There are so many problems in the world. We all do our part to assist good causes. Our hearts go out to those in need. We pray for the health of those struck ill. We donate money to medical centers so that the medical professionals can cure the sick. We support yeshivas so that Torah learning will flourish, especially in Eretz Yisrael.
But hold on a minute. When we give to the poor, pray for the sick, donate to a medical center, we do so asking for results – that the poor will be able to provide their families with food and warmth, that the Almighty will heal the sick. We support a medical researcher so that he hopefully will find the cure for cancer or some other disease.
When we support talmidei chachamim, shouldn’t we expect them to strive for practical results as well? Real outcomes of their learning will enhance their zechut and ours as well, beyond the fulfilling of the mitzvah of learning Torah.
In fact, the most learned rabbanim and poskim, to whom we all look up, did just that – provide solutions to problems within halacha by making use of their great Torah knowledge. Hillel, Rambam, Rabbeinu Gershom, Rama, and into the acharonim, all found solutions to the problems of their day. Practical application of complex halacha to help those in need is the highest level of Torah study, the true fulfillment of Talmud Torah. To that end should strive both Yissachar and Zevulun – those who sit and learn and those who give them material support.
The agunah problem is not going away. Too many women are now and will yet become victims of Get-refusal. The day before Purim, Ta’anit Esther, is International Agunah Day. The story of Purim ended in joy and feasts due to the actions of both Mordechai and Esther. Mordechai urged Esther to save her people by his analysis: “Who knows if not for this reason you have reached the monarchy!” Esther put a clever plan into action.
International Agunah Day would end in joy as well, if all those who support Torah study would say: “Who knows if not for this reason of resolving the agunah problem you have reached the level of a talmid chacham,” bringing those who sit and learn to utilize their cleverness and find a variety of solutions within the halacha.
Those talmidei chachamim who will provide succor to the oppressed by removing the power from the hands of husbands torture their wives in their refusal to give a Get – placing the power to release those God-fearing women squarely in the hands of a bet din – will have reached the apex of Torah study. Their learning will be used in order to help those in need.
Those who donate to yeshivas to support Torah study, who would demand that the Torah study they fund produce practical results in solving the agunah problem via halachic constructs, will reach the apex of tzedakah – enabling continuity of the Torah while granting freedom to the oppressed.
It is time to realize that we have not been taking the Mishnah in Avot (4:5) seriously enough. The Mishnah clearly instructs those who sit and study:
“If one learns [Torah] in order to teach, he is given the means to learn and to teach; if one learns in order to do, he is given the means to learn, to teach, to observe, and to do. Rabbi Tzaddok says, ‘Do not make the teachings of the Torah into a crown with which to adorn yourself [i.e., self-aggrandizement], nor like a spade with which to dig ([i.e., as means of support].’ Hillel would say, ‘One who makes use of his crown passes.’ From here we see that whoever derives benefits from his Torah knowledge removes himself from the world.”
Moreover, I would humbly presume to add the converse: Whoever provides benefit to others from his Torah knowledge assures his place in the world to come. Let us support Torah study on the highest level – by expecting results in the form of halachic solutions to the agunah problem.
In memory of the founding president of the International Young Israel Movement in Israel, Ceec Harrishburg, z”l.