Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger
Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger

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For three days we do not say tachanun, and three days can easily include a Monday or a Thursday. Because some find it so convenient, they don't bother to ask what is being celebrated that warranted skipping tachanun. Perhaps that is why there is very little discussion of the "three days of hagbola", the three last days of the sefira leading into the holiday of shavuous. For those of us for whom lag baomer was but a one-day reprieve and find ourselves once again ungroomed and missing the uplift of a recorded nigun, the days are consequential far beyond the omission of tachanun.

Undoubtedly the name given to these days recalls the instructions received from on High just a few days before matan Torah. These directives included two days of separation from intimacy which Moshe expanded to three, and the prohibition issued to refrain from ascending the mountain once the Shechina rested upon it. For man and animal alike, all but Moshe Rabbeinu, the mountain at some elevation would become a Kodshei Kodshim with all of its distance and reverence. Thus the "three days of hagbola" are the three days during which we were aware that the appearance of Hashem that would forever shake and shape our planet would be both close and out of reach in equal measure.

This paradox comes alive through a remarkable insight of the Sochachtever Rebbe as developed by my mechutan, Rabbi Moshe Schwerd, in his recently published collection of his popular and widely acclaimed public shiurim, Oz Yashir Moshe. The Rebbe argued that the "hagbolo", the restriction against ascending Har Sinai, is the response to the cynical argument that arises from the medrash that records Hashem's encounter with our neighboring nations. They all rejected Torah upon discovering that it prohibits activities that were central to their lives, be it theft, incest, or worse. Were the Jews ever subjected to a test of that order? The Rebbe answers in the affirmative, as we were told that achieving ultimate intimacy with the Almighty would be limited as long as we live in this world.

Indeed, the Ohr Hachayim (Yisro 19:12 ) suggests that during the three days of hagbolo, Jews would practice skirting around the mountain, to be sure that they would not be drawn to ascend the mountain once the Shechina came to rest upon it. The similarity of that description to the exposure therapy offered to the phobic must teach us of the enormous magnetic pull that they feared they would experience. They understood so very well that they would find it close to impossible to overcome the impulse to see whatever they could, with their own eyes, unless they trained themselves and engrained the contrary behaviors within themselves that would keep them clear of getting too close. Let the discipline of routine overcome the imagined impulse to feel the closeness of Shechina.

My imagination, informed by the practices of mesmerized crowds, pictures Jews of all ages coming to the bottom of the mountain and staking out their space. Not unlike those who would wait on long lines for the first opportunity to purchase a soon to be released item of enormous popularity and limited availability, Jews would spend these days scouting out "best spots" on all sides of the mountain. Who knows what they would bring with to lay claim to a comfortable boulder or to refresh themselves as they spend long hours waiting in anticipation?

If my mind's portrayal is in any way accurate, then this three day outpouring of anticipation is well worth remembering and well worth celebrating. To be sure it is that eagerness that we try to recapture for ourselves as we push ourselves throughout the night. May Hashem grant us success as we try to evoke that excitement that should be part of our preparation for and participation in our celebration of matan Torah.

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