Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Awareness of Hashem - The Bilvavi Way - Guest Post
The following is a comment left on Reb Yerachmiel's shiur from this morning. It is a must-must-must read for anyone wanting to accomplish what must be accomplish when learning Torah. It includes two articles by Rabbi Boroch Leff (And thank you to Jasmine for pointing out the identity of the author of the articles).
I got a hold of these two articles relevant to the shiur, printed in Yated Neeman a few months ago.
Hashem Awareness Even When Learning Torah: The Bilvavi Way
Perhaps you were surprised by the title: Even when learning Torah? Isn’t it obvious that when we learn Torah we are performing a mitzvah and are very much aware of Hashem? Let me tell you a story which will explain the title.
The famous Rav Shmelka of Nikolsburg was once learning in the beis medrash alongside his equally famous brother Rav Pinchas Horowitz, author of the seforim HaMakneh and Haflaah. Rav Pinchas noticed that every so often, the shammas of Rav Shmelke would interrupt Rav Shmelke and whisper something into his ear. After a number of times of watching this, Rav Pinchas couldn’t contain his curiosity bordering on anger at the shammas for interrupting his brother’s learning.
Rav Pinchas finally asked his brother what the shammas was saying to him, “Why do you permit him to continuously interrupt your learning?! Tell him of the prohibition of bitul Torah—that he shouldn’t waste any of your time, especially when you are learning in the beis medrash!”
Rav Shmelke responded, “My brother, you misunderstand. I told my shammas to do it. You see, when I learn Torah, there are times that I get so involved in what I’m learning and I enjoy it so much that I forget there’s a Ribbono Shel Olam! I told my shammas that every so often, even when I’m learning, he should whisper in my ear, ‘There is a Ribbono Shel Olam!’ This is what brings me back to the purpose of my learning Torah—to understand Hashem and His will better and to attach myself to Him!”
A poignant story. The story’s lesson is related to what the Kotzker Rebbe once said, “The Torah prohibits us from doing avoda zara. . .even of the Torah itself!” This means that we can’t allow our Torah learning to take on a life of its own. We must always learn with a real and continuous awareness of why we are learning and for whom we are learning.
This does not mean that we must meditate upon Hashem at every moment. Certainly, when we learn, we must concentrate and attempt to understand what Rashi and Tosafos and the Rashba are saying. But, as Rav Shlomo Brevda, shlita, once told me, in order to maximize the hashpaah, the powerful spiritual influence that Torah study can have upon our souls and our midos, we must fulfill the requirements of Rav Chaim Volozhin in the Nefesh HaChaim (Shaar 4:6): “This is the proper true path that Hashem has chosen. Whenever a person prepares himself to learn Torah, he should sit down before he learns, at least for a short time, with a pure heartfelt fear of Hashem, and confess his sins from the depths of his heart, so that his Torah will be more pure and holy. He should then have in mind that he will attach himself to Hashem through learning His Torah, because by studying the word of Hashem, halacha, with all one’s strength, with this one attaches himself to Hashem as much as possible. This is because He and His will (the Torah) are One.”
The Nefesh HaChaim (4:7) continues: “Before learning Torah, a person should think about Hashem with purity of heart and fear of Him, and cleanse himself with thoughts of repentance, so that He can connect and attach himself to the will of G-d when he learns. He should also accept upon himself to observe and fulfill all that is written in the entire Torah. . .he should pray that Hashem will lead him to discover the truth of Torah.”
“This should be done even in the middle of learning. Permission is given to interrupt regular learning subjects, for a short time, before the passion of the fear of Hashem becomes extinguished from his heart, (to reignite) all that he accepted upon himself before he began learning. He should think again of the fear of Hashem. . .This is not bitul Torah, because it is necessary in order for the Torah to have a lasting impact.”
This approach to Torah study is vital in order to avoid the warning of the Kotzker Rebbe mentioned above. By actively and directly connecting our Talmud Torah to the Ribbono Shel Olam in a real sense, and not merely in a general, disconnected way, the learning becomes a vehicle for true dveikus with Hashem.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe, ztl, writes similar thoughts in Alei Shur (Volume 2, page 106). He says that there are many ways to learn Torah—iyun, bekius, pilpul, in-depth analysis, general factual knowledge. But there is also a ‘Yiras Shamayim’ way of learning. This path does not negate any of the others but accompanies them. Every sugya and subject in Shas has the fear of Hashem within it if we only pay attention to it. All of the decrees from the rabannan are derived from a fear of Hashem not to transgress His Torah.
Rav Wolbe continues, a person can inject fear of Hashem into all that he learns. Frequently, the gemara says ‘Amar Mar—the (anonymous) Master said.’ The Midrash Tanchuma says that Mar refers to Hashem! Thus, instead of saying Mar, when learning the gemara, one should substitute the words Amar HaKadosh Baruch Hu! and then state the halacha the gemara mentions! This is the path and method that Rav Yisrael Salanter utilized to directly connect what he was learning to Hashem and His ratzon. This is how we can discover yirah and mussar in whatever we learn.
The Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh states that fulfilling the Nefesh HaChaim’s guide to Torah learning is a major component to the mitzvah of shivisi Hashem l’negdi samid, I set Hashem before me always (Tehillim 16:8). Though the Rema begins Shulchan Aruch by saying this avodah of shivisi is among the maalos of tzadikim, the highest levels of the righteous, the Biur HaGra there says, ‘This concept includes all the levels of the righteous—vezehu kol maalos hatzadikim!’
If we want to Grow. . .UP, we must work on trying to feel Hashem’s presence at all times, and as we’ve seen, this applies even when we are learning Torah.
May this article be a zechus for a refuah shlaimah b’karov to Yehudis Sarah bas Esther.
Hashem Awareness Even When Learning Torah-Part 2
The Bilvavi Way
What is the goal of life? Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (Volume 3) states that we must crystallize the answer to this question before we can progress in our service of Hashem. Now, we think the answer to this question is very obvious—most people would say the goal of life is to involve ourselves in mitzvos, and to learn Torah in order to know Shas and poskim. But the Ramchal writes differently.
In Mesilas Yesharim, right in the beginning of the first perek, the Ramchal says the goal of life is to ‘l’hisaneg al Hashem’, to derive pleasure from being close to Hashem. We are to put all of our drives into coming close to Hashem, to the ultimate extent of being drawn like a magnet to Him. This doesn’t mean, says Bilvavi, that we are not supposed to learn as much Torah as we can at every possible moment, trying to know Shas and poskim. As Chazal say, the world only continues to exist through the merit of learning Torah. But we must realize that the purpose of all of our learning is to attach ourselves to Hashem.
There are those who say that since the Zohar says that HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Oraysa, V’Yisrael Chad Hu—Hashem, the Torah, and the Jewish people are one, then when we learn Torah, we are anyway attaching ourselves to Him, whether we intend to or not. If we are attached to the Torah, we are attached to Hashem.
But Bilvavi points out that one can’t consciously ignore dveykus B’Hashem even when learning Torah, because according to this thinking, then when we’re involved and attached to other Jews, or when we’re attached to ourselves, we’re also attached to Hashem. After all, the Zohar says Yisrael V’Hashem is also chad hu. Rather, even when learning Torah, we must make a conscious effort to be cognizant of the goal which Torah learning is supposed to produce—dveykus b’Hashem.
This is what we cited from the Nefesh HaChaim last week, “Before learning Torah, a person should think about Hashem with purity of heart and fear of Him, and cleanse himself with thoughts of repentance, so that He can connect and attach himself to the will of G-d when he learns. He should also accept upon himself to observe and fulfill all that is written in the entire Torah. . .he should pray that Hashem will lead him to discover the truth of Torah. . . .This should be done even in the middle of learning. Permission is given to interrupt his regular learning subjects, for a short time, before the passion of the fear of Hashem becomes extinguished from his heart, (to reignite) all that he accepted upon himself before he began learning. He should think again of the fear of Hashem. . .This is not bitul Torah, because it is necessary in order for the Torah to have a lasting impact.”
Rav Shimshon Pincus (Nefesh Shimshon-Torah V’Kinyaneha, page 218) says that if a person wants to be able to learn Torah with an awareness of Hashem, he should make sure to recite the tefila from Chazal that is designed to be said before we learn Torah. The Mishna in Brachos 28b says that Rav Nechunya ben Hakanah would recite a tefila before he entered the beis midrash to learn Torah. The tefila was comprised of a request that he become successful to discover the truth of Torah and avoid any obstacles that would stand in the way of this goal. He would also say a tefila after he left the beis midrash thanking Hashem for the merit to be able to learn Torah.
The Mishna Berura (110:37) brings the Rambam in the Peirush Mishnayos who says that reciting this tefila is an absolute obligation because the mishna did not tell us what Rav Nechunya did to simply tell us a story; rather, the mishna is telling us what we must do to emulate Rav Nechunya. Rav Pincus declares that whoever says this tefila is guaranteed to be successful in his learning.
Rav Pincus continues to say that when we learn we should envison Hakadosh Baruch Hu Himself as our chavrusa, learning with us. The Nefesh Hachaim shows from many statements in Chazal that when we learn Torah, Hashem is mouthing the words along with us. He is literally with us—and we must be fully cognizant of this attachment with Him we can attain when we learn, if we seek it.
Learning without an awareness of Hashem is the issue which was responsible for the destruction of the land of Israel. The Ran mentions in the name of Rabbeinu Yona an explanation of the Gemara in Nedarim 81a which expounds a pasuk in Yirmiyahu which says that the destruction occurred because "they abandoned my Torah" [9:12] to mean the fact that Jews did not recite the blessing before learning Torah. Rabbeinu Yona explains that the reason why the Gemara did not want to interpret the pasuk literally (that people abandoned the Torah and simply did not learn it at all), was because the Gemara previously mentioned that prophets and scholars were consulted and they didn’t have an interpretation of the pasuk. This could not have been the case if Jews didn’t learn Torah at all—it would have been noticeable then.
Therefore, Rabbeinu Yona explains that "they abandoned my Torah" must not refer to something obvious or evident. This is why the gemara says it was necessary for Hashem Himself to reveal to us the nature of the sin.
Rabbeinu Yona continues by explaining as follows: that generation certainly occupied themselves with constant Torah learning, but people did not recite the bracha over learning Torah. This means that they did not consider Torah exalted enough to be worthy of a bracha. People did learn Torah. Everyone had fixed times for studying Torah. However, they did not consider the Torah learning as a holy pursuit so. They did not recite the bracha over Torah because they didn’t learn with the goal of attaching themselves to G-d. They learned merely out of enjoyment.
We must learn with Hashem awareness if our learning is to help us grow. . .UP!
May this article be a zechus for a refuah shlaimah b’karov to Yehudis Sarah bas Esther.
(Picture courtesy of Chassidicart.com)
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