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25 Teves 5768 - January 3, 2008 | 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 II

The first part began by saying that one's deeds must correspond to his wisdom, each one according to his wisdom. If one's wisdom is greater, so must his deeds be, or else he will not succeed in Torah. By "deeds" Chazal include everything that a person does or does not do. Only if everything he does is up to the level of his wisdom will his Torah be an antidote to the yetzer hora.

Among the things that are included under "deeds" is bitul Torah. If one does not learn as much as he should, it will impact the learning that he does do. It also, very prominently, includes the class of deeds known as the duties of the heart: "anyone failing to observe them infringes the halochoh." The first part also discussed good character traits and studying mussar.


Another extremely important matter that must be addressed is the issue of derech halimud. Everybody wants to become a godol, to learn and be connected and devoted to Torah. The derech halimud is as it is written: "You shall eat bread with salt". This means that "even" in a situation of bread with salt and all the things listed in the Mishnah, nevertheless, if you toil in Torah you will be happy in this world, despite your material discomfort.

This is a very novel idea, and although it seems difficult to understand, the explanation is simple: If you eat bread with salt and this does not disturb your toiling in Torah then you will be happy in Olom Hazeh because the Torah makes the heart rejoice, restoring the soul, and is sweeter than honey, making us forget all our difficulties. This is what the Mishna means: It is genuine, unmistakable honey, and anyone who has reached this level feels it.

But the Mishna contains another message: if a person toils in Torah — and today there is a lot of siyata deShmaya with Torah and the possibilities of learning Torah — but does not feel the "happy is your lot in this world" and he is not in a positive state of mind, that is a sign that he is not following the derech of Torah because in the Torah derech anyone toiling in Torah must be happy. If someone is not happy there are many reasons for it, and one must examine the reasons why he is not going in the derech of the Torah . . .

Obviously if a person has aspirations for Olom Hazeh that itself is a cause of not feeling the "happy is your lot in this world." Even if such a person truly toils in Torah, if there are other times when he feels drawn in his heart towards this world then he is lacking the feeling of ashrecho be'Olom Hazeh and he is not going fully in the derech haTorah.

This is a principle of Torah: someone who attaches importance to Olom Hazeh and has desires in that direction is not going in the derech haTorah and will not be successful.

I heard the following about the Alter of Slobodka ztvk"l: It is well known that he looked for and would be mekarev talented youths in order to guide them and train them to become gedolim. There was one big baal kishron who wanted to form a relationship with the Alter and he spent a lot of time with him, but the Alter afterwards said about him: "Nothing will come out from him. He has no hope, even though he's a baal kishron who learns."

The facts afterwards bore out the Alter, and he was asked how he could tell. He replied that he had noticed how this person had behaved when he was served a cup of tea with sugar . . . from his behavior while eating you could tell that he had a connection to Olom Hazeh and aspirations towards it. Therefore he eventually left the straight path altogether.

On the other hand, there was an incident where a non- observant Jew noticed how a yeshiva bochur drank a glass of soda water and became a baal teshuvoh as a result of that experience, because a person's inner state of being, his aspirations and materiality, determine the future of every person.

Another point in the derech halimud is the tzuras halimud, which has changed a lot recently, with people learning in an imitative manner instead of keeping in line with their individual temperaments. Someone who learns in a way that goes contrary to his own nature will not be able to succeed. Nowadays everybody aspires to become a baal havonoh (master of abstract theories), and certainly the main aim is to become a baal havonoh because the more a person understands, the greater he is in Torah.

There is a method of acquiring havonoh, as the gemora says, ligmor vehodor lisbor (loosely: let a person first acquire knowledge and then analyze it), and no other method exists. Unfortunately, nowadays the svoro comes before the girso, and this goes against nature, because not everybody enjoys this. [On the other hand,] a lot of people enjoy learning girso and in quantity. It is an especially pleasurable way of learning, as anyone who is accustomed to girso and does chazoroh all the time can attest. It is literally sweeter than honey and restores the soul, to sit and learn and review all the time gemora with Rashi even without Tosafos. If a person learns and does chazoroh with total concentration, it fascinates him, and this is the greatest omol haTorah. The greatest omol haTorah is when someone is focused on Torah according to his derech halimud without any external thoughts.

Someone with a such a character — and most people naturally enjoy girso (except the minority whose temperament is drawn towards havonoh) — afterwards learns with havonoh and only then does he enjoy it. One has to do chazoroh after chazoroh. The gemora says that learning four times is not part of the chazoroh process, but is required just in order to acquire a basic understanding.

I know bochurim and avreichim who started off learning by imitating others, like everyone else, with havonoh. They exerted themselves very much, which caused them difficulties and made them tense. Then they started learning simply with absolute concentration, and subsequently they acquired havonoh and are happy with it, because only then did the ashrecho take effect. Even though before they were toiling in Torah without any bitul Torah, since their method went against their nature the ashrecho be'Olom Hazeh was missing, and they only attained it when they reverted to a way of learning that matched their natures. And then they also attained havonoh.

Another important issue, which also goes somewhat against nature — is the topic of shimush chachomim. There is a sequence that has to be followed: from my rabbonim, from my friends, and from my students. Some people start immediately with "from my students," but we have to keep to the order and start with meirabbosai. This applies not only to Torah but also to all our conduct: how to conduct ourselves according to the derech haTorah and shleimus.

This we can only achieve through shimush chachomim. The greater a person's connection with an odom godol and the more shimush he has with him, the greater is the influence [of that odom godol on him] both in Torah and in all matters. Someone told me that he remembers HaRav Shach ztvk"l from his period in Slutsk where he learned with Rav Isser Zalman ztvk"l. He said that in one aspect he was different form all the others — and no one attached any importance to this. He was constantly together with Rav Isser Zalman, not leaving him for a minute, and that was the secret of his greatness: shimush chachomim.

One avreich told me that he had started a permanent connection with an odom godol and that other people told him that you could see that he had become a different person, because shimush chachomim changes a person completely and brings him to shleimus.

This is not widespread nowadays. Everybody thinks they understand on their own and know what to do. They have a method and insight for every question that comes up and do not consult with anybody.

This is a kochi veotzem yodi of ruchniyus. We must know that we should not try to solve on our own every difficulty and problem both in ruchniyus and in gashmiyus, but we must consult with an odom godol and man of authority in the field and "whoever takes advice from the zekeinim will not stumble."

Another point, which is a principle [to be remembered]: To stick to the seder hayom. Bochurim have sedorim in yeshiva and this is a very powerful system, and a means of attaining shleimus. Even if a person thinks that he will learn more by not sticking to the sedorim of the yeshiva, in reality he will lose more than he gains. We need not elaborate on this point. If the sedorim in the Yeshivas and also the kollelim are meticulously adhered to, this contributes greatly towards success and the feeling of ashrecho be'Olom Hazeh. I am told by bochurim who were not organized time-wise and changed by sticking to the sedorim of the yeshiva that they now feel totally different.

We are in a period when we need a lot of rachamei Shomayim and we cannot see a way out of our troubles by natural means. Some people make calculations of kochi veotzem yodi, but that is not our way, because anyone with eyes in their head realizes that we are in need of great rachamei Shomayim, and so the main thing is to add zchuyos [and may we merit the full Redemption].

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