Patience - You'll Get There
- HaRav Avigdor Nebenzahl
- Apr 24, 2014
"When you shall come to the land and you shall plant any food tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years they shall be forbidden to you, they shall not be eaten" (Vayikra 19:23)".
The Gemara explains that this mitzvah refutes those who require instant gratification in their seeking of worldly pleasures. Here, the Torah is commanding man to wait three years prior to eating the fruits, and if one wishes to eat them on the fourth year, they must either be redeemed or brought to Yerushalayim to be eaten.
Through this Mitzvah, the Torah is teaching man to overcome his desires. Even through natural means, when one desires fruits, they are not available for immediate consumption. The tree must first take root, which at times takes as much as fourteen days. The early development is performed under the ground, not visible to us. When the plant begins to appear it is new and still weak until finally there is a tree that is capable of producing fruits. After all the time that has elapsed from the time the seeds were planted until the fruits are ripe. The Torah tells us to wait an additional three years before partaking of the fruits of the tree. There are even limitations on the way the fruits may be consumed on the fourth year. On the fourth year, the fruit must either be taken to Yerushalayim to be eaten, or must be redeemed and the money received be taken to Yerushalayim.
The Torah is teaching us the quality of patience. The Torah promises us a reward for being patient and observing this Mitzvah. The Torah promises us "And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit - so that it will increase its crop for you", (ibid 25), there will be a surplus.
The Gemara tells a story of a man who planted a carob tree and Choni Hamaagal asked him, how long it would take for the tree to produce fruits. The man answered that the fruits will be produced within seventy years. When Choni then asked the man whether or not he was so sure that he would live for seventy years, the man answered that when he came into this world there were carob trees. In other words, just as his ancestors planted carob trees so that he may benefit from them, so too he is planting them in order that his descendants shall benefit from them. Later on the Gemara relates how Choni saw a man pick carobs off the tree. The man explained to Choni that he is the grandson of the the man who planted the tree. We see from here that one does not see the fruits of one's labor immediately, one is required to wait.
The above story is similar to the development of a person. Aperson is born a small baby, he is not expected to immediately become atalmid chacham (a great Torah scholar), this takes some years. The parents, of course, hope that with Hashem's help and much effort on theirpart, the child will eventually become a great talmid chacham.
Some have a custom of not cutting a child's hair until he is three years old. Then after three years he receives a "chalake", customarily done on Lag Baomer. The custom is derived from the Mitzvah of Orlah, the waiting of three years to eat the fruits of the tree as described above. We wait three years, cut his hair, and we teach him to grow "peios". For three years the child does not go to "cheder". At three years old the child attends "cheder" and we begin to teach him the letters of the "alef bet". He slowly learns how to read with "nekudot" (vowel sounds), reading the siddur and the chumash. At this point we do not yetanticipate that he will become the "gadol hador", the giant of his generation. Seeing the fruits of all of our toil takes some time.
A parallel can be drawn to one's years spent learning in a Yeshiva. Tosafot says that it is very prevalent that after one studies in a Yeshiva one will becomes a talmid chacham. This does not mean that we should expect this to happen overnight. My Rebbe HaRav Dessler zt"l said that everyone wants to master the entire Talmud, on the condition that it all happen in one night not at the expense of one's sleep. It is said of Shlomo Hamelech that he merited the ability to acquire all of his vast wisdom in a single night. This does not mean that all the knowledge and wisdom he ever had, he acquired in one night. After all Shlomo himself said "'Af ' - still, my wisdom stayed with me" (Kohelet 2:9). The Gemara asks why did Shlomo use the word "af" when describing that his wisdom remained with him. The Gemara answers that only wisdom acquired through "af", much toil and hard work is the wisdom that remained with him.
Nevertheless, is it not said of Shlomo that he received his entire wisdom in a single night? In order for Shlomo to be on the level to be able to ask for all that wisdom, much time had to first be spent toiling and working hard. This took Shlomo much time, for Hashem did not reveal Himself to him until after he was annointed king at twelve years old.
Rabbi Akiva learned for twenty four years in order to become Rabbi Akiva. Chazal tell us that Hillel and Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai each learned for twenty four years in order to reach the level they were on. One does not become a Hillel or Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai in one day. It is told of R' Chaim M'Volozhin that he first came to the Vilna Gaon out of a sense of frustration. R' Chaim had reviewed Seder Moed fourteen times and still did not feel that he knew the material. The Vilna Gaon asked him how one could possibly expect to master anything in the Torah when learning it only fourteen times? R' Chaim then asked the Vilna Gaon how many times one should review the Gemara, should it be one hundred one times? The Vilna Gaon quoted to R' Chaim the Gemara which states that one must sit and learn Torah their entire lives and only then can one expect to gain some knowledge. One must learn non-stop. One may wonder, what is one who is not planning to remain in theYeshiva for forty years suppose to do. What if one is not planning to leave one's wife for twenty four years? It is not even an advisable notion to contemplate. In that case one may say to oneself: why bother even coming to the Yeshiva - I will never become a Talmid Chacham.
One must realize that every word one learns, provides one with new life. This can be said of learning something one has never seen before or of a page of Gemara one is reviewing. Torah is life. The Torah tells us that one who teaches his friend's son Torah is as if he fathered this child. This does not only refer to one who teaches the child the Torah in its entirety, but one who teaches even the slightest amount of Torah. If one taught his friend's son much Torah, then it is as if he fathered him and raised him to adulthood, if he taught him only a small amount then it is as if he fathered him and raised him to the level of a small child. Every word of Torah is, in and of itself a new life.
Chazal tell us that one cannot compare one who has reviewed what one learned one hundred times, with one who has reviewed the material one hundred one times. Chazal are telling us that there is no similarity whatsoever. We tend to think just this can be compared to two objects, one whose length is one hundred amot (cubits) with one whose length is one hundred one amot. One comparing these two objects will hardly notice any significant difference, for one is only slightly longer than the other. Not so with learning Torah. The one who reviewed the material one hundred one times is experiencing something totally different than the one who only reviewed the material one hundred times.
Although one who learns something one hundred times is on a very high level, and Hashem should only help that we all should merit reaching this level, yet this person cannot be compared to one who learned something one hundred one times. The higher level one reaches, the greater the difference between that and the next level. The difference in level between Moshe and Aharon is much greater than between Aharon and the rest of the Jewish nation. Therefore, one who learns something one hundred one times reaches a much higher level than one who only learns it one hundred times. Needless to say, the more one learns a particular part of the Torah, the clearer the material becomes and the more insight one gains.
Knowledge is something external, a computer has a vast amount of knowledge but no understanding. Understanding is something internal. The computer can produce any commentary that ever existed on the Torah, yet when asked to provide the logic behind something, the computer cannot answer, it can only produce the information it was fed. Knowledge is "melechet machshev", the work of the computer, but understanding is"melechet machshevet", the work of one's own thought process.
The Gemara in Gittin says that if a person does not know a particular fact, he may still be considered a great person. If a person, however, does not understand the logic behind something, he cannot be considered a great person. This is the function of the Yeshiva, to develop one's own potential for thought and logic, to teach the students how to be able to reach some level of understanding on their own. A person cannot expect to immediately become like the "ktzot", but as time passes, when one hears more and more shiurim and spends more time and toil learning, one can become a great person. The person himself may not even realize his own development.
The pasuk says "Drink water from your own cistern and flowing water from you own well"(Mishle 5:15). Chazal explain that first one should drink water mevorach from one's cistern, and only then can one drink mibe-ercha (spelled similarly) from one's well. What is the difference between a bor, cistern and a be-er, well? A cistern receives water from the outside, the water flows as a result of the rains, and then they gather in the cistern. A well, on the other hand, produces the water from within. A person cannot immediately become like a well, he must first be like a cistern. One who has never learned cannot comprehend the logic on his own and certainly cannot come up with any new insights. At first one is told some of the logic by one's teachers. Only after much time one has the merit of becoming aBe'er, a well that produces the water from within.
The following pasuk states "Then your springs will spread outwards, streams of water in the thoroughfares" (ibid 16). What is the meaning of "your springs will spread outwards"? The meaning is that there is a well that is the producer of Torah. This well fills up to the top and from there water flows to all the rivers. Man, with Hashem's help, merits being able to give to others. Finally the streets will be filled with palgei mayim, streams of water. Our wells will be eventually be able to provide water, our students will able to teach their students, and thus the Torah will reach the entire world. One must put in much time and toil, but that is the way in which we can merit all these great things. Whatever we learn has the power to influence the entire world.
The Gemara tells us that Rav Sheshet would say on Shavuot "chadai nafshi" my soul should be happy, "lecha kari, lecha tanai", for your I have learned, for you I have reviewed. The Gemara is puzzled by the implication that Rav Sheshet learned only for his himself, after all does man only do things for himself? The Gemara, calls one who says "what have the chachamim done for us they only learn for themselves" an apikores (apostate). One learns for oneself in order to provide for the entire world. The Torah tells us that if the city of Sdom had but fifty righteous people then venasati lechol hamakom baavuram "then I would spare the entire place on their account" (Bereishit 18:26). When one learns Torah, one is protecting the entire world.
It is said of one who learns Torah, "Vasim devarai beficha uvtzel yadi kisiticha lintoa shamayim veliysod aretz" "And I have placed My words in your mouth - and with the shade of My hand have I covered you - to implant the heavens and to set a foundation for the earth" (Yeshayahu 51;15). The Gemara explains that when one learns one has the capability of setting a foundation for the earth, just as Hashem does. A person learning Torah is creating heaven and earth. The pasuk concludes with the words "velomar letzion ami ata" "and to say unto Zion, 'you are My people'". One who learns Torah has the power to bring about the final redemption. We say in our daily davening "uva letzion goel" "a redeemer shall come to Zion" how is this accomplished? "ruchi asher alecha udevrai asher samti beficha lo yamushu mipicha" "my spirit that is upon you and my words that I have placed in your mouth shall not be withdrawn from your mouth" this is the way to bring a redeemer to Zion.
When describing the reward for learning Torah it is said "Talmud Torah keneged kulam" "the study of Torah is equivalent to them all". The same Mishna lists other important mitzvot such as "kibbud av vaem, hachnasat kallah, gemilut chasadim, levayat hamet, bikur cholim, etc." "the honor due to father and mother, acts of kindness, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, visting the sick, etc.". As important as all these Mitzvot are, "Talmud Torah keneged kulam" "the study of Torah is equivalent to them all". This does not exempt one from fulfilling these other Mitzvot, the Mishna only comes to tell us that learning Torah carries with it the greatest reward out of all the listed Mitzvot. It is said of the Torah "vekol chafatzim lo yishvu va" "and all objects cannot compare to it" (Mishle 8:11), Chazal explain that this refers even to "cheftzei shamayim", heavenly objects.
What is the reward for learning Torah? Being that it is a spiritual reward, it cannot be properly described in our terms. Since, however, we live in a physical world, we will attempt to describe it in physical terms. The Mitzvah of "Hachnasat kallah" "providing for the bride" requires much more of us than attending the wedding, eating, and dancing a bit with the bride and groom. To properly perform this Mitzvah we must make sure they have a properly furnished place to live. This can cost cost hundreds of thousands of shekels. The Mitzvah of "Bikur Cholim", visiting the sick, requires of us to insure that all medical expenses are covered. This may mean medicines, treatments, and at times even trip overseas for special treatment. This can also cost hundreds of thousands of shekels. "Kibbud av vaem", honoring one's parents, may require of us to place our parents in a nursing home, or to provide for medical care, also potential heavy expenses. If one were to place a monetary value on the learning of Torah, it would exceed the value of all of the above Mitzvot. If we would realize realize the reward for learning Torah, we would spend many many hours in order to receive this great reward.
One can also get a feel for the importance of learning Torah by the extent we prepare for it. One spends much more time preparing for something important than for something not important. If a king were to announce plans to visit us we would spend many hours making sure the house is clean and that everyone in the family has nice clothes to wear. We, thank G-d, once a week have a queen visiting us. We spend many hours in preparation, both physically and spiritually, for the visit of the Shabbat queen "Vehaya bayom hashish vehechinu et asher yaviu" "and it shall be that on the sixth day when they prepare what they bring"(Shmot 16:5).
When it comes to prayer, one should spend much time in preparation. The "chassidim harishonim", the original pious people used to spend a full hour preparing. Although one may not necessarily need spend a full hour preparing, one should certainly spend some time in order to be properly prepared.
What then is the time spent preparing for the learning of the Torah? The seven weeks of the Omer. Seven weeks from the time of the exodus from Egypt until the receiving of the Torah. All this time spent in preparation gives us some insight into the vast importance of receiving and learning of the Torah. Because it is impossible for us to interrupt our entire routine in order to prepare, we spend much time learning during these seven weeks. When we learn at this time we must realize that these seven weeks are a preparation for the receiving of the Torah.
The time period of the Sefirat Haomer is also to be used for correcting one's own character flaws. We should look at ourselves as if we just left Egypt and the forty nine gates of impurity. One who possesses bad character traits is not worthy of receiving the Torah. Although the Torah itself may be the best way for one to correct one's bad traits and thus one cannot do so prior to the receiving of the Torah, one cannot receive the Torah without some positive change to one's character.
R' Akiva's wife sent him away to learn Torah, because she saw in him the attribute of modesty and humility. He still had a long way to go, for he still said "mi yiten li talmid chacham vaanashchenu kachamor""who will give me a Torah scholar and I will bite him like a donkey", nevertheless the foundation was there.
Perhaps we can now explain the reason the demise of the students of R' Akiva occurred between Pesach and Shavuot. Because they were great talmidei chachamim, there was much greater potential for great character traits. Because they did not live up to their potential in character they were unworthy of receiving the Torah. They did not possess the perfection in character that should come from the students of R' Akiva.
One should only stop and think how much Torah is lost due to the death of twenty four thousand pairs of students. At the end of his life, R' Akiva had five students and each one of them is mentioned throughout the Gemara. Imagine how much bigger the Shas would be, how much more Torah we would have received? They lacked the necessary preparation, and thus we have suffered a great loss. That, perhaps, is the reason we mourn during the period of Sefirat Haomer.
There is an opinion in the Mishna that evil people in Gehinom are punished during the period between Pesach and Shavuot. Perhaps one can explain that what man did not correct in this world is being corrected in Gehinom. The time for man to correct and work on his character traits is during the period of Sefirat Haomer while preparing to receive the Torah.
Every year we spend the days of Sefirat Haomer preparing to receive the Torah, despite the fact that the Torah was given to us more than three thousand years ago. We are constantly receiving the Torah, not just during the generation of Moshe Rabeinu. One can bring a proof for this from the Gemara. The Gemara states that bloodletting, a common custom in those days, is a dangerous practice on the eve of Shavuot. This danger stems from the fact that on the eve of Shavuot the spirit,"tibuach" threatened to butcher (translation of the world "litboach") the Jewish people if they would not have said "naase venishma" "we will do and we will obey" (Shmot 24:7). Miraculously, the Jewish people said "naase venishma". Why does a spirit that appeared before the receiving of the Torah at Sinai make it dangerous to bloodlet nowadays on the eve of Shavuot? This spirit is renewed every year just as the receiving of the Torah is renewed, thus one who lets blood places oneself in danger of being harmed by the spirit if one does not properly receive the Torah. Every year it is unclear whether or not the Jewish people will accept the Torah.
We would like to receive the Torah and rejoice on Shavuot. Hashem requires each one to receive the Torah according to their own level. The students of R' Akiva were taken to task for not having reached their level, so too we must reach our own level.
The land of Israel, Hashem's gift to us, can only continue exist due to the merit of learning Torah. The Torah mentions this in several places, one of them in this week's parsha "vaomar lachem atem tirshu et admatam vani etnena lachem lareshet ota eretz zavat chalav udvash ani Hashem elokeichem asher hivdalti etchem min haamim" "So I said to you: You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to inherit it, a land flowing with milk and honey, I am Hashem, your G-d, Who has separated you from the peoples" (Vayikra 20:24). Chazal explain that if the Jewish people separate themselves from the other nations then they will be for Hashem. We received the land of Israel in order that there should be land for the worshipping of Hashem, learning Torah, and performing Mitzvot. Although we are well aware of this from the Torah, we now are witnessing before our very eyes how various parts of the land are spitting us out, rejecting us. We must strengthen ourselves this year and receive the Torah in a stronger fashion.
When we received the Torah with "naase venishma", we became responsible for the entire Jewish nation. If we do a better job this year of properly receiving the Torah, then we will fare better in the land of Israel. With the help of Hashem, through the merit of our saying"naase venishma" "we shall do and we shall obey", the entire Jewish nation should be able to live in its land and make the festive pilgrimage to the Beit Hamikdash three times a year. Amen.