23 May Some Special Shavuos Thoughts
As we stood at Har Sinai, the Torah testifies that, “Vayichan sham Yisroel, neged haHar;” the Jews encamped in front of the mountain. The commentaries immediately pounce that the word vayichan is in the singular. This is unusual because the Jews numbered some 600,000 men; a number that doesn’t include the women, children, and the elderly who also left Egypt. Rashi explains this unusual grammar with the famous comment – we were unified “like one man with one heart.” Thus we find the dream of achdus – total unity and national oneness – was achieved at the foot of Har Sinai.
This is therefore one of the primary messages of Shavuos – striving to reach, once again, this pinnacle of accomplishment that we attained on this festival so long ago.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is unrelated to the giving of the Torah. To the contrary, this is one of the major purposes of the Torah. As the Rambam teaches us at the end of Hilchos Chanukah, the whole Torah was given to make peace in the world, as it says, “Deracheha darchei noam, v’chol nesivoseha shalom – Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all Its paths are paths of peace.” This is an amazing concept. The Rambam is teaching us that a common thread running through all of the 613 mitzvahs is the golden thread of pursuing peace. Thus, it is no wonder that the sages did not let their disciples stand up for the scholarly Geniva for, although he was a great sage, he was a very controversial figure.
We too, whether Daf Yomi attendees, Yeshiva bochrim, or women who staunchly support the Torah of our families, must make sure we are in sync with the major thrust of Torah – namely the pursuit and maintenance of peace and tranquility.
To illustrate the theme of Torah being studied to foster shalom, let’s take a look at an amazing Gemora. We are taught in Masechtas Sukkos that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Elazer had to seek refuge from the authorities for many years in a cave. A miracle occurred and a spring of water with a carob tree sustained them. They stayed there, deep in Torah learning, for over a decade. When they finally exited, their eyes consumed any mundane sight. At that point, Hashem commanded them to return into their cave. Harav Reuvain Feinstein, Shlit”a, queried if their assiduous Torah study had caused them such a lofty and rarefied holiness, would not their return for more Torah study even make them more out of touch with this mundane world? How would it help for them to go back into the cave?
He explains that Hashem told them to go back into the cave and learn the Torah of shalom, the Torah of peace and tranquility. When they emerged one year later, they successfully accomplished this objective and, upon witnessing honor being given to Shabbos, they saw in this the fulfillment of the aura of Shabbos’ special peace and tranquility.
The word achdus is a much misused and maligned term. It is amazing to me how people hurl it at others as an accusation. ‘Why, THEY have no sense of achdus!’ Or, with the banner of achdus unfurled as a defense for their own misbehavior or spiritual neglect, they fling an accusation of a lack of achdus upon those who properly rebuke them. In truth, the Torah teaches us that, at times, it is not only proper – but also incumbent upon us – to chastise others and even to distance ourselves from people who are tardy in their religiosity.
What, then, is true achdus?
I believe that achdus is primarily what we ourselves do. It is how we administer tolerance. It is how we reach out to others and – with much self-control – look away from those who belittle or insult us. This, our own actions, is the only way to promote real achdus. Others then will learn from our example – for this kind of behavior is truly infections. In this way we can really make strides towards friendships and unity. I’d like to reiterate; if you are among those who primarily tout achdus to others, it’s time for a little soul searching.
The Gemora teaches us that tzadikim, ‘Nelavin v’einam olvim – They are insulted but do not answer back… and …Shomim cherpason v’einam m’shivim – They hear words of disgrace but are silent.’ At first glance, this sounds admirable, but there is an obvious question. Why shouldn’t a righteous person rebuke insensitivity? What about his sense of tochacha, chastising the wrongdoer. If he stands meekly by, won’t this just encourage insensitivity to others? Rather, the Gemora explains, tzadikim hold back and are silent from people who simply do not listen. Whether they are the types who are too rigid to change or too arrogant to be told anything, with such people the correct behavior is to look away.
This too is a great step in the direction of achdus. It is in the spirit of the famous Gemora that asks and then answers, “What is a person’s profession in this world? To train yourself to be like a mute.” Or another Gemora, “The world survives on the one who knows how to shut his mouth during a quarrel.”
Whether in the arena of marital harmony, parental relationships, raising children; whether in the synagogue or in the workplace, these are lessons, the raison d’être, of the spirit of Torah. This pursuit of peace, steadfast and single mindedly, will serve us well and surely give us success in all our endeavors.
May Hashem bless us all with a very healthy, happy and wonderful Shavuos.
Please learn and daven for the refuah sheleima of Miriam Liba bas Devorah, b’soch shaar cholei Yisroel.