issue is, what comes out of this? When a person turns away from olam hazeh and subordinates himself to Hashem he becomes a vessel for the Torah, which is the vehicle of Hashem's appearance in this world. What does G-d want? "Rachmana liba ba'i" -- G-d wants the heart. The two main mitzvot in the Torah are "Love Hashem, your G-d" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." So long as a person is lacking he remains a "notel" (taker), trying to take what makes him happy. Even if he is nice here and there, his primary essence is that of a taker. When a person finds fulfillment, he feels himself not lacking, but fulfilled; he becomes like an overflowing cup that gives to others. This is our purpose in life, to come to goodness and chesed through clinging with Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Every day we say in Birchot Hatorah, "Veha'arev na" -- Please make the Torah pleasant and enjoyable for us -- and then we say, let us be "lomdei toratecha lishma" -- those who learn Your Torah for its sake. The ultimate meaning of "lishma" is that one does not learn for himself but to give nacho roach (satisfaction) to Hashem and bring redemption to the world. These two phrases seem contradictory; in which direction are we heading? The answer is that only through the process of "veha'arev na," through fulfilling what one feels lacking, can a person reach simcha and learn lishma.

Many will soon be heading to spend the summer or longer in "Sedei Moav." There are those who have a profession to earn a living. Nonetheless, there are three things that everybody needs to develop himself properly:

1) The necessary years to develop a "derech halimud" appropriate for each person, which varies in time. Some people who are very smart pick up a derech quickly, while others like them seek a refined "svara" which takes a long time. Some people are not gifted and it takes them a long time, or vice-versa, they seek a simple level of understanding, which they achieve quickly. One thing is clear, though -- it cannot be done in a year or two; it requires additional years of learning. Most Americans go back to YU, which allows them to continue to develop their learning. The English and South Africans have a little different experience; some spend extra time learning first, while others come back later. In any case, one needs to develop an academic derech halimud, and an attachment to the sweetness of Torah. If one succeeds in developing this, then, when pursuing a profession, he can connect with Torah.

2) One needs a framework in life in which it is possible to set aside time for learning in a serious manner. Nowadays, serious careers are not just a means of livelihood, but also a commitment of body, soul and psyche to work. I have a friend who has a high profile job, works from seven in the morning until eight at night, but still his company bought him a computer for his house "in case he has a few extra minutes."

3) One needs to get married. However, there are many young ladies who practice Judaism but are rooted in Sedei Moav. Medicine, for example, used to be a coveted profession. Some young ladies wanted only to marry doctors, and also their mothers and grandmothers all wanted them to do so. One rav once commented that the husband of such a young lady might get great cheese blintzes, but not a Kabalat Hatorah. One should choose a wife who shares an appreciation of meaning, of spirituality.

If person realizes that he needs Torah, he will do so in whatever way, whether through extra years, slower programs, or avoiding certain careers that leave a person to very little time to pursue Olam Haba. If he has strength for this, he is doing the same as Ruth and our ancestors. How? Remember that no one ever succeeded in Sedei Moav. We have an illusion that we can either do what we want or what Hashem wants, like Pharaoh at Yam Suf. Soon we find out that, in the end, it is the same thing.

Hopefully we will accept the Torah again, which is the source of shefa (spiritual bounty) given for the entire year to come. We've been celebrating over three thousand years, and there is a Kabalat Hatorah for every person. That amounts to millions of Kabalat Hatorah's. Yet, Ruth's Kabalat Hatorah stands head and shoulders above the rest.

What was the fate of Ruth? In brief, Chazal say that Ruth lived a long life, married Boaz and had a child, and a day afterwards died. She raised a son, Oved, and saw her grandson, Yishai, who was one of four men who did not sin. Not only did she see Yishai, but she lived to see her great-grandson David Melech Yisrael, sitting on the throne of Israel. Presumably, she was there with his family in Beit Lehem on that great day when Shmuel came and anointed David with a few drops of oil. With eyes that could surely see and understand what that process involved, she saw the spark of humanity left from Adam burst into a flame that will never be extinguished.

She outlived David, and merited to see Shlomo. Never was there a time of happiness and greatness for Am Yisrael as in the times of Shlomo. He conquered the whole world; silver and gold was thrown out in the streets. Each person sat under his trees, with the highest levels of ruchniut also thrown out in the streets. The Beit Hamikdash was built; the Queen of Sheva came and said she hadn't heard half Shlomo's greatness. All the kings came to him; he wrote medical books, so that there was no sickness; he had unbelievable kingship. He put a chair next to his throne for "eim hamelech." Chazal teach us that this was not for Bat Sheva, but for Ruth, "the matriarch of royalty." She merited what no person ever experienced in court of Shlomo. Where did it come from? From the mesirut nefesh and courage of Ruth. "Yeru et Hashem k'doshav, ki ain machsor lirayav." "Fear Hashem, O his holy ones, for there is no deprivation for his reverent ones." (Tehillim 34:10) The princess, who chose to be beggar, didn't turn out so bad after all!

 

 

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Rav Meir Orlian

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