Monday, July 30, 2007

The greatness of Avraham Avinu

I heard an amazing chiddush from Rav Noah Weinberg, the Rosh Yeshiva of Aish Hatorah. Before relating the chiddush, I must say that I am absolutely amazed at the life-story of this man who grew up in a very closed up society where the only emphasis is on personal growth and grew to become one of the leaders of Jewish Outreach. While I still have some disagreements with him, I think that his life achievements and his outlook on the Jewish World are based on some very fundamental, very essential principles in Jewish thought which are often overlooked in the yeshiva world.

In the fifth perek of Pirkei Avot, the second mishna states:

"There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, to show how great was His patience, for every one of those generations provoked Him continually until he brought upon them the waters of the Flood."
God waited 10 long generations before bringing the flood to the world. During these 10 generations, the world always deserved to get the flood but God showed great patience and waited until the 10th generation to bring destruction.

The Next Mishna says something similar:
There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham, to show how great was His patience, for every one of those generations provoked Him continually until Abraham, our father, came and received the reward of them all.
Now, there is a fundamental question which needs to be asked to understand the deep message of this mishna. From a first superficial reading, we might think that everyone in the world during these 10 generations was evil until Avraham finally came and gave everyone zchut. But wait a minute... Who was living in these 10 generations? Who was living during each of these 10 generations, starting from the first all the way to Avraham Avinu and even After...

There were two huge talmidei chachamim who lived then: Shem Ve-Ever. Now these were not small time talmidei chachamim, these were the people who later became the teachers of Yaakov Avinu when he went to learn in yeshiva. So how is it possible that they did not have enough zchut to save the world? What did Avraham have that they did not?

This is where the amazing chiddush comes:
Avraham Avinu was one who taught the world. He went out and did outreach. Shem and Ever are had a yeshiva where they would teach the people who came, but would not go to do any outreach.
This was Rav Weinberg's Chiddush and I think I can expand on it even more.

Avraham Avinu understood that the whole point of torah is Tikkun Olam, the fixing of the world by bringing Gods presence in this world. In our generation, Jewish Tradition tells us that God's presence in this world is achieved through the building of Am Israel as a holy nation on its land.

Shem and Ever learned a lot of torah, but they limited their growth to an individual growth. They forgot to care of the klal. They forgot the bigger reason of why we follow torah.

Rav Mordechai Elon Shli"ta came to yeshiva last week in order to announce that he will take at least another few months off until Yom Kippur. He also explained what he was trying to achieve during these few months. For someone like Rav Elon, a sabbatical year is not all about resting but more about deep research in order to come back even better then before.

Rav Elon quoted the gemara in Brachot:

R. Levi b. Hiyya said: One who on leaving the synagogue (Beit Knesset) goes into the House of Study and studies the Torah is deemed worthy to welcome the Divine Presence, as it says, They go from strength to strength, every one of them appeareth before God in Zion.19

R. Hiyya b. Ashi said in the name of Rab: The Talmidei Chachamim have no rest either in this world or in the world to come,20 as it says, They go from strength to strength, every one of them appeareth before God in Zion'.

Both of the rabbis are expounding the same verse in a different way, or so it seems. Rav Elon brought us the commentary of Rav Saadia Gaon which connected both teachings together. The Beit Knesset is a places where we try to bring in people in. "Knesset" means to assemble. Beit Midrash, a house of study, is where we look deeper into the ideas of torah. The problem is that nowadays there are two types of Talmidei Chachamim. Some are in the Beit Knesset, going to the public and being a community Rabbi. Others are sitting in the Beit Midrash looking very deep into Torah but never teaching it. The Rabbis in the Beit Midrash will say they know more Torah while the Rabbis in the Beit Knesset will say they are able to communicate it while the others just sit and learn. What we need are Rabbis who are able to do both: Sit in the "beit midrash", and know the deepest torahs and also communicate them to the world. We need talmidei chachamim who go from the beit knesset to the beit midrash. We need more Avraham Avinus. Once this happens, then: "They go from strength to strength, every one of them appeareth before God in Zion'." And then the rest of the gemara makes sense:

R. Eleazar said in the name of R. Hanina: The Talmidei Chachamim [which connect the batei midrash with the batei knessets] increase peace in the world, as it says, And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children. Read not banayik [thy children] but bonayik [thy builders]. Great peace have they that love Thy law, and there is no stumbling for them. Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sake I will now say, Peace be within thee. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good. The Lord will give strength unto His people, the Lord will bless His people with peace
This special all-encompassing torah is what will get us to this goal

While Rav Elon tries to find the solution to link both torah worlds, we also need to remember what our goal is. When we learn torah, our goal is to take what we learned in the beit midrash to the beit knesset. Our goal is to bring out this torah to the world, not to just keep it for ourselves. Our goal is for klal israel to grow from our torah that we learn, not just ourselves.

Beezrat Hashem, we will all be talmidim of Avraham Avinu and connect each of our personal batei midrash to a big beit knesset in medinat israel which will assemble all of Am Israel together. This is what will bring our gueoula which we have been yearning for for so long. more...

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