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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa| 5766

If You Will it, it is not a Dream

 Those who are familiar with the world of segulot know that there are many that require things to be done for 40 days straight. Moshe outdid all by spending 40 days and 40 nights on Har Sinai, without eating, drinking (Shemot 34:28), or sleeping (Shemot Rabba 47:7). The midrash (ibid.) tells how Moshe was rewarded for his mesirut nefesh (selfless dedication) by being the conduit for more Torah than he otherwise would have been. In fact, the midrash (Devarim Rabba 11:4) explains his description as “man of G-d” (Devarim 33:1) that he was sometimes human-like and other times angel-like. When he reached the Heavens via Har Sinai to receive the Torah, he was like angels, who do not eat or drink. I have always had problems understand such sources. If someone told me he covered a mile in 4 minutes, I would be duly impressed. If he told me he covered it in 6 seconds, I would not, as he must be referring to riding in a jet plane. Moshe could not have existed so long without sleeping or eating with any level of mesirut nefesh. It required an outright miracle. If it was done with a miracle, where is the mesirut nefesh?. The answer must be along the following lines. Moshe tried so hard to maintain the level of spirituality and not waste a moment of his Divine tutorial that he pushed himself not to eat, drink, or sleep until he was unable to continue. He was physically hungry and tired, as midrashim describe. The miracle was only that Hashem enabled him to survive in that state the entire 40 days. This solution explains a similar phenomenon regarding Yaakov. The midrash (Bereishit Rabba 68:11) infers that during the fourteen years in Shem and Ever’s yeshiva he did not lie down at night. I always preferred the understanding of the midrash that Yaakov had slept; he just did not lie down in bed at night but he did doze off here and there. After all, only then could we explain Yaakov’s accomplishment as a human one. According to our thesis, one can understand Yaakov’s lack of sleep as a miracle and still see it as a human accomplishment, as we will briefly develop. Hashem views a person’s intention to do a mitzva as if he succeeded to do so in a case where he failed to perform the mitzva for reasons beyond his control (Kiddushin 40a). However, occasionally, in special moments in history or in relation to special tzaddikim, Hashem enables those who desire to accomplish spiritual heights which involve defying the laws of nature to accomplish the feat. In those cases, it is considered as if the person reached the level himself. This was the case for Moshe and perhaps Yaakov. It is highly unlikely that we will “pull off” what a Moshe or a Yaakov did even if we want to and try. However, we should believe that Hashem can and may (we should not assume that he will) help us accomplish somewhat more than we could have expected. However, we need to want it enough and show the requisite mesirut nefesh.
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