Delivered by HaRav Shmuel Auerbach
Nothing Left But Torah -- Marking HaRav Shach's First
This inspiring talk has much to teach us at all times
about the importance and function of Torah.
Introduction: A Lasting Impression
As more and more time passes, the terrible consequences
become clearer, the vacuum becomes more apparent -- and the
more we appreciate the dreadful loss that is virtually
impossible to encompass. The Chasam Sofer zy'a (in
Droshos) explains that when a great man is
niftar and the powerful light of avodas Hashem
that he provided is lost, although it initially appears that
the strongest arousal takes place at the time of his death,
the loss is actually felt more and more as time goes on. With
the passage of time, as the true dimensions of the void
become clear, it becomes apparent that the initial arousal
was not all that deep. This is what happened during the year
that has passed since the petiroh of our great
teacher, whose stature grew steadily to the point where he
illuminated all of Klal Yisroel. Now we need to know
our obligations in order to attain a genuine awakening, that
will yield practical results.
The seforim mention a well-known principle. At any
gathering to honor a great man, discussion should center upon
those matters over which he was particularly careful. Since
we are gathering in memory of this giant among great men, we
should make a point of speaking about those things that he
exhorted about at every opportunity and demanded of
One has to be truly wise and understanding in order to be
genuinely aroused to the point where one makes practical
changes; not gaining a merely external impression and
absorbing things superficially, after which all one is left
with is the `coating' -- the fascinating stories and the
like. On such occasions, our teacher himself always used to
call for contemplation of the practical message: "Zei
nisht kein na'ar, (Don't be a fool)."
He always used to insist that something permanent should
remain in one's heart as a result of what one hears,
something genuine, practical and lasting.
Nothing But Torah
In selichos we say that, "We have nothing left but
this Torah," for this is truly all that remains with us. The
truth is that without the Beis Hamikdosh and
Mishkon, everything suffers and even Torah study is
not on the highest level. The Vilna Gaon explains that the
posuk, "For Torah shall come out of Tzion"
means that while the Mikdosh stood, there was special
Heavenly assistance with Torah and when it was destroyed,
Torah was weakened -- "Her kings . . . are among the nations;
there is no Torah." Nonetheless, all that we really have left
This is the Torah for which our fathers and forefathers
sacrificed themselves at different times, undergoing
countless killings and decrees and shedding rivers of blood
and tears, down to the most recent times -- may Hashem
declare our suffering ended. We have borne everything.
Generations have withstood all of this in order to safeguard
the holy and eternal Torah that remains ours.
At this gathering to honor the memory of our great teacher,
who illuminated the whole world and who was literally the
heart of the Jewish nation . . . we should recall that
throughout his life, he devoted himself to this awe inspiring
ideal. He repeatedly called for strengthening Torah -- [one
of] the things that Chazal tell us always need bolstering
(Brochos 32) -- and thanks to him, Torah was indeed
strengthened tremendously. He also anticipated problems and
took early measures to prevent them from arising. Neither
would he allow avreichim to seek other pursuits or
solutions so that they would "have what to live on" etc. The
source of all this was his wholehearted conviction that "We
have nothing left but Torah" -- that's all we have!
The great Reb Chaim Halevi ztvk'l, wrote a well-known
letter after the Haskoloh had begun to spread. Part of
the Haskoloh's power to draw people away from Torah
stemmed from their concern over "tachlis" and
parnossoh, which bewildered many of them.
Reb Chaim wrote that it was important to be aware that the
fact that one sees -- and will always continue to find --
sincere, Heaven-fearing ba'alei batim in Klal
Yisroel, men who are not wholly occupied with Torah but
who are wholeheartedly religious, is solely because these
people's foundation and the basis of their entire education,
their early years and the homes that they established, was
Torah. To begin with, when they started out in life, their
only ambition was "to dwell in Hashem's house all my life"
(Tehillim 27:4). In time, though they were unable to
continue that way due to the difficult conditions that
prevailed, they remained sincere and faithful ba'alei
Our Dream and Joy
Our generation is largely unaware of how things once were,
when there simply was no bread to eat. My father and teacher
zt'l used to recall the time when he was learning in
yeshiva ketanoh and in his parents' home there was
literally nothing to eat. Sometimes, there was a single slice
of bread and they didn't know how he and his brothers should
I remember several Jews who told me with pain why they left
learning -- not because they lacked comforts or conveniences
but because there was simply nothing to eat.
And even in such circumstances, the common ambition, for
which every individual used to strive, was to be wholly
occupied with Torah. This was always the basis of Klal
Yisroel's outlook and its joy. A Jew's dream and his
yearning were to remain bound to Torah and to delve into it
continuously, because it is the source of everything.
This was the idea that our great teacher fought to establish
and to see propagated. He fought like a lion for this cause,
often heading off threats in advance, in order to ensure that
no other kinds of ambition gained a foothold.
It is hard for me to speak in these terms, but one must
address the issue of Torah's survival. Divrei Torah
always need strengthening (Brochos 32) and Chazal have
told us that, "They are as easy to lose as [fragile] glass
vessels." A person should never feel confident of his ability
to withstand spiritual challenges because even Torah that he
acquired at great personal cost can be lost.
Chazal said that divrei Torah are "easy to lose" and
the same is true of feelings, goals and character traits that
one has worked on. One can toil to develop a high awareness
of Torah's value and one can lose that, too.
Today there are parties working in their own interests, for
financial gain, that organize various initiatives. It is
possible that they are acting without malicious intent,
chas vesholom, but simply from a lack of
understanding. Yet the message they convey in their
advertisements and their communications is that, "not
everyone is going to emerge a rosh yeshiva, anyway,"
and they consequently offer alternatives, chas
One should be aware that it is literally forbidden to listen
to such things. This is how, beginning with small things, one
can move from a situation where Torah is genuinely being
upheld, to its neglect and to the destruction of religion
We ought to rejoice over the swelling of the ranks of those
studying Torah and be wary of any influence of Pharaoh's
frame of mind, "lest they multiply" (Shemos 1:10).
These ideas were always deeply embedded in our national
Jews always knew that the very greatest merit was to study
Torah. They always knew that Torah itself is the solution to
all problems. This was universally accepted in Jewish homes,
by men and women alike.
I remember how impressed my grandmother a'h was with
my mother a'h. She once noticed that the young
children's clothes were soiled and that she had not changed
them. She pointed this out to my mother a'h, who
replied simply that, "The clothes are in a cupboard in the
room where Father (zt'l) is sitting and learning. It
simply isn't possible to go in, even if the slightest
possibility exists that he might be disturbed momentarily."
My grandmother heard this and rejoiced. She was always very
impressed when she told this story.
Things were once as simple as that --they knew that nothing
takes precedence over Torah. Neither the Rebbetzin a'h
of ylct'a . . . HaRav Eliashiv . . . nor my own
mother a'h, when they married bnei Torah, had
any thought or dream of marrying them because they would
emerge as the poskim of the generation. They didn't
think about that at all. They didn't give a thought to the
future or to positions, etc. They were deeply imbued with the
straightforward conviction that the husband sits and learns
Torah because one has to study Torah for its own sake and
that this is our purpose.
Grandmother a'h, always used to say that when they
rocked the babies' cribs to put them to sleep and sang,
"Lernen Torah, Torah iz die beste sechoirah" (To learn
Torah, Torah is the best merchandise)," that was when
they infused them with the awareness that Torah study itself
is the ultimate purpose. That was the common dream and goal;
[it was modified only] if individuals encountered problems
chas vesholom, and felt that their situation was so
difficult that they simply couldn't continue.
We saw that our own forbears did not leave Torah even when
they hungered for bread but even those who were not on such a
level of self-sacrifice, did not easily make the decision [to
leave learning] because they had been brought up not to see
this [path] as their future. Even when there was literally no
choice, they took the step with dreadful pain. I still heard
from Yidden who got to the stage where there was no
food left at all, yet when they parted from the gemora
it was literally Tisha B'Av for them!
Granted, one can't give guidelines that fit each and every
individual situation. Only Hakodosh Boruch Hu is
capable of judging each case on its own merits . . . What I
am talking about is something else entirely. We are not just
dealing with this or that individual who finds things hard
and decides to leave. There are people with personal agendas
who are creating an atmosphere that can chas vesholom
develop into an outlook, of [legitimizing] seeking other
solutions and who are elevating and valuing their idea. This
is a terrible blow, for here we are dealing with Torah, the
Jewish religion's heart of hearts.
This approach is a dreadful insult and a disgrace to the
ideals to which our teachers devoted themselves. How much
blood has been spilled -- how much have we fought through the
ages -- in order to acknowledge that Torah is the main thing
and that we have nothing else? Truly, "we have nothing left
but this Torah!"
The danger is not confined to the weakening of Torah study.
It is well known that the beginning of all spiritual
deterioration is a diminishing of toil in Torah. When there
is a drop in the fulfillment of, "If you proceed in
[accordance with] my statutes -- that you should toil in
Torah" (Vayikra 26:3, Rashi), the very worst
manifestations of, "lest your hearts turn and you stray"
(Devorim 11:16) are in the offing.
Chazal say that as soon as one strays, chas vesholom,
a descent to the very depths is immediate. Chazal tell us
that the words, "and you stray" apply to someone who parts
from Torah and the following words in our eternal Torah are,
"and you stray and serve other gods." Even though the
urge to serve idols has been neutralized, the descent that
follows any parting from Torah is of the same order of
severity, with all that that entails.
We ought to take ourselves to task and realize that all this
starts when there is a drop in the intensity of our toil in
Torah, in our joy in its study and in our feeling that it is
all that we look to. The gemora in Chagigah
(27) typifies a talmid chochom as being "all
fire," implying that this is his standard form -- there is no
suggestion that gemora is only talking about select
individuals. This is how every talmid chochom,
whatever his stature, ought to appear.
We ourselves saw our great teacher's tremendous toil in Torah
and the fire of his Torah, that owed nothing to any other
discipline, chas vesholom. Even those who were not
close to him witnessed this. How much more so those who
It was Torah and Torah alone that burned within him. Hashem
planted such giants in each generation. With the diminishing
spiritual stature of the generations, Hashem demonstrates to
each of them the enormous potential that exists and the
heights that can be attained.
In the previous generation, Hashem showed us the Chazon Ish
ztvk'l. Whenever HaRav Shach spoke about the Chazon
Ish, he would dwell on the Torah that he learned with the
purest motivation, that he continually refined -- "Mer
grois fun alle (Greater than anyone else)."
The downward descent of the generations is not a Scriptural
precept that must be accepted. It is certainly a reality but
nobody is compelled to weaken his grip and move "with the
tide," chas vesholom. Instead, one should always try
to raise and elevate oneself.
Chazal obligate each of us to say, "When will my deeds be on
a par with those of my ancestors, Avrohom, Yitzchok and
Yaakov?" . . . The [lives of the] ovos, are themselves
the path we must follow in order to approach Hashem; they are
the basis of all we have.
Certainly, we ought not to fool ourselves and live with
delusions about our true level; each individual knows best
how distant he himself really is from that level. Yet Chazal
nevertheless oblige us to be aware of what is possible and to
aspire to such heights. One has to know what is being
demanded of him. The deeds of the ovos should be a
Away From the Lights
Torah study itself should be our aim. In several places in
Mishlei, the Vilna Gaon advises against learning
[solely] in order "to become something." The toil itself, as
we witnessed with our own teachers, is the object. Whenever
the Rosh Yeshiva spoke about the Chazon Ish, he would point
out that whenever we envisage the Chazon Ish's greatness, his
great fame and renown are part of the picture.
Yet for most of his life, the Chazon Ish did not live that
way. He published one tremendously great sefer after
another but they did not become well known immediately.
Nobody came to him to praise his efforts. And he continued
learning and toiling at the same level and with the same joy
and delight -- for such works could clearly only have been
written with joy, with boldness of spirit and with might.
On a number of occasions, I heard personal testimony from our
great teacher zy'a [in this vein]. We know that
throughout his life, he fully exploited every drop of his
strength and energy. Whoever knew him also knows how careful
he was to avoid any exaggeration or inaccuracy in what he
He used to speak about the days before his shiurim had
a large following, before he came to Ponevezh. He used to
deliver shiurim in places where he wondered whether a
single listener understood what he was saying. It was in
reference to this that he said that whenever he toiled to
fathom a sugya and say a shiur, he felt it was
always "die zelbe zach (the same thing)". It was good
every time [no matter what the audience]. He put the same
effort into understanding the topic and preparing the
shiur -- exactly the same -- whether he had a handful
of listeners who may or may not have understood him, or
hundreds of top caliber students.
It was always [the same] Torah. He wasn't trying to make an
impression but to understand Torah. And even if,
choliloh, he would never have attained a position of
Torah dissemination in a large yeshiva to many
talmidim, he would have maintained the same level of
toil, in exactly the same form. He never looked for anything
ancillary -- neither additional personal gratification, nor
personal advancement -- because toiling to fathom Torah is
itself the ultimate purpose.
This is also how it was when he first arrived in Eretz
Yisroel and was with Reb Isser Zalman zt'l. He toiled
incredibly then, too. At that time, it was customary for a
group to meet regularly with Reb Isser Zalman and speak with
him in learning and he didn't stand out especially on those
occasions. When the first volume of Avi Ezri appeared,
Rav Hirsch Kopshitz zt'l excitedly asked Reb Isser
Zalman, "How is it that until now we didn't notice who Rav
Reb Isser Zalman replied, "Neither you nor I have the
slightest idea how much he works and labors." He toiled to
understand each sugya and every gemora, for
that itself is the goal.
It is also said that our master the Vilna Gaon z'l,
complained to some tzaddikim who were not so well
known publicly, Rav Moshe of Ivye zt'l and Rav
Yeshayoh Lachovitcher zt'l, as to why he had been
compelled to become famous. Although we have no idea of the
extent of the Gaon's greatness, [evidently] his publicity
disturbed him in some degree. They told him that apparently,
for Klal Yisroel's benefit, things had to be that
It is important to be aware that there have been many great
talmidei chachomim who were altogether unwilling to
shoulder the yoke of disseminating Torah. Rav Chaim
Volozhiner draws our attention to the fact that there were
times when it was extremely difficult to find [anyone willing
to serve as] a rosh yeshiva, for virtually all the
outstanding scholars wanted to learn by themselves and work
through topics without [the] responsibility [of teaching].
That was when he, Rav Chaim z'l, in his greatness,
said that he would "volunteer" to be a rosh
Joy in Our Life
The essence of my message is that we must realize that "we
are fortunate; how good is our portion and how pleasant our
lot." Though this is elementary, it has lapsed somewhat in
There is no way to convey the joy that should be felt by
every avreich who goes to learn in kollel.
Avreichim sometimes do not know how to properly value
their tremendous good fortune in simply being able to go to
kollel and sit by a gemora learning.
Of course, it is good to assure young talmidim that
something will become of them, such as a Torah position and
the like. However, the older one gets and the longer one has
the good fortune to sit and learn, the greater one's
awareness should be that Torah itself is the greatest of all
The yetzer hora blunts this recognition and tries to
convince a person that he lacks this and is short of that.
But we have seen how our teachers dealt with these trials
too. I myself heard our teacher zt'l speak about times
when he had literally nothing, yet he sat all day toiling in
Though we appreciate the truth of all this on an abstract
level, it is important to make a point of experiencing
joy in our bond to eternal life. Each day we bless
Hashem, "who has chosen us from all the nations and given us
His Torah" but saying it is not enough. We must live it and
feel that divrei Torah are, "our life and the
length of our days."
Every Jew, each individual who learns Torah, every ben
yeshiva and every avreich has his own unique
portion in Torah, belonging to him alone. Everyone has his,
"inner Torah sanctum," as Chazal express it. In the spiritual
realm, there is no "subset principle," whereby someone who
has amassed a greater portion in Torah automatically takes in
that of his friend with less. Nobody's Torah is swallowed up
within someone else's. Everyone has been given the ability to
attain something that is unique to him, some level that even
a Torah giant, whose heels he doesn't reach, does not
We should appreciate our true status as recipients of Torah
and rejoice in it. The Rambam writes, "Whoever holds himself
back from [experiencing] this joy deserves retribution, as
the posuk says, `because you did not serve Hashem . .
. with joy and gladness of heart' (Devorim 28:47)."
The Rambam places this posuk, which is written amid
the suffering and punishment of the tochochoh, into
This joy is not a special level. Its absence brought on all
[our nation's] dreadful misfortunes. Joy is the measure of a
man; its absence is the most powerful factor against him.
Someone who has chas vesholom been vanquished by his
yetzer hora, is already preoccupied and is hard to
reach. But someone who is still sitting by his gemora
and is occupied with spiritual pursuits but is not living
with the utmost joy over his fortune in being able to do so,
is blameworthy indeed.
I heard the following from a grandchild of the Chofetz Chaim
zt'l, who spent several months in his home and became
acquainted with him in his old age. As is known, the Chofetz
Chaim used to engage in spiritual stock-taking. When he grew
older, he would repeatedly reckon up the merits that he had
amassed in this world and the things for which he would be
taken to task in the Heavenly court.
He was heard expressing fear that what might tilt the balance
against him would be [insufficient] joy in serving his
Creator. He would say to himself, "True, you've done mitzvos
but where was the joy in doing mitzvos? Why didn't people see
that you were the happiest person alive?" Afterwards he was
heard giving himself heart and saying, "But you still can
There are so many spiritual `projects' that can be taken up
by anybody; there are so many goals to aim for, into which
one can channel one's energies. They are unequaled by any
other pursuit; there is no need to seek anything else.
Everyone is capable of elevating himself according to his own
level and his portion in Torah. Avreichim must inject
this drive into their very blood, advancing spiritually and
experiencing the indescribable joy that it engenders.
With Your Mind, With Your Tools
Our teacher was a beacon of light in this respect. His
constant demand, "Nisht farshlofen die yohren!" not to
sleep away precious years, was one that he himself amply
Sleep can take different forms. A person can be awake,
walking around and conversing with others, yet still be in a
deep slumber. If one is not actively living in awareness and
pursuit of eternal values, he is in fact asleep.
This has always been the foundation of Jewish living. Never
before have men whose sole aim is to reap profits, tried to
introduce the idea that anything other than this can serve as
a starting point. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is running the
world. Even in our times, with all the dreadful deterioration
that has followed the fearsome, unparalleled destruction, He
has granted us the opportunity of being able to dwell in the
tents of Torah -- and may He help us to do so in greater
comfort, rather than in penury.
Each and every individual has his own portion in Torah. It is
well known that even famous gedolim were not
necessarily especially gifted; they fully exploited their
portion in Torah and grew tremendously in so doing. When a
person reaches the stage at which he is able to continue his
growth, the yetzer hora starts putting thoughts into
his mind like, `What will become of you?' and `What will you
The response to this should be to tell oneself, `What will
turn out? This is what is turning out! My own Torah
attainments and my own portion in Torah! Continue with
renewed vigor and with great joy and you will develop
Nobody is called upon to use intellect and abilities that he
doesn't possess. No one is asked to do more than he is
capable of doing. But just as one attends to other affairs
that require attention, for which everyone draws on the
abilities that he possesses, one should at least do the same
for Torah and yiras Shomayim.
The main demand on our generation is that we have everything
in front of us. Yeshivos and kollelim are flourishing.
The opportunity is there to sit and learn. We have both the
meat and the knife. We are held responsible for our failure
to use this opportunity, for not coming to learn with greater
eagerness and happiness. Even if it appears to a person that
he won't develop as he would have liked, every day he can
spend learning is cause for the greatest imaginable joy.
Enjoyment in learning should be felt throughout life, not
just in one's youth. All the gedolim kept trying to
elevate themselves, literally until their very last day. That
they did so was natural and self-understood. Progress and
growth are not functions of any particular age or stage.
I remember my father going to visit Reb Isser Zalman one Chol
Hamoed. Reb Isser Zalman was then over seventy and he told my
father very simply that he had recently decided that he
wanted to start learning Zevochim because he got more
out of that masechta!
The Gaon's comment that the first remedy for any ill is
Torah, is well known. Only those who are not bound to Torah
need other remedies. Thus, eternal Torah warns us against
slipping in the intensity of our toil in Torah -- "lest your
hearts stray" -- for when this happens, the consequence is,
"and you turn and serve other gods."
All kinds of vain and nonsensical thoughts start to fill the
mind. These are not merely harmless. They are actually a
destructive fire in the guise of a mitzvah.
Those who let the level of their learning fall, are easily
swept up into the atmosphere created by the profit seekers.
Through their enticements, they fall prey to terrible things,
to every evil in the world. It is known that even in turning
to idol worship itself, there were explanations and
rationales e.g. that it was something necessary, chas
vesholom. The yetzer hora works full time, like a
galloping horse in the thick of battle.
A young bochur works hard and feels fatigued. He
thinks that he won't turn out as he expected. How childish
and foolish it is to think like this. Our obligations apply
at all times and in all places. Even in old age, the Chazon
Ish demanded arousal and toil of himself. True, it is easier
to rouse oneself during one's youth but infinite results can
be attained at any age.
When a person lives like this, he is happy with his lot.
Whatever he attains is invaluable. And if he is using all his
abilities to the full, then no one else's happiness will
equal his. Rav Yisroel Salanter zt'l, is said to have
remarked that were he to hear of a person who, though not
especially gifted, fulfilled his obligations in this world
according to his own abilities and understanding, he would
travel a considerable distance in order to see and minister
Conclusion: The Way Forward
Our duty, then, is not merely to eulogize our loss as one
would bemoan a ship lost at sea. What will we gain from that?
Our aim must be to learn and to arouse ourselves; not to
relate to Hashem haphazardly, not to live life superficially
but to contemplate the simple truth deeply and to make an
honest reckoning of what constitutes temporal life and what
These truths are very close to us indeed, yet we rebel
against them. With a little common sense and understanding, a
person would take steps to ensure his own eternal life. Our
Father in Heaven wants us to fortify ourselves and stop
seeking `broken cisterns that won't hold water' and cleave
instead to the true source of living waters.
This is the goal to which our teacher devoted his entire
life. He learned, taught and fulfilled this, with mighty
power, sincerely demanding it, from the depths of his heart,
of us too. Certainly, `tzaddikim are greater after
their passing than in their lifetimes' but it is our
arousal that Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants. A hole the
size of the eye of a needle is enough but let's at least make
Let us resolve then, that "we have nothing left but Torah."
Let us increase both Torah study and swell the ranks of those
who engage in it, in the awareness that "lest they multiply"
was Pharaoh's fear and should not be ours.
Let all who study Torah, resolve to be more joyful, in the
realization that one's own portion and enjoyment are not
measurable against others'. And may all of us experience more
joy in our service of Hashem, for each of us serves Him in
many ways -- in character refinement, in purifying oneself,
in prayer, in interpersonal relations and in every facet of
life. Each and every step forward is invaluable and is envied
by the Heavenly hosts. The main form that our repentance
should take is, "return us, Father, to Your Torah," to
involvement in Torah. Torah is waiting for each and every one
May it be Hashem's will that our great teacher, the Rosh
Yeshiva ztvk'l, be an upright advocate for our
defense. May we see the swift fulfillment of, "and the land
will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem," for this is
what we are waiting for. May Hashem's glory be revealed, may
Klal Yisroel be revealed in their splendor and may the
world attain its complete rectification, bimeheiro
This article was prepared from HaRav Auerbach's addresses
to gatherings held at the time of HaRav Shach's first
yahrtzeit in Yerushalayim, Beit Shemesh and Kiryat
Sefer last Cheshvan. HaRav Shmuel Auerbach is rosh
yeshivas Maalos Hatorah in Jerusalem.
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