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2 Tammuz 5766 - June 28, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
If There is No Yir'oh, There is No Chochmoh

by HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shlita

Part 2

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 heretic.

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 world.

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 everything.

One Who Studies Superficially Cannot Expect to Acquire Yiras Shomayim

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 to gain?

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 himself.

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 his destination.

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 single person.

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 great!

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