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And if you will not listen to Me and you will not fulfill all of these commandments. If you despise My statutes and your souls loathe My laws so as not to fulfill all My commandments, thereby breaking My convenant. (26:14-15)

He doesn't learn, and since he doesn't learn he doesn't perform the mitzvos; then he comes to despise others who perform mitzvos; then he comes to despise the chachomim; then he comes to prevent others from performing mitzvos; then he comes to deny the mitzvos; then he comes to deny the main tenets of the Jewish faith (kofer be'ikar). These are the 7 aveiros that result from not learning. (Rashi)

Adapted from a talk by Rabbi Zev Leff.

Rav Zev Leff related that when he was a shul rabbi, he used to give a shiur between mincha and maariv. Once a fellow walked in looking for maariv. He thought maariv would start right away. Instead, he walked into a shiur. Not wishing to be impolite, he sat down and listened. Rav Leff was discussing the laws of borer, which, as is well known, are intricate and to an outsider appear nit-picking. As the shiur went on Rav Leff noticed that this fellow's eyes started bulging. After maariv the fellow came over to Rav Leff and in all innocence asked him, "Rabbi, do people really do all this?"

Let's take this fellow as an example. Here's a nice shomer Shabbus guy. He keeps Shabbos, but borer well. He's not interested in learning about this borer, that's too much. He just wants to keep Shabbos the way he did last week, the way his family kept Shabbos, that's all. Don't confuse me with all these details. He just wants to be comfortable.

But there's a problem, because if you know there's something you should be doing that you're not, you feel guilty. And it's uncomfortable to feel guilty. So here's a fellow that wants to be comfortable and therefore doesn't want to change the way he keeps Shabbos. So he doesn't want to learn about borer because he wants to be comfortable. But he doesn't want to feel guilty because that's uncomfortable. So how in the world can you not change, not improve, and still not feel guilty?

So the Satan created 7 safety devices that enable a person not to improve and yet not to feel guilty. They are mechanisms that ease a person's conscience.v First: don't learn. If you don't want to change and improve, and you don't want to feel guilty about it, don't learn. Now that doesn't mean don't learn anything. You can learn daf yomi. You can learn aggada, kabalah, mishnayos, etc. Just don't learn anything that smells of the halachos you don't want to do. So if you don't want to do borer, don't learn hilchos Shabbos. Because the more you learn about hilchos Shabbos, you're going to find out about borer and you're going to feel guilty. Ignorance is bliss. Borer is for farmers, it's for factories; in the old days there was borer, but borer isn't relevant to me in my modern kitchen.

Second: Once you don't learn, you are automatically on the next level, you don't do. And therefore you inevitably are going to violate this halacha you don't know about:

One day he's walking down the street, and he sees a marvelous new invention. It's a hand-held fish-bone plucker. You put the piece of fish in the receptacle, close the top, pull the lever, and out come all the bones. What could be easier? Wow! This is great! He hates gefilte fish. But he hates the bones in the carp even more. So this machine is great. He buys one, and even has it silver plated and engraved on it. His wife brings all the fish for Shabbos to the table Friday night. He puts the fish in the machine, says , pulls the lever and out come all the bones of all the fish for the whole Shabbos. He's just been mechalel Shabbos m'd'oraisa, with a utensil, not for immediate use, bad from good, everything that could be wrong he did. But he thinks he's doing something in the honor of Shabbos, because he's never learned. He doesn't have a clue this is borer. This is something that makes life easy, it's not work.

Third level: One Shabbos he's invited by his neighbor to have the Friday night meal with them. His neighbor is slightly more learned than he, and is more careful in mitzvos, and also likes to eat fish with bones. So, after the motzei, out comes the fish. Out friend is sitting there thinking, I should have brought my professional bone plucker over here and helped him out. What a shame, I forgot it at home.

Now, the neighbor sits there and starts to study the fish. He picks it up, puts it down, looks at it from this angle, from that angle, and our friend is sitting there watching all this and begins to feel very uncomfortable. It's very obvious that there's something wrong with taking the bones out of the fish. You have to decide how to eat it: take the bones from the fish or the fish from the bones, with the fork, without the fork. He sees what's going through his neighbor's mind and he begins to feel guilty.

But he doesn't want to feel guilty, and this guy makes him feel guilty. This brings him to the third level: despising others who perform mitzvos. Not all the mitzvos. Just the ones he doesn't want to do.

His friend is more meticulous in mitzvos than he, he knows more halachos than he, and he makes him feel guilty. So we have the third safety valve. He says to himself, this guy is not normal. This guy is a chanyok, a fanatic, a whacko. You pick the word that describes someone who does something you don't want to do and you make them into a monster. This is not normal. Eat the fish! Nobody studies the fish before he eats it. This is not halacha. This guy is off the wall. He's a fanatic. And therefore, I don't feel guilty anymore.

Level four: He goes home, goes to sleep, wakes up in the morning and makes a bracha: shelo osani chanyok, he feels great. He's normal and not a fanatic.

He goes to shul and the rabbi gets up to speak. "You know, I noticed that we have a lot of people who are shomer Shabbos, but they don't know the laws of Shabbos. For instance: borer."

"Oh no. Now I'm a captive audience and I have to listen to this rabbi talk about borer! It's the last thing in the world I want to hear about." He can't get up and walk out, because he wants to be a mentsch. And he can't say, my rabbi is a fanatic, he's off the wall. Because he's his rabbi, and his subconscious won't buy that. So he has to go down to level four: despise the chachomim. He looks at the rabbi and says to himself, "It's not, chas v'sholom that I don't want to learn from rabbis. I want to learn. But not from that mouth! He's not a mentsch. (Why not?) 20 years ago he passed my grandmother in the street and didn't say good morning! He's an animal. And from that mouth I wouldn't listen to the 10 commandments. Not that I don't want to learn. I want to learn. Not from him." And if he doesn't have a grandmother, he'll have to come up with something else: "That rabbi is in it for the money; look at that fancy car he drives." Or, "that rabbi's a shlepper, look at that jalopy he drives." It doesn't matter, he can always find something to disqualify the person if he can't say anything against what he said.

So he tunes him out, and starts thinking about the baseball scores, and he doesn't have to feel guilty, and now he's comfortable.

Level five: Some of his friends in shul are not like him. They are honest people and they are interested in what the rabbi said. They come to him after shul on Shabbos, and they say, "You know, the rabbi's right. A lot of us are shomer Shabbos, but we have no idea what Shabbos is about halachically. So we asked the rabbi to give us a shiur in hilchos Shabbos, and we're starting with the laws of borer. Do you want to join?"

"Oh, no!" he says to himself, "the last thing in the world I want to do is go to a shiur on hilchos borer, because that makes me feel guilty and I don't want to change, because that's uncomfortable. But how do I tell my friends I don't want to join the shiur. I can't say, 'Oh, you're a bunch of fanatics,' because they're my friends."

So now he has to go down to level five: prevent others from doing mitzvos. But not all the mitzvos. Just the ones I don't want to do. Because if they do those mitzvos, I feel guilty. The less people doing it, the better I feel.

So he says to his friends, "Listen. You want to learn the halachos, and be more frum, learn about borer? That's very commendable. But let me warn you, it doesn't end with borer. This week you'll be machmir with this, next week you'll be machmir with that. You're gonna go off the deep end. Eventually you're going to take a shower with your black hat on. That's what it comes to. In another 2 weeks your wife will wear her tichel past her nose. Once you go to a shiur it never ends. First he tells you to do this, and then that. You're going to go over the deep-end. So I advise you very strongly not to go to that shiur."

Level six: But his friends are of a different sort and answer him; no we want to do what's right. Don't worry we're not going to go off the deep end. We want to go to the shiur. Do you want to go to that shiur or not?

So now this fellow has to go to the next level. "Don't you think that if borer was a halacha I wouldn't be the first person to join that shiur. Of course. But borer isn't a halacha. Borer is just one shita, it's one opinion. And we didn't hold from that shita in our house. Who's the shita, I don't know, but there's always another shita." Alternatively, "Borer is only a minhag. And we didn't have that minhag." Or, "Borer is only a chumra." So he's reduced the halacha to a shita, a minhag, a chumra. He has denied that borer is a mitzva.

Rav Leff anecdoted that he had a member in his shul who only came Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. His grandfather had been a member of the shul so he wanted to be a member of an Orthodox shul. One Shabbos, Rav Leff saw him drive to shul to participate in some simcha. He parked a block away and walked to shul. Rav Leff kept his silence, but during the week he found an opportunity to speak to him privately. "Now I assume that you think there is a mitzvah to walk to shul. So you parked a block away and walked the rest of the way. But unfortunately you just violated driving to shul. Not only is it not a mitzvah, it's being mechalel Shabbos."

"No, you don't understand, Rabbi. My father parked in that space. My grandfather parked in that place. It's a minhag in our family. We always park in that space." Go fight with minhagim.

Seventh level: So what do we do with this fellow? We have to explain to him: let's look at all the halacha seforim. Let's look up everything in English, then the Mishne Berurah, the Oruch Hashulchan, the Chaye Adam, the Kaf HaChaim. Nobody, not Ashenazim, not Sefardim, not the Chassidim, not modern Orthodox, nobody holds that his automatic handheld bone plucker is permitted, it's an issur d'oraisa.

Now the fellow is stuck. It's not just one shita, it's not just a minhag, it's not just a chumra, it's a halacha, period. Now what? So in order to protect himself this fellow has to go down to the seventh level: kofer be'ikar. That sounds pretty bad.

"OK. You got me. It's a mitzvah. But I can't do everything. I've got a life. I can't let mitzvos destroy my life. This mitzvah is not a fundamental issue in my life. I let G-d interfere in my life up to a point. But there's a limit."

That means that if the mitzvah is not a fundamental issue in his life, neither is the One Who commanded that mitzvah. He's kofer be'ikar. He denies that the Ribono Shel Olam plays a major role in his life.

Unfortunately, there are many of us who are 99% religious in our lives. We want to improve in everything. But there is that one issue which we deny and don't want to improve. There is that one area where we say, leave me alone. It can be Shabbos, kashrus, or business ethics. I stole from people yesterday, and I'm going to steal tomorrow. I don't want to know anything about what's stealing, what's not stealing. I just want to continue doing what I've been doing. I don't want to change. Don't confuse me with the facts. I've justified it. It's permitted to steal from goyim; and yidden who aren't frum a like goyim. And yidden who are frum are probably fakers anyway, so they're even worse than goyim. Everybody's goyim, so you're allowed to steal from them. I feel comfortable with that. I don't want to change. Leave me alone.

So a person who doesn't learn, unfortunately sinks to one of these levels. He wants to feel comfortable. And nobody wants to feel guilty - that's uncomfortable. The only way not to feel guilty is through one of these safety valves.

That doesn't mean that everyone has to become a tzaddik overnight. However, he has to be willing to say, I'm not perfect now, but I want to eventually improve, and I really want to work on it at a slower pace. That way a person recognizes his short comings without feeling guilty. He's honestly working on it.

But if he's only fooling himself, he really doesn't want to get there. How does one know which he is? Here's the litmus test. Look at someone who is doing what you feel you can't do. You aren't careful about loshon hora. You're not ready for that yet. But how do you look at someone who is careful about loshon hora? If you're really trying, you'll admire him. But if you're fooling yourself, he makes you feel guilty, and you'll despise him. That's the test.

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rosh Yeshiva
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.

Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers) and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop - Lakewood).

Rabbi Parkoff is in the final stages of publishing "CHIZUK," a sequel to Trust Me. If you would like to help in sponsoring this upcoming book, or would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him: or 732-325-1257

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