073 Torah Portion of the Week – Nitzavim – No Excuses on Rosh Hashanah – The Torah is Not in Heaven – A Powerful Parable about the Special Cake – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – Marrying the Daughter of a Torah Scholar
The Torah Podcast Transcript
073 -The Torah Podcast – No Excuses on Rosh Hashanah – The Torah is not in Heaven
Torah Portion of the Week – Nitzavim
Chapter 30 in Devarim starts out like this. It will be that when all these blessings come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I’ve presented before you, then you will take it to your heart among all the nations where Hashem your God had disbursed you. And you will return to Hashem your God and listen to his voice, according to everything that I commanded you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul.” The Ramban explains that this is the future. This is the final ingathering of all the exiles. This is a prophesy that hasn’t happened yet. And it continues exactly that “Hashem your God will return your captivity and have mercy upon you, and He will gather you from the peoples where Hashem your God has scattered you.” This is exactly what’s happening today. All the Jews are coming back to Eretz Yisroel. The Arabs are moving all over the world. This is going to cause the Jews, all the Jews to come back to Eretz Yisroel. In verse eleven we turn to the time frame where this Torah is actually being said. What does it say there? “For this commandment that I have commanded you today, it is not hidden from you and is not distant. It is not in the heavens for you to say, “Who could ascend to the heavens for us and take it for us? Let us hear it, so that we could perform it. Nor is it across the sea for you to say, ‘Who can cross the other side of the sea for us to take it, and let us hear it so that we could perform it? Rather the matter is very near to you, and is in your mouth and in your heart to perform it.’ Rashi explains, it’s talking about learning Torah. He says that it is not in the heavens because if it was in the heavens, you’d have to go up after it in order to learn it. That’s how important learning is. And the point here is there is no excuse not to learn Torah. It’s close, you could understand it. It’s available, and we’re commanded to learn.
Rabbeinu Bachye explained it says four times the word “it”. Where is that? It says, “It is not hidden from you,” velolo rechok hi, and it is not distant from you, “ve lo bashamayim hi,” and it’s not in the heaven, “velo me’ever hayam hi,” and it is not over the sea. So, why does it say “it” four times? Rabbeinu Bachye explains, it refers to the four fundamental elements of creation. And it also refers to the four patriarchs who were on the kisei hakavod in the shemayim, Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov and Dovid. In other words, the Torah is the most fundamental thing of this creation in this world and in the heavens, and it’s the purpose of creation, and it’s the purpose of what we need to do with our lives. Every Jewish man is commanded to learn Torah, and every Jewish woman is commanded to help their husbands and sons learn Torah. That’s how a woman gets her next world, by sending her sons and husbands to the beis medrash.
Rav Dessler has a question. The verse said, “And it is very close to you, it is in your mouth and your heart to do.” He says, “I understand that in your heart that brings you close to God. But how could something in your mouth, because it’s in your mouth that brings you close to God?” He brings a possuk in Iyov that says, “Man is born to toil.” The Gemara in Sanhedrin explains, “What is the toiling referring to? The toil with his mouth. Man was created to work with his mouth.” He says, “If a person gets used to speaking about Torah and holiness, this will have a tremendous influence on his thought patterns and also on his emotions.” He gives an example. He says, “If a heavy truck starts to roll backwards down a hill and the brakes have failed, and the engine’s off, so the only way he’s going to get that truck to stop rolling down that hill is if he turns the engine on.” It’s the same thing with speech. Speech is the engine of the soul. Speech has the power to bring our knowledge and bear upon our heart. If we’d only fill our speech with Torah and wisdom and mussar, this is the toiling that the Rabbis were talking about. That’s what the verse says, “It is in the power of our mouth and our heart to do. This is the essential way that we’re going to change ourselves before Rosh Hashana, and before Yom Kippur, it’s the Torah itself by learning Torah, talking Torah, discussing it with your friends and your family. The Torah itself is the koach to bring us back to Hashem.
But the Sefas Emes explains, “It’s not just talking in coffee shops about the Torah. For a man it’s much more than that. You need yegiah, where do we know that? Because Rashi says, ‘If it was in shemayim, so you would have to go up to the shemayim and get it.’ That’s the kind of effort it takes. He says, “This easy access to the Torah applies only to a person who yearns for Torah with his whole heart. That is, we are talking about here a person who is attached emotionally and spiritually to Torah. So much so, that he would go up to heaven to get it if he had to. But then the Torah would not be distant, for this personality, for this person who is willing to do everything for Torah, that person has the Torah available.
Rav Wolbe says, “Despite the great distance that separates Hashem from his creations, we have the ability to bridge this gap with the Torah that is near to us.” He brings the Kuzari that explains it’s not just talking about the next world. We’re not just doing Torah and mitzvos in the next world. We’re doing it for this world, in this world, through learning Torah and talking in Torah, we’re bringing Hashem close to us. The Kuzari explains, “It doesn’t say if you do this, after you die I will bring you to a place of pleasure.” Rather, the Torah says, ‘It will be for Me a nation, and I will be for you a God and I will guide you.’ The purpose of the Torah is to bring us close to Hashem in this world, now. And this is the learning of Torah, and speaking in Torah and thinking about Torah. This is the vehicle that brings us close to God and brings God close to us.”
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains, “The preceding verses had to do with the future destiny of the Jewish people. The entire history of the world, where in the end God will gather up all the Jewish people and bring them back to Yerushalayim, to Eretz Yisroel.” He says, “This verse which comes right after, which is the fulfillment of God’s Torah transmitted to us through Moshe, this is the sole basis of our destiny in all times, and the foundation and our hopes in our future.” In other words, the Jewish people’s destiny is dependent on learning Torah, being involved in Torah. And what does it mean, that it’s not beyond your understanding? Don’t say, “How can I possibly understand the Torah? Don’t say it’s not accessible because it’s not in heaven. And don’t say the Torah is in the realm of the supernatural. Nothing of it remains in heaven. It’s all on the earth. And don’t say it’s over the sea. Don’t say it depends on all these different circumstances, I coulda, shoulda, woulda. You have to have everything set up. It’s not true, it’s very close to you.
Look what he says. “The subject and the content of this Torah are very close to you, closer than anything else. Why? For you yourself are its subject, and your life on earth is its content. In order that you understand both the subject and the content of the Torah, you need only to delve into your own inner self and examine your earthly human relationship with open eyes. To study the Torah with mind and heart, guided by the oral tradition, in order to know and fulfill it’s commandments. That is the only way in which the Torah could be acquired. This way is accessible to everyone, everywhere, always, and is the only way in which we will be able to understand God’s Torah and learn from it our eternal mission on earth.” In other words, the learning of Torah is the purpose of a Jew, and it’s the purpose of a Jewish family, that the father and the son should be learning Torah, and the women and the sisters should be supporting Torah. It’s the highest thing that a Jew can do.
But listen to what Rav Schwab has to say about this. There’s an earlier possuk in this week’s Parsha that says like this, 29:18. “When he hears the statements of his oath curse, he will imagine himself blessing and saying, ‘Peace will be my lot, and I shall follow my thoughts and visions so that the quenched may be added to the thirsty.’” In other words, a person can’t say, “Don’t worry, I have my own idea of what Judaism is about, and I’ll have peace.” So, he brings down in Tanach, thirst is always a metaphor for the desire of Torah learning. A person is thirsty. Why? It says in Bava Kama 17:A on the verse of Yeshayahu that says, “Everyone who is thirsty go to the water.” What’s water? Water is always a symbol for Torah. Ain mayim elah Torah, lwater always means Torah. So, what is this person saying? He’s saying, “I’ll be satisfied. I’ll have peace. I shall have peace and walk without Torah study.” But what does the next verse say, “Hashem will be unwilling to forgive him.” So, he wants to say, “Those who believe that the constant study of Torah is not an absolute requirement of Judaism, those who are satisfied with the performance of other mitzvos alone are committing a grave and perhaps an unforgivable sin. Judaism without Torah is just another religion. It’s not the will of God. Rituals come into all religions. It’s this unique quality of Yiddishkeit, of Judaism, the special relationship with Hashem that a Jew achieves only through Torah study. This is what makes us different than all the nations. This is what really makes us Jewish.
And this has always been the focus through all of history of the yeshivos. The yeshivos have always focused on the learning of Torah, the teaching of Torah, the speaking in Torah, the thinking in Torah. And Chazal tells us that if something happens to a person and he does a cheshbon hanefesh, he checks himself out, and he can’t find out where it’s coming from, so then he should say it’s because of bitul Torah, it’s because he wasted time. He did other things, when he could have been learning. We’re nowhere near the madreiga of the generations before, that they were able to focus their minds 20 hours a day on learning. But at least the time we have we should spend in learning. This is Yiddishkeit, this is Judaism. That’s the real thing. Everything else, focus on everything else is a watered down version.
I just want to end off with what the Chofetz Chaim says on this verse. What does it mean, it’s not in heaven? He says, “The good fortune of this world is Torah. In the World to Come one receives reward, but the Torah’s station is not there. The Torah was given to us physical beings in this world, in order to purify us. Like the Pirkei Avos says, “If you have learned much Torah, do not pride yourself in it, because you were created for this purpose. The Torah is the purpose of the entire creation, and if man does not possess Torah, he will be a pauper for eternity. Not only here but also there, in the next world.” He brings Rashi. When Rashi said that it’s not in heaven, but if it was in heaven we’d be obligated to get it. That’s how important it is. We’d be obligated to go up to heaven to figure out a way to get it. So, this you’ve got to hear. This is scary, listen to this. “This would be our duty because man’s time on earth passes in anger and pain and suffering and hurt. And after all of his trials and labors, during his limited time on earth he remains with absolutely nothing except for the light of the Torah he has learned. Only someone who possesses the light of Torah merits resurrection and eternal life. As it says in Yeshayahu, ‘Awake and sing, dwellers in the dust, for your dew of Torah is a dew of light.” The Chofetz Chaim says, and he’s bringing Gemara Kesubos, that there is no resurrection, there’s no eternal life without Torah.
It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever heard. You could do all the mitzvos you want. You could do pidyon haben, redemption of the firstborn, you could light Shabbos candles, all these other mitzvos you could do them. But if you don’t have the light of Torah there will be no resurrection, and no eternal life. This is what it says. I’m not making it up. And this is the Chofetz Chaim, the leader of the last generation, the posek hador, the greatest scholar of the last generation. He’s not saying nonsense, it’s real. It’s such that we have to understand that in order to make Hashem the King on Rosh Hashanah, in order to relate to God, we only can relate to God through Torah. That’s the medium. How do we come close to God? Torah. That should be our focus on Rosh Hashanah. We should spend time learning. Don’t sleep during the day. Go to the beis medrash, go to shul, go to a class. Listen to Torah, think about Torah. Talk Torah on your table. That’s how we make Hashem the Melech, that’s how we make Hashem the King. I guarantee you if we do that, we’ll have the best year ever, and we’ll be blessed with all the blessings that Hashem wants to give us.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno brings the verse that we said before, “You will return to Hashem your God and obey Him exactly.” The Rambam brings down in Hilchos Teshuva that even though teshuva, returning to Hashem is good for the world, but on the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it’s even better and accepted immediately. He wants to bring a moshul, parable. It says like this. There was once a very wise man that used to come with all these inventions. He’d come with new machines, new types of foods, all kinds of things. But there was a man in the town, he was a rich man, but he was very cheap. He would never buy the inventions that this guy would make.
One time, the wise man made a cake which would satisfy a person who ate it for 10 days. You’d eat this cake, you’re not hungry for 10 days. So, he’s trying to sell it in the shuk, market there. This cheap guy came by. He says, “Maybe you want to buy this case? It will last for 10 days.” He says, “Listen, I don’t waste my money on these kinds of inventions.” He says, “Listen, this is perfect for you. A person who’s trying to save money, all you have to do is get this cake and then you’ve saved yourself money for the entire 10 days. You don’t have to buy food after that.” That was the moshul, what’s the nimshal, parable?
He says, “Those people who the rest of the year they have a hard time getting to shul, they have a hard time learning, they’re a little bit laid back, okay. But when it comes to the 10 days of teshuva, at least they should take advantage of it, because these 10 days are perfect for a person like this, who relaxes the rest of the year, because Hashem will bless them if they work hard and do teshuva during the 10 days of teshuva.”
Great Stories – Rav Shach
In verse 27 and 26 it says, “Accursed is the one who will not uphold the words of His Torah.” The Ramban brings the Yerushalmi that says like this. “A person who learns and teaches, keeps the Torah and does its mitzvos but has the opportunity to support it and does not, is included in this curse.” That’s what it says. “Accursed is the one who does not uphold the words of Torah.” He could have supported Torah and he didn’t. Rav Shach told a story about the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim was very old, but they invited him to a meeting of the Vaad haYeshivot. He said when he got there, “Believe me, my dear brothers, I am so weak. I wouldn’t have come here even for 100 pieces of gold. Not only that, I wouldn’t even come here for 100 mitzvos. But in the name of strengthening Torah, I just had to come.” Rav Shach said, “What was one mitzvah worth to the Chofetz Chaim? And still, the Chofetz Chaim said, ‘I wouldn’t come here for 100 mitzvos. How weak he must have been. But when it came to the Torah, all of a sudden he had the strength. “Torah is a different matter entirely,” he says.
There’s also a story like this about Rav Shach himself. When he was a very old man he was totally exhausted. But he went to this wedding so he said to his grandson, “Believe me, I wouldn’t have gone to this wedding for 10,000 gold pieces. But what could I do? This family supports Torah. I just couldn’t refuse.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Moshe Aaron Stern explains the value of marrying the daughter of a Torah scholar. He starts off like this. He says, “Every guy in Yeshiva saw that there were a lot of bochurim, a lot of his friends were destined to be great people. And if you said, ‘Who’s going to be great here?’ they would have pointed out lots of kids. But where are those kids today?” He says, “I did a lot of research and I tried to figure out, which kids came out really to be great rabbis? Those were the ones that married into good families. If a man marries the daughter of a talmid chacham who has the right values, so his learning will continue and he’ll continue to grow in Torah. But if not, it’s not guaranteed.”
He brings down the Chazon Ish who says, “lav dafka bas talmid chacham. If the girl herself has those values, that’s good enough. If she herself has the values of her husband becoming a talmid chacham, even if her father is not a talmid chacham, still the boy will continue to grow in learning. To succeed, one needs a wife who will encourage him to learn with no interruptions. There are avreichim who learn without pause, because they’ve shouldered the yoke of Torah. And even if they’re forced to pause, the yoke will always remain. This attitude is priceless.”
He brings the famous Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz who was asked a question. We know that Rabbi Akiva went away from his wife for 24 years. But really, after 12 years he went back. He was about to walk in the door and he heard the neighbor saying to his wife, “Where’s your husband?” She said, “You know what? Even if my husband came back today, I’d send him back again for another 12 years.” And that’s exactly what happened. He heard and he went back. So, what’s the difference between 12 and 12? The answer is, 12 and 12 is not the same as 24. 24 straight years of learning does not equal 12 and 12. It’s the continuity in the learning.
And there’s a Yerushalmi in Pesachim that says, “Rav Abba sent his son Rav Chanan to learn in Tiveria. But he heard that his son was involved in burials and chessed. So he sent this message to his son, “Are there no graves in Cesaria that I sent you to Tiveria?” So, of course he was doing mitzvos. He was involved in burying people and doing chessed. But his father objected. He said, “This is going to prevent your growth in learning, the most important mitzvah.” Ah, it’s a mitzvah of chessed, which is a tremendous mitzvah also, kindness. So, the Chazon Ish said, “There’s no greater chessed than producing another talmid chacham. Mitzvos can be left for others,” this is what the Chazon Ish said. In other words, there’s no greater chessed than turning yourself into a talmid chacham. That’s the greatest chessed.
And what does the Gemara in Bava Basra say, on 121a? The Jews never had happier days than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.” Rabbeinu Gershom explains, “What happened on the 15th of Av? On the 15th of Av the Jews finished chopping trees for the altar. And at that point they were able to devote themselves to more learning. They didn’t have to work anymore. Ah, before they learned but now they can learn continuously, without worry on their head.” He quotes his uncle. He says, “Rav Yisrael Yitzhak Zilberman used to say to his wife, ‘If you want anything now you’d better tell me because once I start learning, I’m not going to stop. Tell me now what you need.’”
And this is how all the gedolei Torah, great men of Torah of generations grew in Torah and fear of God. And any person can become great using this procedure. How do we know that anyone can become great by sitting and learning? We know that Rabbi Akiva’s father-in-law vowed a vow against him that he wouldn’t help him at all. But he claims he wanted to annul the vow, because now Rabbi Akiva became this huge talmid chacham. So, how can he nullify the vow? You can’t nullify a vow based on something that’s going to happen later, that’s called nolad. So, the Tosefos answers, “It’s not called nolad.” Why not? Because it’s the normal way that someone who goes to learn becomes an adam gadol, becomes a great person. We see that it’s not necessarily brightness or a quick grasp that creates a talmid chacham, but rather the mere fact that he sets out to learn. And our problem is, that every other minute we’re wasting our time. But the point is here lechatchila, in the first place a person should try to marry someone who is going to support him in learning. And the wives have to know it’s the greatest mitzvah. It’s the greatest thing you can do. And that’s what’s going to bring peace into your house, and blessing into your house.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends. And everyone should have a Rosh Hashanah metukah, a sweet year, a sweet, good year.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff