Featured Shavuos Guest – Rabbi David Hirsch – Rosh Yeshiva University And Rabbi Of Kehillas Bais Yosef Passaic New Jersey – The Sweetness Of Torah

Every morning in Birchas Ha-Torah we say Ve-Haarev Na—let the Torah be sweet to us. The Kol Bo (siman 52) writes that on Shavuos, one should eat honey and drink milk, because the Torah is compared to milk and honey. As the Pasuk in Shir HaShirim 4:11 writes, Devash Ve-Chalav Tachas Leshonech. According to the Sefer Pardes Eliezer (Shavuos Ammud 379), the Minhag to consume milk and honey on Shavuos predates the Minhag to eat Milchigs on Shavuos. On Shavuos we must instill in ourselves the idea that Limmud Ha-Torah is sweet, and we must learn in a manner that is sweet to us: asking a kashe, giving a teretz, clearing a chakirah, finding a nafka minah.

The Avnei Nezer (Hakdomah to Eglei Tal) writes that the quintessential component of Limmud Ha-Torah is enjoying the learning. One clings to Torah by being happy with it. The Gemara says in Rosh Hashanah 28a that Mitzvot were not given to derive pleasure from them, but rather, as Rashi writes, to accept the yoke of the kingdom of Hashem. If one takes a Neder not to derive pleasure from the Baal Tokeya, he may still listen to the Tekiyos, because a Mitzvah is not pleasure. The Mechaber in Yoreh Deah siman 221 seif katan 11 paskens that if Revuen takes a Neder forbidding Shimon from using his Sefer, it is forbidden for Shimon to use Reuven’s Sefer. Asks the Taz (Yoreh Deah siman 221 seif katan 43): Why don’t we say Mitzvos are not pleasure or benefit and allow Shimon to use Reuven’s sefer, since he is fulfilling the mitzvah of learning Torah? The Taz answers that Talmud Torah is unlike other Mitzvos. Learning Torah makes a person happy; it is assur to learn regular Torah during shivah because it makes one happy. Torah is sweet like honey. Therefore, the Mechaber paskens that Shimon is unable to use the Sefer because he would derive pleasure from it. This theory is corroborated by Rav Avraham Min Ha-Har on Nedarim 48a (Dibbur Ha-Maschil “sefarim”). He quotes the Pasuk in Tehillim 19:8, “Pikudei Hashem Yesharim Mesamchei Lev,” and explains that the ikar of Limmud Ha-Torah is the pleasure of understanding it, and this makes one’s heart happy automatically.

This Chiddush of the Avnei Nezer fits beautifully with the Levush in siman 47 seif katan 1 in Orach Chaim. The Levush there categorizes Birchas Ha-Torah as a Birchas Nehenin. How can be this? We don’t eat or drink Torah! Yet Birchas Ha-Torah is a Birchas Nehenin because we love and derive pleasure from learning. It is not like the Rambam, who holds that Birchas Ha-Torah is a Birchas Ha-Mitzvah on Talmud Torah, or like the Ramban, who holds that it is a Birchas Ha-Shevach praising Hashem for giving us the Torah. Rather, Birchas Ha-Torah is a Birchas Nehenin on the Torah itself.

Based on the Kol Bo, we have a minhag in our house to dip the Challah into honey on Shavous. At the same time, however, I have never drunk a glass of milk before on Shavuos, but maybe we should. Perhaps we can even make it chocolate milk.

May Hashem remove this virus from the planet, and may He heal the cholim and protect the healthy. May Hashem assist us all in coming closer to Him by enjoying His Torah. Chag Sameach.



Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Bamidbar – The Sustaining Environment Of Torah

On Lag B’Omer I was invited to participate in two Zoom weddings. One was in the Barn Estate in Clayton, Ohio. Yes, the wedding was taking place…in a barn! Only family attended, but since they had many brothers and sisters, they needed a large open area. This huge farm facilitated social distancing. The other wedding took place in the rural hills of Pennsylvania on a huge open field. Although the setting of either wedding was not what the chasan and kallah had dreamt of, each wedding was one of great joy.

In truth, this reminds me of my grandparents’ wedding. Theirs was the first wedding to take place after the war in the Eisenmann Shul, the only shul in Antwerp, Belgium, that was not destroyed by the Nazis. There were 35 people at the wedding, and unfortunately their parents were not in attendance since they did not survive the war. Yet, my grandmother told me the wedding was incredibly joyous.

Having a wedding in an isolated place is nothing new to klal Yisrael. The first Jewish “wedding” was in the middle of the desert at Har Sinai, with the giving of the Torah! Only the marrying parties were there: the Jewish nation and Hashem. The wedding was broadcast to the entire world. The entire world shook when Hashem said “Anochi, I am Hashem.” This was the first Zoom- equivalent wedding!

But why does the Midrash not mention a baser element that is free for the taking, air?
The Ben Yehoyada brings a Gemara that tells us that when Hashem was giving the Torah, He took the mountain of Sinai and held it over klal Yisrael “as a barrel” and said, “If you accept the Torah, good. If not, I will place the mountain down over you.” The Maharsha comments on the comparison of the mountain to a barrel. When placing an inverted barrel down, it traps whatever is underneath it. Klal Yisrael would not be squashed by the mountain; rather, they would be stuck inside the hollowed-out part of the mountain. Since fire was blazing as Hashem gave the Torah, the fire would suck up all the oxygen and there would be no air to breathe inside the mountain.

That’s why the Torah is not compared to air, because without the acceptance of the Torah by klal Yisrael, there would have been no air! Why the threat to remove the air? It signifies that the Torah is our oxygen and we can’t live without it.

But I would suggest a different approach. The Torah way of life creates its own life-supporting environment. Rabbi Akiva compared a fish needing water to a Jew needing Torah learning. Fish live in a different environment from humans. They have an entirely different way of breathing. Fish also need oxygen, but they get it from the water, something human bodies can’t do. In an analogous way, the Torah provides a life-supporting environment for its followers within klal Yisrael.

At the start of Sefer Bamidbar, the Torah outlines the journeys of the Jews in the desert. We see a unique nation, not yet arrived at its promised land. This is a nation defined by its marriage to the Almighty, with the Torah being the marriage contract. The message for us is clear: We may live in the world together with other nations, but we in fact live in an entirely different environment. We get our oxygen through Torah study and fulfillment of its mitzvos.

Yacov Nordlicht – Shavuos – A New Birth

In this week’s parsha, we find a peculiar pasuk which reveals a very deep yesod. In the beginning of the third perek, the pasuk says, “And these are the offspring of Moshe and Aharon”. However, the pesukim go on to only mention the children of Aharon. The obvious question is, why does the Torah introduce the counting of Aharon’s sons with “these are the offspring of Moshe and Aharon” while it continues to list only the children of Aharon!?

Rashi anticipates this problem and says that the reason the Torah mentions Moshe is because Moshe taught Aharon’s children Torah, and if one teaches another Torah its akin in the eyes of the Torah as if he has given birth to him. (As a side note, this Rashi seems to be a little bit difficult to understand. Moshe taught Torah to all of Klal Yisrael, so it should have mentioned Moshe by the counting of the children of all the shvatim…)

What’s this idea? What does it mean that if a person teaches another Torah it’s considered as if he had given birth to him? What change happens in order to consider the person a “new” individual?

There’s a yesod I heard a while ago from Rav Yehuda Vagshal which I think is applicable to answer this question. There’s a famous ma’amer of Chazal which says, “ain ben chorin eleh mi she’osek b’Torah”, “there’s no free person besides for one who toils in Torah.” Chazal learn this out of a pasuk which says that divrei Torah are “charus al luach libo”, that is, “engraved in the walls of one’s heart.” Chazal tell us not to read it “charus”, “engraved”, rather “cheirus”, “freedom”.

It’s brought down in seforim that when chazal darshan like this, there’s always a connection between the word being changed and the word its being changed to. In our case, that would mean there’s a connection between “charus” and “cheirus”; “engraved” and “freedom”. What’s the connection between the two words?

To explain this, we can start with a parable. There are two ways a person could make a picture on a rock. He could take some paint and smear it on a rock. In this way, the paint would remain the same paint and the rock would remain the same rock, the paint would just happen to be on the rock. Another way to make this picture would be if the artist chose to engrave the image into the rock itself. In this way, the rock itself would portray the image wanted.

The same is true with learning Torah. A person can learn Torah in such a way where the Torah exists outside of him. Just like the paint on the rock, the essence of the person remains unchanged, he just happens to know some Torah. A deeper way to learn is for the person to engrave the words of Torah into his heart. In this way, his essence is changed; it itself speaks Torah.

That’s the connection between the word “charus”, “engraved”, and “cheirus”, “freedom.” A person who learns Torah is considered free. But which type of learning Torah? Only one who engraves the words of Torah into “luach libo”, the walls of his heart.

I think this could be the pshat in the Rashi we mentioned earlier. When one teaches another Torah, why is it considered as if he has given birth to him? Because if Torah is taught and learnt in the correct way, the essence of the person changes. He’s no longer the same person he was before he learned Torah. If he allows the words of Torah to penetrate him, they become engraved in his heart. Then the heart itself speaks these words of Torah.

Next week it will be Shavuos. Besides for being an intense day of Limud Hatorah, the Torah tells us that the korban brought on Shavuos was a Mincha Chadasha. I saw once (I believe a Sfas Emes) that the Mincha Chadasha was brought specifically on Shavuos because the essence of Shavuos is a day of hischadshus, renewal. So if we’ve spent the past year to busy or to complacent to try to engrave Torah into ourselves, Shavuos is the day for the Tikkun. To reflect on the meaning of Torah and the role it plays in our lives. Is it our essence, or merely something we know? Is it the paint on the rock, or is it a part of the rock itself?

This question can serve as a good preparation for Shavuos, to approach the day with a proper mindset and desire to become a person who exudes the message of the Torah from the essence of his being.