Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Tues., Sept.11)


Since it is clear that honoring the Sabbath is a mitzvah, and there are many ways to honor it, we should do anything that would bring out the importance of the Sabbath. The early sages would each prepare for the Sabbath in their own way. "Rabbi Abbahu would sit on a stool of ivory and stoke the fire; Rav Saffra would singe the head of a cow for the meal; Rava would salt carp; Rav Hunah would light a fire; Rav Papa would ready the wicks; Rav Chisda would shred beets; Rabbah and Rav Yoseph would chop wood; and Rav Nachman would carry things in and out on his shoulders, reasoning that if Rabbi Amai or Rabbi Assai would visit he would certainly carry things in and out on his shoulders" (Shabbat 119a).

The reasoning of Rav Nachman gives us pause to reflect upon the fact that he would consider what he would do in his own way to honor a person, and then do the same to honor the Sabbath. Regarding this it is said, "Let a man always be creative in his reverence" (Brachot 17a), that is, let him reflect upon things, and arrive at new means of giving satisfaction to his Creator whichever way he can so that he might recognize G-d's exalted nature, and so that everything associated with Him will be honored as much as possible. Since, in His great humility and goodness and despite our lowliness, G-d wants to honor us by passing on to us His holy words, let us at least honor those holy words with all of our might, and show Him how precious they are to us. This is true reverence-- reverence of His exaltedness as we said. The honor that brings about the longing-love we will be writing about is dependent upon this sort of reverence, not the inessential fear of punishment from which these great traits do not come.

Let us return now to the matter of honoring the Sabbath. It is said, "Rav Annan would dress in over-alls, that is, he would dress in black clothing purposefully on Friday, so that it would be noticeable on the Shabbat that he was dressed in fine clothing" (Shabbat 119a). We see from this that preparation for the Sabbath is not all there is in honoring it: even contrasting it by withholding something during the week matters, because it accentuates the honoring of it, and is part of the mitzvah. In the same vein, our sages forbade the partaking of a full meal on Friday afternoon for the honor of the Sabbath, and the like (Gittin 38b).

Honoring the Torah and those who study it is another aspect of reverence. As it is said, "Whoever honors the Torah is honored by people" (Pirke Avot 4:6). We find, "Rabbi Yochanan says, What was it that merited Achab's twenty-two year reign over Israel?-- his honoring the Torah which is written with the twenty-two letters, as it is said, "(Ben Hadad) sent messengers into the city to Achab, king of Israel, and said to him, 'Thus says Ben Hadad: your silver and your gold are mine; your wives also, and your children, even the best, are mine' (I Kings 20:2-9). And the king of Israel answered and said, 'Indeed, my L-rd, O king: according to your saying. I am yours and all that I have.' And the messengers came again and said, 'Thus speaks Ben Hadad saying, "Although I have sent for you saying you will surely give me your silver, your gold, your wives and your children, yet I will send my servants tomorrow about this time, and they will search your house... and take (your possessions)...."' Wherefore he said to the messengers, 'All that you sent for your servant (to do) I will do, but this thing I will not do....' And what was so precious to him? -- A Torah scroll" (Sanhedrin 102b). It is said, "If you travel from place to place, you should not leave a Torah scroll in a bag and place it on your donkey which you yourself then ride upon. You should rather place the bag on your lap" (Berachot 18a). The sages further forbade us from sitting on a bed a Torah scroll is lying on (Moed Kattan 25a). They said, "You are not to discard sacred writings-- even Halachot and Aggadot" (Eruvin 98a). And they forbade us from laying books of the Prophets and the Writings on top of the Pentateuch (Megillah 27a). These are things that the sages forbade all of the people of Israel. The pious are to learn from these examples and to add to each and every one of them to give honor to the name of their G-d. Also included within this category are the innocence and purity necessary for Torah study. You are not to be engaged in it or even give thought to it in untoward places or when your hands are unclean. Our sages expanded upon this and warned us about it in various places.

As to your attitude toward those who study Torah, the Torah itself says, "Rise up before a grey-haired person and honor the face of an elder" (Leviticus 19:32). From this we can extrapolate all sorts of honoring fitting for the pious to be a part of. The sages said, "It is written, 'He will honor the reverential' (Psalms 15:4). This refers to Jehosephat, king of Judah. Whenever he would see a Torah scholar he would arise from his throne, hug and kiss him, and call out to him "My Rabbi, my Rabbi!; my teacher, my teacher!" (Ketubot 103b). Rabbi Zaira, we are told, would seat himself at the doorway to the study hall when he would be fatigued from his own studies and engage in the mitzvah of rising before a Torah scholar (Eruvin 28a). We have already seen how, in His infinite wisdom, G-d has revealed and enunciated these desires of His. One who would like to bring satisfaction to his Creator will do whatever he can to do what is righteous before Him. Within this category we also find respect for synagogues and study-halls. Not only must you not be frivolous within them, you must also show respect and reverence for them in your behavior, and do nothing within them you would not do in a king's palace.

Let us now speak about the matter of love of G-d. There are three aspects to it: happiness, attachment, and vengeance. This love is an actual desiring and longing for closeness to G-d. It is pursuing G-d's Holiness as you would pursue something you strongly long for-- to the point where even mentioning His name, speaking His praises, and occupying yourself in His mitzvot and G-dliness is a pleasure and delight to you, the way someone who loves the bride of his youth, or his only child so strongly would be pleased to just speak about them. As the Torah says, "As I speak of Him I yet remember Him" (Jeremiah 31:19). One who truly loves his Creator would not abandon his worship of Him for any reason in the world other than an utterly compelling one. He would not need convincing or persuasion to serve Him-- in fact, unless he is held back by a major deterrent, his heart would have him surge forward and would drive him towards this love. This is the lovely trait the early pious ones who were referred to as "the supremely holy" had. As King David put it, "My soul yearns for You, G-d, like the hart yearns for the rivulets. My soul thirsts for G-d-- the living G-d. When will I see G-d's face?" (Psalms 42:2–3); and, "My soul longs for, pines for G-d's courtyards" (Psalms 84:3); as well as "My soul thirsts for You, my flesh hungers for you" (Psalms 63:2). This comes with the greatness of the yearning that is a yearning for G-d. As the prophet said, "The longing of the soul is for Your name and Your remembrance" (Isaiah 26:8) and, "My soul has longed for You in the night. While the spirit is still within me I will seek You" (Isaiah 26:9). King David used the expression, "When I think of you on my couch during the night-watches I meditate upon You" (Psalms 63:7) as an explanation of the delight and pleasure he experienced when he spoke about or praised the Creator. He said further, "I delight in Your mitzvot which I so love" (Psalms 119:47), and "Your ordinances are also my delight" (Psalms 119:143).

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman