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Three Keys to Success

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Bamidbar - Shavuos
Three Keys to Success

This week's parsha is always read before Shavuos, often, on the Shabbos right before the holiday, which celebrates the festival of receiving the Torah. What is the connection between the two? How does parshas Bamidbar prepare us for the festival of Shavuos?

The first verse in this week's portion tells us that God spoke to Moshe in the Sinai Desert (Nu. 1:1). The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 1:7) questions why it is necessary for the Torah to specify the location in which God spoke to Moshe. According to the Midrash, our Sages derive from this detail that three elements were present when the Torah was given: fire, water, and desert.

We learn about fire from the verse, "All of Mount Sinai was smoking because God descended upon it in fire" (Ex. 19:18). Water is specified in the verse, "The heavens dripped with water" (Jud. 5:4), which describes the giving of the Torah. Finally, we learn about the desert from the phrase "in the Sinai Desert" in this week's portion. What message is the Torah trying to convey by listing the weather conditions at the time we received the Torah?!

There are three primary keys to success in Torah learning:

1. Hard work and intense involvement in study.

2. Happiness and joy while studying.

3. Humility coming from the knowledge that, ultimately, our achievements in learning are not a result of our own efforts, but due to the kindness of God who gives us Torah.

We see a hint to these three attributes in the Talmudic opinions regarding the blessings one must recite before studying Torah (Berachos, chap. 1, M'eimasai", pg. 11b). The Talmud lists three opinions:

1. Rav Yehuda, in the name of Shmuel, claims that one must recite the blessing, "...who has commanded us to be involved in the study of Torah."

2. Rebbi Yochanan claims that we should say, "May You make the words of Torah be sweet in our mouths."

3. Rav Ham'nuna claims that we should say, "Blessed are You, the One Who gives Torah."

The Talmud concludes that we should follow all these opinions, and recite all three blessings before beginning Torah study.

Generally speaking, reciting a blessing prior to performing a mitzvah prepares us to fulfill the mitzvah. Thus, making a blessing before we begin to study Torah prepares us for the mitzvah of learning Torah. Once we understand this, we can see that these three blessings mentioned in the Talmud correlate exactly to the three keys for successful Torah learning that we listed initially:

* The blessing, "to be involved in the study of Torah" corresponds to the hard work that is necessary to invest in studying.

* The blessing, "make the words of Torah sweet in our mouths" corresponds to the happiness and joy we must feel when engaged in study.

* The blessing, "the One Who gives Torah" corresponds to the humility that results when we realize that our achievements are not due to our own effort, but are actually a result of Divine benevolence.


Based on the Shem MiShmuel, we can now understand the deeper message of the Midrash in listing the three elements that were present at the giving of the Torah:

1. Fire symbolizes hard work. We see this explicitly in the Yiddish word "farbrent" (literally, "on fire"), which is used to describe intense effort in Torah learning. As we mentioned above, the idea of hard work corresponds to the blessing, "to be involved in the study of Torah."

2. Water symbolizes happiness. In general, and specifically in the Land of Israel, rain is considered a blessing and a benefit. We should all be happy when it rains, since almost every aspect of our lives depends on water. This idea corresponds to the blessing, "Make the words of Torah sweet in our mouths."

3. The desert represents humility. It is low and flat, and people walk all over it. This corresponds to the blessing, "the One Who gives Torah" - since, as we mentioned, it takes humility to recognize that our own efforts are not the ultimate cause of our success.

Now we can finally understand why Parshas Bamidbar is read before Shavuos. On Shavuos, we do not simply commemorate the original acceptance of Torah, but we accept the Torah upon ourselves anew. In order to prepare ourselves to truly receive Torah on this day, Parshas Bamidbar gives us the keys that will enable our Torah learning to succeed.

One practical application of this teaching would be to concentrate on the deeper meaning behind Birchas HaTorah when reciting them each and every morning.

When we recite "La'asok B'divrei Torah", let us keep in mind that we will try to truly invest ourselves in today's Torah sessions.

When reciting "V'ha'arev Nah", let us remember to study in a good mood joyfully.

Finally, when we say "Nosein HaTorah" let us humbly remember that even after all of our efforts, and even after all of our happiness, the successes and accomplishments in Torah are completely up to Hashem.

So, may we all be triply blessed: to work hard in learning the Torah that was given at Mount Sinai in fire, with sweet happiness that feels as good as cool water, so that this Shavuos will be a humble, down-to-earth acceptance of God's extraordinary gift.

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