July 26th 2014
tamouz 28th 5774
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No One is Allowed to Rely Upon His Own Wisdom
by Rabbi David Pinto Shlita
It is written, “Moshe commanded the Children of Israel according to the word of Hashem, saying: ‘Correctly does the tribe of the children of Joseph speak. This is the word that Hashem has commanded regarding the daughters of Zelophehad, saying: Let them be wives to whomever is good in their eyes…’ ” (Bamidbar 36:5-6).
From the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, and from the Halachah that ensues, our Sages concluded that no one is capable of relying upon his own wisdom. Even someone who has studied a great deal and has become a great scholar should not attribute his understanding to his efforts alone. In fact G-d disapproved of our teacher Moshe declaring, “Any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I shall hear it” (Devarim 1:17). To this, G-d responded: “You feel capable of judging a complicated case? By your life, I will prove to you that you cannot! I will place before you a case that even the least among your students can resolve, but you will be incapable!” (Sifre, Devarim 17). What does this refer to? To the case of the daughters of Zelophehad, concerning which it is said: “Moshe brought their claim before Hashem” (Bamidbar 27:5). Along the same lines, we find the following story in the book of Samuel: “Saul approached Samuel inside the gate and said, ‘Tell me, please, which is the house of the seer?’ Samuel answered Saul, saying: ‘I am the seer’ ” (I Samuel 9:18-19). The Sages teach that Hashem said, “Are you really a seer? I will make you realize that you are not!” Under what circumstances did He make him realize this? It was when David, the future king, was being anointed. In fact G-d had commanded Samuel, “Fill your horn with oil and go forth – I shall send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have seen a king for Myself among his sons” (I Samuel 16:1). Upon the arrival of Jesse’s sons, Samuel saw Eliav and thought: “Surely, before Hashem is His anointed one” (v.6). G-d then said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his tall stature, for I have rejected him. For it is not as man sees – man sees what his eyes behold, but Hashem sees into the heart” (v.7).
Still on this subject, it is taught that certain tzaddikim grew proud because they performed mitzvot to perfection, and so Hashem caused them to falter. For example, King David declared: “Your statutes have been my songs” (Tehillim 119:54), meaning that to him they were as easy and familiar as songs. Here the Sages teach, “The Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘By your life! In the end, you will err in a matter that children read in Scripture!’ When he brought up the Ark, he erred and put it on a cart, as it says: ‘They set the Ark of G-d upon a new cart’ [II Samuel 6:3]. The Ark suspended itself in the air, and the cows slipped beneath it. Uzzah drew near to support it, ‘and G-d struck him there for his error’ [v.7], for an error in learning amounts to presumption. ‘David was displeased because Hashem had struck Uzzah’ [v.8]. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: ‘Did you not say, “Your statutes have been my songs”? Have you not learned: “But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, for the service of the holy things belonged to them; they bore them upon their shoulders” [Bamidbar 7:9]?’ David began to reflect: ‘Hashem our G-d made a breach in us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance’ [I Chronicles 15:13]” (Bamidbar Rabba 21:12). Let us return to our original subject. G-d allowed Moshe to falter in order to question him on what he had said: “Any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I shall hear it” (Devarim 1:17). As the Sages teach, “It is like the case of a money-changer who said to his apprentice: ‘If you are brought selayim to change into small coins, change them. However if you are brought pearls, bring them to me.’ Glass beads were brought to him, and he took it to his master. His master, however, went to consult someone else about it! It is the same here. Moshe said: ‘Any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me.’ Yet when the daughters of Zelophehad came, He concealed the law from him: ‘Moshe brought their claim before Hashem. Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: “The daughters of Zelophehad speak properly” ’ [Bamidbar 27:7]. This, He meant, is the law! The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: ‘Did you not say, “Any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me”? The law with which you are unacquainted is decided by the women!’ ” (Bamidbar Rabba 21:12).
The Midrash (Bereshith Rabba 61:1) also recounts that the verse, “Praiseworthy is the man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (Tehillim 1:1) refers to Avraham, concerning whom G-d declared: “For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children...that they may keep the way of Hashem” (Bereshith 18:19). This Midrash states that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, “His [Avraham’s] father did not teach him, nor did he have a teacher. From where, then, did he learn Torah? The fact is that the Holy One, blessed be He, made his two kidneys serve as two teachers for him, and these welled forth and taught him wisdom.” Hence it is written, “I will bless Hashem, Who has advised me; also in the nights my reins [kidneys] instruct me” (Tehillim 16:7).
We also know that Avraham went to study Torah with Shem, Noah’s son. Yet G-d had given him two kidneys to teach him Torah, so why did he go and learn with Shem? The answer is that Avraham was afraid of becoming pretentious and thinking, “All my understanding has come not from a teacher or a father, for I’ve learned everything on my own!” He therefore went to study with a teacher in order to avoid all feelings of pride. No student can declare before his rav, “I’ve learned everything on my own!” The rav’s very presence contradicts this. Such was Avraham’s thinking: “Until now, I could have thought that I learned everything on my own. Yet from now on, since a teacher is instructing me, I can affirm that I understand nothing on my own, and that everything I know comes from a teacher.”
Aleph, Why Are You Silent?
Still on the same subject, we note that the letter aleph, by which Hashem began the Ten Commandments, merited this honor only because it did not consider itself particularly wise. It humbled itself before G-d and did not seek greatness for itself, as recounted in Otiyot d’Rabbi Akiva: “When the aleph saw that G-d created the world by the letter beit, it stood aside and remained silent until Hashem called out, ‘Aleph, aleph, why are you silent?’ It responded, ‘Sovereign of the universe, I cannot allow myself to stand before You and speak.’ Hashem said, ‘Why not?’ The aleph replied, ‘Because the [numerical] values of all the other letters are greater than mine: Beit is two, gimel is three, dalet is four, hei is five…but I am only one.’ G-d then reassured it: ‘Aleph, you have nothing to fear, for you are at the head of all the letters, like a king. You are one, I am One, and the Torah is one. It is through you that I will give the Torah to My people Israel as a heritage on Mount Sinai,’ as it is written: ‘I am [Anochi, which begins with the letter aleph] Hashem your G-d’ [Shemot 20:2].”
To summarize, no one can rely upon his own wisdom. Instead, we must all reply upon G-d’s goodness. Furthermore, the Gemara says: “If a man makes his prayer rely upon his own merit, Heaven makes it rely upon the merit of others. If he makes it rely upon the merit of others, Heaven makes it rely upon his own merit” (Berachot 10b). It is also said, “Israel had two good leaders: Moshe and King David. They could have sustained the world by their good deeds alone, but nevertheless they beseeched Hashem to provide for them” (Sifrei, Devarim 26). If these men, who could have relied upon their own good deeds to sustain the world, nevertheless implored G-d’s favor, how much more should a person who does not even reach the ankle of their disciples’ disciples implore G-d’s favor!
The Parable and its Meaning
The Long Desert Journey: Increasing Miracles and Deliverance
It is written, “Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys at the bidding of Hashem, and these were their journeys according to their goings forth” (Bamidbar 33:2).
After stating that Moshe wrote “their goings forth according to their journeys,” why does the verse repeat itself by saying: “these were their journeys according to their goings forth”? The Maggid of Dubno provides us with a nice explanation, as he usually does, by means of a parable:
There was once a wealthy man who had two sons. When his older son became engaged, a wedding date was set and the man entrusted the dowry money to a third party. When the younger son, who was just a boy, saw his father spending an enormous amount of money on his brother’s wedding, he asked him: “Why don’t you spend so much on me? Why do I receive less than my brother? Is he better than me?”
The man replied, “Your older brother has reached the age of marriage, and the money you see is for the wedding dowry. As for you, you’re still young and tender, so observe what I’m giving to your brother and record in a notebook the exact amount of money that I’m spending on him. I’ll sign it and promise that you’ll receive the very same amount on the day that you too become engaged.”
That is precisely what the boy did. He counted all the money that his father spent and recorded it in his notebook. He then greatly rejoiced when he saw all kinds of expensive and regal fabric being purchased, followed by a tailor armed with his measuring tools. However the tailor paid attention only to the older brother, not even noticing the boy’s presence. The boy then complained to his father: “The tailor used all the fabric you purchased on my brother’s suits and garments. He didn’t make anything for me!”
The man reassured the boy by explaining, “Your brother will soon be married, and he therefore needs new clothes. Observe and record all the clothes that are being made for him so that, when it comes time for your wedding, I will do the same for you.” Hence that is precisely what the boy did during all the wedding preparations, recording every purchase – from the smallest to the greatest, as well as all the jewelry being crafted for the bride – in his notebook.
Once the bride’s wedding clothes were ready, the man gathered all the garments and jewelry and stored them in a safe reserved for this very purpose, in order to safeguard them until the wedding day.
On the following morning, however, the safe was gone! Everyone was desperate, especially since the wedding day was soon approaching. The father rushed to the store in order to purchase more fabric, asking the tailor to fashion new suits and garments to replace the ones that had been stolen. Thus the tailor began his work, and the boy once again came to “watch” with great interest, noting every garment and article of clothing that he was making.
After all the preparations were complete, they celebrated the wedding in splendor and magnificence. In the days that followed, hearts brimming with joy, the two brothers went for a walk by some orchards and vineyards. The newlywed told his young brother how grateful he was to their father for his generosity. “He spent so much on me [garments for the week, as well as for Shabbat and the holidays] and double! In fact when the first set was finished, everything was stolen and father had to replace everything,” he told him.
Upon hearing this, the boy exclaimed: “My dear brother, you’re mistaken.” The older brother was astonished: “How’s that? Don’t you realize that because the first set was stolen, father was forced to have others made?” The boy explained, “What you’re saying isn’t right. You should know that he first set disappeared in order for father to get me more. In fact I was the one behind the entire scheme! I encouraged some thieves to steal your clothes so that father would be forced to make you more. That way, I could increase the amounts I was recording in my notebook for the total cost of the wedding. I did this because father promised to spoil me as much as he did for you when it’s my turn to get married. So, the second purchases weren’t because the first were stolen. Rather, the first set should be considered as having been stolen so that more could be purchased. In that way, I would benefit from a greater set of clothes when it comes time for my wedding.”
Let us explain this parable. Moshe recorded in a book all the events that had occurred during their journeys, just like the story recorded by our Sages in the Midrash. “It is like the case of a king whose son was ill. He took him to a certain place to cure him. On their return journey, his father began to recount all the stages, saying: ‘Here we slept; here we cooled ourselves; here you had a headache.’ Hence the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: ‘Recount to them all the places where they provoked Me’ ” (Bamidbar Rabba 23:3).
Thus Moshe listed the journeys of Israel and all the trials they endured. The phrase, “Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys” means that Moshe mentioned the events related to these places by specifying what the Children of Israel experienced there – from hunger to thirst, to wars and other such incidents. To discourage us from thinking that such events were caused by their presence in those places, the verse continues by reversing the order of the words: “these were their journeys according to their goings forth.” G-d guided the Children of Israel towards these places so they could be confronted by these difficulties. In this way, G-d could once again produce numerous miracles for them and thus prepare eternal deliverance towards the Final Redemption, speedily and in our days.
At the Source
It is written, “They journeyed from the desert of Sinai and encamped in Kivrot-HaTa’ava” (Bamidbar 33:16).
In his book Baruch Avraham, Rabbi Avraham Baruch Mani Zatzal presents an ethical interpretation of this verse:
“Our Sages have said, ‘I created the evil inclination, but I created the Torah as its antidote’ [Kiddushin 30b]. It is impossible to overcome desire without the study of Torah.”
This is what the verse says: “They journeyed from the desert of Sinai,” meaning that they distanced themselves from Torah, which had been given to them in the desert of Sinai, and abandoned its study. At that point they “encamped in Kivrot-HaTa’ava” (literally “graves of desire”), meaning that evil desires overcame them.
Until the Death of the Kohen Gadol
It is written, “He shall dwell in it until the death of the Kohen Gadol, who was anointed with the sacred oil” (Bamidbar 35:25).
We need to ask why the verse makes the unintentional murderer remain in a city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol.
In his Guide to the Perplexed (3:40), the Rambam explains that the stay of the unintentional murderer depends on the death of the Kohen Gadol. This was done in order to assuage the anger of the avenger of blood over the death of his relative. In fact it is human nature for a new and important event to make people forget past events. When the Kohen Gadol, beloved by all Israel, passes away, it creates tremendous pain that makes people forget less severe pain, and the fact that everyone suffers is somewhat of a consolation.
The Opposite Viewpoint
It is written, “The assembly shall rescue the murderer from the hand of the avenger of blood” (Bamidbar 35:25).
Rav Kahana said, “If the Sanhedrin unanimously finds [the accused] guilty, he is acquitted” (Sanhedrin 17a).
This is truly astonishing! How can we say that it is precisely because the Sanhedrin is unanimous in its decision – namely that the accused is guilty – that he must be innocent? What kind of logic is this?
The gaon Rabbi Shlomo Kluger Zatzal answers this question as follows:
When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world, He created truth and falsehood. Now a constant war exists between truth and falsehood, and whenever truth appears, falsehood immediately arises to oppose it.
Hence if those who believe the accused to be either guilty or innocent constitute the majority of the Sanhedrin, the verdict follows the majority. This is because we assume that the majority has expressed the truth, and that the minority – which has the opposite viewpoint – has expressed falsehood, which as we have said is the sworn enemy of the truth.
Yet as soon as the entire Sanhedrin says guilty, and no judge expresses the opposite viewpoint, this indicates that falsehood is behind it. For if the Sanhedrin had expressed the truth, falsehood would not have kept silent. Instead, it would have certainly opposed the truth by expressing the opposite viewpoint.
Who Pleases Them, Not Their Parents
It is written, “To those who are pleasing in their eyes, they may become wives” (Bamidbar 36:6).
A chassid went to see the Rebbe of Kobrin, Rabbi Moshe Zatzal, to complain about his daughter’s attitude.
“What do you mean?” asked the Rebbe.
The man began recounting his troubles: “I’ve been working a long time, traveling around the country in every direction to find a husband for my daughter. Yet now, it turns out that she doesn’t want to marry the one I’ve chosen for her. She says that he doesn’t please her.”
“You shouldn’t be upset with her for this,” replied the Rebbe. He then supported his words with a verse from this week’s parsha: “This is the thing which Hashem has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying: ‘To those who are pleasing in their eyes, they may become wives.’ ”
The Rebbe explained that this means they can choose to marry one who pleases them, not one who pleases their parents.
It is written, “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel” (Bamidbar 33:1).
The term eleh (“these”) has a numerical value of 36.
This refers to the 36 instances of excision cited in the Torah, instances that caused the Children of Israel to journey in exile. It is written, “Israel did not go into exile until they had repudiated the 36 ordinances in the Torah for which the penalty is excision” (Eicha Rabba 1:1).
In the Light of the Parsha
The Beit HaMidrash is Like a City of Refuge
It is written, “A murderer shall flee there – one who takes a life unintentionally” (Bamidbar 35:11).
In Parsha Va’etchanan it is written, “He shall flee to one of these cities and live” (Devarim 4:42). This poses a problem, for the verse seems to be saying that the murderer will live because he entered a city of refuge. However since he can still die a natural death in a city of refuge, why does it say “and live”? Better to say, “He shall flee to one of these cities and be saved from the hand of the avenger of blood”! The answer is that the Torah states “and live” to teach us that whoever enters the Beit HaMidrash – which is like a city of refuge – is promised that he will live. That is, he will not die from an attack of the evil inclination. In fact the evil inclination cannot enter the Beit HaMidrash, and the expression “and live” means “and he will become a tzaddik.” None are dead but the wicked, as the Sages have said: “These are the wicked, who in their lifetime are called dead” (Berachot 18b), whereas the tzaddikim in their death are called alive (ibid. 18a). Moshe also said, “Not with your forefathers did Hashem seal this covenant, but with us – we who are here, all of us alive today” (Devarim 5:3). What does “all of us alive” mean? It means that if you enter the Beit HaMidrash and study Torah, you will be saved from the evil inclination that seeks to kill you, and you will become living tzaddikim, not dead evildoers.
We can now understand why Moshe, in Devarim 4:41, interrupted his account of the giving of the Torah to speak about cities of refuge. As such he was telling the Children of Israel: Now that I have opened the heavens for you, and you clearly know that there is only one G-d, Who commanded you Torah and mitzvot, you will be saved from the evil inclination if you sanctify yourselves. If you ask me how you can separate yourselves from this world, which is completely material, the answer is that before you are cities of refuge, which allude to the Beit HaMidrash. A man can enter it to escape the evil inclination, which has no right to enter. At that point he separates himself from this world, and just as the evil inclination was removed from your hearts at Mount Sinai (Shir Hashirim Rabba 1:15), likewise whoever enters the Beit HaMidrash to study Torah will be saved from the evil inclination, which has no right to enter.
A Life of Torah
Let us reflect upon what the maggid revealed to our teacher Rabbi Yosef Karo. He revealed hidden secrets about his reward for learning the holy Torah:
“All the tzaddikim in Gan Eden will come to meet you, with the Shechinah at their head, welcoming you with song and praise. They will treat you like a bridegroom who walks at the forefront, and everyone will accompany you to your chuppah.
“Seven chuppot are prepared for you, one inside the other, and seven chuppot, one above the other. Within the innermost and highest chuppah, there are seven streams of a wonderful fragrance. I will prepare for you a throne of gold with seven steps, where I will place pearls and precious stones for you. All the tzaddikim will accompany you and sing before you until you reach the first chuppah, and there you will be robed in an opulent garment. Likewise at each chuppah, so when you are brought to the last one, you will have 14 glorious garments upon you.
“Two tzaddikim among those accompanying you will then place themselves to your right and your left, like best men, and they will lead you upon the throne. When you begin to ascend, you will be robed in glorious garments, over the 14 glorious garments that you are already wearing. This is how you will be led upon the throne. A crown suspended from above will be brought, it will be placed upon your head, and you will sit upon the throne, with one to your right and one to your left. All these tzaddikim will sit around you, and they will discuss Torah subjects with you until the end of 180 days, as in the book of Esther: ‘To display the wealth of his glorious kingdom and the honor of his splendorous majesty for many days, 180 days’ [Esther 1:4]. Next, you will prepare a Torah banquet for all the tzaddikim in Gan Eden, and for seven days you will explain only words of Torah that you taught in this world, which I will have taught you during these 180 days.”
By the Merit of Diligent Torah Study
The young grandson of Rabbi Yehuda Zev Segal Zatzal once asked him, “Grandfather, how did you arrive at where you are?” He gave him a short reply, but one filled with meaning:
“Know that diligence in Torah study is a characteristic that is extremely important.” In fact in Messilat Yesharim, the Ramchal cites the words of the Tanna Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair in stating that the study of Torah is the first rung on the ladder of the service of G-d, the way by which we can achieve piety and holiness.
Rabbi Yehuda Zev acted according to his convictions, it being said that he was a living Messilat Yesharim. His main occupation was “learning day and night” – quite literally. The saying of the Sages, “His mouth never stopped learning” was something that was normal for him. When he reached out to take hold of a telephone, he continued learning from a book. At the end of the conversation, even before placing the receiver back on the hook, he was already learning again. (He was incredibly involved with helping people when they had problems. This was one of the reasons why Jews from around the world would phone him when they had difficulties, in order to recount their troubles and ask him for a blessing. More than once, tears would drip from his eyes on account of their pain. Yet incredibly, as soon as he finished encouraging them, without waiting a single extra moment, he returned to what he had been studying in the Gemara.)
It was unusual to see him without a book in hand. Everywhere he went, be it a wedding, a meeting, or a medical appointment, he had a book in hand, and he would be learning from it at every free moment. During his last years, his doctors advised him to have a pacemaker implanted, an operation that was to be done under local anesthetic. Rabbi Yehuda Zev wanted to use this time to learn from a book. His doctors agreed, but only if the book was small. Thus the Rosh Yeshiva studied mishnayot from Kodashim during his operation.
Papa, the Cigarette is Burning!
The son-in-law of the gaon Rabbi Israel Yaakov Fisher Zatzal, the Rosh Av Beit Din of Jerusalem, recounted the following story about him:
“I remember many years ago, I went to his home for a meal. A certain dish was brought, and he ate it. Since he was waiting for the meal to end, he asked why no food had yet been brought. He was told, ‘You just ate it!’ Food did not interest him at all, and everything he ate seemed to be the same to him. He always ate very quickly, and continued to study immediately afterwards at the place where he had stopped.
“When he was learning profound sugiot, he would usually smoke. (I once asked him about this, and he said to me: ‘I had nothing to eat, so it replaced a meal.’) He was once sitting and learning with a lit cigarette between his fingers, until the cigarette burned to its very end. His hand was already burning, but he didn’t sense it! Dozens, even hundreds of times we had to tell him, ‘Papa, the cigarette is burning,’ and only then would he put it out!”
When Rabbi Israel Yaakov Fisher fell ill, he had to undergo an emergency operation. Yet because of his advanced age and great frailty, his doctors were afraid that any anesthesia, even local, would endanger his life. To their great astonishment, Rav Fisher told them to operate without any anesthesia whatsoever. They tried to show him what the operation would involve, with incisions along the length and breadth of his body, during which time he could not make the slightest movement, not to mention the pain he would endure! However he insisted, “It doesn’t matter. I will deeply immerse myself in a sugia.”
When the time came, the surgeons began their work, and during the entire operation the Rav remained completely immobile.
At the end of the operation, his anxious sons rushed to see him, but because of his deep concentration he did not realize they were there. When he awoke from his thoughts, he said that on account of G-d’s great goodness, he had been able to prepare a good sermon for Shabbat HaGadol!
A Fire that Burns all Accusers
A Jew from Haifa recounted that when he studied at the Ponevezh yeshiva during his youth, he once went to see Rav Shach Zatzal for some advice. He knocked at his front door, but upon hearing nothing he opened the door and went inside. Not seeing anyone in the home, he naively believed that the Rosh Yeshiva had left for a moment and would soon return. He therefore began to wait by his room.
After about a minute or two, he began smelling a strong burning odor coming from the kitchen. When he rushed into the kitchen to see what was happening, he saw Rav Shach standing next to the gas stove with a Gemara in one hand and a spoon in the other, stirring an empty pot from which smoke was billowing!
As it turned out, his wife had asked him to prepare some porridge (since she was ill at the time), and he had hurried to the kitchen to make it. With a Gemara in one hand, he put some oats in the pot for the porridge, and began stirring it with a spoon. Immersed in his studies, he stirred without end, not aware that the porridge in the pot had almost charred. Plumes of smoke started to rise, but the Rosh Yeshiva continued stirring. The gaon Rav Zilberstein Shlita, who personally heard the story from this Jew of Haifa, added with astonishment: “Such a fire burns and destroys all accusers of the Jewish people.”
Guard Your Tongue
Don’t Fail to Respond “Amen”
How much more should we be very careful not to choose a place in synagogue or the Beit HaMidrash next to someone who regularly speaks Lashon Harah. Besides the fact that we will learn from their sin and also start to disparage others, it often happens that because of them we will not respond: “Amen, Yehei Shemei Rabba” or “Barechu,” nor will we listen to the reading of the Torah and the repetition of the Shaliach Tzibur, as well as numerous other sins.
– Chafetz Chaim