- yehoshua steinberg
Shavuot: Preparing for Kabbalas HaTorah ~ Tzvi Abrahams
Preparing for Kabbalas HaTorah
כִּלָה: finish, complete
כְּלִי: receiving vessel
תְּכֵלֶת: aquamarine, green-blue
כִּלָה: Finish, Complete
On Shabbos we sing לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה/Come welcome my beloved the bride. Shabbos is compared to a bride.
At Friday night Kiddush we say וַיָכֻלוּ, which means “completion.” On Shabbos, Hashem completed the creation. Shabbos the Bride completes the creation.
So too with the חָתָן וְכַּלָה, the כַּלָּה completes the man.
Before he is married, man is incomplete. He is only half a man. He needs a woman to complete him, and, as they say, once a man gets married, he is truly finished!
So too we, the Jewish People, are Hashem’s bride. Not that we complete Hashem, for He is perfect, but rather that we complete His creation. We are Hashem’s partners in creation.
Just like שַׁבָּת is known as the Shabbos Queen, so too we when fulfill our role as Hashem’s כַּלָּה, we too become Hashem’s queen.
In lashon hakodesh, a כְּלִי for the most part needs to be a kli kibul, a vessel that receives. A כְּלִי is created to receive. So too a כַּלָּה/bride is created to receive.
What is the purpose of Creation? To be a fitting כְּלִי to receive Hashem’s light.
תְּכֵלֶת: Aquamarine, Green-blue
In the parshah of tzitzis, the Kli Yakar brings the Gemara that says that the תְּכֵלֶת, the aquamarine color of the tzitzis, is to remind us of the sea, which in turn is to remind us of the Shamayim, which in turn reminds us of the sapphire color of the כִּסֵא הַכָּבוֹד/Hashem’s throne.
Each of our neshamos is carved out from the כִּסֵא הַכָּבוֹד/Hashem’s throne. This is the origin of who we are and this is the place to which we return. The color תְּכֵלֶת is therefore also to remind us of our ultimate תַּכְלִית/purpose, which is to return to Hashem, and this is worn particularly on our tzitzis to remind us that the way to return to Hashem is through observing the 613 mitzvos. The gematria of צִיצִית is 600, plus the eight threads and five knots add up to 613, which is also alluded to in the words: וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת כָל מִצְוֹת ה’/and you shall remember all the mitzvos of Hashem.
The haftarah portion that we read on Shavuos describes how the throne of Hashem is made of sapphire, which is why the blue of the techeiles of the tzitzis connects the blue of the sea and the heavens to the sapphire blue of the כִּסֵא הַכָּבוֹד/Hashem’s throne. Sapphire is from the family of precious gemstones that have this mesmerizing aspect of reflecting light through their crystal surface. The blue of תְּכֵלֶת/techeiles, which comes from the word תַּכְלִית/purpose, signifies to us that our purpose is to connect to that heavenly aspect of sapphire, and to reflect Hashem’s light into the world, infusing it with an aspect of crystal clarity.
There is an expression “it came out of the blue,” meaning that it came unexpectedly, out of nowhere. I think we can say that the deeper meaning behind this is that there is no other explanation but to say this was mamash Heaven-sent.
The Sea – Refining Ourselves
If you were to ask yourself what color the sea is, you may be surprised by the answer. Naturally, the answer is blue! But on close inspection, the sea is made up of water, which is clearly colorless — in Hebrew שָׁקוּף. The sea is really just a reflection of the heavens, which is why on an overcast day the sea is grey, a reflection of the clouds that block out the blue sky. The shallow waters are more of an aquamarine color because the water also reflects the color of the yellow sand, which, when mixed with sky blue, gives off this beautiful blue-green color of תְּכֵלֶת.
On day one of creation, everything to a great extent was still one. On day two, however, Hashem split the waters into the upper waters and lower waters. The upper waters He called שָׁמַיִם/Shamayim, a reference to שָׁם מַיִם/literally, “there the waters.” The lower waters can be further subdivided into freshwater rivers and saltwater seas. The rivers represent Hashem’s flow of life, carrying the life-giving waters that nourish the Earth. Unlike the river, which flows with purpose, the sea is the final destination, as Solomon says: “All the waters flow into the sea.” The sea represents completion of a mission and can no longer be utilized unless it goes through a process of separation — refinement (desalinization). If we refine ourselves by separating the good from the bad, then we too, like the waters, can vaporize and return to Shamayim.
The Midrash says that due to their separation from the upper waters, the lower waters of the seas cried, making them salty. Unlike the river, the sea does not have defined borders; it therefore represents תַּאַוָה/desire, which knows no bounds. The sea is therefore a dangerous place, where life is compared to a boat crossing the sea, being tossed and turned around by the challenges of life.
If we take the colors red and blue, red represents desire and blue the cool opposite. We are also compared to the sun, which is red hot. In our youth we are full of misplaced energy, hot-blooded and full of desire, as it says: כּי יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִן נְעוּרָיו. As we get older and closer to our time in Shamayim, we cool off and are compared to the sun setting over the sea. The purpose of the Torah, which is compared to mayim, is not only to give us borders like a river, but also to cool us off. It neutralizes us to the point where we lose our color and become שָׁקוּף/translucent like the water. Then we can arrive at a clear הַשְׁקָפָה/outlook on how to see and navigate our way through life.
One of the preparations for Kabbalas HaTorah is to immerse in the mikveh. מִקְוֶה/mikveh comes from the word תִּקְוֶה/hope. By immersing in the mikveh, we are purifying ourselves by putting our hope in Hashem — קַוֵה אֶל ה’.
Another preparation for Kabbalas HaTorah is to set boundaries.
וְעָלִיתָ אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן עִמָּךְ וְהַכֹּהֲנִים
Hashem instructs Moshe to warn the people not to cross the border surrounding the mountain while Aharon and the kohanim should go up with Moshe — Moshe within his own mechitzah, Aharon within his mechitzah, and the kohanim within their mechitzah, where Moshe drew closer than Aharon, and Aharon closer than the kohanim.
If we cross the mark we die, because if we get too close to Hashem, like the Ishim angels, the so-called fiery angels, we will cease to exist, because as they draw closer and closer to Hashem, they burn up and lose their self-identity, blending into the oneness of everything. In order to be able to draw closer to Hashem and still maintain our identity, we have to develop and expand our boundaries so that we can attain a greater capacity to be able to receive more of Hashem’s light without being burnt up and blown away by the awesomeness of Hashem’s power. Hashem says to Moshe, “No one can see my face and live; Nadav and Avihu drew too close and were burned up.” So we need to keep within our own mechitzos.
Even though we need to keep within our own mechitzos we can still expand their boundaries.
So how do we expand the boundaries?
The har/mountain is known as the yetzer hara. When the tzaddikim look back on their lives and see the yetzer hara, they are overwhelmed by how big it was and compare it to a mountain. The more we do battle with the yetzer hara, the higher we go, closer and closer to the top, and on top, above the mountain, is Hashem.
מִי יַעַלֶה בְהַר ה’, וּמִי יָקוּם בִמְקוֹם קָדְשוֹ, נְקִי כּפַּיִם וּבַר לֵבָב/who can climb the mountain of Hashem and who can stand in His holy place? One who has clean hands and a pure heart. In other words, he who has cleansed his actions and purified his mind from the influence of the yetzer hara.
One year we spent Shavuos with my brother-in-law Yosef. On the way to shul, Yosef asked me, “What does Hashem want from me?!” Just as he was about to leave to go to shul, his son had woken up in a fit. Not only did Yosef miss minchah, he had also been unable to sleep in the afternoon, so how was he going to learn late into the night in preparation for Kabbalas HaTorah?
I said to him, “It looks like Hashem is challenging you. He has put a wall in front of you, but not that you should stop. Rather, it’s for you to climb over. Hashem loves you, since by climbing over the wall you will feel a greater sense of achievement.”
These words were echoed by his rabbi’s pre-maariv derashah in shul. The rabbi asked that if someone slept five hours in the afternoon, then learned five hours in the evening, followed by another five hours of sleep, did he really push himself? Only someone who pushes himself beyond the boundaries shows Hashem how dear his Torah learning is.
In my younger days, I ran the London Marathon. More experienced runners told me about “The Wall,” that there would be a time late into the marathon when you hit the point that you feel like you cannot continue, where all of your body aches, you have no more strength — that’s it! A lot of people give up at this point, but those who climb over the wall and push through experience the tremendous amount of achievement in crossing the finishing line. Just as the ones who finish are crowned with a medal, so too Hashem crowns the ones who push through with theכֶּתֶר תּוֹרָה/the crown of the Torah.
Similarly, if you were to sprint the 100–meter hurdles without jumping them, then the crowd would just laugh at you; you’ve done nothing by not jumping the hurdles. So too in life, Hashem puts lots of hurdles in the way so that we have what to jump over. These very walls and obstacles are what make us great.
Benefactor and Beneficiary
What is קַבָּלַת הַתּוֹרָה/receiving of the Torah? To understand this, we have to define who was the benefactor, who was the beneficiary, what was given, and where was it given.
מַתַּן תּוֹרָה /the receiving of the Torah was a present from Hashem. Hashem is the ultimate giver. In order for Hashem to be able to give, there needs to be a receiver. We are that receiver. The world was created in such a way that we the receivers make ourselves into worthy receivers. The greater we become in our worthiness as receivers, the greater the giving by Hashem, and since Hashem is the ultimate giver, the desired end result is for there to be the ultimate giving, so in order to achieve this, we have to be the ultimate receiver.
In order for us to be ultimate receivers, we first have to become givers. The more we give, the more we can receive from Hashem, which in turn causes Hashem to give more. To help us give, Hashem gives us a helpmate, our wives, to whom we give to. Hashem created us in His image, male and female He created us. By giving through the male/female relationship, we become like Hashem, the Ultimate Giver. This is what it means to be a צֶלֶם אֶ-לֹהִים, that when we give, we become the image of G-d.
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler says in Michtav M’Eliyahu that more than you give to the one you love, you love the one you give. As we see with Yitzchak when he married Rivkah, he first took her into his tent and then he loved her. The purpose of all this giving is to come to love Hashem.
Where Was It Given
The Gemara in Eruvin and Nedarim says that in order to receive the gift of the Torah, one has to make oneself into a midbar/desert, a place that is hefker/ownerless. Just like the desert is a place where everyone is free to tread, so too one should be humble, to the extent that one will not be bothered if anyone treads on his shoes.
The Torah is compared to מַיִם. Just like water flows from the heights of the mountains and doesn’t stop until it reaches the lowest point, the sea, so too Torah can only be retained by someone who is lowly. “All who are thirsty go to the water,” because just like we cannot survive without water for more than three days, so too spiritually we cannot survive without the Torah. For this reason, the Torah is read on Mondays and Thursdays — so that we don’t go without Torah for more than three days.
What Was Given
The Torah is the word of G-d. The Torah is referred to as תּוֹרַת הַחַיִים/the instructions for living. It is the communication of the benefactor to the beneficiary on how to understand our place in Hashem’s master plan of creation.
In the end of days, Hashem will return us to our land where He will no longer relate to us as our Master, but rather as a husband to a wife. The giving of the Torah on Har Sinai was compared to the ceremony between bride and groom, where the Torah in a way was the kesubah. But Har Sinai was only the engagement. The whole of our lives is a big dress rehearsal for the big day when we complete our mission of becoming Hashem’s bride. Then, when we have fulfilled our part, Hashem will return us to our land, and He will be our Husband.
Hashem is further prophesized as saying, “I will betroth you to me forever, I will betroth you to me with righteousness, judgment, kindness and mercy, and I will betroth you to me with emunah, and you will know Hashem.” We say this each morning as we put on our tefillin, thinking that we are doing the betrothing, but in essence it is Hashem who has betrothed us. He betrothed us at Har Sinai, and at the end of days, He will betroth us forever.
The ultimate reason for this betrothal is to come to know Hashem — this is the number one mitzvah. How we achieve this mitzvah is through the Torah. The more we learn the Torah the more we come to understand our Creator. Knowledge is what connects us to Hashem. The most intimate connection between man and wife is described as knowledge: “And Adam knew Chava.” In order to be worthy to be Hashem’s wife, we have to become intimate, and intimacy is only through knowledge, and knowledge is only through the Torah: “And you will know Hashem…”
וַיּוֹצֵא מֹשֶׁה אֶת הָעָם לִקְרַאת הָאֱלֹהִים מִן הַמַּחֲנֶה/and Moshe and the people went out toward Hashem from the camp. Rashi says that this tells us that Hashem went out toward them לִקְרָאתָם כְּחָתָן הַיוֹצֵא לִקְרַאַת כַּלָה/like a groom to his bridegroom.
This is the ideal relationship. Hashem wants us to be His bride.
Without us being Hashem’s כַּלָה, the world would be incomplete. Hashem created us in order to give to His כַּלָה. Our role in the tikkun olam is to perfect ourselves so that we can become worthy of receiving His goodness.
I was once at a family wedding of distant relatives and I observed the concentric circles around the chasan. The outer circles were big and moving very slowly, while the inside circles were smaller and moving with greater energy. Of course, the innermost circle was on fire. I was one of those moving slowly around the outside, and I felt very much like an outsider looking in, wishing I could be in the center, though I didn’t belong there. Even though I was a relative, I was still only a distant cousin.
The centerpiece is the chasan, the most fired up of all. By far the happiest day in a person’s life is the day he gets married. There is no comparison to the immense pleasure one experiences at his own wedding versus being at someone else’s wedding, because he is the centerpiece, and everyone is dancing around him and being involved in the mitzvah of simchas chasan v’kallah/making the groom and bride happy.
Just like it is a mitzvah to be mesamei’ach the chasan, so too it is our job to be mesamei’ach Hashem the Chasan. In turn, then, Hashem will be mesamei’ach us, His kallah.
כָּל: kol/all, perfection
כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵש לָהֶם חֵלֶק לְעוֹלָם הַבָּא/all the Jewish People have a portion in the World to Come, but what exactly does that mean? Just because we have a portion doesn’t mean we have the same portion. If we were to compare Olam HaBa to the marriage of Hashem to the Jewish People, then to the extent that we utilize our lives in this world to do battle with our yetzer hara, to climb the mountain and draw closer to Hashem, the closer we will be to Hashem in the next world. The ones who are not so close to Hashem will be on the outer circles, while those who have devoted their lives to service of Hashem will be on the inside. There is no comparison. It’s literally worlds apart.
Now that we have counted the forty-nine sefiros, we have reached the level of Malchus She’beMalchus. This is the point where we have drawn Hashem’s light down to the earthly domain of מַלְכוּת/kingship, but in order to reach the fiftieth level, we, the כַּלָה/bride, have to accept Hashem fully as King, to be mekabel עוֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם/the yoke of Heaven. This is achieved when we let go completely of our individual שְׁלִיטָה/control and become a complete כְּלִי קִיבּוּל/ receiving vessel to shine Hashem’s sapphire crystal-clear light into the world.
May we truly merit to be Hashem’s shining star, and merit to wear the keter haTorah and be crowned Hashem’s queen!
1 See Rashi to Shemos 19:17.
2 Bamidbar 15:38.
3 Menachos 43b.
4 Yechezkel 1:26.
5 Koheles 1:7.
6 Baal HaTurim to Bereishis 23:1.
7 Ibid., 8:21.
8 Shemos 19:24.
9 See Rashi there.
10 Succos 52a.
11 Tehillim 24:3–4.
12 See the beginning of Derech Hashem.
13 Michtav M’Eliyahu 1:126.
14 Eruvin 54a; Nedarim 55b.
15 Yeshayah 55:1.
16 Hoshea 2:18.
17 Shemos 19:17.
18 Where לִקְרַאַת has the connotation of both parties drawing close to each other. See Sifsei Chachamim and Kli Yakar there.
19 Where כָּל/all, which has the gematria of fifty, signifying completeness, is also connected to this root.