Remaining in the King’s Presence

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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We now take leave of the month of Tishrei, which is called “Yerach HaEisanim – the Month of Mighty Giants,” in deference to its awesome, holy days of inspiration and growth.  We enter instead into a long cold winter with an extra month of Adar to separate us from the holy days of Nissan to come.  Many feel a sense of depression and descent, as they leave behind the shofar blast of Rosh Hashana, the kittel of Yom Kippur, and the beloved sukkah and four species.  The feelings of holiness we then enjoyed seems to slip through our fingers, leaving us nothing to grasp hold of in our attempt to maintain the heights of Tishrei.

The season of the Yomim Noraim concludes with Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.  “Atzeres” literally means to linger.  Rashi compares Sukkos to a feast to which the king invited all his subjects (just as sacrifices are offered on Sukkos on behalf of all the nations of the world).  After the conclusion of the feast, when the king’s subjects return home, the king turns to his son and says, “I hate to see you go.  Remain with me for just one more day.”  Thus, the additional day of Shemini Atzeres is added, in which Hashem’s children remain in His presence for just one more day, and sacrifices are offered in the Beis HaMikdash on behalf of Bnei Yisrael alone.[1]

In this parable, the king’s plight is not resolved, since he has only postponed his heartache for a day.  At the conclusion of Shemini Atzeres, he must once again bemoan the departure of his beloved children.

Perhaps for this very reason Shemini Atzeres was chosen as the occasion on which to celebrate the joy of Torah.   We learn in Pirkei Avos, “If even one person studies Torah alone, the Shechinah rests beside him.”  Thus, it is as if the king refuses to part with his beloved children at the end of their visit, and decides instead to accompany them back to their homes.  He asks them only to prepare a room in their homes for him to stay when he visits.  Our Torah study is the “room in our homes” in which we receive the King of kings, Hashem.  Thereby, the close connection with Hashem that we enjoyed during the Yomim Noraim continues throughout the year.

Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa explained the name of the month Mar-cheshvan as an allusion to the expression, “merachsin sefasiv” which means, “his lips flutter.”  This expression is used in the Gemara in reference to the few moments after a person completes Shemoneh Esrei, when the holiness of his prayer still flutters upon his lips.[2]  So too, throughout the month of Cheshvan, the holiness of our Yomim Noraim prayers remain upon our lips.[3]

The Kedushas Levi quotes from the Ramban[4] that a person must make a vessel to contain the bursts of inspiration that are sent to him from Heaven, lest they fade and be lost, leaving no lasting benefit to his soul.[5]  So too, as the holiness of Tishrei still flutters upon our lips, we must make a vessel to contain and preserve it throughout the year.

In Cheshvan, a vessel for holiness is made through our Torah study.  The Meor V’Shemesh (a prominent disciple of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk zt”l) writes that it was customary for the Chassidim of his time to devote the month of Cheshvan to the study of halacha in depth, with its source in the Gemara with Tosefos’ commentary.  If they came to clear and accurate conclusions in their studies, they took this as a sign that their prayers during Tishrei were accepted in Heaven.[6]

Whereas previous generations found a path to spiritual growth by meditating on the secrets of Kabbalah, fasting, or immersions in freezing rivers, these paths are closed to our generation, due to our weakened bodies and spirits.  The surest path that remains to us is the study of the revealed aspects of the Torah, in the earnest attempt to understand Hashem’s mitzvos, in order to fulfill them properly.

Thus the Noam Elimelech, a Forefather of Chassidus, began his list of twenty-one instructions for spiritual growth (entitled “Hanhagos Ha’Adam”) with the instruction: “First of all, one must study Gemara with Rashi, Tosefos and the other commentaries, each person according to his abilities, followed by the corresponding halachic texts.”  Lest we think, chas v’shalom, that the Chassidic leaders in any way minimized the importance of Talmud study, we see quite the contrary from these words of the Noam Elimelech, and in the words of his student, the Oheiv Yisrael, who writes that instead of fasting and self-affliction, “real teshuvah must be accompanied by Torah study, prayer and tzedakah, most particularly through the study of the Torah She’Baal Peh, clarifying the halachic conclusions that arise from the Gemara … this is the best way to correct the sins of our youth.”[7]

The holiness of the Gemara is no less than that of the Zohar or other Kabbalistic texts.  The Midrash thus relates the following incident:

בן עזאי יושב ודורש והאש מלהטת סביבותיו.  אזלון ואמרין לרבי עקיבא בן עזאי יושב ודורש והאש מלהטת סביבותיו.  הלך אצלו ואמר לו שמעתי שהיית דורש והאש מלהטת סביבך.  אמר לו הן.  אמר לו שמא בחדרי מרכבה היית עסוק.  אמר לו לאו, אלא הייתי יושב וחורז בדברי תורה ומתורה לנביאים ומנביאים לכתובים והיו הדברים שמחים כנתינתן מסיני והיו ערבים כעיקר נתינתן.  וכן עיקר נתינתן מסיני לא באש היו ניתנין.

As Ben Azzai sat and taught Torah, a fire descended from Heaven to surround him.  Rebbe Akiva was informed of this amazing occurrence and he later approached Ben Azzai to investigate.

“Were you perhaps teaching the mysteries of the Divine Chariot?” he asked.

“No, I was explaining the chain of reasoning that links Torah to Neviim, and Neviim to Kesuvim.  I explained it in a way that was as joyous and sweet as it was when it was first given on Sinai.  Just as fire accompanied the Torah’s descent to Sinai, so too it accompanied my explanation.”[8]

Rebbe Akiva first thought that fire descends from Heaven only in honor of those who study the secrets of Kabbalah, but Ben Azzai informed him that this is not the case.  All forms of Torah study are equally holy.  When studied in earnest, with joy and concentration, they are accompanied by the holy fire that descended on Har Sinai.

May Hashem bless us with the concentration and patience necessary to succeed in our Torah studies, and may the Torah advocate on our behalf before Hashem, to bless us with a year of success and blessing in all our endeavors.

[1] Rashi, Vayikra 23:36

[2] Megillah 27b

[3] Likutei Yehudah, Mar-cheshvan 26; Siach Sarfei Kodesh III, 72; Kol Mevaser III, Chodesh Cheshvan

[4] Emunah U’Vitachon ch. 19

[5] Kedushas Levi, Yisro

[6] Meor V’Shemesh  Parshas Shemini

[7] Oheiv Yisrael, Parshas Vayechi

[8] Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:10