The Torah of Not Learning
A number of years ago, there was a boy in Bnei Brak, who unfortunately, left Yiddishkeit and moved in with an irreligious cousin somewhere else in Israel.
As he drifted, his relationship with Torah strained further, and he became engaged to a non-Jewish girl. His irreligious cousin was quite upset, but was unable to convince him to break up the engagement. However, he did convince him that knowing intermarriage would be cutting ties with the Jewish people and with his family, he should at least go home, and tell his parents face to face. He agreed and invited himself home for a Shabbos on “his terms.” His broken hearted parents agreed.
Friday night was spent smoking on the porch and on Shabbos day he left the table to smoke, scrolling on his phone. That Shabbos afternoon his father approached him wistfully, and invited him to join a shiur he was going to, given by Rav Aron Leib Shteinman zt”l.
Much to his father's surprise, the son agreed to go. After the shiur, his father brought him over to Rav Shteinman to say good Shabbos and informed the gadol that unfortunately his son is no longer shomer shabbos. Rav Shteinman looked at him and asked, “How long are you not keeping Shabbos?” The boy answered “Two years”. “And during that time did you ever have a thought of Teshuva? A hirhur teshuva?” “Yes, about four times.” “And how long did the hihur teshuva last each time?” “Approximately 10 minutes.” “Oh, so it comes out that for 40 minutes during the last two years you were in the category of of מָקוֹם שֶׁבַּעֲלֵי תְשׁוּבָה עוֹמְדִין — צַדִּיקִים גְּמוּרִים אֵינָם עוֹמְדִין – In the place where Baalei Teshuva stand, even the tzadkim do not stand.
Rav Shteinman looked into the eyes of the young man and said: “For that kind of Teshuva, I am jealous. Gut Shabbos.”
The boy went home and returned to his cousins house. Rav Shteinman's words left him no peace. Slowly, he began to reconsider his life and decisions. Weeks later, the engagement was broken and from there, his life turned around, finally retuning to Torah, Mitzvos and his family.
Months later, his father asked him: I understand your journey back came from Rav Shteinman's incredible insight and sensitivity. But I still don't understand; you spend all Shabbos refusing to do anything. Why did you agree to come to the Shiur?
He replied that when he was in kitah daled in cheder, his class went to be tested by Rav Aron Leib Shteinman. The rebbi had obviously requested an easy test and the boys were asked very simple questions. Each boy, upon answering a question received a candy from Rav Aron Leib.
When this boy's turn came he did not know the answer to the question. So Rav Aron Leib asked him an easier question. Again he did not know. So the Gadol asked him an even easier question which again he did not know. When the quiz was over, everyone had a candy besides him.
As the boys were respectfully filing out, Rav Aron Leib motioned for him to come over. He told the boy, “In Torah and Yiddishkeit we reward for effort, not results. All the other boys put in an effort for one question so I gave them one candy; you put in the effort for three questions so you are getting three candies.” And with a smile, he handed him three.
“I might've rejected Yiddishkeit, but how could I reject Rav Shteinman?”
It appears that there are different relationships that we can have with Torah. Sometimes, when our education fails, we can find the most profound connection to Torah in the personalities that convey it.
To this end, there are two Brachos that we make on learning Torah each morning:
The first is addressing Hashem as the Melamed: המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל – He who teaches Torah to the Jewish people. Hashem is the ultimate Rebbe and Teacher of the Jewish people. We are fortunate to be granted the greatest education, from the greatest Educator.
But there is another Bracha, which has nothing to do with education: נותן התורה – He who gives us the Torah.
Aside from the learning of Torah, which is vital and essential to life as a Jew, apparently, the mere having of the Torah is a gift for which we should be grateful.
But what exactly do we have, if we haven't even cracked open the book? What is the value of a נותן התורה without a מלמד תורה?
To explain this, we should examine a devastating Gemara in Nedarim, which asks a tragic question:
וּמִפְּנֵי מָה אֵין מְצוּיִין תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים לָצֵאת תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים מִבְּנֵיהֶן? ...רָבִינָא אוֹמֵר: שֶׁאֵין מְבָרְכִין בַּתּוֹרָה תְּחִלָּה
For what reason is it not common for Talmidei Chachamim have children who are Talmidei Chachamim? Ravina says: They are punished because they do not first recite a bracha over the Torah before commencing their studies.
The answer seems bizarre. Why would Talmidei Chachamim not make a Birkas haTorah? The Maharal (הקדמה לתפארת ישראל) explains the intention of the Gemara:
כי אף אם היו מברכין בפה, מכל מקום דבר הזה – שהוא נתינת התורה – צריך לברך השם יתברך בכל לבו, ובזה יש לו האהבה הגמורה אל השם יתברך. ואף אם הוא תלמיד חכם והוא צדיק גמור, רחוק הדבר הזה שיברך השם יתברך בכל לבו על נתינת התורה כפי הראוי.
Even if they are making the Bracha physically, that is not the purpose of the Bracha. Rather, the purpose is to bless Hashem, the Giver of the Torah with a full heart, and in this way one feels overwhelming love to Hashem. And even for those who are Talmidei Chachamim and those who are complete Tzadidim, it is rare that they bless Hashem with a full heart for giving us the Torah.
Addressing Hashem as the Giver of Torah recognizes that, Hashem is not simply trying to convey a lesson, but a relationship. When Hashem came down to Har Sinai and gave us the Torah, He began with the word אנכי. Chazal (שבת קה א׳) tell us that אנכי is an acronym for אנא נפשי כתיבת יהבית – I wrote and gave Myself.
Rav Shlomo Zalman was once asked how he could allow bachurim to dance in the Beis Medrash on Shavuos: “Doesn't the Shulchan Aruch say that dancing on Yom Tov is assur?!” “Yes”, the Gadol replied “Of course it's assur; but this is not the dancing that the Shulchan speaks of. But more importantly, do you want people to dance at your wedding one day?” “Yes,” the young man replied. “Well then, maybe you should dance at Hashem's wedding as well?”
The purpose of our Avoda on Shavuos is not to learn as much as we possibly can. It's not a Yom Tov of cramming in or catching up on Torah. Quite the opposite; we stay up to learn because it's a gift, and we're excited to receive it. This Yom Tov is זמן מתן תורתינו – the time of the Giving of the Torah. Our goal is not simply to learn it, but to receive it. And along with the Torah, we receive a deeper, greater relationship with the Giver.
That's the point. That Hashem should open our minds, hearts and souls to receive Him. That when He comes to wake us up this year, He finds us ready and waiting.