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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bamidbar-Shavuous: Every person, every moment, and every place "counts"
We always read the warnings two weeks before Shavuous and Rosh Hashanah. We do not want to read about the calamities just before the festivals. Rabbi Feinstein explains that the Torah indicates that everyone who is counted should realize his self-worth. Rabbi Paysach Krohn talks about the famous symphony conductor, Arturo Toscanini. Rabbi Moshe Plutchok teaches that the Conductor of the World Symphony knows every note of music that should come forth. Every word of Torah that is studied, every prayer that is uttered, and every mitzvah that is fulfilled, makes a difference. "We should always perform on the highest level of our capability for the Conductor of the World Symphony." Every time we sit down to study Torah, fulfill a mitzvah, or pray, it has a cosmic impact both down here in this world, as well as in the upper spiritual world. Just like every person "counts", every day "counts" and has the potential to make a difference. Just as every person and every day "counts", every place has the potential to be utilized for a lofty and significant purpose. When we follow G'd's instructions, we sanctify ourselves, the time and the place, whenever and wherever we are.
Two weeks before
In last week's Torah Attitude, we quoted from the Talmud (Megillah 31b) that Ezra arranged the parashios of the Torah so that we read the warnings in Parashas Bechukosai before Shavuous, and the warnings in Parashas Ki Savo before Rosh Hashanah, as an omen that all the calamities mentioned in these warnings shall be gone before Shavuous and Rosh Hashanah. One of the early commentaries (Tosafos) points out that we always read the warnings two weeks before Shavuous and Rosh Hashanah, for we do not want to read about the calamities just before the festivals.
Each one counts
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that there might be an additional reason why we read Bechukosai two weeks before Shavuous, for in this way we read Parashas Bamidbar on the last Shabbos before Shavuous. In Parashas Bamidbar the Torah describes how G'd instructed Moses to count the Jewish people. Rabbi Feinstein points out that the Torah uses the word "se'ooh" as an expression of counting. The literal translation of this word is "elevate". Rabbi Feinstein explains that the Torah uses this expression to indicate that everyone who was counted should realize his self-worth. The census included the greatest leaders and scholars, as well as the most simple. Each one "counted" and was significant. We all stand equal before G'd. Each of us can do our best to utilize our full potential, and in G'd's Eye that is all that "counts". Rabbi Feinstein explains that although Moses was a greater prophet than Aaron, the Torah still considers them equal, for both of them did their best. That is why we find sometimes Moses is mentioned before Aaron, and other times Aaron is mentioned first (see Shemos 6:26 and 27). No one is too insignificant to make a difference, says Rabbi Feinstein.
A few years ago, I heard the famous author and beloved speaker, Rabbi Paysach Krohn, at a parlour meeting. He told a story and brought out a beautiful point that illustrates the significance of every person doing their thing (the story has since been printed by Artscroll in Rabbi Krohn's book "In the Splendour of the Maggid").
Rabbi Krohn told about an accomplished writer who was working on a biography of the famous symphony conductor, Arturo Toscanini. One day the writer called Toscanini and asked if he could come over the following night. The great maestro told him that he could not meet that night, as he was planning to listen to a concert on the radio of an orchestra that he had conducted himself the previous year. The writer asked if he could join him and discuss the concert after it was over. Toscanini agreed on condition that he would not disturb him during the concert. The next night they listened together to the orchestra's performance, and when it was finished the writer said, "Wasn't that magnificent?" "No, it wasn't", Toscanini answered sternly. "There were supposed to be 120 musicians, among them 15 violinists, but only 14 were present." The writer could not believe his ears, but did not dare question the great maestro. However, he wanted to investigate to verify if Toscanini was right. The next morning, he called the director of the orchestra and asked him how many musicians were supposed to be in the orchestra, and how many had actually shown up. The director told him that there were supposed to be 120 musicians, but one of the 15 violinists called in sick. The writer was in awe and could not understand how Toscanini could have noticed that one violin was missing. That night he returned to Toscanini and asked him how he was able to discern the missing violin in an orchestra of 120 musicians. Toscanini answered with authority and said, "There is a great difference between you and me. As part of the general audience, everything sounds great to you. But I, being a conductor, must know every sound that comes forth from the orchestra. When I heard the concert, I noticed that some notes were missing, and I knew immediately that one violinist was missing."
Every note makes a difference
Rabbi Krohn told this story in the name of Rabbi Moshe Plutchok from Yeshiva Derech Chaim in Brooklyn, who had heard it on a Jewish radio station. Rabbi Plutchok used this story to teach an amazing insight. We may not discern the difference when we or someone else is studying Torah or observing a commandment, for we are all part of the general audience. But to the Conductor of the World Symphony, Who knows every note that should come forth, to Him every word of Torah that is studied, every prayer that is uttered, and every mitzvah that is fulfilled, makes a difference.
Rabbi Krohn concluded and said, "We are all musicians in G'd's Orchestra. In an orchestra, the drummer is not expected to play the cello, the cellist should not play the flute, and the flutist cannot play the violin. Each one must play his own instrument to the best of his ability. This is how it is in real life. We are all different, and we must all perform with the talents, mindset and personalities we were blessed with. We should perform on the highest level of our capability for the Conductor of the World Symphony."
This is a most important lesson we all need to internalize before we renew our acceptance of the Torah on Shavuous. Every time we sit down to study Torah, fulfill a mitzvah, or pray, it has a cosmic impact both down here in this world, as well as in the upper spiritual world.
Every moment counts
Just like every person counts, every day counts and has the potential to make a difference. We mentioned last week that we count sefira towards Shavuous counting up and not down, like the usual custom when we count towards an important event. We explained that in this way we show that every day is significant. The Torah teaches us to utilize every day and every moment of our day to the fullest. Life is too precious to waste or "kill" time. This is a second lesson we must internalize in preparation to accept the Torah on Shavuous.
Every place counts
Finally, just as every person and every day "counts" and can make a difference, every place has the potential to be utilized for a lofty and significant purpose. In the beginning of this week's parasha the Midrash Rabba (1:6) points out that the Torah was given in the wilderness. Before the revelation at Mount Sinai, it was a barren, desolate, non-descript place. At the time G'd gave us the Torah there, it instantly became the venue for the most significant event in the history of mankind. This teaches us that every place has potential. It all depends on how we utilize it.
Renew our acceptance of Torah
When we follow G'd's instructions, we sanctify ourselves, the time and the place, whenever and wherever we are. These are three important lessons we must learn and internalize to prepare ourselves to renew our acceptance of the Torah on Shavuous.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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