The Talmud (Beitzah 16a) says that Shammai the Elder would find a choice animal and designate it for his Shabbat table. The next day, however, he would find an even better animal and, swapping it with the first, declare it for the Holy Sabbeth. He would then eat the first as his weekly meal. By constantly planning, Shamai brought a piece of Shabbat into his every day.
Much like Shammai, B’nai Israel are instructed to prepare themselves to stand at the foot of Sinai. “And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and warn them to stay pure today and tomorrow. Let them wash their cloths. Let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai” (Shemot 19:10-11). For three days, everything the Israelites did was in preparation for the big event.
In remembrance of standing at Sinai, the person receiving an aliya recites a blessing after reading from the Torah. “Blessed are you Lord, our God – King of the world, that gave us the Torah of truth and planted within us everlasting life. Blessed are you Lord, giver of Torah (נותן התורה).”
In this benediction, God gave the Jewish people the Torah at Mount Sinai and is thus forever considered the “giver of Torah.” However, No-tain Ha’Torah (נותן התורה) is written in the present, and therefore can also be read as “the One who gives Torah.” As if to say, the giving of Torah was not a one time event, but something that takes place day in and day out.
But wait, God commands us to prepare ourselves to receive Torah. How can we possible be prepared at all times?!
Luckily, the Talmud’s story continues: Hillel the Elder had a different attribute. All of Hillel’s actions, even during the week, were for the sake of heaven – as the verse states, “Blessed be the Lord, day by day” (Psalms 68:20). By accepting in blessing all that comprised his world, Hille lived in the present. In doing so, Hillel was constantly prepared to receive that which came his way.
Torah is something that happens spontaneously and without warning. Inspiration, enlightenment, and epiphony can all occur at any time. Thus, Hillel lived in the moment – always blessing that which he received. Yet at the same time, Torah is something for which we must prepare in advance. It is essential to practice for a Torah reading, organize notes before giving a d’var, and review details prior to conducting a Passover seder. Therefore, much like B’nai Israel in the desert, Shammai lived in preparation for what was to come.
As always, the continuum stretched between two paradigms holds our pursuit. By preparing for tomorrow, today will become a blessing – by blessing all that we have today, we are prepared to receive tomorrow.
It is my prayer that by thanking God for having given us “the Torah of Truth”, we open ourselves to “the One who gives Torah” at every moment. If we are able to somehow do both – live in the present while preparing for the future – then maybe, just maybe, we will merit experiencing a taste of the everlasting life planted deep within us.