Torah thought forFriday 3 Adar 5783 February 24 2023

Parashat Terumah

(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

It Isn’t Enough to Study Torah and Observe the Mitzvot Ourselves, We Must Also Merit Others

It states in the Parashah, “[Separate] your brother Aharon and his sons from amongst Yisrael [and] bring them close to you, to be Cohanim to Me” (Shemot 28:1). Meaning that Hashem said to Moshe, that Aharon his brother and his children after him, they will be the Cohanim in Am Yisrael.

Our chachamim say that at the time that Moshe Rabbeinu was informed “[Separate] your brother Aharon [and] bring them close to you”, it was unpleasant for him because Moshe Rabbeinu knew that initially Hashem wished to merit him and his children in the Kehunah (Priesthood). But because he had delayed for seven days and didn’t want to go and redeem Am Yisrael, each day giving Hashem a different reason why he didn’t want to redeem Am Yisrael, therefore he was punished that he forfeited the Kehunah. For it then states in the Torah, “Hashem displayed anger towards Moshe. ‘Is it not Aharon the Levi your brother?’ He said. ‘I know that he knows how to speak!’” (ibid. 4:14). Indeed we see that Aharon was initially called “HaLevi”, for Moshe was destined to hold the Crown of Kehunah, but he lost it because he declined for a week to redeem Am Yisrael himself, therefore it was unpleasant in Moshe’s eyes and he was in pain that he had been punished.

We must know that Heaven orchestrated these events, that in the end Moshe Rabbeinu remained Am Yisrael’s leader, in that he merited to the Crown of Torah, which is superior that the Crown of Kehunah. As our chachamim taught, “They shall call you by your name and sit you in your place, and from your own shall they give you. A person doesn’t touch that which is prepared for their fellow and no kingship touches another even by a hair’s breadth” [Yoma 38a-b]. For in every generation Hashem appoints people that will stand at the head of the people to lead them in His ways.

In every generation Heaven directs matters that Am Yisrael will have someone according to their level. In a generation where there are many geonim (great scholars), then Am Yisrael has a leader who is a gaon, sharp and knowledgeable, like the “Rogatchover Gaon” (Rav Yosef Rosen z”l, 1858-1936). In earlier generations, like Rambam and Ramban because their generations were extremely bright. Likewise in the Noda B’Yehudah’s (Rav Yechezkel ben Yehuda HaLevi Landau z”l 1713-1793) generation, Hashem placed the Noda B’Yehudah to be the gadol ha’dor. A person who studies the works of the Noda B’Yehudah will see that he has a collection of dershaot that he gave in Prague. It is called “Doresh LeTziyon” and is replete with in-depth analyses and incredibly beautiful ideas. If someone would stand today and give these derashot no one would understand what he is saying. Great geonim sit and study these derashot assiduously until they understand them.

They relate that prior to the Noda B’Yehudah being appointed to his rabbinic position in Prague another gaon was proposed whose name was Rav Zerach Eidlitz z”l (1725-1780), who also wished to be the rav. However in the end the Noda B’Yehudah was chosen. After he was chosen he was honoured to give a derashah before the Prague community. After he finished his derashah, Rav Zerach Eidlitz approached him before the whole community and said to him, “You are a ‘gaon’! Gaon in Hebrew stands for the Hebrew words “gadol atah ve’oseh niflaot”! (you are genius and you perform wonders!). All the community rejoiced and laughed in joy when they heard him say this, for he had admitted to the Noda B’Yehudah that the rabbinic post was more befitting to him.

And so it appears that at that time the Prague community were also great in Torah. All their days they studied Torah and wisdom, and therefore it wasn’t hard for them to understand the derashot. Therefore if today the Noda B’Yehudah would come to the Bet HaKenesset Yazdim in Yerushalayim, they wouldn’t comprehend from where he is coming and going. We therefore just teach straightforward halachot. In reality, everything we say is just uncomplicated material, not like the Noda B’Yehudah. For in every generation one has to function according to the generation’s level. Like a person who buys a large sombrero, it will cover his whole head and he will fall over. Or, if he has a small hat, then the wind will easily blow it off his head. So he must wear something that fits him properly. Likewise in Heaven, in every generation they relate to the person according to their measure, “for Hashem’s are the pillars of the earth, and upon them He set the world” (Shmuel I 2:8). From here our chachamim said (Yoma 38a), “it was revealed and known before Hashem that the tzaddikim are few, so He stood and planted them [i.e. a few at a time] in each generation”. Each generation according to its level.

There was a chacham who was sent abroad to collect funds for the yeshivot. Once they sent him to France and there were not so many Bnei Torah, but rather unlearned people. Most had never opened a Gemara, they had only studied a few halachot. This chacham went there. What should he teach them? He began to think what he would say, he knows how to give complex talks but they won’t understand him! When he eventually arrived he had an idea. He turned to the congregation and said to them, Rabbotai! I have a question about Hashem! All the congregation listened to him, “Wow, wow, wow”, he has a question about Hashem! Not a question on Rambam! Literally a question about Hashem?! The speaker continued and said, the question is as follows: I am sat at home in my garden and I could see a large melon growing from the ground from a small plant. I then lifted my eyes and saw a tree with beautiful grapes, “How abundant are your works, Hashem,” (Tehillim 104:24). And this poses the question! What is this? A small plant produces a huge melon, yet this tree only produces small grapes?

The speaker continued, but I also have an answer to the question! I was tired and I fell asleep in my garden. When I awoke a grape fell from the tree onto my head. Then I said, now the question is answered! If the melons grew from tall trees, oh dear what would have happened to me! All the congregation enjoyed both the question and the answer and they immediately concluded with a “Mi Shebeirach” and they donated generously to the speaker’s yeshivah.

We see that every person must speak to the people in front of them. Unlearned people, if they are told a question of the Tosafot, they won’t understand it at all. “These are the laws that you must set before them” (Shemot 21:1), that the words must be fluent before them, each according to their level. Happy is the person who speaks to a listening ear. It is forbidden to prevent those who are uninformed from learning! It is forbidden to say, I am not capable of speaking before unlearned people! Rather one must adapt to the level of the people and invest in meriting the many.

There is nothing like a person who merits the many. If they merit to enable one child from a secular school to gain entry to a Talmud Torah, there is no one higher than them, they placed that child under the wings of the Shechinah! A person who acts in this way saves a Jewish soul! And it is as if they saved a whole world! [See Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5.]

Let’s consider the following, when Rambam was a small child they didn’t call him Rambam but Moshe, perhaps even Moshiko (definitely not Moshele because he wasn’t Ashkenazi…). Indeed, when he first attended the Talmud Torah no one could have known what he would have become and in the end, he flourished to the extent that he enlightened Am Yisrael’s eyes. Without him we would have remained like the blind in the dark. Likewise with every child, removing them from a secular education to a good education, perhaps they will become a talmid chacham. The merit of a person who accomplishes this cannot be quantified.

Rabbotai, Baruch Hashem we study Torah. But a person must invest of himself in saving children, and there is no quantifiable value to their reward. We must not only study ourselves and but also merit others too do likewise. [See Mishnah Avot 5:18.]

Shabbat Shalom.