Vort from the Rav: Pinchas

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Bamidbar 27:23

וַיִּסְמֹךְ אֶת יָדָיו עָלָיו

He laid his hands upon him.

Although God commanded Moses to lay one hand upon Joshua, Moses laid both hands upon him. God commanded Moses not only to do semichah, but also to “bestow some of your majesty (hod) upon him”; this majesty was figuratively bestowed upon Joshua via Moses’ other hand.

There were two mesoros, two traditions that Moses transferred to Joshua. One is the tradition of Torah learning, lomdus. The second mesorah, the hod, was experiential. One can know the entire Tractate Shabbos and yet still not know what Shabbos is. Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, today one can no longer talk of the “sanctity of Shabbos.” True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbat… but there are no “erev Shabbat” Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls

To truly know what Shabbos is, it is insufficient to merely know the halachos of Shabbos. One should experience a Chassidishe Shtiebel for shalosh seudos. Not far from where our family lived in Warsaw there was a Modzitzer shtiebel where I would occasionally go for shalosh seudos. The Chasidim would be singing Bnei Heichala, Hashem Ro’i Lo Echsor, again Bnei Heichala, again Hashem Ro’i. It occurred to me that they weren’t singing because they wanted to sing, they were singing because they did not want to allow Shabbos to leave…. I remember an encounter in this shtiebel as a small child. One of the men who had been singing most enthusi­astically, wearing a kapoteh consisting of more holes than material, approached me and asked if I recognized him. I told him that I did not, and he introduced himself as Yankel the Porter. Now during the week I knew Yankel the Porter as someone very ordinary wearing shabby clothes walking around with a rope. I could not imagine that this individual of such regal bearing could be the same person. Yet on Shabbos he wore a kapota and shtreimel. That is because his soul wasn’t Yankel the Porter, but Yankel the Prince. Well after nightfall I naively asked him, “When do we daven Ma’ariv?” He replied: “Do you miss weekdays that much [that you cannot wait to daven Ma’ariv]?”

This is an educational-philosophical problem that has weighed heavily upon me. To contemporary Orthodox Jews the Torah is revealed in intellectual categories, in cold thought and logic. However, it has not merited being revealed in a living “sensory” mode, which causes both trembling and gladdening of the heart. They recognize the Torah as an idea, but they do not encounter it as an unmediated reality that one can taste, see and feel.

I can explain Yom Kippur to my students. From an intellectual standpoint there is much I can transmit. What I cannot pass on are the experiences that I myself underwent on those days. The American Jew has no awareness of the sublime experience of the sanctity of Yom Kippur.

I want to describe to them the ta’am of Yom Kippur that once existed in Europe and I can’t! I would have to bring them to the house where I was raised to witness how Reb Chaim said viduy on Yom Kippur: V’atah tsaddik…gasping for breath…v’anachnu hirshanu… gasping for breath. They would have to hear the echo in the synagogue after the congregation answered Amen to the Shecheyanu blessing after Kol Nidrei. I cannot impart this – it has to be lived.

Joshua not only received the Torah from Moses, but how to live Yiddishkeit. His attendant, Joshua, the son of Nun, a lad, would not depart from the tent (Ex. 33:11). Joshua never left Moses’ side: he saw how Moses davened Mincha, how he ate, how he bentched, how he was mekabel Shabbos, how he said viduy on Erev Yom Kippur. He therefore merited both mesoros: the mesorah of the mind and the mesorah of the heart. Although Elazar was a greater lamdan, only Joshua could transmit both these aspects of Torah to the next generation. (Thinking Aloud – Bamidbar, pp. 217-223, On Repentance, pp. 97-98, Before Hashem, pp. 37-38)

Ed: This is the last vort of the season. Thanks to Dr. Arnie Lustiger for kindly providing these vorts.

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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