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25 Adar I 5763 - February 27, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Battles of a Ben Torah

by Dovid Moskoff

In our generation and society, a Ben Torah finds himself confronted with two battles. First of all, he faces the lure of secular studies and other non-Torah material. Second, he must battle those who claim that talmidei chachomim who are supported by stipends are committing a transgression, or at least lacking in middas chassidus. These people claim that talmidei chachomim should work and be self- sufficient, and learn in their remaining time. I have written this article to strengthen the Ben Torah in these two battles, through clarifying each matter from the sources. First I will examine the issue of secular studies.

To begin, we must first understand that learning Torah differs intrinsically from secular studies. Man was created solely to come close to Hashem (as is explained in the beginning of Mesillas Yeshorim). Torah learning brings a person to perfection and kedusha, and it brings him close to Hashem (more than any other mitzvah. See Derech Hashem 4:9). This is not the case with secular learning which does not result in any kedusha or perfection whatsoever in the soul of the one learning it.

HaRav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains this in The Way of G-d (Section 4, chapter 2 in "Talmud Torah" 5): "The power of the Torah is only in that Hashem conferred His precious influence over it, making it dependent on the Torah. It is for this reason that reciting and thinking about it can activate that precious influence. If not for this, discussing Torah would be like speaking about other subjects or secular books in all areas of science, which only include knowledge of that particular subject. No spiritual development comes at all into the soul of the one reading, speaking or thinking about these subjects. Furthermore, books such as these have no power to rectify creation."

For this reason the Ramo rendered (Yoreh Deah 246:4) that it is permitted to learn other wisdom only occasionally - - except for heretical books, which are always forbidden. HaRav Boruch Ber writes in his sefer Bircas Shmuel -- Kiddushin (section 27:8): "Now we will come to the words of the Ramo, who forbade all secular studies because of bitul Torah (see the Gra 7 and the Sifrei) based on the words `vedibarto bom,' and you should converse in them, i.e. make them the ikkar, the main thing, and do not make them tofeil, secondary, so that you will only be occupied with them and not mix other things with them. Do not say, `I have learned Jewish wisdom. Now I will go and learn wisdom of the non-Jews.' The verse says, `Loleches bohem,' the words of the Torah should always be with you wherever you go and they should never separate from you."

HaRav Boruch Ber continues, "There are two types of bitul Torah: Bitul Torah by not learning, and bitul Torah of removing it from one's heart by equating it with secular studies which do not have kedusha. Regarding this second type, the verse says, `Vedibarto bom,' you should converse in them and not other things. . . This comes to teach us that being occupied with these other matters in itself removes the Torah from one's heart. This is bitul Torah beyodayim.

"`Vedibarto bom' means you should make them primary and not secondary. The obligation of Talmud Torah is that Torah should be the main thing in a Jewish man's life, and he should not, chas vesholom, imagine that any other knowledge will bring him personal perfection.

"If there were any other wisdom in the world that could bring a person close to Hashem, then Hashem would have given it to us on Har Sinai. Each person should recognize that Torah is the ikkar, and that no other thing in the world will perfect a person, because if a person would think this, he would be making the Torah secondary, chas vesholom.

"According to this, we understand the reason for the psak of the Ramo that forbids learning other wisdoms. He says that there is no leniency for the sake of learning a profession, because learning in a fixed, formal way will cause him to feel that something besides Torah is important."

I once heard from HaRav Simcha Wasserman, zt'l, that when he was a child, his father HaRav Elchonon Hy'd found Reb Simcha reading a mathematics book. Rav Elchonon told him to take it to the lavatory, since outside the lavatory it is permitted to learn Torah, whereas in the lavatory, it is forbidden.

Similarly, we find in the Shulchan Oruch (Yoreh Deah, 3:246 A): "Every Jewish man is obligated to learn Torah, whether he is poor or rich, healthy or afflicted, whether he is young or very old, even a beggar. Even a married man with obligations to his family is obligated to set a time for learning in the day and at night, as it says, `Vehogiso bo yomom voloyloh.' "

Don't make a mistake and think that the Shulchan Oruch is teaching us that our entire obligation is to set a specific time in the day and a specific time at night, for the Gra enlightens us to the true understanding of the Shulchan Oruch (subsection 5 of the Gra on Shulchan Oruch) that one has an obligation to learn Torah every moment. He quotes the following gemora as the source of the psak of the Shulchan Oruch (Menochos, 99b). Rabbi Yishmoel's nephew, Ben Domo asked Rabbi Yishmoel, "For someone like me who has learned the whole Torah, am I now allowed to learn Greek wisdom?" Rabbi Yishmoel recited the verse, " `Torah learning should not cease from your mouth; you should meditate on it day and night.' Go and find a time that is not in the day and not in the night, and then learn Greek wisdom."

According to the Gra, the Shulchan Oruch holds that one is obligated to learn Torah all the time and forbids secular learning because of bitul Torah. Tosafos on Menochos 64 explains that even though Rabbi Yishmoel had permission to learn Greek philosophy, still his necessity was not strong enough to exempt him from the obligation to learn Torah.

We see from here that even if a secular study is not forbidden because of apikorsus or other problems, it is still forbidden because of bitul Torah, unless there is a proper necessity to learn it, which can only be determined by the gedolim of the generation.

As we mentioned above, the reason for this is that only Torah has the kedusha that brings one close to Hashem, which is not the case with other wisdoms. Again, our whole purpose in life is to come close to Hashem.

However, we learn that, in fact all secular wisdom is found in the Torah. See the Orchos Yosher (6), where he brings the words of the Rabbenu Yonah, "Hafoch boh (Ovos Derebbe Nosson) review the words of Torah, because it includes all the wisdom in the world. One who is involved in learning Torah does not need any other wisdom, because one can learn everything from the Torah."

The Steipler said that a Ben Torah in his years of spiritual growth should not involve himself in anything other than Torah. He should not read newspapers, even religious ones, and should not get involved in any politics whatsoever, because all of this deducts from his dedication to Torah. The kedusha of the Torah precedes everything, because it is the whole purpose of the world's creation and we only exist in its merit.

Kollel Stipends

Now we will address the second issue, the claim that it is not proper for a talmid chochom to benefit from a kollel stipend, but rather he should earn a living. I wish to publicize the precious words of HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l in Igros Moshe (Yoreh Deah, Section 2, chapter 116), which comes to silence these claims:

"The question has arisen regarding whether or not it is proper for talmidei chachomim who want to devote themselves to gaining Torah wisdom, both in quantity and quality, to benefit from a kollel stipend. People have also inquired whether teachers and roshei yeshiva should receive a salary.

"Often, people think that it is middas chassidus not to live off a kollel stipend, but rather [one should live] from one's own labor. But it is clear that a talmid chochom benefiting from a kollel stipend is highly commendable. The Ramo (Yoreh Deah 246:21) paskens that even a healthy person is permitted to accept money for learning, and it is permitted for a teacher and his students to be supported by donors in order to strengthen Torah learning, because through the donations they can learn Torah with complete, unhindered dedication in terms of quantity and quality. The Shach (20) brings that the Kesef Mishneh paskens this way even if this is not the Rambam's psak, since all Torah scholars before and after the Rambam have received their salary from the community. Even if the halacha goes according to the Rambam, the sages of all the generations agree that the principle of Eis la'asos laHashem, hefeiru Torasecha applies, because if the teachers and scholars do not accept money for learning and teaching, they would not be able to toil in Torah properly and the Torah would be forgotten from Yisroel. Since they are supported, they can delve into and spread the Torah (The Shach quoting the Kesef Mishneh Hilchos Talmud Torah Chapter 3, halacha 10, at the end).

"Similarly the Maharshal writes, `The truth is that otherwise the Torah would have been lost from the Jews, because it is impossible for a person to engage in Torah learning and to grow wise in it and at the same time earn a living.' Furthermore, the Maharshal continues, `It is a sin if he does not accept from others, even if he knows a trade or profession that he could do in order to support his household. He should abandon his trade for his love of Torah and learning it, because it is impossible for him to remove himself from learning.'

"Therefore, it is clearly the din that has been accepted throughout the generations (whether it is from the psak of the Ramo or because of eis la'asos laHashem, hefeiru Torasecha) that it is permitted to devote oneself to Torah learning and to receive a stipend or to receive a salary for teaching Torah to others, whether he is a rov or moreh horo'oh, and one is not to refrain from taking the money even if he reasons that refusing the money would be middas chassidus.

"I say that one who reasons that it is middas chassidus to follow the Rambam's psak is following the advice of the yetzer hora that is trying to stop him from learning and is trying to get him to occupy himself with work and business and so forth, to the point that he will forget the little that he had learned. The yetzer hora will not let him even set a short, fixed time for learning Torah.

"If the rishonim who are like mal'ochim said that it is impossible to engage in learning Torah and to become wise in it and at the same time earn a living, all the more so in our generation, an orphan generation, is this true. Nor do we have the righteous women who would want to bear impoverishment as there were in their generations. It is certainly arrogant for any person to claim that he can both work and become a Torah scholar at the same time, for it is impossible to do so.

"Therefore, the advice of the yetzer hora should not enter your thoughts, claiming that those learning in kollel and rabbonim and teachers and roshei yeshiva have some sort of sin or lack of middas chassidus. This yetzer hora is simply trying to pull people away from learning Torah.

"May there be generous people willing to support talmidei chachomim, who would allow bnei Torah and gedolei Yisroel and baalei horo'oh to increase Torah in the world, as is the will of Hashem, who only has the daled amos of halacha in this world."

See also the Mishna Berurah (156) in the Biur Halacha entitled, "Sofa beteiloh," and also the Mishna Berurah (231) the Biur Halacha entitled, "Bechol derochecha do'eihu."

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