• Akiva Murguia

Rabbi Elimelech Biderman - Torah Wellsprings - Acharei Mot - Kedoshim - Part 1


In this week's parashah, we are told to fear parents, as it states, "One should fear his mother and father" (19:3). Rashi writes, "How does one fear one's parent? Don’t sit in your parent's place, don’t speak instead of him, don’t contradict him…" The Sfas Emes (6531) writes, "The Zohar states that Hashem is the Father of the Jewish nation, and it states, that Hashem's honor fills the world. Therefore, with everything one does, the big and the small, it is only with Hashem's might and one mustn’t sit on Hashem's place." Hashem leads the world, and one shouldn’t metaphorically sit in Hashem's place to think that he’s in charge of his own destiny. One should fear Hashem and recognize that everything that happens is from Him.

In Novardok there was a bachur who wasn’t gifted with intelligence. Nevertheless, what he lacked in brains, he made up with mazal, because he won the lottery. His friends asked him how he came up with the winning number. He told them that in his dreams he was told to play 17, 18, 370. They asked him, “But the lottery ticket only has room for three numbers! How did you write all those numbers on the card?” He answered, “I realized that I couldn’t write all the numbers, so I added up the three numbers, and wrote the sum total, 415, on the lottery ticket.” They said, “Your math is wrong. 17 + 18 + 370 = 405, not 415!” He answered, “It’s a good thing that I’m not as wise as you. If I’d be wise like you, I wouldn’t win the lottery…” Reb Avraham Yoffen zt’l, rosh yeshiva of Novardok, repeated this story to show that wealth isn't the product of intelligence, it's a gift given by Hashem. Sometimes people think, “I became wealthy because I made a wise investment." Or they think, "That person isn't wise, and therefore he’s poor." This story reminds us that parnassah isn't the product of wisdom, only Hashem's plan determines who will have wealth and who won't. The story also reminds us that even a fault (such as the Novardok fool's lack of intelligence) can be the source of his salvation, since everything is in Hashem's hands.

The Torah tells us åéäú íéùåã÷, to be holy. How does one become holy? By studying Torah, because no holiness compares to the holiness of Torah, and whoever devotes himself to studying Torah is sanctified, kodesh kadoshim (see Rambam end of hilchos Shmitah v'Yovel). Similarly, the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 3) states, "Whoever studies Torah, he is like the cohen gadol who entered the kodesh kadoshim. The Beis Yisrael zt'l would say that man's mission in life is to be holy, and one doesn’t acquire this sanctity without hours of uninterrupted Torah study.

The Chinuch (419) writes, “A person is obligated to learn Torah until the day he dies… Even as he is dying, chazal say he must study Torah even then... Every Yid is obligated to study Torah regardless of whether he is wealthy or poor, healthy or afflicted… Even a pauper who goes door to door for handouts, even someone who has a wife and children [and has financial obligations], they are all obligated to have set times for Torah study by day and by night. The very first judgment after one’s demise is for bittul Torah… One shouldn’t say that he will study Torah when he has free time, because that time may never come. As chazal [Avos 2:4] say, 'Don’t say I will study Torah when I have time, because that time might never happen.' One doesn’t know what the future will bring. Every day new obligations prop up, which steer the person from one distraction to the other. He will end his entire life without anything at all, unless he forces himself to study Torah. Whoever does so… will earn assistance from Above, and Heaven will lessen the hardships of life… He will be tranquil all his life in this world, and it will be good for him in Olam HaBa. Fortunate is the one who speaks to the listening ear…” This final sentence implies that the Chinuch is hoping that people will listen to his counsel and dedicate time to Torah despite all the hardships and obligations of life. And as he promises, when one does so, he will see that things will become easier for him. He thought that he has so many things to do, he doesn’t have time for Torah, when actually, by studying Torah, matters will become more tranquil, and he will have time for Torah and for all his obligations.

The Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:8-10) writes, “Every male Jew is obligated to study Torah, regardless whether poor or rich, healthy or baal yesurim (afflicted) young or very old and doesn’t have strength. Even a pauper who collects money from door to door, and even someone who has a wife and children, they must set times for learning Torah by day and by night. Until when is one obligated to study Torah? Until the day he dies… and whenever he doesn’t study Torah, he forgets…”

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 92:1) states, “Everyone has yesurim. Fortunate is the one whose yesurim is from studying Torah.” This is Tehillim, “Fortunate is the person who has yesurim (suffering) by learning Torah.” Learning Torah isn’t always easy. For example, when one stays up late to study Torah, he is enduring yesurim. It isn’t easy for him. But these yesurim will be in exchange of other yesurim, chalilah.

When one studies Torah, he has the joy of Torah, which gives him respite in the midst of all his hardships and toil.

The Chofetz Chaim (Ahavas Chessed 2:11) writes, “I heard from a certain talmid chacham that a person should think the following three thoughts [and he will surely devote himself to Torah study]: (1) One should think that he has only one more day to live. (2) He only has this one page of Gemara to study (or this chapter of Mishnayos to study). (3) He is the only person in the world whom Hakadosh Baruch Hu commanded him to study Torah. Thus, the existence of the entire world is dependent solely on him. [These contemplations will cause him to devote himself to Torah, because] (1) By thinking that he only has one day to live… he won’t push off studying Torah for tomorrow. (2) Also, by thinking that he only has a small amount of material to study, he will not be lazy. Whereas when the yetzer hara gives him the notion that he still has a lot to accomplish, and that it will be a long time, and a lot of toil, until he finishes the seder Mishnayos or the misechta, it will discourage him and take away his motivation. (3) When he thinks that the survival of the entire world is dependent on his Torah study, it will cause him to be swift [to do Hashem's service and to study Torah]... In my opinion" the Chofetz Chaim concludes, "these ideas are hinted to in kriyas Shema. 'Love Hashem your G-d with all your heart…' How does one reach that level? 'These words…' think that you only have to learn these few words — just one chapter, just one page — and nothing else. 'that I am commanding you.' Consider it as though Hashem has only commanding you. There is no one else in the world commanded to study Torah, other than you. consider your obligation is only for today. keep these thoughts constantly in your mind," and you will devote yourself for Torah.

One shouldn’t say he is sinful and therefore Hashem doesn’t want his Torah. He should remember how the Jewish nation was on the forty-ninth level of impurity and just fifty days later Hashem gave them the Torah. This demonstrates that even if you are at a very low level, Torah is for you; Torah will elevate you.

It’s the struggle that’s always most precious to Hashem.

If it’s hard for you to study Torah, then that makes your Torah study even greater and more precious to Hashem. As chazal say, "Better once with hardships, than a hundred without hardships" (Avos d’Reb Nosson 3:6).

Chazal therefore say, “If your head hurts, study Torah” (Eiruvin 54.). You shouldn’t stop learning when your head hurts, or when you have some other difficulty or disturbance, because these are the moments your Torah is most valuable. One hour of learning under duress is equivalent to a hundred hours of studying when everything is well.

The Ramban writes, "It is impossible for the Torah to teach each detail of proper conduct, such as: how to behave towards friends and neighbors, how to do business, how to establish community laws, [and so on]. So after the Torah tells us many laws, such as the prohibition of lashon hara, taking revenge, holding a grudge… to stand up for the elderly, and the like, the Torah tells us in general terms, "do that which is correct and good… Everything that one does should be correct." In this vein, the mitzvah of 'kedoshim tihiyu' (to be holy) is a general mitzvah, urging us to live with holiness.

There are no set rules of how to be holy, or how to be "correct and good." The obligation to "Be holy," is an attitude. Therefore, the application of these mitzvos will vary according to each person's level, needs, and circumstances.

Not everything that's permitted should be done. There's a fifth Shulchan Aruch, an understanding of right and wrong that isn't explicitly spelled out in the Torah, but is implied by the words 'and you should do the correct and the good.'


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