This Sunday, many of us will complete Maseches Eruvin with Daf Yomi. This will, G-d willing, be a great accomplishment for many for us. The saying goes among many Daf Yomi maggidei shiur that everyone wants brachos, all Jews enjoy Shabbos and I’ll see you on Pesach, referring to the masechta after Eruvin, which is Pesachim. It’s not just that “Eruvin separates the men from the boys,” it is claimed, but Eruvin requires intense concentration, often complex diagrams and mathematical calculations. This must be done, as in my own shiur, in 45 minutes or less, no matter the difficulty of the subject matter or the brain fog early in the morning or late at night. For me, personally, I must confess, I am a word person, not a numbers person. I am also not good at visualizing something with a two-dimensional brain which should be in front of me in its full three-dimensional glory. So, for the seventh time, boruch Hashem, in my Daf Yomi maggid shiur career, I, too, struggled through the 100 or so blatt of Eruvin.
But on Sunday, be’ezras hashem, I will not say goodbye. I will promise “to return to you, Maseches Eruvin” and that “I will not forget you.” This kesher, this eternal knot, will be made all the sweeter because of, not despite, the difficulty Eruvin engendered. Shlomo Hamelech says in Koheles, “Af chochmosi omda li – Still my wisdom stayed with me” (2:9). The Medrash (see Yalkut Shimoni, Koheles 968) expounds upon this, stating, “The wisdom that was learned b’af (with difficulty) is what stayed with me.” Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l not only explained this Medrash. His very life embodied it. Rav Shach quoted the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:12) that “the Torah does not stay with a person unless he virtually kills himself in its tents,” citing the above Medrash. Rav Shach (introduction to Avi Ezri on Noshim) pointed out that this concept seems to contradict a Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 6:5) which teaches that one of the 48 methods for acquiring the Torah is with yishuv, which the Rambam himself defines there as yishuv hadaas (deliberation, i.e., a settled mind). It seems that Torah should not come with hardship at all.
Rav Shach’s answer for the ages was that the Torah is indeed unlike all other areas of knowledge and wisdom. All of them are absorbed by natural means. You put in the effort and you are rewarded by understanding. The Torah, however, comes directly from the mouth of Hashem (Mishlei 2:6). It is a divine gift (Nedarim 55a from Bamidbar 21:18) and therefore must be deserved. How, then, is it acquired? He explained that a person must divest himself of all distractions, throw off all impediments and beg for siyata diShmaya, Divine assistance. Then, in the midst of the difficulty and even pain, he will discover that sense of serenity to understand. But how? The answer, he teaches, is that he must consider the enormity of the wisdom in which he is engaging. It is limitless and infinite, greater than the universe itself. Then he will be permeated with such joy and love for this learning that he will not experience any interference or afflictions. The greatness of what he is doing will uplift him and the light of the Torah will sustain him.”
When Rav Shach was a young orphan, he didn’t want to burden his mother with another mouth to feed, being a very young ten-year-old eldest child. He discovered an abandoned shul that had seforim and sat down to learn. The winters were freezing and there was only a hard bench upon which to seek some rest. He foraged for some food until after a long time an old woman took pity upon him and brought him some food every day. Much later, his future uncle by marriage, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, found the shivering but smiling child and took him to his own home. However, instead of bad memories of his youth, Rav Shach later said that those months in the cold and isolation constituted the best of his learning years. Chochmah shelamadeti b’af.
Today, we rarely experience such encumbrances learning Torah. Some of it is on Zoom, some outside of our regular comfort zone. Some of it is in a Gemara where we find difficulty; some where the Aramaic is a bit overwhelming. Sometimes the sugya is perplexing. Sometimes we are just a bit bored with what seems repetitious. But that is where the brocha of af kicks in if our attitude and kavanos are in order.
My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l (Pachad Yitzchok, Purim, Kuntres Reshimos, page 93) explained that the main desire of the soul when it enters the body is to be in control. This middah of memshalah is at its greatest when the neshomah persuades the body to do something spiritual that is difficult for it. The body recoils, even the intellect resists, but the neshomah prevails. That constitutes the greatest triumph in this world for the power of the human soul. That is chochmhah shelamadeti b’af.
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 3b) teaches that if one who studies Torah at night, Hashem makes him beloved during the day. The Maharsha explains that generally, when a person chases sleep from his eyes and stays up late, he is cranky and unpleasant the next day. However, if a person who stays up to learn Torah, Hashem grants him a special aura of pleasantness because the Torah spreads light and sweetness.
Rav Avrohom, the brother of the Vilna Gaon, writes (introduction to the Sefer Maalos HaTorah) that “I was such a physically weak person that I didn’t even know where I would obtain the strength for basic life. But I know very well that my joy and profound pleasure from exerting myself in Torah is what has literally kept me alive. In other words, it is the opposite of what most of mankind thinks. The general assumption is that things that are disconcerting add to one’s anxieties and reduce one’s life span. However, for those who live Torah, the more difficult something is, the more challenging the learning, not only is the reward greater, but so is the joy as well.
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l (Kuntres Kinyan Torah, page 17) offers an incredible metaphor for this concept. He likens learning Torah to the carrying of the Aron and Luchos by the Levi’im: They had to carry it in the hot sun; it was forbidden to place it upon a wagon. Eventually, “the Aron carried those who [ostensibly] carried it.” With Torah, first one must exhibit mesirus nefesh – self sacrifice and tremendous effort – and then we are carried by the Torah we have studied. Rav Chaim Friedlander (Sifsei Chaim, Moadim 3:202) put it the most succinctly: “The price we pay for success in Torah is the adversity with which it was acquired.” He goes on to urge us to seek ways to learn things that are hard and do not come easily so that we will accomplish the ultimate goal.
I must conclude with a special gift we each of received from Maseches Eruvin. The Rogatchover Gaon (see, for instance, Sefer Maaneach Tzefunos, chapter 17) often points out that the Torah creates its own reality. The world at large sees things one way. When we look with Torah eyes, we see something quite different. Throughout Eruvin, we utilize certain traditions we have directly from Moshe Rabbeinu (Halacha L’Moshe M’Sinai) that literally alter the reality before us. Some of these are called gud asik and gud achis, lavud and pi tikra. Each of these formulations create a connection where there is nothing to be seen. A roof is lowered but only by an act of halacha, not levitation or physical building. A fence is created by the power vested in us by Moshe Rabbeinu. After learning this on a daily basis for over 100 days, we begin to actually live on another plane and in another dimension. We are no longer limited by the constrictions of space, just as the Aron Hakodesh in the Bais Hamikdosh occupied no physical space. It was there, but not where there usually is. This masechta pays us back, as the Sifsei Chaim taught us, by transporting us to a higher and nobler place. We are no longer bound by our masks and social distancing, although we may still be physically shackled. Like many of our ancestors who endured much worse, we can soar above our apparent limitations and see that the Torah grants us a universe of unlimited spiritual pleasure and benefit.
We will not forget you, O Eruvin, and you will not forget us, neither in this world nor in the World to Come.