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1 Adar 5766 - March 1, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Halochoh and Yir'oh

Compiled from the sichos of Morenu HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita

The posuk "You shall cover it with pure gold; plate it from the inside and the outside . . ." (Shemos 25:11) describes the construction of the Aron that housed the Shnei Luchos Habris. The gemora (Yuma 72b) quotes Rovo, who says, based on this posuk: "Any talmid chochom whose outside is not like his inside is not a talmid chochom."

Talmidei chachomim must always strive to be perfect. Just as the Aron was pure gold on the inside and pure gold on the outside, likewise a talmid chochom's behavior must be faultless. Rovo is teaching us that if someone conducts himself properly as far as outside appearances are concerned, but his private conduct is inconsistent with Torah, he is not a true talmid chochom.

Consistency between our private and public behavior is a true indication of how much yiras Shomayim we have. Without yiras Shomayim, we will act differently in public than we do when we think no one is looking. Therefore, yiras Shomayim is one of the most basic requirements for a talmid chochom to have.

Moreover, Torah Shebe'al Peh cannot exist without talmidei chachomim. Therefore, yiras Shomayim is vital to the mesorah of Torah Shebe'al Peh from one generation to next. Just as the Aron was golden on the outside and on the inside, likewise a talmid chochom must always behave in accordance with the Torah. If his private behavior is lax, in spite of whatever wealth of Torah knowledge he may possess he is not a genuine talmid chochom.

HaKodosh Boruch Hu requires that in accordance with how much we learn, we must always strive for newer and higher levels of perfection. Attaining such elevated perfection requires an unwavering, unshakable sense of purpose and responsibility that governs everything a talmid chochom does. An objective and obligation of a talmid chochom is to proclaim and teach, by his personal example, the greatness of Hashem Yisborach.


Someone who has yiras Shomayim will strive for a full and clear understanding of his learning, regardless of how much time and effort it takes. Yiras Shomayim will not tolerate any compromise with the truth. In the fourth perek of Ovos Rabbi Yishmoel teaches us, "One who learns in order to teach is given the opportunity to learn and to teach. One who learns in order to practice is given the opportunity to learn, to teach, to remember and to practice."

Rabbeinu Yonah, in his commentary on this mishnah, cautions us not to make a mistake. We could mistakenly think that the phrase, "One who learns in order to teach," is referring to someone who learns only in order to teach and does not intend to keep Hashem's commandments. About such a person Rabbeinu Yonah writes, " . . . this person has no opportunity to learn or to teach." Obviously, any person who learns without any intention of fulfilling the mitzvos is a rosho. Such a person will have no siyata deShmaya at all.

Hashem Yisborach expects us to obey His Torah. Therefore, we must learn it wholeheartedly, with the goal of observing it to perfection. We must learn with an honest intention to know how to conduct ourselves according to the commandments, laws and principles of the Torah. If so, then besides having the opportunity to learn and teach, we will also have the additional benefit of remembering what we learn. Moreover, we will be successful in doing everything Hashem expects of us.

We achieve the best results when we learn Torah with a yearning to know the truth. Which means, as Rabbeinu Yonah explains, that we are "willing to labor for days, and years, to comprehend a [seemingly] trivial matter — and behave according to the truth; this is `learning in order to do.'" The reason for success, according to Rabbeinu Yonah, is because our "main concern is nothing less than to behave truthfully; consequently one is given the opportunity to learn, teach and do — for everything is for the sake of doing."

In contrast, someone who learns in order to teach has a limited opportunity "to learn and to teach." His limited goal limits his success. According to Rabbeinu Yonah, such a person does want to observe mitzvos. However, he is not prepared to put forth the necessary effort to delve deeply enough into his learning. The reason for his limitation, according to Rabbeinu Yonah, is that he is fearful, "perhaps he will discover a prohibition in those things which are permitted. Hence, he grasps [only] those things which are straightforward (evident). For this reason, he is given an opportunity to learn and to teach, since this is consistent with his objective."

Limited ambitions yield limited success.


Besides yiras Shomayim, truthful explorations into the words of Chazal require determination to begin, and effort to follow through to completion. Learning requires persistent determination. If need be, our resolve must intensify day by day — for years. Discovering the truth takes effort. With resolve and hard work, we can arrive at the truth and understand exactly how we should behave according to the laws of the Torah.

In contrast, superficial learning does not produce significant, lasting results. The truth remains hidden when we use a simplistic, lax approach to find it. If resolve and effort are lacking, then in spite of the fact that we can learn and even teach, Torah will suffer. We will suffer. We will not change. We will not grow. The world will suffer.

Adherence to the laws of Torah brings shefa Eloki into the world. Such a momentous task as this requires proper preparation. Halochoh cannot be determined without siyata deShmaya, and yiras Shomayim is a prerequisite to siyata deShmaya.

The gemora (Sanhedrin 106b) tells us about Do'eig and Achitofel. Although they were exceptionally knowledgeable and intelligent, nonetheless, "they failed to establish their learning according to halochoh." The gemora cites the posuk in Tehillim (25:14) to explain why: "Sod Hashem liyerei'ov — Hashem's secrets are revealed to those who fear Him." A precise understanding of halochoh requires exceptional siyata deShmaya.

Rovo, when speaking to Rav Papa, would call him "sodnee" out of respect and affection (Niddah 12b). Rashi, based on the same posuk, teaches us that this description is very appropriate for a talmid chochom. The word "sod" means secret. Yiras Shomayim enables talmidei chachomim to discover the secrets of the Torah. Therefore, they are called sodnee — "those who behold My secrets" — for they are the ones who know Hashem's secrets.

This high degree of siyata deShmaya is a privilege that not everyone can enjoy. This type of siyata deShmaya, which produces accurate halochoh, is only available to those who have yiras Shomayim.

Consequently, even though Do'eig and Achitofel were brilliant and proficient, they could not accurately determine the halochoh, because they lacked yiras Shomayim. Their potential for true halachic success went to waste. All the secrets that Hashem could have revealed to them remained hidden. All the halachos they could have clarified remained obscure.

The full impact of Torah to change our lives comes only after we make up our minds to try our hardest — and then put all our efforts into our learning. Someone who learns without a sincere motivation to know the truth is not a real talmid chochom.


Many seemingly straightforward halachos are far from simple. Initially, many points seem clear and obvious. However, upon closer examination the matter is not clear at all. Only after a thorough analysis do we realize that our original understanding of the halochoh is far from the truth. Therefore, an honest ambition to know the truth, along with the firm resolve to expend every effort to get to the truth, are vital for success. These attitudes produce true talmidei chachomim.

In turn, true talmidei chachomim produce true halochohhalochoh that governs our behavior so perfectly that we conform exactly to the way our Creator expects us to live our lives.

The gemora in Bava Basra (130b) states that the essential method of learning, the essence of Torah itself, is drawing comparisons from one thing to the next. Many times, the halachic outcome is different because of a single word or a nuance of pronunciation! So much so that even a well-versed genius can stumble and make mistakes. Yiras Shomayim is vital if we wish to acknowledge mistakes and admit that we must search again to find the truth.

The gemora (Gittin 43a) states that a person will not fully understand divrei Torah until he has stumbled over them. A true grasp of halochoh is possible only through repeated analysis wrought through trial and error; and without siyata deShmaya it is impossible to arrive at truthful conclusions.

According to Rashi's explanation, the gemora is teaching us that a person does not truly understand the Torah's message until he made mistakes in his learning. Embarrassed over errors, a person will concentrate even more than before and redouble his efforts to understand properly. Thus, the truth emerges through mistakes.

Therefore, a true talmid chochom's outside must be like his inside. Yiras Shomayim is in his heart and yiras Shomayim governs his conduct. He will know that Hashem is with him and he will be guided to decide the halochoh properly. His search for the truth will make him sensitive to mistakes and his yiras Shomayim will demand that he correct them.


The Ramban, in his preface to his sefer Milchemes Hashem on masechta Brochos, explains how Torah, especially halochoh, is not established by mechanical calculation. We have no instruments capable of measuring the correctness of a psak din. The proofs used to establish the truth of a halachic opinion are not always positively conclusive, nor are the refutations used to challenge opposing opinions indisputable. Correct halachic conclusions depend on the ability to clearly contrast and compare different — but many times very similar — concepts, facts and situations.

With yiras Shomayim, talmidei chachomim are able to establish halochoh al amitoso — truthfully, according to its various implications and ramifications. In contrast, geniuses and experts, if they lack yiras Shomayim, waste their Torah knowledge. Halochoh does not emerge clearly enough from their learning to guide our actions.

HaRav Yisroel Salanter once had a very serious and complex halachic problem. In those days, HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon was the poseik hador. Since Rav Yisroel Salanter could not travel to Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, he appointed a messenger to explain the issue and to receive an answer about what to do. Rav Yisroel Salanter personally briefed the messenger and told him, "I ask of Rav Yitzchok Elchonon not to disclose to me the basis of his decision. Do not ask him to explain or justify his reasons. Please, just tell me the halochoh."

The messenger asked, "Why not know the reason for the decision? Let Rav Yitzchok Elchonon write the explanation of his decision."

Rav Yisroel Salanter answered, "If he would explain the basis of his decision, I could possibly refute and nullify his psak."

Acknowledged as of the geonim of the generation, Rav Yisroel Salanter could very well challenge the details of the decision. Therefore, Rav Yisroel Salanter chose not to know the basis of the psak. If he would have any doubts about the reasoning then, even without a conclusive disproof, the psak would not be a psak.

After hearing this, the messenger was even more perplexed, and asked further, "How then can the psak be relied on? If the reason for Rav Yitzchok Elchonon's decision can be refuted, how is his psak a psak?"

Rav Yisroel Salanter responded saying that gedolei Torah who are clearly recognized and accepted have extra special siyata deShmaya to decide the halochoh correctly, because HaKodosh Boruch Hu is with them and guides them to the correct decision.

"Rav Yitzchok Elchonon will be zoche min haShomayim to decide the halochoh. Even if I do not accept his rationale, nonetheless, his conclusion will definitely be correct."

Rav Yisroel Salanter then quoted the Urim veTumim (Choshen Mishpat 25: Kitzur Tokfo Cohen; siman 125) as proof for his absolute confidence in Rav Yitzchok Elchonon's decision.

The Urim veTumim explains that since the Shulchan Oruch and the Ramo have been universally accepted, they now unquestionably provide the definitive basis for all psak halochoh. Therefore an individual, even if he is well-versed, even if he has many questions, even if he is an expert in halochoh, is not permitted to pasken halochoh according to other non-accepted opinions which are contrary to the psak of the Shulchan Oruch and the Ramo.

The Urim veTumim writes that without a doubt, the Shulchan Oruch and the Ramo wrote with unequaled, exceptional siyata deShmaya. As endorsement of their halachic efforts, the Urim veTumim cites the posuk in Divrei HaYomim (I, 28:19), "Everything is written by the hand of Hashem — that I should understand all the intricacies of the plan." With this statement, the Urim veTumim certifies that everything the Mechaber and the Ramo wrote was with the direct guidance of Hashem.

The Urim veTumim goes on to describe the enormity of the task that the Mechaber and the Ramo set out to accomplish. They had the fortitude to write their seforim based on kol HaTorah, culled from the collective works of all the Rishonim and Acharonim. They had to persist and not let the demanding work overwhelm them.

They succeeded only by virtue of the fact that "Ruach Hashem dwelled within them and elevated them; so that their words should correspond to the halochoh, [even] without their purposeful intent. For it is Hashem's desire that they be successful."

Clearly, HaKodosh Boruch Hu insures that Ruach Hakodesh will be with those who honestly and sincerely, with yiras Shomayim and because of yiras Shomayim, set out to determine halochoh in a truthful manner.

Therefore, the Urim veTumim concludes, "Chas vesholom to claim that `I am convinced [that the halochoh is different] contrary to the Mechaber veRamo.' "

Since the Shechinah speaks through the mouths of such great outstanding poskim we cannot consider disputing their previously universally accepted halochos.

It was with this introduction that Rav Yisroel Salanter explained his confidence in the decision of Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, "Even if I do not accept his reasoning, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, the gaon, the poseik hador, will definitely be zoche min haShomayim to decide the issues according to the halochoh."

In every generation, the gedolei poskei hador have the special siyata deShmaya necessary to guide their generation — as long as they have yiras Shomayim.

End part one

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