The Spirit of Sinai by Rabbi Hershel Solnica


Parshat Behar begins with a famous comment by Rashi on the words בהר סיני (25:1),  ,מה שמיטה מסיני אף כולן נאמר בסיני “As all the detail of Shmittah is written at Sinai, so every detail of the oral Torah is from Sinai.”  This basic approach to Mitzvot, which range from Chukim (ritual rules) to Mishpatim (logical regulations), is a subtle lesson of learning to follow not only the commandments of the Torah, but also the spirit and essence of the Mitzvot.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab, zt”l, in his מעין בית השואבה, notes that the Torah teaches usלא תונו איש את עמיתו , “One may not fool his fellow man by verbally misleading him” (25:17).  But the Torah also teaches us לפני עור לא תתן מכשל, “Do not put a stumbling block before a blind man” (19:14).  Rabbi Schwab points out that in Behar, the Torah underscores not just the blatantly vile and ugly mistreatment of the unknowing blind man, but also the equally sinful behavior of tricking or deceiving even the sharpest or wisest person. 

This Mussar is a powerful statement of what the goal of a Jew should be.  It is not what you do, but how you do it that is of fundamental importance.  This applies to Tzedaka and every facet of life.

Shabbat, for example, can be looked upon as a day to sleep late and “lounge around” without any purpose.  It should be a day of Kedusha, a day for families to bond with each other and learn the wealth of our heritage.  Woe to the Jew who is not blessed with a Shulchan Aruch, a table with a warm family singing Zemirot and discussing Torah and topics of daily living.

This even applies to schoolwork.  One can do homework to survive the exams or one can view school as an opportunity to discover options of life, vocation, and personal fulfillment.  In many disciplines, such as math and science, one can also learn to profoundly appreciate the greatness of Hashem by learning the incredible formulas, equations, and rules of nature and science.

We as humans have a golden opportunity to catch the Spirit of Sinai rather than follow its rules without “Geshmak” (joyous intent).

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