Parashas Ki Savo

In this week’s parashah, Moshe tells the Jewish People (Devarim 27:9-10): “Pay attention and hear, O Yisrael – this day you have become a people unto Hashem your God. So hearken to the voice of the Hashem your God, and perform His commandments and His statutes, which I command you today.” The Gemara comments (Berachos 63b):
Was it on that day that the Torah was given to Yisrael? Wasn’t that day the end of the forty years [of the Jewish People’s sojourn in the wilderness]? Rather, it is to teach you that the Torah is as cherished every day to those who study it as on the day was given at Mount Sinai. R. Tanchum ben R. Chiyya, a man of Kefar Acco said: “The proof is that if a man recites the Shema every morning and evening and misses one evening, it is as if he had never recited the Shema.”
The Maggid notes that R. Tanchum ben R. Chiyya’s proof itself needs a proof. How do we know that the proposition he stated is correct? We know that, as a general rule, when a person violates a mitzvah he is not inescapably locked into a tainted state; rather, he can repent his sin and Hashem, in His mercy, will forgive and cleanse him. We would think that this rule would apply to reciting the Shema just as with any other mitzvah. But in fact R. Tanchum ben R. Chiyya is correct, for the Sages teach (Berachos 26a): “‘Something that is distorted cannot be rectified, and something that is absent cannot be counted’ (Koheles 1:15). Something that is distorted cannot be rectified – this refers to someone who omitted the evening Shema or the morning Shema.” So we see that omitting the Shema on a single occasion causes an irreparable loss. Why?
The Maggid explains the matter with an analogy. Consider a general (in the pre-electronic age) who is managing a battle from a station at some distance from the battlefront. He will set up a series of sentries reaching from his station to the front, so that he can receive messages from the front and relay messages back, with each sentry conveying the message to the sentry nearest to him, one after the other, until the message gets to its destination. But this system works only if all the sentries are close enough to each other that each one can hear what the one nearest to him is calling out. If one of sentries leaves his post, so that there is too large a gap between two successive sentries, the chain is broken.
Elsewhere Moshe exhorts us (Devarim 4:9-10):
Just guard yourself, and guard your soul very well – lest you forget the things that your eyes beheld and lest they depart from your heart – all the days of your life, and make them known to your children and your children’s children: the day you stood before Hashem your God at Chorev [Sinai], when Hashem said to me, “Assemble the people to Me and I will make them hear My words, so that they will learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and they will teach their children.”
The twice-daily recitation of the Shema, in which we proclaim Hashem’s oneness as sustainer and master of the universe, is one of the chains that link us to the Divine revelation at Sinai, when Hashem demonstrated to us His mastery over the universe, instilled fear of Him within us, and infused us with holiness and with the noble character traits we need in order to serve Him. Each day, morning and evening, we fortify ourselves with fear and love of Hashem through the recitation of the Shema, reviving within ourselves the fear of Hashem we felt at the revelation at Sinai, so that it will last until the next recitation. As Yeshayah 58:2 puts it: “They seek Me day after day.” The idea here is similar to what the Kuzari said about prayer: just as a meal sustains the body until the next meal, so, too, prayer sustains the soul until the next prayer. The recitation of the Shema serves a similar function. And if on one occasion the recitation is omitted, the chain is broken, or at least weakened. We can now understand well the Gemara’s teaching that omitting the Shema even just once is a fault that cannot be rectified.
Daily Torah study is another chain that links us to the revelation at Sinai. In Mishlei 8:32-33, Shlomo HaMelech describes the Torah telling us: “Well-established is the person who listens to me, to hasten to my doors every day, to the doorposts of my entranceways. For one who finds me finds life and gains רצון from Hashem.” Here, the term “life” is a general term encompassing the spectrum of noble character traits. And regarding gaining רצון [usually rendered as “gaining favor”] David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 145:19): “The desire (רצון) of those who fear Him He will effectuate.” We can interpret this statement homiletically as meaning that if a person fears Hashem, then Hashem will infuse him with enhanced fear of Him and with love of Him, and will effectuate within him a consummate desire to serve Him truly. The Gemara teaches (Berachos 6b): “If a man regularly comes to shul [or to the Beis Midrash] each day and one day does not come, Hashem inquires about him. For it is written (Yeshayah 50:10): ‘Who among you fears Hashem and heeds the voice of His servant, and now walks in darkness and has no light?’” A person who comes regularly to pray and learn is described as one who fears Hashem, but if he misses one day, it is said of him that he has no light, for the interruption compromises his connection to the revelation at Sinai. As the passage from Devarim 4 that we quoted above says, a person must maintain hold of his connection to Sinai “all the days of your life.”
This principle underlies Moshe’s message to the Jewish People that we quoted at the outset: “Pay attention and hear, O Yisrael – this day you have become a people unto Hashem your God. So hearken to the voice of the Hashem your God, and perform His commandments and His statutes, which I command you today.” Moshe is exhorting to involve ourselves constantly in Torah study, never missing a day, so that we maintain at full strength our connection to the day at Sinai when we became a people unto Hashem. In connection with this charge, the Gemara tells us that the Torah is as cherished every day to those who study it as on the day was given at Mount Sinai. That is, to those who study Torah every single day without a lapse the Torah is as cherished every day as on the day it was given at Sinai. And R. Tanchum ben R. Chiyya puts forward a proof from the recitation of the Shema, where missing a single day is described as a fault that “cannot be rectified.” The same is true of Torah study. And so the Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni, Torah 873 teaches that Torah tells us: “If you abandon me for one day, I will abandon you for two.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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