Hashkofa: Torah Views,
Values & Understanding Life




When a person struggles in the serious and devoted study of Torah and mitzvos, he acquires the understanding and clear vision of all things in life. A person is limited and subjective and it is impossible to recognize how to correctly understand the world. In-depth study and contemplation of G-d's words and laws, and the wonders of His creation, are the tools that enable one to think about and view everything wisely and clearly and to see G-dliness revealed. It is like taking off faulty eyeglasses and putting on correct ones. "Open my eyes and I will see wondrous things from your Torah [Psalm 119:18]." Seemingly, the verse should have said "in your Torah." By consistent in-depth learning and probing in the depths of the Torah, it becomes possible to see the wondrous awesomeness of G-d, if one works to the point at which he would merit Heavenly help. Therefore, it is appropriate for the verse to say, "Open my eyes and I will behold wondrous things FROM your Torah." The Torah opens a person's eyes to all things of the Creation and of life. A person starts out with his nature limited and small. His view of things is twisted and defective, and he does not see them in the correct light. Only the person whose exclusive entire undertaking is to exert himself in the study of Hashem's Torah, and who is not influenced by any outside things, his mind is a Torah mind and his view is a Torah view. By means of his hard work and strain in the Torah, he is able to see and understand everything according to truth and because he sees the light and truth of the holy Torah. This is how the Steipler Gaon was actually able to truly and clearly sense and see things around the world, with knowledge and understanding from his little and impoverished house. Anyone who had contact with him, knew that he was with one who understood all the ways of earthly life, all over the world. [Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, Rosh Yeshiva Telshe, eulogizing the Steipler Gaon].


The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdom is to know that there exists a first cause and He causes all existence. And all which exists in Heaven and earth and everywhere between them does not exist except as a result of the truth of His existence. If it will occur to you to think that He does not exist, absolutely nothing else could exist. If it will occur to you to think that everything else besides Him could be out of existence, He alone will always still exist; and He will not go out of existence with their going out of existence; because all existing things need Him and He, may He be blessed, does not need them, not any of them. Therefore, His truth is unlike the truth of anything else. It is of Him that the prophet said (Jeremiah 10:10), "The L-rd is G-d of truth." He alone is truth and none is truth as is His truth. And it is of Him that the Torah says (Deuteronomy 4:35), "There is nothing else beside Him." This means that there is nothing that exists that is truth beside Him or like Him. This ultimate existence is G-d of the Universe, L-rd of the world, and He is the Director who moves everything with force that has no end nor limit, with force that is never interrupted. His direction continually causes [everything]. It is impossible that there be result without a cause and He, may He be blessed, is the cause [of everything] without [His having] any hand or body. And you must know clearly that knowing this is a positive commandment from the Torah as it says (Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6), "I am L-rd G-d." And any thought that ever comes to one's mind that there is any other G-d beside This [G-d] violates the prohibitive commandment, as it says (Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 5:7), "There shall never be to you any other G-d beside Me." To think this is denial of a Torah foundation, and this is a central foundation upon which everything depends. This G-d is One and He is not two nor more than two. He is specifically One. There is no oneness of any kind anywhere in existence like His. He is not one like a kind which contains several components. [Rambam, Hilchos Yesoday HaTorah, chapter one].


Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevits z'l, former Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, said, "An irresponsible person is a fool. Responsibility is the foundation of being a human being."


The wise person is able to make bad things into good things [Orchos Tzadikim].


True love is created only by giving unconditionally and constantly for the sake of the good, happiness and satisfaction of the recipient. The moment one demands or wants to take, love is dead...How much effort should one make in any worldly undertaking and how much should one have trust in G-d? Do what is considered the proper type and amount of effort, according to the laws of nature, for the achievement of the given purpose or business. The result derived should be considered the will of Hashem and one should have trust that he is receiving from G-d the portion allotted by G-d to him. If one works more than what is considered the regular natural effort that would go in to the task, or if the effort has any sinful element or any harmful side effect, then one is lacking trust in G-d, is not satisfied with his portion and wasting his time and effort on business that is not the will of G-d. [Michtav Mi'Eliyahu].


The Vilna Gaon's students said that the Gemora says that a talmid chachom [sage] should have "one eighth of an eighth (shmini shebi shminis) of arrogance" (the opposite of humility) yet the Gaon was totally humble. They asked him why. He answered cryptically, "Your own question is its own answer." When he saw that they were baffled, he continued. "The gemora uses both masculine (shimini) and feminine (shminis) language. The Gemora should have used one or the other [masculine or feminine language] to be grammatically consistent both times. By changing, what lesson are the sages adding? It is reference to the eighth posuk (verse, masculine noun) of the eighth parsha (Torah portion, feminine noun), which says, 'I am too small to be worthy of all of G-d's kindnesses' (Genesis 32:11). When compared to G-d and His infinite goodness, how can any mortal person really be anything but totally humble?"


A man had serious suffering. He had trouble and pain in many areas of his life, so much so that he felt compelled to ask a local rabbi to help him understand what G-d wanted from him. The rabbi said, "I can't answer you about suffering but Reb Zushia can. Go to Zushia."

The man undertook a long and burdensome journey to the town of Reb Zushia. When he got the town, he was directed to Zushia's address. He was shocked to arrive at a depressing dilapidated shack, with leaks, a dirt floor, no heat nor furniture. Reb Zushia came to the door. He was severely stricken with boils all over his skin. He was wearing rags. The image of Reb Zushia and his sickly physical appearance and his run-down and impoverished hut made the visiting man's heart sink lower than it was from his own suffering and troubles.

Reb Zushia asked kindly and calmly what he could do for the visitor. The visitor explained that he was referred by his rabbi to ask him about handling his suffering.

Reb Zushia replied, "Me explain suffering?" He gently shrugged his shoulders in wonder and said, "How would I know? I have never had any suffering."


There is a law that when one is praying the Shmoneh Esray [the standing silent prayer], another may not go within four "amos" [about eight feet or two meters] in front of the one who is praying. There is another law that one takes three steps back just before the ending paragraph of the Shmoneh Esray. It is considered proper for a person to pray in a "makom kevua [steady place]." The Talmud [Brachos] says that praying in a makom kevua helps one's prayer to be answered by Hashem.

A man, who prayed slowly and carefully, was about to start praying in his makom kevua. A stranger rushed into the shul at the last minute and positioned himself right in front of the man in his steady place. The man moved to his left enough so that the visitor would not be in front of him, reasoning as follows. The visitor would probably pray more quickly and finish sooner. If the visitor was learned, the visitor would have been "trapped" by the man in his regular place, when it would be time to step back and the visitor would notice the man behind him. Moving in front of the man praying (in his steady place) would be forbidden. The visitor would have to stand still and he would be unable to finish the prayer or move for quite some time. If the visitor was not learned, he would have sinned by stepping back in front of the man praying in his steady place. The man praying slowly would have set up a sin, which is also a sin.

Either way, the man in his steady place stood to cause a bad consequence in the eyes of the Torah. He would have been selfish and/or sinful. Prayer is a mitzva and a mitzva must be pure good. Even though a prayer in a steady place is normally more acceptable to Hashem, a tainted prayer would be less acceptable to Hashem. He realized the situation just in the nick of time and sacrificed his steady position so that his prayer would be free from any contradiction and be genuine service of Hashem.


"I place before you life and death, blessing and curse; and You will choose life, in order that you and your descendants will live [Deuteronomy 30:19]." And who would not choose life? Why does the Torah tell us to "choose life?" The Torah is telling us something very serious. It is very possible for a person to mistake what is true life, and many people indeed err. They reason that they will live a life striving after wealth and live a long life of ease and calm, with no worry. But the rich often are troubled and do not have rest and calm. There are paupers who live in lowly homes and are joyous with what they have. They learn Torah and are happy.

The Torah wants us to understand the differentiation between temporary physical life and eternal spiritual life. Hashem puts before us the choice between life and death, blessing and curse. The Torah is urging us to choose eternal and true life. Only this way will we merit that we and our descendants will truly live, together in eternal life. In physical life of wealth, the parent and child do not live together because one generation comes and another goes. Therefore, the Torah is telling us that there is great need and a holy imperative to choose true and spiritual life, loving Hashem, obeying Him and cleaving to Him, because this is the quality and length of a Jew's life.

The famous kabalist, Rabbi Chaim David Azuloi [1700's], writes of an awesome event. Maharam MiRotenburg [1100's] was one of the great Torah authorities and leaders in the era of the Rishonim. He was kidnapped by the gentile king, who demanded an enormous sum of money. Maharam commanded the community to not pay the ransom, because the evil king would learn to keep kidnapping Jewish leaders and demanding unreasonably burdensome sums for their release. Maharam died in captivity and his body was kept by the gentiles in the palace tower.

The Jewish community wanted to at least ransom the body for proper Jewish burial. A very wealthy Jew arranged with the government to personally pay for the release of the body with a large amount of gold, and he also personally honored the remains of Maharam by participating in the funeral and burial.

The day after the burial of Maharam, the pious wealthy man died. After such a magnificent mitzva, the people were stunned. A few days later, the dead man came in a dream to one of his friends to explain what happened. The night after Maharam's burial, Maharam came to the rich man in a dream to thank him for burying his body, adding that he wanted to give the wealthy man a major present and he could choose between two possible things: 1. he would have vast wealth that would continue with his family forever, or 2. he would die immediately with the guarantee that he will have eternal life in the same place as Maharam. The wealthy man chose guaranteed eternal life with Maharam.

This righteous wealthy man stood at the point of choice between life of unlimited material wealth and eternal spirtual true and happy life. He fulfilled the Torah's words, "You will choose life." [Sefer Lekach Tov]


Rabbi Yechezkel Landau [1700's] was one of the great authorities among the Acharonim. He spent all of his life in Torah study. He wrote, in the introduction to his profound halacha sefer [Torah law book], Noda BiYehuda, that he gave thanks to his wife for helping him. He said it was BECAUSE OF HER that he was able to stay in yeshiva and learn Torah.


When the Chafetz Chayim was sixteen, he decide he was going to be a masmid [one who learns Torah constantly]. He forced himself to learn diligently, sleeping only about two hours a night. After a year of this pace, he became seriously ill and was bedridden for the next year and unable to learn Torah. When he saw that his year of inadequate sleep damaged his health for the subsequent year, he said, "I see that being a masmid means making a seder [regular, organized time] for sleep also."


A young woman was widowed. After some time passed, she was ready to start dating and to re-marry. She continued wearing her "shaitl [wig]," since a Jewish woman is required to cover her hair once she has been married. Under some conditions, a woman who is no longer married can obtain a hetter [permission] to uncover her hair. A friend told her to ask a rabbi for a hetter to take off her shaitl while dating, so she would be more attractive and be more able to find a husband. The widow said that this would be compromising her religious standards and that the right man would appreciate her wearing her shaitl.


Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin, called by his initials for short, "the Nitziv," was a leader of Russian religious Jewry for much of the 1800's. He studied Torah all of his life and was known to personally be a tzadik. He is most famous for "Emek Davar," a brilliant multi-volume commentary on the Torah. Late in his life, he published a very profound three-book set on halacha [law]. The day after the three-part set was published, he made a celebrative feast and invited all of the rabbis of the region.

At the meal, he was asked, "Many rabbis publish scholarly books. Why does this one merit a celebration?"

He said that when he was young, he was impoverished. His father badgered him, "Don't stay in learning." "You'll be a pauper." "You'll starve." "You won't be able to have a family." "Come with me into business and make a living." "Be practical." His father basically tortured him. He was suffering so much from his father's nagging and verbal stabbing that at one point he actually considered leaving learning to go into business. He wrestled with his weighty test. After much struggling with the question, he decided that he would stay in learning.

The night after he published his set of halacha books, a malach [angel sent from Heaven] came to him in a dream and said, "This halacha work has been waiting in Heaven and you were the one chosen by Heaven to be the agent to bring it down to earth. By publishing this work, you have achieved the purpose of your life."

The Nitziv said that when he considered the painfully difficult test that he had to go through when he was younger, and that he decided to stay in Torah, and that he learned that he achieved his life's purpose by publishing this book-set, and that he merited G-d's letting him know this through an angel, "Isn't it appropriate that I thank G-d?"


Throughout life, there are many perplexing questions. There are questions of values, priorities or faith. Sometimes that which might be technically right might be far from genuinely right in a given situation. There are things regarding which people can have various attitudes, interpretations and views. How should we understand life? How should we keep from being bewildered, crushed or misled? How do we make decisions or handle situations that are challenging, complex, painful or unclear? How can we keep from having the wrong views, values or understanding of life, in general; and how do we view life's trials or hardships, in particular?

How do we understand or handle suffering or disappointment? How does one handle life situations or choices not specifically spelled out by technical halacha [Torah law], such as a major career decision, which rabbi one should learn from, what to prioritize in the selection of one's marriage partner, what religious projects should an individual or family adopt or drop or modify? How does one know if the course along which his life is going is correct? How does one evaluate what change is necessary? How does one sort out and handle a complex or challenging moral dilemma? How does one decide when a situation is not a routine case and requires a different decision or approach than usual? How does one measure between how much he should work and how much he should learn Torah? How can we retain strong faith in Hashem at times of pain, test or difficulty?

The Torah contains everything [Pirkei Avos chapter Five]. In many parts of the Torah, such as the Talmudic agadata [non-halachic material], midrashim and holy seforim; questions of life, ethics and viewpoint are articulated. In a word, we call this Hashkofa [Torah worldviews and values].

The Torah tells us how to understand life and handle its tests and difficulties. The Torah establishes proper standards, attitudes and perspectives. The Torah gives us the worldviews, concepts, ethics and values that G-d wants the Torah Jew to have and live with.

This Hashkofa section will enable the reader to learn such subjects and to obtain guidance for life.  It will also help the reader to judge occasions when to seek individual Torah guidance or ask a shaalo [rabbinic question]. Through the study of hashkofa, we can come to have clearer minds, better coping powers and the right viewpoints and values that enable us to best manage life in the world that G-d put us into, and live in this world properly as Torah Jews.

  • Values For a Fulfilling and Successful Life
  • A Torah Understanding of Suffering
  • The Key to a Good Life is a Good Heart
  • A Life of Wisdom
  • "Life Messages" For All Year From Jewish Holidays
  • Torah Gems From a Tzadik I Knew: Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman