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29 Av 5760 - August 30, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Four Amos of Halocho

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 today?

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 three pillars.

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 wealth.

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 over Torah.

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 Knesses Yisroel.

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 a livelihood.

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 want?

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.

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