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18 Teves 5768 - December 27, 2007 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Torah is Only an Antidote when One's Torah Meets the Required Level

A shmuess by HaRav Gershon Edelstein shlita

Part I

Torah study serves as an antidote to the yetzer hora. The yetzer hora is always active and does not cease his work, even for a moment. It has to be countered with a constant opposing force, and that is by occupying oneself with Torah. However, the Torah is an antidote to the yetzer hora but it is only effective when one's Torah is up to the required level, including being without interruptions. If there are periods of bittul Torah then, "if you abandon Me for a day, I will abandon you for two days", and if for two days, then [I will abandon you for] four days, and if for several weeks or more, the estrangement from Torah gives a lot of power to the yetzer hora, and much more Torah is required to return to one's original state.

There are interruptions, which are not bittul Torah but for the sake of Torah, because there are essential things, which, when they are taken care of, come within the category of bittulo zehu kiyumo, and that is also part of occupying oneself with Torah. But if the interruptions are due to idle matters, to matters constituting bittul Torah, then the Torah does not act as an antidote and the yetzer hora becomes reinforced.

This is the reason why, even though many people want to improve themselves, but since they have periods of bittul Torah, the whole benefit of kedushas haTorah becomes nullified and it ceases to act as an antidote to the yetzer hora.

There is a Mishna in Pirkei Ovos, which says the following: "He whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom shall endure. But he whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom will not endure." It is implied here that if a person's wisdom exceeds his deeds all of his wisdom will not endure — even the wisdom which has deeds corresponding to it — because his wisdom [as a whole] exceeds his deeds.

The explanation for this is simple: "wisdom" refers to Torah, and "deeds" are the actions commanded by the Torah. If a person's deeds are not compatible with his Torah, meaning that his wisdom (Torah) does not entail action, then the Torah will not be fulfilled in him at all. He will have no success in Torah because his deeds will not correspond to his level in Torah.

That is why we sometimes encounter the phenomenon whereby bnei Torah with lesser abilities succeed more than those with greater abilities. They acquire more knowledge of Torah, they create more chidushei Torah, and their [all- round] level of Torah is greater. The reason for this is that in the case of very talented people it is easier for their wisdom to exceed their works, because the more talented a person is, the greater are his obligations, everything being based on the extent of a person's talents and wisdom. And if one's wisdom exceeds his deeds — each person according to his level — his wisdom will not endure and he will have no success.

"Deeds" include actions connected to the Torah itself, to the eisek haTorah. If there is bittul Torah his wisdom exceeds his deeds, and his Torah will not endure. There are also other deeds. The main category of deeds relate to the duties of the heart, there are many mitzvos relating to these duties, including permanent mitzvos which are mide'Oraiso which must be observed, and if they are not, one is lacking in deeds.

Rav Chaim once said about the duties of the heart that they indicate to a person what his heart should look like, what his aspirations and thoughts should consist of. They are a Shulchan Oruch of Yiddishkeit, and anyone failing to observe them infringes the halocho.

These too are [part and parcel of] a person's deeds, and if one's deeds are lacking chas vesholom then that person's wisdom will not endure.

Good character traits in our interpersonal relationships are also of paramount importance, and are amongst the 48 prerequisites for acquiring Torah. Without them Torah is lacking and cannot be acquired. It says in Rav Chaim Vital's Shaarei Kedushoh that although the Torah writes only very briefly about good and bad character traits, that is only because they precede the Torah. Anyone who has not perfected middos tovos has not perfected all his Taryag mitzvos, and it is well known that a person is not aware of his faults, but only his good traits.

Rabbeinu Yonah writes about middos: these are amongst the most severe [mitzvos] about which it says, "What does Hashem require of you?" They are a requirement and an obligation. Elsewhere he says about the mitzvah of tzedoko, that it is written, "your heart shall not be grieved," we are required to have a good heart, to implant within ourselves the desire to give, to develop a heart that aspires and loves to do chesed. Hashem asks us to do mishpot but to love chesed, because it is the natural state of the heart to love chesed.

Another area requiring improvement is the study of mussar. In yeshivas a fixed seder is reserved for such study, but everybody is obligated to set aside a fixed time to learn mussar, as it says in the poskim. The Mishna Berurah states in siman 1 that there is a duty to study mussar every day, and to deal in mussar matters and to improve one's deficiencies every day, because nobody knows what they are lacking and so we must study mussar books. This goes against a person's nature and behavior patterns, because he possesses a trait of hating rebuke and he thinks that it will not help in any case and so he goes into despair. But it is a proven and experienced fact that anyone who studies mussar seforim, for however long but regularly, improves in the course of time, as HaRav Shach ztvk"l wrote in his will "one thought of mussar," because even one genuine thought adds a lot.

Studying mussar teaches us to distinguish between truth and falsehood, because a person, being prejudiced, does not perceive the truth. Bribery blinds the eyes of the wise, and a person does not see his own drawbacks, thinking that he is not lacking perfection — this is a very great shortcoming. The Semag (siman 9, parshas Eikev) lists a positive commandment: umaltem es orlas levavchem — to love rebuke and the reprover. Also in the gemora, "Which is the path a person should take? To love rebuke," because if a person loves rebuke that is a means for improving himself all the time, each person according to his abilities.

There is also a negative commandment — "be no more stiff- necked" — which applies to someone who does not listen to rebuke. This is the obligation of learning mussar, an obligation which reaps great benefits, since everyone who learns mussar over the course of time feels happy and satisfied that he is excelling and improving himself.

It is a proven fact: anyone who learns Chofetz Chaim and Shemiras Haloshon improves himself by learning the words of chizuk and mussar in these books, which have a great effect on a person, and whoever does this will be successful.

End of Part I

Next part: Derech Halimud.

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