The following hesped for Shmuel Yoel Greenhaus,
zt'l, a yeshiva student recently killed in a car
accident near Kiryat Sefer, was given at the end of the
shiva. This presentation is based on the notes of one
of the listeners. It is an inspiring his'orerus for
Elul and the new zman.
"Hashem loves the gates of Tzion more than all the dwellings
of Yaakov" (Tehillim 87:2). Chazal (Brochos 8a)
interpret this posuk as describing Hashem's intense
love for the study of halocho: "Hashem loves the gates
that excel in halocho more than botei knesses
and botei midrash. This is similar to what R' Chiya
bar Ami said in the name of Ulla: that ever since the Beis
Hamikdosh was destroyed the only thing HaKodosh Boruch
Hu has in His world is the four amos of
halocho." But what does this really mean? What is the
importance of these four amos of halocho
Shimon Hatzaddik was among the remnants of the Knesses
Hagedola. He used to say: "The world depends on three
things: Torah study, avoda, and gemilus
chassodim" (Ovos 1:2). Surely this statement of
Shimon Hatzaddik's is not referring solely to our material
world. Each person's spiritual world rests upon these same
The abovementioned gemora is teaching us that until
the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed the main pillar, upon
which the other pillars were dependent, was the pillar of
avoda. "For out of Tzion shall go forth Torah, and the
word of Hashem from Yerushalayim" (Yeshaya 2:3).
Before the churban of the Beis Hamikdosh the
conduit through which all spiritual abundance emanated was
the pillar of avoda.
It is said in the name of the Vilna Gaon that the divrei
Torah we have today, when we are lacking the avoda
in the Beis Hamikdosh, are only crumbs from the Torah.
After the churban we cannot be truly zoche to
Torah. We say in our tefillos at the end of
Shemoneh Esrei, "May it be Your will . . . that the
Beis Hamikdosh be rebuilt, speedily in our days, and
grant us our share in Your Torah." We mention the
avoda in the Beis Hamikdosh as a prelude to our
tefillah for success in Torah since this too is
dependent on avoda. We cannot be zoche to
perfection in Torah without the Beis Hamikdosh. The
whole Torah that we have from the Tanoim and Amoraim, the
Rishonim and Acharonim, is only crumbs from the Torah's real
Although Torah itself is a pillar upon which the world rests,
and although the pillar of the Torah is greater than that of
avoda, in the time of the Beis Hamikdosh the
avoda was a conduit for spiritual abundance in Torah
study. After the Beis Hamikdosh was choreiv
(meaning both "destroyed" and "dried up") that abundance
departed too. Today in the world of HaKodosh Boruch
Hu, which is the world of ruchniyus, the conduit
through which all other conduits and all other spiritual
advantages pass is the four amos of halocho.
Those four amos, that corner where a ben Torah
labors over his studies, are the foundation for the whole
world. All spiritual abundance is transmitted through it,
including chessed and our spiritual aliya in
the botei knesses and botei midrash. Everything
emanates from those "gates that excel in halocho,"
those gates where bnei Torah labor over the depth of
halocho. Those gates are what support them. If we see
people doing chessed, if we see people occupied in
avoda, we must realize that everything stems from that
corner, from the four amos of being engaged in toiling
Later in the gemora (Brochos 8a) Abbayei says:
"Initially I would study at home and pray in a beis
knesses, but after hearing what R' Chiya bar Ami said in
the name of Ulla, that ever since the day that the Beis
Hamikdosh was destroyed HaKodosh Boruch Hu only
has the four amos of halocho in His world, I
only pray where I study." Where a person studies Torah is the
basis, the source, the spring of all the spiritual abundance
that enables him to do all other avodas Hashem.
"Although thirteen botei knesses were located in
Tiveria, R' Ami and R' Asi would only pray between the
pillars where they studied." Chazal's expression, "between
the pillars," is meaningful. It alludes to those pillars upon
which the world depends, since tefillah draws
nourishment from the pillar of the world, which is the pillar
of Torah study, since HaKodosh Boruch Hu has in His
world only these four amos, and from them all
abundance is derived.
People tell the following story about Maran the Chasam Sofer,
zy'a: A talmid happened to visit a certain
tzaddik whose tefillos were truly inspiring;
one could even tangibly feel his real avoda. After
that talmid returned to the Chasam Sofer's beis
midrash he appreciated less the place where he actually
studied Torah. He thought that we can see avodas
Hashem only where that tzaddik lived, and only in
his beis midrash can we experience genuine
tefillah. Maran the Chasam Sofer told him a
moshol: "In a king's palace many servants work, and it
has many rooms. All these rooms, however, rely on the cellar
where the ovens are that heat all the other rooms. Without
that heat everyone would freeze. Although way down in the
cellar it is not evident that any special work is being done
for the palace, and the work done there is dreary, without
any royal pomp, it is actually the basis of survival for the
whole palace. The same, said the Chasam Sofer, is true when
you see people reaching sublime levels, real levels in
tefillah. They could only do that because of the
shiur given here in our beis midrash, because
of our four amos of halocho. Our Torah study is
what generates the warmth. When we are engaged in Torah we do
not behold "angels from on high"; we see only our labor.
Sweat falls from our forehead and it seems as if it is only
dreary work. Everything here seems dismal and dim, whereas in
other places we see tefillah, avoda, and inspiration.
But if we do not toil over Torah, if we do not resolve a
kushya of R' Akiva Eiger's, it will be cold over
there. The only reason it is warm there, that you see their
fervent avoda of tefillah, their avoda
of chessed and undertakings of chessed, is
because of what we are studying here."
Maran HaRav E. M. Shach, shlita, would often remark
that in Bnei Brak people give more tzedokoh than other
big cities in the world since bnei Torah live in the
four amos of halocho, and from them
chessed emerges. This is the first principle we need
to review and grasp.
Torah When Hard-Pressed
This principle is repeated in yet another gemora
(Eruvin 21b): "`Come, my beloved, let us go forth into
the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us go early to
the vineyards; let us see if the vines have flowered, if the
grape blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates are in
flower; there will I give you my love (Shir HaShirim
7:12).' Rovo said: `Come, my beloved, let us go forth into
the field' - - Knesses Yisroel said before HaKodosh
Boruch Hu: `Ruler of the World! Do not judge me like
those living in large cities, who sin through theft, illicit
relations, and false oaths.' `Let us go forth into the
field' -- come and I will show You talmidei chachomim
engaged in Torah despite being hard-pressed for a living.
`Let us go early to the vineyards' -- those are the botei
knesses and botei midrash. `Let us see if the
vines have flowered' -- these are those who study
Chumash. `If the grape blossoms have opened' -- those
who study mishnah. `If the pomegranates are in flower'
-- those who study gemora. `There will I give you my
love' -- I will show you My honor and the great praise of my
sons and daughters."
Where do we see the praise of "my sons and daughters"? In
whom does knesses Yisroel take pride before
HaKodosh Boruch Hu? "Come and I will show You." Who
does Knesses Yisroel show? The talmidei
chachomim engaged in Torah despite being hard-pressed for
a living. That is our pride.
What can we learn from what Knesses Yisroel asked from
HaKodosh Boruch Hu, "not to judge me like those living
in large cities"?
We see many notable enterprises of chessed.
Undoubtedly they are immaculate mitzvos, but this is not the
"praise of my sons and daughters." Although what they are
doing is an immense mitzvah, although they are zoche
to elevated worthiness through it, this is not the praise of
We see enormous projects in which people work devotedly for
chessed. They are astoundingly active, and constantly
engaged in their labor, and we honor them immensely for it.
Nonetheless, the gemora tells us that Knesses
Yisroel says lovingly to HaKodosh Boruch Hu, "Come
and I will show you" and does not want to show those "living
in big cities." They are not the pride and glory of our
kingdom. Only the talmid chochom sitting in his corner
and studying Torah is the pride of Knesses Yisroel.
What position does that talmid chochom hold? He is
neither a rosh yeshiva nor a maggid shiur. He
only sits and labors in his winkeleh and sometimes,
perhaps, he asks himself, "What will be with me? I have sat
so many years in a kollel and I do not see the big
rosh yeshiva who will emerge from me," he asks. Where
is the "praise of my sons and daughters"?
About him the posuk proclaims that Knesses
Yisroel says to HaKodosh Boruch Hu not to look at
the splendor, not the large posters, not the impression that
they make . . . although it is all good and fine and
exceptionally virtuous and they will surely be well-rewarded,
"I will show you" the talmid chochom in the corner.
"There will I give you my love" -- I will show you My honor
and My pride in My sons and daughters: the talmidei
chachomim who study Torah despite being hard-pressed for
These talmidei chachomim who are hard-pressed for a
livelihood are sometimes bothered by their feelings. They
feel they are studying and studying but do not see any
brocho in their labor. "I study and forget what I have
studied and do not see the greatness that should emerge from
me," they muse. The thought might pop up to question how they
could be the nation's pride. Knesses Yisroel answers
and says, "Rabbonon are kings."
Who truly leads the world? You can read in the newspapers
about all sorts of "leaders," all sorts of people who have
the say, whose every word makes headlines. But who is truly
the king, the leader? Who really makes chessed and
rachamim for the whole world and for Klal
Yisroel? These are the talmidei chachomim who
study Torah although they are hard-pressed.
This is the second foundation that emerges from the first one
about the gates excelling in halocho, that HaKodosh
Boruch Hu has in His world only these four amos.
We must spend much time reflecting about this.
Hashem has an endless amount of worlds, limitless
elyonim and tachtonim. The worlds extend for
billions of miles and we are constantly revealing an infinite
number of new stars. About all this Hashem says, "The heavens
are My throne and the earth is My footstool" (Yeshaya
66:1). What do I have out of My whole world, all of those
billions of light years in the worlds? What does Hashem
He wants the winkeleh, that corner in which a boy or a
yungerman sits and studies Torah and sings a tune when
saying "omar Abbayei." When he asks what will be with
him at the end, the answer is that this is the end!
This is the aim of everything. All else in all worlds are
only servants. Everything draws its power from here.
This is the principle that we must repeat to ourselves and
learn well when we find ourselves at a hesped of such
a boy, who was a ben aliya, someone who strove to
advance in spiritual achievements, who devoted himself to
Torah and avoda and elevated himself.
This is no chidush. I am not saying any
chidush. We all know that this is the principle and
the outlook that we have always heard. But when HaKodosh
Boruch Hu sees that something has become undermined, that
we do not completely feel it, He then wants a sefer
Torah. He needs a pure parchment fitting to write on it a
new sefer, to write nevu'ah from the Living
Elokim. After we have reached the condition of "What should I
cry?" (Yeshaya 40:6), "a voice says, `Cry'." We must
arouse ourselves after such a tragedy.
End of Part I
HaRav Aviezer Piltz, shlita, is the rosh yeshiva of
Yeshivas Tushiyah in Tifrach near Beer Sheva.