21 Sivan 5779 / Monday, June 24, 2019 | Torah Reading: Korach
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Learning to Recieve - Bamidbar    

Learning to Recieve - Bamidbar

I’ll never forget what my friend said the first time he learned Gemara: “I just got my Masters in bioengineering, but Yeshiva is far more...


I’ll never forget what my friend said the first time he learned Gemara:  “I just got my Masters in bioengineering, but Yeshiva is far more intense.” On a personal note, I struggled a great deal through my first year of Yeshiva, but I assumed that this was just because I was a history major.  Yet as the year went on, all my colleagues, who include lawyers, doctors, and other professionals, found Yeshiva academically challenging.  As I finished my first year, I realized that no matter which school one attended, or how hard one worked, spiritual growth is challenging. 
Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the father of the Mussar movement, taught that it is more difficult to change even one aspect of one’s personality than to learn the entire Talmud (which in itself is a very great feat!).  Our sages said it is a greater accomplishment to conquer one’s desires than it is to conquer an entire city!  Obviously, spiritual growth is the greatest undertaking any person can attempt. 
In Sefer Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers, the Jewish people rebuild themselves after two hundred and ten years of slavery.  Through facing the challenges in the wilderness, they forged themselves into a holy nation worthy of entering Eretz Yisroel.  By studying the nature of their journey through the wilderness, we too can find advice to help us attain spiritual growth. 
Receiving the Torah
The Jewish calendar does not function as a “time line.”  Rather, as each season comes around, it brings with it unique opportunities and spiritual potentials.  Therefore, we do not commemorate events in our history, but rather, we re-live them.  The spiritual potential that existed during the exodus from Egypt and at the giving of the Torah are ever present, and it is up to us to tap into that energy as we approach Shavuout, the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah.
At this time of the year we have the unique potential to receive the Torah as our ancestors did at the foot of Mount Sinai.  Yet this is not a passive process.  We must take action!  If one were to hand an object to another, and the receiving party were not to take any action, the object would simply fall to the ground.  Therefore we must actively receive the Torah.  How?     
Torah is the manifestation of Hashem's will. To be able to receive the Torah, we must strive to create an environment conducive to being receptive to His will.  A wilderness is the antithesis of material stability.  For forty years, the Jewish people lived in the wilderness with nothing to sustain them except the faith that God would provide for them.  Each day (except Shabbat), Hashem provided only enough manna to last for that particular day – and no more – to teach us that to receive the Torah, we must be willing to forfeit material comfort and strengthen our trust that God will provide for our needs. 
Only Passing Through
The Chofetz Chaim owned only the bare minimum. One day, a wealthy businessman visited him and asked, “Where are all your belongings?” 
The Chofetz Chaim asked the businessman the same question. The businessman, taken off guard, explained he didn’t need much because he was simply passing through the town.  The Chofetz Chaim explained that he too was simply passing through this world, and therefore he did not need much in the way of material possessions. 
Although we are not on the spiritual level of the Chofetz Chaim, we can, like a sailor on a ship, look up to these stars for navigation.  The Chofetz Chaim’s ability to distance himself from the physical, and humble his physical desires enabled him to amass a tremendous amount of Torah, and lead a generation of world Jewry.  From his example, we can see the importance of subjugating our desire for material goods in our quest for spiritual growth. 
But this is not sufficient. Rabbi Zev Leff explains, “There is another aspect to the requirement of abandoning oneself to Torah that is even more difficult than the forfeiture of material comforts—the attainment of humility.  One must both be humble enough to learn from every man and to teach everyone, regardless of status.  Even more importantly, he must be prepared to divest himself of all his pre-conceived ideas and beliefs.  Only if one is prepared to let the Torah guide him, will its’ secrets be revealed" (Outlooks and Insights page 167).
The Torah says that Moshe (Moses), our greatest hero, was also the most humble of men.  We grow in Torah through humility. Through subjugating ourselves to the Torah, we can develop a real relationship with the Almighty. 
The essence of Judaism is the recognition of God’s supremacy.  Based on this premise, we strive to reach the ideal that He has set for mankind.  God redeemed us from slavery so that we could return to Israel and perform his mitzvot.  There is little doubt that many of our holy ancestors would have preferred to live the easy life with a house on the beach and plenty of food in the fridge.  They were, after all, people just like us.  Yet what distinguished our ancestors as heroes and tzaddikim was their ability to subjugate their own desires and follow Hashem. 
Since the only way to receive the Torah is through subjugating ourselves to the will of Hashem, central to this process is the recognition of the authority of the Divine word over all our human facilities.  This is usually very difficult for those who were raised in a Western society, but it is necessary none the less.  The Rogachover Goan once "proved" to his students that chametz is permitted on Pesach.  He asked his students to refute his logic but they were unable to do so.  He then opened his Chumash and read passage 13:3 in Shemot that says, “Do not eat chametz.”  "That" he explained, "was all that was necessary to refute my logic."
In order to serve on the Sanhedrin (the panel of Halachic judges during the time of Temple), one had to be able to logically prove something explicitly contradicted by the Torah.  This exercise was done to illustrate that it's possible to be convinced of almost anything and therefore we must subject our logic to the superior knowledge of Torah.  As Rabbi Leff says, “All the intellectual gymnastics in the world cannot alter one sentence in the Torah.”  Because of the divine authorship of the Torah, the foundation for receiving the Torah is the humility to recognize that it is greater than any person’s logic to comprehend.  Once one achieves this humility, the divine authorship of the Torah becomes obvious. 
The “biblical scholars” of today pose one of the greatest threats to the Jewish people.  The two hundred plus year-old attempt to critique the Bible and discredit its Divine authorship is often propagated by people armed with prestigious credentials and diplomas from the finest schools.  Yet because of their lack of humility, they are unable to learn Torah with humility (and thus properly).  True knowledge of Torah must begin by recognizing the Divine authorship of the Torah, and having humility to cleave to the Almighty's Will over man’s limited intellect. 
Cleaving to Torah, and growing spiritually, does not require one to know every single page of the Talmud, or have a diploma from Harvard.  No matter how hard one has worked in their secular pursuits, the path to spiritual growth is the greatest challenge anyone can undertake.  It requires the individual to build himself internally rather than to jump through external hoops.  Yet like anything else, that which is the hardest to attain has the greatest worth, and trekking through our own wilderness, with pure intentions, may we merit to attain our potential!

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