28 May 2020

Celebration of Da’as

Dedicated in memory of Gil Goodman, a”h. 
An avid shul-goer, he was also very good to all of his friends. 
He will missed and may his family be comforted from their loss. 
Sharon Grossman Lazar and Family

Celebration of Da’as

WE ARE ABOUT celebrate the holiday of Shavuos, otherwise known as, “Zman Toraseinu—the Time of our Torah.” It is the second of the “Shalosh Regalim,” 50 days after Pesach and about half a year before Succos. As the second name indicates, it is the time we celebrate our receiving of Torah at Mt. Sinai, on the sixth day of Sivan, 2448, or 1313 BCE.

The only problem is that we didn’t actually receive all “our Torah” on the sixth of Sivan of that year. We had received some of laws at Marah just prior to then, Sefer Bereishis and Sefer Shemos, from the beginning of the exodus up until the giving of the Torah, by the fifth of Sivan, and the Ten Commandments on the sixth of Sivan. We weren’t supposed to receive the rest of Torah, with the vast majority of the 613 mitzvos, until 40 days later, on the 16th of Tammuz. That was when Moshe Rabbeinu was scheduled to return with the first set of tablet that had been “carved out by   G–D and engraved by G–D.”

We lost that opportunity when the Erev Rav built the golden calf. Consequently, though Moshe came down the mountain with the first set of tablets, he ended up smashing them before we could receive them, when he saw the sinning going on in the camp below. It would take another 80 days to convince   G–D to forgive the people and present the nation with a second set of tablets and the rest of the Torah.

So what are we really celebrating on Shavuos, when many stay up all night just to learn Torah and    “re-receive” it on a personal level? 

Another question. G–D told Moshe before he descended the mountain what to expect in the camp below. In fact, He dismissed Moshe for that very reason, blaming him for taking out the Erev Rav who caused all the trouble. So why did Moshe take the tablets with him, and not just leave them on the mountain until everything in the camp below was made right?

After all, we would never consider throwing down a Sefer Torah to make any point to any congregation. On the contrary, if the person picking up the Sefer Torah looks unsteady, people will dive to support the Torah and protect it from falling. And a Sefer Torah is only animal parchment prepared by man and written on by man. The tablets were carved out and written by G–D!

There’s an additional question. According to the Midrash, the letters flew up off the tablets once Moshe Rabbeinu saw what was going on down below. Until that time, the tablets had basically carried themselves, because no human being could have carried that much stone in their arms. The words engraved on them gave them a miraculous quality.

Yet the Torah says that Moshe threw the tablets down. It sounds more as if they threw themselves down once the Jewish people lost the merit to receive them. How is the midrash reconciled with the actual verse from the Torah? And why did G–D thank Moshe as if he did in fact threw them down and broke them?

There is one answer to all these questions: da’as. Not just any da’as, but the kind alluded to here, in the fourth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrai:

You graciously bestow da’as on man and teach mortals understanding…Blessed are You, G–D, gracious Bestower of da’as.

The average person would probably interpret this to mean that learning anything is a gift from G–D, and they are right. Many people are born impaired in one way or another, preventing them from being able to learn such a central part of a fulfilling life. And since we have little or no control over our born abilities and health, we have to consider it a great gift to have any of either.

That’s why the average person can say this blessing quickly and without much consideration. It’s not that they do not agree with it. It’s that, since they can very easily get additional knowledge, they don’t feel that dependent on G–D to learn. And with online education today, even less so.

The above-average person knows otherwise. They agree that ALL learning is a gift, as much a part of every day life it is for the average person. But they also know that having da’as is only the first level of miracle, and the less obvious one. They know that there is something beyond small-d da’as. There is capital-d da’asDa’as.
This is the Da’as that Shlomo HaMelech tells us about when he writes:

If you want it like money and pursue it like treasures, then…Da’as Elokim you will find. (Mishlei 2:4-5)

Hmm. I love knowledge. I love to learn. But I can’t say that the last time I was to driven to attend a class was equal to my drive for money, or for any buried treasure I might happen to find out about. I wish. On the contrary, it is not unlike me to find a book I need and casually look at it with a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.

But “Da’as Elokim” is a different story. I know that it is not something easily achieved. I know that it is a portal to higher realms of understanding. I understand that it is a level of wisdom that goes far beyond any other knowledge known to man, and that you just can’t get it when you want to. Only G–D decides who gets access to this level of da’as, no matter how hard they try on their own.
This is alluded to here:

G–D saw that the light was good, and G–D separated between the light and the darkness. (Berei-shis 1:4)
G–D separated: He saw that the wicked were unworthy of using [the light] and therefore set it apart for the righteous in the future time (Chagigah 12a). (Rashi)

He made a separation in the illumination of the light, that it should not flow or give off light except for the righteous, whose actions draw it down and make it emanate. However, the actions of the evil block it, leaving them in darkness, and this itself was the hiding of the light. (Sefer HaKlallim, Klal 18, Anaf 8:4)

Hence, the light’s Kabbalistic name and nature, “Ohr HaGanuz—Hidden Light.” It originates so high up in the “system,” on a level called “Da’as Elyon—Upper Da’as,” that we could never access while still in the physical body we currently have. This is what G–D basically told Moshe Rabbeinu:

"You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” (Shemos 33:20)

A person’s face is one of the highest levels on the body. More importantly, it reveals on the outside what is hidden on the inside, as the Hebrew word “panim” alludes. That level of Divine revelation awaits in much later periods of history, well into Olam HaBa—the World-to-Come. 

In the meantime, we can only access aspects of that light, each person according to their spiritual worthiness. Just as glasses can improve and sharpen a person’s vision of reality, and therefore their interpretation of it, the Ohr HaGanuz does the same thing for the mind’s eye.

It’s difficult for people to comprehend that what they “see” is not necessarily the truth about what exists, even though they experience examples of this everyday. How many witnesses have testified to have seen something that, in the end, had been an incorrect interpretation? How many times have people sworn to have seen something that, in the end, had never really been there? It happens all the time and to just about anyone.

So often mistaken perceptions are not a function of poor or limited eyesight. Everything that could have physically been seen was seen. They are a function of missing information, or a misunderstanding of known information, the result of which is a mental distortion of the hard cold facts. 

The danger of this is obvious. It is one thing to be wrong about life. It is something far more dangerous to be wrong about life and think you are right about it. It is one thing to lie. It is more insidious to lie and think it is the actual truth. Without Da’as, this happens all the time, and rather automatically, thanks to the yetzer hara.

This all changed for the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai. But it happened at a moment, one that is famous but not for this, per se. The Jewish people gained the right to Da’as Elokim here, at this moment:

He [Moshe] took the Book of the Covenant and read it within the hearing of the people, and they said, “All that G–D said, we will do and we will hear.” (Shemos 24:7)

It doesn’t seem like much, and perhaps, what anyone would have said under the circumstances. But the Talmud says otherwise:

Rebi Simai taught: When the Jewish said, “We will do” before “We will hear,” 600,000 ministering angels came and tied two crowns to each member of the Jewish people, one corresponding to “We will do” and one corresponding to “We will hear.” (Shabbos 88a)

That was quite a reaction from Heaven. In fact, the Talmud says, G–D even refers to their answer as the “secret of angels.” As the Talmud points out elsewhere, most people would never agree to do anything as comprehensive as Torah without first knowing all the details. Somehow, when the Jewish people answered as they did, it was with a level of da’as that superseded that of mortal men, and they even became immortal as a result. The Har Sinai experience had allowed them to tap into Da’as Elyon.

Temporarily, at least. As the Talmud concludes, the sin of the golden calf cost them what they had gained. They lost their heavenly crowns, became mortal once again, and the rest has been a long and often arduous history.
Well, not exactly. 

“You only get one shot at a first impression,” and Moshe Rabbeinu was determined to use this one to the best of his ability. He knew that the Jewish people had lost the chance to receive Torah on the level he was bringing down, and probably wouldn’t have the chance again for a long time to come. So he made a point of at least showing them what they almost received, before losing it.

We can’t comprehend what that must have looked like to the Jewish people, because there is nothing in our experience that compares. But the Pri Tzaddik says that this short exposure to the first set of tablets “engraved” Torah on the hearts of the Jewish people, and carries us to this very day. It’s what saved our incredible transformation from disappearing altogether.

This alone is reason for great celebration. But there is more. Seeing the first set of tablets didn’t just make the connection to Torah indelible, it allowed us to maintain access to Da’as. This is why G–D approved of Moshe Rabbeinu’s independent act of bringing the tablets down and letting them get destroyed. It was, in the language of Shabbos law, “destruction for the sake of building,” and that makes Shavuos a joyous event despite what did not occur.

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