Wednesday, 27 May, 2020 - 3:37 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 in the name of Rav: When Moses ascended on High (after the giving of the Torah), he found the Holy One, sitting and tying crowns on the letters of the Torah.

Moses said before G-d: Master of the Universe! Who is preventing You from giving the Torah without these additions? 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 is his name. He is destined to derive from each and every ‘thorn’ of these ‘crowns’ mounds upon 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: Master of the Universe! 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. Everything that they knew, they received from him. Moses was the greatest mind and the greatest leader of all time. How is it possible that Moses failed to grasp Reb Akiva’s lecture?

What is even stranger is Moses’ response. When he fails to understand, his strength wanes; his energy is deflated. But then when Reb Akiva quotes him—"it is a law transmitted to Moses from Sinai—his mind is put at ease… What are we to make of this? Was Moshe’s ego first shattered by his lack of understanding and then placated by hearing his name quoted? Is Moses relieved by the fact that he finally gets a mention in a class that he cannot follow?!

If it were not Moses, I can understand this well. Yet this is untenable when it comes to Moses. The Torah states: “Now this man Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth.” How does the Talmudic story fit the bill of the humblest man on earth?

Let’s take this one step further. How indeed was Moses the humblest person alive? Was he unaware of his extraordinary greatness? Did he not know that G-d chose him, nobody else, to become the greatest leader and prophet in all of history? Did he not know that he was the one who transmitted the Torah to the world?

Moses’ humility didn’t come from ignorance. Rather, Moses saw all of his qualities and virtues as a Divine gift. He did not own them, and they were not of his making.

Moses believed that had someone else been granted similar gifts, that individual might have actualized them even more than Moses.


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.

Reish Lakish said: the words of Torah will not endure and be retained only by one who is ready to die for it.

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.

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 over dramatic?

Reb Eliezer is conveying one of the most powerful messages which has sustained Jewish history and the eternity of the Torah. At every point of his tenure, before giving an insight, 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?

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.

By the absolute commitment of the student to the Rebbe; and the Rebbe to his Rebbe, back to his Rebbe, all the way back to Moses 3,333 years ago.

A lovely lady asked Rabbi Adin Even Yisroel (Steinsaltz), 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 Steinsaltz has authored over 130 books). He replied, with a big smile: “The next one.”

Rabbi Adin once said:

Frogs have a natural ability to inflate themselves when they so desire. Elephants, on the other hand, were not blessed with this ability.

Why? Because frogs are small. So they oftentimes feel a need to inflate and aggrandize themselves. Elephants, on the other hand, are enormous. Everyone can notice them. And so there's no need for them to inflate themselves.

The same is true with human beings. Those of us who are mentally and spiritually small, feel a need to “inflate” ourselves too, with arrogance, so that we can appear bigger than what we really are. But those of us who are mentally and spiritually “big”, remain humble. We do not need to “inflate” ourselves. On the contrary, we know that the deepest greatness is humility.

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.


May we celebrate Shavuot and internalize the lesson of the Torah, who is really in charge of this world forever.


Chag Shavuot Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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