Shiur #57: Concluding Shiur

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
A man's goal in life should be to stand before God and serve Him with all his heart and all his soul.
 
At Mount Sinai, the people of Israel were told, "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” According to the Ramban, the revelation at Mount Sinai should be seen not as a one-time event, but as a permanent desire and an ideal reality that connects the people of Israel with their Father in heaven at all times:
 
When God spoke to Israel face to face, telling them the Ten Commandments, and commanded them through Moshe about some of the mitzvot, which were the principal mitzvot of the Torah – just as our Rabbis instituted with regard to converts who come to accept Judaism – and Israel accepted upon themselves to do whatever He commands them through Moshe, and He made a covenant with them about all this – from that point they became His people and He became their God, as He had stipulated with them from the beginning: "Now therefore, if you will hearken to My voice, and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own treasure [from among all peoples]" (Shemot 19:4); and He said: "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Shemot 19:6). And since they are holy, it is fitting that there be among them a sanctuary so that He may rest His Shekhina among them… And the secret of the Mishkan is that the glory that rested on Mount Sinai should rest upon it in a concealed manner. As it is stated there: "And the glory of the Lord rested upon Mount Sinai" (Shemot 24:16), and it is written: "Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness" (Devarim 5:20), and it is similarly written with regard to the Mishkan: "And the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan" (Shemot 40:34). With regard to the Mishkan twice it is mentioned that "the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan," corresponding to "His glory and His greatness." The glory that appeared to Israel at Mount Sinai was with Israel in the Mishkan at all times. And when Moshe approached, God would speak to Moshe as He had spoken to him at Mount Sinai… One who carefully examines the verses relating to the giving of the Torah and understands what we wrote about them will understand the secret of the Mishkan and the Mikdash. (Ramban, Shemot 25:2)
 
In order to achieve this goal, we examined the fundamentals of the mitzva of Shema, which, according to Rashi (Berakhot 25a), prepares a person for the knowledge of God and enables him to stand before the King and speak to Him in prayer.
 
In our opinion, this is the profound meaning of the requirement to juxtapose redemption to prayer – to avoid any interruption between the recitation of the post-Shema blessing, the theme of which is redemption, and the Shemoneh Esreh. It is necessary to juxtapose the Shema with all its various components to our prayer.
 
And you, Shelomo my son, know you the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts; if you seek Him, He will be found of you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever. (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 28:9)
 
The knowledge of God is achieved through the recitation of the Shema, and with it a person comes to serve God whole-heartedly and with great desire.
 
We have come a long way in this framework. We have examined the mitzva of Shema in two circles:
 
1. A review of the structure of the three passages that must be read to fulfill the mitzva in practice, based on what Chazal established, and the meanings that arise from the various passages, their structure, and their special order, as the Rambam emphasizes: "Reading these three sections in this order constitutes the recitation of the Shema" (Hilkhot Keri'at Shema 1:3).
 
2. The special mitzvot mentioned in the Shema: proclaiming God's unity, loving Him, and studying His Torah – mitzvot included in the Rambam's "Book of Knowledge" – and tefilin, mezuza, and tzitzitmitzvot included in the Rambam's "Book of Love."
 
From this comprehensive perspective, with its various components, we have paved the way for a person who is seeking God to walk along the paths of wisdom and open a door to closeness to and connection with God.
 
The Ramban writes in his strictures to the Rambam's Sefer ha-Mitzvot, in the concluding passage: "The two daily offerings and the incense burnt in the morning and in the evening and [the morning and the evening] Keri'at Shema are counted as two [mitzvot] each, as the one is not indispensable for the other, and the time of the one is not the time of the other."  This is, of course, in opposition to the view of the Rambam, who established that the two recitations of Shema constitute a single mitzva: "And the tenth commandment is that God has commanded us to recite the Shema every day in the evening and in the morning. This is what is stated: 'And you shall speak of them, when you sit in your house… and when you lie down, and when you rise up.'"
 
On the face of it, the Ramban seems to be correct, since the morning Shema is not indispensable for the evening Shema, and they are recited at different times. The Rambam, however, maintains that the question of how to count the mitzva depends on a different point. This is what he writes in the Eleventh Principle in his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot:
 
It would have been possible to say that the white and the blue threads are counted as two mitzvot, were it not explicitly stated in Mekhilta De-Rabbi Yishmael: "You might say that they are two mitzvot, the mitzva of blue and the mitzva of white. Therefore, the verse states: "And they shall be for you as tzitzit" – one mitzva and not two. Thus, it is explicit that even parts of mitzvot that are not indispensable for each other are sometimes counted as one mitzva when the idea is the same. For the intention regarding tzitzit is that you should remember. If so, the entire matter that brings to remembrance is counted as one mitzva. If so we should not consider for the purpose of counting the mitzvot whether or not they are indispensable for each other, but whether they are one idea or multiple ideas.
 
According to the Rambam, the Shema should be regarded as a single commandment because it revolves around a single idea: The essential idea is establishing a framework in one's life, in all situations, in the evening and in the morning, under the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, which includes the yoke of all the mitzvot.
 
This mitzva is the foundation of man's worship of God, which surrounds his day from the moment he gets up in the morning until he goes to sleep at night. It encompasses all of a man's life, from the moment he is born to his dying breath. In essence, it should be regarded as the commandment of life. All of a person's actions throughout the cycle of his life stem from this deep recognition.
 
This recognition, when it is built in a gradual manner and accompanied by an internalization of its meaning, fills a person with a sense of pleasure, a deep feeling of closeness. The heart overflows when he hears the knocking of the beloved and the yearnings of his love. Happy is the people that such is the case, and happy is the individual who merits such a feeling, which is always in the sense of to and fro, touching and not touching, "as an eagle that stirs up her nest, hovering over her young." A short moment of such a feeling, even if it is not steady and even if it appears to be a figment of his imagination, has something of that vision that a person aspires to and seeks all his life, as the Psalmist put it: "But as for me, the nearness of God is my good" (Tehillim 73:28).
 
At the time of the covenant in Devarim, we read: "Cursed be he that confirms not the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen" (Devarim 27:26). The commentators have difficulty understanding the verse: What is the "confirmation of the Torah" that is required here?
 
Rashi explains: "Here he included the entire Torah [under a curse], and they took it upon them, pledging themselves by an execration and an oath." In his opinion, the novelty in the verse is not some special demand, but the all-encompassing commitment to keep and to do the Torah, and added to this commitment is an execration and an oath.
 
The Ramban suggests two understandings, each of which adds an important element to the approach that we have taken in this entire series of shiurim:
 
But in my opinion, this acceptance means that he should accept the mitzvot in his heart, and view them as truth, and believe that he who does them will have reward and good and that he who transgresses them will be punished. And if he denies one of them or views it as permanently cancelled, he is cursed. But if he transgresses one of them – for example, if he eats pig or some abomination to satiate his desire, or if he does not fulfill the command of sukka or lulav owing to laziness – he is not included in this ban, as the verse does not say, "that does not the words of this law," but rather, "that confirms not the words of this law to do them." This is like, "The Jews confirmed and accepted" (Esther 9:27). This is the ban placed upon the rejecters and the heretics.
 
The Ramban emphasizes the importance of the duties of the heart in the service of God. According to him, the Torah does not relate in this verse to a person's local weaknesses or his momentary submission to his lusts and desires. The Torah seeks out a person's heart, his faith in the Torah and the mitzvot, and the internalization that they are true and that one who abandons them abandons life. This is what the verse states: "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." And in the second passage of Shema: "And it shall come to pass, if you shall hearken diligently to My commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul."
 
In his second explanation, the Ramban addresses another obligation that relates to the servant of God. It is not enough that he serves Him out of love and performs the truth because it is the truth. Another mission is cast upon him – confirming the Torah. The Ramban writes:
 
I saw in the Jerusalem Talmud (Sota 7:4): "'That confirms [lit., holds up] not' – Is the Torah falling? R. Shimon ben Yakim says: This is the chazan. R. Shimon ben Chalafta says: This is the court in this world. For R. Yehuda and R. Huna said in the name of Shemuel: About this Yoshiyahu rent [his clothing] and said: It falls upon me to confirm. R. Asi said in the name of R. Tanchum bar Chiyya: One who studied and taught and kept and did and had the opportunity to strengthen [the Torah] but did not do so, he is among those who are cursed." They understood that this confirmation relates to the king or the nasi, who have the power to strengthen the Torah against those who nullify it. Even if he is fully righteous in his own actions, if he could strengthen the Torah against the wicked who nullify it, he is cursed. This is close to what we have explained.
 
The Ramban focuses on the duty falling upon the nation's leaders to use their influence on all sectors of the population so that they too should join in the keeping of the Torah. This may be the meaning of the words that we say every morning in the Ahavot Olam blessing in the blessings of Shema: "Inspire us to understand and to discern, to hear, learn and teach, to keep, do and confirm [u-lekayem] all the instructions of Your Torah with love." We all know that the words of the Torah begin with hearing[1] and continue with learning, teaching, keeping (negative commandments) and doing (positive commandment). But what is meant by "confirming"? He has already learned and taught, kept and done! From here we see that "confirming" refers to the duty to see to it that the Torah is being observed by all sectors of the population.
 
From the words of the Ramban, it would appear that the primary obligation falls upon those who are vested with authority and can exercise their power to coerce the masses to fulfill the Torah.[2]
 
It would seem, however, that this obligation should be expanded. I often heard from our revered teacher, HaRav Yehuda Amital, ztz"l, that there is a general obligation to illuminate the Torah so that all can enjoy and benefit from its splendor.
 
This duty is especially incumbent upon us in our generation, which has been overcome by intense confusion. In a world in which many glorify themselves in Torah while engaging in conduct that does not illuminate it, and at times even humiliates it, it is especially necessary to further the end that the Torah be available and familiar to all: "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple… More to be desired are they than gold, even than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb" (Tehillim 19:8-11).
 
This is what Chazal said at the end of Yoma (86a):
 
As it was taught: "And you shall love the Lord your God," i.e., that the Name of Heaven be beloved because of you. If someone studies Scripture and Mishna, and attends on the disciples of the wise, is honest in business, and speaks pleasantly to persons, what do people then say concerning him? "Happy the father who taught him Torah, happy the teacher who taught him Torah; woe to people who have not studied the Torah; for this man has studied the Torah look how fine his ways are, how righteous his deeds! Of him does Scripture say: 'And He said to me: You are My servant, Israel, in, whom I will be glorified' (Yeshaya 49:3)." But if someone studies Scripture and Mishnah, attends on the disciples of the wise, but is dishonest in business and discourteous in his relations with people, what do people say about him? "Woe to him who studied the Torah, woe to his father who taught him Torah; woe to his teacher who taught him Torah! This man studied the Torah: Look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly his ways; of him Scripture says: 'In that men said of them: These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of His land' (Yechezkel 36:20)."
 
The confirmation of the Torah about which we have spoken involves the creation of a situation in which others come to love God. Fortunate is he who is able to do this! 
 
At the end of the description of the construction of the Mishkan, it says: "And Moshe blessed them" (Shemot 39:43). Rashi (ad loc.) writes in the name of Chazal: "He said to them: May it be the will of God that the Shekhina rest upon the work of your hands. 'And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish You the work of our hands upon us' (Tehillim 90:17)."
 
We similarly would like to conclude our words with the prayer and blessing of Moshe Rabbeinu: "And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish You the work of our hands upon us." Amen.
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 

[1] For example: "Hear, O Israel," and then afterwards: "You shall teach them diligently to your children." We find a similar idea in the words of Chazal regarding the Hakhel assembly: “The women come to hear and the men come to learn.” Hearing is the fundamental preparednes to enter the system, and this is followed by individual learning. We can add that hearing is receiving from one's father or teacher, which is followed by personal learning and teaching others.
[2] In the continuation, the Ramban mentions the practice of hagbaha, raising the Torah before or after the public reading thereof, to show the people the Torah that Moshe set before Israel in order to educate them: "They said in the manner of Aggada: This is a chazan, who does not raise the Torah so that is should stand properly and not fall. It seems to me that this refers to a chazan who does not raise the Torah scroll before the congregation to show them all the writing. As it is stated in tractate Soferim (14:14) that we lift the Torah and show the writing to the people standing to the right and to the left, in front of him and behind him, as there is a mitzva for all the men and the women to see the writing and to kneel and to say: 'This is the Torah that Moshe set.' And this is the customary practice."