Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ponovezher Rov, Rav Yosef Ber Soloveichik, and Tehillim

One day, in shul before davenning, I said the following vort that I heard in the name of the Ponevezher Rov.

Chazal say (Yalkut Breishis #41) that when Odom Horishon looked at the future of his descendants, he saw that Dovid Hamelech was fated to be born without a life span. Realizing what a tragedy it would be if this great soul would not be given the chance to achieve its potential, he gave him seventy years from his own life. (“ayin shonim mishnosai yihiyu limazol zeh”)

Why did Dovid Hamelech have to get his years from Odom Horishon? Why did Hashem make it that Dovid was fated to die at birth and would have to get a neshomo from someone else? And in all of history from Odom until Dovid, weren’t there any other sources of years that he could have taken from other people?

Sefer Tehillim is unique in Tanach. It accompanies a person his whole life. When a boy and girl get involved in shidduchim, they say tehillim. When they get married, they say tehillim. When they hope to have a child, they say tehillim. When a woman is pregnant and hopes to have an easy childbirth, she says tehillim. While she is in labor, she and her family say tehillim. As the child grows, and they hope that he follows the derech of torah and mussar, they say tehillim. When he is sick, he and others say tehillim. When he is happy and wants to express his thanks to Hashem, he says tehillim. When a man dies, at the leviah and at the bais olam they say tehillim. When his children go to visit his kever, they say tehillim. Tehillim is said in joy, in tears, in victory, in defeat, in hope, in despair, for teshuva, for chizuk. A regular neshomo cannot possibly write a sefer like that. Only a man whose neshomo, whose ruach memalelo, was vayipach be’apov directly from Hashem, can write Tehillim.

A visitor from out of town was in the shul when I said this, and he said, and I quote, “My Rosh Yeshiva never said Tehillim.” I asked him where he learned, and he said he learned in YU, and his Rosh Yeshiva was Rav Yosef Ber Soloveichik. I suppose his point was that Talmidei Chachomim, Halakhic Men, Rationalists, have better things to do with their time. Sort of like “Real men don’t say Tehillim.”

The funny and sad thing is that anyone who knew the Soloveichiks, both Rav Yosef Ber and Rav Aharon, knew how far from the truth that statement was. They not only did say Tehillim, but they rarely stopped saying Tehillim. How sad and superficial it must be to have a Rosh Yeshiva and absorb so little of what he is in his heart.


  1. Since you admit you don't understand the guys point about RYBS i will say as follows.If his point was to be mevatel the inyan of saying tehilim then his comment is probally just letzonis.However it is possible that he meant that his RY felt like R' Chaim Volozhiner that limud H'Torah is more important then Tehilim and one capable of doing so should preoccupy himself with Torah.

  2. I think that many bnei Torah feel that way, and that's why most aren't ma'avir sedrah. But being ma'avir sedra is not just a good idea, it's the law. Indeed, everyone brings a rayo from the Gemora in Megilla that "m'vatlin talmud torah l'mikro megillah," which indicates that mere reading of Ksuvim is called bittul torah vis a vis learning b'iyun.

    But I remember that Reb Moshe used to stand outside on the porch of his bungalow in the Summer and say Tehillim. And Reb Aharon Soloveichik used to say the entire sefer Tehillim every day after one of his grandsons became ill. Somehow, a balance can be reached between exaltation through Iyun Hatorah and dveikus through simple learning or reading.

  3. I'm not negating the value of saying tehilim but I never came across anyone who felt that being maavirsedrah isn't considered limud h'Torah.As far as saying tehillim I'm assuming it would depend on wheter it is being said 'derech limud' or derech tefilah. Not all acronim learn mevatlim talmid torah l'krias megilah as an indication that kreias megilah isn't talmud torah.Some learn it goes on the time taken to go to shul or other explainations.Krias H'torah is defintly considered limud H'Torah and that is even the purpose of it being leined.

  4. A friend sent me the following in response to this posting:

    Halakhic Man page 87 (in the English):

    "Halakhic man, on the contrary, is very sparing in his recitation of the piyuttim, not, heaven forbid, on account of philosophical qualms, but because he serves his Maker with pure halakhic thought, precise cognition, and clear logic. He does not waste his time reciting songs and hymns. The
    cognition of the Torah - this is the holiest and most exalted type of service. He serves the Creator by uncovering the truth in the Halakha, by solving difficulties and resolving problems.
    Once my father entered the synagogue on Rosh Ha-Shana, late in the afternoon, after the regular prayers were over, and found me reciting Psalms with the congregation. He took away my Psalm book and handed me a
    copy of the tractate Rosh Ha-Shana. "If you wish to serve the Creator at this moment, better study the laws pertaining to the festival."
    While the congregation would recite piyyutim on the Days of Awe, R. Hayyim would study Torah...
    The study of Torah is not a means to another end, but is the endpoint of all desires. It is the most fundamental principle of all"

    I answered him:

    "Amazing. I never realized how dismissive he was of everything but Iyun Hatorah. I imagine, though, that he is not recommending this for everyone, but only for those ubermentchen, the few who can reach exultation and exaltation through limud hatorah, as you said about R' Aron."

    And that's the real problem. Some people focus on Limud in their Yeshiva days, and disparage other forms of spiritual growth, like tefillah b'tzibbur or mussar. Then they leave the yeshiva and enter the working world, and they lose their Torah focus but keep their negative attitude about tefillah and deveikus.