Monday, January 29, 2007

Daf Yomi - Taanis 21 - Studying in Yeshiva


Preparation for Mattan Torah
Through the Forty-Eight Acquisitions (Kinyan Torah)

Acquiring `Yishuv' can only be Done through Sitting in [Yeshiva] Study

by HaRav Matisyohu Salomon

The reason why we study the chapter of Kinyan Torah before Shavuos

The forty-eight ways to acquire Torah are enumerated in the sixth chapter of Pirkei Ovos, that is sometimes called Kinyan Torah. Even though several reasons are stated, it is worthwhile reviewing the thoughts of the Chossid Yaavetz as quoted in Midrash Shmuel as follows:
Torah can only reside in a [human] vessel which is devoid of evil traits and filled with worthwhile attributes. This is what Hashem hinted at when He said (right before Mattan Torah), "Prepare yourself for three days time. Do not approach a woman" (Shemos 19:15). The Jews were also told to launder their clothing and to purify it from the contamination and dirt which prevent a soul from ascending. All the chapters preceding this are filled with important practices which draw a person's soul closer to its Creator and rouse a person to better serve Him.

This is why it is customary to study this chapter before Shavuos, commemorating the Giving of the Torah, in order to draw Divine mercy upon those who are already worthy, as happened to our ancestors in this season. The entire chapter evokes a yearning for Torah and a love towards it. And even if the other chapters talk about this as well, this one is wholly devoted to the subject of acquiring Torah and it is a summary of all that precedes it.

To be sure, we must always strive to acquire Torah, but this particular season is more conducive to it due to the impact and inspiration which Jewish souls received at that time in history and which sparks and re-ignites our own souls at this time as well.

This chapter is called Kinyan Torah because it concerns those important traits which must precede our entering a covenant of Torah. They must enter a person like water so that he delve in Torah purely for its own sake, just as it is written about Rachel, the wife of R' Akiva. "She saw that he was unassuming and said [to him]: I will agree to be married to you on condition that you go study." In the end, he became the famous R' Akiva.

This chapter begins with the teaching of R' Meir, who was his disciple, and it is studied right before Shavuos, which commemorates the Giving of the Torah. R' Simcha Zissel of Kelm zt'l wrote a letter to his son on erev Shavuos (in Ohr RaShaZ, parshas Emor), explaining that this is why we count forty-nine days before the Giving of the Torah: they are an introduction, a preface, to the acquisition of Torah in nature, to prepare a person so that he and the Torah will be one. It is written first, "That his desire be Hashem's Torah," and afterwards, "and he shall delve in his own Torah . . . "

Upon each of the forty-eight days one should study a different `gateway' so that on the forty-ninth, they will all be united into one single entity. By being unified, a person will find it easier to enter the inner sanctum of the secrets of Torah, which is wholly sweet and preciously desirable. There is no better preparation than this.

How fitting it is to conclude with the words of the Ohr HaChaim on Chukas where he writes: There is no commandment which does not incorporate esoteric secrets which were revealed to Moshe. A person should strive to acquire Torah through the forty-eight ways enumerated in Mishnas Chassidim, for then he becomes privy to the secrets of Torah which were revealed to Moshe at Sinai. Moshe revealed these secrets, as well as the reason and the basis for the mitzvos, to the Jews of his generation.

"And you shall heed My commandments" (Vayikra 26:3). On this posuk he comments that this can be fulfilled through acquiring the Torah in the forty-eight ways mentioned in Pirkei Ovos (Mishnas Chassidim). Not everyone who desires Torah can possess it. He must do so through the 48 steps. This is what is meant by "If you walk in My statutes." If you wish to possess Torah, you must fulfill the condition of "and you shall keep My commandments and do them." This refers to the 48 steps.

In Emunah uBitochon (chapter 3, os 9) by the Chazon Ish, it is written that the Torah is acquired through 48 ways, each of which is supernatural; one must leave behind habit, human nature and foibles, and strive for perfection until he reaches the stage where he is not disturbed or hindered in his devoted aspiration and powerful diligence.

Why is Prayer Not Included in the 48 Steps?

In maseches Niddah 70b we find: The people of Alexandria asked R' Yehoshua ben Chananya what a person should do in order to grow wise. He said: Let him increase his Torah study and reduce the time he spends in engaging in trade.

They said: But many have tried that and not succeeded. What then?

Let them ask for mercy from the One Who possesses all the wisdom, as it is written, "For Hashem shall grant wisdom; from His mouth, knowledge and understanding" (Mishlei 2:6).

What does this mean? Why did he have to suggest that they increase their study time if wisdom is dependent upon Divine mercy? Because one without the other is of no avail.

In other words, since one cannot achieve or attain anything without prayer, it is clear that even Torah knowledge cannot be acquired without accompanying prayer. In fact, the lack of prayer is a very crucial reason why so many tried to increase study time but found that they did not increase their wisdom. If this is so, it seems strange that no mention was made of prayer as one of the forty-eight ways of acquiring Torah knowledge.

We also found it written in Pirkei Ovos (1:2) that the world stands on three things: Torah, avodoh, gemilus chassodim. Rabbenu Yonah explains that avodoh signified the sacrifices, but now that the Beis Hamikdosh is destroyed our prayers take the place of those sacrifices. "And to serve Him with your whole heart." How does one serve with the heart? Through prayer.

Prayer is not only a substitute or an aid; it is a goal unto itself. Anything that is lacking in the world is purposely this way in order to get us to pray to Hashem and worship Him. Prayer is a pillar unto itself, equal to Torah and gemilus chassodim in the upkeep of the world and the channeling of Hashem's bounty to the world, both materially and spiritually.

If we lack wisdom to fully understand Torah, we must pray to Hashem for that understanding. Indeed, Torah is not different from any of the other things that require our prayers. For prayer is not so that we fill our lack in Torah, but rather, our lack in understanding Torah is so that we pray for wisdom!

The pillar of prayer is certainly not a unique requirement for the acquisition of Torah but each and every step, every acquisition, requires separate additional prayer to succeed at it, for you can't have one without the other. So you see that prayer cannot be enumerated separately from the forty- eight steps for building a Torah crown, since it must accompany each one. It is a major supporting pillar for the whole world and not merely one of the ways to gain Torah.

Acquiring `Yishuv' can only be Done through Sitting in [Yeshiva] Study

What does beyishuv (one of the 48 steps) mean?

Rashi says that one must literally sit, sit and learn, for the more one does that, the more knowledge one can absorb, as mentioned before, "What shall a person do in order to be wise? Let him increase his yeshiva."

Why, indeed, is a place of Torah study called a yeshiva? We find other names for this, such as beis medrash. But since acquiring Torah knowledge is the most difficult of all, one who doesn't have the patience, the sitzfleish to apply himself, to be diligent, to study without interruption, cannot achieve this kinyan. We shall now attempt to explain what it means "to increase one's sitting."

Studying biyeshiva was already practiced by our Ovos. We find it written in Yoma 28b that our ancestors were always involved in yeshiva and never stopped learning. "Avrohom Ovinu was old and sat in yeshiva . . . Yitzchok Ovinu was old and sat in yeshiva . . . Yaakov Ovinu was old and sat in yeshiva . . . "

Studying in Yeshiva Means Being Occupied in Eternal Life and Forsaking Temporal Life
It is written in Taanis 21a that Ilfa and R' Yochonon were studying Torah together. Being both poverty stricken, they decided to stop learning and engage in business to keep themselves alive. After all, they argued, the Torah does state that "there shall be no pauper in your midst" (Devorim 15:4). And so, they left the walls of the beis medrash.

They were sitting eating their bread near a crumbling wall which threatened to collapse, when two [invisible] angels came and one said to the other, "Let us topple the wall onto them and kill them." Why? Because, explains the gemora, they were abandoning eternal life (says Rashi - - Torah) in exchange for temporal life [preparing to earn a livelihood]. The second angel replied, "But one of them is destined to become great in Torah. His time has not yet come to die."

R' Yochonon heard this but he realized that Ilfa didn't, and he concluded that it must apply to him and not to Ilfa. "I will return to the beis medrash," he said to himself, "and fulfill the verse, `For there shall never cease to be paupers in the midst of the land.' "

At first, R' Yochonon felt it was permissible to seek his livelihood by going out to work so as not to starve, but having heard the words of the angels, he decided to enter the other category mentioned in the Torah and live in poverty.

And so, Ilfa went forth to seek his fortune, while R' Yochonon returned to the beis medrash where he was shortly afterwards appointed rosh yeshiva. It was customary at that time for those who appointed a rosh yeshiva to support him in material comfort.

And they said to Ilfa, "Had you continued to stay here and study, we would have appointed you as our head, as we did to R' Yochonon." He was very perturbed at these words and went to the harbor, where he climbed up on a high ship's mast, declaring, "Whoever has a question [in Torah] to ask, can still ask me." . . . despite the fact that I am engaging in trade and not study.
Along came R' Chiya and R' Oshiya with their questions, which Ilfa was unable to answer. Thereupon, he cast himself into the water and drowned. [This is the way it is written in Dei'ah vedibur, however there is a printers mistake. This is what Ilfa would have done if he didn't respond correctly. However, he did answer correctly and never cast himself into the water.]

R' Yochonon became a famous rosh yeshiva who had many disciples in his lifetime and after his death. To this day, his lips `murmur in the grave' each time his teachings are reviewed. In contrast, Ilfa lost his Torah knowledge, even though in his prime, he had been considered very astute and brilliant. So we cannot help but see the power of yeshiva, of sitting and persevering in study.

Let us further examine the words of the angels, "They are abandoning eternal life in exchange for temporal life." A Jew must view the world, his goal in life, as Torah being "our life and the length of our days." A Jew must bear in mind that every moment which he spends in the beis medrash is a moment of eternity. How can he countenance the thought of leaving that, of exchanging Torah study for momentary, mundane activities of no lasting value. Above all, it is denigrating the honor of Torah!

A person may, of course, argue that setting aside eternal life to engage in mundane activities is dictated by need; he is being coerced by circumstances to do so. The answer is that perhaps this is true, but he must not rely on this argument. It does not altogether address his problem. We see that at the onset, both R' Yochonon and Ilfa felt they were forced to leave their study and decided to seek work. But they made this decision on their own, when they should have asked their masters and teachers.

This was the prosecuting argument of the angels. And this argument is still as valid today as it was with regard to R' Yochonon and Ilfa. Whoever has the opportunity to remain within the sanctuary of the beis medrash, to acquire more Torah knowledge and occupy himself with eternal life, is required to do so. If at any point he feels forced to leave those walls, he must weigh this matter very carefully and consult his Torah superiors before doing so. He must realize that if he does opt to leave, he is verily abandoning eternal life in exchange for mundane life.

In Hilchos Talmud Torah (perek 3:13), the Rambam states: "For it appears that he showed no deference to the words of Torah at all. So long as he is able to continue studying Torah and does not do so, or if he studied at length and then left his study in favor of worldly pursuits - - he is considered to be abusing and offending the word of Hashem."

The Difference Between a Ben Yeshiva and a Secular Student

In Letter 74 of a compilation of his responsa and correspondence, HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l writes an essay titled, "It is good for a man to bear the yoke [of Torah] in his youth." He quotes Maran HaRav Chaim Volozhiner ztvk'l who insisted on changing the terminology that was prevalent in his days regarding yeshiva life. Instead of using "yeshiva student," he preferred to call his disciples bnei yeshiva.

Why did he feel it important to change the accepted usage? By illustration, R' Yitzchok Hutner explains the difference between a secular university student who listens to lectures from his professors and the thousandfold difference of a yeshiva student listening to a shiur from his rov. He compares them to a nursing mother and a cook.

They both provide nourishment, but whereas the cook processes the material at her disposal, the nursing mother gives of herself, of her own flesh and blood. The nursing mother is feeding her infant so that he should grow and be strong; she is willing to give of her very essence for that purpose. The cook, on the other hand, is only interested in producing a tasty meal from the ingredients at hand and nothing more; she does not give anything of her own resources or essence.

This is the difference between a university lecturer and lehavdil a master teaching Torah. The latter provides his students with his own lifeblood; he gives from his quintessence, his very core. The professor merely teaches the material at his disposal, without adding any element from within himself. The moment his pride is injured, his whole spirit will be shattered.

It should also be remembered that if the rov were not teaching, he would be learning Torah on his own and improving himself, raising himself to a more exalted spiritual level, in greater measure than the mere time allotted for giving the shiur. In this aspect, as well, the Torah teacher is sacrificing his own self for the sake of his pupil.

This, then, was the pressing reason why R' Chaim changed the terminology from "yeshiva student" to "ben yeshiva" or "ben Torah." In other words, the yeshiva hall is not a place where spiritual food is prepared, but a virtual place for soul sustenance and nourishment.

This obligates the Torah student to persevere in pure yishuv, sitting power. He may be considered a student even if he comes and goes, but he is only called a ben yeshiva if he perseveres in sitting, staying put, because the act of sitting in study application is the source of a person's vitality; it is the origin of his nurture, nourishment, and his designation as a true ben Torah.

This is the acquisition of yishuv, as Rashi notes, that he amplify and increase his yishuv, for yeshiva — sitting and learning — is eternal life. Chazal tell us that one must yarbeh biyeshiva, for whoever disconnects himself from Torah is as if he is detaching himself from life.

Based on material from the sefer Matnas Chaim, by HaRav Matisyohu Salomon on the 48 Steps to acquire Torah.


robert said...

And they said to Ilfa, "Had you continued to stay here and study, we would have appointed you as our head, as we did to R' Yochonon." He was very perturbed at these words and went to the harbor, where he climbed up on a high ship's mast, declaring, "Whoever has a question [in Torah] to ask, can still ask me." . . . despite the fact that I am engaging in trade and not study.
Along came R' Chiya and R' Oshiya with their questions, which Ilfa was unable to answer. Thereupon, he cast himself into the water and drowned.

i don't understand. the gemora never said this!!! He did not drown. suicide is forbidden. Some explain that he never attempted to drown but did teshuva and the whole thing is a moshel for dwrowning in a sea of torah - meaning If he could not answer the question ( which he could and did) hen he would return to the beis midresh and drown himself in torah - learning all day

Avromi said...

I saw in one sefer that he knew how to swim

Avromi said...

and that is why it was mutar for him to say that he will jump.

Anonymous said...

I have a Derasha of my own. Ever notice the next Gemara that's right after this Gemara disparaging the working guy (he had too get on a mast to prove his point) the blood letter doctor who got a message from yeshiva Shel Malah on a daily basis. He was on a higher level and the yeshiva guy did not reach the level that the working guy did The doctor who used his talents for good and gave tzedukah in the best way and was Makpid on Tznius and he was the one who got the daily hello from the yeshiva Shel Malleh while the others just Erev Shabbos or Erev Yom Kippur. This in no way disparages yeshiva guys but if Yeshiva it is not for everyone then you can reach a higher level doing your work a good and proper way. Then this second Gemara's positioning is a chizuk.