Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

21 Adar I 5765 - March 2, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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

Opinion & Comment
Supporting Full-Time Torah Study: An Analysis of Teachings from Gedolei Yisroel and their Implications in Contemporary Times

by Rabbi N. Grossman

Ever since the spiteful cutbacks in government support for the economically weaker sections of society, including the Torah-studying community systematically carried out by the previous Likud-Shinui-Mizrachi government against Torah institutions in general and kollelim in particular, the financial hardship of kollel members who, with mesirus nefesh, devote their life to Torah study has been in the limelight.

Recently an outstanding undertaking, undoubtedly an essential one, has commenced which has merited the enthusiastic support of Maranan Gedolei Yisroel, headed by Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita. This momentous enterprise, started after extensive planning, is the network of kollelim called HaShutfim (The Partners).

It is well known that concern for the Torah World always preoccupied Torah luminaries of past generations. The term shutfim indeed accurately expresses the main idea behind the agreement between Yissochor and Zevulun. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to point out another implication: a partner is concerned and totally involved in the success of the joint business venture. A partner goes through restless nights, is constantly ill at ease, as long as he is unsure whether their shared affairs are flourishing and are sure to continue to do so.

Some eighty years ago when it was feared that the Torah World in Europe would collapse, gedolei Torah, rabbonim and communal activists, convened to come up with ideas about how to improve the worrying spiritual situation. An account of the analysis of the problems and resolutions proposed at that meeting appears in a pamphlet called Eitz Chaim that was published in Vilna in 5686/1926.

The following excerpt from the Chofetz Chaim's address at that meeting, 6 Tammuz, 5684/July 8, 1924, is quoted in this pamphlet: "It is common practice that when a business run by partners is in a decline, all of the partners meet to discuss and evaluate what are the underlying reasons for its collapse and to consider ways to improve its performance.

"We all received the Torah together. We all said, `We will do and we will hear' (Shemos 24:28), and since we have noticed that Torah observance has currently declined we have gathered together to find ways to improve the situation."

At that time Maran the Chofetz Chaim ztvk'l tried to awaken Klal Yisroel to the need to recognize the sublime value of Torah study. Unfortunately, it is clearly evident that in modern times the concern to provide for those studying Torah is exclusively considered a "problem of the chareidi community," specifically even excluding other religious communities. This has been apparent from the National Religious Party's indifferent—to say the least— attitude toward this issue for many years and especially so in the last two years when they were the religious "representative" in the government.

Furthermore, it is no secret that some NRP leaders openly profess the "holy mission" of the enemies of the Torah, that kollel students should be removed from their studies and forced into the labor market. They claim that Judaism can continue if we have Torah-observant Jews engaged in their livelihood, without Jews devoting themselves to full-time Torah study. They picture their perverted view as being the "ideal model" for Judaism and in their "scholarly" opinion what has happened to the Torah World in the Holy Land — where major portions of the community engage in full-time Torah study — is a distortion of how the Jewish People should look.

It seems that also in the Chofetz Chaim's time some Jews did not comprehend the vital need for others to labor over Torah studies and thought it sufficient that Jews observe the mitzvos. According to this superficial approach, the mitzvah of talmud Torah is no more than one mitzvah that is just like the other six hundred and thirteen. Consequently, they concluded, it is not necessary to devote extraordinary efforts and resources and to be moseir nefesh to maintain dynamic Torah centers. Maran the Chofetz Chaim's address at the rabbinical gathering in Bialystok, Poland (10 Kislev, 5685/Dec. 7, 1924) was aimed at refuting these people's distorted outlook.

"Performing mitzvos is unquestionably important and holy, but studying Torah itself is totally incomparable to other mitzvos. Chazal (Yerushalmi Pei'ah 1:1) teach us: `All of the mitzvos are not worth even one word of Torah study.' A mitzvah can be compared to the light of a lamp but Torah study is like the radiance of the sun, as is written, `A mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is radiance' (Mishlei 6:23). When compared to the radiance from the sun even the largest lamps are insignificant. When a person fulfills any of Hashem's mitzvos his neshomoh is spiritually elevated since he has materialized Hashem's command to us, but nonetheless he has not refined himself.

"The case is different with regard to Torah study, whose essence is knowledge and intellect. Torah knowledge itself penetrates into the nefesh of the one studying it, and becomes woven into his intellect and mind through his absorbing its content and ideas. His neshomoh and nefesh are transformed into something else altogether, which is in addition to the elevation gained because of performing the mitzvah of studying Torah."

The Chofetz Chaim continues to explain that without Torah study it is not only that Judaism cannot persist. Also the world cannot survive, as Yirmiyohu Hanovi (Yirmiyohu 33:25) teaches us, "If My bris is not [kept] night and day, I would not have put up the laws of heaven and earth."

"Without Torah study Judaism is not possible. Our enemies are interested in stealing precisely this weapon from us since they are aware that when the power of the Torah is removed from us they can easily vanquish us. We therefore need to strengthen ourselves so as not to let this weapon out of our hands."

Additional contemplation of what our gedolei Torah taught us that is directly relevant to the current attack on Torah study, can be gained through reading what is written in a pamphlet called Eitz Pri from the year 5641/1881. It is enlightening to cite an incisive excerpt from that pamphlet that was written one hundred and twenty-four years ago.

In this informative pamphlet is an essay unusual in its forcefulness of thought called, "Strengthening Those Studying Our Holy Torah," written by Maran R' Yitzchok Elchonon Spector of Kovna ztvk'l. In the beginning of this essay R' Yitzchok Elchonon clarifies the explanation of Chazal (Bovo Metzia 85b) on the posuk, "For what reason was the land lost" Yirmiyahu 9:11). Our Sages write that even when Jews transgress the most severe aveiros such as incest, idolatry and bloodshed only the nefesh that has sinned perishes but the whole Land is not punished because HaKodosh Boruch Hu waived punishment for these sins. After the Mabul Hashem took an oath to neither curse the land anymore nor to destroy the world if these aveiros are transgressed. Only for the sin of abandoning the Torah did Hashem not waive this punishment. Abandoning the Torah causes the Torah to be despised and the land will actually be destroyed because of such a terrible sin.

"This is because at the end of the Creation HaKodosh Boruch Hu stipulated that if, chas vesholom, Yisroel despise the Torah, they will be destroyed. The Medrash Eichoh therefore writes that if one sees uprooted cities one should realize that the reason for that happening is their inhabitants' not supporting Torah scholars. For other sins, the sinner alone is punished and not the Land. Cities were uprooted from their place and destroyed at the churban because their inhabitants despised the Torah and did not provide for the needs of those studying the Torah."

How fitting it would be if what R' Yitzchok Elchonon wrote is heard by those unreceptive elements who compromise on so many aspects of religious life and who are only concerned with "settlement of the land" and "Eretz Yisroel Hasheleimah" and the like. The only causes for which these National Religious Jews are prepared to wage war are an attempt to evacuate settlements, or matters of security and politics.

They should rather listen well and pay attention to what Chazal are teaching us: The Jewish way is not to fight in order not to lose some land; rather one should contemplate the reason why the land is lost. Chazal tell us that "uprooted cities" came about because the inhabitants did not support Torah scholars and despised the Torah, Rachmono litzlan.

Here HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon cites a saying of Chazal from a medrash that perfectly fits our current situation. "The lamenter says, `Alas, the gold is dimmed. The fine gold is changed. Sacred stones are spilled about at the head of every street" (Eichah 4:1). The Medrash writes, `When chaveirim would leave [the beis medrash] for their livelihood it was said about them, "Sacred stones are scattered at the head of every street." This means that those studying Torah lacked ample livelihood and about this the Megillas Eichah writes, `Sacred stones are scattered.'"

One must constantly review what HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon is emphasizing to us. We must internalize this enlightening message and perceive its full significance. When a Jew sits on the earth on Tisha B'Av and laments when reading the pesukim of Eichah, saying, "Sacred stones are spilled about at the head of every street," he should know what he is crying about. It is about Torah scholars who do not have sufficient livelihood to exist.


And here HaRav Yitzhak Elchonon draws our attention to yet another point.

It is a matter of general knowledge that when representatives of Torah institutions ask for contributions many times people answer that they cannot help because they themselves have financial difficulties. Their monthly balance is in bad shape, their profits have decreased, and some may be on the verge of bankruptcy or are barely managing to make ends meet. Of course, the result is a sharp decline in contributions for lomdei Torah. Unfortunately no one pays attention to why our, or their, economic situation has become like this in the first place.

The Av Beis Din of Kovna presents us with the reason why we have less parnossoh than in the past, and he bases his answer on the abovementioned posuk in Eichah and how the Medrash explains it. "Alas, the gold is dimmed. The fine gold is changed. Sacred stones are spilled about at the head of every street." After Chazal explain to us the meaning of the end of the posuk, HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon helps us understand its beginning.

"This is what is meant by `Alas, the gold is dimmed' — the gold has lost its brilliance, `the fine gold is changed' — it has completely changed, the world has become destroyed and the rich have lost their financial means. This is all because of the sin of `sacred stones are spilled' — our not providing for those studying Torah, forcing them to seek livelihood `at the head of every street.' Since the well-to- do Jews are not fulfilling their duty of guaranteeing the parnossoh of every Jew, a duty stemming from Mt. Sinai when bnei Yisroel accepted the Torah, they have lost their wealth.

"The gemora (Shabbos 119a) writes that the rich Jews in Bovel are zocheh to affluence only because they honor the Torah. We therefore can infer the opposite as well: If someone does not honor the Torah he loses his wealth. About this is written (Iyov 36:21), `For this is what you have chosen over poverty,' and poverty is worse than all the suffering in the world, Rachmono litzlan."

We hope that the public at large will realize its solemn obligation to take a part in providing for Torah institutions and talmidei chachomim. We must remember that Maran the Chofetz Chaim explains that we are all partners in helping the Torah persist, and in this way we will be zocheh, with Hashem's help, to nullify the schemes of those wanting to uproot the Torah.

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