All things in life require preparation. Inspiration doesn’t happen on its own, and neither does spiritual growth. Matan Torah, as a world-changing event, required major prepation. As we discussed in a previous post (https://goo.gl/xwJu7k), the weeks of Sefiras Ha’omer were given as a guide of sorts, preparing us to reach Shavuos. This week is our last week of preparation before we celebrate Matan Torah, a time when we accept the Torah each year fully and unquestioningly. Let’s take a final look at the built in preparations of this week.
First, let’s ask: What is the danger of not preparing? Shavuos will come, whether we’re prepared or not, and the Yom Tov will pass, if uneventfully. What are we risking by hitting the figurative snooze button?
Lack of preparation leads not only to a person losing out, but leads him to write the entire experience off. For example, many people go to holy sites, such as the kosel, expecting to just walk up and feel the holiness. They walk up to the kosel, subconsciously expecting a spotlight to shine down on them as they walk up to an empty spot right by the ancient stones. They think a choir of angels will sing to them, and the Heavens will dramatically open up, as they cry and daven the most meaningful tefillah of their lives, and that they’ll see Hashem’s answer clear as day as they’re immediately granted the entire wish list they asked for.
Spoiler alert: that’s now how it goes. Many fine Jews, who truly believe in Hashem walk up to the kosel without preparing and feel…nothing.
When they go to the kosel and don’t get this unearned ‘holy’ experience they were expecting, they are totally disillusioned even deride the whole experience as meaningless. This feeling comes not from a lack of intrinsic holiness, but from a lack of having mentally prepared for the experience.
This is the danger of cruising through: you’ll experience a lack of meaning and a lack of depth, and seek to attribute it to the holiday, to the Torah, to whatever else you were unprepared for. The Torah, with the timeless wisdom in contains, warns of this eventuality, and tells us כי לא דבר רק הוא מכם–Chazal explain this to mean that if one thinks he’s found a lack (דבר רק) within the Torah, he should know that its not from the Torah bur from within himself (מכם).
Preparing is key.
There’s a beautiful Sephardic piyut called את שערי רצון that’s said on Rosh Hashana morning that retells the story of Akeidas Yitzchak. The piyut starts off with a plea, asking Hashem to open the gates for our tefillos, then tells of Hashem commanding Avraham to bring Yitzchak as a korban. As Avraham and Yitzchak travel, accompanied by Eliezer and Yishmael, Avraham soon sees the mountain where he will go, and gets ready to part ways with them. The piyut says then of Avraham: עמד והתבונן להמשח: he stopped and contemplated, to be be ready for greatness. Only then did Avraham proceed to his hardest nisayon, his moment of honor and distinction.
There’s clearly a level of cognition, of thought, that’s necessary if one wants to act meaningfully in life. In this, the last week of preparation before the time of the giving of the Torah, let’s take a lesson from this idea.
Let’s first lay a premise for our lesson. The Torah was not offered only to us, B’nai Yisrael. It was offered to the goyim as well—they too had the chance to decide to be the am hanivkar (we’ll take a closer look at the goyim and this offer in our Shavuos post later this week!). In truth, the luchos that were given at this time were destroyed. What remains is the revelation: the choice the we made to become Hashem’s chosen nation, and to hear and heed Hashem’s voice as no nation ever had before.
The Torah doesn’t start with the giving of the Torah because we’re told אין מלך בלא עם –a King can’t be established before there is a nation. What does that nationhood and the establishment of Hashem’s malchus mean?
This week, the last week before Shavuos, is the sefira of malchus. Malchus is literally translated as kingdom. This sefira is different than the others. The original possuk in Divray Hayamim that refers to the sefiros makes a separation between this sefira and all the rest. The possuk writes, “To You, Hashem, is greatness (gedula), strength (gevurah), glory (tiferes), eternity (netzach), and splendor (hod)… To You, Hashem, is the Kingship…” Why is there a repeated ‘לך ה that acts as a separation between this sefira and the others?
What is a kingdom? A kingdom is only a kingdom by virtue of the people who live together and acknowledge a king. A king who reigns over no one is not a king. The moment he loses his last follower, the king is lowered from his stature. The awareness and recognition of the community is what gives him the status and the power.
The sefira of malchus, too, is not about one middah or one attribute of Hashem. Rather, it is what happens when the other sefiros are utilized to work together, like a kingdom. Imagine the builders and architects who work together to build a house—those are the six other sefiros that we went through during Sefiras Ha’omer. Malchus, in this analogy, is when the house is complete and is inhabited. By virtue of the fact that the house is inhabited, all the sefiros have come together and accomplished. This is malchus.
In a practical sense, this means that whereas the other sefiros are about Hashem and His actions vis-a-vis the world, malchus is about us. The reciprocal nature of our relationship with Hashem is encompassed here. In the possuk we quoted, malchus is separate because the other sefiros are directly given to the world by Hashem. When we internalize them and learn the ways of Hashem, and we in effect crown Him, we bring out malchus and help it be represented in the world.
Rav Shimshon Pincus makes a distinction between two kinds of mesirus nefesh. He writes that there is one level wherein we live with the reality that we are willing to give our lives for Hashem. Thus, though we are tempted by things around us, we give them up to serve Hashem.
This is regular mesirus nefesh: we are saying that there is Hashem and then there is me. Hashem wants one thing of me, and I truly want another. I give in and do what Hashem wants. I, as the king of my body, am submitting to Hashem, the King of the world, and doing His will.
Rav Pincus says that the higher, more ideal level of mesirus nefesh is what he calls the level of malchus. This, he says, is the level where there aren’t two more kings anymore, just one King and His servant. Chazal teach us that עבד מלך מלך, the servant of the king is like the king himself: their wants and desires, their will, is the same. At this level, the mesirus hanefesh of malchus, we have integrated and contemplated Hashem’s malchus to its full extent and have made our will His. In the days before Matan Torah this is what we strive for. Let’s examine how we can get there.
At the time of Matan Torah, the Yidden were commanded to prepare themselves for the holy event. They could not come to Matan Torah as they were, without first contemplating and choosing to crown Hashem. They had to be prepared to shoulder עול מלכות שמים, the yolk of Hashem’s malchus. The Meshech Chochma explains that the border that Moshe made around Har Sinai was made of the Yidden themselves. As we took on the עול מלכות שמים, we became a vessel of Hashem’s revelation in this world.
As we, too, get ready for this time, the message is clear: no one can attain the Torah in a cavalier way, walking into Shavuos with no prior thought or preparation. Each day this week, as we draw closer to the historical day of Matan Torah, we must do as Avraham Avinu did, and pause and contemplate, preparing ourselves for greatness. Stop for a bit and think about Hashem’s malchus and how we too can become that vessel through which it all comes down. As a nation, let us consider together: are the activities I’m busy with conducive to going to Matan Torah next week? Have I used this week, the sefira of malchus, to integrate this message?
I’ve merited to visit the kosel and I can confirm: It looks like it’s “just” a stone wall. You won’t hear a choir of angels, and you (most probably!) wont be blessed with the sudden and lasting clarity of a “happily ever after” with no more hardships. You might not get every single item on your wish list of tefillos with Amazon Prime speed.
But when you stop, contemplate, and prepare, you will have attianed level of closeness and intimacy that is incomprehensible to the person who waltzed in unprepared.
Our Shavous Post will go up on Friday!
As always, the sources will be posted in the comments below!