From Insights and Inspirations
Published by the Ra’anana Community Kollel
Ra’anana Community Kollel
Time for Torah
Rabbi Binyomin Lipson
In it’s reckoning of the laws of spiritual purity and impurity in this week’s parshah, the Torah discusses the halachot which become relevant when a person dies, and the various types of impurity which inevitably result. However, while the verses go on to explain these intricate laws, one cannot help but remain slightly stuck on the verse which introduces them. “Zot haTorah, adom ki yamut ba’ohel” Seemingly, the Torah is telling us that “This is the Torah (i.e. instructions) for a man who dies in the tent.” However, as anyone who understands a bit of basic Hebrew grammar can see, instead of saying l’adam as we would have expected, the Torah leaves out world “for” entirely leaving us with a partially incomplete sentence.
Disturbed by this very problem, the Gemara (Brachot 63b) explains that this is because the verse is also meant to be understood according to its literal meaning; Reish Lakish taught, from where do we know that words of Torah only endure amongst those who kill themselves over them? This is the meaning of the verse, “This is the Torah, a man who dies in the tent.”
Obviously, this Gemara leaves us with more than a few questions. Kill ourselves? What happened to all those “pleasant and peaceful paths” of the Torah that we are always hearing about? What is the Gemara trying to tell us?
The Chofetz Chaim explained the meaning of this Gemara by way of a parable. There was once a successful businessman who was extremely popular in his line of sales. At first, his store was only patronized by the merchants in his own small village, but over the course of time, he became known in the surrounding villages as well. From the early morning until the late evening the customers would flock to his small shop, and even with the help of his wife he could barely process all the orders. Days, months, and years quickly passed, but the flow of customers never slackened.
Sometimes, just for a moment or two, he would think back to the days when he was accustomed to getting up before work and going to shul for Shacharit and a brief shiur attended by other working men. But as time went on and the stream of customers steadily increased, even this small commitment slowly slackened. For a few years he continued to recite his prayers quickly at home before rushing off to the line of waiting customers, but as time moved on even this was not to be.
One morning while he was getting dressed, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a mirror that was laying on the table. The eyes that were once young and sparkling were encircled by wrinkles, and his flowing dark brown beard was now liberally speckled with tints of gray. Suddenly, the fact of his own mortality struck him like a lightening bolt.
“The great day of reckoning is not far off,” he exclaimed, “and what do I have to show for myself . . . customers?! I have filled my account in the local bank with assets that will eventually belong to my dear children, what will be for me? What merits will accompany me to the World of Truth, and what will I tell the Heavenly Tribunal when they ask their first question, “Did you set times for Torah study?” The next morning, he took his talit and tefillin and went to the shul for the morning prayers. Afterwards, instead of rushing out before the end, he stayed on and learned in the beit midrash.
Meanwhile, back at the store, his wife was trying to deal with all the customers. She was sure that at any moment her husband would arrive to take over, but in the meantime, several of the merchants had left in search of a place where they could purchase their wares more quickly.
After two hours, the merchant closed his Gemara and proceeded off to the store where he excused himself saying that he had been unavoidably detained. The next day, to the great consternation of his wife, he followed the same schedule. On the third day, she was no longer able to control herself, and she flew out of the store and past the customers determined to find out the reason for her husband’s untimely delay. After searching what seemed like the entire village, she was passing by the beit midrash when she heard a familiar voice inside. She was sure that she had imagined it, but there it was again! Cautiously, she peeked in the window of the shul and . . . there was her husband sitting and reading from an open Gemara! Without delay she burst into the beit midrash still not believing that it was actually him. “What are you doing here?! Have you gone completely and utterly out of your mind?! she hissed. Don’t you know that the customers are waiting?!”
Calmly but firmly, the merchant looked up from the volume he was studying and said, “My dear wife, tell me, if the Angel of Death were to arrive today and inform us that my time to leave this world had come, do you think that a few impatient customers would convince him to come back later? Would he accept your claim that I am simply to busy to leave the business? Therefore,” he continued, “when you are wondering where I am and the customers are anxiously waiting for my arrival, just imagine to yourself that I am already dead!”
This, explained the Chofetz Chaim, is what the Gemara is trying to tell us. Let’s face it, life is a constant flow endless distractions. We all have very busy schedules filled from morning to night with chugim, appointments, family responsibilities, and the list goes on and on. It is precisely for this reason that we must not only try and learn when we can but to “set times for Torah study.”
HaRav Chaim Kreisworth zt”l, rav of Antwerp, Belgium and world-renowned Torah genius, once made the following observation. Imagine the worst criminal that you can imagine, or better yet, the worst enemy of Torah Judaism that you can conjure up. Someone who did everything in his power to desecrate everything that is holy and to ensure that as many people as possible would do the same. Someone who had tolerance for every abominable lifestyle on the planet but could not stand the sight of a pure Jewish child sitting and learning Torah. Now, try to imagine the judgment that this person is going to have to face at the end of his life. Every facet of his deeds will be examined and scrutinized, and every act repaid measure for measure. Imagine you were the judge at such a trial, for what do you judge him first?
Said Rav Chaim, the Gemara (Kiddushin 40b) tells us the answer. “Rav Hamnuna taught, ‘The initial judgment of every person is only on learning Torah . . .’” Imagine such a person coming into the Heavenly Court thinking of all the heinous crimes that he’s committed against man and G-d and what he’s going to say in his defense. Can you picture the expression on his face when the first question they ask him is, “Why didn’t you learn Torah?”
And why is this going to be the very first question that we’re all going to be compelled to answer? Because learning Torah is the root of every positive trait and action. It’s the reason that we were created, and the reason that the universe was created and continues to exist.
The summer is here and soon the month of Elul will be upon us. The Gemara goes on to tell us that just as the judgment of Torah precedes all else, so too does its reward, and there is no better way to show Hashem that we are taking a step in the right direction than setting times for Torah study that will remain intact no matter what distractions attempt to take us away.