Thursday, 13 May, 2021 - 10:30 pm

You know the story of the man who came to the therapist for a very serious problem.

“How can I help you?” asks the therapist.

Yes, says the patient. Please tell me what time is it?

That’s why you came to me? Asks the therapist. Are you nuts? It’s three o'clock!

Patient: Oh, no! G-d help me.

Therapist: What's the matter?

Patient: I've been asking the time all day. And everybody gives me a different answer!...

It is one of those strange, intriguing, poignant, and profound Talmudic tales.

Rav Yehuda said: When Moses ascended on Mt. Sinai, he found the Holy One, sitting and tying crowns on the letters of the Torah.

Moses said before G-d: Master of the Universe! What is lacking in the words themselves that You must add crowns as well?

G-d said to him: There is a man who is destined to be born after several generations—Akiva the son of Yosef. He is destined to derive from each and every ‘thorn’ of these ‘crowns’ mounds of laws. It is for his sake that the crowns must be added to the letters of the Torah.

Moses said before G-d: Show him to me. G-d said to him: Turn around.

Suddenly, in a classic case of “back to the future,” Moses finds himself 1600 years ahead of his day. He went and sat at the end of the eighth row in Rabbi Akiva’s study hall.

Rabbi Akiva is teaching Torah to his disciples, but Moses does not understand what they are saying.

Moses’ strength waned; his energy departed from him. He was demoralized.

When Rabbi Akiva arrived at the discussion of a particular exposition, his students asked him: Master! From where do you derive this? Rabbi Akiva said to them: It is a law, transmitted to Moses from Sinai.

When Moses heard this, his mind was put at ease.

The entire story seems absurd.

For starters, how could Moses not comprehend the lecture of Rabbi Akiva? Moses studied on Mt. Sinai for forty days at the “feet” of the best teacher of all time, G-d Himself. He then personally taught the nation the entire Torah. Moses was the greatest mind and greatest leader of all time. How is it possible that Moses failed to grasp Reb Akiva’s lecture?

The Torah states: “Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth. How? Did he not know that G-d chose him, nobody else, to become the greatest leader and prophet in all of history? Moses’ humility didn’t come from ignorance. Rather, Moses saw all of his qualities and virtues as a Divine gift.

And what makes you calm down? That Reb Akiva quotes you?!

The Rebbe explains, what perturbed Moses was not Reb Akiva’s surpassing brilliance; nor did Moses have a problem grasping the intellectual ideas presented. What caused Moses pain, was something else completely.

The prerequisite for learning, absorbing, and teaching Torah is the complete dedication to the truth. When I want to become a Torah student, I must suspend my ego and all my agendas.

If I am looking for fame or honor, if I have agendas of any sort, intellectual, emotional, or psychological, I cannot be a true student of the Torah.

This is why one of the vital components of Judaism is the relationship between the teacher and the disciple. Throughout all of Jewish history, it was this relationship that was cherished and celebrated—the entire Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and all of Torah literature is based on it. It was the unequivocal dedication of the disciple to his or her Rebbe that guaranteed the authenticity of the transmission of the Torah from generation to generation.

One of the greatest Talmudic sages who was also the teacher of Reb Akiva, Reb Eliezer, once said:

One who says something that he did not hear from his Rebbe causes the Divine presence to depart from the Jewish people. Is this not overdramatic?

Reb Eliezer before giving an insight, before presenting a verdict, before making a decision, before teaching a novel idea, a student of Torah must ask himself this question: What would my Rebbe have said about this? Would he embrace it, would he reject it?

Devoid of this, says Reb Eliezer, the Divine presence departs from our midst. What allowed the Divine presence to remain among our people is the absolute and unwavering commitment to understand, learn and observe the full truth of the Divine Torah, not try to make it fit into my agendas or appetites of the moment. How? By the absolute commitment of the student to the Rebbe; and the Rebbe to his Rebbe, back to all the way to Moses.

A lovely lady asked Rabbi Adin Even Yisrael Z”L, who translated the entire Talmud, "how does it feel to have so much wisdom?"

He replied: "I don't know. But if I get to that level, I'll let you know."

Someone asked Rabbi Adin, which of his many books is his “favorite” Rabbi Adin has authored over 130 books. He replied, with a big smile: “The next one.”

That’s why Ethics of the Fathers begins, “Moses received Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets…” It should have said, “Moses received Torah from G-d?” Just as with all future generations, he mentions names, not places!

The sages are teaching us this: Moses learned how to receive Torah from Sinai, the humblest mountain in the region, which is why it merited that the Torah would be given on it. From this mountain, Moses learned that the most important ingredient to receive Torah is not brilliance, IQ, sharpness, creativity, etc. These are all important but secondary. Rather, the key ingredient which allows one to receive and absorb the truth of Torah is humility and self-effacement. It is my readiness to suspend my ego and listen to my Rebbe.

Enters Moses into the study hall, where Reb Akiva is presenting his Torah lecture to thousands, of students. Moses is observing, listening, and absorbing.

Reb Akiva, we know, was one of the most brilliant minds in Jewish history and is a wellspring, full of innovation, creativity, and novelty.

As Reb Akiva is presenting his wisdom, Moses is distressed. What eluded him were not the specifics of the class, but rather its connection to what was happening back at Sinai.

At this moment in time, sitting in his study hall, Moses observed Reb Akiva the brilliant teacher; the charismatic orator; the extraordinary scholar, the fearless and revolutionary captain of the ship; the genius, who knows the entire Torah. Wow.

But Moses did not see one thing: He did not see Reb Akiva the faithful student, the devoted disciple, the humble pupil.

This shook Moses to his core. He could not grasp the phenomenon. G-d told Moses that Reb Akiva would be the greatest Torah student, even greater than Moses, for he would discover the depths of each “crown” on the letters. Yet, as Moses is watching this great person teaching Torah, he could not see that single most important quality necessary to receive and transmit Torah—the “Sinai” component, the absolute humility, and self-effacing submission. How can the two go together?

And then suddenly, Reb Akiva presented an idea. It is daring, creative, brilliant, grandeur. Yet his students challenge his very premise, the foundation upon which it’s all based. They try to refute it logically. “How do you know this?” they ask him.

Reb Akiva exclaims: “This is a law given to Moses at Sinai.”

And, in a single instance, Moses was at ease.

When confronted with that ultimate question, “What’s this all based on?”—Reb Akiva has one answer: This is what Moses received at Sinai. No questions asked. The buck stops here.

At the moment of truth, Moses saw that Rab Akiva has a teacher!

The lesson is profound and powerful. G-d wants us to be creative, resourceful, original, and innovative. G-d wants us to actualize all of our gifts, talents, resources, and potentials. Yet for all of this to endure—we must always have a rock-solid foundation, upon which we can build our mansions. We must have the courage and the depth to be able to declare: MOSES RECEIVED FROM SINAI. This is the truth, that nothing and nobody will change, and I am ready to submit to it. Then, and only then, will they endure forever?

A Story: The fourth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel, had a certain Chassid who was a successful businessman. Before undertaking any significant deal, he always consulted the Rebbe and followed his instructions.

One time, the chassid was offered a fabulous opportunity. If successful -- and most certainly it would be -- he would make millions. The deal, however, required that he invest almost his entire fortune. As he never would consider making such a major move without the Rebbe's advice and blessing, he set off to Lubavitch to speak to the Rebbe.

The Rebbe listened carefully to the details of the proposition, but then told him that he should not go through with the deal.

The chassid was stunned. He tried to convince the Rebbe that this was a sound proposal; he described all of the great profits to be made, but to no avail. The Rebbe's answer was final: NO!

A few days later, the would-be business partners came to the chassid. When they heard that he was not interested, based upon the Rebbe's answer, they laughed at him. "Certainly, you didn't understand the Rebbe's words," they chided. "Or maybe there were some important details you left out that would solicit a different answer. Go back to the Rebbe and make sure to tell him all the details. You'll see, the answer will be different this time."

Back to Lubavitch the chassid went. "Rebbe," he pleaded, "obviously I did not explain myself well enough last time. We're talking about tremendous sums of money. I can become rich overnight and give much tzedaka as well."

The Rebbe listened patiently once again. At the end of the "presentation," his answer was simple and direct: "No. It's not worthwhile."

The chassid made his way home, thinking about all the money he could have made if only the Rebbe would have agreed. "The Rebbe doesn't even explain his reasons," thought the chasid.

But his friends and family wouldn't let up. "It's forbidden to lose such an opportunity," they cried. "Go back to the Rebbe again and certainly the answer will be different."

In his third attempt, the chassid tried everything, even begging the Rebbe to let him make the deal, but the Rebbe answered once again, "No."

When the chasid came home, he couldn't stand up to the pressure of family and friends, and contrary to the Rebbe's advice, he signed the deal. He quieted his conscience by telling himself that he would now give really a lot of charity.

Unfortunately, things did not go well. In a short while, the chassid lost all his money.

The chassid realized how wrong it was to not have followed the Rebbe's instruction. Full of regret, he made his way back a fourth time to see the Rebbe.

The chassid spent a long time in private with the Rebbe. When he came out, he revealed only one thing the Rebbe had told him.

"There are people," said the Rebbe, "big businessmen among them, who come to ask my advice concerning important matters. Sometimes the issues are quite complex; matters which I have never engaged in, nor did my ancestors. So then why do they ask me my advice, and follow my instructions and counsel?

"There are three possible answers, each one matching a different type of Jew who comes to me.

"One person thinks, 'It's very simple. The Rebbe has Divine Inspiration! He is a G-dly man, a prophet. It is G-d's words coming from his mouth and therefore we must follow him, no questions asked!'

"Another type," continued the Rebbe, "is a person who operates on a different level. 'The Rebbe studies Torah all the time and serves G-d with his entire being. His intellect is totally aligned to G-d's Will. Therefore, everything he says stems from Torah, and certainly his words will be fulfilled.'

"The third type," explained the Rebbe, "says, 'The Rebbe meets so many people, from all over the world and from all walks of life. He has acquired an incredibly broad knowledge of worldly matters. With this knowledge and his ability to see things from many different angles, the Rebbe sees what others cannot. Therefore, we must listen to him.

"Whichever group you might belong to," the Rebbe concluded, "you should never have gone through with the deal after hearing from me not once, not twice, but three times clearly 'no!'"

This may also be the significance of Reb Akiva explaining the crowns. The crown is above the head and the mind; Reb Akiva is loyal to the truth of Torah transcending his own logic and intellect.

As the story continues, Moses wonders why Reb Akiva is not giving the Torah, and G-d says to Moses: “Be silent, this is My thought.” Torah does not begin with logic; it begins with Divine truth, which transcends logic. It begins with human silence, not human expression.

And Reb Akiva grasps this, too, more than anyone else.

Reb Akiva did not have to understand everything. He knew full well that the ways of history are mysterious and the journeys of life are sometimes unfathomable. He had a foundation of faith and conviction that trumped all else. On that solid foundation, he can build mounds and mounds of love, beauty, and truth, which inspire us to this very day.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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