A friend commented to me recently, "Whatever its problems, we must never forget that the world of Torah learning is all we have." He meant that the merit of that which has been rebuilt from the flames of Europe over little more than half a century is what ultimately stands for the Jewish world before the Heavenly Throne.
Especially in the current situation, when the world of the yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael is under assault, it is crucial not to lose sight of the unfathomable mesirus nefesh of the builders of today’s vital Torah community in Eretz Yisrael, and the impact of that achievement on the entire Orthodox world. Eretz Yisrael is today the uncontested center of Torah learning in the world. It is rare to encounter a talmid chacham of stature, particularly one under fifty, who did not study for years in Eretz Yisrael.
The single-minded devotion to Torah learning of the charedi community in Eretz Yisrael has radiated out to the entire Orthodox world. Among graduates of American yeshiva high schools and seminaries, across the entire Orthodox spectrum, a year or two of study in Israel has become de rigueur. In those seminaries and yeshivos, most of the teachers have themselves been greatly influenced by the intensity of Torah life in Eretz Yisrael, and that influence is reflected in their students. While in Israel, those students almost invariably experience a dramatic increase in their commitment to Torah learning and mitzvah observance.
I WAS REMINDED of my friend’s comment this past Shevii shel Pesach. Another friend invited me to his apartment leil Shevii shel Pesach for Shiras HaYam. I barely knew most of those gathered, and many not at all. After some preliminary niggunim, our host began going around the room and calling on people to speak about krias yam suf.
There was not one rosh yeshiva or well-known talmid chacham in the room. Yet, I was astounded by the depth of each speaker and their command of a breadth of sources – Midrash, Bavli, Yerushalmi, Maharal. What they offered were neither vertelach, nor even an intellectual tour de force, but something much rarer. Each speaker had clearly taken his Torah knowledge and used it to personalize krias yam suf, and it was the impact of that event that they shared.
A few days later, I called my host to thank him for inviting me while expressing doubt as to my worthiness to participate in such an elevated gathering, if only to listen and sing. I inquired about the identity of one of those who spoke, and he told me, "Oh that one, he knows Shas cold. But if you ask him a question, he’ll invariably answer vaguely that he thinks there is a Rashi or Tosfos somewhere that might be relevant. Eventually, he’ll mutter that maybe it’s such and such an amud. It always is."
My friend added that even the speakers did not begin to capture the level of the people gathered around the table. Sitting opposite me, he said, was a man who works as a bank manager. He works until 3:00 p.m. every day and then goes straight to the beis medrash to learn for four hours.
On Motzaei Purim this year, this bank manager attended the bar mitzvah of a friend’s son. As he sat down, someone at the table asked him how everything was, and he replied, "Couldn’t be better." That prompted someone else at the table to comment disgruntledly, "I’m tired of hearing such responses. Everybody has a peckel (pack) of troubles, and there is no use pretending otherwise."
The first man responded, "It’s true everyone has his peckel. And if you hear your friend is breaking under the weight of his burden, you have to do everything you can to strengthen him and lift him up. But as Reb Tzvi Meir Zilberberg always says, ‘We have to know that everything Hakadosh Baruch Hu sends us comes only from ahava (love), in order to bring out some new aspect of our potential.’"
A rosh yeshiva who was present at the table overheard the conversation, and afterwards asked someone the identity of the one who spoke with such heartfelt emunah and whether he had any daughters of marriageable age. "It sounds to me like his must be a healthy house, and I’d like my son to marry someone from such a house." And so the shidduch was made.
The great Torah giants of Eretz Yisrael are justly famed throughout the Torah world. But no less revealing of the beauty of the Torah society of Eretz Yisrael are the hundreds of unsung scholars who push away sleep from their eyes and carry on learning oblivious to the poverty of their material circumstances, and the working men who have reached such high levels of bitachon and emunah.
It is a lesson of which we can never be reminded too frequently.