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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold and silver and copper.
In her book All for the Boss, Ruchoma Shain, the daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman, one of the early Torah pioneers in the United States, recounts her father's dedication to keeping mitzvos. Many guests would eat at his table every Shabbos and Yom Tov, and Mrs. Herman was always busy preparing food for everyone.
"It was on the eve of Hoshana Rabba. Papa went to shul, where he stayed to learn the entire night. Midnight approached and Mama was still busy kashering twenty-four chickens in groups of six.
"I sat watching Mama as she was kashering the chickens.
"The warm and quiet kitchen and the continuous movement of Mama's hands lulled me to sleep. In my sleep I felt pulled, and I heard a sound coming from afar: 'Get up Ruchoma, get up!'
"I fought the webs of sleep in order to wake up to find Mama hunched over me. 'What time is it?' I asked sleepily.
"'It's now the middle of the night,' Mama answered, and she continued:
"'I just put in place all the pupiks that I finished kashering, and I noticed that one of them might have a sha'aleh.' Mama's words sank with a sigh: 'They are all mixed up now, so that if this pupik is treif, all of the chickens will be considered...' Mama didn't end the sentence, out of fear of the fruition of the terrible thought.
"'Run to Papa at Tiferes Yerushalayim, and ask him to go to Rav Skander to ask the sha'aleh. Don't forget to tell Papa that I have no idea which chicken out of the twenty-four the pupik belongs to,' warned Mama.
"Holding the pupik in a small wet bag, I hurried down the dark foggy street, as my footsteps echoed the worry in my heart. (In the year 1930, Mama wasn't afraid to send a girl at my young age by herself in the middle of the night, because the streets of the East Side were entirely safe.)
"As I approached the lit shul, I heard many voices excitedly learning. I hurried into the hall, sticking my head through the turning door. Papa sat in the front of the shul with a sefer open in front of him. One of the people recognized me and hurried in my direction.
"'I have to tell something to my father,' I said quickly.
He hurried to Papa, tapped him gently on his shoulder and whispered something to him.
"Papa ran to me with a questioning look on his face. 'Oh, Papa, Mama just finished kashering all the twenty-four chickens, and she combined all the pupiks, and she found a sha'aleh on one of them, and she doesn't know which chicken it belongs to, and she said that you should go immediately to Rav Skander to ask a sha'aleh.' I said all this in one breath.
"Papa grabbed his hat, and together we flew through the quiet, sleepy streets. We reached Henry Street within a few minutes. Papa lifted his eyes to the first floor on which Rav Skander lived. Light shone through from the living room. We ascended on our tiptoes, and Papa knocked gently on the door. Rav Skander opened the door himself. 'Shalom Aleichem, R' Yaakov Yosef.' He shook Papa's hand warmly.
"'My wife kashered a chicken and found a sha'aleh on this pupik,' Papa stated the fact. I stared at Papa in shock. I wanted to say that this pupik got mixed up with twenty-four others. Papa's warning look made me swallow the words in my throat.
"And so, while Rav Skander studied and checked and turned over the pupik from side to side, the fate of twenty-four chickens was sitting on a scale.
"I shuddered as I stood there. What will be if it is treif? All of Mama's hard work will be for nothing. What will our guests eat on Yom Tov? It had cost so much money. Mama's pale, tired face floated in front of my eyes and clouded my vision.
"I glanced at Papa. He stood there erect and straight, like a soldier waiting for the verdict of the general. After what seemed like an eternity, Rav Skander lifted his glance and announced 'Kosher, Kosher.' The words of relief and salvation rang in my ears.
"After this Papa said: 'Rebbe, if you would have paskened that this pupik was treif, I would have thrown out twenty-four chickens. My wife doesn't know which chicken this pupik belongs to.'
"Rav Skander gave Papa a scolding look: 'Ach, ach, R' Yaakov Yosef, why didn't you tell me? If a big loss is involved, I study the sha'aleh differently.'
"'I never look for heteirim,' Papa replied. This saying was on his lips and practiced in his actions.
"With the pupik packed once again in the small brown wet bag, Papa and I hurried down the steps.
"'Run home fast, and tell Mama that the pupik is one hundred percent kosher. Make sure Mama goes to sleep. I am going back to shul.'
"Flying like a bird through the calm streets, my feet were echoing the pace of the words: kosher, kosher, kosher.
"As I broke into the doorway, I couldn't control myself and called out loud, 'Mama, Mama, kosher! It's kosher!'
"Mama heard me and hurried towards me. I fell into her arms, almost making her lose her balance. 'It's okay Mama, it's one hundred percent kosher!' Mama burst into tears."
Rabbi Herman was willing to lose a fortune if there was the smallest doubt regarding the kashrus of his chickens. His love for Torah and mitzvos was much greater than his love for money. We must teach this to our children, so that they too will choose Torah over the temptation of money.
"And G-d spoke to Moshe saying, 'Speak to the sons of Israel, and they shall bring Me an offering.'"(1) This is what the verse says, "For I have given you a good purchase, do not forsake My Torah."(2) Why is the Torah called "a good purchase?" It is customary that when two merchants meet, one who has bought silk material, and the other material embroidered with gold, when each discovers what his friend has bought, each asks his friend if he is willing to exchange merchandise. When they agree and exchange materials, the one who previously had silk now has gold-embroidered material, and the one who had gold-embroidered material now has silk [but he does not have what he previously had].
How can the midrash call the Torah merchandise, which seems a mundane term for such a holy item? In the parable of the silk material, each lost what he had possessed before. But in reality many make only a partial exchange and retain some of what they had before. How then is this parable appropriate? Why does one not lose his Torah when he exchanges his knowledge with others? Why did the Torah scholar, while he was on the ship, refuse to reveal that his merchandise was Torah? Why did he wait until they reached land to reveal this? Why did he say that his merchandise was hidden? Why was the scholar willing, by not revealing the truth immediately, to cause his shipmates unnecessary bother in searching for his "merchandise?" How could the Torah scholar have used his Torah wisdom for benefit when we are forbidden to use the Torah as a "hatchet to dig with?"(3) What can we learn from the fact that the other passengers asked him to help them?
"For I have given you a good purchase, do not forsake My Torah."
The midrash calls the Torah "merchandise," a mundane term for such a holy item. But the way to succeed in Torah is to look at it as precious merchandise. We learn this from the above midrash and also from the verse, "If you shall seek it out as silver."(4)The reasoning here is that a person generally tends to be concerned more with his physical than his spiritual well being. Therefore our Sages advise us to employ the evil inclination to acquire Torah. This is done by convincing ourselves that not only will we benefit spiritually, but we will also benefit materially by learning Torah. This way our evil inclination will be unable to convince us to neglect the learning of Torah.
The parable of the silk material can be understood in the following way: Although a person may retain part of what he originally bought, this usually does not satisfy him, since he has lost some of the original quantity. Therefore the parable is correct in saying that in regard to material objects, it is impossible to have everything, since you must give something up to acquire something. Whether you give up your money or your merchandise, you must forfeit something to obtain other merchandise.
...One says to his friend, "Teach me the tractate of Zera'im, and I shall teach you the tractate of Nezikim." In the end, each one knows two tractates...
When one exchanges Torah knowledge with others, one does not lose anything. Rabbenu Yonah(5) explains this principle based on the passage which states, "For desire one seeks alone."(6)He explains that when it comes to mundane desires, there is always a lack of unity of purpose since some other person stands in the way of my gaining what I want. Either he has what I want himself, or he wants it. But when it comes to spiritual goals, other people do not prevent me from reaching my goal, since we can both achieve our objectives without detracting from one another. If he knows a tractate of the Talmud, I can know it also, but if he has money, I cannot have that same money.
This is the meaning of the aforementioned midrash. There is no loss when you give knowledge away to others. In fact, the opposite is true, as our Sages say, "From my students I have learned more than I have learned from my rabbis and my friends."(7) When one expounds Torah to others, it becomes much clearer. I heard this from a friend who personally heard it from the great Steipler Rav, who said, "One page of the Talmud that one teaches to students has the value of fifty pages that one learns without teaching." By teaching we only gain.
He [the Torah scholar] was asked where his merchandise was. He replied, "It is hidden."
The Torah scholar did not reveal that his merchandise was Torah, since he knew very well that the others on the ship could not grasp the value of Torah and would only ridicule him as a naive person. He understood that it was fruitless to explain or argue, and therefore he avoided confrontation.
He mentioned that it was hidden, since otherwise he knew they would immediately want to see it, and this was impossible. They would not be able to grasp the meaning or value of something which was purely spiritual.
The Torah scholar, by not revealing the truth immediately, did not cause his shipmates any unnecessary bother. It was their own curiosity that bothered them. Once he told them that the merchandise was hidden, they should have respected him and should not have attempted to pry into his secrets.
The people there, seeing his [the Torah scholar's] wisdom, gave him honor and supported him financially. The others who had been with him on the ship approached him and begged, "...Give us a recommendation so that we too can find something to eat."
The Torah scholar derived benefit from his Torah learning, which seems to contradict the prohibition of using the Torah as a "hatchet to dig with."(8) When the scholar went to the beis midrash to give a Torah lecture, he did not intend to utilize the Torah for his own profit. Instead, he wished to share his precious Torah thoughts with the congregates. He knew that they would derive great benefit from what he could teach them. Once they heard what he had to say and were able to benefit from his wisdom, they decided that such an honorable scholar must be cared for in the finest manner. This is the reason they provided him with food and lodging.
This is what our Sages meant when they say that a person should not run after honor, but in the end honor will run after him.(9) The Torah scholar taught Torah with pure intentions, and the honor came to him, as our Sages had promised it would.
We learn from the fact that the other passengers asked him to help them, that most people undervalue the power of Torah. The acquisition of money and fame appear to be much more desirable than sitting and learning Torah for years. But we can learn from this mistaken notion that although a person appears to derive no benefit from his learning, the benefit will eventually come to him. This should not be the reason a person learns Torah, but when he does learn, he need not worry about his future and how he will support himself. The Torah is not only a spiritual entity; it also guarantees physical comfort to those who trust in its power.
The story is not teaching us to hope for personal benefit from Torah, but rather it assures us that we will eventually derive benefit from our learning.
It is obvious from the above midrash that Torah is the best profession a person can teach his child. Although in our modern world this seems to be impractical and naive, we should realize that the words of our Sages apply to all generations, including our own.
Many parents feel that they want their children to have a comfortable life, and therefore they convince them to enter professions which are considered to be prestigious and well-paying. Our generation has already witnessed the myth of this theory. Many professionals are out of work or earn meager salaries, due to, for instance, new medical insurance policies which limit payment to doctors and other employment difficulties encountered by professionals.
A well-known varicose vein surgeon in Los Angeles told me that he was giving up performing operations and was going into administration, since he was not earning enough. Another famous heart specialist in St. Louis told me that he was giving up medicine since he was not earning enough, and was going into teaching (where he would earn much less), because of the aggravation he was having practicing medicine. The lesson is clear: Nothing is certain except Torah, which is everlasting and never declines in value.
A mother called me recently, complaining that she did not know what to do with her twenty-year-old son, who had been sitting around the house for the past six months doing nothing. She revealed that at the age of sixteen her son had gone on his own accord to a yeshivah, but she had pulled him out of the yeshivah, thinking that he should finish high school first, and then he could decide what to do. Sadly, once he finished high school he had lost his desire to learn Torah and now he was sitting at home, for he had not yet found a job and could see no direction in his life.
Our Sages repeat this lesson when they tell us that Rabbi Nehoray used to say that he would forsake all the professions of the world and teach his son only Torah, since Torah sustains a person even when he becomes old.10 Learning Torah is not limited to a certain age, as are other professions. In other words, Rabbi Nehoray was saying that learning Torah does not have only a spiritual value, but rather it has a definite physical benefit for a person.
These concepts are difficult to accept, since from an early age we are indoctrinated with the belief that only a tangible profession can help us earn a living. We are taught that without a college degree, we do not stand a chance of getting a job. This of course is not true, since we know that some of the richest people in the world were not college educated, but made their fortunes through shrewd business moves. There is no better way to learn how to be shrewd than to study Torah. The Torah sharpens a person's mind and gives him insights into other people's thoughts, thus teaching us how to be successful in life.
Obviously, not every child will devote his life to learning Torah and not everyone will achieve greatness in Torah. This is expressed in the words of our Sages, when they say that for every thousand who study Torah, only one will become a posek.11 But this should not prevent us from teaching our children the importance of Torah learning, and instilling in them the ambition to make Torah the center of their lives. Your child will decide on his own what he wants to do with his life. It is our task to give him the instruments to choose the greatest quality of life, which is a life devoted to Torah.
Even if he does not choose Torah as his main occupation, the training that we give him in Torah will help enrich his life by teaching him to utilize his free time learning Torah. He will learn early in the morning and after work and will find great satisfaction and fulfillment in that learning. He will live his life according to the laws of the Torah, and thus will find true meaning in his life. A Torah education is the greatest gift you can give your child.
By sending our children to yeshivos we protect them from the evils of secular life. These include drugs, cults, sexually-transmitted diseases etc., all of which are widespread in secular educational institutions. Being in contact with people who are far from Judaism can have a very negative influence, and can jeopardize our children's spiritual well-being.
Parents usually choose a university based upon its scholastic reputation and a person's chances of getting a job after he graduates. If your child is determined to go to university, try to influence him to study at a university that will also give him an opportunity for Torah study. Look for one that has a high moral standard and is close to home, so that your child can avoid sleeping in a dormitory. Many university dorms have a very low moral standard. You should do everything possible to keep your child away from dormitory life, even if it will cost you much more money. The spiritual loss your child can suffer in such a place is devastating, and money should not be a consideration when such spiritual danger is involved.
Our task is to enrich our children's lives with Torah, and the least we can do is to protect them from the harmful influences of a secular education.
1. Shemos 25:1-2
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network