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11 Teves 5766 - January 11, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Sweetness of a Svora

Excerpts from a recent book about HaRav Boruch Ber Leibowitz

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 the question.

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 that one."

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 forehead.

"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 great toil."

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 answer.

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 Torah."

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 continued studying."

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 donation.

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 and Rovo.

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.' "

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