By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
One of the blessings of our generation is the gifted kiruv professionals who staff and conduct seminars and conferences, articulating sophisticated proofs that Torah is min hashomayim. They prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Torah is our Divine gift and that we are the Chosen People. Regrettably, in our day, such lessons appear to be necessary for people who live Torah lives much the same as for those who are far from Torah.
For many of us, the feeling we experienced with the break of dawn on Shavuos morning as we sought out someone to be motzie us with the brachos, along with the sublime sense of being connected, the pounding of our hearts as the Aseres Hadibros were read, and the joy we felt as Akdamus was chanted, combined to make those same points. The happiness we experience as we make Kiddush, as we recite Shehecheyonu, and as we sing niggunim associated with the chag kindle something special in our souls and prove to us that Yisroel ve’Oraisah veKudsha Brich Hu chad hu. We are one with Hashem.
Jews all around the world experienced those uplifting feelings as they engaged in the very same customs Jews have been practicing for thousands of years. Yidden in Argentina and Australia, where it is now winter, and our brothers in England, Russia and Yerushalayim, and Jews in every part of this country, all stayed up to learn on the first night of Yom Tov to atone for their forebears thousands of years ago who perhaps didn’t appreciate the spiritual opportunities awaiting them and slept the night before Kabbolas HaTorah.
We are all links in the same glorious chain which stretches back to Har Sinai, whether we davened in the cavernous Bais Aron-Bais Shalom complex in Lakewood with a thousand other people or in the smaller Gerrer shtiebel across the street. Whether we davened in a huge shul or a small bais medrash, we sensed the same feelings of attachment to something larger than us that originated centuries ago, commemorating a transformation that was preordained at the time of the creation of the world. Pure, unadulterated simcha was practically palpable as Yidden worldwide reveled in the Yom Tov, which culminated with the raucous joy at the ne’ilas hachag. We thanked Hashem for making us part of this glorious nation and we proclaimed our recognition of the priceless merit of being part of the am hanivchar, which we wouldn’t trade for anything.
That feeling, the Yiddishe hergesh, is better than any scholarly proofs. We know it in our hearts and souls. If only we could transmit that feeling to our brethren who are lost in a sea of disbelief and uncertainty, we could solve so many of our problems. If we could inject the joy and internal comfort the ma’amin feels into those at risk and wandering, we would all be so much better off.
A prominent Jewish academic entered the Los Angeles yeshiva headed by Rav Simcha Wasserman looking for a minyan so that he could recite Kaddish. After davening, Rav Simcha welcomed him to the yeshiva and struck up a conversation with him.
At one point in the conversation, the professor said to Rav Simcha, “We are both teachers. You teach Talmud, while I teach science. What makes you any different than me? After all, you have hundreds of students, and so do I. Your students respect you and mine respect me. Your students record your classes and mine take diligent notes too. So how are we different?”
Rav Simcha smiled and responded, “How many of your students invited you to their wedding?”
The professor thought for a moment and counted out on one hand the number of invitations he had received during his years of teaching.
The rosh yeshiva smiled again. “No yeshiva student would ever contemplate getting married without inviting his Torah teacher,” said Rav Simcha. “If the teacher is not able to attend, the student is upset and his wedding is incomplete. Torah isn’t merely fact and its study isn’t merely an intellectual pursuit. To us, it is life itself, and thus, the connection between the teacher and the student, between rebbi and talmid, is emotional, warm and vibrant.”
No bochur views his rebbi as his teacher. He looks to him as his connection to Sinai. The rebbi doesn’t look at his classroom and impassively see students pursuing a degree and cramming their brains so they can pass a test. He views them almost as his children, as he transmits to them the word of G-d and prepares them for a full and blessed life. It is a relationship built on love between the nosein and the mekabeil, akin to the bond between a father and a son.
We have just experienced the magnificent Yom Tov of Shavuos, staying up all night as a further indication of our commitment not only to limud haTorah, but also to ahavas haTorah. The externals of Torah living should never satisfy us. Our relationship with Torah and its Giver needs to pulsate with passion and emotion.
The Detroit rosh yeshiva, Rav Leib Bakst, told his talmidim about the time that Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk was learning with his chavrusah and they were unable to satisfactorily understand a Tosafos. As hard as they tried, they were unable to figure out p’shat. After a few hours of hard work, Rav Meir Simcha said, “Let’s pause for a moment and daven that we merit love of Torah.”
“Why pray for love of Torah?” the chavrusah asked in surprise. “If we are going to daven, shouldn’t our request be to understand the Torah, as we ask every morning, ‘Veho’eir eineinu beSorasecha‘?”
Rav Meir Simcha responded with a moshol.
“A mother left her toddler with a babysitter, and the child became very fussy, crying and crying, refusing to calm down. The babysitter offered him all sorts of treats and toys, to no avail. Then the mother came home and the baby suddenly stopped screaming. The mother lifted her baby who began to smile without any inducements. Why did that happen? It was because the baby missed his mother and wanted her presence.
“What did she do differently than the babysitter? Nothing. It was simply that her love for her child was so intense that they were like one entity. She was so attached to her child that she understood his cries. Is he hungry? Is he wet? Is he in pain? She knew right away.
“Similarly,” concluded Rav Meir Simcha, “if we love the Torah properly, we become connected to it in such a deep way that if we apply ourselves, we will understand its teachings. That’s why I said that we should daven for ahavas haTorah.”
While on a fundraising trip to America, Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel, visited the Telzer Yeshiva in Cleveland, eager to meet the rosh yeshiva there, Rav Mordechai Gifter.
Rav Gifter welcomed him warmly and invited him to accompany him to his home. When they were seated, Rav Gifter asked the visiting rosh yeshiva to relate a chiddush. Rav Boruch Mordechai decided to share something he heard from the Brisker Rov.
He recalled sitting at the home of the Brisker Rov when the greatness of two famous brothers, Rav Zalmale Volozhiner and Rav Chaim Volozhiner, was being discussed. A distinction was drawn between the fluency of the two brothers. Rav Chaim Volozhiner, people said, knew the entire Torah – Shas, Medrash, Sifra and Sifri – as one knows Ashrei, but his brother knew it backwards as well.
The depth of the difference is explained in yeshiva circles as follows. Although the Ashrei prayer is recited three times daily and known by heart by everyone, if someone were asked what the word immediately preceding the posuk of “Poseiach ess yodecha” is, he would doubtlessly hesitate and start from the beginning of the posuk. Rav Zalmale knew the Torah with such precision that he could immediately identify the word preceding a posuk.
The Brisker Rov wondered why this is important. Was Rav Zelmale a kuntzmacher? Of what value is it to know the Torah backwards as well as forwards?
The Rov explained that there is a fundamental difference between reciting something from memory and reading it. When you read, you see the words in front of you. The posuk instructs, “Kosveim al luach libecha,” the words of Torah should be written on the heart. Therefore, said the Brisker Rov, one who has the words inscribed upon his heart actually reads them when he recites them. That was the greatness of Rav Zalmale.
Rav Boruch Mordechai completed the thought and the eyes of his host, the Telzer rosh yeshiva, lit up. Rav Gifter reached for the hand of his son-in-law, Rav Avrohom Chaim Feuer, who was seated nearby, and with the other hand, he drew Rav Boruch Mordechai close. He rose and the three men began to dance, Rav Gifter singing the tune of “Boruch Elokeinu shebera’anu lechvodo” with contagious joy.
Rav Boruch Mordechai repeated this anecdote at Rav Gifter’s levaya, remembering the remarkable ahavas haTorah of a man who could grow so emotional after hearing a story regarding the love others felt for Torah.
On Shavuos, we sensed a glimmer of that deep connection. Now it is time to act upon it. Let’s get up and dance. Let’s arouse our love for Hashem and His Torah. Let us rededicate ourselves to limud haTorah.
Our avodah now, with the Yom Tov behind us, is to translate the feelings stirred within us into action, whether by finding a new chavrusah with who we can learn better, starting a new seder, learning with extra geshmak, or loving a good kasha and tirutz. As we toil in Torah, we will remember that our goal is not only to gain chochmah, but to obtain chaim, life, itself.
This week, even with our souls dulled by golus and the relentless pressure of the yeitzer horah, we can feel it too, as dramatically demonstrated over the week prior to Shavuos and on the Yom Tov itself.
Learning Torah changes us and Shavuos grants us the opportunity to renew our dedication and love. The Yom Tov offers an injection of chiyus, ahavah and simcha, a virtual shot in the arm that makes us aware of how deep this relationship goes. Now, we have to act upon it, opening a Gemara and singing the timeless song of “Boruch Elokeinu shebera’anu lechvodo.”
Perhaps the timing of Daf Yomi’s start of the final masechta in the journey through Shas is an opportunity for some of us. Maybe the slower pace of the summer ahead will give others a chance to really sit and work through a sugya.
Any relationship needs work. Shavuos has opened up the floodgates of love that flows between a Yid and the Torah. Our job now is to keep the relationship alive.