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23 Tammuz 5760 - July 26, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Unchanging Transmission of Torah

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

Part II

In the first part, which appeared two weeks ago in the issue of parshas Bolok, Rabbi Grossman discussed at length the major innovation in Torah education that was attempted by HaRav Y. Y. Reiness almost 150 years ago, and how it was unanimously opposed by all the gedolim at the time. HaRav Reiness argued that the times demanded a new style and learning and the learning of new subjects, and if these are not introduced it will spell tragedy for Klal Yisroel. The gedolim rejected his innovations and insisted that the yeshivos kedoshos continue as they had for thousands of years.

The commentators write that one of the reasons we study Pirkei Ovos from Pesach to Rosh Hashanah is to prepare ourselves properly for receiving the Torah since this maseches teaches us that the process of receiving the Torah continues to this very day.

Pirkei Ovos begins with, "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua; Yehoshua to the Elders." This mishnah teaches us that the Torah will never be changed. The Chossid Yaavetz explains: "This shows that the entire Torah is eternal and the time when we received it until now was never changed and never will be changed. For this reason the Torah writes `that which you shall command your children' since you should not think that it is only relevant to the generation in which you are living. It is eternal since it was created before man." He explains that the mishnah continues "the Elders [gave Torah] to the nevi'im" since "we can discern from this the value of the Torah in its entirety, without change, since the nevi'im, whose spiritual level was tremendous, also needed to receive it from others. Concerning this principle the Sages say that a wise man is preferable to a novi. The Sifrei writes: `These are the mitzvos'--no novi is from now on allowed to innovate anything."

The Chossid Yaavetz adds that because of the need to follow the principle of transmitting the Torah that the Anshei Knesses Hagedola received from the nevi'im, they emphasized three points: "Be composed when judging, raise many talmidim, and erect a fence around the Torah" (Ovos 1:1). We learn of the need to erect a fence around the Torah from the way Rabbenu Yonah explains the posuk, "Remove not the ancient landmark, which your fathers have set" (Mishlei 22:28) that "you should not change from the minhagim that your fathers have introduced."

We should erect a fence that will prevent mistakes in transmission of the Torah, and therefore "these gedolei olom put all their effort to ensure that the kabolo to the world would be with the same impetus as it was given to them, with the maximum perfection possible. They therefore commanded this wonderful testament for those born later, so the Torah would persist as it was given on Mount Sinai."

He explains that man's intelligence is liable to make mistakes since physical entities are qualified by circumstances and changes. A person is obligated to discern every matter in depth, to be "composed when judging" and "raise many talmidim" so he will be under a mutual and constant criticism "since people themselves cannot sense the quality of their progress. Only one person for the other, each one can discern for the other, each according to his character--and the truth will be according to them all.

`Who is a wise man, the one who learns from each person' (Ovos 4:1). Even if a person through his pilpul attempts to forbid the permitted or permit the forbidden, he will not be able to do so because of his many talmidim. They will build, and they also destroy anything perverted until justice will shine through, and he will not be able to differ from the truth." (He adds: "Perhaps because of both reasons together -- their persistence and many talmidim -- Anshei Knesses Hagedola merited to return the crown of Torah to its former glory).

The aim of this method of Torah study bequeathed to us by our Sages is to follow the Torah as it was given and transmitted to us from one generation to the other without any changes. Rabbenu Yonah in his explanation of this mishnah emphasizes that the Torah was transmitted by Anshei Knesses Hagedola from one generation to the other, from one sage to the next. Even after the Talmud was sealed it was passed over to the geonim and "there was a kabolo from one gaon to the other, from one rav to the other, until this very day."

HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz infers from what Rabbenu Yonah writes that even in these generations when the whole Oral Torah is written and arranged and each person can apparently claim he can study it alone, independently, however the way of receiving the Torah is only in the way of a talmid from a rav "until this very day." (See his introduction to Chidushei R' Shlomoh of HaRav Shlomoh Heiman zt'l.)

I myself heard from reliable sources that when the cheder Tashbar in Bnei Brak was established people came to Maran HaRav Yitzchok Zeev Soloveitchik zt'l, the Brisker Rov, to ask advice on how to organize it and how they should study, and if there is a need to improve the method of studying. Maran answered resolutely that we must cling to the way to which we have been accustomed to study and adopt as an example the old chadorim that have functioned for many years: "Do exactly as in the Talmud Torah Eitz Chaim. No less and no better. Neither subtract nor add. Do exactly as in Eitz Chaim!"

Maran HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l, the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, wrote at length in his shmuessim on this subject (see his discourses Shimush Talmidei Chachomim, 5732, 5733 and Moreh Halocho Bifnei Rabbo, 5732). The principle he wants to convey is based on the introduction to the Yad HaChazokoh where the Rambam describes the order that the Torah was transmitted: "From Rav Ashi to Rabbenu were forty generations, and they are: Rav Ashi from Rovo . . . and therefore they all received from Hashem the Elokim of Yisroel."

The Rosh Yeshiva explains that the Rambam is teaching us that kabolas HaTorah was not only for the generation of the desert. Every generation receives the Torah from the Almighty through studying from their teachers and their teachers from their teachers all the way to Moshe Rabbenu who received the Torah on Sinai, and in that way they all received the Torah from Hashem the Elokim of Yisroel. "We therefore learn that the tradition from rav to talmid is in the manner of receiving Torah from the Almighty."

R' Eliezer therefore proclaimed, "I never said anything that I never heard from my rav." Although the gemora says that no one ever heard before what he had spoken, R' Eliezer meant that he would not say anything unless entirely sure of its fitting the opinion of his rav.

This is the way the Torah is transmitted from one generation to the next--without any changes. We have a "direct connection" with the Torah given at Sinai. The rav is the conduit by which the Torah is transmitted from Sinai. No other way exists. It is impossible to "pick up" the Torah independently. "This is the matter of semichah that each person must be ordained from another ordained person back to Moshe Rabbenu. Even if someone is worthy of being ordained, it is not done alone. He needs someone previously ordained in a straight chain from Moshe Rabbenu to ordain him. The hashpo'oh passes from the rav to the talmid, from one person to the other, and no one can take it by himself."

Maran the Mashgiach HaRav Yeruchom Lebowitz zt'l mentioned concerning this that R' Yochonon ben Zackai also declared he never said anything he did not hear from his Rav (Sukkah 28a). This is astounding! R' Yochonon who studied the whole Torah, said that even if all the oceans were ink they would not be enough to record the wisdom he studied from his rav (Sofrim 16:8)! He had received everything from his rav and studied nothing himself! We only have an inheritance from our forefathers, and without them we have nothing. Anything which is not inherited from our forefathers is worthless, and that which we did not receive directly from our rav has doubtful value.

"My Rebbe z'l would always point out the following: `R' Meir said I could be metaheir the sheretz with a hundred and fifty reasons' (see Eruvin 13b). Who can grasp the `Torah' of R' Meir on one reason, let alone a hundred and fifty reasons -- but the sheretz anyway remains a sheretz! It remains tomei. This shows that only a tradition, an inheritance from our forefathers, has any worth, and nothing else."

The Mashgiach cites the Chovos HaLevovos (Sha'ar Yechud HaMa'aseh ch. 5): "All wisdom when properly used cures every ailment, but deviation from the correct path causes the wisdom itself to become an incurable malady."

The Torah was therefore compared to fire, when properly used it lights up our way, but if improperly used it burns with its flames. "You should beware neither to stray from the way of your forefathers nor from the ways of those proceeding you who contribute to your well-being. Do not rely on your intelligence alone nor on your own advice and reasoning. Do not suspect your fathers in what they have transmitted to you for your benefit. Do not shatter their advice or instructions. Whatever plan you have thought of they have also thought of and have weighed the good and bad in it. Perhaps you have understood what is beneficial at the outset but have overlooked the eventual disadvantages. You, with your limited powers of deliberation, see what is good in it but miss its mistakes and losses. The chochom (Mishlei 22:28) said: "Remove not the ancient landmark." He also said (ibid., 1:8) "My son, hear the instruction of your father.' "

The Chovos HaLevovos warns us, explains R' Yeruchom, against "relying on your intelligence alone, or on your own advice and reasoning" since by thinking independently a person creates "his own Torah." We must realize that our fathers did not leave us lacking in any way. "What you do not have from them, what they did not build, you will not attain, and it is impossible for you to attain. Whatever you have acquired, comes from them and they are the ones who built it. They transmitted it to you and you inherited it from them. It is imperative that you grasp firmly the inheritance of our fathers" (Daas Chochmah Umussar, discourse Yerushas Ovos).

Maranan Verabonon zt'l and ylct'a in their acts for the klal and the prat have always kept this principle in mind. The foundation of the Torah was transmitted from one generation to the other without any changes. Only when we continue to relay the Torah as it is, will we be an additional link in the chain of generations of, "Moshe received Torah from Sinai and passed it to Yehoshua."

Maran the Rosh Yeshiva shlita, some twenty years ago (at the opening of the Agudath Yisroel International Executive Committee meeting, in the year 5740) said that we must realize that Torah is not like the wisdom of the nations. The wisdom of the nations develops with each passing year. Each generation is superior than the previous one in its wisdom and achievements. This is because the new generation finds a prepared area of wisdom that the previous generation invented. It is only left for them to add on to it and learn from it.

The Jewish Nation, however, lives with the knowledge that every generation is inferior to the previous generation. Every previous generation is greater than the coming one, the nevi'im, the elders, the tanoim, the amoraim, the geonim, the rishonim, the acharonim, up to the present. If the rishonim were like mal'ochim, we are like people, and if the rishonim were like people we are like mules. Why is this so? "This is because our wisdom is the Torah that was passed down to Moshe on Sinai and is a Torah from Shomayim. Those who stood on Mount Sinai and heard from the Almighty have a clearer understanding. Whoever is closer to that generation has more clarity. Moshe who received the Torah from Hashem had flawless Torah wisdom. He made no additions or innovations at all and received everything from HaKodosh Boruch Hu, from Whom there is no higher wisdom. This is not true about the following generations. For them the Torah was passed down in tradition one person to the other. It must be that the generations decline and decrease from one generation to the other, and if the rishonim were like mal'ochim we are like people."

Maran shlita explained the first Mishnah in Ovos: "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua; Yehoshua to the Elders . . . and the nevi'im transmitted it to the Anshei Knesses Hagedola." The Mishnah indicates that Moshe received but Yehoshua transmitted it without writing that Yehoshua received it from Moshe. "If the tanna had written Yehoshua `received' we could have mistakenly thought that Yehoshua did not receive the correct tradition since he received it from Moshe and not from Hashem. Perhaps, chas vesholom, something was added or detracted from the Torah he received.

"Moshe received the whole Torah from HaKodosh Boruch Hu, all the wisdom of the Torah that was possible to receive, and undoubtedly he received it complete. To avoid this mistake the tanna writes of Yehoshua that it was transmitted to him. The Torah given to Yehoshua was exactly the same that Moshe received from Hashem. This same Torah, Yehoshua transmitted to the Elders without any change or innovations. No detail whatsoever in the tradition is missing to this very day.

"We too must maintain the tradition as it is without any innovations since chodosh is forbidden by the Torah. This is the uniqueness of Toras Yisroel that nothing was innovated ever since Moshe received it on Mount Sinai. Although the wisdom of other nations changes over and again according to the spirit of the time, Am Yisroel must remain with its same standing and uniqueness, and in this we are distinct from other nations."

In one of his letters (from Isru Chag Pesach, 5740) Maran shlita mentioned that this is the main answer to every argument and question about why he does not cooperate with the new ideas that the National Religious Movement has bequeathed to us. In that letter he answers someone who cited at length reasoning and "proofs" of the correctness of the National Religious. After he refutes these "proofs" the Rosh Yeshiva explains the mistake of joining the Zionist ideology. "And in general I do not understand what he means. Does he think that he and his colleagues from the Mizrachi Zionist Party are more particular in fulfilling mitzvos than the Chofetz Chaim zt'l and other geonim and kedoshim? If they distanced themselves and opposed this idea, we can be sure they would not disdain an explicit mitzvah that Eretz Yisroel was promised to us from the beginning of the world's creation. For sure the way to rule halochos and to fulfill mitzvos was known by the geonim and tzaddikim no less than by him and his colleagues, and we are obligated to follow these geonim and tzaddikim.

"When I am asked in the beis din of Shomayim why I did not adopt the Zionist ideology I will wholeheartedly accuse the Chofetz Chaim and all the gedolim who lived before me- -and they will know what to answer. I am telling you to discontinue these thoughts since anyone who questions what his rav has done is as if he questions what the Shechina does. It is preferable to contemplate in the tradition that we have received from our mentors and elders. "Ask your father and he will recount it to you; your elders and they will tell you" (Devorim 32:7) and then you will understand by yourself all that I have written."

We should not try to be wiser than those who have lived before us. We must remember what the Chovos HaLevovos wrote: "Do not suspect your fathers in what they have transmitted to you for your benefit. Do not shatter their advice in what they have instructed you. Whatever plan you have thought of they have also thought of and weighed what is good and bad in it. Perhaps you have understood what is beneficial in its outset to do but have overlooked the loss and the eventual disadvantages. You, with your limited powers of deliberation, see what is good in it but miss its mistakes and losses."

That plan for the "revised yeshiva" has sunk into oblivion. Thirty-five years ago (Digleinu, Sivan, 5725) R' Moshe Sheinfeld published an article entitled "The Mother of the Yeshivot Tichoniyot." In that article he quoted what was published at that time and showed what were the results of that "yeshiva" established by the father of Mizrachi. We intend only to delve into the vital lesson to be learned from that attempt and not into its historical aspects. This vital lesson we must regularly review.

Any attempt to change the way the Torah is transmitted brings both immediate and future tragedy for all following generations. Those who follow the Mizrachi ideology have not learned the lesson and therefore are declining spiritually from bad to worse.

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