And even though that’s not the parsha for Eretz Yisrael right now (we’re on Parshat Nasso), it vital reading for Shavuot because it’s all about Shavuot.
(Note: If you're in Eretz Yisrael, you can contact them to receive your weekly parsha: firstname.lastname@example.org. They also have a well-done Junior supplement alongside the dvar Torah. If you work with children and you need the Junior supplement earlier in the week or you need it in Yiddish, you can contact them: email@example.com.)
Envisioning Ma'amad Har Sinai
That’s quite a way to start the morning!
I don’t know about you, but envisioning Ma’amad Har Sinai is difficult for me and so it ends up with the colorful illustrations from the children’s book, Elishama & Ephraim at Ma’amad Har Sinai.
(This is a wonderful book from a wonderful series, by the way.)
Anyway, reading Rav Miller’s dvar Torah for Parshat Bamidbar helps a lot with envisioning Ma’amad Har Sinai.
The Right Way to Elicit Daas Torah
For example, there is a difference between sketching out a whole plan to show a talmid chacham and THEN asking for his approval, in contrast to asking him an open-ended question (“What should I do?”) before you even start.
People like to say they have haskamos from big people, but there is a difference between consulting a talmid chacham beforehand and requesting cursory approval after the fact.
So Rav Miller delves into that a bit, providing helpful clarification to those of us who don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes.
He emphasizes the fact that people don’t ask gedolim regarding, say, what school is best for your child. (And to be forthright, we didn’t think to do that either.)
But I have a friend who did.
Admission Woes with a Happy Ending
And even though she was downhearted and frustrated about the whole issue, rather than railing about discrimination and religious hypocrisy, she decided to go to one of Israel’s English-speaking Sages, Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg ztz"l, instead.
He was sympathetic and pleasantly asked her if she would consider the Chabad school in her area? (Please note that he did not command her to do so, but asked her.)
His answer surprised her. For some reason, she hadn’t considered Chabad, despite the fact that she’d attended Chabad summer camps and shuls as a child and held warm fuzzy feelings toward Chabad.
“Yes, I would,” she answered.
Then he pleasantly suggested that she try them and see how it goes.
Chabad easily accepted her son and as the family developed over time, I saw that it was best for her children there, rather than in the other schools in the area.
And even though at the outset, it looked like the mainstream Ashkenazi and Sephardi schools were nitpicking at the family (a family which actually had some chashivut in her country of origin), it was actually Hashem’s way of ensuring that her children received the chinuch best for them.
And if you’re wondering how a Mirrer Litvak like Rav Scheinberg could recommend a school of Lubavitcher chassidus to a Sephardi family, I’d just point out that real gedolim genuinely care about Jewish children and their chinuch, and also someone on his level totally lacks sinat chinam. So there you go.
Personal Greatness vs Intellectual Greatness
It’s not the first time he has addressed this issue. (Please see Which Rabbi Should I Listen To? and More Tips on How to Recognize a Real Gadol Hador for more.)
And he’s one of the only people I’ve seen do so.
It’s really important because sometimes you can meet a rabbi who, on the surface, seems to fit the description of a talmid chacham—but really, he’s not personally great.
Some people possess brilliant intellect and if they weren’t frum, they’d be esteemed professors of philosophy at some hotshot university, or they’d be part of an elitist think tank, and so on.
So they have the Gemara in their head, but not necessarily their heart.
Internalizing the Jewish concepts you learn is a real avodah incumbent upon every Jew, as Rav Miller frequently emphasizes.
Incompetent Writers, Half-Baked Torah Scholars, and Self-Declared Authorities...Oh, My!
But it’s definitely giving me food for thought because I believe his critique applies equally to bloggers.
Here’s Rav Miller:
In the newspapers today, the Jewish newspapers, there are people who are incompetent; writers, half-baked Torah scholars, self-declared authorities, who answer every kind of question.
Some are dangerous questions, things that could not be discussed in public without harm; things that need a great deal of deliberation.
And anybody with a typewriter rushes in where gedolim fear to tread, and they not only offer their opinions, but they publicize them with fanfare, as valid Torah opinions.
Almost every newspaper has a page--sometimes more than one page—for every ploni almoni to give his opinion.
Who cares what he thinks?! Did he learn Mesillas Yesharim many times?! Did he learn the Chovos Halevavos from cover to cover? Sha’arei Teshuva l’Rabeinu Yonah? The Rambam Hilchos Teshuva? Who are you to voice an opinion b’rabim?
It’s only the Voice of Hashem that we care about—the Voice we heard at Har Sinai--the same Voice that Moshe Rabeinu heard in the Mishkan, and the Voice that we continue to hear from the ba’alei hamesorah, the ones who pass down to us the Torah true attitudes and ideals--that’s the only Voice we want to hear.
Even if someone could quote one authority, but there are many others who may differ with that one sefer which he quotes.
If we would rely on an individual opinion, we would be in a sorry state. It’s only the gedolim who are able to collate the different opinions. They’re the ones who are competent to choose.
Many times, even when one opinion is intrinsically correct, but it has to be weighed carefully.
And it’s only those who have the fear of Har Sinai in them who can be trusted to make decisions--even those that do not seem significant—for Klal Yisroel.
I suppose that nowadays, it could read: “Anybody with a keyboard and an Internet connection…”
Or maybe: "Anybody with recording equipment and a YouTube account..."