April 22, 2024
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Maintaining the Excitement of Connecting With Hashem

About a year ago I was standing next to two people shmoozing after davening in shul. One person said to his friend, “The rabbi is going away this week for the summer.” The other fellow responded, “Yeah, now we can daven Shacharis in 30 minutes since the rabbi isn’t here to slow us down.” They were talking in a joking-type banter, but I was quite perturbed to hear these words even as a joke.

This incident reminds me of the midrash that describes Bnei Yisrael after they received the Torah at Har Sinai and traveled away. It says they left with tremendous joy, like children who are running away from school. This is inferred from the pasuk in Parshas Beha’aloscha, “The nation traveled away from the mountain of Hashem.” Maharsha says that although the Clouds of Glory began moving, indicating it was time to move on, they should have been sad to part from the place where the Torah was received. Instead, they were relieved that they would not have to listen to more mitzvos. This negative attitude is inferred from the fact that the Torah stresses they traveled away from the “mountain of Hashem” instead of the descriptive “Har Sinai.”

This pasuk is followed by a unique segment in the Torah that’s bracketed by two backward Hebrew letters “nun.” Raban Shimon ben Gamliel says the nuns here serve as brackets to tell us that this portion is out of place. These verses discuss when the Aron (Ark) started to travel and when it reached its point of destination. Logically, this should be in Parshas Bamidbar, which discusses the arrangement and movement of the tribes in the desert. The reason these verses are placed here is to create a separation between the two punishments that are discussed immediately before and after. The portion after discusses the complainers whom Hashem punished by sending a heavenly fire that consumed a segment of the people. The portion prior says the nation traveled away from the “mountain of Hashem.” We know the problem here is feeling relief about leaving, but what was the punishment?

Rav Shimon Schwab explains it’s a different type of punishment. Har Sinai was where the Bnei Yisrael received the Torah, and Moshe continued to teach them the Torah at that location for the next year. The crime of feeling relief at running away from the mountain of Hashem is itself the greatest punishment. That feeling indicates they really did not truly appreciate being at Har Sinai, learning the Torah and the mitzvos. In some sense, they felt burdened by learning the Torah. This misguided attitude turned their experience of learning Torah into a self-inflicted punishment. Of course they knew Moshe would teach them more Torah as they traveled on, but they wanted a reprieve. This is like the parable of children excitedly running away from school, knowing full well they will have to return the next morning.

This same concern applies to our attitude toward davening and learning in batei midrash, yeshivos and shuls. Individuals who are excited when the rabbi goes away, resulting in fewer shiurim and the ability to daven faster and leave shul sooner, show that they have been needlessly tormenting themselves. They daven and learn anyway, so why not have a positive attitude and enjoy what they are doing, forging a closer relationship with Hashem?!

The placement of this unique segment of the Torah about leaving “Har Hashem” is thus teaching us that if we don’t truly appreciate our davening and the Torah we learn, this negative attitude will lead to dissatisfaction that further distances us from Hashem. We need to intercept and correct any such behavior.

The remedy for this issue is given in the two verses between the backward letter nuns. These pesukim discuss the Aron (which contained the luchos), noting how it traveled and rested. The Torah is indicating the correct attitude and feeling we need to have when a person leaves a beis midrash or a shul. Just as the Aron traveled with Bnei Yisrael, we must take the Torah with us at all times, to guide us in all our endeavors.

The separation we’ve experienced from our shuls and yeshivos during this COVID-19 period has built a longing and yearning for meaningful prayer and Torah study. I have heard children say they wish there was yeshiva!! We now have the opportunity to creatively use our children’s longing and our own longing to get back to formal prayer and Torah study.

Now is the time to accept upon ourselves an additional positive commitment to maintain within us the inspiration and gratitude to Hashem that we achieve from our davening and Torah study. Commitment examples could be: not bringing your cellphone into shul, being silent during davening, waiting until the very end of davening before leaving or having enhanced kavanah (concentration) during davening and Torah study. Making a commitment now will help ensure that our excitement and inspiration from soon re-engaging with formal davening and learning in yeshivos not only continues but soars!


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, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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