Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Behar: Torah will always flow
The next thing, the Mishnah enumerates, that one needs to acquire Torah is "establishing one's fellow on the truth." It is our responsibility to ensure that everyone will know the truth of the Torah. "Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will have a lasting outcome." In those disputes within the Jewish people that were based on establishing the truth, both sides lived together in peace and harmony. One must make an effort so that the transmission of Torah is truthful without any outside interference, thus continuing the chain that started at Mount Sinai to future generations. Judaism cannot last without its spiritual dimension of the Torah. In 1892, a group of prominent secular Jews from the Haskalah movement influenced the Russian government to interfere with the curriculum at the Yeshiva of Valozhin. "Torah is like a well of water. If you stop the water's flow in one place, it will find another outlet and continue to flow elsewhere." If the Torah obligates us to return a lost animal to our brother, how much more are we obligated to return our brother himself. If one passenger drills a hole in the bottom of the boat, this hole will not only affect him personally but will have dire consequences for everyone on that boat. We must emulate our ancestors at the revelation at Mount Sinai who accepted the Torah "as one person with one heart."
Establishing one's fellow on the truth
The next thing, the Mishnah enumerates, that one needs to acquire Torah is "establishing one's fellow on the truth." This seems strange. We can understand that a person who wants to acquire Torah must be seeking the truth for himself, as Torah is the absolute truth given by G'd to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. It also makes sense that "establishing" others on the truth of the Torah will help them to acquire Torah. But how can showing others the truth of the Torah help me to acquire Torah for myself?
Ensure everyone knows Torah
We have mentioned earlier that the Maharal elaborates on the fact that Torah was not given to us as an intellectual study for advanced scholars. Rather, the Torah was given to the whole nation of the Jewish people. G'd instructed Moses to make sure that every member of the Jewish people was present at the revelation at Mount Sinai. As it says: (Shemos 19:3): "And Moses ascended to G'd, and G'd called him from the mountain and said, 'So you shall say to the House of Jacob and speak to the children of Israel.'" Rashi quotes from the Mechilta that the "House of Jacob" refers to the women and the "children of Israel" to the men. Everyone was included, scholars and laymen, young and old. Our sages explain that even the souls of all future generations were present. Although the text of the Torah is very deep, it has what to teach on every level. A young child, and a seasoned scholar, can both study the same material, and gain an insight suited to their particular level. For everyone has a part in the Torah. Whoever wants to acquire Torah must therefor recognize and understand that this is not a question of amassing knowledge to know the truth of the Torah for himself, but a responsibility to ensure that everyone will know the truth of the Torah. That is why helping others to understand the truth of the Torah is part of every individual's acquisition of Torah.
Dispute for the sake of Heaven
Earlier in Pirkei Avos (5:20), it says: "Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will have a lasting outcome, but any dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a lasting outcome." The Mishnah continues to explain that the dispute between Hillel and Shammai was for the sake of Heaven, whereas the dispute of Korach and his congregation was not. Rabbi Obadiah of Bartenura explains that a dispute for the sake of Heaven means a dispute where both parties are seeking the truth. Therefore, it will have a lasting result as eventually they will reach the desired result. The Talmud is full of disputes between the Houses of Hillel and Shammai, and each one of them ends with a definitive halachic ruling. But when Korach and his followers disputed Moses, it was based on jealousy and only led to disaster.
Truth vs. personal gain
Throughout the generations there have been many disputes within the Jewish people. In those disputes that were based on establishing the truth, both sides lived together in peace and harmony. They were not seeking to defeat each other. On the contrary, they had a common goal to establish the truth of the Torah. But whenever the dispute was to achieve a personal gain for the leaders or their followers, it only brought about quarrels and strife, and spoiled the unity of the Jewish people.
Chain of Torah
To fully acquire Torah one must seek the truth, not just for oneself or one's immediate circle of study partners and students. Rather, one must make an effort to ensure that the transmission of Torah is truthful, and the chain that started at Mount Sinai is continued and passed on to future generations without any outside interference.
Deviations not last
Throughout the history of the Jewish people, many individuals and groups have deviated from the original transmission of Torah. Many of them may have started with noble intentions to make it easier for the masses and to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people. However, the experience clearly shows that none of these deviations lasted for more than a few generations. Even if the group continued, the descendants of its adherents either assimilated and were lost to the Jewish people, or eventually found their way to return to the observance of Torah Judaism. Just as a body cannot exist without its spiritual dimension of the soul, so can Judaism not last without its spiritual dimension of the Torah. It simply turns into an empty shell that eventually disintegrates.
* Yeshiva of Valozhin
In 1892, a group of prominent secular Jews from the Haskalah movement influenced the Russian government to interfere with the curriculum at the Yeshiva of Valozhin. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Naphtali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, convened a meeting of the greatest Torah personalities to see how to react to this new development. At the end of a long discussion, the view of Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, to close the Yeshiva, was accepted. He tearfully explained that that if they could not pass on the Torah in the exact form that it had been received from earlier generations without secular interference, their responsibility to disseminate Torah ceased. The One Who had given the Torah to the Jewish people would take action Himself to ensure that the transmission of Torah was continued.
Flow of Torah
When the Chofetz Chaim related this story years later, he said, "Torah is like a well of water. If you stop the water's flow in one place, it will find another outlet and continue to flow elsewhere." After the closure of the Yeshiva in Valozhin, many other Yeshivas opened in Lithuania and Poland and were able to function undisturbed. We do not need to help G'd to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people by diluting Judaism or reforming it. G'd is very capable and has His ways of ensuring that the transmission of Torah from Sinai continues to flow. Our own generation is an amazing example of this with thousands of communities and Torah institutions worldwide. Who would have dreamt that this could happen after the physical and spiritual annihilation of European Jewry in the past century?
Return our brother
The Torah (Devarim 22:1) says: "You shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep that have strayed and hide yourself from them. You shall surely return them to your brother." Says the Chofetz Chaim, if the Torah obligates us to return a lost animal to our brother, how much more are we obligated to return our brother himself. The Talmud (Shavuous 39a) teaches that we are all responsible for each other. We must always keep in mind that we are all part of the collective body of the Jewish people. It is well known that if one part of the body is not well, the rest of the body will assist the afflicted part to heal to the best of its ability. If someone feels that his brother's awareness of the truth of the Torah is not his problem, and does not see why he has to get involved, he clearly shows that he is lacking the basic elements of how to acquire Torah, even for himself. For only the one who understands his responsibility of showing others, and establishing them on the truth of Torah, is able to acquire the Torah.
Passengers on the same boat
In the same way, if someone has lost interest in the Torah and has tried to sever himself from the body of the Jewish people, we must reach out to him and tell him the truth. In his final speech to the Jewish people, Moses clearly warned against this and said (Devarim 29:17-19): "Perhaps there is among you a man or woman, or a family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from being with HASHEM, our G'd … And he blesses himself in his heart and says, 'Peace will be with me, for I walk as my heart sees fit …' G'd will not be willing to forgive him … " This is not a personal matter that only affects him (see Rashi Devarim 29:28). We are all passengers on the same boat. The Midrash uses this analogy and says that if one passenger drills a hole in the bottom of the boat claiming this is his cabin and he can do as he pleases, everyone knows that this hole will not only affect him personally but will have dire consequences for everyone who is on that boat.
Accept Torah with one heart
From Pesach to Shavuous, the Jewish people count towards the day when we received the Torah. This is a time for all of us to reflect upon and strengthen our awareness of our mutual responsibility. And we must unite in our quest to accept and acquire the Torah anew for ourselves and our children. In this way, we emulate our ancestors at the revelation at Mount Sinai who accepted the Torah "as one person with one heart."
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
P.S. If you have any questions or enjoyed reading this e-mail, we would appreciate hearing from you. If you know of others who may be interested in receiving e-mails similar to this please let us know at email@example.com .
Shema Yisrael Torah Network