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