Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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23 Tammuz 5766 - July 19, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
This is the Way of the Torah

by HaGaon R' Michel Feinstein zt'l

Our Torah is Altogether Pnimiyus

We learn in Yoma 38, "The House of Garmu is censured for not having agreed to teach the method of baking the Lechem Haponim; the House of Avtinas, for not being willing to teach the process of preparing the ketores, and similarly Hagris ben Levi, who was skilled in singing and did not want to teach it to others. Likewise, Ben Kamtzar did not wish to teach how to write [simultaneously with pens placed between his fingers].

The gemora goes on to tell that in time, it was discovered why they refused to impart their skills and knowledge to others: "Lest those who are unworthy acquire these skills and use them for idol worship . . . " Upon learning this, R' Akiva said that henceforth, it is forbidden to speak ill of others, except of Ben Kamtzar, who was able to write Hashem's Name simultaneously by placing four pens between his five fingers." Regarding this man, he was unable to find a redeeming answer and attributed to him the verse, "The name of the wicked shall rot."

The question arises why he did not offer the same answer as was given for the first three. Could he not have said that he, too, feared that someone would use this skill for purposes of idolatry?"

The Meiri explains that incense, bread and the art of song were, indeed, employed for idol worship — which cannot be said of writing the Ineffable Name of Hashem simultaneously. This is a holy Name, and the talent cannot apply to anything else, since all that the idolaters do is only for show, for appearances' sake.

The Meiri is teaching us a vital principle through an expansion, a reversal, of this very statement: everything that is external, that is only for appearances' sake, is idol worship. Whatever is intrinsic and internal — is holy.

The Rambam extends this principle in his "Letter to Yemen": "The difference between our religion and other religions can be likened to the difference between a living, sentient person and an idol or statue fashioned by a craftsman, either from wood or metal in human shape."

Only an utter fool would mistake the latter for the former, not knowing their separate inner workings. But a wise man can differentiate between the internal value of the one compared to the other. He knows that as artistically fashioned as the idol may be, it is nothing inside. But a human being is a marvelous creation, an extraordinary example of the Divine wisdom that it represents. The Divine design is reflected in a person's nervous system, the organs, the circulatory system, the capacity of motion and so on.

Similarly, our Torah is a creation full of vitality; it has a very rich pnimiyus. All other religions, lehavdil, are empty, devoid of inner content, including all of their `commandments,' warnings and traditions.

The pride of Torah scholars is the quality they embody, their soul, their inner treasure. Chazal tell that Dovid Hamelech had four hundred comely youths who went forth in golden accouterments. They headed divisions that made great noise to confuse the world in battle (Kiddushin 76). This seems to contradict another saying of Chazal that the armies of Dovid Hamelech were manned by soldiers of fine lineage, dating generations back, upright, worthy men who required no special examination.

The explanation is that Dovid Hamelech only used the comely youths to make an impression. But the true soldiers, the one who actually fought his battles, were wholly upright, outstanding, well-born young men who never went about with golden accouterments. They were of the caliber of Benoyohu ben Yehoyoda who smote a lion within the confines of a pit on a snowy day, as related by Chazal (Brochos 18). This means that he broke the ice and immersed himself for purification . . . and studied Torah with utmost sacrifice.

True bnei Torah were never impressed by golden accouterments, or lured by any other material things which are tantamount to idols and idolatry. Our pride is the inner worth, not the superficial glitter. We are like the legions of the House of Dovid, the dynasty of Moshiach who will rule over the entire world and will excel in humility. Moshiach will make his initial appearance as a pauper, astride a donkey.

The entire world is on one side and the bnei Torah on the other. Familiar is the saying oft repeated by my father- in-law, Maran the Gavad of Brisk: A parable to a train which went off the tracks and began falling. It was in danger of overturning and crashing down a steep incline. A fool inside the car climbed up on a bench, hoping to save himself. Could his act be of any avail?

The train of the masses of the Jewish people has swerved off the tracks long ago. The masses have left the straight and narrow rail. Can we, the bnei Torah, hope to save ourselves from overturning by climbing up high inside the train? Surely, it will not help a whit!

Our only way of getting back on the track is to get onto another car that is upright, and traveling along the right way, ascending towards Beis Keil . . .

The world of the ben Torah rises up against a miserable, distorted, depraved world, strong and stalwart. In our days, one cannot become a good Jew without adhering to Torah, without being a Torah student in yeshiva, be it for more or less. All of those who are loyal to Judaism are in fact bnei Torah, and they must know that we must debark from the general train of the masses which has since gone off the track. We must follow our own track, with its straightforward direction which is our guideline throughout our lives.

The external world has nothing of the spiritual richness which we possess. Everything they have to show is mere show, only external, superficial, flamboyant, while our wealth is internal, intrinsic. We are a living entity, complete with soul, intellect and heart.

Still and all, there is a noteworthy difference between one who dedicates his entire life to Torah and one who does not. We know that the four species we take on Succos exemplify the four types of Jews in our nation. There are the scholars and the boors, the genuine do-gooders, and the ones without much redeeming qualities, without `taste' or `fragrance.' But all are bound together to form one whole unit — and this is the secret strength of the Jewish nation and its survival. Note however, that three species are bound up together, while the fourth, the elite esrog, continues to remain unique unto itself.

This comes to teach us the designated place for Torah scholars in the midst of the masses. We do, of course, try to draw all of the strata towards Torah, to reach all of the levels and bring them close to the Shechinah. But we cannot be an integral part of the hoi polloi. This is not superiority but a deep cognizance that only by remaining distinct can we preserve our uniqueness and continue to elevate and improve ourselves.

" . . . may blessings descend upon the heads of all those who take an initiative and toil to augment the honor of Torah. I do not come, G-d forbid, to detract an iota from the prestige in awarding prizes for excellence, which is merely a sign of the times. But let us always remember that the image, the stature of a ben Torah, is crystallized from within, through the yeshivishe spirit, as it has always been, in the atmosphere and ambience of a qualitative life of Torah."

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