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17 Adar I 5760 - February 23 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Role of a Ben Yeshiva: A Shmuess for Parshas Vayakheil

By HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l

Where are You Coming From?

The posuk (Shemos 35:1) says, "And Moshe congregated the entire community of bnei Yisroel . . . " Later on (posuk 20), when Moshe Rabbenu had finished speaking to them, the posuk says, "And the entire community of bnei Yisroel left Moshe's presence." The gaon and tzaddik HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l, asked why, since the Torah has already told us that the entire congregation gathered before Moshe Rabbenu, is it necessary to tell us again that it was the entire congregation that left him. What does this apparent redundancy come to teach us?

When discussing this parsha (which in an ordinary year is usually read right at the end of the yeshivos' winter zeman), HaRav Lopian used to say that if one sees someone in the street swaying back and forth and unable to walk in a straight line, it is clear that the fellow has come out of a tavern where he drunk too much liquor.

Lehavdil, when a bochur leaves yeshiva at the end of a zeman, it should be just as clear to everyone who sees him that he has come from yeshiva. It should be possible to see that he has spent the past months ascending in Torah, in yiras Shomayim, and in fine character traits.

This is why the posuk stresses that "the entire community left Moshe." After they had all come to him and he had repeated to them the parsha concerning the construction of the mishkan, they left with the holiness that had rested upon each one of them recognizable. One could see that they had just left Moshe Rabbenu's presence!

When a bochur leaves yeshiva and goes home, said HaRav Lopian, the luminescence that comes to rest upon him in yeshiva has to be noticeable in his conduct at home and elsewhere!

A Staggering Influence

The gemora in Yoma (86), relates that Rabbi Ma'asyo ben Chorosh asked Rabbi Elozor ben Azarya in Rome, "Have you heard the four categories of atonement which Rabbi Yishmoel expounded?" The latter replied that there are really only three categories, each of which has to be accompanied by teshuvah. If a person transgresses a positive commandment and he repents, he is forgiven immediately, as the posuk (Yirmiyohu 3:14) says, "Return wayward sons" [Rashi -- and "I will heal their waywardness" immediately (Hoshea 14:5)]. If he transgressed a negative commandment and he repents, teshuvah puts punishment into abeyance and Yom Kippur atones . . . however, if someone has caused the profanation of Hashem's name, teshuvah alone cannot hold the punishment in abeyance, nor can Yom Kippur atone, nor can suffering wipe out his sin. The three of them together can [only] hold off punishment, and the person's death atones, as the posuk (Yeshaya 22:14 says, [I swear] "that this sin will not be atoned for [with exile], until you die" . . .

The gemora continues, "Abaye said . . . [the following beraissa gives an example of chilul Hashem],' and you shall love Hashem, your G-d," (Devorim 6:5), [this means] that Hashem's name should become beloved to others through you, [meaning that] a person should learn (mikro -- Rashi) and review (mishna -- Rashi) and serve talmidei chachomim (gemora, which explains the reasoning of the halochos in the mishnayos and their sources -- Rashi), and deal faithfully with people and speak calmly to them.

What do people say about [such a person]? "Happy is his father, who taught him Torah! Happy is his teacher, who taught him Torah! See how pleasant his ways are and how correct his deeds are." The posuk (Yeshaya 49:3) says about him, "And He said, `You are my servant, [like the rest of Klal] Yisroel in whom I glory.'" However, if someone learns and reviews . . . and does not deal faithfully with people . . . What do people say about him? . . . "

What is kiddush Hashem? Let me tell you how, just two generations ago, yeshivos multiplied in Lithuania. Individuals would send their sons from the shtetlach where they lived, to the great yeshivos of Slobodke, Novardok and others. When the bochur returned home to the shtetl at bein hazmanim, everybody saw his refined, princely behavior. His friends became jealous and repeated the beraisso's words, "See how pleasant his ways are and how correct his deeds are", and in this way, a number of yeshivos were opened in Lithuania and in other places! A single yeshiva bochur can cause yeshivos to multiply and Hashem's name to be sanctified!

A Student of Torah

It's worthwhile contemplating what the true greatness of a yeshiva bochur is. Even though we assume that it's generally known and acknowledged, it is not so! If we take a close look at the Medrash Rabba on parshas Vayikro, we'll be astonished at the greatness of a student of Torah. This is what the medrash says, on the posuk (Vayikro 1:2), "Speak to bnei Yisroel . . . a man who brings from yourselves a sacrifice to Hashem . . . "

First though, we ought to explain the posuk's simple meaning when it says, "who brings from yourselves." The Torah is speaking about someone bringing an ox or a sheep as a korbon, so why not say, "a man who brings an ox"? What do the words "who brings from yourselves" mean? The Torah is hinting to us here that when offering a sacrifice, we should actually be "bringing ourselves" and offering our innermost selves to Hashem as His servants.

The medrash (parsha 2:1) says, "This [i.e. the double expression, Speak to bnei Yisroel and say to them"], is an example of the meaning of the posuk (Yirmiyohu 31:19), "Is Efraim my precious son . . . ?" Ten things are referred to as being precious. They are: Torah, prophecy, understanding, comprehension, foolishness, wealth, the righteous, the deaths of the pious, kindness and Yisroel." (These correspond to the ten utterances with which the world was created.) The medrash brings pesukim where each of these things is called precious. We will consider the first two and the last one of the ten.

"Where is Torah called precious? In the posuk (Mishlei 3:19), `It is more precious than pearls'." Chazal (Sotah 4), comment on this posuk that Torah "is more precious than the Cohen Godol, who enters the innermost chamber of the Beis Hamikdosh (peninim, pearls in the posuk being understood as an allusion to the term lifnai velifnim, meaning innermost).

Our master and teacher zt'l (HaRav Yehuda Leib Chasman) raised a difficulty over this way of expounding the posuk. Every time Chazal learn something from the particular way in which a posuk is worded, there is some indication that the words are not being understood only according to their simple meaning, but that something extra is being alluded to as well. Where is there any such indication in this posuk? Perhaps the posuk simply means that Torah is more precious than pearls, which are themselves precious.

Our master and teacher explained using a moshol. Say a man goes into a store where precious stones are sold. The salesman might begin by showing him a very expensive stone, worth ten thousand dollars. Then he'll show a less expensive stone worth half the price. This, after all, is the way salesmen operate. Both stones are very valuable, only the first is much more so.

If, though, the first thing the customer is shown is a cheap piece of colored glass, and then the salesman takes out the five thousand dollar stone and tells the customer that this stone is far more valuable than the first thing he saw, he won't sound very convincing.

Chazal understood that for the posuk to liken Torah to pearls is no comparison at all. Even though we consider pearls as being very valuable, they belong, after all, with the vanities of this world. How can Torah even be compared with them? Chazal understood that the word peninim must therefore refer to spiritual pearls, to lifnai velifnim, the Cohen Godol -- the holiest member of Klal Yisroel -- who, on Yom Kippur -- the holiest day of the year -- enters the Kodesh Hakodoshim -- the holiest place on earth. Yet Torah is more precious than all these spiritual treasures!

Not only is a ben yeshiva who learns Torah like a Cohen Godol in the kodesh Hakodoshim; his level even exceeds that of a Cohen Godol! This is something fearsome and awe inspiring!

A Precious and Delightful Child

The medrash continues, "Where is prophecy called precious? In the posuk, (Shmuel I 3:1), `And the lad Shmuel was serving Hashem before Eli, and the word of Hashem was precious in those days; [prophetic] visions were not widespread.' The pesukim (2-3) continue, `And it was on that day, and Eli was lying in his place and his eyes began to grow dim; he could not see. And the lamp of Hashem [i.e. the Menora] had not yet gone out and Shmuel was lying in the Heichol where the ark of G-d was.'

Chazal ask how Shmuel could have been lying down in the Heichol, when the halocho is that, "There is no sitting in the Azoroh, except for kings of the house of Dovid"? Here, the posuk tells us that Shmuel was not even sitting but lying! And not even in the courtyard but in the Heichol itself!

Chazal explain that the words "in the Heichol . . . " refer to the menorah's location, not Shmuel's. The posuk should therefore be understood as follows, `And the lamp of Hashem in the Heichol where the ark of G-d was, had not yet gone out and Shmuel was lying [in his place, which was in the chamber of the levi'im].'

However, this is a baffling answer. The posuk states that Shmuel was lying in the Heichol. How can Chazal say that he was lying in his place? The explanation is that bodily, Shmuel was certainly in his place in the chamber of the levi'im however, irrespective of his physical location, his true being, his neshomo, was always in the Heichol, the house of Hashem. This is what Chazal's answer tells us. This was the level of the young Shmuel when he received prophecy. He was only three years old at the time!

The first of the three crowns enumerated in the mishnah (Ovos 4:12), is the crown of Torah. The mishnah (3:7) says, "A person who is going on his way and interrupts his learning and says, `How beautiful this tree is . . . ' is liable for his life." Rabbenu Yonah explains that the reason for this is that "since he is using the crown of Torah, which is Hashem's crown, he must not engage in any idle conversation and since he was irreverent enough to interrupt his learning, he is liable for his life . . . "

The last of the ten precious things enumerated by the medrash is Yisroel. "Where do we find Yisroel called precious? In the posuk `Is Efraim My precious son, is he a delightful child . . . ?' [Hashem says], `Yisroel costs Me dearly. It is the way of the world for a thousand [pupils] to enter [the classroom] to learn mikro and for one hundred to come out [i.e. to carry on]. A hundred go in for mishnah, and ten come out. Ten go in for talmud and one comes out. This is the meaning of the posuk (Koheles 7:28), `I have found one man in a thousand.'"

Every single ben yeshiva is one such in a thousand, of whom the posuk, `Is Efraim My precious son, is he a delightful child . . . ?' speaks. A ben yeshiva is truly a "person who brings [a sacrifice] from yourselves." He is one of the few who remove the yoke of worldly reckonings from themselves and devote themselves to Torah, as the Rambam says at the end of Hilchos Shmitta Veyovel. This is why Yisroel are called precious. It is because "they cost Me dearly," because "I have found one man in a thousand"!

The posuk in Koheles concludes, "And not one woman [did I find] among them." The following explanation of a difficulty which many people have raised, occurred to me. Why does Hashem not find a single woman among the thousand? The way this medrash understands the posuk, as referring to those who continue their Torah education until they are accomplished scholars, it is clear why no woman is among them -- women are exempt from studying Torah. "Is Efraim My precious son . . . " therefore refers to the ben yeshiva, in whom Hakodosh boruch Hu delights, " . . . is he a delightful child . . . ?"

Ultimate Purpose and Ultimate Pleasure

And what a responsibility rests upon the ben yeshiva! If a bochur starts to make reckonings about what will become of him in ten years' time and what his purpose in life is and as a result, goes out and makes "something purposeful" of himself . . . our master and teacher zt'l likened this to a person sitting in a basin full of water, but searching all over for a little water with which to quench his thirst! A bochur in yeshiva is afloat in a veritable ocean of "purpose." The purpose of life is Torah, teshuvah and good deeds. Why should he seek any other "purpose"?

In light of our comments, the posuk, "A person who offers a sacrifice from yourselves" therefore means that one has to sacrifice the indulgence in pleasures for the sake of Torah. In this way, one will become "a precious son," as we have explained. Sacrificing a part of oneself may appear to us a very difficult thing to do but in fact it is not! At the very beginning of his Mesillas Yeshorim, the Ramchal writes,

"The foundation of piety" -- piety has a foundation, upon which an entire edifice can be erected, "and the root of perfect [Divine] service" -- the service of Hashem has a root, from which it grows and flowers, "is that a person's duty in his world should become quite apparent and genuine to him, . . . for man was created solely to have pleasure in Hashem and to benefit from the luminescence of His presence."

Here we see that nobody asks people to make themselves suffer by undertaking privations, such as fasting or immersing in ice. We are supposed to experience pleasure in Hashem and have benefit from His presence. We ought to experience pleasure when we learn Torah and enjoy Hashem's closeness. No sacrifice whatsoever is involved in this, in fact the reverse is true -- we are to have pleasure and enjoyment from learning Torah, as the Mesillas Yeshorim concludes, "for this is true pleasure and the greatest delicacy in existence." This pleasure can only be attained in this world. If one doesn't experience it here in this world, one will be unable to do so in Olom Haboh.

The gaon and tzaddik HaRav Eliezer Gordon zt'l, of Telz, gave an illustration which explains this. He likened a person's mission in this world to a break made by a traveller in a journey. His ultimate destination is the United States, say, where he is supposed to remain for an extended period. Along the way he stops over in France. He ought to study English, for that is what he will be speaking when he reaches America, where he will be staying a while. However, arriving in France he spends his time there learning French rather than English.

When he gets to America, he finds that he knows no English and that the little French that he learned is of no use to him at all. Such a person will be reckoned an utter fool. He was only in France for a few weeks, whereas his true destination was America, and he arrives there in complete ignorance of the language, when he could have prepared himself.

The message of this story is: "The days of our years [in this world] add up to seventy years, and if with special strength, eighty years" (Tehillim 90:10). What is the span of these years when compared to the eternity that we will be in Olom Haboh? The gemora (Brochos 17) says, "Rav used to say, `In Olom Haboh there is neither eating, drinking, nor procreation . . . instead, the tzaddikim sit with their crowns on their heads and benefit from the radiance of the Shechina." This is all there is in Olom Haboh!

Instead however, of working upon themselves until they attain a level where they can experience pleasure in the radiance of the Shechina, people teach themselves all about Olom Hazeh and its worthless pursuits, which in Olom Haboh count for nothing and which will be a source of shame and embarrassment to them over there. If this observation was one which Rav used to repeat in order to remind himself what Olom Haboh was, what shall we, in our spiritually orphaned and impoverished generation say for ourselves? How much more so are we in need of learning, of contemplating and of getting ourselves used to the idea of what Olom Haboh is?!

The Torah Path

The gaon and tzaddik HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l, used to comment on the mishnah (Ovos 6:4), "This is the path of Torah: if you eat bread with salt, you drink water in measure, you sleep on the floor, live a life of discomfort and toil in Torah -- if you do this, you will be happy in this world and it will be good for you in the next."

The comment made by one of the great Torah scholars -- I think was HaRav Yitzchok Blaser zt'l -- is well known. He said that, "if you eat bread with salt," doesn't mean that one actually must do so. We for example, wouldn't even be able to swallow dry bread with salt, and we need butter and cheese so that we can eat our bread. What it means is that if one ever chas vesholom reaches a situation where all one has to eat is bread with salt, one should nevertheless eat it and continue toiling in Torah, and similarly with sleeping on the floor. And if one's life was one of distress and discomfort, and yet "you live" -- you feel alive spiritually, then one will be happy in this world and will have good in the next.

I will tell you something that happened to me personally, with the gaon HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l. I once came to Reb Chatzkel's room and all was usual with him, the fear of Hashem was resting upon him. All his talmidim as well as others who used to frequent his company, know that a tiny bit of his fear of Heaven simply had to rub off after one had been with him.

On this particular occasion, when he greeted me, his face beamed with great happiness. He started to tell me very joyfully, "Listen, when I was a young avreich, I literally hungered for bread. However, I lived with trust in the Creator and I experienced Heaven's kindness and felt the Creator's presence. Then however, they started to look for positions for me and I forgot the Creator!" I saw how his face darkened when he said that they looked for positions for him. Then he continued, "Now, it's been eight months since I received my salary and boruch Hashem, I can recognize and feel the Creator!"

This filled him with joy! Happy are the tzaddikim in this world and it is good for them in the next!

Let's return to HaRav Lopian's comment. He gave the parable of a man who had never tasted wine in his life and who asked people to describe its taste to him. They tried to explain to him and asked him, "Have you ever tasted sugar?"

When he replied that he had, they tried to approximate what proportion of the wine's taste was sweet and what proportion was tart etc. and told him that when the various tastes were blended, it tasted of wine. One of the man's friends said, "Why are you going about it in such a foolish way? Give him a glass of wine to drink and let him taste for himself!" This is the meaning of the end of the mishnah: "If you do so, you will be happy in this world . . . " Only once you have done so and have actually lived like this, and have toiled in Torah, will you feel happiness in this world and that it will be good for you in the next!

I will tell you another story about HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein's level of trust in Hashem. When Reb Chatzkel arrived in Yeshivas Ponovezh from Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim t'v, it was a few months before he started receiving a monthly salary. Reb Chatzkel made the trip [to Yerushalayim] to ask HaRav Shmuel Houminer zt'l, whether a man's duty to make some effort for his sustenance obligated him in this case to ask the yeshiva's board why he had received no salary for the past months or whether he ought to depend upon his trust in Hashem and refrain from approaching the board. Reb Shmuel Houminer responded that as far as trusting in Hashem, every individual had his own level and the proper degree of effort that it obliged him to make, and that on his level, Reb Chatzkel did not need to make this type of effort.

Some time later, one of the workers in the yeshiva's administration came to Reb Chatzkel and asked for his forgiveness. He had assumed that when he had arrived from Mir, Reb Chatzkel must surely have been given money there. When the board had given him money every month to hand to Reb Chatzkel, as he himself had badly needed a loan, he had allowed himself to borrow the salary. Now he was coming to repay the loan and beg Reb Chatzkel's pardon.

Reb Chatzkel went back to Reb Shmuel and thanked him for preventing him from informing the yeshiva's board about the money. Had he done so, the worker would surely have been fired and it would have been proper loshon hora to have given such a report. This was why he had come to thank Reb Shmuel!

Happy are tzaddikim through whom Hashem never brings about anything bad!

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