Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Making Torah a Part of Us

וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי אֲדֹנִי יְדַבֶּר נָא עַבְדְּךָ דָבָר בְּאָזְנֵי אֲדֹנִי וְאַל  יִחַר אַפְּךָ בְּעַבְדֶּךָ כִּי כָמוֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹה.
“Yehuda approached him and said, ‘Please, my lord. Let your servant speak some words in the ears of my master, and do not be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.’”

The simple explanation of “Bi adoni” is an address to Yosef, meaning, “Please, my lord.” However, some interpret it on another level as a statement, “Bi Adoni,” meaning, “Hashem is within me.” Since the Divine Presence was within him, Yehuda had nothing to fear from Pharaoh or from his viceroy, Yosef.
The truth is that every Jew has the potential of carrying the Divine Presence with him wherever he goes, but how do we reach this level?
The Midrash comments on the verse, וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה  “Take for me” (which was stated in regard to the donations offered for the construction of the Mishkan), that  when a person takes the Torah, he “takes” Hashem together with it.  Thus וְיִקְחוּ לִי  is interpreted to mean, “Take Me,” - take Hashem Himself, since the Torah and Hashem are one.
The Midrash explains with a parable to a king whose only daughter got engaged.  The king told his daughter’s groom, “I cannot withhold my daughter from you, since she is your wife. Nor can I bear to be separated from her.  Therefore, make a place for me in your home, so I can come and visit you.”
Hashem gave the Torah to Bnei Yisrael.  He cannot bear to separate Himself from it. Nor can He deny the Torah to Klal Yisrael. Instead He asks us to make for Him a place wherever we go, so that He can be together with us and the Torah, as is written “Make a Mikdash for Me.”[1]
The Toldos Adam explains that the Beis HaMikdash is not just a physical structure.  Even after the physical Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, there remained a Beis HaMikdash inside every Jew, that travels with us throughout the Golus.  “Make for Me a Mikdash to stay in every Jewish soul, so that I can be with you and the Torah.” This is the “Bi Adoni” of which Yehuda spoke, the Divine Presence within every Jew.
But how to we make this place inside of us that Hashem asks of us, so that He can dwell with us?

Tavlin for the Yetzer Hara
The Gemara tells us that Hashem created the yetzer hara, and He created the Torah as its “tavlin.”[2] In context, the word “tavlin” is used to mean a cure.  Since Hashem Himself created the yetzer hara, He best understands how to treat it. The only cure for the yetzer hara is Torah.
However, the word “tavlin” literally means a spice that gives good taste to food. Not only can Torah be used to combat and defeat the yetzer hara, it can also be used to give the yetzer hara a good taste, so to speak.
Everything in creation can be used towards good purpose, even the yetzer hara. The Tanya and Toldos Adam distinguish between one who defeats the yetzer hara, and one who subdues it to use it for good. Using the yetzer hara for good is an even greater achievement than just defeating it.
For example, conceit is a bad thing, but a person must have a sense of pride and self-respect. He must believe in himself, in order to overcome the challenges he will face in his religious observance.  Through Torah, even the negative aspects of a person’s being are turned to good. Every aspect of his being becomes good, and he becomes a fitting dwelling for the Divine Presence.

Laboring in Torah Study
The Gemara states as follows:
אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי: המהלך בדרך ואין עמו לוייה - יעסוק בתורה, שנאמר כי וכו'. חש בראשו - יעסוק בתורה, שנאמר וכו' . חש בגרונו - יעסוק בתורה, שנאמר וכו'. חש במעיו - יעסוק בתורה, שנאמר וכו'. חש בעצמותיו - יעסוק בתורה, שנאמר וכו'. חש בכל גופו - יעסוק בתורה, שנאמר ולכל בשרו מרפא.
R’ Yehoshua ben Levi taught: If a person walks alone and has no one to accompany him, he should study Torah as he goes.  If his head aches, he should study Torah. If his throat aches, he should study Torah. If his stomach aches, he should study Torah. If his bones ache, he should study Torah. If his whole body aches, he should study Torah, as is written, “It cures all his flesh.”[3]

As we walk through the hardships of this world, and have no one to accompany us and give us encouragement, we should study Torah. The Torah will give us strength.  If a person has a headache in a physical sense, or in a spiritual sense - if bad thoughts keep entering his mind - he should study Torah. Torah is the cure for all life’s physical, emotional and spiritual ailments.
The above Gemara implies that in addition to the general cure of Torah study for all life’s ailments, there are aspects of Torah that are specifically suited to curing individual issues.  Each Masechta of the Gemara has its own special segulah. When people would come to Rav Shmuel Saks, the rav of the city of Biala, for a beracha, he would instruct them to learn a certain Masechta, as appropriate to their needs.
The Torah is indeed a great segulah for all forms of blessing, but there are conditions for this segulah to wok. Sometimes we find people who learn Torah, but it does not resolve for them these issues.
The best medicine won’t help if the patient doesn’t swallow it. The body needs to absorb the medicine for it to work. So too, to the extent that a person absorbs the Torah, making it one with himself, it is able to help him.

Conditions for Absorbing the Torah
The verse from Shema that commands us to study Torah uses the word, “shinantam,” which in context means study, but it also means “sharpen.”  Our Sages learn from here that we must achieve such understanding and memory of our Torah studies that it becomes “sharp upon our tongues.” When asked a question about our studies, we should be able to answer quickly and articulately, without having to stutter or fumble about for an answer. The Torah we learn must be clear in our minds, and quick on our tongues.
There is Written Torah - the written Tanach, and also a Torah She’baal Peh - the Torah we are meant to memorize. Although permission was granted to write Torah She’baal Peh in the form of the Mishna and Gemara, the essential Torah She’baal Peh still remains that which we have absorbed inside of us, not that which is written.
When we have a clear, articulate and well organized knowledge of the Torah we have studied, it becomes a part of us, absorbed deep within us.  This is a product of laboring to understand it, and reviewing it again and again until it becomes an inseparable part of us. This is a condition for receiving the healing segulos of the Torah.
Two more conditions can be found in the Gemara, which compares Torah to a kind of necklace that was worn loosely around the neck, and often beneath one’s beard. Rashi explains two aspects of this metaphor.  First, the necklace is loose.  It does not choke the wearer.  So too, a Torah scholar must be pleasant and friendly to those around him, and not “choke them”, so to speak, with an overbearing or belligerent nature. Secondly, Rashi explains, it is worn under the beard and rarely seen, unless the wearer chooses to lift his chin.  So too, the Torah scholar spends most of his time in the yeshiva, and is rarely seen outside in the market. The Gemara concludes that if a person fulfills these conditions, he will be successful in his Torah study.[4]
Derech eretz precedes Torah. In order to absorb the Torah, and let it become a tavlin and a cure for the yetzer hara, a person must have the middos tovos, bein adam l’chaveiro, and pleasant behavior that are prerequisites for Torah. He will be able to review the Torah again and again, until he knows by heart hundreds or even thousands of pages of Gemara. Then the Torah can become a part of him, and a cure that spreads throughout his body.
This is what Hashem said, “Make for Me a place to dwell within you.” Hashem wants to be with us and with the Torah that we learn, but we have to prepare for Him an appropriate dwelling, through good middos, bein adam l’makom and bein adam l’chaveiro, and by toiling in Torah study. But if a person learns superficially, does not really labor to understand what he learned, and does not review it until he remembers it, then the Torah cannot be a tavlin for his yetzer hara.
The Belzer Rav zt”l once told me in the name of his grandfather, Rebbe Yehoshua of Belz zt”l, who said in the name of Chozeh of Lublin, that review (“chazarah”) is not just a means to remember. It is also a segulah for remembering.
The essence of Torah is to know it well, by working hard on it, and by preparing ourselves with the middos and derech eretz that allow the Torah to become a part of us.

Joy of Torah
The Gemara tells us that a person who rejoices with a chassan and kallah at their wedding merits to receive the Torah. The commentaries explain that the joy of Torah is a fitting reward for those who help others rejoice.
Joyous occasions need to be shared.  In hard times, G‑d forbid, a person can cry alone, but a person can never dance alone. He needs others to share his joy.
May we merit to achieve clarity and joy in our Torah study.  May there be many joyous occasions in Klal Yisrael.  And may we merit the greatest joy, with the coming of Moshiach soon and in our days.

· From Sheva Berachos and Maamad HaTorah, Teves 5777
[1] Midrash Rabba, Terumah
[2] Kiddushin 30b
[3] Eurvin 54a
[4] Eruvin 54a