The Value of an Answer Said with Toil
HaRav Dovid Magnes told of the time he joined Rabbenu R'
Boruch Ber Leibowitz at his Friday night table. In the course
of the meal he showed his host a difficult Rambam which was
being dealt with in the yeshiva and posed his question.
Rabbenu provided a brilliant answer on the spot. At the end
of the meal, Rabbenu went out to the yard and paced its
length for a long time, sefer in hand, mulling over
That week, he mentioned the passage in his shiur but
presented an entirely different and far less brilliant
approach to the difficulty. "I later said to him: This answer
is correct, I am sure, but why didn't you also repeat the
beautiful terutz you gave on Friday night?"
R' Boruch Ber replied, "Yes, the first one was true and good,
but I said it without toiling in the matter. It came to me
just like that. Whereas the one I presented just before was
the product of a great deal of effort. That's why I preferred
HaRav Chaim Yaakov Leibowitz tells the following: "A small
group of students studied with him one day, when someone
raised a shattering question. On the spot, Rabbenu produced a
luminous answer that clarified the whole subject, leaving no
loose ends whatsoever. We were astounded at its brilliance
and genius, but we couldn't help discerning a slight frown of
dissatisfaction upon the face of Rabbenu. He then stood up
and began pacing the floor, his hand pressed against his
"He paced back and forth for some time and finally stood
still, opened his mouth and said: `My dear sons, I did
something I shouldn't have. Chazal say that if you have not
toiled, you have not found. Torah is acquired only through
exertion, and while I did provide a good answer, still, it
lacked yegiyah. I truly pray that I never be one who
innovates ideas in Torah that are not seemly!'
"He continued to circulate in the room, to and fro, for
another ten minutes. Finally, he stood still, beaming, and
said, `I think that I have finally begun to understand this
subject.' And he began lecturing on the explanation of the
passage . . .
"We students," continues R' Chaim Yaakov, "saw no appreciable
difference between what he had first said and what he told us
after thinking the subject through, but we learned a deep
lesson from that episode. We learned that Torah necessitates
He once encountered a difficult question and worked very hard
to reconcile it. After a great deal of effort, he finally
understood the matter thoroughly. At this time, a Torah
scholar from the yeshiva who was also grappling with the
question came in to Rabbenu to `talk in learning.' In the
course of their study, he mentioned the question with which
Rabbenu had encountered such difficulty, and showed a very
simple, but parallel way to understand it.
Rabbenu was astounded by his brilliance, but immediately
said, "Never mind that you were able to come to that answer
so quickly in the same way that I did after great toil. I
spent days mulling over it so that my answer has the added
advantage of yegiyah."
Rabbenu delivered a shiur one time and was asked a
question in the middle. He answered it on the spot and then
stopped the lecture. On the following day, Rabbenu went over
to the one who had asked the question and repeated the answer
from the previous day. The young man could not help asking
why he had come to say the same thing again and why he had
stopped the shiur right after providing that
Rabbenu replied, "I gave my response yesterday spontaneously,
without thinking it completely through. Such an answer cannot
be considered valid Torah since it lacks great toil. But now,
that I have immersed myself in it from the beginning and have
come up with the same answer, I can state that it is correct,
that it qualifies as Torah."
Rabbenu came to hear that one of the students in yeshiva
spent his free time reading books that did not deal with
Torah. He summoned him and said, "In the same manner that we
declare `Ani Ma'amin — I do believe in the
uniqueness of the Creator,' so must we testify to the
exclusivity of the Torah. Since this is true, you are
studying Torah while sharing an illicit partnership. And just
as it is forbidden to ascribe to a partnership with the
Creator, as it were [like the Christians do in their
trinity], for this is equivalent to serving idolatry, so is
it forbidden to share, as it were, and thus desecrate the
Torah with another partner. A Torah scholar must not leave
over any space in his head for anything not connected to
Even if I lived the life of Mesushelach, I would never
finish the Revealed Torah
While in America, he became sick and his student, Rabbi Moshe
Dovid Tendler, took him to a religious doctor. Rabbenu sighed
several times while sitting in the waiting room, causing R'
Moshe to ask in alarm if he was feeling worse.
"Thank G-d, I feel alright," he replied. "I am distressed,
however, over having forgotten my gemora at home. We
are waiting here for such a long time, when I could have
R' Dovid looked around and, seeing a bookcase, thought to
find the gemora his master wished to study from. The
bookcase was locked, but he found a copy of the sefer
Raziel Hamal'och outside it. R' Boruch Ber smiled at him,
saying, "It seems that the doctors in America are perfectly
versed in the whole Torah, and all that remains for them to
study are the kabbalistic secrets thereof. As for me, even if
I were to live the years of Mesushelach, it would not suffice
me to learn all there is to know in the revealed Torah."
This doctor, incidentally, gave the yeshiva a most generous
Without the Conflicts of Abaye and Rovo it is Impossible
to Exist for a Moment
They were once studying in yeshiva about R' Yochonon ben
Zakkai (Succah 25a) who, it states, had studied the
entire Torah, from major to minor things. What were
considered those major things? Matters of the celestial Holy
Chariot. And the lesser things? The havayos of Abaye
When he came to this passage, Rabbenu's face reddened and he
asked, "How can the gemora refer to those
havayos as minor subjects? How, indeed, can one
continue one's existence on earth without those Talmudic
conflicts? It is something to ponder!"
At this point, he buried his face in his hands, trying to
solve this riddle. He remained thus for many long moments.
Suddenly, he lifted his head and his eyes lit up. He turned
to the students beside him and exclaimed, "I will tell you
the meaning of this passage. We can compare it to two
situations. In the first one, a Jew comes and tells that
while passing by the river, he noticed another Jew drowning,
grasping on to a wooden plank for dear life. Without
hesitating, he jumped into the river and saved his life.
"In the second instance, a Jew comes and asks his neighbor
for a slice of bread with butter. Without hesitating a
moment, he goes and fetches him the bread. Which of the two
cases is the more significant in your eyes?" he asked. "Which
instance here is the greater and which, the lesser?"
Answering his own question, he said, "You will surely say
that the one who saved the man from drowning did the more
important act, for he was about to drown and we know that
saving a life is like saving an entire world..
"But on second thought, it is not quite so. Can a person pass
by a river and, seeing a person about to drown, not
jump in and rescue him from certain death? Anyone who
wouldn't do so would be considered a terribly cruel person.
If so, saving the life would not be such a significant act
since we can take it for granted.
"Take the second example, however. What if the person would
linger for a few moments before he brought his neighbor some
bread and butter? Would anything happen to him? Not really.
Thus we can say that the one who saved another from drowning,
did what was expecting of him, so that it cannot be
considered a major act, whereas the one who brought a slice
of bread as soon as he was asked, performed the greater act,
since he could have tarried, but didn't.
"This is the explanation in the gemora," Rabbenu
concluded. "Precisely because we cannot manage without the
havayos of Abaye and Rovo for even one moment, since
they are so basic and elementary and vital to us, the
gemora terms them `small things.' But for us, at the
low level which we occupy, the intricate, esoteric matters of
the Heavenly Chariot are so removed from us that we can
manage to survive a few moments without them. Therefore, they
are considered the `great things.' "