The Crowns of Torah
Dear Rabbi,Is it possible nowadays to gain understanding in Torah as the Jews did when they received the Torah at Sinai? Or is that something particular to that generation alone?
It is nearly impossible for most people to attain the level of Torah understanding as those of the generation in which the Torah was given.
Remember that the generation of the Exodus was miraculously elevated from physical and spiritual oppression to liberation. In addition, they subsisted on the most potent “soul food” there ever was – the manna. And they were surrounded by clouds that permeated their daily lives with G-d’s glory. Concurrently, they prepared themselves intensively during the seven weeks between leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah with unparalleled religious passion and fervor.
So as far as G-d’s influence and their own readiness are concerned, those were very special and unique times.
The Midrash explains that when G-d decided to give the Torah, He approached all the nations with the proposition: “Do you want to receive the Torah?” Each nation effectively replied, “It depends. What’s written in it?” When G-d enumerated the obligations of the Torah, each nation in turn declined by replying, “If that’s what’s in it, it’s not for us”. Then G-d approached the Jews: “Would you like to receive the Torah?” The Jews replied, “We shall observe and we shall listen!” – “na’aseh v’nishma”. No questions asked.
The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) asserts that when the Jews unconditionally agreed to accept the Torah, preceding their commitment to observe before hearing the reasons and explanations for the commandments, G-d exclaimed, “Who revealed this secret to them, which only the ministering angels know?” And in the merit of this two-phrased, unconditional commitment, 600,000 angels descended from Heaven and conferred two crowns on the head of each Jew – one on account of “we shall observe” and one on account of “we shall hear”.
Of course, these were not literal crowns, but special “spheres” of influence that enlightened their minds and enabled them to perceive the depths of the Torah.
Unfortunately, the Talmud describes, when the Jews transgressed, twice as many angels were sent to dislodge these crowns and the Jews were left dejected and spiritually bareheaded: “So the children of Israel divested themselves of their crowns from Mount Horeb [Sinai]”(Ex. 33:6).
The Zohar discusses what happened to these crowns, seeing as once the Torah was given and brought into the world, it cannot be returned. The answer given is that all the crowns were given to Moses, enabling him to attain the highest possible understanding of the Torah.
Is there any hope that the Jews will ever regain these crowns? Interestingly enough, the Zohar states that Moses, in his great love for the Jewish people, returned the crowns to them “behind the back” as it were, and they’re there for the taking to whomever wholeheartedly and unconditionally accepts the Torah from Moses our Teacher. Every person in every generation, then, according to his or her degree of “na’aseh v’nishma”, is privy to regaining a certain degree of Torah understanding as those who received it at Sinai.
This is true regarding the righteous of each generation in general, and especially applicable to us on Shabbat, which is the actual day on which the Torah was originally given! It’s for this reason that even if a person has little opportunity to learn Torah during the week, he should make a special effort to learn on Shabbat – and the value of Torah study during the week, as great as it is, does not compare to that on Shabbat.