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