Friday, May 15, 2015

Bechukosai. At my grandson's Bar Mitzva

Divrei Bracha at the Bar Mitzva of Avraham Jofen, 5/14/15

I am not the Chasan Haneshef,  or his father, or the zekan hamishpacha, so there is no need for me to speak.  Nonetheless, I think it is right that I do so, not as an individual, but as a representative of my parents, zichronam livracha.   אנן שליחותייהו קא עבדינן.

The Gemara (Brachos 11b) and the rishonim there talk about the issue of hefsek in Birkas HaTorah.  There are those that hold that if a person stops learning, he has to make a new bracha when he begins again, because it is a hefsek from the first bracha.  The Sefer Ha'Agur says that it is not a hefsek, because even when you are not actually learning, you have to consider what you can and cannot do according to the dinim of the Torah.  Even when you are in a place where it is assur to learn, you have to behave as the Torah prescribes.  As the Hafla'ah says, when you do business, it is not a hefsek, because you are learning Choshen Mishpat.  Every decision you make is examined in the light of the Torah, so that is not a hefsek in limud.

I would put it this way.  Torah is only a mitzvah when you learn al me'nas la'asos.  Al me'nas la'asos means that you don't learn superficially, you make the Torah a part of who you are.  On the contrary, if what you learn is just on the surface, the learning itself is bitul Torah.  If the Mitzva of limud hatorah requires that it should make you into a different person, do you think that carefully living the life of an ehrilcheh ben Torah is a hefsek in limud hatorah?  It's not a hefsek, it is a hemshech, it is a kiyum, of the mitzvah of limud hatorah.

My father Ztz'l had a lawyer,  William Rosenthal.  Bill was Jewish, but completely assimilated.  His only contact with Judaism was when he shook hands with my father.  Nonetheless, he and my father were good friends and respected each other.  After my father put a lawyer for a mortgage company through the wringer, the poor guy asked Bill which law school my father studied at, because he was amazed at my father's brilliant analysis of the contract.  Bill, who knew my father's background, told him that my father had studied at Slabodka U.

He once asked my father, "You and I are very ethical and honest men.  I adhere to the highest standards of behavior in business, and I wouldn't take a penny that wasn't mine.  You, too, are a man of the highest moral standards, but you behave that way because of your religious beliefs.  Is there really any difference between us?  

My father told him, on the spot, that there are three differences.  One is that for you, a dollar is a small matter, and a question involving a million dollars is a big matter. To me, there is no difference.  The principal, the law, is what matters, and the sum of money is irrelevant.  Another difference is that let's say you carefully think an issue through, and you decide the other side is right, and you are going to let them win.  The night before you tell them what you decided, you are going to toss and turn, thinking that maybe you really are right.  I, on the other hand, if I decide that I am right, and I am going to keep something I am entitled to, I won't be able to sleep at night out of a concern that maybe, God forbid, my view has been clouded by self interest.  The third difference is that while you and I are both successful people,, and we've both made a lot of money, you think that you made the money yourself, and it's 100% yours to do with as you please.  I believe that God decided that I should have the money, and every dollar was given to me so that I use it in the right way.

I thought that my father's answer showed his Ge'onus.  My son, Harav Mordechai, Rosh Kollel Hora'ah of Marlboro, suggested that the real significance of the story might be even greater.   My father answered as he did not because he was a genius, but because he really had these things in mind throughout his life.  For him, it was like being asked how he tied his shoelaces- this was an every-day part of his life.

In other words, I thought my father's immediate answer proved his Ge'onus. But in truth, it proves my father's Gadlus.

So Bill was right.  My father did learn how to do business at Slabodka U. Because he spent thirteen years yomam valailah learning how to do business at Slabodka U, he was able to give, on the spot, three excellent and lomdisheh chilukim about the difference between Bill Rosenthal's moral code and his own moral code.  Doing business like that  is not a hefsek in the mitzva of limud hatorah.  Farkert, it is the biggest kiyum and chizuk of limud hatorah and mussar.

This kind of life is a kiyum of the passuk אם בחקותי תלכו.  As Rashi explains,

אם בחקתי תלכו. יכול זה קיום המצות, כשהוא אומר ואת מצותי תשמרו, הרי קיום המצות אמור, הא מה אני מקים אם בחקתי תלכו, שתהיו עמלים בתורה:
ואת מצותי תשמרו. הוו עמלים בתורה על מנת לשמור ולקים, כמו שנאמר (דברים ה א) ולמדתם אתם ושמרתם לעשותם:
 If a person is a true ameil batorah, he eats like a Ben Torah, he drinks like a Ben Torah, he dresses like a Ben Torah, he does business like a Ben Torah, he mows the lawn like a Ben Torah, he even sleeps like a Ben Torah.   Ameilus BaTorah should make you into a person whose every action says "I am a Ben Torah."

It is this mesora which we bequeath to the Bar Mitzvah.  Yehi ratzon that Hashem be mekayeim on you the passuk in Yeshaya (59:21)

רוחי אשר עליך ודברי אשר שמתי בפיך לא ימושו מפיך ומפי זרעך ומפי זרע זרעך אמר ה' מעתה ועד עולם


I recently realized that my father's distinction between a secular humanist and one who follows the mitzvos of the Torah is a restatement of Tosfos Kiddushin 31a about the advantage of Metzuveh ve'Oseh.  
גדול המצווה ועושה - נראה דהיינו טעמא דמי שמצווה ועושה עדיף לפי שדואג ומצטער יותר פן יעבור


What follows is obviously inappropriate for a bar mitzvah, but it highlights the point that we made here.  
Brachos 62a:

תניא: אמר רבי עקיבא: פעם אחת נכנסתי אחר רבי יהושע לבית הכסא  ולמדתי ממנו שלשה דברים:

למדתי שאין נפנין מזרח ומערב אלא צפון ודרום
ולמדתי שאין נפרעין מעומד אלא מיושב
ולמדתי שאין מקנחין בימין אלא בשמאל
אמר ליה בן עזאי: עד כאן העזת פניך ברבך
אמר ליה: תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך
תניא: בן עזאי אומר: פעם אחת נכנסתי אחר רבי עקיבא לבית הכסא, ולמדתי ממנו שלשה דברים
למדתי שאין נפנין מזרח ומערב אלא צפון ודרום, ולמדתי שאין נפרעין מעומד אלא מיושב, ולמדתי שאין מקנחין בימין אלא בשמאל; אמר לו ר' יהודה: עד כאן העזת פניך ברבך
אמר לו: תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך.
רב כהנא על, גנא תותיה פורייה דרב, שמעיה דשח ושחק ועשה צרכיו
אמר ליה: דמי פומיה דאבא כדלא שריף תבשילא
אמר ליה: כהנא, הכא את! פוק, דלאו אורח ארעא
אמר לו: תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך.


  1. Excellent. Where is the Haflaah?

    1. Brochos 11b. . I'll try to put the link in, but it will probably have to wait till I get home after Shovuos.
      Thank you.

  2. mazal tov!
    see the maor v'shemesh at the beginning of the parsha. I wasn't 100% sure this is what you had in mind, but IIRC he says the ameilim=work k'peshuto, i.e. doing business. That too has to be done "baTorah" too, not just stam like any other worker or businessman.

    1. Thank you.
      As I returned to my seat, Rav Moshe Tendler said that is the pshat in laasok bedivrei torasecha. Eisek kipshuto, business.

  3. Mazal Tov, and thank you. מאד נהניתי

    1. Thank you.
      I'm sure you and your family are professional and disciplined, but this, and most of my better drashos, came together on the way to the event, when my wife asks me, so, what are you going to say. With Siyata dishmaya, the two weeks of dithering and floundering comes together.