This week’s Parsha features the single greatest event in humankind – i.e., the Am Yisrael’s acceptance of the Torah and Hashem’s Divine Revelation associated therewith. For those who know their history, however, we are aware of at least two other momentous occasions where the Am Yisrael was mekabel the Torah anew – namely: (1) the first Yom Kippur where the Torah was “re-accepted” amidst an atmosphere of sincere Teshuvah; and (2) generations hence during the times of Mordechai HaTzaddik and Queen Esther when the Torah as “re-accepted” in the wake of the miraculous rescue of the Jewish People from the cross-hairs of Haman’s “Final Solution.”
What was unique about the Am Yisrael’s “renewed” commitment to the Torah during the Purim epoch? In the terse words of Chazal, this new commitment to Torah was fueled by “ahavah.”
About ten years ago, we made our annual delivery of meshalach manos to various Rabbis, Talmidei Chachamim and Rosh Hayeshivos as part and parcel of the Purim festivities. All the while, I kept one inquiry in my back pocket and optimistically yearned for an appropriate time to ask (and be answered) amidst the whirlwind of Purim — a day that rarely allows for quiet moments of introspection.
Lo and behold, when I visited Rabbi Rokowsky, the Rosh Hayeshiva of Ohr Somayach, his home was surprisingly quiet as the onslaught of visitors had not yet begun to trickle in. Here was my moment, “Rosh Hayeshiva,” I asked, “what’s the difference between accepting the Torah at Sinai and accepting the Torah out of love during the days of Mordechai and Esther? After all, it’s the same Torah. At the end of the day, what’s the real gain?”
In his inimitable style he guided me to a profound answer a’la left field.
“Jared, do you like baseball?” the Rosh Hayeshiva inquired.
“Well, I used to be into it more …. Less so, nowadays.”
“Did you root for the Mets or Yankees?” “Mets.”
“What was the peak of your interest?” “I would say 1986, 1987, thereabouts.”
“OK, who played first base?” “Keith Hernandez.”
“Second base?” “Wally Backman.”
“Third base?” “Ray Knight” …. And so it went as I proceeded to rattle off the entire infield, outfield and pitching staff as if I were reading it off Coach Davey Johnson’s scorecard. What exactly the 1986 Mets had to do with Purim was still beyond me (and I was sober). What in the world did Mookie Wilson have to do with Mordechai HaTzaddik?
Little did I realize it, but Rabbi Rokowsky had led me right to the crux of the matter. He then asked, “When was the last time you thought about that?” “Uhhh. I don’t know, five years, ten years … not for a long time.” “The reason you recalled it so quickly and clearly, the reason that information was at your fingertips, the reason that knowledge became a part of you … is because you took to it out of love!! And that is the difference between accepting the Torah out of love.”
Ever hear part of a song while waiting on line in the bank – a song you haven’t heard in ages – and you instantaneously and effortlessly start singing the very next stanza to “Hotel California” or “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” I suppose the very same explanation applies. Those lyrics were internalized out of love. And so, they remain on the hard drive for years to come. Even though we’re constantly forgetting infinitely more important things like our PIN codes, anniversary and what the Rabbi had to say in shul on Shabbos morning.
The study of Torah and our attempt to implement Its’ timeless laws, morals and values into our lives is a lifelong endeavor for each and every member of the Am Yisrael. We seek to fulfill the same 613 Mitzvos. We read the same Parshiyos. We study the same Seferim. We daven the same Tefillos.
What separates one person’s “rote observance” from another’s “heart-felt dedication” often boils down to whether or not an X-factor exists (and if so, to what degree). That X-factor is Love. Love of Hashem. Love of His Torah. Love of His People. And the concomitant deep-seated appreciation for the opportunity to serve Hashem out of love.
As Yidden we are encouraged (perhaps expected) to re-accept the Torah each and every day with renewed enthusiasm. To this end, every morning our davening includes a request to Hashem to “instill in our hearts to understand … to listen, learn, teach … and fulfill all the words of Your Torah…” – and not just ho-hum – but “with love.” Who can estimate the gains to be acquired by pouring some additional octane into those words?
For when our acceptance of the Torah is infused with love, it can permeate our beings – our heart, mind and soul – to a greater degree and thereby jettison the toil we are already undertaking and elevate it to a “labor of love.”