We normally live our days with many small achievements that move us forward. A few times in our lives, not many, we are motivated to demonstrate tremendous passion and invest time and truly hard work in a cause. This combination catapults us forward to open up entirely new possibilities and new worlds that literally change us forever. Here is a story of one of those times.
A young man once had an interview to attend one of the major yeshivos. After learning with the young man, the rosh yeshiva said, “I would like to accept you, but I’m sorry—I have a limited number of beds in the dorm and I don’t have a bed for you. Maybe next semester,” he said.
The young man looked at the rosh yeshiva and said, “I grew up in Iran. We were not allowed to practice Torah and mitzvos there. Two years ago, my family paid smugglers to help me escape. Their dream was for me to come to America so I can learn Torah and practice the mitzvos freely. It took three months. We traveled through desert and mountains to evade being detected. If we were caught, we would have been shot dead on the spot. I slept in ditches, trenches and sometimes in the open desert. I do not need a bed in the dorm. I can sleep on the floor.”
“For you, I will find a bed,” said the rosh yeshiva.
Parshas Bamidbar is always read the Shabbos before Shavuos. The Midrash explains the reason for this is because there is a deep connection between a midbar—a desert—and receiving the Torah on Shavuos. The Torah is truly acquired only by someone who puts in an effort as though he is surviving a desert. Our story above truly depicts this Midrash. This young man literally survived a desert so that he could achieve his goal of learning and living a Torah life.
On Shavuos day, we read Megillas Rus in shul. The Chidushei Harim gives us a poignant reason that connects Megillas Rus to the Yom Tov of Shavuos. The Megillah records how Boaz took an interest in Rus and gave her a pile of roasted kernels larger than what he gave to the other poor people. The Midrash tells us that if Boaz had realized his actions were being recorded for posterity, he would have served Rus a lavish festive meal!
Hindsight is always 20/20. What is the Midrash really telling us about Boaz? The Chidushei Harim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter—founder and first rebbe of the Ger dynasty) answers, the Midrash is teaching us that just like Boaz had his actions recorded in a Megillah, which is part of Tanach, so too, each and every one of our actions are being recorded in a megillah and has the status of Torah. Because we are Hashem’s creations, with spiritual souls, our daily actions, our decisions and our commitments constitute a new acceptance and implementation of the mitzvos of the Torah that are being recorded and written in a personal legacy book. The young man from Iran who traversed mountains and deserts had his personal “megillah.” We must keep in mind that our own challenges, travails and difficulties are also being recorded in our personal megillahs and we should act accordingly.
The Midrash offers a second way to connect the desert to the acceptance of Torah. The Torah is compared to fire, water and desert. All three are free for the taking…and so is the Torah! But now we have an apparent contradiction in the Midrash. Is Torah easy to acquire and free for the taking like a desert, or is it something for which I need to endanger myself to survive, or live with utmost simplicity and basic needs, like a desert that is bare?
The Sfas Emes explains that both interpretations are correct. The Midrash is expressing different realities regarding the Torah. At the base level, the Torah is free for the taking like a desert; it is accessible and available to all. However, if one wants to acquire a deep level of Torah knowledge, to be one with the Torah, that requires a higher-level investment. It’s not easy to put in the effort to live in a desert—with oppressive heat during the day and cold weather at night—and precious little food and water. Similarly, the more we invest in Torah, the more we catapult ourselves into new realities of connection with the Torah and a more spiritual, satisfying life.
Let’s remember: whatever we invest to live a Torah life is all being etched in tablets. Every day we are writing our own megillah. Let us write a megillah we can truly be proud of!
By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a full multi-level Gemara learning program in the evenings, gives Halacha and hashkafa shiurim on Shabbos and, more recently, has spread out beyond Passaic to begin a weekly beis midrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Springfield, Fort Lee and Jersey City, New Jersey. His email is [email protected]