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23 Shevat 5765 - February 2, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
A Cell Phone in the Beis Medrash is like an Idol in the Mikdosh

By HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok HaKohen Kook

This shmuess was given in response to the gathering of the rabbonim and their call to banish cell phones from yeshivas.

We had the privilege of watching a glorious scene that few people have seen. I cannot recall any events in the recent past that could compare to the gathering together of all of the gedolei hador, the illuminators of our generation, from all streams and backgrounds. Apparently at a time when clearing the heart to receive the yoke of Heaven stands on the agenda, the whole Nation rises up as one and shines with the light of "na'aseh venishma."

Avizraihu De'arayos

Let us examine some of what was said at that gathering.

A sentence was said in the name of Maran HaRav Eliashiv that astonished listeners. He said this device connects us to spoken words and other things that constitute licentiousness — avizraihu de'arayos.

Recently we have grown accustomed to hearing so much talk— some harsh, some not so harsh—that we have stopped absorbing what all the talk is really about. (At that same gathering HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, shlita, said, "More than knowing what to say we must know what not to say.")

In order to understand what all the talk is about, first we will recount two anecdotes.

Once HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky received a telegram from the Chofetz Chaim asking him to arrange for an exit permit from a certain city, saying it was a matter of pikuach nefesh.

The telegram arrived late on a Friday afternoon but HaRav Grodzensky turned to one of his assistants and said, "Drive out right away to take care of this matter!"

"Now?" he asked. "But such a trip would involve chilul Shabbos!"

Replied HaRav Grodzensky, "If the Mishnoh Berurah said one had to desecrate Shabbos for a certain matter, you would understand that that is what has to be done. Now that you hear explicitly from the writing of the Kohen Godol that this is a case of pikuach nefesh, certainly you must desecrate Shabbos for it!"

Here we learn the weight of a written or spoken word by someone who is cautious with his speech.

All of us know Maran HaRav Eliashiv is Gaon HaTorah and Sar Hahoro'oh—in his speech as well!

A few years ago a letter had to be written denouncing a breach that had occurred. A very harsh letter was drafted and this writer was sent to have gedolei hador sign it.

Maran began to read the letter and when he heard what had taken place he said the matter was even more severe than the letter indicated, and then continued reading the letter until the end, where it referred to the matter as "avizraihu de'arayos." He turned to me and asked to bring in someone else who knew the details of the matter and could tell him exactly what had transpired.

The person arrived and described the event. Upon hearing his account Maran reacted very sharply, saying the matter was indeed very serious and must be denounced. "But," he added, "the words `avizraihu de'arayos' must be deleted!"

For he who is Torah through and through and whose every word is measured and weighed in the balance of justice, the halochoh does not refer to something as avizraihu de'arayos unless one must sacrifice his life over it — yeihoreg ve'al ya'avor—in the simple sense.

True Life

Let us stop to consider the obligation of yeihoreg ve'al ya'avor.

The entire Torah is overridden by pikuach nefesh, "because of His great fondness for the life of a Jew" (Rashi, Pesochim 25b).

The most beloved thing in the eyes of HaKodosh Boruch Hu is the life of every Jew. All of creation was "for the sake of Yisroel, who are called `reishis.'" Similarly the Rambam, in explaining how pikuach nefesh overrides Shabbos, writes, "And it is forbidden to hesitate in desecrating Shabbos for a sick person whose life is in danger, as is written, `Asher ya'aseh osom ho'odom vechai bohem,' i.e. he should not die as a result of [observing mitzvas]. From here we learn the laws of the Torah are not vengeance in the world but mercy and kindness and peace in the world" (Hilchos Shabbos, Chap. 2, Halocho 3). If so, we cannot fathom HaKodosh Boruch Hu's great fondness for His people, Yisroel.

Yet despite this great love HaKodosh Boruch Hu has for the life of the Jew and His desire for him to live, there are cases where, in His holy Torah, He requires the Jew not to continue living, for in certain situations it is worthwhile and required of one to forego his life in Our World when it stands in contradiction to true life. "Ve'ohavto eis Hashem Elokeicho . . . uvechol nafshecho." Life must be filled with ahavas Hashem Yisborach and closeness to Him and through this man becomes eternal.

When a situation arises, chas vesholom, that completely drains him of love for Hashem Yisborach and closeness to Him, one must choose true life, the eternal life one merits through acts that preserve the pure soul in its state of purity. In fact the love of life and appreciation for life require one to relinquish life if it falls under the rubric of avizraihu de'arayos—and to live a life of purity.

The Light of Yiras Elokim

When issuing rulings to restrict cell phones, only a man of understanding whose heart really feels the great loss in losing the purity of the soul is able to set the limits of the prohibition.

The Rambam rules that stumbling-blocks must be carefully avoided: "According to Rabbinical decree a nozir may not sit among wine drinkers and should distance himself from them considerably, for this is a stumbling-block before him. Said the Chachomim, `Near the vineyard he shall not draw'" (Hilchos Nezirus, Chap. 5, Hal. 10).

When our guide and the illuminator of our path, Maran Rosh Hayeshiva zt"l read this halochoh during a shiur, he cried out, asking, "Tell me, is it permitted to step out into the city street in our day? Does the Rambam not say here explicitly that there are places where it is forbidden to go?"

The gemora discusses the severity of the prohibition against entering a situation that might entail succumbing to transgression. Even if one closes his eyes he is still called a rosho, "for he violated yiras Shomayim and he is among the reshoim, for he did not fear G-d, as is said, `Vetov lo yihiyeh lerosho velo ya'arich yomim ketzel asher eineinu yiro milifnei ho'Elokim'" (Koheles 8:13) and see the gemora Bovo Basro 57b.

According to Shaarei Teshuvoh, keeping a distance from any possibility of stumbling is very commendable. "Extreme caution, restrictions and distance from the prohibited is one of the essentials of fear [of Heaven] . . . for he who is wary not to be alone with a woman out of a fear of stumbling in sin, as Chazal decreed, he is among those upon whose soul the light of yiras Elokim Yisborach shines."

Here we find an important fundamental: distancing oneself depends on the individual's ability to realize the gravity of the matter. "This can be compared to a man who wants to go to a town and is told the road leading to it is riddled with thorns and thistles and pitfalls, yet he insists his business is urgent. However when he is told a tiger lies in wait he will not set out on the journey. Says Shlomo Hamelech, `Loda'as chochmoh umussor' (1:2), meaning the ability to act to leave behind transgressions is called `chochmoh,' much like we find in the verse, `Ki he chochmaschem uvinaschem' (Devorim 4:6).

"Once one has knowledge of mitzvas and aveiros he must learn the reprehensibility of the aveiros and the loss they involve in order to distance himself from them."

But to he who does not have the proper perspective this will seem excessive. Yet it is not! For his soul has never been lit with the light of Torah.

Yeshiva — A Dwelling Place for the Shechinoh

We must also examine this Heavenly decree that has been visited upon us.

In Nefesh HaChaim HaRav Chaim of Volozhin tells us, "This, too, should strike fear in the hearts of a man of the Holy Nation, that He includes in his form all of the powers and the worlds which are the holy reality and the Heavenly Temple. And man's heart, the center of the body, is the essence of all, and is parallel to the Holy of Holies, the Even Shesiyoh. It includes all of the source-roots of holiness, like it is holiness, and is hinted at by Chazal in the mishnah (Brochos 4), `One should direct his heart toward the Holy of Holies.'

"Therefore, when a man's thoughts stray and in his heart he has an impure thought of adultery, Rachmono litzlan, he brings a harlot, the symbol of jealousy, into the Heavenly Holy of Holies, the most awesome of the holy worlds in Heaven, chas vesholom, and increases, Rachmono litzlan, the powers of tumo and the sitro achro in the Heavenly Holy of Holies. Much more than Titus caused the power of tumo to increase by bringing a harlot into the house of the Holy of Holies in the worldly Temple" (Shaar 1, Perek 4).

Furthermore, a yeshiva is a dwelling-place for the Shechinoh in our world in the immediate and direct sense of those words.

According to the Medrash, "R' Tanchumo and R' Chiyo said this Medrash came to us from the Diaspora: every place that says `Vayehi biymei' [introduces] calamity. `Vayehi biymei Ochoz Ben Yosom' [Yeshayohu 7:1]. What calamity occurred there? This can be compared to a king who sent his son to a teacher and the teacher hated him. He said, `If I kill him now I will have to give my head to the king [I.e. I will be executed]. Instead I will take his wet nurse from him and he will die on his own.'"

That was the plan of Ochoz to destroy Klal Yisroel: "If there are no kids there are no goats, if there are no goats there is no herd, if there is no herd there is no herdsman, if there is no herdsman there is no world." In essence, Ochoz meant that if there are no young children there are no talmidim, if there are no talmidim there are no chachomim, if there are no chachomim there is no Torah, if there is no Torah there are no botei knessios and botei medrashos so HaKodosh Boruch Hu will not have the Shechinoh dwell in the world, for He cannot latch onto our world if the places that connect us to Him are lacking.

"What did he do? He went and locked the botei knessios and botei medrashos."

Ochoz had decided that rather than starting from the beginning— the young children, talmidim, etc.—and waiting for such a long time, he would go straight to the goal.

"This is the meaning of the verse, `Bind up the testimony, seal the Torah among my disciples' (Yeshayohu 8:15). R' Huna in the name of R' Eliezer said, `Why was his name Ochoz? Because he held onto [ochaz] the botei knessios and botei medrashos" (Medrash Rabboh, Vayikra, 11:7).

Here lies the secret of the yeshivas: they are a special place where the Shechinoh dwells!

This definition also appears in Rabbenu Chananel's commentary on the gemora, which says (Yuma 28b), "Said R' Chomo in the name of R' Chanina, `Never were our forefathers without a yeshiva. Avrohom Ovinu was an elder and sat in a yeshiva . . . Yitzchok Ovinu was an elder and sat in a yeshiva . . . Yaakov Ovinu was an elder and sat in a yeshiva . . . '" Comments Rabbenu Chananel, "They were elders sitting in a yeshiva, i.e. the Shechinoh was with them."

In order for HaKodosh Boruch Hu to be connected with Klal Yisroel and to continue guiding them, they must belong to Him. And where is the place with the power to form the heart in which the Shechinoh dwells in Yisroel? The yeshiva!

"If there are no botei knessios and botei medrashos," says the gemora, which today refers to yeshivas, for they combine both beis knesses and beis medrash, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu does not have His Shechinoh dwell in the world," for the tie between Klal Yisroel and HaKodosh Boruch Hu is severed!

This is the essence of the yeshiva: a place that preserves the state in which the Shechinoh dwells in Klal Yisroel.

In light of this we can understand the gravity of the directive issued by HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, shlita, who bears with love the burden of the klal and the bnei yeshivos. "We have no alternative other than to adopt the strictest approach. For he who has this thing, it is a danger for him, a danger for the yeshiva, and thus the entire Torah world is in danger. And if there is no Torah there is no Klal Yisroel."

Thus this decree — visited upon the entire klal and which has even breached our tower, i.e. the halls of Torah — is comparable to the decree to bring an idol into the Temple. Certainly we should be familiar with its origins and reasons, in order to be spared from it, for we know that removing the decree depends on strengthening ourselves against the neglect that caused it.

A Ben Torah Should be Detached from the Outside World

The chapter of Pirkei Ovos on acquiring Torah (6) reads, "Says R' Yossi Ben Kismo, once I was walking along the way when a man came upon me and greeted me and I returned his greeting . . . He said, `Rebbe, would you like to live with us in our community and I will give you thousands and thousands of gold dinarim and precious stones and pearls?' I said to him, `My son, if you give me all the silver and gold and precious stones and pearls in the world I will not agree to live anywhere except a place of Torah" (6, 9).

HaRav Chaim of Volozhin comments that the man referred to was none other than Eliyohu Hanovi, who was sent to R' Yossi Ben Kismo to try to tempt him to leave his place of Torah. Because he was walking along the way he was outside of the Torah chambers and their protection and placed in a situation of nisoyon.

Apparently we did not safeguard ourselves adequately from forging a connection with the cell phone device itself. Now gedolei Yisroel have told us taht bringing one into the yeshiva is "a total contradiction" to the essence of the yeshiva.

A situation in which a bochur is connected to the outside world takes away from him the appellation of a ben yeshiva, devoted heart and soul to laboring in Torah. The moment this safeguarding drops away we are placed in a new nisoyon very akin to bringing an idol into the Temple.

If we truly and earnestly would like to have the new decree revoked we must attack the root of the problem. The remedy is to enter the chambers of Torah in order to merit its protection. "If you see suffering (physical, and all the more so by spiritual suffering) coming your way run to words of Torah and the suffering will flee from you immediately, as is written, `Lech imi bo bechadorecho'" (Eliyohu Rabboh, Parshoh 7).

We would do well to make use of the Rambam's advice to spare ourselves: " . . . Most of all Chazal said one should clear himself and his thoughts for words of Torah and expand his mind with wisdom, for thoughts of arayos can only prevail in a heart empty of wisdom . . . " (end of Hilchos Issurei Bi'oh). "And of wisdom it says: "beloved and graceful . . . you should be constantly crazy with love for her (Mishlei 5:19).

HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok HaKohen Kook is rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Meor HaTalmud, Rechovot

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