Latest update: May 20th, 2013
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A discussion relevant to our subject is found in the newly released Shemen HaTov on Torah by the renowned scholar R. Dov Zev Weinberger. R. Weinberger is the rabbi emeritus of Young Israel of (Williamsburg) Brooklyn.
R. Weinberger is perplexed by the Gemara (Arachim 11a) discussing the singing required in the Holy Temple as the sacrifices were offered is discussed. The verse in Parashat Naso (Numbers 7:9) is given as a biblical source: “Veli’venei Kehat lo natan ki avodat hakodesh aleihem bakatef yissa’u – But to the sons of Kehat [of the Levite tribe] [Moses] did not give [wagons] because the service of the sanctuary was upon them; they carried on their shoulders.” Rashi (ibid.) explains that the burden of the holy items (i.e., the ark, the table) was upon them, therefore it is stated, “they carried on their shoulders.”
The Gemara asks: Since the verse specifies “on their shoulders,” is it not clear that “they carried”? What does the word “yissa’u” teach us? The answer provided is that “yissa’u” is another term for song, as we have the verse in Psalms (81:3), “Se’u zimra u’tenu tof ? Take up the melody and sound the timbrel.” Similarly, there is a verse (Isaiah 24:14), “Yis’u kolam yaronu – They raise their voice and sing,” which also refers to song with the word for carrying (yis’u).
Thus, the verse in Numbers serves as a Biblical source for the requirement of song in the Holy Temple.
R. Weinberger points out that the Gemara (ad loc) states that a Levite who sings, known as a meshorer, was not allowed to assist the sho’arim, the doorkeepers, and vice versa. Every Levite had his specific labor and duty and was liable for death if he went beyond his own requirement into that of his fellow Levite. If so, how could we say that those who carried also sang, or that the verse regarding those who carried can serve as a source for the requirement to sing?
In answer to his question, R. Weinberger cites Torah Temima (Numbers 7:9), which explains that the Sages did not intend this to be the simple explanation of the verse, but rather to be an asmachta, a support for the concept of song.
However, R. Weinberger finds this solution incomplete, as the Gemara (ibid. 11a) did seem to cite the verse in Numbers as the source of the requirement of song to accompany the sacrifices in the Temple.
To solve the difficulty, R. Weinberger points out that after the sons of Kehat carried the ark on their shoulders and were successful in that task, including refraining from any sin even in thought or manner of carrying, and reached their destination, they put down their loads and broke out in song. They had been in mortal danger (improper behavior while carrying brought severe punishment), and the joy upon completion of the task caused them to break out in songs of joy.
Similarly, after the service of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) was completed on Yom Kippur, he would exit the Holy of Holies to songs of joy and festivities. The tenseness of the wait to see wether the Kohen Gadol would come out alive gave way to celebration as he appeared. (See our Yom Kippur prayers for a description.)
We derive from the above an understanding that where the effort is increased according to the difficulty of the task, the resulting joy upon completion of the task becomes greater as well.
R. Weinberger describes an event of this kind. The Gaon R. Yitzhak Hutner, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbenu Chaim Berlin, met the Gaon R. Aharon Kotler, Rosh Yeshiva of the Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, at a wedding. R. Hutner told R. Kotler about a great scholar who was approached regarding a prospective marriage partner for his daughter. The young man was described as a matmid, greatly diligent in his studies, and of refined character. It was explained that he had the finest of traits; however, he was not a ba’al kisharon, that is, he lacked in aptitude and understanding at Torah study.
The scholarly father was in doubt as to whether to consider this young man for his daughter. Finally, the one who approached him reminded the father of what we learn in the Mishna (Avot 4:9), “R. Yonatan says, ‘He who fulfills the Torah in poverty will ultimately fulfill it in a state of wealth,'” and that the poverty mentioned in the Mishna does not refer exclusively to monetary poverty but to intellectual deficit as well.
The father was convinced, and the marriage took place. The young man labored with great diligence and perseverance in his Torah study, with encouragement from his wife and father-in-law, and emerged as a great scholar.
Shortly after relating this story, R. Hutner noticed that R. Kotler had disappeared. R. Hutner found R. Kotler crying in another room. When questioned, R. Kotler explained that he himself had never experienced such tribulations, and had never had to resort to such diligence and effort in his Torah studies. R. Kotler was sad that as a result of never undergoing the “poverty” he had lost out on the promised “wealth”.
R. Weinberger concludes that we might see from here how far these matters reach. [As we read in Avot (5:23), Ben Heh Heh states, “Lifum tza’ara agra – The reward is in proportion to one’s pain (and effort required in the course of a task).” This, of course, can be applied to Torah study as well.]
We may now be able to understand the comments of Chikrei Lev – if one immerses himself in the analytical approach to study, even though one may not aim toward the goal of extensive knowledge of the Torah, one will end up accomplishing the standards of both Oker Harim and Sinai.
R. Kotler, who notwithstanding his emotional reaction to R. Hutner’s story, did study with due diligence, was just the opposite of the above. R. Kotler had vast knowledge of Torah as well as the great power of dialectic analysis. We see that diligence in Torah study will result in increasing both these attributes in the scholar.
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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