This shmuess was given in response to the gathering
of the rabbonim and their call to banish cell phones from
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."
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
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
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
Let us stop to consider the obligation of yeihoreg ve'al
The entire Torah is overridden by pikuach nefesh,
"because of His great fondness for the life of a Jew" (Rashi,
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
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 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,
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?
"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
This is the essence of the yeshiva: a place that preserves
the state in which the Shechinoh dwells in Klal
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
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,
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
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
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
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,
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