The Torah Podcast Transcript
057 The Torah Podcast – How to Value what’s Valuable – Understanding Judaism – http://globalyeshiva.com
Special Holiday Edition – Shavuos
On Shavuos we read Megillas Ruth. What happened there in the beginning was, Naomi was left desolate with her two daughter-in-laws. Her husband died, and her two sons died. She’s left there with her two daughter-in-laws. She decides to come back to Eretz Yisroel. Both daughter-in-laws who were Moabites, Orpah and Ruth, tell Naomi that they’re going to come back to Eretz Yisroel with her, and that they want to convert and to be Jewish. So, Naomi said to them, “Return, my daughters. Why should you come with me? Have I still sons in my womb? I don’t have any sons. Who are going to be husbands to you? At that point, they lifted up their voices and began to cry. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, Naomi. “But Ruth clung to her,” the verse says. Which says Orpah left. And Naomi said to Ruth, “Behold, your sister-in-law has returned to her people, and to her Gods. Go, follow your sister-in-law.” But Ruth didn’t listen and she continued back to Eretz Yisroel with Naomi.
Chazal tells us that Orpah after she left Naomi, that was it – finished. “She went back to her people,” it says, “And she went back to her Gods,” back to her avoda zara, idol worship. I don’t even want to tell you what she did. That night after she left Naomi, she sinned greatly and that was the end of her. She left and she had nothing to do with the Jewish people after that. But Ruth continued with Naomi, and we know that from Ruth came the Mashiach, came Dovid haMelech.
Rav Miller from Gateshead asks, what was the difference between the two? You see at the beginning, their reactions were the same. They both said, “We want to go with you, Naomi.” But at a certain point Orpah left, and Ruth continued. What was the difference between them? Rav Miller explains, “We could see a similar case in the Torah itself. And that’s the difference between Lot and Avraham.” Rav Leib Chasman explains that Lot even passed a greater test than Avraham – “Lech lecha, that you should go out from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s home.” That’s what the possuk says, by Avraham. But Lot also went out from his land and from his birthplace, and from his father’s home. And he didn’t have a commandment from God, so he had a bigger test. He had tremendous spirituality, Lot. What happened to Lot? In the end, we know what happened to Lot. He wound up in Sodom. He left Avraham, and wound up in Sodom, in the lowest levels of society, of humanity, the worst sinners that ever lived. He wants to explain that even though somebody has tremendous levels of spirituality, if there are flaws inside, if there’s character problems, it’s going to cause problems later down the line. When it came push to shove, Lot had taivas mammon, he had tremendous drive for wealth. And when it came to the better pasture land, he decided to go in that direction towards Sodom, because it came down to money. This was because he didn’t uproot within himself the desires of this world. Like I said, the possuk said, “God told Avraham to go out of your land, your birthplace, and your father’s home.” But the order is reversed. First, you go out of your house. Then you go out of your birthplace, and then you go out of your land. That’s physically how it works. You don’t go first out of your land, and last out of your house. So, what does the verse mean?
He wants to explain we’re talking about character. We’re talking about uprooting the past, changing yourself. Avraham first went out of his land, then out of his birthplace, and finally out of his father’s home, which even means the chinuch, the education that he received from his father, which happened to be avoda zara, idol worship. He even uprooted that. It’s one thing to uproot your culture from the outside, but even to uproot your culture from inside your own home is very difficult. So, that was the difference between Avraham and Lot. It’s true that Lot went out of his land and his birthplace, but he didn’t go out of his father’s home. He didn’t make that step that Avraham Avinu made, of truly dedicating himself to spirituality, no matter what the cost.
And in order to be successful, that’s what it takes. So, the same thing happened to Orpah. Push come to shove, she couldn’t uproot her upbringing. She desired her previous life. The possuk said she returned to her people, she returned to her culture. And eventually, she left the God of Yisroel. She was planning on converting, but after she went back to her people, that was it. Also by Lot, Lot was also planning on going in the direction of Avraham Avinu. But the possuk says, “I cannot stand either by Avraham or his God.” In the end, he left everything. We see from here that if a person doesn’t uproot his latent tendencies, in the end he’s going to be in trouble, even if he has tremendous spiritual feelings, and tremendous drive. But a person has to overcome his culture, and his natural desires. The question is, how do we do this? It’s so difficult. Lot couldn’t do it. Orpah couldn’t do it. How do we do it?
You have to hear this. Rav Wolbe explains an unbelievable Chazal. The Gemara Avoda Zara 11:A says, “Onkelos, the nephew of the Roman Caesar, converted to Judaism.” The famous Onkelos, he was a convert. What happened? The Gemara says, “The Caesar sent soldiers to bring him back.” What did he mean, he converted to Judaism? He sent his soldiers out, and wanted to bring him back to Rome. He sent the first set of soldiers. What happened? Onkelos spoke to them, and he converted them also. They also never went back to Rome. Then he sent another set of soldiers, and he told these soldiers, “Listen, don’t talk to Onkelos.” As they were taking him away, Onkelos says to them, “Listen, I just want to tell you a little observation that I had.” He asked them, “We know that if an army has to travel at night, so the Private will hold the torch for the Lieutenant. And the Lieutenant will hold the torch for the Captain. And the Captain will hold the torch for the General. And the General will hold the torch for the King, and that’s the way the order goes. That’s normal. The one of the lower level serves the higher level, and he holds the light for him.” He asked them, “Did you ever see a King hold a torch for the people, for a common citizen?” They answered, “No.” Onkelos said to them, “But our King lights the way for the bnei Yisroel. The possuk in Shemos 14:21 says, “And Hashem walked in front of them in the form of a cloud by day, to show them the way. And by night in the form of a fire, to light the way for them.” So, they too converted. The question is, what was so powerful about what Onkelos told them that they converted? Rav Wolbe wants to explain, “He showed them an entirely new perspective on the concept of religion, and the service to God. Most people think the reason why we need to serve God is because life and death is in His hands. If they don’t give God sufficient honor, oy vavoy, they don’t know what’s going to happen. And they hope that if they do give honor to God, so they’ll be blessed. That’s the normal way of looking at religion.
But Onkelos explained to them just the opposite.” This is unbelievable. “In Judaism, it’s not the people who light the torch for God, it’s God who lights the torch for the people.” He says, “The Torah is not a means to honor Hashem. The Torah is the torch. It’s the light that Hashem gave to us, to lead us. When the possuk says, ‘the Torah is ohr, the Torah is light,’ that’s the reality.” This is unbelievable. This is the reality that we have to put in our hearts on Shavuos. The Torah is not a burden. It’s not a hassle, it’s for our good. With this understanding we can uproot all of our desires from this world. The things that led Lot and Orpah off the way won’t affect us, because when we understand that the Torah is for our good, so we don’t want anything else. Why should we desire our old ways? Why should we desire the ways of the world? Why should we desire a foreign culture?
He says further, “Every mitzvah that’s performed causes a radiance that is palatable, whether it’s a mitzvah that purifies our body such as restraining from impure foods, or one that perfects our character, because we’re not allowed to steal, we’re not allowed to gossip. The mitzvos are for our good. They change us for good.” He says, “There are other mitzvos that illuminate our hearts with lofty feelings – tefillin, Shabbos, Yom Tov. They fill us with light, with happiness. There are mitzvos that help our interpersonal relationships. By acting like a mentsch, good person, by being a mentsch. All these things are for our good. The Torah is the good life. Each mitzvah fills up our life with purpose and meaning. It gives us a new perspective, a new way of looking at life. It gives meaning to our life. There’s no end, it goes on and on. So, it’s not that we’re serving Hashem. It’s as if Hashem is serving us. And this is what it means that we have to be like a midbar, like a desert. The Torah was given in desert, which means we have to drop everything else. The Torah is the right way. It’s the good, it’s the tov. And with this perspective, we won’t fall into the trap that Lot fell into, that Orpah fell into. Why would we want a different culture? Why would we desire something different?
There’s a famous story of the Chofetz Chaim. One time, the wife of an avreich, a person who sits and learns all day, came to the Chofetz Chaim to complain. She said, “My children don’t have any new clothes. We’re very poor because my husband sits and learns all day. And they see the neighbor’s kids. They have new clothes, and new shoes. What am I supposed to tell my kids?” The Chofetz Chaim said to her, “Tell your kids lekach netzarta, for this you were created.” We were created for the Torah. Bereishis, reishis it says. The whole creation was for the Torah, for the Jews to keep the Torah. There is nothing else. For this we were created. Why would we desire something else, only because we’ve been brainwashed by foreign cultures, by foreign ideas. This is kabbalas HaTorah, to realize the only thing that’s good, the only way, the only right way, good way, best way is the Torah, is the mitzvos.
I want to bring the Nefesh haChayim. He brings the possuk in Mishlei that says, “The Torah is a tree of life to those who cling to it.” He says, “A person has to fix in his heart and picture clearly in his mind the following image. A man drowning in a swiftly-flowing river, coming close to a strong tree, surely he would grab onto it with all his strength. And he wouldn’t let go for an instant, because he knows his life is dependent upon it. Only when a person holds onto the Torah with love, and involves himself and his thoughts are constantly in it, then does he have a genuine, elevated life and he’s attached to God. Because the fact is, that God and the Torah are a unity. If he deserts his learning and distances himself from the fixed involvement in Torah for the nonsense of the world and its pleasures, he cuts himself off from the exulted life, and deliberately drowns himself, God-forbid.” That was the Nefesh haChayim. This is unbelievable. We have to realize what the Torah is. It’s Erev Shavuos, we have to mekabel upon ourselves the Torah. Torah itself is life. Torah is the right way. Torah is the good way, the best way. It’s not a burden.
I just want to end off with Rav Dessler. He says, “We may hear God’s voice. But we still have to absorb the message. The way to absorb the message is to want to absorb the message. A child could be given food, but he can’t be forced to swallow it. If he doesn’t decide that he wants the food, he’ll spit it out.” He says, “The same thing by Torah, God-forbid. A person who learns Torah but doesn’t really want Torah, it could be very dangerous. This could lead to a situation which can easily lead to rejection and rebellion, since the impure will resents the demands inherent in the Torah knowledge itself.” He explains, “That’s why the Torah could be sameh chaim or sameh maves. If you learn Torah with your right hand, with all of your energy, with love and desire, then it’s the spice of life, the drug of life. But if you’re weak and you learn Torah with your left hand, then it’s a sameh maves, a drug of death. And to guarantee that the Torah should be a drug of life for us, we have to understand the value of the Torah. And that’s how Onkelos converted those soldiers. Could you imagine soldiers? He converted the soldiers.
He explained to them in a certain sense, God is serving us, we’re not serving God. It’s for us, it’s for our own good. This is a tremendous idea, we need to think about it on Shavuous, and mekabel upon ourselves, receive upon ourselves the Torah, with all of its goodness and all of its love, and all of its bracha, blessing.
A Powerful Parable
The Chofetz Chaim brings a moshul. One time there were these two neighboring countries who were constantly at war with each other, but they could never defeat each other. One time this side would win, one time the other side would win. The counsellors to the king of both countries decided they’re going to get together. “We’ve got to finish this, once and for all. We can’t keep fighting like this. You know what we’ll do?” They decided together, they’re going to fight for four days. At the end of four days, whoever is winning, that’s who’s going to take over the other country. That’s what they decided to do.
One side, you know what they did? They sent spies into the other country, and they found the ammunition of the army. They saw it wasn’t hardly guarded at all. Then they came back and they told the Generals. The Generals in the middle of the night, they sent out troops to destroy all the ammunition. And that was on the third day of the fighting. Came the fourth day, the one country wakes up and thinks, “I’m going to continue fighting and they’re going to win.” All of a sudden they have no ammunition. What could they do? They had to surrender. It’s the same thing with the yetzer hara, evil inclination. Every day the yetzer hara comes and tries to fight us. Our evil inclination comes to fight us, and we fight it back. It fights again, and it goes on day after day, after day. The yetzer hara doesn’t know what to do. What does he do? He does a trick. He figures out where the ammunition is. What’s the ammunition? The ammunition is the Torah. The learning of Torah, that’s the ammunition. That’s the thing that keeps a Jew going. That’s what gives him his inspiration. That’s what gives him his strength. What does the evil inclination do? It convinces him to stop learning. Once he stops learning, that’s it. He doesn’t have any ammunition. All of his armor is gone, his trucks are gone. His weapons are gone, he’s finished. He has to give in. If we stop learning, how do we expect to overcome our evil inclinations?
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The verse in Bamidbar says, “Moshe counted them according to the word of Hashem.” Rashi explains there, Moshe asked to Hakadosh Baruch-Hu, “How am I supposed to count the people? I don’t know how many children are in each tent, every little baby. I can’t go into the tents and count the babies.” So, Hashem said to him, “Listen, you do your job and I’ll do mine.” So, Moshe went around from tent to tent, and a voice would come out of each tent saying how many children there were in each tent. That’s why the verse said, “Moshe counted them according to the word of Hashem,” because Hashem was megaleh, revealed how many children there were in each tent.
Rav Shach explained, “Hashem does not have impossible expectations of a person. A person has to do his best. He can do what he can do. After that, it’s in Hashem’s hands.” He brings two possukim, “God who fulfils for me,” is one possuk from Tehillim. Another possuk, “May Hashem complete on my behalf.” One time, there was the son of a certain man who was very close to Rav Shach, and that son was very ill. The doctors said, “He’s going to lose his sight. He can lose his sight at any moment.” The man came running to Rav Shach and asked him what to do. Rav Shach said, “Listen, you have to call a certain surgeon, he’s the expert.” So, the man called, but the surgeon told him there’s no way for him to see him until tomorrow morning. So, the father came back to Rav Shach, “What are going to do? Who knows what can happen to my son by tomorrow morning.” Rav Shach said, “Don’t worry. We’ve done everything we can do. Now Hashem will take care of the rest. I take it upon myself to guarantee you that the boy’s situation will not worsen before tomorrow morning,” and that’s what happened.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Simcha Cohen speaks more about criticism. When you’re about to be criticized, what should you do? The answer is, you should let the other person speak. Hear them out. It doesn’t matter if they’re out of touch with reality, if what they’re saying is twisted and distorted. Let the other person speak, because if you let them speak, they’ll get it off their chest. In the end, they’ll calm down. I’m not saying it’s easy.
And when the person who’s criticizing you sees that you listened to them, then they understand there’s somebody there to talk to, and it will bring peace much quicker. But what happens if the relationship is not like that? You never let the other person criticize you, you never let them get a word in? So, everybody has pent up anger, and it’s going to wind up in a worse situation. On the other hand, if you do your criticism, you have to take it seriously. If you just listen to the criticism and then ignore the person completely, they also feel they don’t have a partner. And if you’re strong enough, what should you do? You should say back to them what they said to you. Let me make sure I got the point straight what you said. That’s a high level, already. But if you do that, the other person will see that if you’re serious about the relationship and realize where you failed, what they’re criticizing you about, it was just a small lapse. But in general the relationship is healthy, and the person who gave the criticism has to listen back to what the person says, and responds. It can’t be that you’re the person that’s going to criticize and you’re never wrong. Maybe your criticisms are wrong. The problem is, that really for the relationship to be healthy, you have express your pain and your suffering that you have, that the other person’s causing you. The possuk says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your brother, and not bear sin because of him.” What sin? You’re going to have hatred for them, so you need to express yourself in a healthy way, and the other person has to listen in a healthy way, or else, you just wind up hating each other. And all these small little things that bother you turn into a huge fight, and hatred.
So, a lot of times one spouse says that the other one can never admit that he’s wrong. The question is, what’s the cause for that, is it really true he can never admit? No. They can never admit they’re wrong, because when they do, you pounce on them even more. You have to make sure you don’t hop on the fact that you’re right. How do you expect the other person to accept the criticism if they admit it, you’re going to give them even more criticism. The relationship is dynamic; if the people wind up not wanting to give criticism one to the other, so that’s really a breakdown in the relationship. If you’re not going to tell the other person what hurts you, so there’s no relationship. You’ll feel that you have no real partner. You don’t want to get yourself into a situation where there’s no need to criticize. Why? Because you feel there’s no use. What’s the point of criticizing if the person’s not going to listen anyway?
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments on iTunes, and have a great Shavuos.