Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Iyar 5765 - June 1, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Tremendous Responsibility Of Bnei Torah Today

by HaRav Schneur Kotler zt'l, Rosh Yeshivas Lakewood

"Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of talmidim from Gevas to Antipras and they all died in the same period, between Pesach and Shavuos, because they didn't treat each other respectfully. The world was desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our teachers in the South and taught it to them. Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua — they are the ones who established Torah at that time" (Yevomos 62).

Besides the actual punishment that Rabbi Akiva's talmidim sustained, the world was in terrible danger, as the gemora says — "the world was desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our teachers in the South and taught it to them."

Rabbi Akiva's talmidim were all on the level of Tannaim. When they perished, the world was desolate — and it was all because they didn't treat each other respectfully, though this too, was obviously only a shortcoming for people of their caliber, their holiness and their greatness. The gemora doesn't say that they chas vesholom caused each other pain or transgressed the aveiroh of distressing a fellow Jew. For people of their tremendous stature and holiness, something was missing in the qualities that are requisite for acquiring Torah.

By failing to treat each other respectfully, by failing to share each other's burdens, to judge each other favorably, or to love Hashem and other people, Torah could not remain with them; it could not be transmitted by them to the world.

Rabbi Akiva's five subsequent talmidim — "our teachers in the South" — were suitable transmitters of Torah. Since the traits through which Torah is acquired were flawed in the original talmidim, Torah could not remain in the world to be conveyed to future generations through them.

Torah's transmission is conditional on the existence in the transmitter of the traits through which it is acquired. Hashem wanted Torah to pass on to future generations through "our teachers in the South," who possessed all these traits to perfection and were therefore worthy of continuing the chain of tradition.

On the one hand, it is a very great merit for individuals to have been the means of conveying something to future generations that ought to have been conveyed by thousands. We should understand that nowadays, in our generation, we also need people to continue the chain of the Torah tradition. We are aware of how desolate our world is and how great a merit it is to be occupied with Torah, to toil and labor over its study and to make it one's fixed occupation. We must train ourselves in feeling what a great merit this is.

On the other hand, it involves bearing a threefold responsibility. First, responsibility for [increasing] Heaven's glory, through our Torah study being everything that it should. Second, responsibility towards ourselves, to fulfill our own potential. And third, responsibility towards others and to the world at large, especially to our immediate environment to ensure that it is properly fortified for Torah.

This is particularly incumbent upon those who spend their time within the beis hamedrash, a place where they are more likely to encounter the means and the traits of Torah's acquisition and the path to attaining perfection.

We ought to be aware of the following: If a person is charged with carrying the king's crown, although he is responsible for doing any task that is entrusted to him, imagine the responsibility he'll feel if he is given the king's crown to bear — and not in peace time but during a war when there are enemies who want to destroy and wreak damage.

Today, every ben Torah whose fixed occupation is Torah study has been entrusted with a tremendously great task. He has been given Torah, which is the crown of Hashem the King of the world, and he is responsible for Heaven's glory. A person should know that he's been given a job and that he is expected to protect and to broaden and to strengthen Torah.

"From the day that the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed, all that Hakodosh Boruch Hu has in His world are the dalet amos of halochoh" (Brochos 8). The storehouse of yiras Shomayim cannot exist without the dalet amos of halochoh. This is what "Hashem has in His world," meaning that all connection to Him, all that He bestows and His entire relationship with the world, is [through] the dalet amos of halochoh.

We are thus responsible for ensuring that those dalet amos are in every way as they are supposed to be, without any blemish or fault to prevent Hashem's Shechinah from drawing close and coming to rest.

The posuk says, "For Hashem will judge His people and will have mercy on His servants, for He will see that the [enemy's] hand grows ever more [powerful] and that none are held [in check — otzur] or strengthened (ozuve)" (Devorim 32:36). Rashi explains: "Held, means rescued by a savior or a ruler who holds the people in check. Strengthened, means by someone who fortifies . . ."

This is the most difficult period, when everyone goes his own way. While leadership is necessary at all times, it is doubly important at a time of war and when in danger. Actions need to be coordinated. If they are not and everyone takes his own path, it can lead to catastrophe and defeat, chas vesholom.

The posuk should have used the words, "there is no ruler or fortifier," referring to the absence of leaders — we don't have Rav Yisroel Salanter, Rabbi Akiva Eiger or Rav Chaim Volozhiner because the main point is that we don't have rulers or fortifiers. Instead, the posuk says that "none are held [by the ruler] or strengthened [by the fortifier]" referring to the objects of the actions rather than those who carry them out.

The explanation is that even though to an extent, things do exist that hold people in check — environment and regulations — they do not receive these measures properly. Everyone follows his own path, even though it seems to him to be a good and upright path. As the posuk says, "Every man's path appears straight in his own eyes" (Mishlei 21:2) [i.e. he is still striking out on his own rather than being held].

Whatever a person thinks and wants seems to him correct. The main difficulty of this period is that "`none are held or strengthened' — saved by a ruler or strengthened by a fortifier," the shortcoming being with the recipients of the action. The understanding and comprehension of how to be acted upon is lacking.

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