Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu added on a day of preparation to Matan Torah. Hashem requested from Bnei Yisrael to prepare היום ומחר today and tomorrow. Moshe added a third day of preparation. Hashem gave the Torah after Moshe’s added day which conveyed that He agreed with Moshe’s decision (Shmos 19,15 Rashi). Why did Moshe Rabbeinu feel it necessary to add on to the instructions of Hashem of only a requirement of two-day preparations? Some meforshim explain that it was to demonstrate the power of the Chachamim and Torah Sh’bal Peh. We would like to suggest to you three thoughts on this matter.
For the attainment of any qualitative mitzvah fulfillment, one has to prepare for it and think about the significance of the avodah he is about to perform. This is one of the reasons why our chachamim instituted the saying of a beracha prior to its fulfillment. By making preparations before the fulfillment of the mitzvah, one allows himself the possibility of infusing the mitzvah with freshness and enthusiasm, without which it would fall into the category of rote and habitual conduct. However, sometimes even the preparation can become rote. Let us take for instance the recital of berachos before the performance of mitzvos. They were initially instituted in order to supply us with the fervor and devotion that we might have been missing without it. But alas, they too have become mechanical and are recited without concentration and feeling. So what are we supposed to do in order to kindle the natural fire of the neshamah? This is a real problem that every spiritual growth-oriented person has to constantly grapple with and face time and time again.
The minhag by Chassidim and others is that the Birkas Hazimun before bentching begins with the Yiddish calling of רבותי מיר וויעלן בענשין instead of רבותי נברך. I once read that the purpose of this alteration is because the Birkas Hazimum was instituted by our Chachamim as a preparation for the mitzvah of Birkas Hamazon. However, over time, since this is a mitzvah of the Rabbanan it also eventually became rote and habit and became viewed merely as an elongated Benching thereby losing its identity of being a preparation for benching. So in order to get everyone’s attention and at the same time to preserve the Birkas Hazimun as being recognized as a preparation for benching, the custom has become to say רבותי נברך in Yiddish. In this way, everybody will realize that the purpose of Birkas Hazimun is to prepare to bentch and to get one’s thoughts together. Obviously, the Anshei Kenneses Hagdolah did not speak the Yiddish language and therefore the Zimun is not an elongated attachment to the nusach of benching, but rather only our added introduction to serve as our calling to prepare for this great mitzvah of Birkas Hamazon.
Let us apply this same thought to Moshe’s added day of preparation for Matan Torah. With Hashem’s command to prepare two days in advance there lies a twofold challenge. His commandment of preparation can be looked upon as part of Matan Torah and not as a preparation for it. Another added hurdle to these two days of preparation is the Chazal that tell us that a person who is commanded to perform a mitzvah is greater than the one who fulfills the mitzvah voluntarily. Tosfos explains that the reason for this is because when one is commanded to fulfill the mitzvah, his yetzer harah is working with his full bag of tricks against him not to fulfill Hashem’s will. This is in contrast to one who performs a mitzvah when he is not commanded to do so, for the yetzer harah does not invest his energy to stop such an individual since he would only be capturing a booby prize.
Moshe felt that it was necessary to add a one-day preparation originating from Man thereby separating the preparation from being mistakenly being connected to Matan Torah itself. As the preparation remains a preparation and not lost in the forest, it will inspire increased devotion, excitement, and kavannah for the mitzvah of Kabbalas Hatorah. A preparation that stems from Man also protects the preparation from being stymied and extinguished by the yetzer harah, in contrast to one that is commanded by Hashem.
A second thought on the matter relates to an explanation that is given why there were 49 days of Sefirah before Matan Torah. The interpretation is that the Mishnah in Avos states that there are 48 prerequisites in order to acquire the Torah. The first 48 days are designated to make these acquisitions. The 49th day is to realize that with all our work, we have not yet even begun to prepare for this colossal otherworldly gift. As paradoxical as it sounds, only with this stark realization of our inadequacy, we are now really prepared to receive the Torah.
This same concept is repeated in the Nishmas Kol Chai tefillah. We say that if our mouths were full of song as the oceans, our lips as wide as the heavens, our eyes as brilliant as the sun, our tongues abundant with song like the waves of the sea, we would be totally inadequate and incapable to praise You for your unending kindness etc. Yet after we finish stating our declaration of total inefficiencies, we say in the same breath that with the limbs You created us with, we will praise, thank, bless, elevate, accept your kinship, bring out Your holiness, etc? The answer is that the moment we realize that we are void of any power that could come near to praise You, Hashem, even an iota, only then we are given the permission to do our best and within our capability to praise You.
Moshe Rabbeinu felt that we shouldn’t be deceived into thinking that it is within our human means to sufficiently prepare for Matan Torah and the revelation of Hashem at Har Sinai even if Hashem commands us to do so. The extra day of preparation parallels the 49th day of Sefirah by which we came to the realization that we haven’t even begun to prepare and we must start again.
Likewise, after preparing ourselves to daven the Shemoneh Esrai by the prior reciting of Birchos Hashachar, Pesukai D’zimrah, Birchos Shmah, Yetzias Mitzrayim and Kerias Yam Suf, we nevertheless still approach the Shemoneh Esrai with the passuk supplicating אדני שפתי תפתח ופי יגיד תהלתיך Hashem I am incapable of opening my mouth to say your praises please open my mouth. Only with this introduction passuk it is proper to stand and daven before the King of Kings the creator of the cosmos and universe. Similarly, we find that the first daf of every Mesechta sends the same message by beginning with the second daf. It is as if it is sending the message that no matter how much you learn in this mesechta look at yourself as if you never even got started with daf aleph. With this realization, you can now begin to start learning. Likewise, Moshe Rabbeinu wanted Am Yisrael to come to that realization that even with two days of commanded preparation, it is considered as if you didn’t even start preparing. Only with this realization you can now go and receive Hashem and His Torah the following day.
A third thought on this matter is the chait of Aitz Hadaas happened because Adam added a non-prescribed attachment to the commandment of Hashem. Hashem told Adam not to eat from the tree. However, Adam added in his instructions to Chavah, a safeguard to distance herself from eating the fruit, and that was the prohibition not to even touch the tree or its fruit. The problem was that he did not reveal to her that touching the tree was added by him and not by Hashem. The Nachash being aware of Adam’s communication to Chavah concerning the added prohibition of contact with the tree, cashed in on the opportunity to intentionally push Chavah against the tree. With its malicious and deceptive character, by doing so it proved that just as she didn’t die by transgressing the command of Hashem not to touch the tree, she won’t die by transgressing the prohibition of eating from the tree. Convinced of the Nachash’s reasoning and logic, she partook from the tree and gave it to Adam as well.
Concerning this explanation of the cause of Man’s falling from Hashem, Chazal say in Sanhedrin כל המוסיף גורע. Anyone who adds, in reality, detracts. Therefore, in order to bring a full tikkun to the chait of Aitz Hadaas which was rectified at Matan Torah פסקה זוהמתן (Shabbos 146), Moshe reenacted the conduct of adding but made sure that this time it was not a detraction but just the opposite. Therefore Moshe added on a day of preparation without first speaking to Hashem, similarly to Adam adding on the prohibition of touching the tree without telling Chavah about the addition. With this addition, Yisrael became greater prepared for Matan Torah and not only did it not detract from the initial statement that was made by Hashem, but it reinforced it as well.
At Matan Torah, Moshe added and Hashem agreed. This is not always the case with adding. One must make a cheshbon hanefesh when he decides to add on to Hashem’s words. In the Shma Yisrael there are two enlarged letters in the first passuk, the ayin of שמע and the dalet of אחד. It spells the letters of דע to know, עד to be a witness to Hashem, and in the English pronunciation, it reads עד to add. Before one decides to add stringencies or upgrades to the Torah, he must דע know himself well to discover what is behind his motivation to add. Has he fulfilled everything that is expected of him with exactness that he is ready to journey on to new additions? One must remember that all his actions must be a עד testimony to Hashem to the all-knowing judge. One can fool and deceive the populace but testimony to Hashem must be the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Don’t add if by doing so you will come to neglect Hashem’s and the Chachamim’s previous obligations.
One would be better off to first speak it out with a Chacham or a Rebbi prior to adding on to what you think is important. I would like to share with you a personal story that I call the Legend of the White Sox. As a bachur I started the minhag to wear white socks for Shabbos since the Ari was makpid to wear four white garments and I was a ben bayis Shabbos guest by a local Rebbe who did the same. Sunday morning my Rebbi ztl Rav Shlomo Freifeld called me over and asked me what’s with the white socks on Shabbos? (I grew up in Boston whose home team was the Boston Red Sox in contrast to Chicago’s White Sox. Until today I wonder if my Rebbi had this kavannah in mind as well as an opening line for the conversation). I replied the minhag of the Ari and kovod Shabbos. He smiled only the way he alone could smile, with both love and mussar asking, Are you maavir the Sedrah שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום which is a halacha in the Shulchan Aruch which has greater priority than a minhag? The message to me was clear. It feels much better and it is easier to fulfill kovod Shabbos with white socks than to be maavir the Sedrah. Maybe that was my rationalization and cover-up on my shortcoming of not always completing the Parsha as I should have, thereby not honoring the Shabbos properly with the basics. The struggle of שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום in honor of Shabbos is more of a kovod to Shabbos specifically because it requires a greater sacrifice of my comfort zone than white socks. Baruch Hashem my Rebbi socked it to me and implanted in my head the light of what it means to become a deeper ovaid Hashem.