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Eish Kodesh

Shavuot (Festival of Weeks)— June 12, 1940

“May Your loving-kindness be my comfort, like Your words to Your servant. May Your mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your Torah is my joy.” (Psalms 119:76-78)

The phrase “like Your words to Your servant” in this context means God speaking to King David directly or through the prophets. But, since every Jew recites psalms, we need to understand exactly what for us, personally, is the meaning of “like Your words to Your servant.”

The giving of the Torah was also a teaching that God learned together with us. This is hinted at in the last verse of Parshat Naso (Numbers 7:89), “When Moses came into the Communion Tent to speak with [God], he heard the Voice speaking to him from between the two cherubs on the ark cover over the Ark of Testimony. [God] thus spoke to him.” Commenting on the phrase, “He heard the Voice speaking to him,” Rashi (ibid.) says: “The Hebrew word medaber (speaking) in this context is the same as mitdaber (spoken), and so the verse reads, ‘He heard the Voice spoken.’” “Out of respect for Heaven,” the Torah is saying, “God was speaking to Himself and Moses overheard it.”

There is a teaching from the Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory, on the verse (Cant. 5:6) “My soul went out when he spoke,” that part of the soul of the speaker leaves at the time of speaking. It follows, then, that there must be some reciprocity between the essential soul of the speaker and that of the listener, because it is not just speech that is issuing from the mouth of the speaker, but also part of the essence of his soul…. This is the explanation of the phrase quoted above, “Out of respect for Heaven…”

Often the Torah will begin with the phrase “God said to Moses,” “Speak to the children of Israel,” or “Say to Aaron.” How can God have been speaking to Himself? It may perhaps be as follows: Just as the creation of the world was done through the Torah, so all God’s speech to our teacher Moses was also done through the Torah. So, when the Torah writes, “God spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel,’ ” and so forth, the Holy Blessed One was repeating these verses in the Torah between Him and Himself, while our teacher Moses overheard it and understood.

This means that there was a difference between those times when God was teaching Moses together with the whole Jewish people and those times when God was learning only with Moses. When the Holy Blessed One learned the Torah with Moses together with the Jewish people, He did not just learn it between Him and Himself, but spoke with them and directly to them. God spoke between Him and Himself for Moses to overhear only when He was learning with Moses alone. When He learned with the people, however, He spoke to them, and herein is the greatness of the connection between God and the Jewish people at the time of the receiving of the Torah. Because God spoke to them, and connected Himself to them, it was the essence of the Speaker connecting with them.

It was the very essence of “I” in the phrase “I am God your Lord.” The Hebrew word for “I” in the first of the Ten Commandments is Anochi rather than Ani. Anochi is a notariqon, an Aramaic acrostic, reading Ani Nafshai Katavit Yahavit, “I My Soul have Written and Given.” God has, so to speak, written and given His Soul. “My soul,” so to speak, is revealed to the Jewish people through the Torah that God taught us.

There are times when the accusers grow strong, God forbid, and overpower the Jewish people, and it is difficult for the Jewish people to be rescued. At Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah—and whenever we learn Torah—it is a time of salvation. At such a time, no accuser, God forbid, can overpower Israel, because God, blessed be He, is speaking with us, and the very essence of “I” (Anochi) is being revealed. This, then, is the meaning of the verse from Psalms with which we opened the chapter, “May Your loving-kindness be my comfort, like Your words to Your servant.” The phrase, “Like Your words to Your servant” means not as God speaking between Him and Himself, but “as You spoke at the Revelation on Sinai when you spoke to me directly,’—“for Your Torah is my joy,” and You are speaking to me.