For zman simchoseinu: Instructive anecdotes about simchas haTorah taken from the sefer written in Hebrew called Nichochah Shel Torah, as related by HaGaon HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira zt"l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov.
The Psak of Reb Chaim For Reb Boruch Ber About Singing in Yeshivos
It was customary for the Rosh Yeshiva of Beer Yaakov to clarify at the beginning of each new zman that his frequently sitting down to sing together with his talmidim is not something he innovated. Acting in such a way is a lesson that he learned from Maran Reb Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of Kamenitz Yeshiva. HaRav Shapira describes the series of events that taught him this lesson:
Reb Boruch Ber ztvk'l was blessed with a beautiful, melodious voice and would sing many melodies that would enchant those fortunate enough to hear him singing. When his talmidim heard about their rosh yeshiva's exceptional talent, they begged him to sing one of his songs for them. HaRav Boruch Ber was doubtful if that was the right thing to do, since he was afraid that he was deviating from the way yeshivos are traditionally run. He felt that he dare not change our tradition of many generations about how yeshivos should look.
Reb Boruch Ber went then to ask the opinion of his rabbo muvhak, Reb Chaim Brisker ztvk'l. Reb Chaim told him: `If you know how to sing, why don't you sing for them?'
From then on Reb Boruch Ber ztvk'l would sing with ardent devotion and sublime feeling with his talmidim at various occasions."
HaRav Moshe Shapira would add that if Reb Boruch Ber would not have explicitly heard this from Reb Chaim Brisker he would not have acted in such a way. Every detail of how a yeshiva should look is dependent upon the tradition we have been handed down throughout the years. Only after being permitted by Maran HaRav Chaim Soloveitchik to sing would he do so!
Reb Boruch Ber Dancing With Reb Elchonon Wassermann
HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira related that at the wedding of HaRav Yaakov Moshe Leibowitz zt'l he was zocheh to see how the two "pillars of resplendence," Maran Reb Boruch Ber Leibowitz and Maran Reb Elchonon Wassermann danced together with incredible enthusiasm, one opposite the other. It was obvious that besides the simchah of chosson and kallah each one intended to honor the other with his dance.
HaRav Shapira added: "R' Elchonon `danced' but R' Boruch Ber was indeed a `dancer'—someone who knew well how to dance. It was a breathtaking sight to see these two transmitters of our Torah tradition to future generations, R' Elchonon and R' Boruch Ber, dancing opposite each other. It was indeed a spectacular event!"
Near the end of the chasunah R' Boruch Ber ztvk'l sat down on a chair near a table and related numerous tales, facts and mussar that he saw and heard from his rov, Maran HaRav Chaim Soloveitchik and other gedolei Torah zy'a. In between stories he would sing songs of deep devotion and continued doing so until almost morning. His wife then came to remind him that it is late and soon he has to go daven Shacharis and recite krias Shema.
Talmudic Melody From Volozhin Yeshiva of Lithuania
The Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov would frequently sing the ancient melody of the "Song of the Torah and the Gemora." This is a niggun that was often sung in the Volozhin Yeshiva and other yeshivas in Lithuania. It is a stirring melody that arouses deep and somber emotion with the lyrics: "Omar Abaye ... Omar Abaye." No other niggun has the power to infuse a person's heart with love of Torah like this one.
When HaRav Shapira would sing this niggun, he would remark that when "Omar Abaye" is sung for the first time, it is sung in a high tone in a way of longing and request from Hashem and is unlike that of the last "Omar Abaye" that is sung in a plain low tone. The melody points out the way of Torah study: First one starts off encountering difficulties in understanding and craves to be enlightened with the correct pshat of the sugya. At the end after he has made an effort to analyze the subject and understands it clearly, the simchah of understanding the Holy Torah and his solving the doubts that bothered him overcomes him so greatly that the song of the Torah is sung with a sense of relief.
Melodies and the Song of the Torah are From Mount Sinai
"The Vilna Gaon zy'a would say, `All wisdom needed for understanding our Holy Torah is included in it.' The Gaon was knowledgeable in all types of wisdom and mentioned them separately: the science of algebra...and the wisdom of music, and would praise them considerably. He would say that without music it is impossible to know most reasons of the Torah and the secrets of the Tikkunei Zohar. Music may cause a person's soul, that longs for its pleasantness, to leave the body. One can resurrect the dead with its secrets. . . He said that Moshe Rabbeinu a'h brought several tunes from Mount Sinai." (Introduction of Pe'as HaShulchan of HaRav Yisroel Shklov ztvk'l, a talmid of Rabbeinu the Vilna Gaon ztvk'l)
Some twenty years ago HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira said that it is a real pity that the wisdom of music was captured by non-Jews. The Vilna Gaon praised melodies and remarked that the world of melody is lofty...and enjoying music is a spiritual enjoyment. The body has no connection to it and it is linked to a man's neshomoh. The Rosh Yeshiva said in the name of Maran the Chofetz Chaim ztvk'l that the posuk "Sing to Him, make music to Him" (I Divrei Hayomim 16:9) tells us that this spiritual means of singing and playing musical instruments should be directed only to Hashem.
This theme that the simchah of the Torah, its singing and pleasantness is an integral part of the Torah as it was given over to us on Mount Sinai, was interwoven in many discourses of the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov. He cited Rashi's comment on the posuk in Shir HaShirim (1:3): "May He kiss me with kisses from His mouth since Your love is better than wine"—"Klal Yisroel—the nation that received the Torah—craves the kisses from Hashem's mouth. This happens when Klal Yisroel remembers with longing the immense pleasure that is greater than all pleasures, the tremendous love and strong feeling of "Your love is better than wine." This was when HaKodosh Boruch Hu appeared to bnei Yisroel and when speaking "a mouth to a mouth" He gave us His Torah. A tremendous love awakens because of this wonderful feeling of Hashem's having spoken to us. We therefore ask Hashem, "May He kiss me with kisses from His mouth" that we will again feel the kissing of Hashem that we experienced at Matan Torah, and that we will again taste the sweetness of "a mouth to a mouth" since "Your love is better than wine."
Rashi is teaching us a superb chiddush. Even today, after we have already received the Torah, not only do we experience a continuous receiving of the Torah, renewed feelings of Matan Torah ("Who gives us the Torah" is written in the present tense—"gives" and not "gave") and the Torah is our greatest treasure, but all the "pleasantness" of receiving the Torah, the taste of speaking directly by Hashem, still remains in our mouth. This is because the receiving of the Torah and its being transferred to us does not refer only to what is explicitly written, the Written Torah, but also to our having received the divrei Torah that Hashem gave us at Matan Torah, its pleasantness and the "mouth to mouth" experience. When we study Torah even now, we actually study the words of Hashem from the mouth of HaKodosh Boruch Hu. We learn and feel the wonderful sweetness of "my soul is uplifted out after hearing Him speak," the actual "mouth to mouth" experience.
The Rosh Yeshiva frequently proved this same principle from the statement of Rabbeinu Avrohom Min HaHar in maseches Nedorim that the rule of "mitzvos are not given to derive benefit from" (Eruvin 31a) does not apply to Torah study. Since the pleasantness and the simchah of studying Torah is an integral part of the mitzvah of Torah study, it is the very cheftsa of Torah study. For this reason the tefillah of "May it be pleasant" was set in the text of the brochoh before studying Torah since pleasantness is an inseparable part of the mitzvah of Torah study. The Sochotchover Rebbe writes the introduction to the Eglei Tal that the mitzvah of Torah study is different from all other mitzvos in that its study and deriving pleasure from it are one.
History of a Melody of Reb Boruch Ber
Maran Reb Boruch Ber ztvk'l would humble himself to such a degree to his rav, Maran Reb Chaim ztvk'l, that he would completely disregard his own view and immediately accept that of his rav even with regard to niggunim. When Reb Chaim disliked a melody, Reb Boruch Ber would discontinue singing it.
For example — the Rosh Yeshiva related — R' Boruch Ber composed a melody on Tzur Yisroel that we daven before Shemoneh Esrei and when he met R' Chaim, he sung this melody to him with sincere devotion. R' Chaim, however, responded: "Arise ... arise ... this song is worthless."
Ever since Maran Reb Boruch Ber stopped singing that melody.
The Torah Is More Precious Than Pearls and Any Wealth
HaRav Berel Domb told that once he was on vacation in Netanya together with other yeshiva students when HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira sat down and discussed divrei Torah with HaGaon HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt'l, the rav of Antwerp, Belgium. In the middle of their conversation HaRav Kreiswirth commented to HaRav Shapira: "Now I will tell you a dvar Torah that is worth a hundred thousand dollars." The Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov answered: "Nu, if it is worth so much I am surely anxious to hear such a `precious' vort." R' Chaim answered: "I will tell you it only on the condition that you pay me its price." R' Shmuel answered: "Please let me hear the dvar Torah and if I will agree that it is indeed worth a hundred thousand dollars, I will gladly pay for it."
And HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth told over in his characteristic pleasant way and with his amazing knowledge of Shas and poskim the dvar Torah, and at its conclusion he asked: "Nu, what do you say? Is it worth a hundred thousand dollars or not?"
HaRav Shapira immediately answered: "Doubtless such precious divrei Torah is well worth that amount."
"If so," answered R' Chaim, "where is the hundred thousand dollars that you promised to pay me?"
HaRav Shapira replied: "I am prepared to pay you with the same type of money. I will tell over to you a wonderful chidush that is worth not less than two hundred thousand dollars. Do you agree to this?"
After he answered in the positive, HaRav Shapira told him his chiddush and after concluding he asked him: "Nu, wasn't I right that this vort is worth two hundred thousand dollar?" R' Chaim answered: "Indeed what you told me is not an exorbitant price for such pearls of wisdom."
"If so," asked the Rosh Yeshiva, "where is the hundred thousand dollar difference?"
A Letter of Encouragement to a Yeshiva Student About Studying Torah amidst Simchah
It is only fitting to cite an instructive letter written by the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov to a yeshiva student concerning how a person is filed of simchah when studying Torah. This letter is taken from the section Leket Michtovim Uma'amorim at the end of Nichochah Shel Torah.
Beer Yaakov, 12 Elul, 5731
To my dear and noble...
I received your letter a while ago but since I was constantly busy with all sorts of matters, and your letter was not urgent, I delayed writing it until now. I beg your forgiveness.
Your question is a difficult one to answer. How can I know what is the secret of being happy after it is beyond me to understand how a ben Torah cannot be happy? Someone who is engaged in Torah study and understands it a little, and surely so if he is zocheh to remember it, anyway finds himself in constant simchah since the Torah gladdens a person and lights up his eyes. If someone is privileged to understand it even deeper, every revelation serves as a direct connection with the radiance of Hashem, Who every moment sends Heavenly radiance to His servants. How can such a person not be happy?
My dear, engage in Torah study and yiras Shomayim with simchah and make a resolute decision to always be in simchah, and your good heart will strew radiance on you and your environment.
At this beginning of the year, may you be written and sealed for life and peace and be zocheh to all of the goodness that Hashem sends with all the pleasantries of life.
Always progress in Hashem's Torah and His pleasant avodoh
With true friendship,
M. S. Shapira
Doubts and the Simchah of Solving Them by Laboring Over His Torah
A magnificent description of laboring over Torah study, its labyrinth of doubts, and the simchah of solving them appears in the section Leket Michtovim Uma'amorim excerpted from the eulogy of the Beer Yaakov Rosh Yeshiva for Maran HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky ztvk'l:
How does a ben Torah labor over his Torah study? Divrei Torah are like an unsolved puzzle, with nothing revealed, as Rashi explicitly writes in Shabbos 88b and Sanhedrin 4a. A person who wants to understand the principles of the sugya and analyzes the diverse ways of understanding it becomes momentarily confused. "`The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light' (Yeshaya 9:1)—These are the people who study Talmud" (Tanchuma 58:3). His entire world is dark to him since at that moment he has no other world other than that, as Rashi (Shabbos 88b) writes: "They exert themselves to their utmost and are immersed in it in order to comprehend its secret." One who labors over Torah exerts himself to his utmost and is totally immersed in it.
Maran the Chazon Ish ztvk'l writes in a letter that one who is occupied with his Torah learning is like a mal'och from Heaven and does not exist in this world. All that he has in his world is Hashem's Torah.
"`If you will walk in My chukim' (Vayikra 26:3)—that you will labor over the Torah" (Rashi). Someone who labors over the Torah walks where the chukim of Hashem are, and has no other place to walk. He suffers immensely if the place where he walks is abounding with traps without any paved way.
After each individual's exertion, every person according to his method, his power, his talents, his merits, his tzidkus, his tefillos, he is privileged to a gleam of light in the sugya and it begins becoming clearer to him. Although he has not yet reached the full comprehension of the subject, and mountains of darkness surround him from all sides, with the pshat being reconciled at one point and not at another, and its conclusions contradict an accepted principle...
Again he reanalyzes the new and the old, methodically examines the shakla vetarya, rechecks, reevaluates and breaks down his conclusions part by part, in order to reinforce the accepted principle with possible modifications here and there. Eventually Hashem Who gives us the Torah fulfills His promise to those learning Torah and "if you made an effort you will find" and suddenly a glow of brightness descends upon him and all parts of the sugya fit perfectly together. On the contrary, his previous difficulties serve as proofs and "The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul...gladdens the hearts...enlightens the eyes" (Tehillim 19:8-9).
Nonetheless, a lot of work still awaits him. He must decide what comes first and what later, what words to use to express most precisely how he presently understands the sugya, and how it can be expressed more concisely. Even after he decides what and how to set forth his conclusions in words, he rechecks to see if it can possibly be expressed clearer and if something must be added or left out. Perhaps another synonym should be utilized although the difference between the two is minimal, and at the end the final product becomes completely different from the original. That small difference in meaning can be the difference between truth and non-truth, and only after arriving at the complete truth does HaKodosh Boruch Hu give those who exert themselves for His Torah the capability to further understand the wisdom of Hashem.
Since "there is no happiness like that of resolving doubts," nothing is as saddening as being entangled in doubts. A person's simchah is equivalent to his previous measure of suffering. The Yerushalmi (beginning of Pe'ah) writes: "`For it is not an empty thing for you' (Devorim 32:47)—and if it is empty that is because you are not exerting yourself in your Torah studies." Further on, the Yerushalmi teaches on the same posuk, "`For it is your life'—When is it your life? That is when you exert yourself on it." The Torah is our lifeblood and the length of our days in this world and in the next. This is similar to what the Targum Yonoson writes on the posuk, "that through exerting ourselves the Torah becomes our lives, and through it we live forever."
It is related about our mentor the Vilna Gaon zy'a that he refused to be taught Torah through Heavenly shelichim or maggidim. He said that he wants only Torah knowledge that he was zocheh to through his yegi'ah. Although, even when a person labors over the Torah, what he knows is a gift from Shomayim, that is the way of Torah. Any knowledge resulting from one's exerting oneself is a Toras Chaim and that will forever be his part in the Torah. It is therefore possible that one cannot comprehend the secret of "laboring over Torah" even through nevu'ah, since that is an integral part of the Torah and Torah is not in Shomayim.
All that is described above refers to laboring over Torah to properly understand one matter. In addition to the above, during each zman one has sufficient time to gain comprehensive knowledge of many prokim of gemora with its commentaries.
What a better proof of HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky's amolo shel Torah is there than his twenty-four seforim that deal with thousands of topics. All of his life was kodesh, completely dedicated, to studying Torah, part of it in his exerting himself to solve its doubts and part of it in enlightening others. Even on his death bed he was immersed in Torah study in depth, as the posuk in Koheles (8:16) writes, "For even day or night its eyes see no sleep" that the Torah that captures his heart during the days does not rest or abandon him at night either.