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Shvat, 5761

The Path to Receiving Torah


Written by the rabbi

Dedicated in honor of
Tehila Chana daughter of Adina Chaya Ita

It is impossible to whole-heartedly take upon oneself the yoke of Torah if one is not open-minded and willing to forego his own personal opinions. By the same token, it is impossible to sincerely embrace the Torah if one possesses strong desires and is thus unable to make his will subservient to that of the Almighty.
In order to receive the yoke of Torah, an individual must free himself of all previously held opinions and accept the words of the Torah for what they are. Rather than interpreting the Torah in accordance with one's personal leanings, one must tailor his personal leanings to fit the Divine Law. It is not uncommon for man's baser impulses to sway his thinking, like a bribe which blinds the wise and warps the judgment of the righteous to the point where they do not even sense their partiality.
One of the chief sources of both idolatry and heresy is man's evil inclination and physical appetite, especially in the arena of sexual promiscuity. Man's evil impulse struggles to free itself from the restrictive chains of religious obligation and attempts to convince the heart to abandon the Torah. The Sages of Talmud tell us that Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rav that the Jews knew all along that idolatry was a bunch of nonsense; the only reason they practiced idolatry was in order to make sexual promiscuity openly permissible. Driven by their evil inclination, they said: "Let's throw off the yoke of Torah so that we no longer be reprimanded regarding incest.'"
When a person manages to overcome his baser leanings and take control of himself so that he not be swept up by his physical appetites, he removes a serious obstacle from his path, and, along with securing a gained capacity for objective appraisal, becomes fit to receive both the yoke of Heaven and the yoke of Torah.
Another necessary preamble to embracing the Torah is a willingness to labor and to exert oneself - for the Torah is huge. It is deep and wide, and it can only be acquired through the investment of much energy. In order for an entire nation to receive Torah, unity is necessary; if unity is lacking there is a risk of the Torah itself splitting up.
What is needed, then, in order to receive the Torah, is liberation from physical appetites, a readiness to exert oneself, and the sort of absolute objectivity which is tantamount to humility and unity. This is what the nation of Israel possessed when they arrived at Mount Sinai, as the verses states, "In the third month after the Children of Israel went out of the land of Egypt, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. And when they departed from Rephidim and came to the wilderness of Sinai they encamped in the wilderness; and there Israel encamped before the mount" (Exodus 19:1,2). "They departed from Rephidim..." i.e., they left the weaknesses ("Rephayon") of Rephidim behind. They left their physical appetites behind and distanced themselves from laziness, for it is impossible to acquire Torah without serious effort; "...and came to the wilderness of Sinai..." i.e., they became as open and humble as the desolate wilderness; "...and there Israel encamped ("VaYachen") before the mount;" the word for encamped, "VaYachen," is written in the singular form, for the entire nation of Israel was like single united body.
A determination to overcome physical appetites, willingness to labor, open-mindedness, humility, and unity - these are the ingredients needed for the renewed acceptance of the yoke of Torah on both the individual and national level.


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