Monday, Feb 26, 2024

The Torah Can Become Your Best Friend

 

Rav Yeruchem Olshin, rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah, addressed a recent hachnosas Sefer Torah and shared the following story.

Reb Shneur Olshin, the rosh yeshiva’s son, lived for a while in Deal, New Jersey. While there, someone asked him to learn with a local businessman from the Syrian community named Zuki. Zuki had become interested in learning Torah later in life, and Reb Shneur began learning with him every morning after Shacharis kevosikin, before Zuki went to his real estate office.

Zuki had already passed his eightieth birthday when he started learning, but he approached his newfound relationship with limud haTorah with a burning fire. Reb Shneur relates that he could never miss their learning seder and always had to be on time because he knew how much the seder meant to Zuki. Zuki was excited about learning. He wanted to learn more and more and had a difficult time closing his sefer when it came time for him to go to work. Over time, Zuki requested that they learn various different limudim, including Mishlei, Shir Hashirim, Koheles, Mishnayos, and Gemara. Zuki always kept the same fire, excitement, and desire to delve into Torah.

Zuki’s close friends used to tease him. While he had always been a special Jew, and always loved to daven kevosikin, Zuki hadn’t had a background in Torah study, and had never been one of the baalei batim attending the shiurim in shul. They would joke with him that all of a sudden, later in his life, he not only started learning, but became so super serious about Torah and so closely connected with his learning, more so than others.

“What happened to you in your old age, Zuki?” That’s what they would ask him.

None of Zuki’s friends offered an explanation as to what triggered Zuki’s new relationship with Torah. But so it was: Zuki was learning with a chavrusa every day without fail.

Rav Olshin related that his son, Reb Shneur, suggested that he might know what it was that triggered Zuki’s sudden embrace of Torah study. But to know the rest of the story, we have to go back a few decades.

More than thirty years ago, a talmid chochom from Lakewood named Rabbi Eliyohu Beane, set out on a mission to interview talmidim of Rav Aharon Kotler. Over time, he recorded conversations with dozens of people who knew the rosh yeshiva. These people shared fascinating stories about the Torah, sanctity, and leadership of Rav Aharon, and Rabbi Beane had accumulated a large collection of recordings.

Rabbi Beane used to work near Deal and would often daven in the same shul as Zuki. Occasionally, after davening, Rabbi Beane would share stories about Rav Aharon with Zuki, and he told him about his project to record oral interviews about the rabbon shel Yisroel, Rav Aharon Kotler.

One time, Zuki told Rabbi Beane: “How many people are going to listen to your recordings? If all you have are the recorded interviews, the influence and reach of your efforts to teach people about Rav Aharon and promote kavod haTorah will remain very limited. I will tell you what we need. Instead of just recordings, we need the whole world to know and be inspired by the holy Rav Aharon. You need to publish a book, and then the entire world will be influenced by the Torah and holiness of Rav Aharon!”

Rabbi Beane told Zuki, “I see what you’re saying, but the cost of putting out a book is astronomical. I would need to hire transcribers and editors, and pay for the printing, and I don’t have the funds for it.”

Zuki told Rabbi Beane, “The only thing you need to do is worry about publishing the book. I will worry about paying for it.” Zuki went ahead to cover all the expenses involved in publishing the book, which was printed in 2017 by Feldheim under the title “Pri Tzadik Eitz Chaim – The Fire of Torah.”

It was soon after the book came out that the spark of limud haTorah was kindled in Zuki. How can we explain why sponsoring a book about Rav Aharon would lead to an awakening of Torah study in Zuki’s heart and soul?

Reb Shneur explained based on something that Rav Aharon teaches us in Mishnas Rebbi Aharon. Rav Aharon explains that Torah is an entity unto itself. The Torah is a metzius that was created before the world was created. The Torah has a great light that shines into the soul of the one who studies it. When a person learns Torah properly, the Torah itself is happy, and when a person disrespects Torah, the Torah dons sackcloth and is ashamed.

And when a person learns Torah, the Torah itself comes to testify on his behalf. The Torah vouches for him, comes close to him, and encourages and teaches him and helps him understand. And the Torah turns into his best friend, injecting wisdom, depth, confidence and happiness into his veins.

But all this, says Rav Aharon, is only true if the lomeid Torah treats the Torah properly. He has to give kavod to the Torah. Rav Aharon quotes a Gemara that goes so far as to say that a person should not teach Torah to someone who doesn’t have a chavivus for Torah. So a basic prerequisite for success in limud haTorah is kavod haTorah.

Rav Yeruchem explained that we sometimes make a mistake and think that kavod haTorah is most critical for people who don’t learn Torah. We mistakenly say that people who are not talmidei chachomim should at least have a reverence for Torah and for talmidei chachomim who learn Torah. We think that the lomdei Torah have Torah itself, so the inyan of kavod haTorah is less important to them. However, based on what we just learned from Mishnas Rebbi Aharon, we understand that kavod haTorah is a basic ingredient in hatzlocha in limud haTorah, and it is the proper reverence for Torah that causes the Torah to become our friend, advocate, and teacher.

When I repeated this to my friend, Reb Elisha Levin of Cleveland Heights, he pointed my attention to the Gemara that says that the talmidei Rabi Akiva were punished because they didn’t treat each other with the proper kavod haTorah. We see from there as well that the talmidei Rabi Akiva, who were, without a doubt, great talmidei chachomim, were expected to have a high level of kavod haTorah.

And when a person is mechabeid the Torah, even if he doesn’t yet learn Torah, he becomes a friend of the Torah, and the Torah goes to work for him. The Torah does everything to plant seeds into his heart and helps guide him toward a career of learning.

And this is what Reb Shneur suggested may have happened to Zuki. Why was it so important to Zuki to see to it that the book about Rav Aharon be published? The answer is because he recognized that Rav Aharon was the gadol hador and he wanted to honor the Torah by giving people the chance to be influenced by the light of Torah in Rav Aharon.

And what happened to Zuki when he was mechabeid the Torah? The Torah became Zuki’s best friend. The Torah became happy with him and came close to him. It became injected into his veins with a deep desire to learn and to understand. The Torah held onto Zuki’s hand and heart tightly, and gave him confidence and a teshukah that even many young people don’t have.

There is no better time than now to think about the inyan of kavod haTorah. Hashem Yisborach arranged the miracles of Chanukah through a small group of “oskei Sorasecha.” At a time when the darkness of Greek culture covered the world, and much of Klal Yisroel was confused by what they perceived as the beauty of chochmas Yevonis, the Ribono Shel Olam seared into the neshomah of Klal Yisroel a permanent reminder that we should always bow our heads in front of the Torah and the chachmei haTorah of the generation.

Precisely at the moment that the feeling sneaks inside our hearts to question if the chachmei haTorah “get it,” we should shudder and remember that it is only through them that we are still here.

If we learn this lesson, we will have at least been mechabeid the Torah properly and we will have earned the love of the Torah itself.

Ah freilichen Chanukah to everyone.

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