he spoiled the party

Friday, 28 January, 2022 - 3:21 am

More than a decade ago I attended a Bar Mitzvah in the family of Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld, from the Ezra Chabad House in Zurich. The celebration was very impressive. It was clear that everyone had been preparing for it for a long time. The Bar Mitzvah boy, who today is already a young father, was suitably dressed, full of joy, excitement and the Kedusha of Mitzvah observance. 

A special moment was when the grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Rosenfeld, rabbi of the Chabad community in Boro Park, Brooklyn, was called up to speak. Rabbi Rosenfeld is a tall, impressive individual, with smiling eyes that express much wisdom. But here he was an excited grandfather who was about to bless his grandson, whose name was Mendel, of course. This is what he said: 

“Dear Mendel, I know how much you’ve prepared yourself for this moment. I know how many hours you spent learning to read the Torah. I heard how hard you worked on preparing your Drasha (sermon) and the words of Chassidut that you spoke here tonight. I saw how happy you were with your new, expensive Tefillin and I know how excited you are about being called up to the Torah for the first time, this coming Shabbat, since you are now obligated in all the Mitzvahs. Mendel, I am sorry to spoil your enthusiasm and excitement, but it is important for you to remember that your first Mitzvah as a Bar Mitzvah boy is saying the Shema tonight. It says in the Torah that one should say it ‘when you lie down and when you get up’. And so, tonight, after this big party, find yourself a quiet corner in the house and say, with much concentration, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad,” thus fulfilling your first Mitzvah as a Bar Mitzvah – as one obligated to observe the Mitzvahs. 

Having Parashat Mishpatim immediately after Parashat Yitro rather spoils the party. After the great excitement around the giving of the Torah, the loud noises, the smoke and the lightning, with Hashem Himself coming down on Mount Sinai and speaking, causing the Jews to lose their faculties - after all that what we get is the law regarding an ox that gored a cow, and the laws of a Jewish slave? 

The Rebbe explain this in his Likutei Sichot, section 16: Our goal here in this world is to bring the holiness of the Torah and Mitzvahs into this material world, in two stages. The first stage is to stop the world in its steps by way of loud noise, lightning and smoke, to the point of Hashem Himself coming down on Mount Sinai. But this has a disadvantage: it is not natural for the world, since the world is basically material and tangible. The second stage is to install the Torah into the limits and laws of the material nature of the world. This cannot be done by loud voices and lightning, but by way of simple dry laws such as those brought in Parashat Mishpatim. 

To have Parashat Mishpatim right after Parashat Yitro does not spoil the party, but rather substantiates it. 

Grandfather Rosenfeld basically told his grandson that all that celebration and enthusiasm, holiness and joy – everything is important and dear to us. It’s all great, but only if one knows to concentrate all of it into one moment at the end of the evening, in which one stands in a quiet corner and says, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

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