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Posted on January 6, 2023 (5783) By Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein | Series: | Level:

The Challenge of Character

Rav Yoseif Worman asks, “Why does Yaakov Avinu blame Shimon and Levi over the struggle with Yoseif? (See Rashi, Bereishis 49:6). Earlier, the brothers had blamed Yehuda, since he was the leader (Rashi, Bereishis 38:1). Yet, Yaakov doesn’t blame Yehuda at all!”

Rav Worman answered: Some mistakes are based on faulty decisions. Other mistakes relate to midos — flaws in character. The anger and hatred of Shimon and Levi demonstrated a fundamental fault in character. Yehuda repented for his mistakes, but repairing midos is a great challenge. Therefore, Yaakov Avinu was especially concerned about Shimon and Levi and the need for vigilance regarding midos.

Let’s discuss some contemporary challenges.

The Challenge of Torah Learning

Although the Written Torah may be translated (we have Targumim — ancient Aramaic Translations) the Torah Sh’ba’al Peh was not meant to be written down at all. Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi had to secure special permission to write the Mishnah.

Nowadays much of the Torah Sh’ba’al Peh is recorded in written form. Still, the gist of it cannot be written down (See Rav Yitzchok Hutner Chanuka, 1). Essentially the Torah Sh’ba’al Peh is the discussions of the talmidim, the penetrating analysis, the profound clarification of the halachos.

Today we have simplifications, translations and helpful tools — but we mustn’t lose sight of the purpose of learning. Learning expands the mind and heart. Mere reading is not a sufficient substitute for this.


V’ha’adom Yada Es Chava Ishto — “Adom knew his wife Chava.” (Bereishis 4:1). Of course Adom knew who Chava was; the verse means that they were attached to each other. (1) Similarly, “My Name Hashem wasn’t known to them.” (Shmos 6 :3) “You said You would know me by name.” (Shmos 33:12) of course the Name of Hashem was known, and Hashem knew Moshe’s name! Da’as is not merely an intellectual ‘awareness of facts’.

This is not a superficial distinction. Da’as is a deep connection to the words being uttered. So often our ‘knowledge’ is merely scratching the surface. Translations and simplifications help to ‘scratch’, but our goal must be to achieve a deep, profound understanding. Reading a text does not necessarily lend itself to profundity. Learning is not merely reading, but requires an analysis of each concept.

Rav Shach was very opposed to using materials which make learning easier. He held that there is no substitute for ameilus — diligent effort. However, if tools will be used to achieve a deeper level — to enable the user to apply himself even more to the texts and concepts, perhaps Rav Shach would consent to their use.

lf I am For Myself, What Am l? (Avos 1:14)

Extreme selfishness is very common. (2) When we daven at shul, or learn in Beis Medrash, we should have the tzibur in mind, not only our own personal needs. When we learn Torah, we should realize we’re doing a mitzva. So many times people have in mind to find something interesting and inspiring, and when they’re not inspired, they become disappointed. But if you realize you’re doing a mitzva, you won’t be disappointed. Your mitzva is to be mechazeik others, not just yourself!

People daven a long shemona esreh, oblivious to the needs of the people around them. There are supposed to be ten men concentrating on chazaras hashatz — does that really happen? (3) There are opinions that each person should have in mind to be yotzey each brocha of chazaras hashatz, but people often seem distracted — not paying attention to the chazon at all. The tzibur is not just a group of individuals, but a cohesive unit! We would do well if we could keep in mind the needs of the Klal — and of Klal Yisrael, not only our own needs!

1. Rav Moshe Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim, 23:4, Tanya, chapter 3 and 42.
2. The Klausenberg Rebbe: “They’re all thinking about themselves! I also think about myself…”
3. The Chazon lsh was among those who encouraged davening at length — even if one will miss the repetition of the Chazon. Rav Wolbe said this applies to one who is an ‘oness’ — unable to concentrate unless he davens very slowly. Otherwise, one should strive to keep up with the tzibur — as we find with Rebbe Akiva. (Aley Shor)