Partnering with Hashem by Rabbi Josh Kahn


A fascinating Midrash in Shemot Rabah portrays the giving of the Luchot. The Midrash describes that the Luchot were 6 Tefachim tall. Hashem grasped the top two Tefachim, Moshe held the bottom two, and the middle two served as a separation between Hashem and Moshe. What is the meaning of this Midrash? What is this image trying to convey to us regarding the role of the Torah?

Mitzvot can be divided into three categories. Some Mitzvot are fulfilled in our mind. For example, we are commanded to believe in God, a commandment of the mind. A second category of Mitzvot relate to speech. In the Aseret HaDibrot we are commanded to sanctify Shabbat, and we do so with words. Finally, there are some Mitzvot that relate to our actions, such as shaking a Lulav, or blowing a Shofar. The Sochatchover Rebbe, in an essay about Shavu’ot in his Sefer Sheim MiShmuel, points out that we have varying degrees of control over these three categories of Mitzvot. We have limited control over our thoughts. Sometimes a person’s thoughts may wander, even against his will. Actions are on the other extreme. They are fully within one’s control. Speech is in the middle. On the one hand, it is within a person’s control. On the other hand, sometimes a person tries to express himself, but it is up to God how the words will come out. For this reason, we often pray that our words should come out accurately (Mishlei 16:1).

This model can be seen in the Midrash’s description of the Luchot. The upper two Tefachim, grasped by Hashem, represent the Mitzvot of our mind. The bottom two Tefachim, held by Moshe, represent our actions. The middle two Tefachim are not fully in Hashem’s, nor our, hands. It is a partnership.

On a practical level, the Midrash is illustrating that these three categories work in consonance. It is our responsibility to take care of what we can. If we take control of our actions and direct them towards the service of Hashem, than Hashem meets us halfway and helps with the rest.

Rav Paysach Krohn relates a remarkable story. Rav Yosef Gutfarb lived in Yerushalayim and was very strict in ensuring that he always Davened with a Minyan. Since he lived in Yerushalayim, this practice was easy to uphold; there was a “Minyan factory” in Mei’ah She’arim where Rav Gutfarb could find a Minyan at any time. He maintained this practice for over 30 years. But one night, he had several projects he needed to complete and did not finish work until close to 3:00 p.m. He went straight to the “Minyan factory,” but unfortunately, found only one other man there. Rav Gutfarb waited for a few minutes and went outside to see if he could find anyone, but there was no such luck. The other man turned to Rav Gutfarb and told him that he thought they would not get a Minyan that night. Rav Gutfarb asked him to wait five minutes and give him a chance. Suddenly, Rav Gutfarb pulled out his cell phone and started dialing.

“Hi, I need eight taxis, all with Israeli drivers,” said Rav Gutfarb. The best the company could do was send five. So Rav Gutfarb called another company and asked them to send an additional three taxis. When the eight taxis pulled up, the drivers got out of their cars with a quizzical look. This did not look like a wedding hall, but why else would someone need eight taxis at 3 am?

Rav Gutfarb came out to greet them and explained that each driver should go back to their cab, turn on the meter, grab a Kippah, if they had one, and come inside. They all followed his instructions. Rav Gutfarb gave them each a Sidur and they Davened Ma'ariv together. The special Minyan was made up of eight not fully observant Israeli taxi drivers, Rabbi Gutfarb, and the other stranger at the “Minyan factory.”

When Ma’ariv ended, Rav Gutfarb approached each taxi driver to follow through on his end of the deal. As he tried to pay them, each driver responded that he should be the one paying Rav Gutfarb for the inspirational experience he provided. With that, they refused his money and drove off.

Just as the Sheim MiShmuel illustrated, when Rav Gutfarb committed to purity of action and doing everything that was in his control, Hashem helped provide Rav Gutfarb with a creative solution. If we follow through on what is asked of us, Hashem will help us complete the task.

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