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The Spirit of Our People and The Crown of Torah

by Rabbi Avi Matmon

"And Israel encamped there before the mountain." (Shemot 19:2)

"And Israel encamped- The singular denotes that they were united as one man with one heart." (Rashi)

"Every single Jew has in his soul the soul of every single soul in Klal Yisrael. Since all of their souls are bound together, this one has a share in that and that one has a share in this." (Tomer Devorah)

The most celebrated trial of the century was that of Otto Adolf Eichmann. On May 23, 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced to the world that Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann has been captured and would stand trial in Israel. Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer who organized Adolf Hitler's "final solution of the Jewish question," was captured by Mossad and Shin Bet agents on the streets of Buenos Aires, where he had been living under the name of Ricardo Klement since 1952. The agents drugged Eichmann and he was flown out of Argentina disguised as an Israeli airline worker who had suffered head trauma in an accident. Three days later, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announced that Eichmann was in Israeli custody, where then he was put on trial for genocide. The decision was made to film the trial for a worldwide TV audience.

Eichmann's trial began in Jerusalem. It was the first trial to be televised in history. Eichmann faced 15 charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and war crimes. He claimed he was just following orders, but the judges disagreed, finding him guilty on all counts on December 15 and sentencing him to die. On May 31, 1962, he was hanged near Tel Aviv.

The identity of the executioner was kept secret for 30 years and was not revealed until the man retired. As a human-interest story, German television wanted to interview the man who actually pulled the lever and killed Eichmann. The German film crew traveled to Israel to interview the man. As it turned out he was an orthodox Jew of Yemenite descent.

The man agreed under one condition - that they interview him at the Kolel - study hall where he was attending daily. The producer asked him why he wanted to be interviewed in a crowded room and not in a quite studio. He answered "I want the German people to see why we survived. I want the German people to see us learning Torah."

Rabbi Matityahu Solomon asks that on Mincha of Yom Kippur there is a special Segulah of not losing, Chas V'shalom, children before the parents die. They have to shed a tear for the loss of the two sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, who died at an early age when they were consumed by fire at the altar. Why is this a concern on the day of judgment?

We are embarking on the holiday of Shevuot and there are numerous points to keep in mind for our spiritual success in commemorating our Torah. Everyone is aware that the High Holiday period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a period of judgment (Din). However, not everyone is aware that the Ari z"l and the Shaloh HaKodesh write that there is judgment on Shavuot as well. The judgment of Shavuot affects each and every one of us. On Shavuot there is Heavenly Judgment that determines the degree of success each of us will have in pursuing our Torah studies during the coming year. Just as the amount of material sustenance each of us will receive for the next 12 months is determined on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, so to the amount of spiritual sustenance each of us will receive from our Torah study during the next twelve months is determined on the Day of the Giving of the Torah.

We know how to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. We know we are to pray, we know we are to do mitzvot. These things determine the nature of the Judgment we receive during the season of the Days of Awe. What are we supposed to do on Shavuot in order that the Almighty will say "If this is how he acts, then he deserves to be given a year of success in his learning endeavors?"

We all know the story of Purim and how the wicked Haman wanted to destroy the Jewish people. It says in Tractate Megila when Haman came to pick up Mordechai for the royal parade, he found Mordechai teaching Torah to children despite of the decree of annihilation. He was curious to know what they were learning. They answered the laws of sacrifices for the future when the Bet Hamikdash would be functioning. At that point in time Haman came to a startling realization, that the children's learning of the laws of korbanos-sacrifices would overwhelm his plotting to destroy the Jews. What was it that deflated Haman? What was it that made him realize that his plan was doomed? Haman expected them that they were planning their end. He thought they, if anything, would learn the laws of death or dying for G-d (Kiddush Hashem) but to find them learning about a Bet Hamikdash that didn't even exist yet and how they were anticipating the coming of it demonstrated to him their resilience and willful stubborn spirit. It was a spirit to exist and co-exist- a spirit that is nurtured by the Torah.

The Holy Books say that a person's judgment in this matter is dependent on his desire (cheshek) to learn. The more he wants it, the more he shows the Master of the Universe somehow that this is important to him and he wants success in his learning endeavors, the more he will receive it. It is this "cheshek to learn" that determines the extent to which the Almighty will allot him success in learning and that is how he strengthens his spirit.
This is what we have to demonstrate over the next few days leading up to Shavuot - our desire to learn! One develops a 'cheshek' if one comes to an appreciation of what Torah is and of how important Torah is to his life. Somehow, in these next few days, we must spend time thinking of the role Torah plays in our lives, the importance that it has. In this way, we can sincerely express to the G-d our desire to grow in learning.


Study of Torah is a specific mitzvah in Deuteronomy 6:7 (which we recite daily in the Shema): "You shall teach them diligently to your children" - which directs us to transmit Torah to the next generation... "and you shall speak of them (words of Torah) while you sit at home, while you walk on the way, when you go to bed and when you get up" - which directs us to study the Torah ourselves. This need to devote ourselves to knowing the Torah, to work at it, to strive to comprehend it, to give it first priority - is repeated over and over again throughout the Bible. Our history demonstrates that the moment study of Torah is neglected, assimilation of the Jewish people into its surroundings makes its inroad. Without fail, every Jewish community in history that did not teach and study Torah as its first priority gradually disappeared from the scene. Beyond all the good, rational reasons, Torah is the mysterious bridge which connects the Jew and God, across which they interact and communicate, and by means of which God fulfills His covenant with His people to sustain them and protect them.

It is therefore no surprise that Torah study is so central with us. It is the first blessing a newborn child receives: "May he grow up to Torah, to the wedding canopy, and to good deeds." The prayer book is filled with petitions to God to help us understand His Torah. No wonder Rebbe Akiva in the Talmud states that to expect a Jew to live without Torah is like expecting a fish to live without water. That's because the fact is that the Torah is the essence of the Jewish people, our very life and soul, and without it we literally have no existence. This explains why, in a traditional Jewish community, the one who is looked up to and most admired is the scholar of Torah - not the entertainer or the athlete.

When we study Torah, we are not studying an abstract and arcane text of the ancient world. We are studying the way in which God wants us to live on this earth... (We) are in fact engaged in discovering the essence of Judaism, which is to say, the essence of ourselves.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn asks a great question. Why did the Angel fight with Yaacov and not with Avraham and Yitzchak? Why did he pick on Yaacov? We know Avram represents kindness-chessed and Yitzchak represents sacrifice and prayer. Yaacov represents Torah. In essence the angel was saying they can do kindness as much as they want; they can pray all day. However, if I take away the Torah there is no future generations. Why should we shed a tear for Nadav an Avihu?

Rabbi Matityahu Solomon quotes the Ponavitch Rav. Moshe said that Nadav and Avihu were greater than himself and Aharon. As great as they were, can one imagine how great they would have become? Can one imagine what Klal Yisrael would have looked like if for forty years they would have been taught by MOSHE, AHARON, NADAV, AND AVIHU! Can one conceptualize how they would have influenced Klal Yisrael? Furthermore, how much would our nation look like TODAY!

Rabbi Ephraim Waxman expounds on the Tomer Devorah when it says, "Every single Jew has in his soul the soul of every single soul in Klal Yisrael. Since all of their souls are bound together, this one has a share in that and that one has a share in this." When one learns Torah, he lifts up every Jewish soul in Klal Yisrael that resides with in his Neshama. Even Jews that don't have an inkling that Torah exist benefit from your learning. The power of studying Torah not only transcends space, but it transcends time. One who learns G-d's Torah benefits generations before him and the generations before him learning Torah benefit him through the millennium. Inside our souls rest the souls of our fathers. We have the souls of Nadav and Avihu. In other words, every Jew is timeless and ageless and we all come together and are united through Torah. He explains this point from an interpretation of Kedusha that is recited by the Ashkenazim. "NEKADESH ET SHIMCHA BA'OLAM K'SHEM SHEHMAKDISHIM OTO" - "We, in this world, sanctifies your name through our learning Torah like your name is sanctified in the heavens by the Jews who perished and are by your side, our ancestors."

In every generation there is that bad angel in one form or another who tries to deter or, at times, destroy us. Rabbi Matityahu Solomon relates an incident, when he was a boy, barely bar mitzvah, where his father one day brought home a 16-year-old refugee from Eastern Europe. It was soon after the war and many of these boys were shipped to England, broken, without families. "My father said to my mother 'Bring out to this boy a pack of cookies'. We were all taken aback, a pack of cookies back then was a big deal at the time. My father continued 'This boy was just tested by the Rosh Yeshiva-Head Master and incredibly, it became known to us that he memorized 200 daphim-pages of Gemarah while he was in the Concentration camp! The boy's father was a Rav in Eastern Europe and gave Daf Yomi classes and when he and his son were forced into the camps the father taught his son.'"

Rabbi Solomon continues: "I thought, can one imagine the father and son in the barracks in the concentration camp huddled up in one corner afraid not to get caught and the father teaching the son. That is the desire one prays for on Shevuot. That is the spirit of our people. The son, now, will study Torah, unfortunately, without his father. But, in essence, they both will sanctify G-d's name, in this world and the Heavens, for they are part of a nation that has spirit!"

Rabbi Avi Matmon

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