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Shavuos: V’hatznea Leches Im Hashem

The Bais Medrash was packed to the rafters. Old and young were waiting reverently for the Kol Nidrei prayers to begin. But the Rabbi, R’ Binyomin Diskin ZT”L, had not yet arrived. “What is keeping him?” people whispered to one another anxiously. “Has anything happened to him, G-d forbid?” The sun was setting and darkness was spreading its wings over the world – and the Rabbi was missing. “Run over to the Rabbi’s house,” people whispered urgently to the Shamash, “and see what is detaining him.” With quick steps, almost on the run, the Shamash hurried towards the Rabbi’s house. Reaching it, he knocked on the door and entered. His eyebrows arched in surprise at the scene that met his eyes: R’ Binyomin was calmly sitting and learning with his young son, Yehoshua Leib! Seeing the confused Shamash, R’ Binyomin apologized. “I am terribly sorry for the delay. Please forgive me. You see, the Holy Day was approaching and when I was reviewing my actions of the past year, I could not recall even one good deed or Mitzvah that I had performed. ‘How can a man usher in this awesome day in such a manner?’ I asked myself, and decided to fulfill at least one Mitzvah before this time – “ושננתם לבניך” – And you shall teach to your children, hoping that in the merit of this Mitzvah, I might be judged favorably…….”  

Humility, Modesty, הצנע לכת – the more stories we hear about the Gedolim who live and imbue these exceptional Middos and qualities, the better an individual we can become if we truly take them to heart. Humility combined with Torah – now that is an ideal so lofty and exalted, there is none greater for a true Torah Jew to strive for.

The Yom Tov of Shavuos, as most everybody knows, is the embodiment of Torah – קבלת התורה, our unconditional acceptance of G-d’s law at Har Sinai, our reply of נעשה ונשמע – “We will do and we will hear”, which shook Heaven and earth. And today, we continue this tradition by staying up the entire night of Shavuos, learning Torah and Davening, further exemplifying Torah as the true embodiment of this special Yom Tov, the rhyme and reason for it all.

There is something more, though, to this Yom Tov, something which is intrinsically intertwined into every aspect of Shavuos: The Middah of ענוה – Humility. We daven every Motzei Shabbos “Wherever one will find the greatness of הקב”ה exposed, so too, will he find there the humility of Hashem”. What could be considered “the greatness of הקב”ה” more than his monumental Torah, which he has so generously endowed to his chosen nation on Shavuos? It stands to reason, then, that the “humility of Hashem” – ענותנותו של הקב”ה – is part and parcel of this “gift”, and therefore, so too, of the Yom Tov of Shavuos.

The Medrash attests to this fact, with the famous story of how the two largest mountains in the world, Har Carmel and Har Tavor, uprooted themselves, literally out of the ground, and came to the desert, thinking that the Torah would surely be given on them – the greatest gift to mankind, delivered on the greatest mountains. Hashem said, “You have already shown me that you are blemished in character, your extreme pride and גאוה has disqualified you from even being considered. Har Sinai, the smallest of the mountains, and characteristically, the humblest, is fully deserving to be chosen as the mountain on which my precious Torah is to be given.”

So too, G-d has seen the haughty בעל גאוה and declared, “I and him cannot coexist in this world!”

Hashem is not going anywhere, so the arrogant one must go! And Moshe Rabbeinu was chosen as the receiver of the Torah, and not so coincidentally, his reputation as “the humblest of all men” goes a long way in explaining Hashem’s reason for choosing him. A pattern of humility and Torah, existing hand in hand, is clearly evident, and even further crystallized through the famous motto of R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsh ZT”L, “Torah with Derech Eretz” – modesty and the Torah way being a focal point of his vision of Jewish lifestyle. 

                                    Returning from a summer rest at a European hotel in the

                        Austrian mountainside, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, R’ Yehuda

                        Zev Segal ZT”L, and one of his talmidim flew to London and then

                        boarded a train for Manchester.

                                    As the train pulled into the Manchester station, the talmid

                        looked out and saw a huge assemblage of Bnei Torah who had

                        come to welcome back the Rosh Yeshiva. The Talmid reported this

                        to the Rosh Yeshiva, who reacted by lowering his head and immersing                                              himself in his thoughts.

                                    As the two disembarked from the train, the crowd broke out

                        in lively singing. The Rosh Yeshiva said to his talmid, “Look at what

                        they have done for you!”

                                    “Why does the Rosh Yeshiva think that all this honor is for me,”

                        responded the talmid, “Surely all this is in honor of the Rosh Yeshiva.”

                                    In all seriousness, the Rosh Yeshiva pointed into the crowd,

                        indicating a large sign that the well wishers had displayed. “But don’t

                        you see, my dear talmid, it says ברוכים הבאים – in the plural. Had they

                        only meant to welcome me, it would have said ברוך הבא!”

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On the second day of Shavuos, we read Megillas Rus, a beautiful story involving a poor, converted Jewess, the Gadol Hador, and how their lives came together in truly dramatic fashion, eventually producing the greatest king in Israel’s history – Dovid Hamelech. At best, we can draw inspiration from the purity of Ruth’s intentions and the sacred efforts of Boaz to keep every letter of the law. Unfortunately, at worst, many would, and do, perceive this story as a romantic interlude transcending societal classes – a Jewish “Rags to Riches” theme, which is lent even greater literary appeal by the fact that the future of the Land of Israel and its rulers, hinges on this very confrontation. True G-d fearing Jews know that, as with most ideas in Torah and Jewish life, there is more to it than meets the eye and the literal story itself is just the surface understanding – the real crux of interpretation and truth lie far beneath.

The Alshich Hakodosh writes that on the day that Ruth first began scrounging in the fields, Hashem directed her steps to the fields of Boaz where she proceeded to harvest. Boaz too, who Chazal relate was initially far away at the time, also found his way, through the help of an angel, to this particular field. There he noticed Ruth, and her mannerisms of pure modesty and honesty, and recognized his responsibility in helping her and her mother-in law, Naomi. The die was cast, and from there on in, one event led to another, culminating in Ruth being redeemed and later married to Boaz. What is unusual, is the manner in which the Possuk relates this turning point of events to us. “ותלך ותבוא ותלקט בשדה אחרי הקוצרים ויקר מקרה חלקת השדה לבעז” – And she went to harvest in the fields and an occurrence occurred, she found herself in the fields of Boaz. The expression “an occurrence occurred” is equivalent to saying “by coincidence” Ruth found herself in Boaz’s fields. A coincidence? Do Jews really believe in coincidences? As children we are brought up to believe that the Aleph-Bais of Jewish Emunah is – Hashem’s guidance is constant, that nothing is left to chance, and that with G-d present, there is no such thing as a coincidence! How do we reconcile this notion of “ויקר מקרה” – a coincidence, with the ultimate concept of Divine intervention?

However, this is exactly the idea that embodies the story of Ruth, and in fact, the entire Yom Tov of Shavuos. The Sefer Zichron Yitzchok brings down that of course there is no such thing as coincidences, Hashem’s presence and Hashgacha is ever-present. The fact that Ruth and Boaz came together under such circumstances was all according to the master plan of הקב”ה. This, though, is a perfect expression of the ענותנותו – the humbleness and modesty of the רבש”ע, a lesson to be learned by every Jew in his daily life. Every breath of human life, every act of man, whether voluntary or involuntary, every rustle of the wind or drop of rain is a miracle from Heaven, albeit a hidden one. In what greater fashion could Hashem display his humbleness for us to see and learn, than by not revealing himself through his daily miracles? There is no such thing as a coincidence – Hashem just wants it look like a coincidence! The entire future of Israel and its rulers was dependent on this confrontation between Ruth and Boaz, but although the hand of G-d was constantly felt, insuring the success of their relationship, it was all made out to look as if it were just a mere coincidence! This is the ultimate in ענוה and הצנע לכת.

         The author of the Ohr Pnei Moshe, R’ Moshe of Pshevarsk

                        ZT”L, was a great scholar, but his real strength lay in prayer.

                                    R’ Moshe once lodged at an inn where a leading Misnaged

                        was staying. In the morning, the Misnaged said his prayers and then

                        sat down to study Mishnah and Gemara. R’ Moshe, however, made

                        extensive preparations before praying. He had not even begun when

                        the other guest had long since finished. The Misnaged looked at him

                        askance and asked, “Can you tell me why you need so much

                        preparation before davening Shacharis?”

                                    R’ Moshe replied, “The truth is that I envy your being able

                        to pray on time and then sit down to study. But what can I do? I

                        begin my day with “Modeh Ani” and a flood of thoughts overcome me:

                        ‘Who am “I”, the “Ani”, and who is the “מלך חי וקים”? And what is

                        my “soul”….. These thoughts lead me to inspect my deeds and to ask

                        myself if the “I” is worthy of approaching the “Living and enduring

                        King”, and if I merit the return of my “soul” day after day. These

                        thoughts strain my heart and conscience and gnaw away at my brain

                        until I am unable to continue the very first prayer. Small wonder that it

                        takes me so long to begin praying!”

The bottom line is this: If humility and Tznius is good enough for the Master of the Universe, it should certainly be good enough for his subjects. If Hashem feels that such an ideal is worthy enough, as to not be beneath his considerable dignity and range of accomplishment, how then can we mortal human beings feel the necessity of arrogant behavior towards one another? This Shavuos, if we just follow our Heavenly example, and look back to the “humble beginnings” of our forefathers, we too, can forge a “beginning” for our own humble and modest ways.


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