Throughout their forty years in the desert, the Jewish nation had to be prepared to travel at a moment’s notice. At any time the Divine clouds could suddenly rise and proceed further into the desert. As soon as that occurred the entire nation had to immediately dismantle their camps, gather their children and belongings, and begin to travel in perfect formation along with their tribe.
The Leviim had the added responsibility of dismantling the Mishkan and preparing it for travel. The tribal leaders donated wagons and oxen to the Mishkan which Moshe apportioned to two of the Levite families – Gershon and Merori – to use for the transportation of the Mishkan and its vessels. The third Levite family however – the prestigious family of Kehas – were not given any wagons. The Torah explains, “And to the sons of Kehas he did not give; since the sacred service was upon them, they carried it upon the shoulder.” Since they were responsible for the Aron Hakodesh and the other holiest vessels it was not proper for those vessels to be placed in wagons. Rather, they were carried directly, upon their shoulders.
After Bnei Yisrael had been settled in Eretz Yisroel for a few hundred years, during the time of Eli Kohen Gadol, the Aron Hakodesh was captured by the Plishtim. They held it for a short time, and then sent it back to Israel. For many years after its return the Aron remained in Kiryas Yearim, in the home of a man named Avinadav.
When David HaMelech conquered Yerushalayim he was determined to bring the Aron home. He arranged for it to be transported in a wagon pulled by oxen. Uzzah, the son of Avinadav walked alongside the wagon. At one point, when the Aron appeared to be falling, Uzzah jumped in to straighten it. It was deemed an affront for him to even entertain the notion that the Aron could fall because “the Aron carried those who (appeared to) carry it”. Because of that act Uzzah was immediately killed.
The Gemara asks what wrong David HaMelech had committed that he was indirectly responsible for Uzzah’s death. The Gemara explains that it was retribution for his saying , “Your statutes were music to me in the house of pilgrimage.” It was unbefitting for David HaMelech to refer to the words of Torah as a song. As punishment he was made to forget a law blatantly recorded in the Torah. The verse says that the Children of Kehas were not given wagons because they carried the Aron on their shoulders. Yet David HaMelech placed the Aron Hakodesh on a wagon instead of having it carried upon Uzzah’s shoulders.
HaRav Yonasan Eibeshitz, zt’l explains that the prohibition to place the Aron Hakodesh in a wagon symbolizes that Torah must be studied with diligence and toil. One must exert himself physically and emotionally to attain a true level of Torah acumen. He cannot “set it down comfortably before him as he walks leisurely.” Rather, he must “carry it upon his shoulders,” bearing its full weight with devotion and love.
When David compared Torah to music, he unwittingly implied that adherence to Torah is effortless and can be mastered with nonchalance, much as one sings an enjoyable song. To demonstrate David’s fallacy G-d caused him to forget the law which symbolizes the opposite of his words. Torah indeed requires effort because one can easily forget it and be the cause of serious transgression, as David forgot a simple law.
Rav Elazar Shach zt’l asked that if, in fact, David erred when he referred to Torah as music, why is that verse included in the book of Tehillim?
Rav Shach explained that comparing Torah to music/song reflects two different ideas: First, it suggests that observing G-d’s mitzvos are as simple and natural as melodious music. That is simply not true as it is often challenging to perform mitzvos, and there are often many impediments that one must contend with.
Second, the spiritual pleasure and ultimate reward one experiences through Torah study is so great that no earthly pleasure can measure against it. One who engages in deep sincere Torah study enjoys a feeling of fulfillment and joy that cannot be expressed in words.
It is the second meaning that we refer to when we repeat David HaMelech’s words in Tehillim. True, it is not always easy to keep the Torah. However, one who does so realizes that Torah is like a song which bursts forth from within the deepest recesses of his soul like a harmonious ensemble.
Rav Shach then relates that, as a young boy, he was very poor. He was sent to the renowned Slutzker Yeshiva where he had no food, no drink, and no clothes. He had only Torah.
When the First World War broke out, the Jews of Lithuania were exiled and dispersed throughout Europe, and the students of the yeshiva were sent home. Rav Shach however, had no idea where his parents were and therefore had nowhere to go. He made the town shul his home, sleeping on the benches and living off whatever food he could solicit. He only had one change of clothes, which he washed every Friday on the roof, and then waited for them to dry. Few people noticed him or cared much for him and his hair grew long. This went on for a number of years until the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zt’l welcomed him into his home.
Rav Shach then concludes, “If I were to write down all the agony and misery that has been my lot throughout my life, I would fill volumes that would be much thicker than my Avi Ezri. I can honestly say that I never had a good day in my life! I never had any pleasure in this world. ובכל זאת מיום עמדי על דעתי עד היום אני הבן אדם הכי מאושר בעולם – Yet, despite everything, from the day I began to understand things until today, I am (consider myself) the luckiest man on the face of the earth. There has never been a moment in my life that I have not been filled with joy. Why? Because I learn Torah!”
Every person has goals and aspirations, which largely define who he is and what is important to him. Every person has a different response to the question of ‘Who is a lucky person?’ and “what would it take for one to ‘consider himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth’?” It depends on one’s value system and priorities.
The Yom Tov of Shavuos is a relatively short holiday. The Gemara states that on Shavuos one is obligated to eat a lavish meal and enjoy the day physically, to demonstrate that the Torah enriches our physical lives too.
It is a one day celebration of what is truly important to us and why we – the eternal people – are truly the luckiest people on the face of the earth.
About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead and the Social Worker at Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch in Monsey. He can be reached at email@example.com. Or visit him online at www.stamtorah.info.
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