Torah Exists Even in Exile

 “So now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel,  place it in their mouth, so that the song shall be for Me a witness against the Children of Israel” (Devarim 31:19)

Hashem commanded Moshe to  tell  Bnei Yisrael to  commit  the Torah, called a “song,” to writing.  This would  serve as a constant reminder  that  Hashem was the One Who brought  them salvation, redeeming them from bondage and bequeathing them the Land of their  forefathers.  When people have it good, they  tend  to  forget where their good fortune comes from. This is in line with the pasuk (Devarim 32:15), “Yeshurun  became fat and kicked.” Since Hashem is all too familiar with man’s mind, He ordered that the Torah should be written  before Bnei Yisrael entered the Land. In this manner, the wealth and blessing in the Land flowing with milk and honey would not blind them to the Giver of all good.

Adam Harishon had everything he could want. But he disobeyed the command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. In order not to feel complacent and conceited, due to abundance of materialism, tzaddikim throughout the ages separated themselves from it all.

The parashah continues (Devarim 31:20), “For I shall bring them to the Land that  I swore to their  forefathers…  and if they turn  to gods of others  and serve them, it will  provoke  Me and annul My covenant.” This song is evidence that  Torah will  not be forgotten from Am Yisrael, and Bnei Yisrael will  not fall into the clutches of the Yetzer Hara. At times, people think that they owe nothing to Hashem. Their wisdom and their destiny are their own doings, they aver. In truth,  it was Hashem alone Who created us with  wisdom, understanding,  and intellect.  Therefore,  we must  heed His commands and fulfill  His Torah. One should never yield to the suggestions of the Yetzer Hara, who disguises himself as our creator.

The Gemara relates a fascinating incident  (Bava Kama 117a): Rav Kahana, who lived in Bavel, once killed an informer.  He took upon himself the burden of exile and relocated to the yeshiva of Rabbi Yochanan in Eretz Yisrael. Before his journey, he visited his teacher, Rav, to  receive his  parting  blessing. Rav instructed  him  that  for seven years, he should listen to all of Rabbi Yochanan’s divrei Torah without  asking questions. Only after seven years, did he have permission to ask questions and offer explanations of his own. Rav Kahana accepted these words and went on his way.

Upon Rav Kahana’s arrival, Reish Lakish told Rabbi Yochanan, “A lion has ascended from Bavel.” Hearing of Rav Kahana’s erudition, Rabbi Yochanan sat him among the seven front  rows of disciples. Rabbi Yochanan wished to evaluate his new disciple’s level of learning, so he asked him something. But, true to his teacher’s instruction, Rav Kahana did  not  reply.  When the Torah  scholars saw this, they assumed that Rav Kahana was not as learned as they had  thought,  so they  placed  him  further  back. Rabbi Yochanan plied  him  with  question  after  question,  but  Rav Kahana kept  his peace. And each time he did not answer, he was moved further  and further  away from his mentor, until  he sat at the very back of the Beit Hamidrash.

Rav Kahana prayed, “May the seven rows which  I was removed from occupying serve the place of seven years of silence.” From then on, when he was asked a question, he responded accordingly. With each response, he was brought  one row closer to his teacher, until he finally sat at the very front. Rabbi Yochanan was very old and his eyebrows covered his eyes. He asked that his eyebrows be lifted so that he might gaze at the lion that had ascended from Bavel.

We might insert here an interesting fact. Rabbi Yochanan had the strength to teach Torah and offer his own insights, but he did not have the strength to raise his own eyebrows. Regrettably, we have energy for all sorts of materialistic  pursuits,  but when it comes to spirituality, we are suddenly overcome with weakness.

When Rabbi Yochanan looked at Rav Kahana, he noticed a slight smile playing on his lips. He felt somewhat slighted, and in punishment,  Rav Kahana was decreed to  die. The next morning, Rabbi Yochanan’s disciples explained that Rav Kahana had not been smirking at all. He had a natural cut in his lip, which gave the impression that he was grinning. Rabbi Yochanan visited the grave of Rav Kahana and found a snake entwined around it. Rabbi Yochanan commanded it, “Let the mentor see his disciple,” but the snake did  not  give way. Rabbi Yochanan commanded it, “Let  the friend  see his  comrade,”  but  the  snake still  did  not  move. Then Rabbi Yochanan said, “Let  the disciple  see his teacher,”  and the snake moved immediately. Rabbi Yochanan cried out, “My mentor! My  mentor!  Arise  and come study  Torah  with  me!” Rav Kahana replied,  “Since so much  time  has elapsed, I no  longer  desire  to return  to Olam Hazeh.”

Why did Rav Kahana consider the seven rows from which he was removed to be the equivalent of seven years of silence? Let us use the exhortation  of Pirkei Avot (4:14) to understand this topic: “Exile yourself to a place of Torah.”  When a person abandons his home and family and all that is familiar in order to learn Torah, he is demonstrating  a tremendous  level of love  and dedication  to  the Torah.  Rabbi Akiva left  his home for  the duration  of twenty-four years in order  to  grow  in Torah  and establish  disciples  (Ketubot 62b).  Moshe  Rabbeinu  left  the  luxuries  of  Pharaoh’s  palace  to dedicate himself for Hashem and His nation. Therefore, he deserved to serve as their  faithful  shepherd. There was a famous Rabbi who would spend three months traveling to his mentor, spend one day in his presence, and spend another three months  returning  home (Chagigah 5b). Because exiling  oneself to  a place of Torah  is so significant,  Hashem told  Avraham (Bereishit 12a), “Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house.”

Rav Kahana originally left home in order to fulfill the dictum “Exile yourself to a place of Torah.” His teacher instructed  him to remain silent for seven years to indicate that greatness in Torah is attained only by unceasing exertion. The method of the Yetzer Hara is to dig a ditch for one who is ascending the ladder of Torah and yirah. This is why the danger of climbing is very great. One must be extremely vigilant not to fall into the pit of doom prepared by the Yetzer Hara.

Rav Kahana’s good name preceded him, as Reish Lakish testified, “A lion has ascended from Bavel.” Due to his fame, his teacher told him to go slowly and carefully, so that he should not, chalilah, suffer negative consequences. But Rav Kahana did not obey this directive perfectly,  and allowed  himself  to  transfer  the seven years to  the seven rows. This was the cause of his downfall.  Rabbi Yochanan acted  strictly with  him,  and  this  caused Rav Kahana’s untimely death. Nevertheless, Rav Kahana’s self-sacrifice in exiling himself to a place of Torah elevated him. Rabbi Yochanan’s words were accepted on High, and Rav Kahana was considered to be his mentor.

Am  Yisrael’s  zechut to  emerge from  Egypt  with  great  wealth, receive the Torah, and enter Eretz Yisrael, was due to their privation during the years of living in the galut of Goshen. Immediately before his death, Moshe Rabbeinu specified that  the nation should  write down the words of Torah. They should never feel that the Egyptian exile was sufficient to keep them on the straight and narrow. On the contrary,  when they would  live securely in their  Land, they must exert themselves in Torah, never relaxing.

Moshe’s message contained  an element of  consolation  for  the long, bitter  exile which the nation would eventually face. Even when they would be expelled from their Land, they would still be able to grow in Torah, in line with  the words, “Exile yourself to a place of Torah.” Moshe knew that with exile would come depression, preventing the people from delving into Torah as they had on their Land. He reassured  them  that  even on  foreign  shores,  Hashem would continue to be with  them. If they displayed a true desire to be one with Torah, Hashem would grant them siyata di’Shemaya to grow in Torah even in exile.

Moshe exiled himself, so to speak, to a place of Torah, with  his ascent to Heaven. He therefore  merited the Torah being called by his name. Yosef merited being called “Yosef Hatzaddik” for he held fast to his father’s Torah teachings even in the defilement of Egypt. He glorified  Hashem’s Name in  that  rancid  place  of  immorality. Before their moving meeting, Yosef sent wagons to his father, to hint to  him  that  he  still   remembered  which  sugya  they  had  learnt together last (see Bereishit Rabbah 94:3). The word עגלות (wagons) contains the words ע' גלות (seventy, exile). This alludes to the fact that one   who   exiles   himself   to   a   place   of   Torah   merits understanding the seventy aspects of Torah. Bnei Yisrael merited acquiring  Torah after the galut of Egypt in the merit  of the Torah studied  by Yaakov and the Shevatim in Goshen. Throughout  our history,  we find Torah giants who illuminated  the world  with  their Torah even from their native countries of darkness and defilement.

Galut is an opportunity for rectification and atonement for sin. Let us utilize  exile correctly,  repairing  whatever is necessary. Hashem holds our hand, so to speak, during our long and bitter  exile, as the pasuk  states  (Tehillim  91:15), “I  am  with  him  in  distress.” We deserve galut when we do not observe the Torah during  times of freedom. The dangers of galut serve as a wake-up call, arousing us to repent and once again sing the praises of Torah.


The Humility of Moses Towards All the Children of Israel
Book ofDevarim Index
The Eternal Alone Leads the One Who Behaves Humbly


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