Through The Eyes of a Woman
Vaes'chanan: Know Him in All Your Ways
One of the sections in this week's parshah, Vaes'chanan, is the
Shema. It delineates some of the most fundamental concepts of Judaism, such
as the unity of HaShem, the mitzvah to love G-d, the mitzvah
to study Torah, and teach it to our children.
When should you be occupied with Torah study? The verse mentions four states,
or different times: When you are sitting at home; when you're going on your way;
when you lie down; and when you rise up. This is the simple, conventional explanation
of the words. The verse therefore talks about a person's day -- there
is a certain amount of time which one spends sitting at home. For most of us this
is usually in the evening, or from early evening until bedtime. You return from
your day at work, and you stay at home. "Going on your way" is usually what people
do during the day, going to work, when at work, and coming home from work. "When
you lie down," -- this is obviously at night, at the end of the day, and
"when you rise up" is obviously in the morning, the beginning of the day. The plain
meaning of the text is thus that Torah is not to be relegated to one small part
of your day, such as when you're sitting in your house. It has to permeate your
entire day, from the moment you arise, until the moment you go to sleep.
When the Haskalah Movement (the 18th-19th century intellectual movement among
Central and East European Jews, which aimed to "modernize" Jews and Judaism by encouraging
the adoption of secular European culture) swept through the Jewish world, a certain
attitude to Judaism became prevalent: "Be a Jew at home, if you so wish, but a
mensch -- respectable person -- in the streets." If you
want to be a frum Jew, that's for the house. Within your home, with your
family, put on your yarmulke, learn Torah, do mitzvos. But when you
go out into the world, to your job, be a mensch. You don't have to flaunt
your Yiddishkeit in front of gentiles, in front of other people. But this
is diametrically opposed to what it says in the Shema. "When you go out on
your way, don't forget about Torah. Take your Torah in your pocket book. Make sure
that Torah is with you wherever you go, on your travels, in your business."
One of the most beautiful sights I will always remember from my childhood is
a certain Lubavitcher Jewish storekeeper that we had in my neighborhood. When there
were no customers he would take out a sefer. No customers? You don't read
the daily paper or just twiddle your fingers. You could learn a real wealth of things
in the ten minute gaps between customers. Torah is part of a Jew wherever you are.
The saintly Rebbe Rayatz, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, offered another very insightful
cosmic explanation of this verse. He points out that as regards the activity
of learning Torah, there are several levels and there are several stages. At every
stage of a person's existence Torah is part of it. "When you are sitting at home"
is the status of the soul above, prior to its descent below into this physical,
secular world. There, in Gan Eden, it sits before G-d and learns Torah constantly.
Alternatively, the verse could be interpreted as the status of a person in the
womb, which may also be called, "sitting at home." When a woman is pregnant, the
Gemara tells us, the child in the womb is taught the entire Torah. Moreover,
"a candle is kindled above its head, and it sees from one end of the world to the
other." The verse thus refers to the period of a person's life before he is born
when he is wholly and totally occupied with learning Torah.
The next stage, "when you're going on your way," refers to the time when the
soul descends from the world above to the world below, from level to level, until
it enters a physical body in this lowly world. Here, through Torah study in this
world, it learns how to progress (walk) in spiritual matters, and even in material
matters when they are for the sake of Heaven. This is not really the natural way
of the soul, whose real habitat is above. When the soul is born into a body, it
has to learn to deal with a new world, and nevertheless remain faithful to HaShem.
This is the mission of the soul here in this world.
As the soul leaves its heavenly abode, and is born in the earthly sphere, it
must go through a number of descents. At each level it is taught the Torah as appropriate
to that level. Once the child is born in this world, you must start teaching him
kamatz alef -- oh; Bereishis barah Elokim --
"In the beginning G-d created..." That's a much lower level than it was capable
of learning before it was born. So the Torah then has to be adapted to the soul
in a body. But the end result of the soul's descent into this world, where it learns
the Torah of this world and does the physical mitzvos, is that the soul achieves
an ascent to beyond the level where it stood prior to its descent into this world.
The descent is for the sake of a much greater ascent.
The next stage is "when you lie down." This is the day on which a person's soul
is recalled to its supernal realm, when he lies down in his grave. Even at that
time, he continues to "study" Torah, as it states explicitly in Pirkei Avos
(6:9): Even when a person is in his grave, awaiting the Resurrection of the Dead,
all of the Torah that he learned in his lifetime guards him and watches over him.
When a person dies, as you all know, nothing material that he acquired in this
world goes with him. His house, his car, he leaves it all behind. Nothing that he
amassed in his earthly existence goes into the grave. But his Torah and his good
deeds do accompany him.
Perhaps some of you have read these stories about the graves of saintly tzaddikim
which, for some reason, had to be moved. There are several recorded incidents of
bodies which were exhumed and were found to be intact tens and even hundreds of
years after their passing.
I heard something very unusual in that line. Apparently when the Germans came
to Lyzhansk, in Poland, they heard rumors that Jews used to bury gold and silver
in their graves. They went to the grave of Reb Elimelech of Lyzhansk, a famous
tzaddik, and they opened it up. When they opened it up they found inside
a little man with a brown beard, who looked like he was sleeping. In terror, they
dropped their shovels and fled. That night, Jews from the town went to the cemetery
in order to cover up the exposed grave. There they saw the body of Rabbi Elimelech,
completely untouched, without a spot of decomposition. A person who was a Torah
Yid in his life, remains one even in his grave. Elsewhere, the Gemara
adds that when someone learns the teachings of a Tzaddik, the lips of the
body in the grave whisper the words of Torah together with the person learning them.
Besides the fact that the body that is in the kever (grave) is guarded
and protected by the Torah that a person learned in his lifetime, the soul meanwhile
is in heaven learning Torah.
The next stage -- "And when you rise up" -- obviously refers
to the era of the Resurrection of the Dead. This too, is one of the fundamentals
of our faith. Every Jew, no matter how long he's been in his grave, will awaken
with the Resurrection at the time of Mashiach. Then, the Torah will again
be on a totally different level. There won't be all of the limitations that make
it so difficult for us now to learn Torah. Why is it so hard for us to learn Torah
now? Because we have so many other things on our minds. A man has parnassah;
a woman, if she can run out Monday morning for an hour, she feels so great that
she got in a little shiur. But how can we sit all day and learn Torah? We
just don't have the time or the ability or there's so much else that's distracting
us. However, when Mashiach comes, all of these other things that are weighing
us down and preventing us from truly concentrating -- even just the idea
of physical tiredness and all the other things that are hindrances to true Torah
learning, will not be problems in the times of the Mashiach. Besides the
fact that when Mashiach comes, the Midrash states that "a new Torah
will come forth from Me," which means that all of the secrets of the Torah which
had been hidden for all the years of exile will be revealed. In other words, not
only will we be different, but the Torah itself will be of a much, much deeper and
clearer and higher quality than anyone has ever known. May it be speedily in our
Next time you say Shema you can think of this explanation as well!