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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Devarim Nechmadim on Avos: Chapter Five (Shavuos)

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Ten Utterances

The Mishna teaches us that the world was created with “Ten Utterances”. G-d made ten verbal statements that brought the world into being. This is to teach us that the righteous who uphold the world will get reward and the evildoers who destroy it will suffer the consequences.

What is the significance of the Ten Utterances? The Bnei Yissoschar reminds us that it is not our task to understand why G-d created the world in a specific way. Our task is to under stand “מה תלמוד לומר?” – What does this come to teach us? G-d could have created the world with just one utterance, or none at all. What is the practical lesson here?

A parallel to the ten utterances (מאמרות) of Creation are the Ten Commandments (דברות) at Sinai.

The Ten Commandments begin with a personal introduction to G-d: “I am the Lord your G-d”. We are taught that the Jewish people heard the words directly from G-d Himself, as it were. Why then the need to remind us not to worship other deities, not to kill, not to steal, and not to covet another person’s wife? Is someone who has seen G-d really going to covet another person’s wife?

In a perfect world, G-d would not have had to spell out all Ten Commandments, just the first statement of “I am the Lord your G-d” would have been enough to guide us on a straight and moral path. Abraham did not have the commandments spelled out for him, yet he understood G-d’s will clearly and was able to teach it to the world .

This was a great kindness of G-d. He made his Torah accessible and relevant to everybody. No matter where we are in life or how far we are from spirituality.

The same applies in the creation of the world. With every utterance of creation, the world the world became a little bit more physical and a little less G-dly. Even the most physical and coarse beings have their place in G-d’s creation.

The result is a physical world that is full of opportunities to have a relationship with G-d. For some it is about Shabbos and Honoring Parents, but for others it is about resisting thievery and adultery.  If we neglect to bring G-d into our lives, no matter how coarse our lives might be, then we are wasting an opportunity that G-d has given us. The Mishna tells us that G-d will make us “pay him back for these squandered opportunities.

If, on the other hand, we can navigate the world properly and use it as a place to connect to G-d, then there is more reward for us.  G-d, as it were, has satisfaction in seeing his creations used properly.

Paying for Wasted Opportunities

The Vilna Gaon once said that our days come to heaven with us. Each day testifies about how we spent it and whether we used it well. Each day that Hashem gives us is a gift to allow to become better people and to carry out our unique role in this world.

In the Shaar Hatzion the Chofetz Chaim observes that some people deal with daily struggles but give up. They figure that if they don’t do what they need to do they will just get punished or perhaps die. The Chofetz Chaim explains that this never works. If we come up to heaven without fixing what we need to fix – and it is different for every person – we will be sent right back down. Even in this world, Hashem gives us each day as a gift and another chance to become better.

I was once sitting in Norfolk’s only kosher pizza shop when a stranger walked in. He clearly hadn’t intended to enter a Kosher Pizza shop and he spent a few minutes talking. It became clear from the conversation that he had once kept kosher but did not keep kosher any longer. He left the store and went to eat lunch somewhere else. I was shocked: here he was struggling with kashrus and G-d gave him another chance. He was out of town on a business trip with a partner and of all stores he walked into a kosher one. How much more of an opportunity do you need?

G-d could have created this world as a completely spiritually place or He could have made His commandments accessible to only the most spiritual of men. But He didn’t. He made this world a physical place and He made the Commandments relevant to everyone. If we squander that opportunity, we will have to make it up; but if we use that opportunity we have even more opportunities for reward.

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Devarim Nechmadim is a commentary on Pirkei Avos by Rav Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov. This essay is loosely based on his work as well as on the classes and writings of my father, Rav Yaacov Haber , Shlita.

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