These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s CommuterChavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1120 The Zohar vs Talmud Bavli: Whom Do We Pasken Like? Good Shabbos and Good Yom Tov!
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Reward for Keeping Quiet
When we read Parshas Bamidbar, we find something peculiar. Sometimes the Prince of the Tribe of Gad is referred to as Elyasaf son of Reu’el and sometimes he is referred to as Elyasaf son of Deu’el. The Chidah (Rav Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai) [1724-1806] the prolific Sephardic posek who authored sixty or seventy volumes, writes in one of his sefarim (Chomas Anoch), the following explanation in the name of a Sefer Imrei Noam:
The reason the Tribe of Gad merited that Moshe Rabbeinu was buried on Har Nevo, in their portion of Eretz Yisrael (i.e. – Transjordan), was that Gad could have advanced a claim to Moshe Rabbeinu: Listen, I am the Bechor [firstborn] of Zilpah and Dan is the Bechor of Bilhah. Dan was made the leader of a whole three-Tribe configuration in the Wilderness travels (“Machane Dan“) while I am just an add-on to some other Tribe’s “Machane“. What am I – a second-class citizen? Yet, Gad did not make such a protest. Because of that, says the Chidah, Gad merited two privileges: First, his Prince (who real name was Elyasaf ben Deu’el) was called Elyasaf ben Reu’el, which means the friend (Reya) of G-d (E-l) (i.e. – friend of Hashem or of Moshe Rabbeinu for not complaining to him with a valid complaint). Secondly, for the same reason, he merited that Moshe Rabbeinu was buried in his portion of Eretz Yisrael. Those are the words of the Chidah.
I saw an interesting observation in a sefer, Otzros HaTorah. What would have happened if the Tribe of Gad would have spoken up and advanced a claim against Moshe Rabbeinu: How is it fair that Dan leads a whole three-Tribe configuration and we are just followers?
We do not know if such a claim would have been accepted or not. However, one thing is certain – today it does not really make a difference if there had been a Degel Machane Gad (A Leadership Role in the Wilderness Camp Configuration for the Tribe of Gad) or not. However, the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu is buried in his portion and the fact that he is called Reu’el – “the friend of G-d” – is something that is eternal. Why did he merit that? It is because he kept his mouth shut when it came to a matter that was very transitory in nature.
“I have found nothing better in life than silence.” [Avos 1:17]. Because he had the ability to silently accept a situation that could have been seen as unfair to him, and be quiet – which we all know is sometimes very difficult – for that he merited having the greatest leader in the history of the Nation of Israel buried in his portion.
The Sdei Chemed is an encyclopedia of Halacha which comprises 9 volumes, and it covers from “Alef” through “Taf” in Halacha. The author lived before computers and before Encyclopedia Talmudis, before any of these super indexes of halachic literature. He wrote this all on his own. To say the author had a photographic memory is a gross understatement. He knew the entire Torah.
The Sdei Chemed once told his family that as a young man he had no special memory and no special intellectual talents. However, he did something in his life, and after that incident, he felt that he became elevated and developed somehow superhuman powers of intellect. What happened?
He was learning in a Kollel and another member of the Kollel was jealous of him and wanted to do him in. There was an Arab woman who came to clean up the Beis Medrash and the other Kollel member bribed this woman to say that the Sdei Chemed engaged in inappropriate behavior with her. She accepted the bribe and made the claim. Everybody believed her, and the Sdei Chemed suffered such shame and abuse that he had to leave the Kollel and run away. The truth of the matter is that the head of the Kollel did not believe the woman and fired her, but that did not help the Sdei Chemed because his reputation was already ruined, and his name was mud.
A short time later, the bribe money ran out, and this housekeeper had no more money, so she came back to the Sdei Chemed and said, “Chatasi, Aveesi, Pa’shati l’fanecha…” I did this terrible thing; please forgive me and I will go and publicly say that the whole thing was a sham and it was not true. I will go back to the Kollel and tell everyone the truth that the story was a fabrication, and I will restore your reputation. I only ask that you go back to the Rosh Yeshiva and get my job back for me, because I literally have nothing to eat.”
The Sdei Chemed said he was tempted to take her up on this offer and reclaim his reputation. However, he then realized that if he goes back to the Kollel now, and this woman confesses the full story, then not only will there have been one Chillul Hashem, there would be two Chillul Hashems. The first Chillul Hashem was that he was accused of having an illicit affair with the housekeeper. But now people would also say: “Do you know how bad this was? There was another member of the Kollel that was so low that he paid money to slander a fellow Torah student with a total fabrication!” That would be a double Chilul Hashem.
So, he told his family, he decided to do nothing. He would merely return and go to the Rosh Kollel and quietly try to get the Arab women her job back, but on the condition that she not confess anything and not let the story get out about the bribe and the Chilul Hashem involved in that side of the incident.
That is what happened. The Sdei Chemed wrote that after that incident, he became a different person. From that day forward, he merited super intellectual prowess. He indeed had such intellectual prowess. Imagine one person, sitting down – l’havdil – and single-handedly writing the entire Encyclopedia Britannica! That is the equivalent of what the Sdei Chemed did. He wrote an encyclopedia! Why did he merit this gift? It is because he kept his mouth shut.
This is the attribute that Elyasaf ben Deu’el / ben Reu’el had as well. He kept his mouth shut and he merited eternal reward: The name “Friend of G-d” (Reyah shel Kel) and having Moshe Rabbeinu buried in his portion of Eretz Yisrael.
What Makes a Teacher into a Parent Is Not What He Does From 9 to 5
I would like to share another Torah insight, again together with a beautiful story.
The Torah states: “These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe on the day Hashem spoke with Moshe at Mount Sinai: These are the names of the sons of Aharon, the firstborn was Nadav, and Avihu, Elazar, and Ithamar.” [Bamidbar 3:1-2] This is very peculiar. The Torah begins by introducing the fact that it will be listing the children of both Aharon and Moshe and then proceeds to only list the names of the sons of Aharon!
Rashi points out this oddity and answers that since Moshe taught the sons of Aharon Torah, they were also considered his children. This teaches, Rashi states [based on Sanhedrin 19b], that whoever teaches his friend’s son Torah, Scripture considers it as if he gave birth to him.
The super-commentaries on Rashi all discuss this Rashi. We will only cite the Maharal because of constraints of time. The Maharal in his Gur Aryeh asks a simple question: Did Moshe only teach Torah to his nephews? He taught Torah to all of Yisroel, so why not call all the Children of Israel Moshe’s offspring? The Maharal provides an interesting answer: The Children of Israel are different because G-d commanded Moshe to teach them Torah! There was no special commandment to give extra lessons to Aharon’s children.
In other words, indeed, he taught Torah to all of Israel but that was his job. If you are only “doing your job” than you do not gain the status of “Scripture considers it as if you have given birth to them.” However, the fact that he learned extra with the sons of Aharon, something he did not need to do – that is what earned him the title of “it’s as if he was their father.” A parent knows no boundaries; there is no such thing as “overtime” or “I have fulfilled my contract already” when parents interact with their children. A parent is there all the time for his children. That is what makes Moshe’s extra learning with Bnei Aharon “as if he gave birth to them.”
That which makes a teacher into a parent is not what he does from nine to five. Rather, what makes a teacher into a parent is when he acts over and beyond the call of duty (lifnim m’shuras ha’din).
The statement “Whoever teaches his friend’s son is considered by the Torah as if he fathered him” is an oft-quoted teaching of Chazal. I want to share with you a “story” and then “the rest of the story” about someone for whom this was more than just a teaching of Chazal—it was an actual reality.
Rabbi Heschy Weinreb, who needs no introduction to the people in Baltimore, tells over a famous incident, but he adds a not-so-famous addition to the well-known story.
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l, was in the United States of America at the end of the 1930s. In fact, he was (among other places) in Baltimore, Maryland. While in Baltimore, he stayed in the house of Rabbi Shimon Schwab. As the storm clouds were gathering over Europe and many people realized that the future in Europe was bleak, Rav Elchonon had the opportunity to stay in America.
Rabbi Weinreb writes that someone named Charles Fogel begged Rav Elchonon not to go back to Europe. Rav Elchonon’s response was, “I belong with my students and I cannot abandon them.” He told Mr. Fogel, “Just like a father does not abandon his child, a Rebbe does not abandon his disciples.”
This response goes a lot further than merely, “Whoever teaches his friend’s son Torah, it is as if he is his child.” Pardon the crassness of this expression, but this is “putting one’s money where his mouth is.” Rav Elchonon went back to Europe and was killed a martyr’s death by the Nazis in the Kovno ghetto together with his students from the Yeshiva in Baronovitch.
Rav Elchonon had the opportunity to stay in America. He was considered the premier disciple of the Chofetz Chaim. It is said that the Chofetz Chaim wanted Rav Elchonon to succeed him as spiritual leader of Klal Yisrael. However, he could not abandon his disciples because “a father does not leave a child.”
This is the famous story that many of us have heard. Rabbi Weinreb adds that when he was learning in Rabbi Yakov Yosef Yeshiva (“RJJ”), he had a Rebbe named Rav Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik. Rav Shmuel Dovid was a charismatic Rebbe and Torah luminary in RJJ who exuded scintillating warmth. He had learned in the Baranovich Yeshiva, and Rav Elchonon had been his Rebbe. Rav Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik told his own students that when Rav Elchonon was in America and these students were left back in Europe in Baranovich, they did not know what was going to be. However, they all knew clearly that Rav Elchonon would come back to them. They knew he would not leave them. And that is what happened.
Rav Shmuel Dovid was fortunate that he himself did make it to America and he was a Marbitz Torah (disseminator of Torah knowledge) and was a Rebbe in RJJ. Most of his classmates in Baranovich were not that fortunate, and did not make it. Rav Shmuel Dovid would say, “We teenage boys who were stuck in Baranovitch knew that he would return. We were absolutely certain that he would not abandon us. He risked his life to rejoin us. We knew that he considered himself a father, and we felt that way towards him. We were his children.
This is a poignant example of “Anyone who teaches his friend’s child Torah, it is as if he is his own child.” Anyone who is in the teaching profession always aspires to such a level of connection with his students, but Rav Elchonon literally believed it and gave his life for it!
Baranovich was not like Slabodka. It was a “Yeshiva Ketana.” It was for teenagers, younger kids. However, Rav Elchonon felt that these were his children and he gave up his life for them. This is a concrete example of the Rabbinic equation between disciples and children (ha’Banim – elu ha’Talmidim).
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Bamidbar is provided below:
- 013 Yerushalayim in Halacha
- 058 Going Up To Yerushalayim for Yom Tov: Does it Apply Today?
- 101 Teaching Torah to Women
- 147 Sefiras HaOmer, Shavuos & the International Dateline
- 194 Can One Charge for Teaching Torah?
- 240 An Early Start for Shavuos?
- 284 Birchas HaTorah
- 330 Sefer Rus and Its Halachic Implications
- 374 Bathing On Shabbos and Yom Tov
- 418 Shavuos Issues–Late Maariv–Learning All Night
- 462 May A Child Carry A Sefer On Shabbos
- 506 Shavuos: Two Days, She’cheyanu & Other Issues
- 550 Opening Cans on Shabbos & Yom Tov
- 594 Omer Davar B’Sheim Omro – Giving Proper Credit
- 638 Eruv and the Big City
- 682 Carrying on Yom Tov
- 726 Returning Pidyon Haben Money
- 770 Let Them Eat Cheesecake
- 814 Oy, The Eruv is Down, Now What?
- 858 Ms. Cohen for A Pidyon Habein?
- 902 Dancing on Yom Tov
- 946 The Beautiful Poem of Akdomus
- 989 The Mitzva of Talmud Torah – How Much – How Little?
- 1033 Conning Someone Out of A Mitzva
- 1077 Can A Father Give Son His Position (Rabbi/Chazan) While Still Alive?
- 1120 The Zohar vs Talmud Bavli: Whom Do We Pasken Like?
- 1162 Yahrtzeit/Yizkor Candles on Yom Tov – Is There A Problem?
- 1206 What Bracha on Cheesecake? Is It BH or BSD? And other Shavuos Issues
- 1250 Erev Shavuos on Shabbos
- 1294 When Should Women Light Candles for Shavuos?
- 1338 Can You Make The Second Day of Shavuos Early? Can American Mohel in Israel Perform A Bris on the Second Day of Shavuos.
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