Parshat Yitro: Torah & Shabbat

20 01 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Yitro-Torah and Shabbat

The Gemara writes that the Torah was given to the Jews on Shabbat. This is hinted at by two verses that share the same expression of Zachor, namely, “Zachor et yom hashabbat, Remember the Shabbat day,” and “Zachor et yom asher amadata lifnei Hashem b’Chorev, Remember the day that you stood before Hashem at Chorev.” Why did Hashem choose to give the Torah specifically on this day?

In its account of Matan Torah, the Torah says, “Vayered Hashem al har Sinai. Hashem descended to Mt. Sinai.” Targum Unkelos translates “Vayered” as “Vayitgala,” meaning Hashem revealed himself. Indeed, according to Chassidut, the Almighty is everywhere, but there are barriers between our perception of Him and reality, which prevent us from seeing Him. At Har Sinai, Hashem removed this blindfold.

Chassidut further teaches that there is a relationship of itaruta d’latata, an arousal from below, which causes Hashem to respond with an itaruta d’lmaleh, movement from above. This is the power of repentance. Our first move is the crack the wall, which causes the edifice blocking our perception of Hashem to crumble.

In Mishlei, King Shlomo writes, “Deep waters are the thoughts of man’s heart.” Chovot Halevavot explains that just as there are subterranean pools of water waiting to be discovered, there are profound wells of spirituality hidden within our souls.  Latent within every Jewish soul is the ability to connect the Creator. This is itaruta d’latata, believing in our powers and opening ourselves up.

Shabbat is the optimum day to dip into these spiritual reservoirs. When we abandon our daily weekday focus and immerse ourselves completely in Torah, prayer, and avodat Hashem, we are one with Hashem. Shabbat supports itaruta d’latata” It is a day to find our true selves, a day of revelation, connection, and profound elevation. That is why Hashem particularly chose this day to give the Torah.

The Shem Mishmuel explores the paradoxical concepts of yesh and ayin, existence and non-existence. Does man have worth, or is he nothing compared to Hashem? On the one hand, man is the purpose of creation. On the other hand, he is but a speck amid the vast celestial bodies and galaxies spinning around the universe. The Shem Mishmuel answers that there are two ways to serve Hashem. One can serve Him through yesh, tapping into our spiritual powers and elevating them for higher purposes. On the other hand, one can serve him through bitul hayesh, losing oneself in the grandeur of Hashem’s spirituality. This is a very high level, one reached by Avraham, Moshe, Aharon, and David.

All of us straddle this dialectic balance. There are times when we need to use our energies in order to achieve great things. We cannot be passive and we must fight to eradicate evil. But there are times when we must be ayin. Trying too much is pride. At some point we must give ourselves over to Hashem and let Him take us where He will lead us.

The six days of the week and Shabbat parallel this concept. During the week, man is a yesh, he toils to accomplish his purpose. On Shabbat we become ayin, null and void in proximity to the Almighty. Spirituality envelops us and we are filled with infinite holiness. On this day, sin falls away, and the barriers separating us from our Maker disintegrate.

Torah also is both yesh and ayin. The Gemara writes that a talmid chacham is in the category of yesh. By interpreting the Oral Torah, he becomes an actual partner with Hashem. Yet our Sages note that in order to acquire Torah one must make oneself into a desert by nullifying one’s personal interest and ego. The balance of greatness in Torah is recognizing one’s abilities, yet personifying humility.

May we be zoche to the Torah of the six days of the week, and to the Torah of Shabbat, to knowing that we are nothing yet something, incomplete yet holy, and may this new level of awareness help us reach ever greater heights in avodat Hashem.



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