"The Voice of God is Powerful; The Voice of God is Glorious"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT VAYIKRA

SICHA OF HaRav YEHUDA Amital SHLIT"A

 

"The Voice of God is Powerful; The Voice of God is Glorious"

Adapted by Dov Karoll

 

 

And He called to Moshe, and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting… (Vayikra 1:1)

The Midrash (Torat Kohanim, Dibbura di-nedava 1:2:9-11, paraphrased in Rashi 1:1 s.v. Me-ohel) analyzes this verse:

"From the Tent of Meeting:" this teaches that the Voice broke off and did not leave the Tent.

Could this be because the Voice was low? The verse states, "And he heard THE Voice" (Bemidbar 7:89). What is THE Voice? This is the same Voice that is described elsewhere, "The Voice of God is powerful, the Voice of God is glorious, the Voice of God breaks the cedars" (29:4-5)!

If so, why does it state, "From the Tent of Meeting?" This teaches us that the Voice broke off and could not be heard outside the Tent.

The Maharal (Gur Aryeh, Vayikra 1:1, s.v. melammed) asks why we need a special verse to teach that the people of Israel could not hear the Voice; after all, they were not allowed to enter the Tent of Meeting when God was speaking to Moshe! He answers that the prohibition was only to put one's whole body in, but to lean one's head inside would be acceptable. The Maharal explains that this verse comes to teach us that even if one would lean one's head in to the Tent, he would still not hear the Voice, for only Moshe could hear the word of God.

 

What we see from here is that were it not for the fact that the Torah explicitly taught us otherwise, we would have thought that the Voice of God could not be contained, that it would extend beyond the Tent of Meeting. In other words, in the realm of Torah study, the sound, the voice of the Torah must not stop with the walls of the beit midrash, of the study hall, but rather it must continue beyond them. The verse states, "Train the child according to his way" (Mishlei 22:6), and we must recognize that not everyone will remain in the beit midrash his entire life.

There is a dispute between Rabbeinu Tam and Rabbeinu Elchanan, quoted in Tosafot Yeshanim (Yoma 85b, s.v. teshuva) and in the Hagahot Maymuniyot (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 3:2), regarding how to understand the statement, "Yafeh talmud Torah im derekh eretz," "Torah study is good together with an occupation" (Avot 2:2). Rabbeinu Tam says that derekh eretz, having an occupation, is to be understood as the primary factor in this sentence; whenever we encounter the sentence structure, "A with B," B is primary. Of course, he does not mean that having an occupation is primary in objective value, but rather he is stating that the Torah understands that most people will not spend most of their time involved in talmud Torah. Rabbeinu Elchanan disagrees, and asserts that the assumption that one can emphasize talmud Torah to a lesser degree is not ideal, even at the practical level.

 

What is Rabbeinu Tam telling us? The Torah recognizes that most people will leave the beit midrash at some point, that they will need to maintain the value of talmud Torah even while they have made their dominant time commitment to their occupation. In Yeshivot, there has generally been some disconnection between the beit midrash and the outside world. This Yeshiva, from its founding, has aimed to transmit the sound of Torah beyond the walls of the beit midrash. That voice ought not be limited to the Yeshiva itself.

 

This is manifest not only in the idea of Hesder, of combining military service with Yeshiva study, but also in the study of Tanakh, Bible, and Machshava, Jewish thought, which had not been widespread in Yeshivot. It is also manifest in the Yeshiva's Teacher's Institute, which eventually became the Teacher's College with its accreditation. This, too, helps spread the word of the beit midrash beyond its own walls. And of course, the Virtual Beit Midrash is another sterling example of this effort. This approach is based heavily on the teachings of Harav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook zt"l, which have guided me throughout.

 

The Gemara in Berakhot (27b-28a) tells of an incident when Rabban Gamliel was temporarily replaced as the Nasi, the head of the Sanhedrin. The Gemara states that on that day, either four hundred or seven hundred additional benches, according to the two versions cited in the Gemara, were brought in to the beit midrash to accommodate the influx of students. This change was due to the fact that Rabban Gamliel had a rule: "Any student whose inside is not as his outside [meaning that his motivation is not pure] may not enter the beit midrash."

 

Rabban Gamliel was troubled when he saw this, for he was concerned, "Perhaps, God forbid, I have withheld Torah study from Israel!" He was reassured in a dream that those whom he had prevented were not really sincere. However, the Gemara immediately clarifies that Rabban Gamliel's approach was indeed problematic, and that this message was sent to him in a dream merely to put his mind at ease.

Apparently, the beit midrash is meant to have an expansive role and not a limited one. But even Rabban Gamliel was not limiting the spread of Torah beyond the beit midrash; rather, he was concerned with the environment within the beit midrash itself. While the Gemara (Mo'ed Katan 16a-b and Sukka 49b) derives that Torah should be taught in private settings and that one ought not teach his students out in public places, this refers to the instruction itself and not to the overall approach.

 

Our approach is better characterized by the following Midrash: "'[Wisdom] raises her voice in the streets (rechovot)' - this refers to the place where they expand (marchiv) it, namely, the beit midrash" (Tanchuma Bechukotai 3, based on Mishlei 1:20). The Torah should spring forth to the streets, to the people outside the beit midrash, after it has been developed within the beit midrash. One needs to develop and expand the Torah inside, and then he can, and should, go out and spread the Torah, "Raise her voice in the streets." One needs to be responsive to the needs of the Jewish People, as to the sound of a crying baby, wherever the call originates from.

 

Some people today think that the way to succeed in contemporary society is to close oneself off from any outside influence, to seclude oneself in the beit midrash. They think this is safe and that it will prevent failure. I saw pre-war Eastern Europe, and the religious world there operated on that assumption, and it failed. Because of the Shoah, we tend to idealize pre-war Europe, but there were serious problems, and major rebellions, against the closed system that existed there. The Jewish council of Vilna had fewer religious Jews on it than the Knesset does today. An acquaintance of mine from Ger said that everyone he knew had wayward ideas despite the outward appearance of religiosity.

 

The problem is that many people advocating this approach are young, and they do not have the experience and the perspective that I do. They do not realize that this system also has its problems.

 

Rather, the way to proceed is to develop the "Voice" inside the beit midrash, and then to send it forth into the world. If one does this, the voice that emerges is a much more powerful one, for it is the "The Voice of God [that] is powerful, the Voice of God is glorious, the Voice of God breaks the cedars."

[This sicha was delivered on leil Shabbat, Parashat Vayikra-Zakhor, 5763 (2003).]

 


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