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In loving memory of Bea and Sonny Esses, our wonderful parents.


Shavuot is referred to in our prayers as Zman Matan Toratenu—The Time When Our Torah Was Given. This holiday commemorates the momentous occasion when the world achieved the purpose for which it was created: the acceptance of the Torah. According to the Chatam Sofer, Shavuot isn’t the typical holiday only serving as a commemoration of something, but rather a celebration of receiving Hashem’s gift, of Matan Torah taking place again every year.

It says of B’nei Yisrael when they journeyed through the desert, “Vayachanu bamidbar, vayichan sham yisrael neged hahar—And they camped in the desert, and he camped there opposite the mountain (Shemot 19:2).” First, the passuk writes “they camped” in the plural form, and then it switches to singular.

Rashi comments on the usage of the singular form, “K’ish echad, b’lev echad Like one man, with one heart.” B’nei Yisrael was so united at Har Sinai that they were like one person. This gave us the merit to receive the Torah. Just as a father loves seeing his children enjoy close companionship, Hashem wants nothing more than to see B’nei Yisrael unified in harmony as one close nation.

Harav Moshe Hayim Luzatto mentions several times in Derech Hashem that the holiday cycle is more than just a series of anniversaries commemorating historical events. Instead, just as the Heavens opened up and great spiritual powers were given to the people of Yisrael as they camped at Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago, these gifts are made available to us every year on this date. If we learn and grow in Torah, we make ourselves worthy to achieve those gifts.

A family was once driving somewhere when they noticed one of their relatives speed-walking on the sidewalk. The car moved slowly alongside him as they exchanged greetings and goodwill and then continued. Suddenly, the young daughter screamed from the backseat, “Wait!! There’s room for him in the car! Poor thing! Look how much he is sweating! Why don’t we give him a ride?”

Of course, the family started laughing. Because obviously, the relative was dressed to exercise. He wasn’t stranded outside needing a ride; exercise was his goal. He wasn’t struggling to get somewhere; he was working out because he knew that the more he exerted himself, the more fit and healthy he would become.

The same is true when it comes to toiling in Torah study. The learning itself is the objective. The Torah is our connection with Hashem. Just as one needs to work and sweat to be physically in shape, so do we need to toil and labor to become spiritually healthy. Labor and toil refine the soul, transforming a person’s essence to being united with the Torah, so he can become polished and purified by it.

Hashem showed His love for the Jewish Nation through the gift of the Torah. He gave us the Torah to elevate us to strive for holiness and righteousness and become a light unto all the other nations of the world.

Avraham ben Avraham

Rabbi Elimelech Biderman wrote in Torah Wellsprings, that the second day of Shavuot is the yahrtzeit of the ger tzedek of Vilna, Reb Avraham ben Avraham, ZT’L, who was killed al kiddush Hashem. His father, Count Pototski, was extremely wealthy and renowned throughout Poland and Europe. When his son became a ger—convert, it was a great embarrassment to the church. The government arrested Avraham ben Avraham and sentenced him to death.

Becoming a Jew meant forgoing the vast wealth of his father's home. Someone once asked him why he did this. He replied, “Friday night, when the candles go out, they give off a special scent. That smell is more enjoyable than all the wealth I had previously enjoyed.”

The ger tzedek knew who reported him to the government, ultimately leading to his death, but he said he wouldn't take revenge. He explained with a parable. A young prince was at the beach, creating a picture of a person in the sand. But then, someone came by and cruelly messed up the picture.

The prince went to his father, crying that someone had broken his artistic work. The king listened to his son, but he didn't do anything. The prince thought to himself, ‘Why isn't my father doing anything? When I grow up, I will take revenge on this person who ruined my sculpture.’ And what happened when he became an adult and a king himself? He didn't take revenge because he realized the felony was nothing. Avraham ben Avraham said, “Similarly, I'm not taking revenge in this world; do you think I’ll take revenge in the next world?”

Reb Avraham ben Avraham had been a student of the Vilna Gaon, ZT’L. The Vilna Gaon told him that he had the ability (using spiritual powers) to save him, but the ger tzedek replied that he preferred to die al kiddush Hashem.

Reb Alexander Zuskind, the author of Yesod Veshoresh HaAvodah, went to the square where the stakes were prepared to burn the ger tzedek; he wanted to answer amen to the blessing the ger tzedek would say right before being moser nefesh al kiddush Hashem. If someone would have caught him, they were liable to punish him as well. But he wanted to be there and answer amen to this unique and holy beracha, said at a time of the ultimate kiddush Hashem.

Reb Shlomo Zalman Aurbach said that he heard directly from the Vilna Gaon that when Avraham ben Avraham recited the blessing, a fire came out from beneath the Ma’arat HaMachpelah and burned up all kelipot. And that if there was a minyan there answering amen, the world would be perfectly rectified, and Mashiach would have come.

The Angels Protested to Hashem

Rabbi Mansour spoke about a Midrash that says that when Moshe Rabbenu went to Heaven to receive the Torah, the angels were so upset that they wanted to lynch Moshe. They didn’t want him taking the Torah to give to the Jewish Nation because they didn’t think humans were worthy. The Midrash says that as they were complaining to Hashem, Moshe’s face morphed into the face of Avraham Avinu. When the angels saw this, Hashem asked them, “Have you no shame? Didn’t Avraham wait on you and serve you? How can you complain like this?” At that point, the angels acquiesced, allowing the Torah to be released to Moshe for the Jewish people. Why did this answer satisfy the angels?

Rabbi Mansour explained this Midrash and said there are two types of tzaddikim. The first one is a tzaddik nistar—a hidden righteous person. But it’s not the hidden that we would assume. This person is someone who learns Torah and then goes about his day without sharing it. Then there is a tzaddik nigleh—a revealed righteous person. This person learns Torah, and then he has the strength to close the book and go out, to influence and elevate others.

It is written about Noach, “Ish tzaddik tamim.” He went out to the immoral people of his generation, attempting to help them do teshuvah. At a certain point he gave up because the challenge was too great, and he could not influence them to be better. Unfortunately, that is when he lost his title of “tamim.” Hashem later refers to him as a “tzaddik.” Judaism can only thrive and continue when our rabbis share the Torah they learn with the people. They must be temimim.

Shem lived at the time of Avraham Avinu. He was a great scholar and tzaddik. So why did Hashem pass him over and choose Avraham to lead his generation? The Rambam answers that it’s true that Shem lived at the same time as Avraham, and he too was a great tzaddik. But if one wanted to learn from Shem, he had to go find him to request his wisdom, whereas Avraham specifically went out and taught the people.

When Avraham was in his tent after his milah, he was conversing with Hashem, the highest level possible that a human can reach. But when he saw three men passing by out of the corner of his eye, he told Hashem he must attend to his guests instead of telling the men that he was busy. At every opportunity, Avraham sacrificed his own spiritual growth for the good of the people.

The Torah says that when Moshe came down from the mountain, he went “to the people.” Rashi says he left his “asakav—business” and went straight to B’nei Yisrael. What kind of “business?” Moshe just received the Torah straight from Hashem. He could have spiritually elevated himself more and studied in his tent, but he went directly to the people to give it over to them immediately.

Moshe’s face morphed into Avraham’s up on the mountain because they both sacrificed their own spiritual elevation to better influence the Jewish Nation! We only deserve the Torah because of this quality. Tzaddikim, like Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbenu, proved to the angels that humans can achieve greatness and be worthy of the Torah. We learn from this that we all have an obligation, not just to learn Torah, but to teach it over, to share the wealth, and elevate others!

Ruth’s Chessed

On Shavuot, we have the custom of reading Megillat Ruth. Chessed was Ruth’s most famous quality. She could have easily gone back to her father’s palace, where she would have lived an extraordinary life as a princess of Moab. Instead, she stuck with her mother-in-law, Naomi, so she wouldn’t be alone, abandoned on her journey. Ruth said to Naomi, “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you will lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people, and your G-d is my G-d; where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus, may Hashem do to me, and more! If anything but death separates me from you (1:16-17).”

This was a form of chessed, and the essence of being a Jew— caring for one another.

Ruth was a princess, but she offered to go and beg in the fields to spare Naomi that embarrassment. Also, she did the ultimate chessed by marrying Boaz, so that she could have a child through yibum, and give Naomi happiness after losing her husband and two sons.

We learn from this that there are multiple paths that we can choose to follow. Ruth decided to follow the Torah and not abandon her mother-in-law, and in doing this chessed, she merited to become the mother of the Davidic dynasty. However, her sister-in-law, Orpa, chose a different path. She returned to her pagan Moabite gods, and according to the Talmud, Goliath the Philistine — whom King David ultimately killed — was her descendant (Sotah 42b). When we reach out and do chessed for others, we stay true to the path of the Torah, and Hashem looks at us with joy for choosing kindness.

Once, someone called Mitzvah Man and said, “My friend is in his 40s, and he never put on tefillin before. Can you get him a pair of tefillin?” Michael Cohen, Mitzvah Man, said, “Sure. Please fill out these forms, and we can get your friend a beautiful brand-new pair of tefillin and a koracha.” The man said, “My friend does not want to take a new, donated pair, he just wants a used pair of tefillin, and he wants you to bring it to him to put it on for the very first time.” In his head, Michael thought, I know how to get a new pair, but where could I possibly find a used set of tefillin?

That second, a call came in on his other line. He told the man, “Hold on a few seconds; I have another call.” He jumped on the other line, and it was another call for Mitzvah Man. “Hi, my grandfather passed away a few months ago. We are cleaning out his apartment, and we came across his tefillin. Do you know anybody that could benefit from a set of used tefillin?” The next day, a man was able to put on tefillin for the first time in 40 years.

This story is absolutely incredible. When a person has it in his mind to do good and to do chessed leshem Shamayim, Hashem gives him the tools to perform the mitzvah he set out to do. Michael Cohen is a shaliach— messenger from Hashem, serving the community for years and years, and Hashem is holding his hand every step of the way.

As we learned from the camps at the foot of Har Sinai, the Jewish people are bound to one another. And on Shavuot, Ruth teaches us the importance of being compassionate and of doing chessed for someone in need. As we celebrate the acceptance of our holy Torah, the greatest gift any nation could ever receive, may we always be concerned for the welfare of our fellow Jews. The passuk says, “Ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha Love your friend as you love yourself!” Let’s continue to learn from Ruth, do chessed, and unite B’nei Yisrael, not only as one nation, but as one heart.

Chag Sameach!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Point:

  • Tell an inspiring story about an act of chessed that someone has done for you.

Etz Haim

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