Adapted from
Sefer HaSichos 5750, p. 493ff

Why Rav Yosef Would Celebrate

When describing the new dimension of Divine service brought about by the giving of the Torah, the Talmud1 states that Rav Yosef would hold a unique celebration, because:

If it were not for that day which caused [a radical change]… how many Yosefs would there be in the marketplace?

Rashi explains:

If it were not for the day on which I studied Torah and became uplifted… behold, there are many people in the street named Yosef. What difference would there be between me and them?

Rav Yosef was speaking in allegoric terms. The marketplace serves as an analogy for our material world, highlighting three aspects of our existence:

a) In the marketplace, there are many separate domains; each storekeeper has his own shop or place of business;

b) It is a place of intense activity, every individual eagerly striving to make a profit;

c) These profits are made through business transactions.

In the analogue: our world is characterized by plurality. Every element of existence is a separate entity, with no obvious connection to the others.2 It is, however, in this realm in contrast to the World to Come3 where the soul can truly advance and profit. Therefore, our worldly activities are charged with excitement and energy.4

The “business exchanges which generate profit” involve bringing entities from one domain to another; causing material entities which appear to be separate to join in entering G‑d’s possession, as it were, by revealing their inner spiritual core.

A Lasting Change

Rav Yosef speaks of “Yosefs in the marketplace.” The name Yosef is associated with making an increase.5 Rav Yosef was saying that even before the giving of the Torah, there were “many Yosefs in the marketplace,” i.e., there were spiritual leaders able to generate the profit that results from bringing the material into contact with the spiritual. Nevertheless, the giving of the Torah made a difference.

Firstly, it established unity. Before the giving of the Torah, there were “many Yosefs,” i.e., the efforts of the different spiritual leaders, although significant, were diverse; each had a thrust of his own. The giving of the Torah, however, generates a higher light, one that brings about a synthesis between different approaches. It allows a level of oneness which is manifold and all-encompassing.

In addition, as reflected in the words of Rashi quoted previously, the giving of the Torah generated the potential for worldly entities to become “uplifted.” Before the giving of the Torah, although spiritual leaders were able to reveal G‑dliness within the world, these revelations did not affect the world’s material substance.

For example, when Yaakov laid out the poplar, almond, and chestnut staves before Lavan’s flock,6 his actions evoked the same spiritual energies as are drawn down into the world through our performance of the mitzvah of tefillin.7 After this spiritual service was completed, however, the staves remained ordinary pieces of wood; Yaakov’s service left no lasting effect.8 In contrast, when a Jew puts on tefillin, the tefillin become sacred; the mitzvah imparts spirituality into their physical substance,9 and elevates them above the worldly plane.

Not Merely History

Although the radical change Rav Yosef described is associated with the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the intent is not merely to recount a historical event. For our nation’s past is not separate from its present. In that vein, on the verse, “these days are recalled and carried out,”10 the AriZal explains11 that when a holiday is recalled in the proper manner, it is “carried out” again, i.e., the spiritual influences which distinguished it are felt once more.12 Thus, each year, the celebration of the giving of the Torah on Shavuos brings a person to a deeper connection to G‑d, and to a more elevated plane of oneness.

This is reflected in the name of the Torah reading of the Shabbos which follows Shavuos, Parshas Naso.13 Naso means “lift up.” More particularly, the literal meaning of the verse14 with which the parshah begins is “Lift up the heads….”15 The head, the seat of intellect, is the most developed part of our physical bodies. And yet the giving of the Torah makes us able to “lift” our heads to a radically higher rung.

For when a person studies Torah, it is not merely a matter of man contemplating G‑d with mortal eyes. Instead, man is assimilating G‑d’s wisdom into his thought processes. And the knowledge of the Divine which a person thus gains remains within him, changing and elevating his way of thinking.16

Extending the Connection

A question can, however, be raised: The command to “lift up the heads” was given as part of the charge to count the Levites. The objects of the command which begins our Torah reading are “the descendants of Gershon” the Levites charged with carrying the curtains which covered the Sanctuary. It was the descendants of Kehos who were responsible for the ark which contained the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the menorah, which are both associated with Torah, and the command to count them was mentioned in the previous Torah reading, Parshas Bamidbar.17 If the intent of Parshas Naso is to highlight the elevating effect of Torah study, why is the charge associated with the descendants of Gershon?

The answer is that Torah study should not remain an isolated spiritual activity. Instead, it should elevate one’s service of prayer (the spiritual activity associated with the descendants of Gershon) and indeed, every aspect of one’s conduct. Moreover, when a person has raised his spiritual level in this fashion, he has the ability to elevate the world around him, bringing it to a deeper level of connection with G‑d.

This is reflected in the conclusion of the Torah reading, which describes the final stages of the dedication of the Sanctuary. For the purpose of the Sanctuary was to spread holiness throughout the world, bringing its material dimensions closer to G‑d through the sacrificial offerings.18

Applying these lessons dedicating ourselves to Torah study, and using that study to elevate our conduct and our environment will hasten the coming of the time when mankind and the world at large will reach its ultimate peak: “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”19