Wednesday, June 08, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Shavuos, the holiday of Matan Torah is right around the corner. Despite how close it is, and even though we have been counting toward it for over six weeks, most of us are still a distance from where we need to be in order to properly receive the Torah.

Ever since the second day of Pesach we have been giving lip service to the 48 steps approaching Kabolas HaTorah, marking off each day that passed since we sat at the Seder celebrating Yetzias Mitzrayim. The exodus from Egypt was the first step of the redemption process which culminated on Shavuos on Har Sinai.

As we approach Shavuos we need to assess how we measure up to the goals of sefira as spelled out for us by Chazal. Have we grown spiritually over this period? Have we improved our midos and the way we conduct ourselves in our dealings with our fellow Jews? Have we made ourselves worthy of accepting the Torah anew on the sixth and seventh of Sivan?

Sefira is not just a technical countdown, similar to the way youngsters mark off days on the calendar in a countdown to the last day of school. Sefira is meant to be a process of growth and spiritual elevation. It is a reminder of the continuous opportunity for strengthening and deepening our yiras Shomayim and commitment to Torah, as we move along the path, one day at a time, from Yetzias Mitzrayim towards Kabolas HaTorah.

Pirkei Avos, which we study during this period, details 48 kinyanim through which Torah can be mastered; each one of them a supreme challenge. In order to rise to these challenges, we have to be strong and determined and climb the Sefira ladder one rung a day.

The inspiration to grow and elevate ourselves either comes from within or can be triggered by outside forces. Some times all it takes is a confrontation with true greatness, and the resulting awareness of the vast gap that exists between where we are holding, and where we could –and should—be holding. We like to delude ourselves into thinking that we are a lot better than really are, but when we come face to face with true greatness we are shaken to the core. We realize that we have to do more to achieve real greatness.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when a person realizes that true greatness is not something anyone is born with. It is acquired through hard work, dedication, unceasing study, review and practice. That is true of any pursuit, and certainly with regard to Torah. Before one can accept the Torah, before one can understand the Torah, he must attain a certain level of accomplishment.

Forty nine rungs must be ascended, forty nine gates of knowledge entered, and forty- nine days of Sefira must have made their impact on one’s mind and heart, before the journey’s summit is reached on Mount Sinai.

Where are we up to in our own personal odyssey? Are we still determined to ascend that mountain or did we get sidetracked and lose sight of the goal? Do we think we can attain it via shortcuts? Shortcuts won’t cut it. Half measures won’t suffice. Skipping even one day of Sefira invalidates the process.

In the pursuit of Torah, excellence and greatness have to be our goal, or else we will fail.

Unless we are serious about excelling in Torah study and observance, everything we invest in the effort will fall short of its goal. Those who are satisfied with mediocrity, will remain forever at that level, no matter how elaborate their outer façade of greatness. This is as true of Torah as it is of all mundane pursuits.

Can one envision a more vivid example of artificial greatness than an empty façade of importance and superiority that is poised to collapse under the slightest pressure? Sometimes it is the very confrontation with such ugliness, with the uncivilized behavior of people who have no moral yardstick and no example of greatness in their own lives to live up to, that encourages one to launch himself in the opposite direction.

As the Am Hanivchar we have to rise above the decadence and the sham which surrounds us. Instead of indulging in empty posturing, we are commanded to work on ourselves, to purify our hands, mouths and souls before we engage in the pursuit of our livelihoods and the study of Torah. We must never sink to the level of animals in human form.

Before we accept the Torah, we have to work on our dealings with our fellow man, our relationships with family members, neighbors, employees and business acquaintances. We have to deal with the challenges of keeping our egos and our physical drives in check; we purify our bodies step by step, day by day. That is what sets us apart from the rest of humanity.

The summons to kedusha is forever before us. In countless ways, through every single day of the year, but never more explicitly than in the days leading up to Kabolas HaTorah, the Torah is always calling upon us to heed our better nature, to perfect ourselves, to ascend the mountain.

Let us not squander these precious days of opportunity which will enable us to properly receive the Torah, our lifeblood and lifeline.

As observant Jews, we must all strive for a thorough understanding and observance of Torah and its many precepts. Superficiality and mediocrity can undermine any serious pursuit and certainly our limud haTorah and shmiras hamitzvos that define our very existence.

The Medrash in Vayikra [19-2] states that lest someone grow despondent when realizing the vastness of Torah and yield to despair over his inability to master it all, he should realize that such an approach is foolish and counterproductive. A wise man will sit down and study two halachos today and another two halachos tomorrow and if he keeps this up consistently, will merit to study the entire Torah.

The path to excellence is by rigorously preparing ourselves spiritually and intellectually to receive the Torah, only then rendering ourselves capable of understanding the Torah and acting as true bnei Torah. We must then dedicate ourselves to excelling in its study, posuk after posuk; parsha after parsha; mishna after mishna; daf after daf and halacha after halacha until we are masters of our bodies, our souls and the Torah. Then we will be worthy of the appellation, bnei Torah.

Let us all make ourselves worthy of complete acceptance of the Torah and usher in the yemos hamoshiach, bimehairah biyom-einu.

Chag Someach.


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