1 Sivan, 5763
From the desk of: Rabbi Bentzion Kermaier
Sivan is approaching, and with it comes Shavuos. Those same portals of connection between the Heavens and the Earth that opened for Maamad Har Sinai are once again ready to be unlocked. Our quest for the keys of Naase V’Nishma has now begun.
Rabbenu Yonah addresses the essence of Naase V’Nishma in his commentary to the third chapter of Avos. Rav Elazar ben Azaria (Avos chapter 3 Mishna 17), in exploring the interrelationship between scholarship and actual deeds, makes what would appear to be a bizarre observation. He states that one whose scholarship outweighs his actions is compared to a tree whose branches are more numerous than its roots. This imbalance leaves it susceptible to being easily uprooted by the wind. The individual whose actions, however, exceed his knowledge is compared to a tree that will not be moved by all the winds of the world.
The logical difficulty is glaring. How can a person’s deeds exceed his knowledge? Rabbenu Yonah explains that the Mishna is not addressing the issue of practice but rather that of commitment. One who is dedicated to fulfilling all that the sages will instruct him has shown his personality to be Torah-committed beyond the scope of his own comprehension. Such an individual lives in a world where the aspiration to understand does not preclude the desire to observe. Precisely for this reason his “potential deeds” are ascribed to him as already performed, and therefore outweighing his learnedness. This, says Rabbenu Yonah, is the fundamental of Naase V’Nishma.
We still are confronted with the difficulty in implementing this attitude. How does one sincerely proclaim Naase V’Nishma? Once again the Mishna in Avos will supply us with much food for thought. The source for the metaphor comparing the two types of trees is found in Yirmiyahu 17,5-8. The prophet compares the person who places his trust in Hashem to a healthy tree planted in lush surroundings, while the one who places his faith in man is compared to a lone barren tree planted in an area of great desolation. The dual usage of the tree-metaphor in both the realms of faith and Torah commitment tells us that there must exist an integral relationship between these two systems. This interrelationship is eloquently described in the Siach Yitzchak’s (by Rav Yitzchak Maaltzin) commentary to Ahava Rabba. It is in this prayer that we beseech Hashem to grace us and teach us the Torah “in the merit of our forefathers who placed their trust in You”. The Siach Yitzchak explains that the primary difficulty in our acceptance of the Torah’s precepts is caused by inability to believe that only Hashem knows our best interests. This lack of trust breeds confusion and anxiety. The Avos were not, however, plagued with these doubts. It was their unflinching trust that formed the basis of Hashem’s covenant to teach them the ultimate guidelines of life – the Torah.
As we approach Zman Matan Toraseinu in an era filled with confusion and divisiveness let us be especially thankful that we have been chosen from amongst all the nations to receive the Dvar Hashem. Never was it clearer that only the Torah holds the answer to the human predicament. Now, perhaps more than ever, our response must be equally as clear – Naase V’Nishma.
Rabbi Bentzion Kermaier