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1 Sivan 5765 - June 8, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Secret of Nishma: Preparing Ourselves for Shavuos

based on a shiur from HaRav Dovid Cohen

A Clean Slate

"Ezra established that the curses of Ki Sovo should be read before Rosh Hashonoh and those of Bechukosai before Shavuos" (Megilla). We can understand why we read Ki Sovo prior to Rosh Hashonoh: so that the klolos of the year should come to an end and not follow us into the new one. But why do we need to mention these curses before Shavuos?

All of the festivals are judgment days (Biyur HaGra 524, 5). Rosh Hashonoh is the Day of Judgment for mankind, while Shavuos is the Day of Judgment for fruit of the trees. Since it is a yom hadin, that is why it is appropriate for us to read the curses beforehand. On the other hand, on Succos there is judgment on water and Pesach on wheat, and we do not read these parshas beforehand. What is unique about Shavuos that this Torah reading is required?

The Shelah explains that in addition to its literal meaning, the term "the fruit of the trees" also refers to the Torah that a person will learn that year. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer explained that just like Rosh Hashonoh needs to be prepared for in Elul, so too we need to prepare ourselves in advance for Shavuos if we want to reap its "fruits." If we make the effort to ready ourselves for Shavuos, we will also merit an end to the curses of the year.

"Every korbon speaks about transgression except for the sacrifices of Shavuos" (Talmud Yerushalmi Rosh Hashonoh, end of 4th perek). One of the main functions of Temple offerings was to cleanse us of transgression. If the Torah makes no reference to this in the korbonos of Shavuos, it must be for a reason.

At Har Sinai the Jewish people took upon themselves the mission of toiling over the words of Torah. If on Shavuos a person accepts to toil in Torah, it is as if he never transgressed (Korbon Eida and Pnei Moshe ibid.). How do we know that Klal Yisroel accepted this upon themselves at Har Sinai, and why does this acceptance make it as if they never sinned?

Two Types of Torah Learning

"In the merit of saying na'aseh (we will do) before nishma (we will hear), 600,000 mal'ochim came to the Jewish people and tied two crowns on each of them — one parallel to na'aseh and one parallel to nishma" (Shabbos 88a). The Zohar explains that the crown of na'aseh was for accepting the mitzvos and the crown of nishma was for accepting that they will toil in Torah.

The gemora implies that we received these two crowns because of the order in which we made these statements. Why was the sequence so crucial?

One reason we learn Torah is in order to know how to perform the mitzvos. However there is another aspect of Torah study, where we do not learn merely to find out the practical ramifications for out lives. As our Sages note, the halachos of ben sorer umorer were never applied in practice and never will be. Still, we learn them in the Torah.

If the Jewish people had said nishma first, this would have implied that learning (nishma) was only a means to understanding the mitzvos of the Torah (na'aseh). Saying na'aseh before nishma implied that the learning is a goal unto itself independent of any need to know how to keep the mitzvos (Beis HaLevi).

"Ha'azinu haShomayim . . . vesishma ho'oretz," proclaimed Moshe Rabbeinu in parshas Ha'azinu. Ha'azinu always means listen well, with special concentration and haShomayim refers to the neshomoh. These two words refer to the nishma aspect of Torah; toiling in Torah purely for the sake of enhancing the neshomoh.

Vesishma refers to a less intensive type of hearing and ho'oretz refers to the aspects of Torah which translate into the physical actions. The second part of the verse speaks about the aspect of Torah learning which teaches us the halachos of how to behave. These were the two separate mitzvos of Torah learning that we accepted upon ourselves at Har Sinai (Vilna Gaon in Aderes Eliyahu).

The Secret of Nishma

Even after we have distinguished these two aspects of Torah learning, there are still many points that remain unclear. The gemora implies that if it were not for saying nishma we would have received no crowns — neither for na'aseh and nor for nishma. Why was saying nishma such a crucial aspect of accepting the Torah?

In the merit of saying na'aseh before nishma we merited to have 600,000 mal'ochim tie two separate crowns on our heads — one for na'aseh and one for nishma. However when the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf, 1,200,000 angels of destruction came, 600,000 to remove the crowns of na'aseh and another 600,000 to take off the crowns of nishma (Rashi). Why were twice as many mal'ochim needed to remove these crowns?

"Is learning greater or is action greater? Some said that learning is greater and some said that action is greater. In the end everyone concluded that learning is greater for it brings one to action" (Kiddushin 40b). At first glance the words of the gemora are confusing. If the whole point of learning Torah is to bring us to action, how can we understand that nishma, learning Torah for its own sake, is greater than na'aseh, learning Torah in order to know how to act?

The last shmuess that the Alter of Slobodka gave in Chevron was on erev Yom Kippur of 78 years ago. He explained that when our Sages said that Talmud is great for it brings one to actions, they did not mean that learning Torah merely teaches us what to do. Rather they meant that the highest level of learning is when a person learns in a way that his actions will also be considered Torah learning.

How does one accomplish this? When a Jew toils over the words of Torah his mitzvos also become Torah, for every act is instilled with the spiritual elevation of the Torah. Every aspect of his physical being is elevated to a level of spiritual greatness. This is the Torah of nishma, learning with depth and effort that transforms the person into a completely spiritual being.

Based on the words of the Alter we can understand why saying nishma allowed us to receive both crowns. Without the acceptance of nishma — the mission to change one's life into Torah — the na'aseh would not have achieved its goal. Only the crown of nishma made the crown of na'aseh meaningful.

Hashem desires two things from us. He wants every Jew to perform the mitzvos of the Torah; this is na'aseh. But even more than that, He wants nishma. He wants our every action to be imbued with the holiness of the Torah. That's when a Jew's entire life turns into Torah.

Package Deal

When Moshe Rabbenu ascended to Shomayim to accept the Torah, the mal'ochim argued that Hashem should not give the Torah to mankind. Moshe responded that the angels are not able to observe Torah properly for they are not physical beings. What is the deeper meaning of these words?

The mal'ochim did not want man to get the nishma aspect of Torah. They argued that it should remain in the heavens with the mal'ochim. But Moshe Rabbenu answered that without that physical aspect of na'aseh, the spiritual aspect nishma is not complete. The two need to exist together in order to achieve perfection.

Based on this, we can also understand why it took only one mal'ach to place both crowns of na'aseh and of nishma. These two crowns were really two aspects of one unified mission, to turn man into a spiritual being. So a single mal'ach could put them both them on the head of each Jew.

However, when the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf, they showed that these two crowns were not working together, and that the nishma had not sufficiently affected their na'aseh. Since they severed these two aspects from each other, separate mal'ochim were required to remove the crowns.

Based on this, we can understand why someone who accepts Torah is considered to have never transgressed in his life. Learning Torah does not get rid of aveiros on a simple level. However the learning of nishma raises a person to a level of living where he is totally sanctified and separate from the whole concept of sin.

Every year Shavuos is a new opportunity for us to reach this level. How do we prepare for this day? Before Shavuos we read, "Im bechukosai teileichu . . . " which, as Rashi explains, refers to toiling in Torah. If we learn in this way we will reach the level of Torah that is nishma.

If we can elevate ourselves to this level of Torah before and during Shavuos, we will certainly merit seeing an end to the curses of the year.

HaRav David Cohen is rosh yeshivas Chevron, Yerushalayim.

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