When a person struggles in the serious and devoted study of Torah and mitzvos, he acquires
the understanding and clear vision of all things in life. A person is limited and
subjective and it is impossible to recognize how to correctly understand the world.
In-depth study and contemplation of G-d's words and laws, and the wonders of His creation,
are the tools that enable one to think about and view everything wisely and clearly and to
see G-dliness revealed. It is like taking off faulty eyeglasses and putting on correct
ones. "Open my eyes and I will see wondrous things from your Torah [Psalm
119:18]." Seemingly, the verse should have said "in your Torah." By
consistent in-depth learning and probing in the depths of the Torah, it becomes possible
to see the wondrous awesomeness of G-d, if one works to the point at which he would merit
Heavenly help. Therefore, it is appropriate for the verse to say, "Open my eyes and I
will behold wondrous things FROM your Torah." The Torah opens a person's eyes to all
things of the Creation and of life. A person starts out with his nature limited and small.
His view of things is twisted and defective, and he does not see them in the correct
light. Only the person whose exclusive entire undertaking is to exert himself in the study
of Hashem's Torah, and who is not influenced by any outside things, his mind is a Torah
mind and his view is a Torah view. By means of his hard work and strain in the Torah, he
is able to see and understand everything according to truth and because he sees the light
and truth of the holy Torah. This is how the Steipler Gaon was actually able to truly and
clearly sense and see things around the world, with knowledge and understanding from his
little and impoverished house. Anyone who had contact with him, knew that he was with one
who understood all the ways of earthly life, all over the world. [Rabbi Mordechai Gifter,
Rosh Yeshiva Telshe, eulogizing the Steipler Gaon].
The foundation of all foundations and the
pillar of all wisdom is to know that there exists a first cause and He causes all
existence. And all which exists in Heaven and earth and everywhere between them does not
exist except as a result of the truth of His existence. If it will occur to you to think
that He does not exist, absolutely nothing else could exist. If it will occur to you to
think that everything else besides Him could be out of existence, He alone will always
still exist; and He will not go out of existence with their going out of existence;
because all existing things need Him and He, may He be blessed, does not need them, not
any of them. Therefore, His truth is unlike the truth of anything else. It is of Him that
the prophet said (Jeremiah 10:10), "The L-rd is G-d of truth." He alone is truth
and none is truth as is His truth. And it is of Him that the Torah says (Deuteronomy
4:35), "There is nothing else beside Him." This means that there is nothing that
exists that is truth beside Him or like Him. This ultimate existence is G-d of the
Universe, L-rd of the world, and He is the Director who moves everything with force that
has no end nor limit, with force that is never interrupted. His direction continually
causes [everything]. It is impossible that there be result without a cause and He, may He
be blessed, is the cause [of everything] without [His having] any hand or body. And you
must know clearly that knowing this is a positive commandment from the Torah as it says
(Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6), "I am L-rd G-d." And any thought that ever
comes to one's mind that there is any other G-d beside This [G-d] violates the prohibitive
commandment, as it says (Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 5:7), "There shall never be to
you any other G-d beside Me." To think this is denial of a Torah foundation, and this
is a central foundation upon which everything depends. This G-d is One and He is not two
nor more than two. He is specifically One. There is no oneness of any kind anywhere in
existence like His. He is not one like a kind which contains several components. [Rambam,
Hilchos Yesoday HaTorah, chapter one].
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevits z'l, former Mirrer
Rosh Yeshiva, said, "An irresponsible person is a fool. Responsibility is the
foundation of being a human being."
The wise person is able to make bad things
into good things [Orchos Tzadikim].
True love is created only by giving
unconditionally and constantly for the sake of the good, happiness and satisfaction of the
recipient. The moment one demands or wants to take, love is dead...How much effort should
one make in any worldly undertaking and how much should one have trust in G-d? Do what is
considered the proper type and amount of effort, according to the laws of nature, for the
achievement of the given purpose or business. The result derived should be considered the
will of Hashem and one should have trust that he is receiving from G-d the portion
allotted by G-d to him. If one works more than what is considered the regular natural
effort that would go in to the task, or if the effort has any sinful element or any
harmful side effect, then one is lacking trust in G-d, is not satisfied with his portion
and wasting his time and effort on business that is not the will of G-d. [Michtav
The Vilna Gaon's students said that the
Gemora says that a talmid chachom [sage] should have "one eighth of an eighth (shmini
shebi shminis) of arrogance" (the opposite of humility) yet the Gaon was totally
humble. They asked him why. He answered cryptically, "Your own question is its own
answer." When he saw that they were baffled, he continued. "The gemora uses both
masculine (shimini) and feminine (shminis) language. The Gemora should have used one or
the other [masculine or feminine language] to be grammatically consistent both times. By
changing, what lesson are the sages adding? It is reference to the eighth posuk (verse,
masculine noun) of the eighth parsha (Torah portion, feminine noun), which says, 'I am too
small to be worthy of all of G-d's kindnesses' (Genesis 32:11). When compared to G-d and
His infinite goodness, how can any mortal person really be anything but totally
A man had serious suffering. He had trouble
and pain in many areas of his life, so much so that he felt compelled to ask a local rabbi
to help him understand what G-d wanted from him. The rabbi said, "I can't answer you
about suffering but Reb Zushia can. Go to Zushia."
The man undertook a long and burdensome
journey to the town of Reb Zushia. When he got the town, he was directed to Zushia's
address. He was shocked to arrive at a depressing dilapidated shack, with leaks, a dirt
floor, no heat nor furniture. Reb Zushia came to the door. He was severely stricken with
boils all over his skin. He was wearing rags. The image of Reb Zushia and his sickly
physical appearance and his run-down and impoverished hut made the visiting man's heart
sink lower than it was from his own suffering and troubles.
Reb Zushia asked kindly and calmly what he
could do for the visitor. The visitor explained that he was referred by his rabbi to ask
him about handling his suffering.
Reb Zushia replied, "Me explain
suffering?" He gently shrugged his shoulders in wonder and said, "How would I
know? I have never had any suffering."
There is a law that when one is praying the
Shmoneh Esray [the standing silent prayer], another may not go within four
"amos" [about eight feet or two meters] in front of the one who is praying.
There is another law that one takes three steps back just before the ending paragraph of
the Shmoneh Esray. It is considered proper for a person to pray in a "makom kevua
[steady place]." The Talmud [Brachos] says that praying in a makom kevua helps one's
prayer to be answered by Hashem.
A man, who prayed slowly and carefully, was
about to start praying in his makom kevua. A stranger rushed into the shul at the last
minute and positioned himself right in front of the man in his steady place. The man moved
to his left enough so that the visitor would not be in front of him, reasoning as follows.
The visitor would probably pray more quickly and finish sooner. If the visitor was
learned, the visitor would have been "trapped" by the man in his regular place,
when it would be time to step back and the visitor would notice the man behind him. Moving
in front of the man praying (in his steady place) would be forbidden. The visitor would
have to stand still and he would be unable to finish the prayer or move for quite some
time. If the visitor was not learned, he would have sinned by stepping back in front of
the man praying in his steady place. The man praying slowly would have set up a sin, which
is also a sin.
Either way, the man in his steady place
stood to cause a bad consequence in the eyes of the Torah. He would have been selfish
and/or sinful. Prayer is a mitzva and a mitzva must be pure good. Even though a prayer in
a steady place is normally more acceptable to Hashem, a tainted prayer would be less
acceptable to Hashem. He realized the situation just in the nick of time and sacrificed
his steady position so that his prayer would be free from any contradiction and be genuine
service of Hashem.
"I place before you life and death,
blessing and curse; and You will choose life, in order that you and your descendants will
live [Deuteronomy 30:19]." And who would not choose life? Why does the Torah tell us
to "choose life?" The Torah is telling us something very serious. It is very
possible for a person to mistake what is true life, and many people indeed err. They
reason that they will live a life striving after wealth and live a long life of ease and
calm, with no worry. But the rich often are troubled and do not have rest and calm. There
are paupers who live in lowly homes and are joyous with what they have. They learn Torah
and are happy.
The Torah wants us to understand the
differentiation between temporary physical life and eternal spiritual life. Hashem puts
before us the choice between life and death, blessing and curse. The Torah is urging us to
choose eternal and true life. Only this way will we merit that we and our descendants will
truly live, together in eternal life. In physical life of wealth, the parent and child do
not live together because one generation comes and another goes. Therefore, the Torah is
telling us that there is great need and a holy imperative to choose true and spiritual
life, loving Hashem, obeying Him and cleaving to Him, because this is the quality and
length of a Jew's life.
The famous kabalist, Rabbi Chaim David
Azuloi [1700's], writes of an awesome event. Maharam MiRotenburg [1100's] was one of the
great Torah authorities and leaders in the era of the Rishonim. He was kidnapped by the
gentile king, who demanded an enormous sum of money. Maharam commanded the community to
not pay the ransom, because the evil king would learn to keep kidnapping Jewish leaders
and demanding unreasonably burdensome sums for their release. Maharam died in captivity
and his body was kept by the gentiles in the palace tower.
The Jewish community wanted to at least
ransom the body for proper Jewish burial. A very wealthy Jew arranged with the government
to personally pay for the release of the body with a large amount of gold, and he also
personally honored the remains of Maharam by participating in the funeral and burial.
The day after the burial of Maharam, the
pious wealthy man died. After such a magnificent mitzva, the people were stunned. A few
days later, the dead man came in a dream to one of his friends to explain what happened.
The night after Maharam's burial, Maharam came to the rich man in a dream to thank him for
burying his body, adding that he wanted to give the wealthy man a major present and he
could choose between two possible things: 1. he would have vast wealth that would continue
with his family forever, or 2. he would die immediately with the guarantee that he will
have eternal life in the same place as Maharam. The wealthy man chose guaranteed eternal
life with Maharam.
This righteous wealthy man stood at the
point of choice between life of unlimited material wealth and eternal spirtual true and
happy life. He fulfilled the Torah's words, "You will choose life." [Sefer
Rabbi Yechezkel Landau [1700's] was one of
the great authorities among the Acharonim. He spent all of his life in Torah study. He
wrote, in the introduction to his profound halacha sefer [Torah law book], Noda BiYehuda,
that he gave thanks to his wife for helping him. He said it was BECAUSE OF HER that he was
able to stay in yeshiva and learn Torah.
When the Chafetz Chayim was sixteen, he
decide he was going to be a masmid [one who learns Torah constantly]. He forced himself to
learn diligently, sleeping only about two hours a night. After a year of this pace, he
became seriously ill and was bedridden for the next year and unable to learn Torah. When
he saw that his year of inadequate sleep damaged his health for the subsequent year, he
said, "I see that being a masmid means making a seder [regular, organized time] for
A young woman was widowed. After some time
passed, she was ready to start dating and to re-marry. She continued wearing her
"shaitl [wig]," since a Jewish woman is required to cover her hair once she has
been married. Under some conditions, a woman who is no longer married can obtain a hetter
[permission] to uncover her hair. A friend told her to ask a rabbi for a hetter to take
off her shaitl while dating, so she would be more attractive and be more able to find a
husband. The widow said that this would be compromising her religious standards and that
the right man would appreciate her wearing her shaitl.
Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin, called by his
initials for short, "the Nitziv," was a leader of Russian religious Jewry for
much of the 1800's. He studied Torah all of his life and was known to personally be a
tzadik. He is most famous for "Emek Davar," a brilliant multi-volume commentary
on the Torah. Late in his life, he published a very profound three-book set on halacha
[law]. The day after the three-part set was published, he made a celebrative feast and
invited all of the rabbis of the region.
At the meal, he was asked, "Many
rabbis publish scholarly books. Why does this one merit a celebration?"
He said that when he was young, he was
impoverished. His father badgered him, "Don't stay in learning." "You'll be
a pauper." "You'll starve." "You won't be able to have a family."
"Come with me into business and make a living." "Be practical." His
father basically tortured him. He was suffering so much from his father's nagging and
verbal stabbing that at one point he actually considered leaving learning to go into
business. He wrestled with his weighty test. After much struggling with the question, he
decided that he would stay in learning.
The night after he published his set of
halacha books, a malach [angel sent from Heaven] came to him in a dream and said,
"This halacha work has been waiting in Heaven and you were the one chosen by Heaven
to be the agent to bring it down to earth. By publishing this work, you have achieved the
purpose of your life."
The Nitziv said that when he considered the
painfully difficult test that he had to go through when he was younger, and that he
decided to stay in Torah, and that he learned that he achieved his life's purpose by
publishing this book-set, and that he merited G-d's letting him know this through an
angel, "Isn't it appropriate that I thank G-d?"
Throughout life, there are many perplexing
questions. There are questions of values, priorities or faith. Sometimes that which might
be technically right might be far from genuinely right in a given situation. There are
things regarding which people can have various attitudes, interpretations and views. How
should we understand life? How should we keep from being bewildered, crushed or misled?
How do we make decisions or handle situations that are challenging, complex, painful or
unclear? How can we keep from having the wrong views, values or understanding of life, in
general; and how do we view life's trials or hardships, in particular?
How do we understand or handle suffering or
disappointment? How does one handle life situations or choices not specifically spelled
out by technical halacha [Torah law], such as a major career decision, which rabbi one
should learn from, what to prioritize in the selection of one's marriage partner, what
religious projects should an individual or family adopt or drop or modify? How does one
know if the course along which his life is going is correct? How does one evaluate what
change is necessary? How does one sort out and handle a complex or challenging moral
dilemma? How does one decide when a situation is not a routine case and requires a
different decision or approach than usual? How does one measure between how much he should
work and how much he should learn Torah? How can we retain strong faith in Hashem at times
of pain, test or difficulty?
The Torah contains everything [Pirkei Avos
chapter Five]. In many parts of the Torah, such as the Talmudic agadata [non-halachic
material], midrashim and holy seforim; questions of life, ethics and viewpoint are
articulated. In a word, we call this Hashkofa [Torah worldviews and values].
The Torah tells us how to understand life
and handle its tests and difficulties. The Torah establishes proper standards, attitudes
and perspectives. The Torah gives us the worldviews, concepts, ethics and values that G-d
wants the Torah Jew to have and live with.
This Hashkofa section will enable the reader to learn such
subjects and to obtain guidance for life. It will also help the reader to judge
occasions when to seek individual Torah guidance or ask a shaalo [rabbinic question].
Through the study of hashkofa, we can come to have clearer minds, better coping powers and
the right viewpoints and values that enable us to best manage life in the world that G-d
put us into, and live in this world properly as Torah Jews.
- Values For a Fulfilling and Successful Life
- A Torah Understanding of Suffering
- The Key to a Good Life is a Good Heart
- A Life of Wisdom
- "Life Messages" For All Year From Jewish Holidays
- Torah Gems From a Tzadik I Knew: Rabbi Avraham Asher