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7 Nissan 5760 - April 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
You Must Toil in Torah!

by HaRav Reuven Gershonowitz, zt"l

The gemora says in Megilla (3a), "We desist from Torah study ("bitul Torah") in order to come and hear the reading of the Megilla." This is learned by a kal vochomer from the case of avoda in the Beis Hamikdosh: If the avoda which is so important may be abandoned, how much more the study of the Torah. The gemora then questions whether avoda is more important than Torah study from a posuk in Yehoshua (5:13) and by citing a contradictory statement by an amora. This is reconciled by distinguishing between the case of an individual where avoda and Megilla reading take priority over Torah study and the case of the public where the Torah reigns supreme.

What is meant by the concept of bitul Torah to hear the Megilla? Surely the reading of the Megilla is itself Torah! It is part of the kisvei hakodesh and requires inscribed lines (sirtut) like a sefer Torah. The Rashash asks this question and refers us to Shulchan Oruch Yoreh Deah 246:3 (it should say 246:4), where the mechaber declares it to be "the duty of every man to divide up his learning into three equal periods for the following categories: the written Torah, the Mishna and Talmud . . . however, this only applies when a man first starts to learn, but when he grows in Torah . . . let him spend all his days delving into the Talmud alone according to his abilities and temperament."

We need to understand further why the cessation of Talmud study for the sake of hearing the Megilla -- part of Torah shebichsav -- is considered bitul Torah for the person who has grown in Torah and no longer needs to divide up his time as above.

I heard in the name of mori verabi hagaon hatzaddik the Bircas Shmuel zt"l that bitul Torah is not referring only to someone who does not learn at all, but also to a person whose quality of learning is deficient. His talents and capabilities call for great depth in his Torah studies, yet he is lazy and does not toil enough: such a person is also mevatel talmud Torah. This is the meaning of the statement that we are mevatel Torah study for the sake of the Megilla reading. Although Megillas Esther is part of the Tanach and by reading it we are observing the mitzva of limud Torah, in relation to the enterprise of Torah learning which involves in-depth study of halocho and pilpula deOraisa, stopping this to hear the Megilla is considered a bitul since this activity lacks the profundity of Torah learning be'iyun.

This point also sheds light on the continuation of the above- cited gemora regarding the angel who tells Yehoshua, "This evening you neglected the offering of tomid shebein ho'arbayim and now you have been mevatel the study of the Torah." Yehoshua replied, "In regard to which of them have you come?" He answered, "I have come now" (i.e. on account of the study of the Torah which you are neglecting now).

Straightaway, "Yehoshua tarried that night in the midst of the valley," and Rabbi Yochonon said, "This shows that he tarried in the depths of the halocho."

Yehoshua was certainly not mevatel Torah learning altogether, even in the middle of war. The angel's complaint was only against the lack of the in-depth halachic study expected of Yehoshua. This explains Rabbi Yochonon's statement [emphasizing that he learned in-depth].

Let us further consider the fundamentals regarding the acquisition and study of Torah shebe'al pe.

In Medrash Tanchuma Parshas Noach (3) it says, " . . . The only person who learns it [Torah shebe'al pe] is he who loves Hakodosh Boruch Hu with all his heart and all his soul and all his might as it says, `And you shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul and all your might.' From where do you know that love denotes Talmud? See what is written afterwards: `Let these words which I have commanded you today be upon your hearts'. Which words? The Talmud which is upon the heart. `And you shall recite them to your sons,' this refers to the Talmud which requires recitation. This teaches you that the first section of Krias Shema contains no statement of reward in this world, something that we do find in the second section: `And it shall come to pass if you will surely hearken . . . that I will give the rain of your lands' -- this refers to granting reward to those who fulfill the commandments [the Torah shebe'al pe according to another version] and do not study the Talmud. In the second section it says, `With all your hearts and all your souls', but not `with all your might.' This teaches you that whoever loves wealth and pleasure cannot learn Torah shebe'al pe since it involves a lot of hardship and lack of sleep."

The Medrash is to be explained as follows. In the first section the Torah does not mention any reward in this world, but the second section does. This is because the first section deals with Torah shebe'al pe which cannot be studied if one is immersed in the pleasures of olom hazeh. The second section, which talks about Torah shebichsav does not contain the phrase "with all your might," but mention is made of the material benefits of Torah observance in this world, because even the wealthy can study Torah shebichsav.

According to this, the Torah in the first posuk of krias Shema ("And you shall love Hashem . . . and with all your might") is not telling you that you must love Hashem and His Torah even at the cost of giving up your life, but that the only way to love Him and acquire the Torah is through mesiras nefesh and the "killing" of the material aspect of ourselves.

In the beginning of the above Medrash it says, "Torah shebe'al pe is described as follows: `The measure thereof is longer than the earth and broader than the sea' (Iyov 11:9) and it says, `It is not found in the land of the living' (ibid. 28:13). Is it then to be found in the land of the dead? This teaches you that Torah shebe'al pe is not to be found in the person who seeks pleasure in the world, the desires, honor and glory of this world, but only in the person who "kills" himself for it . . . `according to these words I have made a covenant with you' (Shemos 34:27). `These words' refer to Torah shebe'al pe which is difficult to learn and entails a lot of hardship, for it is compared to darkness, as it says, `The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light' (Yeshaya 9:1) -- these are the Talmud students who have seen a great light, Hakodosh Boruch Hu having illuminated their eyes in matters of issur vehetter and tumo vetaharo. In the future world, `They who love Him will be as the sun when it goes forth in its might' (Shofetim 5:31)."

We see clearly from this Medrash that Torah shebe'al pe is difficult to learn because of its method of acquisition. In the beginning it is like great darkness, and only Hakodosh Boruch Hu lights up the eyes of those who walk in darkness. If someone thinks that learning comes easily, it is a sign that he has not even begun to study. That is why it says in the first section, "with all your might," since you have to dedicate your whole essence to Torah shebe'al pe and whoever loves wealth and pleasure cannot learn it.

The Medrash continues, " `The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.' This refers to the light created on the first day which Hakodosh Boruch Hu has reserved for those who toil in Torah shebe'al pe day and night and in whose merit the world exists . . . and Hakodosh Boruch Hu has made a covenant with the Jewish people that the Torah shebe'al pe will not be forgotten by them and their descendants until the end of all generations . . . therefore Hakodosh Boruch Hu established two yeshivos for the Jewish nation, where the Torah would be studied day and night . . . and those two yeshivos experienced neither captivity nor apostasy . . . they were not controlled by Greece or Edom and Hakodosh Boruch Hu took them into exile twelve years before the destruction of Yerushalayim with their Torah and Talmud intact."

Hakodosh Boruch Hu took the yeshivos out of Eretz Yisroel before the churban to save them from destruction chas vesholom and in order that the Torah not be forgotten amongst the Jewish people. Since then until our time no nation has ruled over them or forced them into apostasy: "and even in the days of Moshiach they will not experience the Messianic travails" (the Medrash ibid.).

The reward of the ben Torah in this world is that no nation or power or government can dominate the yeshivos. We saw this clearly in the time of Hitler ym"sh who destroyed Europe and the Jewish nation, whereas the yeshivos remained in the hands of Hakodosh Boruch Hu Who saved them miraculously. They will not even be affected by the Messianic travails.

It is up to all of us to dedicate our hearts and souls to the study of Torah so that we may be worthy of serving in the army of the King of Kings Hakodosh Boruch Hu and to toil in Torah shebe'al pe be'iyun and in depth, for this is its essence. Torah study which lacks the required intensity of iyun is bitul Torah, and the world exists due to the merit of Torah.

[Based on a student's notes on a shmuess.]

HaRav Reuven Gershonowitz, zt"l, was niftar on 5 Nisan, 5755.

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