In 5732, the public's attention was caught by the proposed establishment of a Beis Hamedrash Le'Rabbonim in Yerushalayim. The venture met with sharp opposition from the gedolim of the time, who recognized the great danger posed by an institution of this nature. But there were those who did not understand why the gedolim reacted as sharply as they did. It was during this period that the HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l delivered a shmuess in Yeshivas Mir in which he dwelt on the special sense of "smell" with which men possessing vast Torah wisdom and fear of Hashem, are endowed. That proposal was the context in which it was delivered. This shmuess was made available to us by HaRav Shmuel Yaakov Bornstein zt"l. It has been rendered into English from notes which were taken at the time.
Now we arrive at the main topic of this shmuess, a matter of practical importance. Now you will be able to hear answers to all the questions concerning the current problems.
Chazal explain that when Pharaoh's daughter stretched out her arm towards Moshe's cradle, which was sixty amos away from her— much too far for her to reach—her arm became greater and she grasped it. Her arm didn't grow longer. Rather, with the very same arm which she already had, she managed to reach the entire distance. This is another example of a person's great potential. Through single-minded concentration of one's powers on rescuing a soul, one can reach any place.
Again, Chazal observe that a host who opens his home to another, owes his very life to his visitor. This is deduced from the stories of Eliyahu and Elisha, who did not resurrect their own deceased parents, whereas they did bring back to life the family of the people they had stayed with. The debt of gratitude they felt towards their hosts inspired them to focus all their power on bringing the dead back to life. Here we see again the tremendous power of the unified heart to achieve seeming miracles.
"On that very day, Moshe died." Rashi explains that Klal Yisroel had promised that they would not allow the man who had given them the Torah and had brought them down the mann, to die. Their intention is usually said to have been to prevent Moshe from ascending Har Ho'avorim. Since there was a condition made that he would die there, his death could be prevented by keeping him from going up.
Our own explanation is different. It is within a person's power—when he is inspired by his sense of gratitude—to actually prevent the death of his benefactor. A person's potential actually goes this far!
"He instructs us from the [example of the] animals of the land," says the posuk in Iyov. Chazal interpret this as referring particularly to the lessons we can learn from the behavior of two cows. The first was involved in the confrontation on Har HaCarmel between Eliyahu Hanovi and the prophets of Ba'al. The eight hundred Ba'al worshipers were unable to get their cow (which they had chosen to be their sacrifice) to move from where it stood and go with them. The animal complained to Eliyahu, "The other cow (which was designated to be the sacrifice to Hashem) and myself—both came from the same womb. We used to eat from the same trough. Why then, should he offered up to Hashem while I am offered to Ba'al?"
Eliyahu replied, "Just as Hashem will be sanctified through the offering of the other cow, so will He be sanctified through yours."
Even after this, in referring to this cow, the posuk still uses the phrase, "which Eliyahu gave them," because the cow still refused to go and had to be handed over. (This episode is the source of a tradition we have received from HaRav Yisroel Salanter, that a yeshiva student should not leave his holy gemora for other activities—even if those activities involve kiddush Hashem.) Here we see that it is within an animal's power to resist all attempts to budge it. Hashem instructs us from the example of the animals, and the same determination is certainly within our power, if not for the laziness which hinders us.
The Shunamite woman, in whose home a room was prepared for Elisha Hanovi, is described in the posuk as an "isha gedola," a great woman. The Targum renders this as "dachalas chat'oim"—her greatness lay in her fear of sin. This distinguished woman said to her husband, "A holy man comes to us," and she suggested they set aside a room for him to use.
Chazal ask, "How did she know he was a holy man?"
Their answer is that she could tell from the fact that a fly never landed on the table where Elisha sat. But how, we may ask, did the flies know that he was a holy man? A comment of Rashi's provides the explanation.
The gemora says (in Bava Kama, 60) that when the dogs play, it is a sign of the arrival in the town of Eliyahu, whereas when the dogs cry, this signals the approach of the Angel of Death. Rashi comments that "wisdom is implanted in their hearts in order that man may learn from them." For animals, this intuition comes as a gift while humans, who have freedom of choice, have to achieve it through their own efforts. Nevertheless, it is within man's power to sense the truth.
The Melech Hamoshiach is described (in Yeshaya 11:3) as having the ability to divine the truth by using his sense of smell alone. (At the end of Hilchos Melachim, the Ravad comments that the lack of this ability was what branded Bar Koziva as a false moshiach and resulted in his being put to death.) We will end with this and our message will be clear to those who understand what we are referring to.
In Niddah, the gemora calls Rabbi Elozor Ben Pedos, "Moro De'ara Yisroel, the master of Eretz Yisroel." We are not informed that this title was bestowed on him on account of his intellectual genius or his great righteousness. Rather, the gemora tells us, it was because of his sure sense of "smell." When a sample of blood was brought to him, he could smell it and rule that it was pure. Our master and teacher, zt'l, (Reb Yeruchom) said that power which enables a man to feel and to sense the truth is none other than the sense of responsibility which rests on him.
Nowadays, there are certain current issues, where all seems to be in order whereas in reality they are unfit—they are treif like pig. How can we tell? Because—and woe to us that we need to say this about ourselves—we can feel the truth: Oh! It's treif! Treif! And it's not only through yiras Shomayim that we can tell, it can be discerned with wisdom alone, as the following story illustrates.
The Medrash Eichah relates the story of four of the wise men of Yerushalayim (and they aren't described as having been righteous, merely wise) who travelled to Athens, the hub of Greek culture, where they took lodgings in a house. Their landlord went to the door of their room and eavesdropped on their conversation.
He heard one of them say to another, "This bed of mine—although it looks whole— is really broken and all my joints ache from it."
The landlord thought to himself, "Yes, I tried to trick them about the bed." (While no special wisdom is evident here, Chazal had a reason for mentioning it.)
Another of the Yerushalmi guests then said, "The wine which we drank has the smell of the dead about it."
The landlord asked the wine merchant, who told him that the wine had been produced from a vine that was planted over his father's grave. The landlord was amazed at the wisdom and discernment of his guests.
The third Yerushalmi then said, "The meat that we ate smells of dog."
Upon enquiring at the butcher, the landlord learned that the sheep from whom the meat had been cut had suckled from a dog. His amazement grew.
He then heard the last visitor say, "The landlord has about him the smell of mamzer."
Feeling ill, the landlord went to his mother who confirmed it. She had indeed sinned with another, since her husband had wanted to divorce her on account of her childlessness. Her son, born from immorality, was therefore a mamzer.
This is the power of wisdom! One can sniff a man, who seems on the surface to be smooth and straightforward and discern that he is a mamzer! In exactly the same way that the first Yerushalmi could feel that his bed was broken, the others could feel the smell of the dead, of a dog and of mamzer! A chochom can detect the smell of mamzer!
Know that over ten years ago the Brisker Rov zt'l smelt the smell of mamzer in connection with the vast majority of the questions that are raised nowadays. He discerned those mamzerim. This is our feeling too when we consider today's question; responsibility imbues one with the sense of smell to tell the truth. Wisdom too, imparts this ability. Even though it seems in order— why, they learn only limudei kodesh there!—it still smells of mamzer. Be aware of this: it is the same with the other questions—the verdict of the gedolei hador is the holy of Holies!
Not In our Hands—Seeing The Truth
Let us recap briefly then: A person has enough strength to do everything—like the strength of Yaakov Ovinu in his labors in Torah and his single-minded devotion on the behalf of others. But it is not within his power to achieve anything. Whoever imagines that he can support himself by leaving our holy Torah and working for a living, is akin to one who denies the most basic beliefs. He is like one who worships his own handiwork. Logic alone tells us that it is ridiculous. Let us ask those who seek a secure future for their children and are worried about their livelihoods. Can a person guarantee his son health? Or a healthy family? Or domestic harmony? Everything is in Hashem's hands. How then, can a man, in his foolishness, imagine that it is he who gives and worries about his son's sustenance? "And in this matter, you are not believers."
As it was with Moshe Rabbenu and the erection of the Tabernacle, so it was with Pharaoh's daughter, as we have explained and so it is with all men. A man can bring the dead back to life and can prevent someone from dying. We were acquainted with this phenomenon in the villages of Eastern Europe. There was a man known as "Der Augeschrigener." His sons and other offspring screamed and cried and held off his death. I knew of a man who lived for thirteen years in that fashion. Sons can prevent their fathers dying!
With wisdom and yiras Shomayim, one can feel and can smell the truth. Shame on a man who has to learn this from dogs and flies. And it is all because of the power of responsibility. Our Master zt'l, asked, "How did the Taz sense the peril of Shabsai Tzvi ym'sh, that dog of dogs? How did the gedolim know that Moses Mendelsohn—who at first observed Torah and mitzvos— was unfit to be part of the community, a verdict that was eventually borne out in full when all his descendants became open apostates? This was none other than the feeling of responsibility which they bear. It is this responsibility that we feel today that prompts us to cry out, "It is forbidden! It is forbidden!" It is within the power of wisdom to sense death, a dog and a mamzer. That is what a person is capable of!!