In the first part, HaRav Shteinman said that Torah needs
constant strengthening along with yiras Shomayim, for
Torah and yiras Shomayim go hand in hand. Without
yiras Shomayim, any outlook is superficial. One needs
to seek the truth in order to be worthy.
Aristotle was a Deliberate Heretic
The Vilna Gaon determines that Aristotle was a heretic by
intellectual choice and intent. He lived in the generation of
Shimon Hatzaddik and surely, if he had genuinely sought
truth, he would have gone to that Sage for an explanation
about Creation, the heavens, and the universe as a whole. He
would have understood it, too.
How could Shimon Hatzaddik have explained and proven the
knowledge to him? asks the Gaon. He says that if he, the
Gaon, was capable of demonstrating the workings of the
heavens on his very table top by merely uttering a holy name,
surely Shimon Hatzaddik was able to do so as well.
Aristotle would have listened, learned, and necessarily been
convinced of the truth, and would not have presented his own
erroneous theories and philosophy. Why and how did he arrive
at his invalid theories? Simply because he sought to ignore
the truth or not to know of it. The Gaon maintains that
Aristotle did not want to know the truth!
This statement applies as well to all those who wandered off
the Torah path. They strayed because they preferred a life
without responsibility, without toil. They chose not to know
the truth, for the truth did not serve them; it was too
demanding, too difficult. One has to strive and toil for the
sake of truth, as the mishneh depicts: This is the way
of Torah . . . This also applies to everything connected to
truth. In order to attain it, one must be willing to deprive
oneself physically and materially, to eat bread in salt,
subsist on rationed water . . . else it is impossible. One
can attain wisdom and Torah only through toil, effort,
sacrifice and a continual search for truth.
If Aristotle had really, truly sought the truth, the matter
of distance would not have deterred him and he would have
left Greece and gone to Eretz Yisroel even though it was no
simple matter in those days. It would not have required the
same degree of effort as Torah study demands, but discomfort
and exertion, certainly, yes. But he was not prepared to
exert himself. This conclusion is what led the Gaon to state
that Aristotle was a heretic on purpose, knowingly and
intentionally. For if someone has the opportunity to attain
truth and he fails to do so, he is considered an informed
One Must Sacrifice to Attain the Truth
This assessment applies to everything. If someone seeks the
truth, he must make sacrifices for it. If he fails to do so,
he will not attain it in full measure. This is true, as well,
if he wishes to understand how Hashem conducts the world
— since it is impossible to know Hashem Himself, for
even the angels do not comprehend Him. The more one
understands of how the world is administered, the closer one
can come to some understanding of Hashem, despite the fact
that "No man can view Me [Hashem] and live." No creation can
fathom its Creator, but one can study and attempt to
understand Hashem's conduct and administration of the
We must study that behavior and learn to apply the lessons to
our own ways. For indeed, we are expected to extrapolate
lessons from it and try to emulate His ways. But if a person
sincerely wishes to understand, he cannot approach it
superficially but must invest toil and effort in order to
understand or else he will not succeed.
If we wish to understand why the way to acquire Torah is
through self-denial and asceticism, it is simply because if
one does not do this, he is not really looking for the truth.
And if he is not seeking it, he will surely not stumble upon
it but only fall into pits and potholes in the road of life,
just as the Gaon remarked about Aristotle.
Thus, what we must do is to begin searching for truth. If one
does so with all his heart, sincerely, he will surely acquire
yiras Shomayim and Torah knowledge, which encompasses
One Who Studies Superficially Cannot Expect to Acquire
The work, Hisragshus Halev by Hagaon R' Hirsh Michel
Shapira zt'l, states two things: 1) If a person is
very precise and meticulous in his Torah study, cites
Evven Shlomo in the name of the Gaon, this can help
improve his actions and middos, and 2) in the name of
R' Yisroel Salanter zt'l that if one studies in haste,
he cannot expect to attain yiras Shomayim.
One who learns hurriedly fails to pay attention to certain
things and does not really seek the truth. For if he wanted
to know something thoroughly, he would pore over it intently
and not be satisfied with cursory knowledge. If he does not
want to study in depth, he cannot possibly attain G-d-fear.
For in the rest of his actions and his daily conduct he is
also hasty and superficial and not concerned with doing
something properly. Without toil and trouble one cannot
attain anything. Every level of spiritual ascent demands an
investment of toil through a search for the truth, for
without this he has not exerted himself.
When I Wanted — You Did Not Want; Now that You Want,
I Don't Want
We are thus enabled to better understand the discussion of
Chazal (Brochos 7a) on the verse, "And Hashem said:
You cannot see My face." The gemora explains in the
name of R' Yehoshua ben Korchoh: "This is what Hashem said to
Moshe: `When I wanted, you did not want. Now that you want, I
do not want.' "
When Hashem revealed Himself to Moshe in the burning bush, it
is written that Moshe hid his face for he did not wish to
look. Moshe Rabbenu is taken to task for this, says R'
Yehoshua ben Korchoh.
This conflicts with the opinion of R' Shmuel bar Nachmani who
says in the name of R' Yonoson that in the merit of three
[things], he merited three [things]. Because Moshe hid his
face, he was rewarded with an ethereal glow reflecting the
Shechinah that was so brilliant that he had to hide
his face for no one could gaze upon it. Because he was awed
and full of fear, he was rewarded that others were awed by
him, as it is written, "And they feared to approach him."
Because he did not want to gaze, he was rewarded that he
later was permitted to gaze upon the vision of Hashem.
So here we see a difference of opinion regarding the fact
that Moshe hid his face: Was it praiseworthy, or not? Was he
punished? R' Yehoshua maintains, Yes, whereas R' Yonoson says
that on the contrary, he was rewarded for doing so.
What are they arguing about?
Why Did Moshe Not Want to Look?
It is difficult to understand R' Yehoshua's logic. Did Moshe
Rabbenu truly not want to look? If, for example, a person
were to be asked today if he wishes to be granted knowledge
of all of Shas, he would surely reply in the
affirmative. Even a person who was not so great would leap at
the chance of knowing all of Shas without having to
toil for it. Why not?
But if we were to ask him if he is prepared to exert himself
over his study, his answer might be different . . . The fact
is that one cannot grasp all this knowledge overnight; one
must pore over it and toil for years upon years, and besides
that he must live a life of deprivation, of subsistence on
bread and water. One must dedicate oneself to study, in order
to master it. Without toil, he cannot achieve it.
Not every person is prepared to do this. Over the
generations, there were scattered individuals, here and
there, who knew all of Shas, and we mean to really
have a full, thorough grasp of it. This is not acquired
through superficiality and speed reading. We mean that they
were familiar with it, through and through. Not everyone is
prepared to dedicate himself to this lifetime goal. But to be
granted the knowledge without toil, why not?
Thus, when Hashem offered Moshe to reveal Himself at the
level of "seeing My face" at the burning bush, why did he not
take Hashem up on that offer? A once-in-a-lifetime chance, an
opportunity not given to anyone before, at any time —
for no one "shall see Me and live"! Why would Moshe not leap
at that chance? How could he refuse?
Let us admit that to know Hashem is impossible. The greatest
angel cannot fathom Him and His ways. All one might be able
to possibly understand is Hashem's conduct in this world.
Moshe actually asked how Hashem administers the world. Chazal
tell us that he wished to understand how and why a
tzaddik can suffer in this world and a sinner can have
a good life. If he understood this, he would know how to
conduct himself as well, and be able to emulate His ways.
The better one understands Hashem's ways, the higher a
spiritual level he can attain. This is the ultimate level of
knowing Hashem, for one cannot proceed beyond that and
actually know Hashem — only understand His ways.
At the burning bush, Hashem wished to explain His conduct to
Moshe. He wished to elevate him to a very high level of
understanding, of spirituality, that went beyond what any
mortal could grasp by one's own effort. That was the level
of, "You can only see by hindsight, but You cannot see My
face." A human being cannot grasp more than that.
But at the sneh, Hashem was prepared to show him more.
Why at that particular time — we do not know. Perhaps
because of the very condition of empathy and commiseration,
of "Imo Onochi betzoroh — I am with him in his
distress." The Jewish People was suffering greatly, as
symbolized by the thorny bush. It was from this place of
suffering that Hashem wished to teach His ways to Moshe, to
show him why the affliction was inevitable.
Without Sacrifice of Life — One Cannot Merit
Moshe did not feel worthy of this. One cannot attain such an
exalted level in one split second, without long preparation.
One must dedicate one's entire life, make every sacrifice for
this, even more than merely subsisting on bread, salt and
water. In order to reach that degree of intimate knowledge of
Hashem and His ways, one must consecrate one's whole life.
Moshe did not know if he was equal to this challenge. And
therefore, he hid his face.
According to R' Yehoshua ben Korchoh, Moshe should not have
underestimated himself. He should, indeed, have been prepared
to sacrifice his entire life for the sake of this revelation,
this exalted degree of spirituality.
But because he did not `want' to do so, he was punished. How?
"Now you don't want? Don't expect the opportunity to present
itself again. When you want, I will not want . . . " Moshe
forfeited a once-in-a-lifetime chance and because he did not
want, he was punished. The punishment was that the
opportunity would never present itself again.
This is what Hashem implied: "When I wanted, you didn't
want." When you could have seized the chance to sacrifice
yourself for this level of ruchniyus, to be so exalted
and elevated — you did not want. You refused. And that
is final. You forfeited your chance forevermore.
The other opinion in the gemora is that Moshe refused
out of humility. He hid his face because he felt he was
unworthy. He held himself very low and thought that even if
he did make a superhuman effort, he would not be worthy of
such a privilege. How, indeed, could he merit that?
And therefore, he was not to blame and it can be said that
his refusal is praiseworthy. He felt that even if he was
prepared to sacrifice his life, he would never attain such a
high level. If this is true, then he truly deserves reward
for such humility.
In any case, we see that in order to attain a level of
spirituality, one must verily sacrifice oneself. This
readiness is a sign that one wishes to know the truth. If,
however, a person says that he wishes to know Shas
without investing any effort in meriting that knowledge, and
he is not willing to forgo comfort etc., what can he expect
I Did Not Absorb from My Teachers as Much as a Dog
Diminishes from the Ocean
We can bring further proof for this. The gemora in
Sanhedrin 68 says that R' Eliezer Hagodol said before
his death: "Much did I learn from my masters, and I did not
absorb from their teachings even as little as a dog licks and
diminishes from the ocean." He testifies this about
This is somewhat surprising since the gemora there
relates that just before his death, he expounded three
hundred halochos, with exceptional clarity, regarding
leprous lesions. Is this considered as little as a dog licks
from the ocean? A dog that licks is not actually drinking, he
is only lapping up drops with his tongue. If R' Eliezer
really learned so much Torah and knew so many
halochos, was this not so much greater than a dog
lapping at the ocean?
We must then construe this to refer to depth in Torah and not
scope. For in order to succeed in acquiring depth in Torah
knowledge, one must be truly great. And in order to be great,
one must make great life sacrifices. R' Eliezer did not feel
that he took full advantage [of what his masters had to
offer], that he barely lapped at the knowledge, like a dog
lapping at the ocean. This follows our basic rule that in
order to acquire Torah, one must toil.
Don't Despair: Everyone can Become Very Great
If a person realizes that he must sacrifice so much, he will
become daunted and despairing, thinking that he will never
become great. And if he, anyway, will not become great, why
put in all that effort?
This is a false assumption. Everyone can maximize his own
potential even though he will never become a R' Eliezer or a
Moshe Rabbenu. He can make the best of his G-d-given talents,
for they are unique to him.
And this is not at all unrealistic: if he wants to, he can
become [truly] great, in his own way. But he must want it. He
must seek the truth. And if he perseveres, he will arrive at
In our times, we cannot expect a person to literally live on
bread and water. People are too weak. But this does not
exempt him from seeking the truth. And if he perseveres, he
will rise from level to level in ruchniyus, Torah
study and yiras Shomayim.
May Hashem help all those who study in yeshiva; may He grant
them the will and the yearning to continually search for
truth throughout their lives and to channel their spiritual
assets in the right direction, for then they can achieve
greatness. And truly, greatness is within the reach of every
May Hashem indeed help all those who genuinely seek truth and
who are prepared to sacrifice for Torah and yiras
Shomayim, and with His help, may they all become very