Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Iyar 5764 - May 19, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Yeshiva -- Its Form And Methods

By HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, Rosh Yeshivas Be'er Yaakov

Part I

The Medrash Tanchuma: Rigors and Rewards of the Oral Torah

"Blessed be the Name of the King of Kings, Hakodosh Boruch Hu, who chose Yisroel from the seventy nations. He gave us the Written Torah, replete with allusion and cryptic, hidden meaning, which is explained by the Oral Torah that He revealed to Yisroel. The Written Torah moreover, is composed of general principles and the Oral Torah, of details. The Oral Torah is vast; the Written Torah is sparing.

"Of the Oral Torah it is said, `Its length extends beyond the land and it is broader than the sea' (Iyov 11:9). You will not find [knowledge of] the Oral Torah in someone who seeks [to secure] worldly pleasure, desire, honor or greatness in this world. You will only find it in someone who martyrs himself [by depriving himself] for the sake of its study. This is the Torah's path . . .

"Hakodosh Boruch Hu only made His covenant with Yisroel over the Oral Torah, which is difficult to learn and which entails [enduring] great distress, for it is compared to darkness, as it says, " `The people who made their way in darkness saw a great light' (Yeshayohu 9:1) -- these are the Talmud scholars, whose eyes Hakodosh Boruch Hu illumines concerning that which is prohibited and that which is permitted, and impure and what is pure."

"It is as fierce as death and as harsh as the grave, for it is only studied by one who loves Hakodosh Boruch Hu will all his heart, soul and means. This comes to teach you that anyone who loves riches and pleasures cannot learn the Oral Torah, for it[s study] entails great distress, banishing sleep.

"[So rigorous is its study that] Hakodosh Boruch Hu even [found it necessary to] make a covenant with Yisroel, that the Oral Torah would not be forgotten by them or their descendants. Therefore, Hakodosh Boruch Hu established two yeshivos for Yisroel so that they should be studying it day and night . . . holding fiery Torah discussions, which lead them to a thorough understanding and to arrive at the genuine halochoh.

"Those two yeshivos experienced neither captivity nor spiritual persecution nor despoiling. Neither Greece nor Rome gained control over them. Hakodosh Boruch Hu took them away twelve years before the destruction of Yerushalayim with their Torah and their learning intact, and they settled with their Torah in Bovel . . . And in the time of Moshiach too, they will not experience the travails of Moshiach['s arrival] . . . It is written, `and I shall dwell' (Michah 4:10), even when a person goes into exile . . . My Presence will not budge from you. It is from there that the redemption shall begin . . . and then, `the kingdom will belong to Hashem' (Ovadiah 1:21)" (Medrash Tanchuma parshas Noach 3).

Where the Shechinah Resides

Klal Yisroel's yeshivos are the chariot upon which Hashem's Presence rests and through them it comes to rest upon the entire nation. It is because of the yeshivos that the Divine Presence is with us even in exile; its holy spirit appears in the beis hamedrash. Hakodosh Boruch Hu only made His covenant to bring His Presence to rest upon us -- so that, "I and Your People shall be distinct from all the families of the earth" (Shemos 33:16) -- "al pi [over, lit. by word of] hadevorim ho'eileh, these things" (34:27), meaning, over the Oral Torah.

Torah's power exceeds that of prophecy. Ever since the nation entered Eretz Yisroel, prophecy no longer rests upon prophets in chutz la'aretz. Of Torah though, it is written, "And I shall dwell" -- Hashem's Presence does not budge from Torah and those who study it -- they are one and the same. This is either because of Hashem's bond to His Torah or because of the personal virtues of Torah scholars and their elevation, as Rav Hai Gaon zt'l, writes (Teshuvos Rivosh, siman 45): "You will only find the fear of Heaven, the fear of sin, alacrity, humility, purity and holiness among those who are occupied with the Mishnah and the Talmud."

The gemora in Yoma (28) says that Avrohom Ovinu knew how to ascertain the precise time for praying minchah, whereas we cannot do so because he was "an elder who dwelt in a yeshiva." Rabbenu Chananel explains that "Hashem's Presence was [therefore] with him, [teaching us] that the Divine Presence that rested upon Avrohom was because of his yeshiva and his Torah!"

From Time Immemorial

Torah has been studied in the world since the day it was created. [About] Odom Horishon on the day he was created [it is written], "And Hashem placed him in Gan Eden to work it and to protect it" (Bereishis 2:15) referring to the work of Torah study. After him, Noach was told, `And from every clean animal" (7:2), on which Rashi quotes Chazal's comment: "This teaches us that Noach learned Torah."

Yeshivos began in our forefathers' days and have never disappeared since. "Avrohom Ovinu dwelt in a yeshiva" and so did Yitzchok Ovinu and Yaakov Ovinu. Let's see what the Torah tells us a yeshiva looked like when one was founded by Yaakov Ovinu.

" `And he sent Yehuda ahead' (46:28) -- Rabbi Chanina the son of Rabbi Acha and Rabbi Chanina [differed over how to explain this]. One said, `It was to prepare living accommodations' and the other said, `It was to prepare a meeting place, where he could rule on divrei Torah and where the tribes could learn. Proof that it is so, is that when Yosef left him, he knew at which perek they had parted, for he had been teaching him. When Yosef's brothers came to him and told him, ` "Yosef is still alive," his heart revived' (45:26). He remembered at which perek they had separated and he said to himself, `I know that Yosef left me at perek Egloh Arufah.' He said to them, `If you know at which perek Yosef left me, I shall believe you.' Yosef also knew which perek they had separated at. What did he do? He gave them wagons as it says, `And Yosef gave them wagons at Pharaoh's command' (45:21), to teach you that wherever Yaakov lived, he occupied himself with Torah just as his fathers had done' " (Medrash Rabbah, Bereishis parsha 95:3).

The medrash is difficult to understand. Why is the fact that Yaakov had been learning Torah with Yosef any proof that he sent Yehuda in order to establish a place for Torah study? At any rate, we see that the Sages differ over the nature of Yehuda's early dispatch to Mitzrayim [but both agree that] it was for something that had to be done before Yaakov came to Goshen; something so important that without it, he wouldn't have been able to come. It had to be prepared in advance so that as soon as he arrived, it would be ready. What was it that could not have waited for a moment? One opinion is that Yehuda was sent early to prepare accommodation; that is something that is needed at every moment. It is impossible to stay somewhere without having a place to live. Yaakov Ovinu couldn't have sat in the street until a home was ready. In order to live there he needed a house.

Without Interruption

The other opinion is that it was "to prepare a meeting place." He could not live somewhere without there being a place to meet for Torah study -- without there being a yeshiva! On the posuk, "And Yaakov lived" (37:1), Chazal comment that he dwelt in a yeshiva. That was what constituted living for Yaakov Ovinu -- wherever he lived, he lived with Torah. Just as living somewhere without accommodation is impossible, even more so living without a yeshiva -- even for a moment -- is impossible. " `He sent Yehuda ahead' . . . to prepare a meeting place," so that he would find his yeshiva ready as soon as he arrived.

This is the proof that the medrash cites from the fact that both Yaakov and Yosef knew at which perek they had parted. Was the moment at which Yaakov sent his most beloved son, Yosef, with whom his soul was bound up, on a dangerous mission to Shechem, that involved risk from the hazards of travel and from his brothers' jealousy, the right time to be learning perek Egloh Arufah? The medrash's concluding words come to answer this: "to teach you that wherever Yaakov lived, he occupied himself with Torah." Wherever he was, his life involved occupation with Torah. There was no place, no time, no moment that he was not occupied with Torah -- even at the hour of such a parting. And who wouldn't remember such a parting? With such a chavrusa, their very lives must have hung on their learning and their parting must have been like parting from life. This proves that Yaakov must have sent Yehuda to prepare a place for his yeshiva.

In a similar vein, Chazal say that, "One who parts from his friend should only do so with a halachic teaching, for as a result, he will remember him." In other words, if their friendship was firmly built upon Torah study, to the extent that when they part, it is amid divrei Torah and they have no other spare time for taking leave because they are always learning and their leave taking is parting from learning together, this will lead them to remember each other.

End of Part I

HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro is rosh yeshivas Be'er Yaakov.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.