20 May A SECRET TO SUCCEED AT TORAH
As we are now just seeing Shavuos in our rearview mirror, some of us might be wondering why our Torah learning isn’t getting you anywhere. Why is it, perhaps, that you can’t seem to remember what you learned? Maybe you’re feeling frustrated at the fact that you can’t seem to be consistent and faithful to your Torah learning schedule while everyone else seems to be finishing masechtas and chumashim and you’re always falling-out. Or else, no matter how hard you try to commit yourself to be ‘maavir sedra,’ when parshios such as Vayeitzei and Trumah come along you just drop out. I’d like to share a powerful Medrash that can give us a great help toward success in our Torah ambitions. The Medrash in Shemos Rabbah quotes a posuk from Mishlei that has a very special address: Chapter 28, Posuk 28. Since the number twenty-eight is ‘koach’ in gematria, this is a very powerful address indeed and I do not believe this is coincidental for the verse packs an amazingly potent message. It states, “V’ayomer l’adom, Hein, yiras Hashem hi chochma – And He said to man, Behold, awareness of G-d is wisdom.” The literal meaning of this verse is that awareness of G-d is the fundamental wisdom of Judaism. But the Medrash reveals another profound message from this verse. Namely, the reward for fearing G-d is that the person who does so is gifted by G-d with the present of wisdom. The Medrash illustrates this with the case of Shifra and Puah, the Jewish midwives, who demonstrated an amazing fear of G-d by defying the absolute monarch Paroh and refusing to commit infanticide at his command. The posuk relates, “Vayeitev Elokim lamyaldos… Vay’hi ki yaru ha-myaldos es HaElokim vayaas lahem batim – And G-d was good to the midwives… And it was because the midwives feared G-d that He made them houses.” The Medrash asks what was the nature of G-d’s goodness to Yocheved and Miriam, the real identities of Shifra and Puah, and explains that because they feared G-d, Hashem rewarded Yocheved and Miriam. Yocheved was rewarded with Moshe, who, when he was born the posuk testifies, “Ki tov hu – He was good,” and in Judaism, “V’ein tov ela Torah,” good refers only to Torah, the true goodness, as the posuk further testifies, “Ki lekach tov nasoti lachem, Torasi al tozovu – For goodly merchandise I have given you do not forsake my Torah.” To Miriam was born Betzalel, who built the Aron HaKodesh that housed the Torah. Thus, we see the equation because of this yirah of the midwives, “Vayeitev Elokim lamyaldos – Hashem rewarded the midwives” with the eternal goodness of the Torah. This then is the deeper meaning of, “Reishis chochma yiras Hashem,” that the first step to wisdom is to be aware of and fear Hashem. This is also the sentiment of the Mishna in Pirkei Avos [3:11] that states, “Kol shemaasov m’rubin meichachmoso, chachmoso miskayemes – Whenever one’s fear of G-d proceeds his wisdom, his wisdom will be preserved.” This is also the meaning of the verse about Tefillin “V’haya la-os al yodecha u’ltotafos bein einecha lamaan tihiye Toras Hashem beficha – The Tefillin should be a sign upon your hand and frontlets opposite your eyes in order that Hashem’s Torah should be in your mouth.” The posuk is reiterating this equation. If we keep Hashem in our minds and in our hearts, becoming G-d fearing, we will succeed at having Torah in our mouths. It therefore behooves us to put stress on the learning of mussar for ourselves and our children because, when we learn such works as Mesilas Yesharim, Chovos Halevovos, and Shaarei Teshuva, the impact these ethical seforim will have upon our yiras Hashem will foster much greater success in our learning efforts. Let’s teach our children to stand up for the elderly and revere the Torah Sage for the reward of such behavior is yiras Hashem. As the posuk states, “Mipnei seiva tokum v’hodarta pnei zakein, v’yoreisa mei’Elokecha – Stand up for the elderly and revere the Torah sage, and you will be gifted with the fear of G-d and that in turn will lead to greater Torah success. So too, let’s ensure that our children give proper reverence to their parents by not sitting or standing in their places, and not contradicting them for Hashem says, ‘There are three partners in man. If you show reverence for the two partners, your parents, I will know you have reverence for the silent Partner,’ Who is Hashem. Anytime we refrain from saying lashon hara or doing any other aveira because of the inhibitions that Hashem is watching us, we fulfill the mitzvah of, “Es Hashem Elokecha tirah – To fear G-d,” and we earn immediate points toward greater Torah success. May it be the will of Hashem that we merit in a good way a deeper yiras Hashem and, through this, reach greater heights in our Torah – earning for ourselves its blessing of long life good health and everything wonderful.