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1 Av 5759 - July 14 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Reason for the Churban
by HaRav Boruch Shmuel Deutsch

Following are excerpts from several shmuessen delivered last year during Sivan and Tammuz to talmidim in Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim. They were prepared for publication by an independent listener (and not by HaRav Deutsch).

In the first part, HaRav Deutsch discussed the fact that the cause for the churban was that the lomdei Torah were insufficiently appreciated. In order to appreciate lomdei Torah, we have to appreciate Torah itself. One aspect of this is to realize what happens without Torah.

Only Torah protects us from the attractions of this world which are strong but totally not rational. For example, people smoke even though it is irrational, because of the powerful attraction of the pleasure of this world. Once, Jewish writers thought that the Jewish people were good by nature, but the truth is that their high moral level was the result of the fact that so much of the Jewish people kept the Torah.

Part II

Even among the yeshivos this point should be stressed: each society has people whom it reveres. Those people naturally influence their whole society, since everyone wants to be like them. A society is measured according to those whom it exalts. Secular Jews worship a football player because they would also like to be football players, or a singer because they would also like to be singers. This ruins the whole generation: if a society reveres physical strength or other such things, then it influences all of its members, since everyone wants to have this revered trait.

Just as we understand how destructive it is for society in general to honor undesirable persons, so we must instill within ourselves the knowledge of how damaging this can be for a yeshiva. Many boys have fallen victim to the practice of honoring the wrong person. A yeshiva student must value one thing only: becoming more of a ben Torah. When yeshiva students hold this merit in awe, when true bnei Torah are the leaders of society whom others are jealous of, when it is clear that they are the notable figures in their society and should be respected, then everyone will want to be like them.

When just the opposite is true: when a boy is honored because of his mere superficial popularity or because he is known to be knowledgeable about what is going on in the world, then these boys cause the deterioration of their whole group. I am not even talking about, cholila, things that are forbidden, since we do not suspect that bnei Torah will revere such a boy. We are simply talking about a boy who is a little weak in "sanctifying yourself with what is permitted for you," only a little bit "menuval within the limits of the Torah."

We have heard many wistful stories about successful yeshivos in chutz la'aretz in previous generations from those who studied there. These are yeshivos that thrived in Europe about seventy years ago, like Yeshivas Mir or others. In those yeshivos the bochurim admired those who knew Shas, those who had a comprehensive knowledge of the Ketzos, those who could offer sound logical explanations of halochos, those who were the most diligent, and those who were close to R' Yeruchom, the Mirrer mashgiach. In those yeshivos the model for reverence was who was more an illui, who was more a masmid, who was more a true seeker after yiras Shomayim. That was the only yardstick. Every student wanted to be like them, and that was the reason that gedolei Torah came forth from those yeshivos.

This point we must strengthen: we must only honor a boy according to his excellence in Torah and avodas Hashem. It is not enough to say this. We must truly feel that those particular students are the leaders of their circle, and others should want to be near to them. Today we sometimes see an atmosphere of disdain, taken from general society, towards this type of student. "He is a plain, ordinary tzaddik." "What does he know, except studying and davening?" These jokes ruin our attempts to grow in ruchniyus. We must change our value system. On the contrary to present attitudes, we must respect only those who are more yirei Shomayim, those who excel more in Torah. Admiration on the part of the yeshiva student body for these attributes has a direct influence on their level in Yiddishkeit.

@BIG LET BODY = When Yaakov Ovinu fought against Esav's patron angel, he asked him, "What is your name?" The mal'ach answered him: "Why should you ask for my name?"

Can it possibly be that Yaakov Ovinu did not know whom he was fighting with? We all know that this was the power of evil itself.

I once heard from a darshan that the Torah intends here to emphasize a certain message: Yaakov Ovinu knew that the battle with Esav's angel is the same as the war with Amolek, whose mission is to chill any feeling for Torah among Yisroel. Yaakov therefore asked the angel, "What is your name? What is the essence of your power of yetzer that you use to cool down the feelings of Jews?" For a name is an indication of a person's essence. The mal'ach answered: "Why should you ask for my name? In every generation I have another name. Sometimes I am called Amolek, sometimes philosophy, sometimes Enlightenment, and sometimes Zionism.

"But to you," says the mal'ach to Yaakov, "I will reveal the secret of how to save yourself from me."

The mal'ach calls Yaakov by the new name of Yisroel (the one who contends), "for you have contended with divine creatures and with men, and have prevailed" (Bereishis 32:29). Yisroel, besides meaning contention, means also greatness. If you will remember that you are Yisroel -- "whose heart is lifted up in the ways of Hashem" (II Divrei Hayamim 17:6) -- you have the ammunition to fight against all of my names.

Indeed if we feel that we are "Yisroel," if we feel the importance of every person who walks in the way of "Yisroel" and if we despise everything that cannot be considered "Yisroel," then what Chazal (Yoma 86a) write will be fulfilled for us: "What do people say of him? `So-and-so who studied Torah, how pleasant are his ways, how refined is the way he acts!' And about him the posuk writes, `You are My servant, Yisroel, in whom I am glorified' " (Yeshaya 49:3).

@BIG LET BODY = When we reflect about the Torah's importance we will also honor talmidei chachomim and gedolei Torah. Although the yetzer of lusting after honor is in essence negative, and therefore something we must fight against, this is not the case concerning our honoring talmidei chachomim. They must be given honor.

I saw in Alfei Menashe, written by a talmid of the Vilna Gaon, an explanation of why HaKodosh Boruch Hu created the yetzer of honor, which seems only a yetzer of foolishness. He writes that honor -- kovod in Hebrew -- comes from the same root as keveidus, heaviness. This means that in order that what the chachomim and zekeinim say be accepted, for it to carry weight and be seen as significant, we must have a feeling of honor towards them. Only in this way will what they say be respected and not easily rejected. This is the goal of honoring talmidei chachomim. For this reason Chazal's attitude is positive towards honoring talmidei chachomim and kings, according to the details of their respective dinim.

This feeling has nowadays weakened. In the past every Jew's heart was filled with the feeling that his greatest pleasure was to honor a talmid chochom. Ask ba'alei batim of the previous generation how they used to behave towards talmidei chachomim. I saw the tombstone of my grandfather zt'l, and on it is written, "He gave each person a handful [of honor] and to talmidei chachomim twice as much." That was once the attitude of each Jew to a talmid chochom!

This feeling has today become dulled. Maran R' Moshe Feinstein zt'l once said that the kvod HaTorah in this generation is as far from that of the previous generation as a distance of fifty generations would have been in the past. The kvod HaTorah that could be found in every Lithuanian town, the honor felt towards the local rav and every talmid chochom, was part of every Jew's essence. We all know of the many stories portraying what great honor the gedolei Torah would be received with when visiting a city.

This honor for talmidei chachomim and self-effacement before them is today badly missing. About this situation it is said, "Woe to a generation that judges its judges." One rosh yeshiva told me about a boy from a certain yeshiva who came to him to be tested. "I asked the boy why is there a shibud only on karko'os and not on mitaltelim. The boy answered that the truth is that there is a shibud even on mitaltelim. I told him, `I am telling you that there is no such shibud and I want you to explain why there isn't.' The boy, however, stubbornly insisted that there is."

This is an example of the lack of self-effacement before chachomim that epitomizes people's present state.

We will, however, not analyze why this is so. It is possible that it was caused by an incorrect understanding of "all your children shall be taught by Hashem" (Yeshaya 54:13), whereby people thought this means that we are all talmidei chachomim. It is certain that a great deal of the problem has to do with the cheap journalism distributed among the masses, which the chachomim do not approve of. Those newspapers and journals depict each of the gedolei Torah as if he were the head of an army trying to conquer an enemy camp. They are purposely, owing to their foolishness, turning gedolei Torah into common people with the same personal interests that everyone has. We can find sketches such as this being printed today even about gedolim from the previous generation. Not long ago in the U.S.A. a book was printed about the Chacham Tzvi in which it was written that it disturbed him in a petty way how a certain person was a rav.

We see that if someone wants to, he can create a perverted picture of every period of our people's history. A talmid chochom once told me that poshe'i Yisroel are assigned the "punishment of boiling-hot excrement" in Gehennom since the way of someone who mocks talmidei chachomim is to search all over for filth in the talmid chochom's life. His punishment in the World of Truth is that he is given all the filth there is.

We advise married bnei Torah that when they educate their children they should first of all educate them to honor talmidei chachomim. If at the Shabbos table criticism is expressed and debates are held about gedolei Torah, children absorb the implicit attitude at a young age. The parents should not be surprised later, when the child grows up, if he belittles gedolim and rabbonim and refuses to accept rebuke. We must therefore be especially careful not to criticize any talmid chochom, without exception, in front of children.

This is an important principle of chinuch. It is worthwhile to read what the Rambam writes at the end of Hilchos Tumas Tzora'as: "We should reflect about what happened to Miriam the nevi'ah . . . and this is all the more true about the reshoim and fools who besmirch and slander people. It is therefore proper for a person who wants to correct his ways to distance himself from the company of such people and speaking with them. In this way he will not later be caught in the net of the reshoim and join them in their foolishness.

"This is the way that the wicked jesters sit: in the beginning they talk about all sorts of nonsense . . . and from this they proceed to demean tzaddikim . . . and through this they become accustomed to speak about the nevi'im and belittle what they say . . . and through this they come to speak [wickedness] about HaKodosh Boruch Hu and become deniers of the foundations of faith."

The Rambam reveals to us that this is man's nature. If one belittles people, he will eventually belittle talmidei chachomim and nevi'im, until he reaches the stage of being a kofer be'ikar. When a person has become accustomed to belittling others he has lost the correct attitude towards Torah. We must therefore instill in ourselves the importance of honoring Torah.

@BIG LET BODY = Reverence for those who study Torah must be part of a person's attitude towards himself. We should respect our being zoche to study and elevate ourselves in Torah.

Respect is the key for all growth in Torah. When there is proper respect for those who study Torah, then the correct "self-respect" of a talmid chochom is also present, since one is dependent on the other.

HaRav Boruch Shmuel Deutsch is a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim.

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