The forty-day period between 17 Tammuz and Rosh Chodesh Elul
is when Moshe ascended to Heaven to appease HaKodosh
Boruch Hu. Moshe succeeded in mitigating the midas
hadin, which had been aroused against bnei Yisroel
because of their sin with the Golden Calf.
After those forty days HaKodosh Boruch Hu's anger
towards the Jewish People was pacified, and He said to Moshe:
"Hew out for yourself two luchos (tablets) of stone
like the first ones . . . and you shall ascend in the morning
onto Mount Sinai and present yourself there to Me on the top
of the mount" (Shemos 34:1). Moshe Rabbenu ascended
again to Hashem for another forty-day period, from Rosh
Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur. At the end of this period
Moshe descended from the mountain with the second
luchos, which HaKodosh Boruch Hu joyfully
handed over to the Jewish People. These days are "days of
good will," which still have this special spirit of appeasing
After Hashem pardoned am Yisroel on Rosh Chodesh Elul,
the 17th of Tammuz -- the day the luchos were broken
because of the sin of the eigel -- was transformed
into a yom tov, a day of joy. Just as in the times of
the second Beis Hamikdash the days of fast and
mourning were converted into days of happiness -- as Zecharia
wrote, "The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the
fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the
tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness and
yomim tovim" (Zecharia 8:19) -- so the 17th of
Tammuz, after Hashem was appeased, became a yom
However, after the destruction of the second Beis
Hamikdash, these days returned to their previous status:
days of mourning and fasting. And among the reasons that the
gemora enumerates for fasting on 17 Tammuz is the
breaking of the luchos. It seems that even after we
had received the second luchos on Yom Kippur in place
of the first, the loss of the first luchos still
obligates us to fast.
"Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav said: (Yirmiyohu 9:11)
`What is [the meaning of what is] written, "Who is the wise
man who understands this (why the land was lost)?" This was
asked of the wise and the prophets, but they were unable to
interpret it, until HaKodosh Boruch Hu Himself
explained: "Because they have forsaken My Torah" (v. 12)
which is to say, "they have not hearkened to My voice,
neither walked therein" (ibid.). "Rav Yehuda in the
name of Rav said: `This means that they did not make a
brocho before studying Torah'" (Nedorim
The Ran (ibid.) writes: "I found in a Secret Scroll of
Rabbenu Yonah z'l that the posuk reveals to us
that because the Jews did not make a brocho before
studying Torah they lost the land. If it [the churban]
was caused by their forsaking the Torah and not studying it
then why, when the wise and the prophets were asked, did they
not answer that this was the reason? It should have been
evident to all.
"It seems that the truth of the matter is that the Jewish
Nation was always engaged in studying Torah, and therefore
the wise and the prophets were amazed, since they could not
understand the reason for losing the land. Finally,
HaKodosh Boruch Hu, Who knows the depths of people's
hearts, explained that the cause was their not saying a
brocho before studying Torah. The Torah was not
important enough to them to be worthy of saying a
brocho on it. They were not absorbed in Torah for its
own sake, and hence neglected its brocho. This is what
is meant by "neither did they walk therein" -- they did not
study it with the correct intent and for its own sake. This
is what the chossid [Rabbenu Yonah] z'l taught
us, and it is befitting the person who said it."
We should analyze well what the Ran teaches us in the name of
his Rebbe, Rabbenu Yonah, about discerning the significance
of Torah study.
In Chazal's teachings we find an even more acrid expression
condemning a lack of respect for Torah study:
"We find that HaKodosh Boruch Hu excused idol worship,
illicit [sexual] relations, and bloodshed, but He did not
excuse the Torah being despised " (Pesichta of
Midrash Rabbah Eichah ). What exactly do Chazal
want to teach us here?
"What does it mean by `And those who forsake Hashem shall be
consumed'? (Yeshaya 1:28) -- this refers to a person
who leaves a sefer Torah when it is open"
(Brochos 8a). This condemnation refers only to someone
who leaves an open sefer Torah. To someone who does
not study Torah at all -- someone who does not stand near an
open sefer Torah -- the verse "And those who forsake
Hashem shall be consumed" does not apply. A person leaving an
open sefer Torah insults the sefer Torah much
more than someone who is not standing at all before a
sefer Torah. This corresponds to what the novi
wrote, "Because they have forsaken My Torah" -- after
studying the Torah they forsook it.
"And it shall come to pass, if you shall listen diligently
unto My mitzvos . . . to love Hashem your Elokim, and
to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. . ."
(Devorim 11:13). The gemora (Ta'anis 2a)
explains that serving Hashem with one's heart is
tefilla. Another opinion presented in the gemora
is that this type of serving Hashem refers to studying
Yeshaya the novi rebukes people who pray or study
Torah but do not do so with their entire heart: "They have
honored Me with their mouths and lips, but their heart is far
from Me" (Yeshaya 29:13). Tefilla that does not
erupt from a yearning heart, and Torah not studied with
fervor, are the most terrible offense. Those who "have
honored Me with their mouths and lips, but their heart is far
from Me" are more removed from Hashem than someone whose
mouth and lips do not honor Hashem at all.
This is what is meant by "they have forsaken My Torah."
Although they have studied Torah, their study is not "serving
with their heart" -- their heart does not join in serving
Hashem. The Torah was merely a research subject for
intellectual analysis, not firmly attached to their heart and
life. Now we understand better what Chazal meant by saying,
"We find that HaKodosh Boruch Hu excused idol worship.
. . but did not excuse the Torah being despised."
A further question is, if they did not say any brocho
at all, how was it possible that the prophets and wise people
did not notice that? Apparently they said a brocho,
but they said a brocho on their own type of Torah
study and not on the type of Torah study that HaKodosh
Boruch Hu teaches them. Only Hashem, who "knows the
depths of people's hearts," was able to reveal that although
they made a brocho before studying Torah they did so
without the correct intent.
This must be explained more. The Torah writes "And it shall
come to pass, if you shall listen diligently unto My mitzvos
which I command you today. . ." Two conditions are enumerated
here concerning fulfilling mitzvos and studying Torah.
The first condition is that a person who studies Torah must
study it while being conscious that "I command you." He must
feel that HaKodosh Boruch Hu Himself is teaching him
Torah and that he is hearing it from His lips. This obligates
a person to introduce divrei Torah deep within his
heart. In fact, this is stated in the text of the
brocho on the Torah which we say daily: "Blessed are
You Hashem, Who teaches Torah to His nation Yisroel."
The second condition is "which I command you today." Someone
who studies Torah must study it with sincere faith that he
really is receiving it today from the Creator. He must
feel that the Torah trembles in its newness and senses its
innate pleasantness as it is again handed over to Klal
"R' Yehuda began expounding about honoring Torah: `Keep
silent and hear, Yisroel, this day you have become a people
to Hashem your Elokim' (Devorim 27:9). Was the Torah
given to Yisroel on that day? Was not that day at the end of
forty years? This teaches us that `the Torah is cherished by
those who study it daily as on the day it was given at Mount
Sinai'" (Brochos 63b). This cherishing the Torah as if
it is being given to us each day is "honoring the Torah," and
when this is missing "the Torah [is] being despised."
It is interesting to notice that this condition too is
included in the bircas HaTorah -- "Blessed be You
Hashem, Who gives the Torah." We do not say, in the past
tense, "gave," but "gives," in the present tense, since
Hashem renews the Torah to us daily.
Torah not studied while trembling with the knowledge that it
comes from Hashem's lips, Torah study in which one does not
discover its newness and feel its pleasantness every day, is
Torah that turns one's heart into stone and causes the soul
to degenerate. Such Torah lacks life and soul. "`To serve Him
with all your heart' -- serving Hashem with one's heart is
tefilla." "Another opinion: studying Talmud."
It is possible that this is what is meant by the people's not
making a brocho before studying. They no doubt said
the brocho but did not feel it: they did not reveal
the great brilliance contained in these brochos.
"The Torah of Hashem is perfect, it restores the soul. The
testimony of Hashem is sure, making wise the simple"
About the first luchos is written: "And the
luchos were the work of Elokim, and the writing was
the writing of Hashem, engraved (chorus) upon the
luchos" (Shemos 32:16). Chazal (Ovos
6:2) write, "Do not read chorus but rather
cheirus." Freedom from the yoke of the kingdoms, from
the galuyos, from persecution, from the mal'ach
hamoves (Shemos Rabbah 32:1,41), and from
With the last luchos the special quality of "freedom
from forgetting" was nonexistent. "If the first luchos
had not been broken, Torah would not have become forgotten
from Yisroel" (Eruvin 54a). After their breaking it is
possible to forget Torah. From then on one must toil over his
studies to attain excellence. But Dovid Hamelech a'h
revealed to us that the need to labor over Torah is not a
shortcoming but the greatest benefit that could possibly be.
"It is good for me that I was afflicted, so that I could
learn your statutes" (Tehillim 119:71). Dovid Hamelech
was overjoyed that he was privileged to study Torah in his
times of suffering and distress. Toiling over Torah is the
highest level of Torah study, the highest pinnacle of taking
pleasure in Hashem.
Chazal refer to the breaking of the first luchos and
the giving of the last luchos, that obligates one to
toil over his Torah study, thus: "My cow's leg was broken for
my own good." The Yerushalmi (Horayos 3:7) and
the Midrash (Vayikro Rabbah 1:4) cite a story
of a person who was plowing with his cow when the cow broke
its leg. When the farmer bent over to tend to his cow he
revealed a treasure of precious stones and pearls in the
earth. He then said, "My cow's leg was broken for my own
good." Chazal wanted to emphasize that a spectacular
treasure, which includes all worldly benefits, is accessed
through "toiling over Torah."
The importance of toiling over one's studies is mentioned
further in Chazal. "False is grace and vain is beauty; a
woman who fears Hashem shall be praised"
(Mishlei 31:30). The gemora (Sanhedrin 20a)
expounds: "False is grace" is the generation of Moshe, "vain
is beauty" is the generation of Yehoshua, "a woman who fears
Hashem shall be praised" is the generation of Chizkiyah.
Another opinion: "false is grace" is the generation of R'
Yehuda b'r Ilo'i, when six talmidim would cover
themselves with one tallis and engage in Torah
How could this possibly be? The generation of Moshe, the
father of all prophets, a generation called the dor
dei'ah, a generation abounding with knowledge of Hashem
and His Torah, is only considered a generation of "grace" --
of external beauty? The generation of Yehoshua, the
generation that had the privilege to enter Eretz Yisroel and
conquer it to the accompaniment of numerous miracles, is
regarded as "vain is beauty"?
Rashi (ibid.) explains why the generation of Chizkiyah
is considered as "a woman who fears Hashem shall be
praised" according to the gemora's first opinion: "The
generations of Moshe and Yehoshua studied much Torah, but the
generation of Chizkiyah studied even more than they." The
second opinion disagrees, holding that even Chizkiyah's
generation was considered "vain is beauty" and only the
generation of R' Yehuda b'r Ilo'i, although less wise, was
awarded the title "a woman who fears Hashem shall be
praised." Yiras Hashem is not an external beauty but
an internal one, that bursts out from the depths of a pure
heart and an unsullied neshomoh. They attained their
yiras Hashem by studying Torah despite suffering,
while in a state of grave destitution.
Let us contemplate a little more about this matter. About
Rabban Yochanan ben Zackai it was said, "If all the heavens
were parchments and all the trees quills and all the oceans
ink, that would not be enough to write all the wisdom I
learned from my mentors. Nevertheless I only laid aside from
the wisdom of the sages as much as a fly that immerses itself
in the Great Ocean and scarcely empties any of it." (See
Otzar Hamidrashim.) Also his talmidim R'
Eliezer and R' Yehoshua wrote about Rabban Yochanan ben
Zackai, "If all the oceans would be ink and the marshes
quills and the heaven and earth parchments and all people
scribes, that would be insufficient to write all the Torah
they studied from their mentor, but they did not make him
lack anything. It was like immersing a limb in the ocean." R'
Akiva, their talmid, when he spoke about the ocean of
wisdom that he got from his mentors, added: "I do not have
the power to say like my mentors. My mentors took from the
well of wisdom but I did not. I was like someone who smells
an esrog: he enjoys its smell but the esrog is
missing nothing. I was like someone who draws water up from
the aqueduct or as one who lights one candle from another."
(Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:1)
This portrays the "running down of the generations." R'
Yehuda b'r Ilo'i was one of the younger talmidim of R'
Akiva. We can easily understand how much wisdom and Torah was
lost during the time from Moshe's generation until that of R'
Yehuda b'r Ilo'i. Nevertheless, this generation of them all
was awarded the highest description of being loved by Hashem
and being close to Him -- "a woman who fears Hashem shall be
praised." This teaches us that toiling over Torah is valued
much more than reaching knowledge of the Torah.
On 17 Tammuz the luchos were broken.
It was a day of mourning, but this mourning contains a light
that shines afar. Because of the luchos being broken
we were privileged to receive a Torah that is studied through
suffering and toil. Laboring over Torah is the key to all the
good that HaKodosh Boruch Hu filled His world with.
"If you will go in my statutes" (Vayikro 26:3) is the
way the Torah opens before enumerating a long list of
blessings from Hashem. Rashi (ibid.), following
Chazal, adds that the posuk teaches us to toil over
Torah study. This is the key to Torah study, to the entire
exquisite treasure that Hashem created in His world.
When we study Torah while suffering poverty we must realize
the great privilege we have merited. We must be delighted
that we are laboring over Torah and through it discover "how
fortunate we are and how good is our portion." Of primary
importance is to remember before Whom we are laboring and
from Whom we are drawing His Torah. This will adorn us with
pride and glory.
We will introduce these values into our lives and dedicate
our lives to them, "for they are our life and the length of
our days, and on them we will mediate day and night."
HaRav Meir Chodosh zt'l was the Mashgiach of Yeshivas
Hebron, Yeshivas Ateres Yisroel, and Yeshivas Or