For the cloud of HASHEM would be on the Tabernacle by day, and the fire would be on it by night before the eyes of all the children of Israel throughout their journeys. (Shemos 40:38)
Perhaps your heart will say, “Just as it shined for Israel did it not also shine for the nations of the world?” So the verse comes to teach us, “to the eyes of all the children of Israel”, – on all of Israel it shone but not to the nations of the world! (Sifri)
How do we understand that the light shone for one group and not for another?
The Alter from Kelm, Reb Simcha Zissel Ziv asked an important question about the following Mishne in Pirke’ Avos; “This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation- but toil in Torah. If you do this, “Happy you will be and it will be good for you” – “happy” you will be in this world and it will be “good for you” in the next world! (Avos 6:4) The Alter asked about the latter part of the Mishne, that we can understand how this self- sacrificing approach can gain for men goodness in an-other-worldly setting but how does the Mishne confidently promise happiness in this world?
The answer he offers emerges from a careful reading of the Mishne. He highlights the words, “If you do this”. If you are the one who is doing it then you can be the one to experience true happiness. If a visitor from a richer culture and with an untutored eye, would peer into a hall of Torah study in Meah She’arim and observe the austere living and learning conditions within, it would most likely arouse feelings of pity. However, if you are the one who is doing it, learning with vigor and rigor then the experience from within is a-sweet joy beyond- beyond.
Yawning at dawn in a Jerusalem study hall my early morning study partner explained something to me that I had always misunderstood and misrepresented. Since we (I) were (was) so tired, I commented loosely, that I didn‘t know how the Vilna Gaon got away with only two hours of sleep total in a 24 hour cycle. He told me that the Vilna Gaon did not sleep two hours daily. I insisted that it was true and that I had read it in an authenticated biography but he stubbornly refused to accept it. Then he explained, “The Vilna Gaon learned 22 hours each day! He was not into sleep deprivation as much a he was involved in the sublime joy of learning.
I remember discussing with some friends in Yeshiva the idea of making a movie of some kind that would entice others to come join us in learning. The conversation concluded with a consensus that it was probably an exercise in futility. What would convince people that learning is fun? What could we possibly show? People shaking back and forth? How could we reveal in a visual medium the joy being generated in the minds of those learning- Torah?
The Nefesh HaChaim writes: “And so a person from the Holy Nation that contains the whole organization of the creation…he is also constructed like the Tabernacle and the Temple and its vessels, corresponding to the order and connections of the segments of the limbs and the ligaments and their functions. So it is detailed in the Zohar how the Tabernacle and its vessels are each referring to Man.”
Like the Tabernacle, if the deep delight of the Vilna Gaon’s Torah learning would be visible then the world would be blinded by the light. It’s an acquired taste, though, not accessible to dabblers through visual acuity alone, and so King David wrote in Tehillim: “Taste and see HASHEM is good!” Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.