A ma’amar from HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, Maran’s zt”l grandson
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Great People are Concerned with the Needs of Others!
In this week’s Parashah, after Hashem Yitbarach revealed Himself to Yaakov in a dream and assured him of His blessings, “You shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Bereishit 28:14), Yaakov was very afraid from the dream, and said the following, “Yaakov made a vow, ‘If Hashem will be with me,’ he said, ‘if He will protect me on the journey that I am taking, if He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return in peace to my father’s house, then I will dedicate myself totally to Hashem” (ibid. 28:20-21).
Rabbeinu Ovadiya Sforno z”l (1475-1550), observes that Yaakov vowed that if he will have the smallest amount, to sustain himself, he is prepared to obligate himself to complete subservience in his servitude of Hashem, to withstand every request, even according to the strict attribute of justice!
We may deduce from here a great principle. We learn in Avot (3:17) “If there is no flour there is no Torah”, for a person who doesn’t have what to eat, how will they study Torah? Rabbeinu Ovadiya Sforno writes that for this reason, Yaakov Avinu preceded to bless Zevulun, who engaged in business, before he blessed Yissachar who studied Torah, for it is impossible to study Torah without him having “what he needs for his requirements” (Devarim 15:8). Therefore concerning the Blessing of the Cohanim, the Torah also preceded “May Hashem bless you” with money, “and keep watch over you” from losses, and then “May Hashem make “His presence enlighten you” through the light of His Torah (Bamidbar 6:24-5), for if there is no flour there is no Torah.
However, let us consider that Yaakov Avinu didn’t request from Hashem Yitbarach wealth, honour, assets, or any other material item. Rather he requested the smallest amount, because Yaakov Avinu understood with great clarity that all material goods of this world, have no value, they are only in order that a person will be able to perform Torah and mitzvot with them. Therefore Yaakov said that it is sufficient for him with just “bread to eat and clothing to wear”, the most essential items to sustain himself.
I heard from Maran, my grandfather, Rabbeinu Ovadiya Yosef zt”l, that when he was young, he would go every Friday to study in the Musayaf Bet HaKenesset in Yerushalayim. There was a huge library there, of the Gaon Rebbi Yosef Yedid HaLevi z”l (1867-1930), and therefore Maran zt”l really liked studying in that Bet HaKenesset.
Maran related the following, I would go every Friday, from Shacharit until Shabbat came in and I would take “a banana” so that I may study, and so I learnt until Shabbat came in!
HaGaon Rebbi Ben Tziyon Abba Shaul z”l (1924-1998) related that it happened more than once that Maran zt”l would “wake up” from his learning, only when the tzibbur had already reached Minchah and Kabbalat Shabbat, then he would hurry home, wash and returned to the Bet HaKenesset to pray.
This is how the lives of the great people of Am Yisrael appeared. All aspects of the world were for them like nothing and zero. Likewise, we too, who are regular people, must remember that this world is like a corridor that has at its end a large lounge, and we must prepare ourselves for the real world, the world of eternal reward!
All this is true when we look inwards and have some introspection. However when it is concerning other people, then the picture must change radically. If there are those around us who are struggling who don’t have “what he needs for his requirements”, who doesn’t have what they are used to, one must make the effort to be vigilant and help them as much as is necessary, even for items which are not essential.
The Maggid Meisharim HaGaon Rebbi Yaakov Galinski zt”l (VeHigad’ta, Vayetze [see also at the beginning of VeHigad’ta on Haggadah shel Pesach]), relates that during WWII when the Germans and Russians conquered Poland, there remained one place to escape from the war, that was Lithuania that stood in the middle.
Many of the Polish yeshiva communities found refuge in the city of Vilna, the city of the Gaon Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski z”l (1863-1940). Rebbi Yaakov was one of those yeshiva students, and when he came to Vilna he really wanted to meet HaGaon Rebbi Chaim Ozer and to discuss Torah with him.
Indeed an audience was arranged with the rav. The night before the meeting, Rebbi Yaakov only managed to get to sleep after great difficulty, this was out of excitement due to the anticipated meeting. He memorised with great effort all the main themes of Gemara Yevamot. Since he had studied that in the past year, so that when the Gaon will discuss it with him, he will be able to express himself properly.
The next day, Rebbi Yaakov arrived at the Gaon’s home. There were about 30 people there waiting for their turn, until the door opened and a relative of Rav Chaim Ozer called Rebbi Yaakov by his name.
Rebbi Yaakov stood excited and he was certain that the first question the Rav will ask him will be “What are you learning at the moment?”
To his shock, the Gaon Rebbi Chaim Ozer asked him a different question:
“When did you last receive a letter from your parents?” Rebbi Yaakov responded, “About half a year ago the connection was lost, because they were left on the Russian side.”
Rebbi Chaim Ozer further asked him, “Do you have a blanket?” He didn’t ask him about where he slept, because no one had a place to sleep, they all slept on the benches of the batei midrash. However, someone who didn’t have a blanket, was susceptible to freeze due to the extreme cold. Rebbi Yaakov responded, “I have a blanket.”
Rebbi Chaim Ozer asked, “May I see your shoes?” Rebbi Yaakov presented his shoes before the Gaon which were totally torn. Immediately the Rav placed into Rebbi Yaakov’s hand some money to buy new shoes. He added, “This is your home, it is open to you 24 hours a day!’
The Gaon didn’t examine him on his learning, he didn’t expect to hear from the young student something new in the way of understanding Torah, rather what concerned him, were the troubles and problems of the Jew that stood before him! Such were the great men of Am Yisrael!