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7 Av 5763 - August 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Zevulun And Yissochor In Transition: A Shmuess Delivered

by HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro

Part II

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 present.

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 control.

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 it bestows.

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 People.

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 scholars?"

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."

Immediate Dividends

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 you."

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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