Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l on Shavuos: The Permanence of Ma’amad Har Sinai

Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l on Shavuos: The Permanence of Ma’amad Har Sinai 1

Prepared for publication by Malkeal Yusupov

The greatest single event in the life of Klal Yisrael is the experience of Ma’amad Har Sinai, standing at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. In Ma’amad Har Sinai all of Klal Yisroel, not Moshe Rabbeinu alone, became endowed with the power of prophecy. All of  Klal Yisroel became prophets of G-d. The Rabbis have taught us: The first two statements of the Decalogue were heard directly from G-d by all of Yisroel, in the way that all the other statements were heard by Moshe. This fact is the basis for that which the Torah teaches: “And they shall believe in you forever.” This is the very basis for the authority of Torah in Jewish life. In becoming prophets, themselves and thereby becoming the receptors of Torah, the power of prophecy resting in Moshe Rabbeinu became an acknowledged fact.

Additionally, in becoming prophets, all of Klal Yisroel was endowed with a sensory perception of Torah. Emunah (implicit faith) is the result of intellectual perception of knowledge. Human knowledge, if it is to be of value, if it is to be durable, must be experienced through the physical senses of man. In the personal perception of prophecy, therein lay the guarantee for: “They shall believe in you forever,” the source and origin of Torah for all eternity, “because man does not believe that which he does not know” (Ramban).

It becomes patently clear that we cannot speak of the perpetuity of Torah in Klal Yisroel as disassociated from the event of Ma’amad Har Sinai. If the Torah is necessary for Klal Yisroel, if Torah is our lifeblood, and the length of our days, then Ma’amad Har Sinai must be ever-present among Klal Yisroel.

The prime function of the Mishkan (temporary Sanctuary) and, afterward, the Beis Hamikdash (the Holy Sanctuary) was to give permanence in the life of our people to Ma’amad Har Sinai. The glory of the Divine Presence – which descended on Sinai in a form of overwhelming force and magnitude – descended to the Kodesh Hakodashim (the Holy of Holies) in hidden form; and the voice which descended from Heaven to speak Torah on Sinai, same voice descended to the top of the Holy Ark, between the two Cheruvim, to continue to speak Torah (Ramban, Terumah). With the presence of this continuity of the Ma’amad, Klal Yisroel was able to rise to the heights of the Korbanos services. Three times each year Klal Yisroel was called upon to appear, “to see and be seen” before the countenance of G-d. In the proximity of this Ma’amad was the chamber of Hewn Stone, the seat of the Sanhedrin, the supreme authority of Torah in Klal Yisroel.

One of the 613 mitzvos is that of talmud Torah, the study and propagation of Torah to hand down, to commit Torah to our children from generation to generation. It is, however, not sufficient to hand down the word of Torah alone. The Ma’amad Har Sinai, the original form of its descent to Klal Yisroel, must be sensed by each generation. Only then is it Torah.

This is specifically and explicitly stated in a complete portion of the Torah, worthy of our constant consideration. “See, I have taught you statutes and laws…observe therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of all peoples, who when they hear all these statutes shall say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ … Only, take heed and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things which your eyes saw and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known unto your children and your children’s children: the day that you stood before G-d at Horeb [that is, Sinai] … and you came near and stood under the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the heart of Heaven with deep darkness and cloud” (Devarim 4:5-11).

Upon these words the Ramban comments: The Torah teaches us here that in addition to keeping Torah and mitzvos, it is our duty at all times to remember the source and origin of these mitzvos; we are exhorted not to forget Ma’amad Har Sinai that we saw and heard. All that we witnessed in the Ma’amad Har Sinai must be handed down to our children forever.

The benefit resulting from this mitzvah is very great, for if Torah had come to us through Moshe Rabbeinu alone, even though his prophecy was proven, there would be the danger that should a prophet arise to deny the Torah, this would prove to be cause for doubt in the minds of our people. But, since Torah descended directly from G-d to our ears and we witnessed this event with our own eyes, we are able to negate all denial and cast aside all doubts. He who would deny Torah is clearly recognized as a fraud for we are fully conscious of his deception.

This is the meaning of “they shall believe in you forever,” for when the Ma’amad Har Sinai is handed down to our children, they will recognize it as truth as if they had personally witnessed the Ma’amad. For no father will bear false testimony to his son, and no child will doubt the testimony of his parents. They will together believe that which was perceived with the senses.

The Rabbis teach us that as soon as a child is capable of speaking, it is the father’s duty to teach him Torah; and what must he teach his son – the Torah which Moshe commanded to us is the heritage of the Congregation of Yaakov. In the light of the Ramban’s comments, this means that a father bears testimony to his young child: Hear, my son, I am witness to the fact that G-d gave us His Torah. So did I see, so did I hear. This, my child, is our heritage. This is not a “Bible Story,” this is a fact, which I witnessed on Sinai, and of which you will testify to your children.

Our responsibility, then, is to pass on, not only the teachings of Torah, but the precise details of the manner in which Torah was given to us, Ma’amad Har Sinai. Only then is it Torah. This, perhaps, is the deeper meaning of Rashi’s comment, “Then when you shall not forget and you shall perform mitzvos in their true form, you will be considered wise and understanding. If through forgetfulness, you shall distort the mitzvos, then shall you be considered fools.” Even if you do perform the mitzvos, but not in the true form in which they were originally given, if the Ma’amad is forgotten, it will no longer be Torah. It may be Judaism as a civilization, Reconstructionism perhaps, but it will be idiocy and you will be considered fools.

Even the act of Torah study must reflect the Ma’amad Har Sinai. The Rabbis teach us that just as the Torah was given at Sinai through fear and inner trembling, so must it be studied in the same manner (Berachos 22a). Man, the finite being, cannot contain all of the Torah, which is infinite wisdom. He can, however, purify himself and make of himself a receptacle in which G-d, in His Divine Mercy, implants the understanding of Torah. Ma’amad Har Sinai is a dynamic process which makes all of Klal Yisroel worthy of receiving Torah. For this reason, we are commanded to maintain constantly the experience of Ma’amad Har Sinai as a living, ever-present fact.

The Rabbis teach us: G-d has created everything in this world except falsehood and evil, which G-d did neither create nor bring about. G-d is the source of all Creation. Falsehood and evil are the creations of man himself. They are the product of human fantasy. The challenge of our day for the Torah Jew is to find the means of reasserting Divine Truth in our daily lives, casting aside our hopeless fantasies and coming to grips with the stark reality of Divine Truth as revealed to us through Ma’amad Har Sinai.

Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l on Shavuos: The Permanence of Ma’amad Har Sinai 2

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