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26 Tishrei 5761 - October 25, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Yeshivos Hakedoshos -- The Nation's Lifeline

by HaRav Shmuel Berenbaum

This shmuess was delivered by HaRav Shmuel Berenbaum at Yeshivas Beis Hillel in Bnei Brak during a chizuk meeting before the beginning of the summer zman.

I am honored to say divrei chizuk to bnei Torah before the coming summer zman. Although it is always important to strengthen others in Torah study, the gemora (Erchin 16b, according to the reading of the Shitta Mekubetzes) teaches us, "R' Tarfon said, `I wonder if anyone living today can rebuke others. If one man says, "You must remove a splinter from between your eyes [a small sin -- see Rashi]," the other will rebut, "You must remove the plank from between your eyes [a major sin]." ' R' Eliezer ben Azaryah said: `I wonder if anyone living today accepts rebuke willingly.'"

HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt'l, the renowned founder of the mussar movement, once commented that even if a single person out of a large audience will take what the darshan says to heart, the darshan should go ahead and speak. Since I feel I am benefiting from what I am telling you, I feel justified in talking, and perhaps others will be motivated too.

Let us appraise the value of studying Torah. The gemora (Brochos 61b) tells us that "the wicked kingdom [Rome] once forbade Jews to study Torah. Papus ben Yehudah found R' Akiva disseminating Torah in public. Papus said to him: `Akiva! Why are you not afraid of what the government will do to you?' R' Akiva answered: `This can be compared to a fox that walked along the river-bank and saw fish darting from one place to the other. [The fox] asked them: "From what are you fleeing?" [The fish] answered: "We are fleeing from the nets that men cast [in the river]." [The fox] asked: "Perhaps you want to come up to the dry land, and we will live [together] just like our ancestors?" [The fish] answered him: "Why are you considered the most clever animal? You are stupid and not clever! If we live in fear in a habitat where we can survive, surely in a habitat where we cannot survive we will live in fear."'"

What exactly was the argument between Papus ben Yehudah and R' Akiva? Chazal (Taanis 18b, see Rashi, s.v. bekodkiyah) write that Papus gave up his life for am Yisroel. A princess was found murdered, and since it was unknown who committed the murder, the non-Jews accused the Jews. The king decreed that all Jews should be killed. To save all the Jews Papus accepted the blame. He was put to death and the decree was annulled. This was Papus ben Yehudah. [Editor's Note: In Taanis it refers only to "Papus" and not "Papus ben Yehudah," but they may have been the same person.]

Nonetheless, when Papus ben Yehudah saw R' Akiva engaging in Torah study and disseminating Torah publicly when it was forbidden to study Torah, he reproved R' Akiva for not being afraid that the government would punish him.

Papus ben Yehudah's question was actually deeper than that. We are not obliged to die for the sake of studying Torah. It is not one of the three aveiros for which the rule yeihoreig ve'al ya'avor applies. When we do not study Torah we are only passively not fulfilling the Torah--shev ve'al ta'aseh. Even if R' Akiva believed this was a time of shmad, in which we are required to be moseir nefesh, why did he need to teach Torah publicly? He could have studied Torah at home. Why did he place himself in a situation of pikuach nefesh? The Torah instructs us "You shall live by them" (Vayikra 18:1) -- "and not die by them" (Yoma 85b). Papus ben Yehudah asked R' Akiva a solid kashye.

What was R' Akiva's answer? He compared Papus's argument to the fox's proposal for the fish to join him on dry land. Surely the clever fox did not overlook the obvious fact that fish need to live in water. The fox intended to suggest a way in which they could live on dry land, and planned to pour water in a pipe or in an aqueduct so the fish could live there and would not be endangered by the fishing nets. If so, why did the fish answer so defiantly "You are stupid!" and what is the comparison to what Papus asked? Was his question so ridiculous?

Papus ben Yehudah actually asked R' Akiva how he could dare act as he did, since it was not according to halocho. We are not obliged to die for talmud Torah, and at the least we are surely not obliged to teach Torah publicly when danger of death is involved. If R' Akiva disagreed and maintained that according to halocho one is even obligated to die in order to teach Torah publicly, that surely did not make Papus's question ridiculous. Papus ben Yehudah was himself an odom godol.

Let us think a little deeper. Why did the fish summarily reject the fox's suggestion?

The fish claimed that even if the fox provided them with water by pipe, dry land can never be "the habitat where we can survive." The danger of living there is far more than in the river. The moral R' Akiva inferred was that studying Torah can never "cause" one's death. Studying Torah is not a regular mitzvah; it has the special characteristic of being "the habitat where we can survive." If in the end one does die, it can only be because of some other reason, perhaps known only in Shomayim.

What type of Torah are we discussing? Teaching Torah to others. Although undoubtedly we can fulfill the mitzvah of talmud Torah when studying at home, "the habitat where we can survive" is only when we teach Torah publicly to others, and therefore it cannot possibly cause any decree of death. This is exactly what the fish answered: No matter how much water you provide us with, it cannot be an alternative to "the habitat where we survive."

But why did R' Akiva call Papus ben Yehudah foolish simply because he did not understand the above? Was it so simple and evident?

The gemora (Yevomos 9a) tells us that once after Levi asked Rabbenu HaKodosh a question, Rebbe answered: "It seems that you do not have any brain in your skull!" The gemora discusses why the question is not a question. Here too a difficulty must be resolved. Why did Rebbe answer Levi so sharply? Should a talmid be answered in such a way after he asks a question? In addition, we see the gemora itself discusses the various sides of this question, which shows the question is certainly not simple.

A rav's obligation to teach his talmid is not limited to teaching him proficiency in the Talmud's text. He must teach him how to comprehend the gemora properly. When a talmid asks a baseless question the rav cannot be content with just informing him it is incorrect. Doing so is improper chinuch. The rav must clarify to the talmid why he should never have conceived of such a question. His mistake in the process of analyzing the gemora must be fully elucidated to him.

Since Rebbe knew that Levi's kashye was worthless, in order to teach him how to analyze Torah correctly he had to emphasize that such a question only befits someone without a head on his shoulders. The talmid would afterwards think more deeply, and not remain with only a superficial understanding. Compared to correct comprehension, a mistaken understanding is like having no mind at all.

This is what R' Akiva clarified to Papus: One cannot question whether the obligation of yeihoreig ve'al ya'avor is relevant to teaching Torah publicly, whether it is unjustified mesirus nefesh. Such a question is intrinsically erroneous. It is incorrect understanding, actual foolishness. To think that Torah study can possibly cause one's death is absurd. On the contrary, teaching Torah publicly is the essential factor in "the habitat where we survive."

We now understand the inner meaning of what we say each day in davening (Bircas Krias Shema), that "it is our life and the length of our days." This is a halocho lema'aseh. R' Akiva taught Torah publicly although it seemed he was endangering his life, because Torah itself is life and not death. Not only studying Torah is life, teaching Torah publicly also is life. It is not only an additional level in one's study, it is the fact of life.

The yeshiva, where Torah is studied, is "the habitat where we survive." (I am, however, uncertain if individuals studying alone or with a chavrusa are considered studying berabim when they do this within a tzibbur, or perhaps only when many come together to hear a shiur from the Rosh Yeshiva it is considered studying berabim. This must be clarified.)

Although those who study Torah live frugally in comparison to those engaged in making a livelihood, this cannot be considered mesirus nefesh for Torah. On the contrary, we must understand that studying Torah does not induce any loss; it is "the habitat where we survive." We dare not think that for studying Torah we are giving up on life. We are not giving up on life; the Torah generates life. This is true even if it seems to us that it is not so, just as Papus ben Yehudah thought.

Dovid Hamelech said: "Surely goodness and chesed shall pursue me all the days of my life" (Tehillim 23:6). Maran the Chofetz Chaim asks, Do goodness and chesed pursue a person? Being pursued caries a negative connotation.

The Chofetz Chaim answers that sometimes it appears that studying Torah causes one to suffer. Someone who goes into business enjoys luxury, but someone engaged in Torah lives sparingly. When Pesach arrives he may even have to borrow money from a gemach to pay for his yom tov expenses. It looks as if the Torah is "pursuing" him. Dovid Hamelech, however, requested, "If I am supposed to be punished by being pursued, I want goodness and chesed to pursue me."

We must think like this. Torah does not cause any hardships, but it is possible that HaKodosh Boruch Hu will do chessed with a person and so hardship that is intended to come from other causes seem to be caused by the Torah.

The Torah is our lives -- in this world! If you think that in America a person enjoys Olam Hazeh I am telling you that Olam Hazeh has nothing to sell no matter where you are. What does a person gain by eating a more delicious meal or by having more green dollar bills? Nothing at all! When we are studying Torah we feel that it is our lives and the length of our days. In every Tosafos and Rashi we sense enormous chochmah. I feel Hashem's chochmah in every section of the gemora.

How fortunate are we to be zoche to Gan Eden in Olam Hazeh, being able to study Torah without distractions.

I want to say how amazed I am that since rosh chodesh Nisan fell this year on erev Shabbos and Shabbos, the summer zman started on Sunday. How is it possible to restrain oneself until Sunday? Is the Torah not "our lives and the length of our days"? If people were handing out money somewhere, would any normal person patiently wait a few days, or would he run right over to grab some money for himself? "Studying Torah in public" is our life.

The gemora (Avoda Zorah 17b) tells that R' Eliezer ben Parta and R' Chanina ben Tradyon were caught by the government. R' Eliezer said to R' Chanina, "How fortunate are you that you were caught for doing one thing! Woe to me that I was caught for doing five things." R' Chanina was imprisoned only because he taught Torah and therefore had hope to be saved, but R' Eliezer was imprisoned because of five things and therefore had less hope to be saved.

R' Chanina answered, "How fortunate are you that you were caught for five things, for you will be saved. Woe to me that I was caught for one thing, for I will not be saved. You engaged in Torah and gemilus chassodim, but I engaged only in Torah. Anyone who engages only in Torah is like someone without an Elokim." Rashi explains that it is "as if he does not have an Elokim to save him." Rabbenu Chananel adds that he is like someone who does not have an Elokim, and therefore will also not have the reward for studying Torah.

But why did R' Chanina not engage in gemilus chassodim, if he believed that someone who does not engage in it is as if he has no Elokim? Furthermore, if R' Chanina understood that engaging in gemilus chassodim can save one's life, why did he not do so, since he knew he might be condemned to death because of teaching Torah?

R' Chanina was later asked how he could engage in Torah study after the government decreed punishment of death for doing so. R' Chanina answered: "Shomayim will have pity." He afterward asked if he would be zoche to Olam Haboh. He was answered that since he gave money to poor people in an incident of a sofeik whether the money belonged to tzedokoh, he would merit Olam Haboh for this.

One would think that his being moseir nefesh for Torah and being burnt for kiddush Hashem, wrapped in a sefer Torah and wool put around his heart so that his death would take a long time, was enough of a reason to be zoche to Olam Haboh. Even the executioner who removed the wool from over R' Chanina's heart was zoche because of that to Olam Haboh. Is it not logical that R' Chanina himself should be zoche? Furthermore, if it was forbidden for R' Chanina to study when a gezeira was in force, why did he endanger himself?

It seems that the way R' Chanina acted comes under the category of "an aveira done lishmah, which is greater than a mitzvah done not lishmah" (Nozir 23b), which we learn from Yael, who did an aveira to save Yisroel from Sisra.

This needs to be understood too. If what Yael did was commendable, why is it at all called an aveira and not a mitzvah? When an aseih supersedes a lo sa'aseh, is doing the aseih considered an aveira? Surely not!

It seems that an aveira lishmah remains an aveira, but it is better to do it in order to save all of Yisroel. This is similar to what is written in Shabbos (4a), that it is preferable to commit a mild aveira to save an am ho'oretz from a severe aveira. Chazal (Shabbos 151b) also write, "Profane one Shabbos for him so he can observe Shabbos many times." An aveira to save Klal Yisroel is an aveira, but it worthwhile doing it to save the nation.

It is possible that R' Chanina, who was a godol beTorah, decided that if he engaged himself in gemilus chassodim he would be less of a talmid chochom and Klal Yisroel would lose out. All of am Yisroel needed the Torah of R' Chanina. By not engaging in gemilus chassodim he was moseir nefesh, although it was considered as if he had no Elokim and although he knew that because he acted in this way HaKodosh Boruch Hu would not save him. He nonetheless sacrificed himself for am Yisroel so they would have a godol beTorah who had studied Torah his whole life without stopping even for a moment, not even stopping to do gemilus chassodim.

R' Chanina therefore asked if he would be zoche to Olam Haboh. It was possible that he should not have studied Torah during the time of a gezeira, since it was not a case of yeihoreig ve'al ya'avor, but R' Chanina knew that if he did not engage in Torah publicly the Torah itself would be in danger. He was moseir nefesh for the Torah's sake. He asked whether he would be zoche to Olam Haboh since perhaps he did not act according to the din and forfeited Olam Haboh.

How terrifying it is to think that a person is prepared to be moseir nefesh and forfeit all of his Olam Haboh only for the sake of am Yisroel!

It is worthwhile to forfeit all of one's worlds so that the Torah will remain for am Yisroel. Even for the additional ma'alah of teaching Torah publicly it was worthwhile for R' Chanina to forfeit Olam Hazeh and all of his Olam Haboh for the Torah. This is really awesome.

HaRav Shmuel Berenbaum is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir in Brooklyn, New York.

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