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As we make final preparations for Shavuot, including a fervent desire to come away from the Yom Tov with a renewed commitment to the “learning” of Torah, we need to understand a unique aspect about Torah study. In the sixth perek of Pirkei Avos we are taught “HaTorah niknis b’mem ches Devarim – The Torah is acquired through 48 qualities.” The Rachmastrivka Rebbe asks why the Mishna did not state more directly, konin haTorah b’mem ches Devarim – One should acquire the Torah with 48 tools. He answers with a comparison to a Gemara in Kedushin which says, Ha’isha niknas, a wife is acquired. There also, the Gemara poses the question why doesn’t it say, Konin es haisha, one should acquire a woman, and the Gemara answers that this language would imply that she can be acquired even against her will. So too, concludes the Rebbe, haTorah niknis conveys that the Torah can only be acquired if the Torah itself is agreeable to mesh with the person who is studying it, and the conditions to be compatible with the Torah are the 48 traits mentioned in the Mishna.

This is an anomaly for when it comes to acquiring Torah knowledge, one of the 48 traits is a lev tov, a kind heart. Now, one doesn’t need a kind heart to study calculus or learn a new language. But, if one wants to truly absorb the Torah, one needs to have a character makeup that the Torah agrees to join with. This is the meaning of the famous Talmudic adage, Derech eretz kodma l’Torah, developing a refined character has to precede a Torah career. Or, as the Mishna puts it in the third perek of Pirkei Avos, “Im ein derech eretz, ein Torah – Without proper behavior there can be no Torah success.” As the Rav explains on this Mishna, if one’s dealings with their fellow man are not pleasant, eventually they will forget their Torah knowledge. This explains why sometimes the very bright and promising boy in yeshiva, with an acute mind for Talmudic didactics and who asks the best questions in class, never amounts to anything. This is because the boy in question is not well behaved and the Torah shuns he who does not practice the ways of mentchlichkeit.


In a telling pasuk in Devarim, it says, Lo meirubchem mikol ha’amim, I did not choose you, because you were the largest of all the nations – ki atem ha’m’at mikol ha’amim, because, to the contrary, you were the smallest of all the nations. The simple understanding of this verse is that selections many times are made based upon what most people do. The most popular car is a Camry, so let me buy one. That’s the restaurant that everyone goes to, so let’s go there. Hashem says, “that is not why I chose you.”

However, Rashi cites a different interpretation from a Gemara in Chullin. There the Gemara explains that I (Hashem) chose you because you do not aggrandize yourselves. Rather, you practice humility and minimalize yourselves. Thus, we see that we were chosen by Hashem because we have the noble character trait of being humble. This is also a prerequisite for successful Torah study for this is why, when Hashem gave the Torah, He shunned the majestic Mt. Carmel and the towering Mt. Tavor and gave the Torah instead on the lowly Mt. Sinai. So too, He gave the Torah through the agency of Moshe Rabbeinu, about whom the Torah testifies, “He was the humblest of all men.” It is therefore imperative that when we send our children for a Torah education, we make sure that their yeshiva has a solid curriculum of mussar study, that they will be well grounded in mentchlich behavior, for it is only then that they will have a hope of becoming true talmidei chachamim. Likewise, it goes without saying that if a husband is a brute at home to his wife, no matter how smart he is, his Torah ambitions are doomed to failure.

When we think this Shavuot about the revelation at Sinai, let’s remember that the Torah was given surprisingly in the midst of billowing smoke and blackness. This is strange since the Torah is the True Light of the world. But, the Tosfos HaRosh says that since Bnei Yisrael would sin with the heinous crime of the golden calf, they weren’t able to enjoy the true radiance of the Torah. So, as we make new commitments to Torah study this Shavuot, let’s also make a renewed effort to refine our behavior and in that merit may we be blessed with great Torah success, good health, and everything wonderful.


Transcribed and edited by Shelley Zeitlin.

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Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss is now stepping-up his speaking engagement and scholar-in-residence weekends. To book him for a speaking circuit or evening in your community, please call Rabbi Daniel Green at 908.783.7321. To receive a weekly cassette tape or CD directly from Rabbi Weiss, please write to Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, P.O. Box 658 Lakewood, New Jersey 08701 or contact him at [email protected]. Attend Rabbi Weiss’s weekly shiur at Rabbi Rotberg’s Shul in Toms River, Wednesday nights at 9:15 or join via zoom by going to and entering meeting code 7189163100, or more simply by going to Rabbi Weiss’s Daf Yomi shiurim can be heard LIVE at 2 Valley Stream, Lakewood, New Jersey Sunday thru Thursday at 8 pm and motzoi Shabbos at 9:15 pm, or by joining on the zoom using the same method as the Chumash shiur. It is also accessible on Kol Haloshon at (718) 906-6400, and on To Sponsor a Shiur, contact Rav Weiss by texting or calling 718.916.3100 or by email [email protected]. Shelley Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.