by HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro
Zevulun And Yissochor In Transition: A Shmuess
While on a visit to Switzerland some thirty-five years
ago, HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, the rosh yeshiva of
Yeshivas Be'er Yaakov, delivered the following shmuess
at a gathering of baalei batim, in which he discussed
several issues whose relevance has in no way lessened in the
interim. The current pressure generated by the recent
governmental economic decrees as an attempt to draw
avreichim out of kollel and into higher education,
which is strongly opposed by the Torah leaders in Eretz
Yisroel, lends the shmuess special interest at
In the first part, the Rosh Yeshiva noted that while the
Beis Hamikdash was being destroyed, Chazal were occupied with
preserving Torah. A different perspective would have said,
"Jews were being killed in thousands -- was it a time for
making new enactments and decrees?" But the truth is that
this effort is what preserved Klal Yisroel. In our
days, the nations of the world do not consider us to be
worthy to dispute with them. Like Lovon arguing with Yaakov
Ovinu, they do not find it necessary to respond to our
arguments. They merely assert that they are in
Preparing to Receive Moshiach
This is the nature of our times. Our only salvation is to
draw closer to Torah's path and to realize that in every
generation, as soon as Jews started assimilating with the
gentiles among whom they were living, the latter immediately
drove them out of their land. A casual look around today
shows that all of Europe is against us. The posuk's
words, "And I will move Beis Yisroel around among
the nations, like someone moves a sieve [i.e. powerfully],"
(Amos 9:9), have been fulfilled. Everyone is
traumatized and trembling.
The truth is that Klal Yisroel only exists today
through Torah, which has the power to hold family life
together and to illumine our sight, so that we view
everything in an enlightened manner. Torah displaces the wish
for extras and luxuries by channeling these desires into the
positive desire to study Torah and attain the elevation that
And if you think that one is supposed to live a life of
penury and poverty, the gemora explains that there is
nothing wrong with living on an honorable and respectable
standard. The main thing is to know that this is not the
purpose of life. Our purpose in life is to prepare ourselves
for eternal life and to ready ourselves to receive Moshiach.
We will receive him with Torah.
If we imagine what Moshiach is going to do and what we will
do when he reveals himself, we surely picture the righteous
and the pious among us rejoicing and the rest of Klal
Yisroel celebrating. We will go out dancing in the
streets because all our suffering will at last be over and
the end to our difficulties under the yoke of gentile rule
will have arrived.
Chazal also describe the scene at Moshiach's arrival, on the
posuk, "Would that You were like my brother" (Shir
Hashirim 8:1) [but their view is somewhat different]. The
Targum on this posuk tells us that these will be
Knesses Yisroel's words when Moshiach arrives.
"When Melech Hamoshiach is revealed to Knesses
Yisroel, bnei Yisroel will say to him, `Come, be a
brother to us and let us go up to Yerushalayim and we will
imbibe Torah's profound meanings with you . . .' " Our first
words to Moshiach will be, "Come, let's go up to Yerushalayim
and give us a good, enjoyable shiur of sweet divrei
Torah." This portrays the sublime level of Klal
Yisroel. All the years of suffering throughout the long
exile will immediately be forgotten. Klal Yisroel
desire Torah. They will want to hear Torah from Moshiach.
What We Can Do
This being the case, we must take ourselves in hand,
rabbosai, and prepare ourselves with Torah too,
immersing ourselves deeply in Torah study, so that we will be
able to stand in Moshiach's proximity and not be strangers to
him, so that we will be able to receive his Torah and wisdom
and to enjoy his words.
On this point too, the Chofetz Chaim would comment on the
posuk, "For to be close to wisdom is to be close to
money" (Koheles 7:12). The gemora (Pesochim 53)
says that this refers to those who support Torah scholars
whose occupation is Torah study [by giving them opportunities
to make profits]. The posuk is telling us that in the
future, they will also partake of Torah's wisdom, together
with the talmidei chachomim.
The Chofetz Chaim wondered at this. Sitting in Gan Eden with
Ravina and Rav Ashi, whose sole conversation will be
divrei Torah, would be torture for ordinary men of the
world. What can people who have never greatly cultivated
Torah or wisdom in their lives understand of such
proceedings? What kind of reward will sitting next to Abaye
and Rovo be for them?
The Chofetz Chaim explains that these Torah supporters will
actually learn Torah in Olom Habo to the point where
they themselves will achieve Torah greatness. In the merit of
their having ensured that Torah scholars would be "close to
money," they themselves will be "close to wisdom." Even if
they only learn daf yomi now, by supporting Torah [as
well], they will develop Torah greatness in the next world,
to the point where they will be able to comprehend the
discussions of gedolei Torah.
This must be our preparation for the time of Moshiach. There
is no other way of preparing. The tanna Rabbi Eliezer
said, "What shall man do in order to be saved from the birth
pangs of [the period of] Moshiach? He should occupy
himself with Torah and with doing acts of kindness." The
Chofetz Chaim said that if Chazal determined that this is the
way, there can be no other way besides it.
Transforming our Lives
Having achieved clarity as to how to prepare and to make
ourselves ready for these days, let us now draw ourselves
closer to Torah. Let us set fixed times for Torah study and
bring Torah's light into our homes. Let us live Torah lives,
with Torah guiding us and illuminating every step we take,
twenty-four hours a day [and realize that] without Torah, we
ourselves know nothing about how to live, not even how to
conduct ourselves in the restroom and washroom. Torah teaches
us how to behave in these places too. When one follows
Torah's path, one's entire life is a Torah life. Every step
is inspired by Torah.
During a difficult period in Sweden, when many Jews
assimilated and intermarried, a group of lawless,
"enlightened" Reformers approached the then-Minister of
Culture and Education. Intending to poke fun at Torah
scholars, they showed him how the Mishnah Berurah
devotes an entire siman to discussing the obligation
to have a clean body before praying and similarly, the
conduct inside the restroom and the washroom. On seeing this,
the Minister was highly impressed and he remarked, "You have
shown me the most sublime things in human culture!" This made
a kiddush Hashem and brought honor to the Jewish
Even people far from Torah were amazed to see how Torah
guides a person, not leaving him for a moment, even in the
most private places, providing instruction about physical
purity and cleanliness.
Torah is thus the light that shines into the lives of all who
follow its path. It teaches both the Yissochors, who press to
gain entrance at its portals and the Zevuluns, who are ready
to do trade, how to build and how to live a Torah life and
how to raise a family correctly. And above all, how to ensure
that one has one's own portion in Torah, apart from one's
support of [others who study] Torah.
I once heard the following anecdote from HaRav Yechezkel
Sarna zt'l, who used to visit Switzerland frequently.
He once related how, on one of his visits, people were
talking about a certain wealthy individual, referring to him
as "a great lover of Torah." Hearing how enthusiastic they
were in their descriptions of the fellow, Rav Sarna started
to inquire how the man had earned the title of a lover of
Torah. Did he immerse himself in Torah study, he wondered?
Smilingly, they told him, "Of course not. He's almost totally
preoccupied with business."
"Nu," Rav Sarna continued, "Then maybe his sons are
learning, or perhaps he married off his daughters to Torah
The answer to this was also in the negative. In fact, each of
the man's sons and sons-in-law was running a portion of the
business, supervising part of the father's concerns in a
different part of the world.
"Rather, he's an oheiv Torah," they explained to the
Rosh Yeshiva, "because he is a great supporter of Torah and
those who study it and he contributes very generously."
HaRav Sarna told them, "My understanding has always been that
when a person loves something, he first takes it for himself.
Someone who loves eating roast meat obtains it for himself.
He doesn't leave it all for others. Someone who supports
Torah institutions can certainly be called a supporter of
Torah or a patron of Torah but not [necessarily] a lover of
Torah. An oheiv Torah is someone who tastes the
sweetness of Torah himself. His family members see how he
returns from work and still keeps to his learning schedule,
even though he's exhausted. They see how he either sits at
home, or goes to the beis hamedrash and immerses
himself deeply in Torah study. In this way, his whole house
will be filled with the light of Torah. The members of his
family will also live Torah lives when they see the sweetness
of living in close proximity to Hashem."
The following story is told about my great-grandfather, our
master the Netziv zt'l. He once visited one of the
Volozhin alumni who had left the yeshiva and entered
business. The Netziv inquired after his talmid's
welfare and the latter replied that all was well,
be'ezer Hashem. The Netziv then asked him why he
looked crestfallen and wore a melancholy expression.
The talmid sighed and said, "Rebbi, I'll tell
you the truth. I endure tremendous suffering from my wife.
She causes me trouble and does not respect me. She offers her
opinions on business affairs and attaches no importance to
what I say. She shames me in front of my workers, with the
result that they also don't pay any attention to me. The
result is that my life is no life."
The Netziv asked him, "Tell me one thing. Do you have set
times for Torah study?"
His talmid replied that to his chagrin, he was very
preoccupied and he simply didn't manage.
The Netziv told him, "In that case, it's quite
straightforward why she makes light of you. She can compete
with you in business and she might even be better at selling
than you are, so why should she respect your business sense?
My advice is, fix one hour a day for learning and stick to
it, whatever. Then you'll see that besides the Torah's
special property of `making him greater and elevating him
above all other creatures' (Ovos 6:2), she will also
quite simply see that this is an area where she does not
belong. This will give her a reason to value and to respect
A year later, the Netziv returned to his talmid and
asked him how he was faring. "Rebbi," the man replied,
"you saved my life. Her whole attitude has changed. She has
started behaving respectfully towards me."
This is Torah's power. This is the power of a daf of
gemora -- not only because of its special spiritual
properties but also because of its natural properties.
Torah elevates, refines and lends distinction to those who
study it, in the eyes of those around them. Everyone respects
them and sees the positive in them. Attaining this
distinction is the proper way to prepare and the only
effective way to get ready for receiving Moshiach
tzidkeinu, bimheiroh veyomeinu omein.
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