When serious people discuss the situation of the Torah community, they cannot ignore the problem of “adults at risk.” The question? Do more and more people, as time progresses, fall victim to keeping the mitzvos as a matter of rote — mitzvos anashim melumadah? Is there a risk that these adults will themselves fall victim and consequently not be able to pass the beauty of Torah over to their children to carry the Torah further to future generations? What is the essential factor that could — and does — prevent this?
Lo and behold, as I was preparing for Shavuos, I looked, as I often do, in my grandfather Rabbi Yechiel Mantel’s sefer, Vort un Zeit, written in the 1930s. I found a remarkable dvar Torah. It was both pertinent and fascinating.
There is an often-quoted Gemara (Shabbos 88a). Rabbi Avdimi interprets the passuk “Vayisyatzvu b’tachtis hahar — And they stood under the mountain” (Shemos 19:17). He explains that Hakadosh Baruch Hu held a mountain over the heads of Klal Yisrael and told them, “If you accept the Torah then it will be good, but if not, then this will be your burial ground.”
This Gemara has been discussed and explained in hundreds of ways over the generations. Despite that, my grandfather writes, he’d like to discuss one simple aspect of this Gemara — the usage of the term “accept (mekablim)” rather than the term “fulfill (mekaymim)” the Torah. Didn’t Hakadosh Baruch Hu mean that Klal Yisrael should keep and fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah? What benefit is there if we merely accept the Torah if we don’t keep it?
We also should consider the difference between Mattan Torah that we mention in our tefillos and Kabbalas HaTorah that is mentioned in Rav Avdimi’s statement. Every nation needs a set of rules by which to function. As Klal Yisrael became a nation, there was no question that they had to be a given a constitution with which to function — especially since they were now appointed as Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s representatives in this world.
The rules of how they were to act both in their personal lives as well as with others were indispensable. They had to be given a Torah (Mattan Torah). Of that there was no question.
The question that did arise was whether Klal Yisrael would understand the value and look forward to being receivers (mekablim) of the Torah. Some members of Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai felt that they were about to be put under a yoke. They felt that this new arrangement carried obligations as heavy as a mountain.
Here Rav Avdimi explains, “Im tikablu mutav — if you anxiously want to receive and accept the Torah, then it will be good.” If you recognize how privileged you are to receive the Torah and how fortunate you are to gain this special closeness to Hashem, then you have nothing to worry about. I, Hashem, will not have to worry about kiyum HaTorah. If not, however, then the Torah itself will be your burial ground.”
“Not only do we find observant and non-observant Jews,” continues Rabbi Mantel, “but even among religious Jews we find those who were given the Torah and those who are receivers of the Torah. When it comes to Shabbos, for instance, there are shomrei Shabbos who look at Shabbos as a burden — a day when their competitors are earning money and they have to close their store on the most profitable day of the week. They can’t even use their day off for many of the physical pleasures and recreational events that they long for. They look forward all day to the time that they can make Havdalah and be rid of the burden.
“On the other hand, there are those who are ‘mekablei HaTorah.’ They look forward all week for the Shabbos to come. They can’t wait to throw off the mundane responsibilities of the week and immerse themselves in the kedushah of Shabbos.”
There are those who come late to shul. They quickly put on their tallis and tefillin, hurriedly say a few words without concentration and meaning, and are out the door — having fulfilled their “obligation.” These are the ones who were “given the Torah.”
Then there are those who cannot wait each day to effectively utilize the audience that they were given to speak personally with the King of the World. They arrive early; they focus and concentrate on the words that they are saying. They are uplifted and transformed by the experience. They are the ones who have decided to be mekabel the Torah.
The Ribbono shel Olam did not have to ask for “kiyum HaTorah.” Kiymu and kiblu go together. If someone understands what he is accepting, then there is no question that he will fulfill it.
Those words were written in a different generation that was facing different problems. Immigrants were coming to these shores and throwing overboard their tallis and tefillin and their sheitlach. Only those who really understood the value of Torah and were willing to fight for it were able to hold on.
Now we live in different times when it is comparably easy to be a Torah Jew. Yet we find that today again people can follow the mitzvos because they have to, not because they want to. Those are the people who become the “adults at risk.”
We are now getting ourselves ready to celebrate Shavuos. Among the busy preparations for Yom Tov, it is worthwhile — indeed vital — to stop and think about the wonderful gift that we are about to receive. Certainly, we are going to have a Mattan Torah. Hakadosh Baruch Hu will be giving us His holy Torah. It will contain everything we need to know about how to live our lives.
But will we realize the value of what we are getting? Will we appreciate that we are receiving an unbelievable gift that will afford us the opportunity to reach the ultimate level of happiness by becoming close to the Creator and King of all kings? Will we truly be mekabel the Torah? That is the question we must all answer.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org