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19 Iyar 5760 - May 24, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Toiling In Torah, A Program For Life: A Shmuess for Parshas Bechukosai

By HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l

Regret, Not Depression

At the beginning of parshas Bechukosai, the Torah first lists blessings such as, "I will give the rains in their season and the earth will give its produce," and then it lists curses, whose purpose is to make people afraid. However, there is a danger that people will become depressed when reading this part of the parsha, chas vesholom. Sadness and depression are the roots of all impurity in the soul [and are therefore certainly not the response which the Torah intends].

Why should a man be sad? Is any aspect of creation the result of his work? After all, absolutely everything that people enjoy throughout their lives is a gift from Hakodosh boruch Hu. "A person should offer thanks and praises to Hashem for every breath that he takes" (Bereishis Rabbah parsha 14:9). If it is an occasion for thanksgiving every time one breathes, how can one ever become sad over what one lacks? One should instead think about how much one has!

Why then does the Torah write the curses? Their purpose is to instill the fear of sin into a person and to break his spirit into submission -- not chas vesholom to make him depressed -- so that he should feel bitter regret over [succumbing to] his yetzer hora.

The Kotzker Rebbe zt'l, commented that, "There is a very fine difference between depression and regret. The way to tell them apart is that when a person experiences regret over his yetzer hora, he will sit down to learn, or will involve himself with the mitzvos which he has to fulfill, whereas after experiencing depression R'l, he will go to sleep. Others, upon feeling depressed, go and buy themselves a sausage and a bottle of beer or spirit, thinking that they'll be able to dull the pain of their feelings and dispel their gloom in this way.

"Both of these approaches are mistaken, for the relief that they provide is only temporary, whereas the tumoh which depression has brought upon the person damages his soul, making him unclean R'l."

All this is by way of introduction to what we shall discuss, be'ezras Hashem. We want to show how beloved we are to Hashem, how much He loves us and how He never abandons a single member of Klal Yisroel, "For Hashem is good and upright, therefore He points out the way to sinners" (Tehillim 25:8).

Even on the Lowest Rung

At the end of the previous parsha (Vayikro 26:1) we read, "Do not make gods for yourselves . . . and do not lay a stone covering for prostration, in your land." This needs to be understood. The Torah has already mentioned a number of times that idol worship is forbidden. Why repeat the prohibition again here? In the posuk that follows at the end of that parsha we also find, "Keep My Shabbosos," which we have again been warned about a number of times. What is the Torah adding with this additional mention of keeping Shabbos?

On the first posuk, "Do not make gods for yourselves," Rashi quotes the Toras Cohanim: "[The posuk is] addressing a Jew who has been sold [as a slave] to a gentile, [so] that he should not say, `Since my master behaves immorally, I will be like him. Since my master worships idols, I will be like him [and take his gods for myself]. Since my master profanes Shabbos, I will be like him.' That is why these pesukim were said.

"And the preceding parshiyos were also said in a specific order. First, Hashem warned about shevi'is, and if a man coveted monetary gain and became suspect regarding shmitta observance, he is ultimately [forced to] sell his movable property. That is why the posuk (Vayikro 25:14), `and when you sell merchandise to your friend,' follows directly after shmitta . . . if he does not change his ways, he ends up having to sell his land . . . his house . . . having to borrow on interest [the subjects of the parshiyos that follow] . . . ultimately he sells himself and if he doesn't change his ways, not merely to a Jew but to a gentile . . . "

See how great Hashem's love is towards every member of Klal Yisroel, even the very lowest who has sunk all the way down to the point where he sells himself to a gentile! The Torah warns him against thinking that he can behave in the same way as his gentile master. "You also have a neshomo!" the Torah tells him. "You can escape from the depths to which you have sunk and elevate yourself by observing the Torah and its laws!"

A ba'al teshuvah, a native of Brazil, told me that after his parents moved to Eretz Yisroel he went , while still a young unmarried man, to Brazil where he was educated and on to other places in the world. He had a friend in Tel Aviv who was militantly irreligious R'l. The Brazilian bochur decided to go on a bicycle tour of Europe. One of his stops was at a village near Holland where he arrived on a Friday, and it entered his head to call his parents in Tel Aviv. He made his way to the local post office where he was informed that they had no direct connection with Tel Aviv. It took two hours to arrange the call via the central exchange in Amsterdam.

His parents said to him, "You've toured almost all of Europe. Where do you want to go now?"

He replied, "I want to go to Malaysia."

His parents asked him to come and spend some time in Tel Aviv. They also reminded him of his friend, who was at that moment with them in their house, and they asked if he wanted to speak to him. "Of course," the boy said, and he spoke to his avowedly irreligious friend, who asked that when he came to Tel Aviv to visit his parents, would he pay him a visit as well?

"Of course," the boy replied, "I had no other thought."

When he came to visit his friend, he saw that he had a kippa on his head and that he was wearing tzitzis. He was astounded and asked him, "What's all this?"

The Brazilian boy was so removed from Yiddishkeit that he had never seen anything like this and did not even know what those things were. His friend smiled and said, "When we parted, you went to Brazil and I remained in Tel Aviv. You remember that I was very far from Yiddishkeit, R'l. I thought to myself, what meaning is there to my Judaism, suffering for it as Jews do in the world, while the Christians live in peace and tranquility? What am I a Jew for? Why not become a Christian, R'l? Then I thought, that before abandoning Judaism, I ought to find out something about it and I began reading religious books like the Rambam and others. I saw what great value there was in Judaism and wondered how I could have thought of turning my back on it. I went to Yeshivas Or Somayach and that's how you come to see me today like this, with a kippa and tzitzis, boruch Hashem."

The bochur from Brazil (who today is a great talmid chochom and Torah disseminator) responded, "You have a good head and I rely upon you. I'll do what you tell me."

The Tel Aviv bochur said, "Right now we are in the aseres yemei teshuvah (back then, his friend did not know what this was) and then it will be Yom Kippur. Come with me to the prayers."

"But I don't know how to pray," replied his friend.

"Just fast all day and stay in the beis haknesses."

He agreed to this and as a result, his heart was drawn to serving Hashem yisborach. He also went to Or Somayach and after that, to Yeshivas Mir. Today he is a talmid chochom whom I know. He himself told me the entire story. What brought all this about? Hashem's love for Klal Yisroel! "For I am Hashem," (Vayikro 26:2), "who loves His nation, Yisroel" (bircas Ahavas Olom). As we have explained, though a Jew may have sunk to the lowest level, he is still commanded, "Don't make gods for yourselves"!

Toil that Shapes a Path

"If you walk in My statutes" -- Rashi explains, "I might think that this refers to fulfilling the mitzvos [but this cannot be, for] when it says "and you keep My mitzvos," observing the mitzvos is [explicitly] mentioned. What does "If you walk in My statutes" refer to? That you should toil in Torah." If this is the condition that the Torah wishes to make though, why doesn't the posuk say explicitly, "If you toil in Torah and keep My mitzvos"? What are we supposed to learn from the expression "If you walk in My statutes"?

This teaches us that the purpose of toiling in Torah is so that afterwards, we should go through our lives with Torah guiding us at every step. Chazal say " `And you shall take care to do them' -- to learn in order to fulfill." This is why the Torah uses the expression "if you walk."

HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l would often repeat the following parable, in the name of the Alter of Kelm zt'l. A man enters a beautiful hall, decorated exquisitely and hung with the finest drapes. He sees people seated around tables, dining. When the meal is over he sees how, when they get up from the table, each one reaches for a stick or crutches and he realizes that he has come to the rehabilitation department of a hospital R'l. All the beauty and splendor of the hall is not fitting for the sick people who are there.

It is the same with someone who sits and learns. While he is seated by the gemora, he is surrounded by splendor and honor. If however, when he gets up after learning and does not put the Torah he has learned into practice, the Torah's splendor does not become him. When going to take care of his own concerns, a person must be aware that he is leaving Hashem's presence. Chazal comment on the posuk "Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth," that Hashem kisses him on his lips -- if a person can feel this, he will certainly fulfill "Know Him in all your ways." It is to people like this that Hashem promises all the blessings that are enumerated here: "And I will give your rains in their right season . . . "

Holiness in the Heart

One of the blessings is, "And I will place My sanctuary among you and My soul will not become sick of you" (Vayikro 26:11). Chazal comment, `And I will place My sanctuary among you' -- inside each and every heart" [see Shemos 25:8]. Hashem's holiness will reside inside our hearts, for the main holiness is that which is in our hearts and minds.

When I was a bochur, I once heard from a maggid from Novardok that some people argue that the main thing is what a person feels in his heart. The maggid asked one such person whether he fulfills the mitzvos with his hands, meaning, whether he lays tefillin? The man replied, no, and gave the above reason, namely that "the main thing was what he felt in his heart." The maggid told him, "In Heaven, they'll take your hands that didn't put tefillin on and they'll put them in Gehennom. They'll take your feet that never took you inside a beis haknesses, and put them in Gehennom too. And according to you, that the main thing is your good heart, they'll put your heart into Gan Eden, but what will it do there by itself? (In the end it will rot . . . )"

Today, we see that they don't even have good hearts . . . and let that hint suffice!

On this posuk -- "And I will place My sanctuary among you and My soul will not become sick of you" -- Chazal also comment, "I will stroll with you in Gan Eden and you will not tremble because of Me." The pesukim (12-13) say, "And I will walk among you . . . I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of Mitzrayim . . . " The commentaries explain that the name Mitzrayim denotes being trapped within bounds that confine and constrict and [the idea of exile in Mitzrayim] is thus applicable to each and every person, since all are trapped within the confines of the yetzer hora. Hakodosh Boruch Hu says, "I will break the ropes of your yetzer hora -- "and you shall be Mine, as a nation."

All or Nothing

Our master and teacher HaRav Leib Chasman zt'l raised a difficulty in posuk 11 in the light of Chazal's explanation, "I will stroll with you in Gan Eden and you will not tremble because of Me."

The Torah always speaks in a human idiom. A father will say to his son, for example, "If you listen to me, I'll reward you with a very valuable gift and if not, you won't get it," but he won't say, "if you don't listen, I'll throw you out and you'll never see me again!" The Torah tells us that Hashem promises, "If you walk in my statutes . . . I will place my sanctuary among you . . . I will stroll with you in Gan Eden" -- I'll raise you up to the heights -- and an extra benefit is that you'll prevent what would otherwise happen, "my soul will not become sick of you!" [In other words, if we don't toil in Torah, not only do we forfeit the blessings, we incur a fearsome fate.] From one extreme to the other! Either everything or worse than nothing! It's amazing!

The explanation is as follows: If a person is asked whether he has enough of a livelihood to live on, he may answer that he has ninety percent of what he needs and that he lacks the extra ten percent. However, we would never ask someone, "What percentage of life do you have?" because it's not possible to speak in terms of percentages of being alive. If someone is even one percent less than completely alive, he isn't alive at all, he's dead . . .

Divrei Torah are our lives. "If you walk in my statutes . . . " meaning "that you should be toiling in Torah . . . " then we are alive, to the point that, "I will stroll with you in Gan Eden . . . " But if not, then [life itself is extinguished and] "My soul will be sick of you" R'l, for Torah is the foundation of life.

In the same vein, we find that Dovid Hamelech said, "If not for Your Torah being my pastime, I would perish in my affliction" (Tehillim 119:92). On the one hand, when I learn Torah my soul has pleasure and enjoyment, but were it not for Torah I would not merely lack a means of enjoyment, I would literally perish in my affliction. I would be a miserable wretch.

We can explain Torah as a source of enjoyment very simply, because Torah study is pleasurable. This is akin to what the Eglei Tal writes in his preface, against those who argued that Torah should be studied only "for the sake of the mitzvo," without any personal enjoyment whatsoever chas vesholom. The Eglei Tal writes that the opposite is true. The mitzvo is to feel the pleasantness and the sweetness of Torah and to experience its enjoyment. This is the meaning of our daily prayer, "And please make the Torah pleasant in our mouths . . . "

Learning with Insufficient Toil

HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l, repeated the following observation on the posuk, "And Yehoshua spent the night in the valley" upon which Chazal comment, "This teaches us that he spent the night immersed in the depths of halocho" (Megilla 3).

The mal'ach told Yehoshua, "I have come on account of the present," which Chazal say meant the neglect of Torah study. [This is hard to understand.] The war against the thirty-one kings of Canaan was fought in order to fulfill Hashem's command to settle in their land, for which bnei Yisroel had been yearning for forty years and which Moshe and Aharon did not merit at all. How could it be that they were found so remiss in Torah study, that a mal'ach revealed himself to them with a drawn sword, which was certainly supposed to signal to them that they were worthy of being punished with the sword for that failing? They were busy with the war -- what more could they have done?

Rashi however explains the words, "I have come on account of the present," to mean, "Now that it is night, you should be busying yourselves with Torah; at night there is no fighting." We see that even though they were involved during the day with the hardships of battle, they should still have spent the night in Torah study.

The Alter of Kelm said that HaRav Yisroel Salanter pointed out that it cannot be that they didn't learn Torah at all. Their shortcoming was because they were learning Torah in insufficient depth. The proof of this is that the posuk tells us that immediately [when they next laid siege], " `Yehoshua spent the night in the valley' -- Rabbi Yochonon said, `This teaches us that he immersed himself deeply in halocho.' " This means that if in a given situation, a person could be learning in greater depth, this is also called bitul Torah. This too, is included in the Torah's condition, "If you walk in My statutes -- that you should toil in Torah"!

A person shouldn't say, "I am weak by nature and my mind isn't powerful. I can't learn Torah in depth."

The holy Sheloh writes a wonderful thing: "Even someone who doesn't understand at all because he is not fluent in the explanation and he just involves himself with reading (according to his ability and the level of his understanding), will be rewarded for his toil. About such people and others like them the posuk says, "And he meditates upon his Torah by day and night (Tehillim 1:2). Chazal point out that the posuk says "upon his Torah" not merely "upon Torah" meaning each one according to the level of his knowledge.

However, a person should take care not to fool himself that he doesn't understand. A person has to toil and then, even if he has not attained his goal, he has still fulfilled "if you walk in My statutes" -- that you should toil in Torah!

Toil in Torah: the Key to Success

It is well known that the Chazon Ish zt'l served as an example of toiling in Torah down to the very last drop of his strength. I heard from a great talmid chochom and yirei Shomayim who experienced the following incident himself and who is with us today, that he once went in to the Chazon Ish who, as is known, due to his frailty and extreme lack of strength would lie down in his bed.

This talmid chochom noticed that he was engrossed in a certain topic and he stood in wonderment over the fact that the Chazon Ish did not notice him standing in front of him. He also noticed that the cushion that was always under his head was under his feet.

Then the Chazon Ish noticed that he was there. The talmid chochom asked the Chazon Ish if the cushion was supposed to be at his feet or had it slipped out from under his head? With his characteristic sweetness of expression the Chazon Ish replied, in what was apparently an apology for not noticing his visitor standing by him, "Believe me, if I would have had the strength to pick up the cushion that slipped to my feet, I would have learned another Tosafos!"

That was the degree of the Chazon Ish's toil in Torah -- literally to the last drop of strength!

The paramount importance of toil being a part of Torah study is alluded to by the Torah in the expression chok, statute, which denotes toil in Torah -- "If you walk in my statutes." [The "law" of Torah study is that even] if you learn Torah but do not toil in it, you will not merit acquiring Torah. This is stated explicitly in the gemora (Sanhedrin 99) on the posuk (Mishlei 16:26), "A soul that toils, benefits itself." The gemora comments, "He toils in this place and his Torah toils for him elsewhere."

Rashi explains there that his Torah "toils for him and goes begging on his behalf and asks its Owner to pass over the reasons of Torah to him . . . And why all this? Because he has bent his mouth downwards over divrei Torah."

In other words, when a soul toils to learn Torah, the Torah itself makes extra efforts on his behalf. Here we see the secret of the power of toil of Torah. Torah is not only acquired because the natural consequence of toil is that one would know what he has toiled to learn, but also because in the merit of his toiling the Torah makes efforts on his behalf and asks its Creator to pass on knowledge beyond what he could perhaps not achieve directly from his own study. This is the chok, the law of Torah. This [meaning] is also included in the posuk, "If you walk in My statutes . . . "

May Hashem help us to toil in Torah and to merit all the resulting blessings which He has written!

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