Vayigdal Moshe on Shavuos

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The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos says an example of notarikon (acronym) is the word Anochi.  The letters of the word anochi stands for anah nafshi kesivas yehavis.  Rashi explains that anah nafshi means ani b’atzmi, that Hashem is saying I myself wrote and gave the Torah.

The Chasam Sofer (in his drashos for Rosh Hashana) cites the Rokeach who says that the title of a sefer should have the author’s name somehow contained therein.  This acronym of anochi, says the Chasam Sofer, is precisely that.  Since anochi marks the beginning of Klal Yisrael formally receiving the Torah, it is effectively the title of the Torah.

In the sefarim there is another explanation given for anah nafshi: that Hashem is saying, “My nefesh is also part of what is written and given in the Torah.”  In the context of speaking about HaKadosh Baruch Hu, the meaning of nefesh is as we find in the pasukim yeish es nafshechem”.  Meaning, ratzon.  In the Aseres HaDibros, and the Torah as a whole, Hashem gave over, kavayachol, His ratzon.  What that means is that the Torah is the vehicle through which we connect with Hashem.  Furthermore, it means that if you want to know about Hashem – what it is that He wants from the creation – the only portal to that knowledge is the Torah.  Torah is not just a set of laws.  Every word in Torah carries “nafshi”, ratzon Hashem.

The statement of al levavecha is talking about the mitzvah of remembering Torah.  Yonasan ben Uziel says kesivin al luach libchon – written on the writing-board of your heart.  It means that Torah knowledge is supposed to be retained.  The Brisker Rav said that it is a barometer of how well one must know Torah.  Something that is written out in front of you, you don’t need to think to recall it; it’s right there!

In Toldos Adam, Rav Chaim Volozhiner’s description of the Gra is cited.  How the Gra was absolutely phenomenal in every way.  For example, he would have an aliyas neshama (a conscious experience of his soul ascending to Heaven) every night – without employing the utterance of special names of Hashem (the Besh”t had aliyas neshama with hazkaras Sheimos) – and during his sleep he would supplement his Torah knowledge.  And on and on.  Someone asked Rav Chaim Volozhiner, “But your brother Rav Zelmeleh (who was niftar young) also knew kol ha’Torah kulah?!”  Rav Chaim responded, “There’s no comparison!”  He explained: Rav Zelmeleh knew kol ha’Torah kulah the way everyone knows Ashrei, with total fluency.  But if I ask you what word comes before u’gvurosecha, you have to think about it to get the answer.  You have to go back to the beginning of the pasuk in your mind and get to that point in order to remember.  But the Gra, he was on a completely different level.  His fluency was so great that he knew the totality of Torah backwards as well as he knew it forwards!  This description of the Gra is a true embodiment of kasveim al luach libecha, as if the text is written down right there in front of him.

In general, when it comes to halachos that pertain to writing, regular writing suffices to comprise the kesivah and it does not have to be engraved.  However, to truly fulfill kasveim al luach libecha – writing the Torah on your heart – it really needs to be a chakikah; engraved.  Just writing with ink doesn’t sink in.  Halevai, though, that we would even write the words of Torah on our hearts!

Practically speaking, how does one go about engraving divrei Torah on his heart?  There are two components, and both are necessary.  First, you need to work to understand the divrei Torah to the best of your ability.  The better you understand a sugya, the deeper in it goes, and it’s retained better.  When a person really puts all his energies into a sugya, it is possible that even ten, twenty, thirty, or even forty years later he will still remember it.  If one just glosses over divrei Torah, though, then the divrei Torah might gloss over him.  The second component is copious review.  You need both; one without the other just won’t do.

Rabbeinu Chananel brings in Maseches Rosh Ha’Shana (34) a Gemara Yerushalmi: by every Yomtov the sair (goat offering) is identified as l’chatas, but by Shavuos it just says sair izim without the word chatas.  Why?  To convey, “Since you accepted upon yourselves the yoke of Torah it is as if you never sinned.”  We see, then, that the year contains two paths of atonement for sins: one is during the Yamim Noraim and the other is on Shavuos.  Relative to the concerted effort associated with the avodah of Yamim Noraim, the forgiveness that we receive on Shavuos is a tremendous gift.  Just by dint of accepting the yoke of Torah, it is granted to us.  The Gemara says that Rabi Eliezer holds that on other Yamim Tovim you don’t have to have a festive seudah – you can instead spend practically the whole day in Torah and teffilah.  However, when it comes to Shavuos, all agree that one must have a festive seudah.  The Rokeaich says that the reason for this universally-accepted, heightened component of simcha on Shavuos is the gift of forgiveness that we are given on Shavuos.

Parenthetically, the three times of the year that the Gemara says everyone agrees that we require lachem (for one to have a festive seudah) are Shavuos, Purim, and Erev Yom Kippur, and the Gra explains that all of them have to do with the quality of Torah that is associated with the day.

When accepting a resolution, it should be specific, concrete, and practical.  Not a castle in the sky.  It needs to be something that one really has the ability to maintain.  Our abilities are far, far removed from anything resembling that of the previous generation.  The goals we set for ourselves need to be modest in accordance with our modest capabilities.

Bear in mind that giving examples of possible resolutions carries a danger that the listener’s mind will become constricted from thinking creatively.  Really, each individual needs to think for himself what goals are appropriate for him.  With that caveat in mind, here are two examples:  Establishing a seder, or a certain amount of time for learning, that is chok v’lo yaavor, that no matter what happens on any given day, that set amount will never move.  The second example is to have a concrete goal of something you are going to accomplish in learning.  Regarding this type of goal, it may be best to split it up according to the natural periods by which the year is divided and structured, wherein you set a different goal for each time period.

Regarding what to do on Shavuos itself, there are different approaches.  Some say that one should go into Shavuos with a cheshbon.  Meaning, learn during whatever time will be the most productive, and sleep the other time.  Also, don’t wear yourself too thin because there is life after Shavuos too!  Isru Chag – right after we have received the Torah – is the time to start learning with renewed vigor, and not to be like a child running from his desk when the bell rings.

My son told me that he prefers to stay up all night motzaei Shavuos.  Why?  “Because we just got the Torah, so what am I going to do with it, go to sleep with it?  I want to learn it!”  Ok.  Another approach, and I am not saying that you should necessarily do this, but some say – and there certainly is good reason to say that it is worthwhile – that during the 24 hours of Shavuos one should put every last ounce of his energies into learning, until one has used up all one’s kochos and even more; because this is the day of Matan Torah, the day to engrave the Torah on our hearts, just like then when they heard Anochi Hashem Elokecha and it was engraved on their hearts!  And what will be with Isru Chag?  You’ll take a nap; it’s not so terrible.  Everyone should be zocheh to kabalas ha’Torah b’ahava u’b’simcha!