Daily Israel Report

Judaism: The Art of Preparation

Being prepared for an event is part and parcel of experiencing it.
Published: Wednesday, April 02, 2014 5:19 PM


A thing without its place is lost.  This is true of trivial things from computer files to puppies.  How much more is this simple observation true when it comes to our obligation to prepare a place at Passover?

Chaim, a poverty-stricken man who struggled to make the most modest of livings in support of his family, decided one day to strike out for the city.  “There, I will make my fortune!” he told himself.  As it happened, he arrived in the city just as its wealthiest and most prominent citizen was making a wedding.  Because he was a visitor, he too was invited to attend.

When Chaim arrived at the banquet hall, his eyes widened at the sight of the dazzling settings on the table. And there, at the far end of the room, he saw the host sitting upon a raised dais with the eyes of all the guests on him in breathless anticipation.  The host smiled and then rang a small, silver bell.  The waiters immediately brought in lavish trays of food.

Observing that his guests had nearly finished the food that the waiters had brought, the wealthy host rang a second time and more delicacies appeared.  “This is wonderful!” Chaim thought to himself as he wiped his lips with his sleeve.  What was wonderful?  Not just that he was sated with delicious food but that he understood how things were done in the big city.  Now he would go home and buy such a bell!

Chaim purchased a bell that was an exact duplicate of the one owned by the wealthy man.  Then, he made his way home.  Upon his arrival, he gathered his wife and children.  “Everyone,” he said, clapping his hands.  “Dress in your very best clothing.   Come, come.  And set the table as if it were a holiday!”

Excitedly, they dressed and set the table.  And then they sat in wonderful anticipation.  Chaim took his place at the head of the table and with the self-importance he felt was his due, he rang the bell.  Unsurprisingly to you and me, nothing happened.  But Chaim was shocked and enraged.  He rang again and again.  Still, nothing. 

“I have been played the fool!” he cried out to his family.  Both upset and saddened, he headed back to the city.   The next morning he arrived at the store where he’d purchased the bell.  He confronted the old shopkeeper.  “You have made a laughing stock of my family!  Why did you not give me the same bell?”

The shopkeeper did not understand what his angry customer was talking about.  When Chaim, sputtering with indignation, managed to tell the story, the shopkeeper stared at him in astonishment.  “Did you not understand that the wealthy man had prepared all the food and delicacies prior to ringing the bell? The bell was merely a signal to bring in the tasty dishes he had prepared ahead of time.”

Dayeinu! It would have been enough for us!

Had He brought us to Mount Sinai,

And not given us the Torah,

It would have been enough for us!

What would have been enough?

Could the mere assembling of the people of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai without its ultimate purpose of the giving of the Torah have had any significance?  It is not difficult to grasp that had God “only” taken us out of Egypt and not brought us to Sinai, it would have been enough.   Liberation from our oppressive servitude in Egypt would have been more than enough in and of itself for us to be infinitely grateful.  But what was to be gained from simply coming to Mount Sinai if not for the accompanying gift of Torah?

There is no gift to compare with that of Torah.  However, assembling at Sinai even without receiving Torah would have taught us a vital lesson – that the preparation for an exalted and significant experience carries as much meaning as the experience itself.  That is, to prepare for an exalted experience is an exalted experience in and of itself; indeed, just as the anticipation of an event can sometimes be more powerful than the event itself, sometimes the preparation is more exalted. 

During the fifty days between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot, and particularly in the three days preceding the Revelation at Sinai, the people of Israel rose to a level wherein God could speak to them face to face.  As we read in Shemot (Exodus) 20:17, preparing for this revelatory experience, as well as the actual experi­ence of standing at the foot of Sinai with all that this represents, were awesome experiences.   Occupying the physical space at the foot of Mount Sinai enabled the people to contemplate and anticipate the Divine presence and its meaning, and to reflect on the demanding relationship about to be forged. 

It was then, at the foot of Sinai, that we needed to purify our minds and bodies; there that we had to prepare to embrace this heightened relationship with God.  The very act of preparation created and demanded the awe, fear and trembling that reached its apex with the giving of the Torah.   

The preparation was no less significant that the actual receiving of the Torah. 

Only one who adequately and fully anticipates and prepares for a major event or experience is able to fully appreciate and cherish the event itself.

Rav Moshe Feinstein adds that it would have been sufficient even had God merely brought us before Mount Sinai and then would have given the Torah to us through Moses, Moshe Rabbeinu. That God Himself gave the Torah directly to us before the entire nation was an additional benefit for which we must thank Him.

The Sinai event itself, even absent its subsequent aura and religious power and drama, demands our recognition and gratitude. The subsequent appearance of God and the Giving of the Torah by God Himself is an additional gift which calls for its own Dayeinu!  The preparation for the most auspicious religious event in history, however, calls for its own recognition, appreciation and Dayeinu!  .

There are many religious experiences and events which are preparatory in nature, which are nevertheless considered as impor­tant and significant, if not more so, than the final experience itself.  It is during the period of preparation and anticipation that one fully brings his mind and heart into concert with what is to follow.  

It is when we prepare that our attitudes, approaches and motivations are shaped and transformed.  Seeking out the proper lulav and etrog, building the Sukkah, or baking the matzah, is critical to the authentic mitzvah experience.  Without our preparation, we cannot fully engage in the actual observance of the mitzvah.  

As Chaim learned, one must diligently prepare all the delicacies before ringing the bell.   If one is to truly embrace and love Torah, he must learn, integrate and absorb the significance of Sinai before receiving the Torah.

The woodcutter may spend the entire morning sharpening his saw, using it to cut for only an hour.  A chef may spend a full day preparing the feast, only to see it eaten in a fraction of the time.  Yet, without that long preparation, the thing itself would be diminished. 

Let no one allow his prayers to become perfunctory.  When there are only two minutes available for prayer, spend one of them in preparation.

A pious man was once asked: “What do you do before you pray?”

He looked at his questioner with deep eyes and, with the deepest sincerity, replied, “I pray that when I pray I may pray with all my heart.”

Dayeinu!

Had He brought us to Mount Sinai,

And not given us the Torah,

It would have been enough for us!

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He is the author of: Kos Eliyahu – Insights on the Haggadah and Pesach. Available from e1948s@aol.com