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9 Tammuz 5759 - June 23 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Broken Luchos
HaRav Meir Chodosh zt'l

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 Hashem.

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 tov.

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 81a).

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 [2]). 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 Torah.

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 Yisroel.

"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" (Tehillim 19:8).

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 forgetting.

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 study.

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 Elchonon

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