Continuous Carrying

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22 May 2020

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

In our Yom Tov Mussaf prayer, we say, “Vahasiyanu Hashem Elokheinu et birkat moadecha…/ Bestow upon us/Enable us to carry, Hashem, our God, the blessings of Your appointed Festivals…” The Tolna Rebbe makes an interesting observation about carrying. When one has been carrying a heavy load, after one puts own that load, he will still feel its weight for a while. What we are asking of Hashem here, writes the Tolna Rebbe, is that Hashem help us take the blessings and light of this yom tov with us after we ‘put it down’ at the close of yom tov. The successful yom tov is one whose spirit stays with us after the yom tov itself is gone. After all, writes Rav Biederman, Shavuot represents the symbolic wedding of Hashem to Bnei Yisroel

When you go to a wedding, it may be difficult to tell who the chatan is. After all, everyone is dressed in their best clothes. But the next day, the one who remains in his best clothes and has not changed into his work clothes is the chatan, for he has taken the wedding with him to celebrate at least during sheva brachot. Our special wedding clothes for Shavuot is the Torah. Our key word in this Mussaf passage is Hasiyanu, a word closely related to nisuin, the marriage ceremony. If we are to retain that special relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, we must still be wearing the Torah even after the yom tov ceremony. But how do we achieve this?

Rebbetzin Smiles presented a wonderful metaphor for this situation. We all go shopping. Sometimes we enter a store with a list of what we will buy. In that case, we usually walk out of the store carrying a purchase.  But sometimes we go into a store just to enjoy the displays. When we have no intention of actually making a purchase, when we are merely window shopping, it is unlikely that we will take anything with us when we exit the store. Similarly, when we enter a yom tov, we should also enter with some expectation that we will leave with a continuing uplifted experience.

Since Matan Torah is compared to a marriage, several customs have developed at weddings to resemble a reenactment of the Sinai experience. When escorting the bride and groom to the chuppah, many parents carry candles or torches, representing the flames surrounding Har Sinai. And the chuppah is bedecked with flowers, as the mountain had vegetation. Some have the custom for the groom to go forward to greet the bride and escort her personally to the chuppah, as our Sages say Hashem came down from His throne to meet us at the mountain.

There is also an interesting variation to the reason for breaking the glass under the chuppah. The broken glass represents the first set of luchot that were broken. According to our tradition, had we received the Torah completely with the first set of Tablets, a person would remember every bit of Torah he learned. When the luchot were broken, forgetfulness entered and we often forgot what we had learned. In a nod to our human nature, Rav Biederman teaches us that in a successful marriage, husbands and wives often need to “forget” the foibles of their spouse.

The language of our wedding ceremony also mirrors our relationship to Hashem, writes Halekach Vehalebuv. When placing the ring on his bride’s finger, the groom says, “Harei at mekudesht li../You are sanctified unto me…”  In introducing the instructions in preparation for receiving the Torah, Hashem declares, “Vihiyisem Li segulah…Va’atem tohiyu Li mamlechet kohanim/You will be unto Me the most beloved treasure… And you shall be to Me a kingdom of ministers (priests)…” Our role is to serve Hashem.

In Matnat Chaim Rav Mattisyahu Solomon raises an interesting question. If those first luchot were broken, should we not celebrate receiving the Torah on Yom Kippur, the day Moshe brought down the second set of luchot? But when we analyze the gift of Torah, we understand that this is really a double gift. Hashem gave us the ability to observe the mitzvoth of the Torah, a gift He also gave to our Patriarchs even before He actually gave the Torah. Our Patriarchs observed the Torah completely of their own volition, without being commanded. However, when we accepted the Torah and agreed to abide by its laws after having been commanded to do so, we entered a higher realm of our relationship with Hashem and were gifted with the ability to affect and alter creation. We became invested in being Hashem’s partner. From the moment He chose us and we accepted, we became sanctified through the mitzvoth, and that sanctity carries through from the first brachah of Kiddush until the final brachah of Havdalah. It elevates every mitzvah of the day, and indeed changes our perspective in life and invests all aspects of our life with sanctity. For example, if we drop some money and have no hope of retrieving it, we automatically hope that some poor person will find it and be helped. This spirit of sanctifying the mundane was infused into us even with broken luchot. It was given to us as we chose to do Hashem’s will even after we were commanded to do so.

The root of hasiyanu, siya, also means fire, and we pray that Hashem will help us keep the fire of Sinai burning within us even after the close of the holiday.

One of the six daily remembrances Hashem requires of us is to remember our stand at Mount Sinai. We are to remember that Hashem spoke to us from within the fire. But if we are to remember the experience and indeed cherish it as we do, why did Hashem have to put us “under the mountain,” making it impossible for us to reject the Torah on pain of death? Rabbi Biederman tackles this question. He explains that perhaps Bnei Yisroel would have been frightened by the fire and refused to accept the Torah. While we may then argue that perhaps Hashem should have eliminated the fire, Rav Biederman suggests that the only way to transmit Torah effectively is through fire, through passion. We must take that fire that may have initially frightened us and infuse our mitzvah performance with its heat and passion,

Judaism is not just about laws, rituals, obligations and sins. Torah is specifically about the fire. What Hashem wants is our heart, reminds us Halekach Vehalebuv, Rav Gedaliah Schorr. It is not enough to perform every mitzvah, however meticulously. An automaton can do that. Hashem wants the human heart, the fiery passion, the love of the mitzvah because it builds our relationship with Hashem. The goal of the redemption and ultimately of being at Sinai was veavi etchem eili/that Hashem will bring us to Me.

Interestingly, both the first and the last commandments/utterances are not commandments of action or refraining from action, but are commandments for the emotion, for the heart, writes Rav Rothberg in Moed Labinah.  They parallel each other in that the first commandment connects man’s heart to God while the final Commandment connects his heart to his fellow man; the first proclaims his belief in God and the tenth prevents him from coveting anything that belongs to his fellow man.   All the intervening commandments must also include the heart, otherwise they are faulty. On Shavuot, the sense of passion for the mitzvoth, for Hashem, must be heightened. Anochi, the first Commandment, is about making room for Hashem down here, within me. Though shalt not covet, on the other hand, is about transferring our desire for earthly things upward toward a desire for Hashem. Bringing Hashem down and elevating your desire up creates the connections where the two can meet.

But it is important to plan to actualize that connection. Prepare appropriate books or sefarim that you would enjoy or other Torah based material that will help you make that connection. [Even preparing Torah based quiz games of any style would be helpful, especially with children. Jeopardy anyone? Twenty Questions? CKS]

The preparation is not only for our personal benefit, but for the benefit of all who look to us for guidance, whether it is our children, students, even neighbors and acquaintances. [We are even models to strangers who look at us and generalize from us what a Jew is and does. CKS] It is these people who should see the light and warmth in our passion for Torah observance, rather than a ritualistic, destructive force, writes Rabbi Soloveitchik.

That sense of joy burst forth in song from the Levite family of Kehat who did not serve in the actual Sanctuary. Instead, they carried the holiest vessels, like the Ark, on their shoulders. That same word, vayisu/they raised (upon their shoulders) is also used to raise your voice in song, writes the Tolna Rebbe. We too desire to raise our voices in song for the blessings of these holidays. In fact, the entire Torah is referred to as a song, as Hashem commands Moshe before his death to record and write this song, this Torah. Perhaps that is why students sitting in the Beit Medrash often immerse themselves in the melodies associated with Torah study. One must learn Torah with the sweetness of honey and the nourishment of milk. Even Sinai itself burst forth in dance, as the verse in Tehillim states, “Kol Hashem yachil midbar/At the voice of Hashem the desert started dancing (machol/dance).

In what ways is the Torah like song? Rabbi Bernstein notes that while Torah is indeed an impressive legal tome and a narrative of history, it must not remain in the realm of intellectual facts. Torah must rise to an emotional level that touches our hearts. Music too is comprised f individual notes that come together, but when the notes are joined and heard together in harmony, they rise above the intellectual arrangement and touch the heart. And just as a song affects and is interpreted differently by each person, so does Torah interact with each person differently.

Just as the Leviim sang when they carried the Aron Kodesh on their shoulders, so too was there other singing by those who carried the Ark later in our history. Rabbi Reiss notes that towards the end of the era of the Judges, the Philistines had captured the Ark. Having suffered as a result, the Philistines decided to return the Ark to Bnei Yisroel. They paced the Ark in a new wagon that was being pulled by two cows. There would be no one guiding the cows, yet the cows went directly/vatisharnah/in a straight manner to the land controlled by Bnei Yisroel. Homiletically, Rabbi Reiss translates vatisharnah as they sang, from shira/song. If even animals can sing while carrying God’s word, certainly we need to be joyous with His word and His mitzvoth.

Torah study and observance is not meant to be limited to an intellectual exercise. As the Sefas Emes notes, we say, “Petach libi letoratecha/Open my heart to Your Torah. In our final judgment, we will be judged not just by how carefully we observed the mitzvoth, but especially how much of our heart we invested in its performance.

Song enables one to see with clarity, posits Ba’Avodat Moadei Hashem. Do we sing, are we joyful at this, our anniversary with Hakodosh Boruch Hu? Sing your tefillah, sing your Torah learning. Hashem, help us feel that You are our God and are always with us. Make a practical commitment to one small change to actualize this feeling. Make our Torah meaningful.

Rabbi Biederman asks a wonderful question to explain this point. What tailor works for nothing? While we may think that if he sews a garment as a gift for a loved one, he is working for nothing, that is not the case. The tailor who truly works for nothing is the tailor who forgets to put a knot to secure his thread when the garment is finished. The whole garment will unravel and his work will have been for naught. This is like the Torah observant Jew who does not add joy and song to the garment he weaves of his Torah study and mitzvah observance. May we all wear wonderful, new, beautiful garments and celebrate our yom tov with great joy.

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