There is a widespread custom to stay up throughout the night on Shavuos engaged in Torah study. The Magen Avraham (494) suggests that this custom developed because the Midrash teaches that the Jewish people at Mount Sinai overslept on the day of the giving of the Torah, and Hashem had to wake them up in order to present it to them. To rectify their mistake and to prevent ourselves from making a similar one, we demonstrate our eagerness to once again receive the Torah by remaining awake the entire night. In Yerushalayim, many of those who stay awake proceed to the Kosel just before dawn for an uplifting sunrise prayer service with countless other Jews who have also travelled there from their respective neighborhoods.
For many years, Harav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zt”l, adopted this practice, staying awake on Shavuos night to learn Torah in his yeshivah, Torah Ohr, and then walking with his students to the Kosel for the morning prayers. The trip from his yeshivah in the Mattersdorf neighborhood of Yerushalayim to the Kosel is quite lengthy, and one year, towards the end of his life, Rav Scheinberg’s wife expressed her concern that he no longer had the energy required for the long round-trip walk, and she suggested that he remain behind and daven locally.
Rav Scheinberg disagreed with her and felt that he was physically capable of making the walk, so to resolve their difference of opinion, he decided to conduct a Goral HaGra, a special procedure transmitted through oral tradition to a few select individuals in every generation that involves opening a Tanach and receiving guidance from Hashem based on the verse to which it opens. In Rav Scheinberg’s case, the verse to which he opened was (Tehillim 29:11) “Hashem oz l’amo yiten —Hashem will give strength to His nation,” which he interpreted as a Divine message that Hashem would give him the strength needed to make the arduous journey to the Kosel.
When one of Rav Scheinberg’s students heard about this, he pointed out that the end of that very verse states “Hashem y’varech es amo ba’shalom — Hashem will bless His nation with peace.” He suggested that perhaps the Heavenly response was from the latter half of the verse, not the former, and was an indication that the Rosh Yeshivah should opt for shalom bayis by heeding his wife’s advice.
When Rav Scheinberg heard his student’s interpretation, he was astonished. He explained that just because he and his wife disagreed on the proper course of action, their difference of opinion was in no way personal and had no bearing on their shalom bayis. He had decided to utilize the Goral HaGra to clarify the appropriate course of conduct, but regardless of the response it gave, the sublime peace that reigned between them would remain intact and unaffected.
In addition to opening a window into the life of a great Rav, this fascinating story contains a universal lesson for each of us: that differences of opinion between rational, intelligent people are healthy and normal, and as long as we do not allow them to become personal, they should have no bearing on our underlying relationships with others.
Q: Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu (Bamidbar 1:3) to count every male over the age of 20 who was fit to go out to battle. Does this mean that the elderly and sick, who were unfit for war, were not included in this count?
A: The Sifsei Chachamim write that Jews who were sick and unable to go to battle were still included in this count. The Vilna Gaon and Netziv disagree and maintain that the ability to serve in the army was a prerequisite to being included in this census, which explains why the phrase “who go out to the army” is repeated constantly when recording the details of the census. However, the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh suggests that this phrase is repeated to teach that every male Jew over the age of 20 was in fact strong and healthy and eligible to serve in the army, in which case the question has no practical application.
Q: The Torah relates (Bamidbar 1:47) that in counting the total number of Jews, Moshe Rabbeinu did not count the Levites. Immediately thereafter, Hashem commanded Moshe (1:49) not to count the tribe of Levi together with the rest of the Jews. If he was only commanded not to do so at this time, why did he previously refrain from doing so of his own accord, and how did he know that this was Hashem’s Will?
A: The Ramban notes that when Hashem initially commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to count the Jewish people, He told him that one leader from each tribe should stand with him during the census, whom Hashem then proceeded to list (1:4-16). When Moshe realized that Hashem didn’t name a leader from the tribe of Levi who was to be present for the counting, he inferred that he was not to count them together with the rest of the tribes. Moshe was in doubt regarding Hashem’s intentions for the tribe of Levi, but as soon as he finished counting the other tribes, Hashem commanded him regarding the separate count of the Leviites.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.