There is a fascinating sequence of verses in this week's portion which
tell us that it is our responsibility to remember more than just the
Commandments, but the manner in which they were given. Moshe exhorts the
nation, "Now, Israel, listen to the decrees and the mandates that I teach
you to observe. You shall not add to them nor subtract. See I have taught
you decrees and ordinances as Hashem commanded me." Moshe warns the nation
to "safeguard and perform them, for they are your wisdom and discernment in
the eyes of the nations who will hear all the decrees and declare that
surely this is a wise and sagacious nation" ( cf. Deuteronomy 2:1-9).
What follows is a warning to remember the scenario of Sinai. And though
its remembrance would seem much less significant than that of the
observance of the laws themselves, the Torah uses stronger terminology in
reminding us. "Only beware for yourselves and heed your very souls, lest
you forget the words that your eyes saw and lest you remove them from your
heart. You must make them known to your children and your children's
children the day you stood before Hashem at Chorev" (Deuteronomy 2:9-11).
Moshe continues to remind the Jews of the fiery scenario and the awe-filled
events of the revelation at Mount Sinai.
What bothers me is a simple question. If Moshe already impressed upon his
nation the importance of the actual laws, if he already explained to them
that it is those commands that will inspire other nations to marvel at the
brilliance and veracity of the Jews, then why is the scene at Sinai such an
integral part of the faith? Why is the warning both to the Jews and their
souls seemingly stronger concerning the revelation scenario, greater than
that of the admonition to obey the complex laws of the Torah?
A prominent Rosh Yeshiva lived next door to the simple clerk of his
celebrated yeshiva. The Rabbi had scores of people visiting him asking him
advice for the most difficult complexities, Talmudic or otherwise. The
clerk did his job in the yeshiva office and attended to the needs of the
Rosh Yeshiva, faithfully and devotedly.
Both of them had sons. The revered Rabbi's son did not follow in his
father's footsteps. He became a professor, in a secular university,
something that brought consternation to his father. As a young man he
began to shine in the yeshiva world and was well on his way to become
a Torah luminary.
One day, after the Rosh Yeshiva's son, attired in the casual uniform of a
secular intellectual, visited his father at the Yeshiva, an intellectual
debate ensued between the two. When the professor left, the Rosh Yeshiva
had let out a short sigh of frustration, whispering something about the
difficulty in raising children to follow one's ideals.
One of the rabbis in the Yeshiva approached his mentor. "Rebbe," he meekly
began. "I don't understand. The secretary of the Yeshiva merited to have
his children become brilliant and devoted Torah scholars. What did he do
so special that his sons are so strongly committed to Torah study?"
The Rosh Yeshiva did not let him continue. "I do not know for sure," he
answered. "But one thing I can tell you. At my Shabbos table I was
discussing questions on Maimonides writings and Talmudic difficulties. He
was singing zemiros (songs of faith and devotion)."
The Torah exhorts us to keep the laws as they will inspire others to marvel
at Jewish wisdom. But Moshe adds the finality of the argument. Do not
ever forget that we stood at Mount Sinai, saw the fire and heard G-d's voice!
The intellectual analyzing, even actual observance, is, of course , of
utmost importance. But nothing supercedes the simple faith of the G-d
fearing Jew who traces his steps to the foot of the mountain. The Chasid
Rav Yosef Ya'avetz. one of the great rabbis who was exiled during the
Spanish Inquisition, writes that Jews whose observance was based on
intellectualism withered in the face of Torquemada's torments. The simple
Jews with simple faith remained loyal and steadfast throughout.
It is obviously important to think, to rationalize and to perform. But
Moshe tells us to watch ourselves and our souls lest we forget what really
happened some 3,300 years ago. Because when look for the bottom line, it's
at the bottom of the mountain.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Mazel Tov to Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Fuchs upon the birth of a baby boy!
If you would like to hear a lecture by Rabbi Kamenetzky, send a blank
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