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23 Tammuz 5762 - July 3, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Our Torah, Our Prayers And Our Tears: Our Prayers

by HaRav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg

Part II

The gemora (Nedorim 81a) quotes the question of the posuk in Yirmiyahu (9:11) that asks: "For what reason did the Land perish and become parched like a desert . . .?" What was the reason for such a harsh punishment? The gemora explains that this question was put to the Sages and the Prophets and the angels. None could give the reason, until Hashem Himself answered: "Because they have forsaken my Torah that I set before them they did not heed My voice nor follow it."

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav that this means that the people neglected to recite birchas HaTorah before they began learning every day. The Ran in his commentary on this gemora quotes Rabbeinu Yonah zt"l who explains that to assume that the Torah was actually "forsaken" would be incorrect. Granted that superficially the gemora does imply that the Land was destroyed because of bitul Torah, however if this were true, "then when the question was put to the Sages and Prophets, why did they not explain it, for it was certainly obvious and easy to explain?"

Therefore, the gemora's lesson must be deeper. "Rather, definitely they were always occupied with Torah, therefore . . . HaKodosh Boruch Hu Himself had to explain it, for He knows the depths of the heart," that they did not begin learning with birchas HaTorah.

In other words, the Torah was not held in high enough esteem, it was not considered sacred enough, to recite a blessing upon it. They were not learning lishmoh and so they belittled its blessings. Although the level of concentration and effort was apparently faultless, there was a hidden but much more serious crime -- lack of recognition of the importance of Torah.


Torah was looked upon as a form of wisdom. Certainly, they valued Torah as a brilliant, deep and manifold body of knowledge, but it was just that to them and no more. In their eyes, Torah had lost its Divine obligation and origin. Morals, philosophy and law do not warrant the recital of a blessing. Lehavdil, the Torah Hakedoshoh requires our recognition of what it means to us and to the world. We must have a full understanding and we must feel gratitude for what it means for us to have it, to learn it and to fulfill it.

Based on the conclusion of this gemora, the Bach zt"l (Tur: Orach Chaim 47) gives us an inkling of what the Torah is ultimately able to accomplish, if only we had the proper approach and attitude towards it; real lishmoh. The Bach writes, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu is exacting of those who learn Torah, even if they are very involved with it, if they are not careful to first recite the blessings upon it. Why, one may ask, should there be such a [devastating] consequence, to punish them with such a great and astonishing punishment as this [that the Land should be destroyed], because they did not first recite the blessings -- seemingly a minor offense?"

In his answer, the Bach explains that Hashem gave us the Torah as a means to join our physical bodies to Divine ruchniyus and kedushoh. "HaKodosh Boruch Hu gave Torahs emes to Klal Yisroel as a gift . . . that our souls and bodies, the two hundred and forty-eight organs and three hundred and sixty-five ligaments, should cleave to the two hundred and forty- eight positive commandments and the three hundred and sixty-five negative commands contained in the Torah."

The ultimate goal of this fusion is "to draw the Shechinah downward to the earth in order that our souls can be elevated to a position of great standing after death." If the Torah is learned with the correct intention, then the neshomoh can fuse with every part of the physical body, transforming it into a "chariot and abode for the Shechinah." The ultimate achievement is "that the Shechinah be actually within our midst." There would be an illumination of Hashem's glory in this world-resulting in the unification of the spiritual and physical worlds.

This is the supreme ideal, and we must always remember it. The Bach writes that the learning in the generation of the Destruction was motivated by the sole reason of knowing "what is needed for physical existence, to know the laws required for business. Also, to be prideful and show off wisdom . . . this creates a separation [between us and Hashem] and the Shechinah withdraws from the earth . . ." The Bach teaches us that this is not the ultimate perfection and purpose of Torah and it automatically results in churban -- an awful consequence.

These ever-so-slight, but disastrous, flaws of shelo lishmoh were recognized only by Hashem, for neither the Sages, the Prophets nor the angels could know the inner thoughts and motivations of the People and therefore could not explain the cause of golus. The abundance and hasmodoh of learning were so great that no superficial explanation could suffice; but Hashem knew the truth: that we lost our Land because of our selfish desires and mundane pursuits. Hashem gave us His holy Torah, a wonderful, precious gift and it is disgraceful to use it solely for our own purposes.

Inevitably, once Torah lost its significance and there was no possibility for the Shechinah to continue to dwell among us, the Land was exposed to our enemies, for the Shechinah had departed. The fact that we did not recite bircas HaTorah was indicative of the fact that we no longer understood and appreciated how great a gift Hashem's Torah really is. We live in golus because of this lack of understanding and appreciation.

Outwardly everything seemed proper, but Hashem looked into the hearts of that generation and knew that they had lost their appreciation for what Torah is and for what it can ultimately accomplish. Amazingly, according to the Bach, since they were not ready to learn Torah in the way that was going to change them all into mal'ochim, the only recourse was exile.

In and of itself, not reciting bircas HaTorah before learning should not justify such a severe punishment. Therefore, the Bach explains that not making the brochoh was only a symptom of the deeper, much more serious crime of equating the Torah Hakedoshoh with, lehavdil, secular knowledge.

The mitzvah of learning Torah, if done properly lishmoh, allows us to fulfill our obligation as cited in the first se'if of the Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim, "I have set Hashem before me always." This is a radically different goal than any human system of knowledge could contrive.

Hashem before me always -- this is the essence of Torah and the essence of our lives. This is what sets us apart from the rest of Creation. It is not accomplished quickly, but this is what Hashem expects of us, and so Hashem gave us His Torah to accomplish it. Bnei Torah in particular must have this as their life's ambition and goal. A ben Torah's aspirations must be the maximum -- nothing less.

It is the work of a lifetime, but this is why Hashem gave us life. The essence of a ben Torah rests upon knowing, without any doubt, as the Bach teaches us, the specific purpose and significance of Torah. If we lose sight of this, we continue the crime, as the Talmud Yerushalmi (Yuma 1:1) obligates all of us, for, "Every generation in which the Beis Hamikdosh was not rebuilt, it is considered as if they destroyed it."

Chazal (Pesiktoh Medrash Rabba Eichoh 1:2) explain that our exile from Eretz Yisroel was not because of idolatry, adultery and bloodshed. HaKodosh Boruch Hu would have overlooked these three cardinal sins had we not abandoned the Torah. Had we only been grateful and loyal!

The Medrash continues with a remarkable insight. "Rav Hunah and Rav Yirmia said in the name of Rav Chia bar Abba. `It says [Yirmiyahu 16:11] "But Me they forsook, and my Torah they did not observe." If only they had forsaken Me but still observed My Torah. For had they been occupied with it [the Torah], it would have enlightened their eyes, and they would have returned to good.' " Our exile could have been averted, if we had just properly applied ourselves to the study of Torah. Torah had the power to compensate and correct for all of our sins.

Therefore, when we lost our bond to Hashem through not properly learning His Torah, this was the final blow to an already weak relationship. Churban and golus were the only recourse, since we lost our distinction and our potential for perfection.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt'l (in Ma'assei Ovos Simon Lebonim) explains how Hashem could overlook such serious transgressions if there had just been Torah. "When two sides are at war, even if one side has a victory, nonetheless the war is not finished. It is possible that today or tomorrow the opponent may triumph. However, if one side seizes his opponent's weapons and leaves him without arms, this ends the war, for it is impossible to do battle without weapons. This is analogous to the war with the yetzer hora that Hashem testifies to, `I created the yetzer hora. I created the Torah as an antidote and no other weapon will succeed against the yetzer hora except the learning of Torah.' "

Therefore when Klal Yisroel was neglectful of learning Torah, they lost their weapons and they had nothing with which to do battle with the yetzer hora. However, if Klal Yisroel is delinquent with other even more serious transgressions there is still hope, for it is possible that by learning Torah we will be aroused to teshuvoh. As long as we cling to the Torah, all is not lost. Even the worst sins can be corrected if we remain steadfast in our commitment to learning.


In our daily Shemoneh Esrei, there is a prayer directed specifically to the building of Yerushalayim, "And to Yerushalayim Your city may You return in compassion, and may You dwell within it as You have spoken. May You build it soon in our days as an everlasting edifice, and may You speedily establish the throne of Dovid within it." The blessing then concludes, "Blessed are You Hashem, the Builder of Yerushalayim."

This is what we normally say, but on Tishah B'Av there is a special addition to the prayer's conclusion. "For you Hashem, consumed her with fire and with fire You will rebuild her, as it is said, `I will be for her . . . a wall of fire around her and I will be glorious in her midst.' Blessed are You, Hashem, Who consoles Tzion and rebuilds Yerushalayim."

The Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed by fire and we pray that soon, Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdosh shall be rebuilt with fire. Fire burns, consumes and destroys; how is fire a way to build?

The commentary Dover Shalom to the sefer Otzar Hatefillos explains. "The walls of fire that HaKodosh Boruch Hu will, in the future, bring down with the Beis Hamikdosh in Yerushalayim are made from the flaming sparks of awe that those who serve Hashem ignite during their learning Torah and prayers to Hashem. They, so- to speak, combine, and from them the wall of fire is built. If so, Yerushalayim is being built each and every moment through the union of these fire sparks of devotion."

The Beis Hamikdosh and Yerushalayim are constantly being rebuilt through our efforts in Torah, mitzvas and prayer. This gives us an insight into how very important our obligations for exertion in learning Torah, devotion in fulfilling the mitzvas and concentration in prayer actually are.

Wanting the Beis Hamikdosh, knowing what it means for us, needing what it does for us -- this is basic for every Jew. The power of our own prayers should not be underestimated. Each of us has our unique personal obligation. The Ramchal writes this openly in his sefer Mesillas Yeshorim (Chapter 19). He quotes the Tanna Devei Eliyohu that says that a chochom who possesses the true wisdom of Torah will "grieve for the honor of HaKodosh Boruch Hu and for the honor of Klal Yisroel all his days. He longs for and grieves over the honor of Yerushalayim, the honor of the Beis Hamikdosh, and for the quick blossoming of the Redemption and for the ingathering of the exiles." If he does so, the Tanna Devei Eliyohu teaches us that such a person will be privileged to see that his words embody ruach hakodesh.

Based on this, the Ramchal teaches that these are the proper thoughts for all of us. We must feel "constant actual grief" over golus and the churban and ". . . to yearn for the geula in order that there be an exaltation of Hashem's glory." This is what we are expected to yearn and pray for. To "continually pray for the redemption of Klal Yisroel and the return of the glory of Heaven to its former greatness."

The Mesillas Yeshorim then adds, "And if one will say, `Who am I and what is my worth that I should pray for Yerushalayim! That because of my prayers those in exile shall be gathered in and the salvation shall come forth?'" The answer, as the Ramchal explains, is that we have to do as much as we can. This is our obligation and this is what Hashem expects of us. True, the final, complete Redemption depends upon the Will of HaKodosh Boruch Hu. However, in the meantime, we have our avodoh, and our prayers, which Hashem uses to build the walls of fire, the walls of Yerushalayim, that one day, may it come soon, will testify to the everlasting glory of Hashem's reign.

The churban is not just a past historical event. It is always happening, always burning. It is burning to be rebuilt, and burning if not rebuilt! Churban and golus are not the norm. They are abnormal and foreign. We have Hashem's Torah and with it, we can turn golus into geula and churban into perfection. May we see this happen quickly in our days, and at that moment may we again be worthy to reassume our standing as Hashem's People in Hashem's Land, serving Him in His City and in His House.

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