Shavuot: Regaining our Crowns
Rabbi Menachem Farber, senior lecturer, Darche Noam/Shapell’s
I. The Taste of Torah
In the beginning of Parshat Mishpatim, Hashem taught Moshe Rabbeinu a powerful lesson about transmitting Torah.
On the words, “These are the laws that you should place before them,” Rashi makes the following comment: Hashem said to Moshe: Do not say, “I will teach them the Halakhah two or three times until it is ‘sedurah befihem’ (arranged in their mouths), and not bother to teach them the ‘taamei hadavar’ (literally, the taste of the matter) and its ‘explanations’.” Therefore it says, “asher tasim lifneihem” (that you shall place before them) – as a table prepared for eating.
We see from this Rashi that there are two forms in which Torah can be transmitted: one is merely “sedurah befihem”, and the second “as a table prepared for eating”. In the first the Torah remains only in one’s mouth, but in the second the Torah is prepared to be eaten, to be digested, internalized, enabling it to become a part of one’s self. As the Midrash calls it: “Taamei Torah,” the Taste of Torah. Just as taste is the essence of the food, so too should our own essence connect with the essence of Torah.
II. The Two Crowns
What is the meaning of this? What is the “Taste of Torah”? To answer, let us first explain a very integral and significant part of Kabbalat Hatorah (receiving the Torah). When we received the Torah, we said “Naaseh ve’ Nishma,” “We will do and we will listen.” After this declaration, the Gemara tells us that six hundred thousand angels descended and tied on each Jew two crowns, one for “Naaseh,” and the other for “Nishma” (Shabbat 88a).
To understand that moment of acceptance, as well as this passage in Gemara Shabbat, we need to understand the significance of a crown. A crown is not just an adornment placed WITHIN the parameters of man’s dimensions; it is ABOVE him. That means that our acceptance of Torah was not simply a commitment to an ideal within the parameters of our limited world. At the moment we accepted the Torah we were no longer rooted and encircled by the borders of the dimensional world. We were connected to a source above and beyond those limits. Our life source was no longer restricted within our bodies; it was outside of us, belonging to a transcendent existence.
We are still left with a difficulty, though. Why did they receive TWO crowns, one for “Naaseh” and one for “Nishma”? The granting of the crown indicates that they did something extraordinary. We understand why their saying “Naaseh” before “Nishma” deserves recognition, for they displayed an extraordinary level of trust in G-d by committing to His Torah before listening to it – not the standard way people make commitments. Their level of acceptance was indicative of a commitment to a transcendental relationship outside of human rationality, and certainly deserved a crown. It meant connecting to a source above human limits. But why did they receive a second crown for “Nishma”? What was extraordinary about saying “Nishma”; in effect saying that they would eventually find out what they are committing to? Every commitment needs the parties to know what they are committing to. Yet the Gemora tells us that a crown was given for the “Nishma” also. Why?!! To understand this we must first understand the difference between doing before hearing (“Naaseh ve’Nishma) and doing after hearing (“Nishma ve’ Naaseh”). Normally a person must hear before doing because without hearing he would not know what to do. However, there is a great drawback in hearing first. When a person does what he first heard, he is not necessarily doing the pure act as the giver intended. If a person could do without first hearing, that would mean he is identifying with the act or object as it is in its pure essence. If that could be achieved, such a person’s subsequent understanding of the act would be infinitely deeper than that of one who heard first and identified with the act according to his own limited understanding.
“Naaseh V’Nishma,” acting without first forming a limited human understanding of the Divine command, would provide Israel with an understanding of the command according to its deeper meaning. This is what happened at Sinai. All personal involvement was neutralized when we accepted the Torah. Our very nature was Torah. The commitment of “Naaseh V’Nishma” was a total sublimation of ourselves to the Torah, where we identified with the inner essence of Torah. That is what the phrase “Yisrael ve’Orayta Chad Hu,” “Israel and the Torah are one,” means. Since “Nishma” was not merely an external perception of the Torah as seen through the skewed eyes of the beholder, it was a true understanding of the pure essence of Torah. That deserved a separate crown! Our crown, as we said, is our attachment to the transcendent; and we had, through our “Nishma”, accessed the essence of Torah.
With two crowns on our head it was not sufficient to simply know the Torah only in our minds or even to have the words in our mouths. It was necessary to have the Taste of the Torah, as a “table prepared to eat” so that it would be digested, and then become part of our very flesh and blood. Our flesh and blood would not influence our perception of Torah; on the contrary, the Torah itself would change our very physicality.
III. Regaining the Crowns
But, alas, we lost the crowns with the sin of the Golden Calf. However, the Gemara tells us they were not taken back to heaven, but taken by Moshe Rabbeinu. This means that the crowns are still available, but can only be acquired through Moshe.
There is probably no way of describing the difference between our connection today to Torah compared to what it would have been without the sin of the Golden Calf. Perhaps we can have an inkling as to what our relationship to Torah would have been without the sin, by seeing how Yehoshua received the Torah from Moshe. Since he was not in the camp at the time of the sin, he was therefore not affected by it, just as Moshe was not affected by it. Yehoshua’s receiving the Torah from Moshe is compared by Chazal to the moon’s receiving its light from the sun. This is not the moon and the sun of today, but the moon and the sun at their inception, when they were of equal brilliance, called in Bereishit “the two great lights”. Even then the sun was still the source and the moon received its light from the sun. But instead of reflecting the light, it shone right through. There was nothing in the moon to deflect the light from fully penetrating through it, and the recipient was able to internalize completely what it received and emulate it fully. (Yehoshua wrote the last eight Psukim of the Torah). That is why the two lights were equally great, even though one was the giver (mashpiya) and the other the receiver (mekabel). We could all have been like Yehoshua, where Moshe’s light would have been our very essence, however we lost that with the sin of the Golden Calf.
As we said, though, the crowns were not taken back to heaven. Moshe Rabbeinu gathered them together and is holding them for us. Every Shavuot we each have an opportunity to once again say “Naaseh ve’Nishma” and remove a little more of those elements that cause the Torah to reflect off of ourselves instead of from penetrating through us.
It is up to us to restore the Torah beyond the level where it remains in our mouth to the level of “Taamei Torah,” where the Torah penetrates our every fiber. We want to swallow it, digest it, until it becomes our very nature.
May Hashem give us the strength and inspiration to come a little closer to that level of “Taamei Torah” this coming Yom Tov.
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