And you shall place these words that I command you today upon your heart. (Devarim 6:6)
Evanescent as gossamer floating on air,
the words drift past when my heart is distant.
Elusive as the sun on a cloudy day,
the words are obscured when darkness shades my heart.
Colliding like stones against a fortified wall,
the words pound fruitlessly when my heart is embattled.
But in moments of grace, my heart opens
and the words, waiting steadfastly, trickle in.
The Shem Mishmuel* cites the Kotsker Rebbe who addresses why we are instructed to place these words “upon” and not “in” our hearts. He says, “The words should be placed upon the heart like a stone, and when the heart opens, at a special moment, the words will enter it. This means: the heart is mostly shut so the words do not enter it. But one should not get excited about this. One should not desist from serving God. The words will be resting on the heart like a stone on the outside. And in a moment of awakening, when the heart will be opened, the words will enter inside.”
Earlier in the same Parasha, the Kotsker offers another teaching on connecting with God. On the verse: If you seek there for the Lord your God, you will find Him, if only you seek Him with all your heart and soul. (Devarim 4:29) The Kotsker links the word “u’matsata – and you will find, ” with a verse in B’midbar (11:22): Could enough flocks and herds be slaughtered to suffice them? In this verse the unusual word to convey “suffice” is “u’matsa” from the same root “to find”.
So the Kotsker Rebbe says, “The idea is: If you seek there for the Lord your God – the very act of seeking – the yearning and longing for God – u’matsata that is enough.” The Kotsker equates the longing itself with the finding.
*Shem Mishmuel is the name of a nine-volume collection of homiletical teachings on the Torah and Jewish holidays delivered by Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain (1855–1926), the second Sochatchover Rebbe, between the years 1910-1926. A major work in Hasidic thought, it synthesizes the Hasidism of Pshischa and Kotzk in the style of Sochatchov and is frequently cited in Torah lectures and articles to this day.
The first Sochatchover Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Bornsztain, (1838–1910) who was known as the Avnei Nezer after the title of his major work, was the son-in-law of the Kotsker Rebbe. His son Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain was a leading Hasidic thinker in early 20th-century Europe and Rebbe to thousands of Hasidim in the Polish cities of Sochaczew (Sochatchov) and Łódź.
The first eight volumes of Shem Mishmuel cover lessons on each of the parashot. In traditional Hasidic style, they are not printed according to the sequence of the parashot, but in the order in which the Rebbe delivered these lessons to his followers. The ninth volume deals exclusively with the Passover Haggadah.
In addition to displaying a thorough familiarity with Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, and other classic Jewish sources, Rabbi Bornsztain presents many of the ideas of his father who was his first teacher and with whom he was very close.
(The first edition was published by R’ Shmuel Bornsztain’s son and successor Rabbi David Bornsztain, the third Sochatchover Rebbe, between 1927 and 1932. R’ David Bornsztain perished in the Warsaw ghetto ten years later, and his brother Rabbi Chanoch Henoch Bornsztain, who had immigrated to Israel in 1924 and became the fourth Sochatchover Rebbe after Rabbi David’s death, published the second edition of Shem Mishmuel in Jerusalem in 1950.
Rabbi Chanoch Henoch’s eldest son, the fifth Sochatchover Rebbe, R’ Menachem Shlomo Bornsztain was killed in a car accident in 1969 at the age of 34 and his eldest son, Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain who was 8 years old at the time, became the sixth Sochatchover Rebbe a few years later. He presently leads the Sochatchover dynasty from Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, where the Sochatchov yeshiva, Yeshivat Avnei Nezer, is located.)