Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Beginning of the End

Written for Bais Yaakov's school paper

עשרה בטבת is coming up soon on Thursday, January 1st. On this day, almost two and half thousand years ago, the Babylonian army surrounded our capital, ירושלים עיר הקודש, and blocked all deliveries of food. As the siege dragged on, the Jews inside slowly began to starve. Two and a half years later on the 17th of Tammuz, the enemy broke through the city walls. And three weeks after that, on the 9th of Av, the בית המקדש was destroyed. This is why we fast on the tenth of Teves. It was the beginning of the end.
Why did Hashem do it this way? We all know the Jews were guilty of idolatry, adultery and murder. They deserved גלות. So why not just give them גלות? Why must חורבן come as such a long and drawn-out process?
The answer is that Hashem is compassionate and He wanted to give the Jews a little more time. Time to realize that only Hashem can save them. Time to rebuild their אמונה and בטחון. Time to Daven. Time to do Teshuvah.
When the siege began, all was not yet doomed. Had they listened to ירמיהו הנביא they could have turned things around, but they did not listen. The Jews failed, the שכינה left and the מקדש was burned to the ground.
In light of the situation in Yerushalayim today, it is unfortunately very easy for us to relate to Asara B’Teves. Our brothers and sisters are living under a siege of terror, but instead of the enemy surrounding them from without, the enemy dwells within. These are frightening times, with no end in sight. There is no foreseeable resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and no hope for peace. We can only expect war.
There is, however, one paradoxical advantage to our hopelessness, the very same advantage our ancestors failed to utilize at the time of the Babylonian siege. When we have nowhere to turn, we are forced to recognize that we are in Hashem’s Hands. And if we would just stop and think about that, we could set off an extraordinary chain-reaction. Hopelessness begets אמונה,  אמונה develops into בטחוןand from בטחון comes ישועה!
כי בחסדך בטחתי יגל לבי בישועתך. “Because I put my trust in Your חסד, my heart rejoices in Your ישועה” (Tehillim 13:6).
It follows that we need to redouble our energies into the single most effective tool that builds אמונה and strengthens our בטחון in the חסד of Hashem. That tool is תפילה.
As mourning for the חורבן begins this year on עשרה בטבת, our job is clear. We don’t need to put on sackcloth, we don’t need to get up at midnight for Tikun Chatzos, and we don’t need some secret combination of Pirkei Tehillim. We simply need to Daven שמונה עשרה right.
What does our שמונה עשרה looks like?
Forgive me for projecting, but I assume most people are like me and typically go through three stages. At the beginning where כוונה is critical, we are all focused. If חו"ש someone is sick, maybe we can hold out until רפאנו, but eventually we enter stage two, when our minds slowly drift away from the תפילה and we space out and coast along for a while. Finally, if we are lucky, we wake up again when we bow for מודים. Stage three looks good as we get back into things and put up a strong finish, but unfortunately, mostly due to its location, stage two – the middle of שמונה עשרה – often gets ignored.
We must overcome this complacency, because the call of the hour is all in stage two! It is there, in the forgotten middle, that our נשמה expresses the hope of our nation and we Daven for גאולה.
If we pay attention to what we are saying, if we Daven for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim – ובנה אותה בקרובif we yearn for Moshiach – צמח דוד עבדך and beg to see the return of the שכינה to ציון with our own eyes – ותחזינה עינינו – if we pour out our hearts into the heart of שמונה עשרה and strengthen our בטחון, then the גאולה will come.

Once upon a time, עשרה בטבת was the beginning of the end. But גלות is almost over now. Let’s make this עשרה בטבת the end of the end.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Stones of Yaakov

In a rare alignment of the celestial spheres, my studies of the weekly Parsha and Sefer Mesilas Yesharim are enjoying a conjunction. The Ramchal makes interesting use of Yaakov's stones and so I posted my thoughts on my other blog, Paving a Path.

As the issue deals with the impact of Tzaddikim, I thought it appropriate to dedicate the piece L'Ilui Nishmas the four Kedoshim of Har Nof, זכרונם לברכה.

For more on Parshas Vayeitzei, click the label below. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

On the Trail of Blessings: Yitzchok's Wisdom & the Curse of Wealth II

[This is part 3 1/2 of the series. Begin the trail here.]

In the previous post we learned that Yitzchok wanted to protect Yaakov from the spiritual dangers of wealth. But there is another danger posed by wealth, a danger Yitzchok suffered from personally.
The man [Yitzchok] grew and continued growing until he was very great. He had sheep, cattle and many fields, and the Philistines became jealous of him. All the wells that his father's servants dug in the days of Avraham, the Philistines sealed them up and filled them with earth. Avimelech said to Yitzchok, "Leave us. You have become a lot stronger than we are." (Bereishis 26:13-16)
Wealth stimulates deep, primal feelings of jealousy and extraordinary wealth generates extraordinary jealousy. Yitzchok had to battle the Philistines not only for the rights to his father's wells, but also for the rights to his own wells, dug and discovered by his own men (cf. 26:19-21). And jealousy quickly evolves into hatred, as Yitzchok bluntly challenged Avimelech, "Why have you come to me? You hate me and you evicted me from [living] with you!" (26:27)  

Hashem is cognizant of this reality and He promises to protect His nation from the inevitable side-effects of material success.
The land will give her fruit, you will eat to the point of satisfaction, and you will dwell upon [the land] in security. (Vayikra 25:19)
Hashem is saying that notwithstanding your agricultural success, you will dwell in security and not suffer the jealousy of your neighbors (Meshech Chochma, ad loc.).  However, the previous verse explicitly makes this divine protection contingent on good behavior. "And [if] you perform My decrees, and My judgments you observe and fulfill them, [then] you will dwell on the land in security" (ibid 25:18; cf. Rashi ad loc.). If the Jews fall and violate the laws of the Torah, all bets are off. 

In the previous post we learned that wealth can lead to sin and the abandonment of Torah, which, in turn, ultimately leads to famine, exile and poverty. Now we learn that sin removes the divine protection from the jealousy and antisemitism instigated by wealth. 

A dangerous blessing indeed.

Aware of the dangers and the frightening destiny of his own precedent, Yitzchok understandably wished to spare the tent-bound Yaakov the challenge of wealth and the violence of jealous neighbors. Yitzchok's plan was to divert that "blessing" to Eisav, a man better equipped to deal with the Philistines.

Alas, it was not to be.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Guest Contributer

Anthropomorphism. As a youngster it was simple, as a teenager it stirred questions and at age thirty nine it is my saving grace, and the only portal I feel open to me as the Day of Judgment approaches. 

Long gone are my dreams of attaining any serious level of spirituality. The understanding that even a most  elementary level of spiritually must begin with true self-nullification or “hisbatlus” and an unwavering commitment to cling to G-d or “divaikus” has left me wanting. The road would be difficult enough if it were clear, but along the way contradictions begets doubt and doubt poisons passion sending a broken heart into a paralyzing slumber. When to compromise and when to hold out, when to take action and when to sit by – very few are certain – and we have all seen the evils of a false certainty. The world too screams its questions adding to the din, the good suffer and the wicked prosper, the weak are trampled while the strong pervert, understanding is lost, the moral compass is broken, vulgarity and dishonesty have gained an upper hand and are now the norm.

Where are the leaders? Where are the ones that comfort and shed light? Where are the ones we can hold up proudly, the ones we can all follow blindly and trust when they tell us to march into the sea.

With the world in its current state how can one celebrate the birth of its creation – has it all been a terrible mistake, a cosmic error? Has G-d’s experiment failed as it did before the great flood?

All I have is Faith, faith that G-d loves us beyond any reason. Parental love just is – like a law of nature.

I don’t understand the cosmic plans, or even what’s expected of me at this point – I just hold onto the one fact that G-d who controls every aspect of the universe  loves me along with all of humanity and creation as a father loves his child – It is this thought alone that steadies my legs as I stand in the house of prayer on Judgment Day.

Of course I need to better myself but for now it’ll have to be one small step at a time. I believe the "footsteps of redemption" are my own, slowly and carefully stepping in the right direction.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Nosson Tzvi Felsen

In my world, two wars are being waged right now. The war on the ground in Gaza and the war in heaven to save Nosson Tzvi ben Sara Rivka Kashtia.

Please go to the Nes4Nosson blog, and leave a comment to give chizuk to the Felsens.

Talk by Rabbi Avi Lebowitz, Rosh Kollel of the Jewish Study Network in Palo Alto. He spent the better part of last week with the family in New York.

May we hear Besuros Tovos!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Those Three Boys. A letter to my son

Dear Nachum,

The terrible news hit when you were on your way to camp. I presume you have heard by now. The three missing Bochrim in Eretz Yisroel were murdered, r"l. 

As you know, there was an extraordinary outpouring of Tefillos from all over the world for these boys. I cannot recall any other event that produced such sustained and intense Tefillos by all of Klal Yisroel. The Shomayim shook. Hashem took notice. But it was all too late. 

According to the news reports, it is believed that the boys were killed very soon after they were kidnapped.  Day after day we davened for the freedom of people who were no longer among the living. 

What is Hashem to do with meaningless Tefillos? Was it all in vain? Were we wasting our time?

No. Not at all. Hashem wanted it this way. Hashem wanted to hear those very Tefillos that we were offering. 

What were we davening for? The freedom of our fellow Jews. Their release from captivity. In a word, Geulah

We were davening for Geulah, but not for our own personal Geulah. Jewish men, women and children from every city and every town, from every Yeshiva and every Shul in every country where Jews are to be found - we were all davening for the Geulah of our brethren, three boys that that we never met. It was a genuine, selfless Tefillah. A Tefillah of אהבת חנם - for Geulah!

This was so precious, so powerful, so impactful in Shomayim, I believe Hashem delayed the discovery of the bodies for days so He could hear more of it. Day after day, Hashem gathered in the rising river of tears flowing from His people, His long-suffering people unified in prayer for Geulah. 

Those three Neshamos z"l have the זכות of bringing Mashiach a whole lot closer.

May we hear בשורות טובות, ישועות ונחמות בקרוב.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Dark Day

Guest Contributor

While the Nazis turned the Jewish dead into soap, we are equally guilty of turning them into soapboxes. 
    I’m cringing thinking about the person that uses this tragedy to push an agenda. Whether a Rabbi implementing his favorite chumra, an Askin trying raise money, the self absorbed music-star-want-to-be  writing a song in "honor" of it, or those that write  “BDE”s on their Facebook pages (why not put in a emoticon while your at it). – it’s time to start growing up again as individuals and a people.  
    The tragedy is not ours but theirs, give it the respect it deserves and please do not add to the exploitation this tragedy is bound to endure.
     There seems to be a love affair between people and an unchangeable contained tragedy. A sort of relishing in the act of turning off  the complexities and reality of the everyday and focusing on a symbol that is simple and clear cut, creating a focal point that is so undisputed and universal, people can't help but rally around and connect with and thru it. The pattern is always the same tho, people rally, connect, cleanse their conscious with their tears, feel cleansed and then move on. (Lieby Kletzky who?) Just a ride in the emotional amusement park of life.
       We must be honest and identify and separate our horror, anger  and our fear from feelings of loss and true empathy. If we were are so empathetical as people why are we not out feeding the hungry and visiting the sick on a daily basis?  Why are we not more understanding of those living around us and more patient to those that annoy us? Why is it that we open our hearts so readily to the dead who do not infringe on our greater selves, our lifestyle or our steak dinner? Is it empathy we feel, or the new age idol of to feel enthused, alive and connected in any way we can as long as we control the relationship and its obligations. 
       There is no lofty virtue in connecting with the tragedy of an untimely death. We completely remove the individuality of the dead – there is not interplay between the I and the other – just two totally independent beings one the victim and the other the survivor- that is their only relationship, what value is there in that?  If we could be empathetical to those who remain around us in the land of the living on a day to day level, on an individual level, on a personal level,  that would be something.
        All our hearts are broken, this does not make us better this makes us humans on the most basic level, thank G-d we still have that. – Please think about this while you go back to playing candy crush after posting “BDE”.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Shavuos Afterthoughts: The Secret Book of Names

Published in Nitzachon, the Adas Torah journal

The story is well known. When Moshe arrived atop Mt. Sinai, the angels were aghast.
“What is a human being doing up here?”
“He has come to receive the Torah,” Hashem replied.
“You want to give to flesh and blood the precious treasure that was hidden nine hundred and seventy-four generations before creation?! What is a human that You should think of him, or a son of Adam that You should consider him...?”
Hashem instructed Moshe to respond.
Moshe didn’t want to argue with angels. “I am frightened lest they burn me with their breath.”
“Take hold of My throne,” said God, “and answer them!”
“Master of the World,” declared Moshe, “the Torah that You are giving me, what does it say?”
“I am Hashem your Lord Who took you out from the land of Egypt.”
Moshe turned to the angels. “Did you go down into Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? Why should the Torah be yours?”
“What else does it say?” asked Moshe.
“You shall not have other gods,” replied God.
Moshe turned to the angels. “Do you live among nations who worship idols?”
“What else does it say?”
“Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it.”
“Do you work that you are in need of rest?” 
“What else does it say?”
 “Do not take God’s name in vain.”
“Are any of you in business [that would require the taking of oaths]?” 
“What else does it say?”
“Honor your father and your mother.”
“Do you have a father and a mother?”
 “What else does it say?”
“Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal.”
“Do you suffer from jealousy? Do you have negative drives?” 
The angels admitted that Hashem was right, as the verse states, מה אדיר שמך בכל הארץ, “Hashem our Master, how mighty is Your name upon all the earth…” (Tehillim 8).
Cf. Shabbos 88b-89a
The Radvaz (1479-1573) asks the obvious question. What were the angels thinking? Moshe's response is self-evident; the Torah was clearly written for human beings. Why are the angels surprised that Hashem is giving it to its intended audience?
The Radvaz bases his answer on a mystical Midrash: “The Torah in its entirety consists of the names of the Holy One, blessed be He.” The Ramban cites this Midrash in the introduction to his Torah commentary and he explains that the primordial Torah had no spaces between words, allowing it to be read as an uninterrupted string of divine names.[1] The angels were only familiar with this original, spiritual version of Torah. Far more adept than humans at understanding the mystical nature of God’s names (cf. Nefesh HaChaim 1:10), the angels naturally wondered why Hashem was giving the Torah to Moshe (Teshuvas Radvaz 3:643).[2]
The Radvaz’s explanation allows us to understand why Hashem did not answer the angels Himself and instead instructed Moshe to respond. Hashem wanted to the angels to hear firsthand what the Torah looks like from a human perspective. Moshe explained to the angels that people don’t read the Torah the way they do; we see it differently. For us it is the Book of the Jewish People. To human eyes, the spiritual Torah of the angels – the list of divine names – appears as a practical guide for the elevation of man and the forging of an intimate relationship with God.
For what, after all, is in a name? All names allow for personal identification and facilitate interaction with others, but Hebrew names run deeper than that. To call someone by their real name can be an intimate act[3] because Hebrew names are not mere arbitrary labels, they define and describe the hidden inner reality. To give an early example, light is not just called ohr; light is ohr. Hashem said, “Let there be ohr” and there was light. The same is also true for people. A Jew is his name.[4]
If names describe reality, what then does it mean for God to have names? Although God is obviously different – we cannot know the infinite God and His names do not describe Him – nonetheless, a divine name is a divine revelation; an expression of the Creator’s will to connect to His creation and sanctify our world (cf. Nefesh HaChaim 2:2-4). In other words, Hashem’s names describe His relationship with us.
This then is Torah. Every verse is a revelation. Better said, every revelation is a verse. As the Zohar puts it, Hashem and the Torah are one (cf. Nefesh HaChaim 4:6,10).
This gives us a new understanding of Moshe’s rebuttal to the angels. To paraphrase his response:
“As spiritual beings, you may understand the nature of God and His names better than humans ever will, but ultimately, the Torah is not for you. Hashem’s names are about Hashem’s desire to connect with people, not angels. How else can you explain the extraordinary fact that the divine names of Torah are not just names, they are mitzvos!”
The angels had no choice but to admit the truth: “Hashem our Master, how mighty is Your name upon all the earth!”

Revelation & Reverence
The essence of every mitzva is a divine name, a revelation of Hashem.[5] This is why the giving of the Torah came with the trauma of Maamad Har Sinai. To receive Torah is to encounter God and to encounter God is terrifying.[6] 
This is not just an interesting piece of biblical history. Torah always comes with a Sinai experience. Unsurprisingly, this reality is embedded into the very mitzva of Torah study.
The mitzva of teaching Torah and the mitzva of remembering Sinai are twins; they appear in the Torah side by side. The verse “You shall make [the Torah] known to your children and to your children’s children” (Devarim 4:9)[7] is immediately followed by the mitzva of remembering “the day that you stood before Hashem your Lord in Horeb” (ibid 4:10).[8] From this association the gemora infers a frightening lesson:
Just as there [at Sinai] it was with terror, fear, trembling and sweat, so too here [when you teach Torah] it should be with terror, fear, trembling and sweat.
Berachos 22a
The gemora is saying that learning is a reenactment of Sinai and should always be done with the requisite terror. יראת ה' היא אוצרו, “Fear of Hashem is the storage facility [for Torah]” (Isaiah 33:6).[9] It should be obvious that without fear and reverence, our relationship with Hashem is skewed and we are unable to properly receive His teachings. But the development of a healthy fear is not just something that we do for Torah. The Torah has the power to do this to us. 
After Matan Torah, Hashem had a single wish:
“Who could assure that their hearts would remain this way, fearing Me and observing all of My commandments for all time, for their benefit, and for their for children's [benefit], forever?”
Devarim 5:26
It sounds like a fantasy, but Hashem actually has a solution to the problem. He gives the order to Moshe.
“Go and tell them to return to their tents. Then you will stand here with me and I will tell you about all the mitzvos, decrees and laws so that you can teach it to them...”
Ibid 5:27-28
How does Hashem ensure that the fear of Sinai won’t fade? By teaching us Torah! For Torah is a divine name and a divine revelation, and our daily Torah study is thus nothing less than an awe-inducing encounter with God on par with the revelation of Sinai. As the Mirrer Mashgiach, Reb Yerucham Levovitz z”l, put it, “Torah is the thermos that keeps Maamad Har Sinai warm.”
In sum, fear of Hashem is a prerequisite for receiving Torah and the Torah itself preserves and engenders this fear. It is exactly as the sages said, אם אין חכמה אין יראה, ואם אין יראה אין חכמה, “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear, and if there is no fear, then there is no wisdom” (Avos 3:17).

Birchas HaTorah & Torah L’shmah
One of the few precious biblical mitzvos that we are privileged to perform every morning is Birchas HaTorah, the blessing on the Torah. The gemora (Berachos 21a) tells us that the origin of this mitzva is Moshe’s command to the people in Parshas Haazinu:
כי שם ה' אקרא הבו גודל לאלהינו
“When I call out the name of God, ascribe greatness to our Lord” (Devarim 32:3).
There is no mention of Torah here; only the “name of God.” How then does this verse teach us to recite a beracha before we study Torah? In light of all we have learned, the answer is obvious. “Name of God” is a codename for “Torah.” Moshe was telling the people, “When I call out the name of God,” i.e., when I teach Torah, you should “ascribe greatness” to our Lord, i.e., recite a beracha (Maharsha ad loc.).[10]
Knowing the source for Birchas HaTorah gives us a new appreciation for its text: 
כולנו יודעי שמך ולומדי תורתיך לשמה
May all of us know Your name and learn Your Torah for its own sake.
The wording could not be more explicit: knowing Hashem’s name and knowing His Torah are synonymous. This extraordinary statement appears in both the source for and in the text of Birchas HaTorah for it is the spiritual nature of Torah that motivates us and obligates us to recite this blessing.
The next step is a small one for a writer, but a giant leap for the Jewish People. We have arrived at a new understanding of the lofty ideal of תורה לשמה. Typically understood as Torah study “for its own sake,” it literally reads, “for its name” – and now we know that those two things are actually one and the same. For its own sake is for its name. Learn Torah l’shma, for the sake of knowing the Name! 

Birchas Kohanim & Hashem’s Smile
After we recite the beracha on the Torah every morning, we must follow through with some Torah study. Of all the thousands of Torah verses, which were chosen for the fulfillment of this great daily mitzva?
יברכך ה' וישמרך
יאר ה' פניו אליך ויחנך
ישא ה' פניו אליך וישם לך שלום
May Hashem bless you and safeguard you.
May Hashem shine His face upon you and be gracious to you.
May Hashem turn His face towards you and grant you peace.
As the words used by Kohanim to bless the nation, these lines are among the most well-known in all of scripture, but finding them here comes as a surprise. Although any and every verse certainly qualifies for Torah study, these verses are prayers, not teachings. If we were in the market for prototypical Torah, we would expect something more basic. The Torah’s first verse or first mitzva would be a reasonable choice. Why Birchas Kohanim?
The key to the answer lies in the unusual reference to Hashem’s הארת פנים, “shining face.” What does it mean for Hashem to shine His face towards us?
The same expression appears in the final beracha of Shemone Esrei:
כי באור פניך נתת לנו ה' אלהינו תורת חיים
Hashem our Lord, with Your shining face You granted us a living Torah…
Fascinating. Hashem’s “face” was “shining” when He gave us the Torah. In his commentary on the Siddur,[11] Rabbi Aryeh Lieb Gordon[12] explains:
The expression “a shining face” refers to showing a love or a desire for something. Signs [of these feelings] are evident on the face, for one directs a happy and shining face toward the object of their love…  
In other words, Hashem gave us the Torah with a smile. We know this well.
אהבת עולם בית ישראל עמך אהבת. תורה ומצות חקים ומשפטים אותנו למדת.
“With an eternal love You have loved Your nation, the House of Israel. You taught us Torah and mitzvos…” (Siddur).

Achieving the Impossible
Before we return to Birchas HaTorah, we need to address a more fundamental question. If the giving of the Torah was an act of divine love, if Hashem was smiling, why were we so terrified at Mt. Sinai?
The answer (or non-answer) is that there is a basic dichotomy at the heart of the God/man relationship. We address the paradox in our daily prayers: יחד לבבנו לאהבה וליראה את שמך, “Unify our hearts to love and to fear Your name.” Love and fear. Closeness and distance. Our Father, our King. The list goes on. Sometimes we speak to Hashem in first person and sometimes in third, and oftentimes we violate grammar and use both forms in the same sentence.[13] The point is, when it comes to Hashem, the conflicting emotions of love and fear are experienced simultaneously. As we have seen, it was the revelation at Sinai that forged this unique relationship.
In its original form, the Torah was not a book of commandments. It was a book of God’s names; an expression of His desire to dwell among us. Torah doesn’t change; this is what Torah was and this is what Torah is today. How then, pray tell, does the Infinite Being achieve the impossible and relate to mortals? The answer is simple: by giving us the Torah. Through Torah we gain an awe and reverence for Him, and through Torah Hashem is enabled to bless us with His Presence, protect us, shine His face upon us, and gift us with peace. This is why the verses of Birchas Kohanim were chosen for the place of honor after Birchas HaTorah. For more succinctly and more explicitly than any others, these verses express precisely what we stand to gain from Torah study.
When a person buys an object, does he also acquire the seller? But the Holy One, blessed be He, gave the Torah to the Jews and He said to them, “It is as if you are getting Me.”  
Shemos Rabba 33
We may not always recognize it as such, but Torah is Hashem’s way of sharing Himself with us. It is not for naught that when we get an Aliyah and are called up to the Torah, we are called up by name. It is a personal invitation to connect with Hashem, name to Name.
Shavuos is more than a commemoration of a historic event and the Torah is more than a how-to book of Jewish living. If we do it right, our learning will bring the reverence, the revelation, and the relationship of Sinai into our lives every single day of the year. 

[1] This is why, writes the Ramban, even a seemingly inconsequential missing letter will render a Sefer Torah passul.
[2] The Radvaz uses this idea to explain why there are no vowels (nekudos) or punctuation (trup) written in a Sefer Torah. Although we do have spaces between words, we preserve the “spiritual version” of Torah by allowing for an alternate reading.
[3] Cf. Rashi to Bereishis 22:11, 46:2
[4] This is clearly evident when it comes to biblical names. According to Rebbi Meir, it is true for everyone (cf. Yoma 83b). 
[5] It is for this reason that the mishna will refer to a mitzvah as a “shem,” a name, e.g. Makkos 1:3; Meilah 4:4 (Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Maaseh Avos Siman L’Bonim, vol. I, pg. 20). 
[6] It was so terrifying, it was life-threatening. The Jews trembled, retreated to a distance and begged for it to stop (cf. Shemos 20:15-16). “If we continue to hear the voice of Hashem our Lord any longer, we will die” (Devarim 5:22).  According to the gemora, the Jews were actually killed by the revelation at Sinai and then resurrected (Shabbos 88b).
[7] The Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:2) cites this verse as the source for the mitzva to study Torah.
[8] According to the Ramban (Shikchas HaLavin 2) this phrase obligates us to teach our children about Maamad Har Sinai.
[9] Cf. Shabbos 31a; Nefesh HaChaim 4:5
 [10] יש הוסיף דזכינו בזה להבנה מחדשת בדין קדיש דרבנן הנאמר לאחר דברי תורה, כדאיתא בגמ' ואלא עלמא  אמאי קא מקיים אקדושה דסידרא ואיהא שמיה רבא דאגדתא (סוטה מט ע"א), ולהרמב"ם "דאגדתא" לאו דוקא ואומרים קדיש זו לאחר כל לימוד תורה שבע"פ (עיין סדר התפילות בסוף ספר אהבה), די"ל שבקדיש יש קיום דין "כי שם ה' אקרא הבו גודל לאלוהינו", והיינו "יתגדל ויתקדש שמיה רבה", ודו"ק. ועיין יומא לז ע"א דיש דין הבו גודל גם לאחר קריאת השם. 
עוד זכינו בזה לביאור חדש במה שנכתב באברהם אבינו, ויקרא בשם ה' (בראשית יב:ח), וכן, ויקרא שם אברם בשם ה' (יג:ד). דהנה אברהם אבינו זקן ויושב בישיבה היה (יומא כח ע"ב), ודמשק אליעזר דולה ומשקה מתורת רבו לאחרים (שם), ומעתא י"ל דהיינו דכתיב ד"קרא" אברהם "בשם" ה', דקריאת השם הוא תלמוד תורה כנ"ל, כמבואר בקרא, כי שם ה' אקרא - הבו גודל לאלהינו, ודו"ק. 
[11] Otzer HaTefilos, Iyun Tefilah, Vilna 1928
[12] No relation
[13] This violation exists in the standard formula for the blessing on mitzvosברוך אתה... אשר קדשנו במצותיו , Blessed are You… who sanctified us with His mitzvos (cf. Teshuvos HaRashba 5:52). It is fascinating that the dichotomy of closeness and distance we experienced at Sinai is manifest in the daily performance of mitzvos. This same dichotomy is also regularly experienced during Torah study. There are always aspects that we understand and are comfortable with, but there are also other aspects of the very same issues that humble us with their inscrutability.