From HaRav HaGaon Rav David Sh’altiel Shlita”a, son-in-law of HaRav HaChassid HaMekubal Rav Salman Muzafi tzvk”l (1900-1975)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
The Joy of Torah-study May Sweeten the Harshest of Circumstances
In this week’s Parashah it states after the sin of the spies, “When you come to your homeland that I am giving you, you will be presenting fire offerings to Hashem. They may be burnt offerings, or other sacrifices, either for a general or specific pledge, or for your festivals. Taken from the cattle or smaller animals, they shall be meant to provide an appeasing fragrance to Hashem” (Bamidbar 15:2-3). Meaning that after the sin of the spies and after Am Yisrael were informed of their bitter punishment that from now they will be required to wander in the wilderness for forty years, during which time many of the people will die, Am Yisrael mourned in great pain, and then Hashem began to command them about the sacrifices.
It may be asked, why did Hashem command Moshe and Am Yisrael mitzvot that won’t apply to them in any way? The sacrifices weren’t relevant to them at that time for Am Yisrael hadn’t yet reached the Promised Land. If so, mentioning these mitzvot is like “rubbing salt into the wound”. Paining Am Yisrael and oppressing them more and more, knowing that many of them won’t merit to make Aliya to Eretz Yisrael. These needs addressing.
It is explained in Tana D’vei Eliyahu (Midrashim attributed to Eliyahu HaNavi), that at that time when Am Yisrael were informed of their horrendous punishment, that they will linger to die in the wilderness, after it states, “and they were overcome with terrible grief” (Bamidbar 14:39), Hashem said to Moshe, go and appease poor Am Yisrael. For due to their immense pain they won’t cope! Moshe said to Hashem, Master of the World! How shall I appease them? Hashem said to him, go and appease with words of Torah, as it states, “…say to them, When you come to your homeland”.
If we analyse the Tana D’vei Eliyahu we may comprehend why Hashem gave Am Yisrael more mitzvot. Because Am Yisrael were in a state of such immense grief and Hashem wanted to release them from their grief, therefore he said to Moshe go and teach them Torah. Bring them into the world of Torah and mitzvot. Even if you will teach them mitzvot that may distress them, nevertheless, they will come out of their depression! This is the ability of the Torah. It engenders joy in a person’s heart, “[Rebbi Nechunyah ben Hakkanah said,] Anyone who accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah…they remove from him the yoke of worldly concerns” (Avot 3:5).
It is related in Mesechet Semachot that Rebbi Akivah’s son Shimon, became ill and was at death’s door. Nevertheless, Rebbi Akivah didn’t stop going to his Bet Midrash and he continued to toil in Torah-study. So that he would know how his son was doing, Rebbi Akivah sent other people to see how he was. The messengers returned and said, “His illness has worsened”. He sent them a second time and they said, “He is dying”. He sent them a further time until they said, “He is at peace”, meaning he had passed away. He said, “Our brothers the house of Yisrael! Until now we were obligated to study Torah but now we are obligation to show honour to the dead!”
Rebbi Akivah was sitting and studying at the time that his son was dying and yet he had the ability to focus on the depths of halachah! For sure this isn’t in a regular person’s ability to reach such a level immediately. We are dealing here with an exceptional level which requires tremendous preparation and growth.
However, despite this, every person should know that according to his level, through the power of the Torah he becomes fulfilled through a spiritual world that empowers him and instils peace and tranquillity upon him and on his surroundings. I saw with my own eyes, Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef tzvk”l, at difficult times, a few hours before his dear wife, the Rabbanit a”h, passed away, it was extremely difficult for him. But despite this, he was able to gird himself with strength and sat engrossed in his studies. And for a moment it seemed as if he had no worry whatsoever in his heart and it was peaceful for him and he had plenty of tranquillity. This was all with the strength of the Torah that he studied and he applied to himself with tremendous effort throughout his life.
(In volume 3 of Abir HaRoim it is brought that Maran tz”l said that also a woman who is in great distress will find benefit if she studies Torah. Because Torah makes the Jewish soul happy and that these principles weren’t just said regarding a man, but also a woman.)
“Praiseworthy is the person who listens to Me, to hasten to My doors every day, to the doorposts of My entranceways” (Mishlei 8:34). Happy is the person who merits to assign fixed times for Torah-study and to study according to his ability as much as possible in the bet HaMidrash. He sits absorbed in Torah and about whom it is said, “For one who finds Me finds life and elicits favour from Hashem” (ibid. 8:35), he has good life in this world and the principle reward awaits him in the World to Come.