Friday, February 05, 2010

preparations for kabbalas haTorah

בַּחֹדֶשׁ, הַשְּׁלִישִׁי, לְצֵאת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם--בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה, בָּאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינָי.
וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים, וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי, וַיַּחֲנוּ, בַּמִּדְבָּר; וַיִּחַן-שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל, נֶגֶד הָהָר.

These two pesukim (19:1-2) seem to be filled with repetition and a lack of order. Why put "ba'u midbar Sinai" (the end of pasuk 1) before the description of leaving Refidim? Why repeat that the camp was set up "bamidbar" (pasuk 2) -- obviously so, when we were just told "vayavo'u midbar Sinai"?

The Ibn Ezra is probably closest to pshuto shel mikra here in explaining that the second pasuk is simply an elaboration on the statement "ba'u midbar Sinai" at the end of the first, but that doesn't really explain all the instances of repetition. Ramban adds that the clause "va'yavo'u midbar Sinai" in the second pasuk emphasizes that they camped immediately upon reaching the Sinai desert so that they could begin preparing for mattan Torah; there was no time lost scouting out the best campground. Ohr haChaim covers even more bases derech derush. The second pasuk is not a description of travel -- the first pasuk already told us they arrived at Sinai -- but is rather a description of the preparation required for mattan Torah. There are three key ingredients necessary for kabbalas haTorah: 1) "Vayis'u m'Refidim" -- Chazal tell us that the name Refidim is a hint to "rafu y'deyhem", a lack of zeal and intensity in learning. The people had to re-energize themselves to receive the Torah. (Netziv writes that kedusha is absorbed in proportion to the effort and preparation made to receive it; therefore even the journey toward Sinai had to be made with alacrity and zeal). 2) "Vayavo'u midbar Sinai, vayachanu bamidbar" -- Torah can only be absorbed with a sense of humility; the people had to become low, like the desert. 3) "Vayichan sham yisrael..." -- as Rashi explains, "vayichan" in the singular reflects a sense of unity, the third necessary ingredient for kabbalas haTorah.

It is easy to speak of re-energizing, of approaching Torah and even preparation for Torah with zeal, but where is that energy and inspiration supposed to come from? The Shem m'Shmuel has a nice thought based on these pesukim. The Besh"t taught that a person is where his/her machshava is. (I think one of my kids spends most of her days not in school based on this principle!) The road to kabbalas haTorah is very difficult if you think of taking step after step after step through the hot desert sun until you get there. But if you think that you are already there, you are mentally ready and waiting for kabbalas haTorah, it's just a few steps to the desert until it happens, then the journey is much easier. "Va'yavo'u midbar Sinai" -- the people mentally arrived at Sinai, and only then, "Va'yisu m'Refidim..." they began the actual physical journey, inspired and energized.

Maybe it would be a good idea (I can dream, right?) to give away free tickets to the next siyum hashas immediately after the next masechta or cycle finishes. "Va'yavo'u midbar Sinai" -- you have the tickets, your seat is reserved, you're already there at the Garden! Even better than Superbowl tickets (OK, maybe that's pushing it : ) You already start thinking about yourself as a Jew who has finishes shas at least once in his life -- tremendous! The next couple of hundred daf are going to go a lot easier. How many bnei Torah are sitting b'guf in yeshiva with their machshava some place else because they don't believe this idea and we do such a poor job communicating it?

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