Rav Moshe Twersky zt”l Hy”d On the Parsha


moshe-twerski1By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman


1) Talmidim are children of the Rebbi

2) Transmitting Torah to one’s children

1 – Talmidim are children of the Rebbi

ושננתם לבניך (ו:ז), אלו התלמידים מצינו בכל מקום שהתלמידים קרויים בנים…וכשם שהתלמידים קרויים בנים כך הרב קרוי אב (רש”י שם)

The Gemara says in Maseches Makos, “Taryag mitzvos were told to Moshe at Sinai.  From whatpasuk do we derive this?  Torah tzivah lanu Moshe,” – in gematria, the word Torah contains the numerical value of 611 – “and the first two dibros of ‘Anochi’ and ‘Lo yihiyeh l’cha’ we heard mi’pi ha’Gevurah, directly from the Almighty.”  From this Chazal we see that there were two parts to the giving of the Torah: “tzivah lanu Moshe“, and “mi’pi ha’Gevurah.”  One aspect of being taught by Moshe Rabbeinu, and another facet of receiving directly from Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu.

Was this a one-time event, or is it an ongoing reality? Are there continuously two facets to Torah transmission?

The pasuk in Va’eschanan (5:19) says, “Kol gadol velo yasaf.”  The Targum says “lo pasak,” the great sound never stopped.  This is the part of Torah which is directly from Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu.  So we see that it indeed continues.

First of all, let’s understand that the great sound from the Almighty that never stops, is each and every person’s individual portion in the Torah.  We say in davening on Shabbos, “v’sein chelkeinu b’sorasecha, give us our portion in Your Torah.”  In parshas Ki Sisa, Rashi says that wisdom is that which one hears from others and understanding is the ability to extrapolate one idea from another.  One’s own share in the Torah implies, first of all, the understanding ofdivrei Torah that each and every individual has in his own unique way.

“For Hashem will give wisdom, from His mouth knowledge and understanding.”  The Medrashexplains, “Great is wisdom, but even greater than it is knowledge and understanding.  The one whom Hashem loves very much [will merit] mi’piv daas u’tevunah, knowledge and understanding from His mouth.”

Our ancestors who stood by Har Sinai and heard Hashem speaking to them – about them do Chazalsay that the words of Torah were engraved on their hearts.  They gained the potential for the most profound grasp of divrei Torah.  How do we, though, who live generations after Har Sinai, receive our share from Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu?  The question is not so difficult, but I would like to suggest an approach.

Chazal say, “Kol ha’melamed es ben chaveiro Torah k’ilu yelado, one who teachers another’s child Torah, it is as if he gave birth to him.”  The Vilna Gaon says that this is not merely a metaphor.  Rather it is a real birth; not a physical birth, but a spiritual birth.  A spiritual birth that parallels biological birth.

Regarding physical birth, Chazal teach us that there are three partners in every child that is born:Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu, the child’s father, and the child’s mother.  Chazal further delineate the respective input of these three partners.  The father and mother provide the various physical components – the infrastructure – and Ha’Kadosh Baruch Huprovides, “ruach u’neshamah dei’ah binah v’haskeil, spirit and soul, knowledge, understanding, and intellectual achievement.”

Teaching Torah is the spiritual equivalent of birth. Teaching Torah can create spiritual offspring.  What role then, we may ask, is given to the partner, toHa’Kadosh Baruch Hu, in spiritual birth?

The obvious answer is that there is a parallel between the two.  In teaching Torah, there are also two components.  There are the actual words of Torah themselves, what we call the body of Torah, which is transmitted by the Rebbi to the Talmid. Then there’s the nishmas chaim, the inner living soul of the words of Torah.  The spirituality of the spiritual. Just as in the human being there is the spiritual life-force within the physical structure; so too, the spiritual words of Torah must have an inner, spiritual component.  Their own nishmas chaim, living soul. This is the “knowledge, understanding, and intellectual achievement” that give vitality to the words of Torah.

The Rebbi gives of himself to the Talmid.  He transmits to his talmid his Torah; his perception and comprehension.  Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu, who is partnered in the teaching, gives each talmid his own “knowledge, understanding, and intellectual achievement”, his own living soul.  In every successful transmission of Torah, there exists a corollary of the “Torah tzivah lanu Moshe” from the Rebbi, and the “mi’pi ha’Gevurah”, the contribution of the partner, Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu.

Many great talmidei chachamim have it that one should not hesitate to find allusions for various concepts in the golden words of the Rambam.  In his introduction, the Rambam records the transmission of Torah from Har Sinai to the last of the Chachmei Ha’Gemara, and back again.  He then adds the following, “It emerges that all of them [received the Torah] from Hashem Elokei Yisrael.  It is not only because there’s an unbroken chain to Har Sinai that it’s from Hashem Elokei Yisrael.  According to what has been said, everyone who receives Torah from a Rebbi is also receiving from Hashem Elokei Yisrael. Every talmid is a spiritual son of his Rebbi, andHa’Kadosh Baruch Hu is a partner in the process.

The Gemara in Chagigah says, “Words of Torah are fruitful and multiply.”  A talmid learns and receives Torah from the Rebbi in accordance with the comprehension of that Rebbi.  The talmid then applies his own creativity to Torah, developing his own nuances and insights.  Each talmid chacham has his own particular way of viewing a given topic. Divrei Torah are fruitful and multiply when a talmid chacham uses his power of understanding in extrapolating new concepts and principals from that which he has already learned.  This is the materialization of the knowledge and understanding that is bestowed by Hashem.

When is a talmid a true spiritual offspring of his Rebbi?  It depends on whether Ha’Kadosh Baruch Huwas a partner in the teaching, in the transmission of Torah.  If we see that the talmid has achieved his own unique portion in Torah, that the Torah is alive with vitality within him, that to his words of Torah he applied knowledge, wisdom, and intellectual achievement, then it must be that Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu was, as it were, a partner and there was a complete process of a spiritual birth.

(Audio recording, available here:http://nermichoel.org/index/shiur/speaker/rabbi-twersky/title/dinner)


2 – Transmitting Torah to one’s children


והודעתם לבניך ולבני בניך (ד:ט)

Rav Twersky always made a point to maintain regular learning sessions with his sons, even when they were young boys.  Reb Avrohom, the youngest remembers that his father began learning with him regularly from the time he was in second grade.  When they got older, and went away to dorm in a Yeshiva, this would bite quite a bit into Rav Twersky’s very busy schedule; but it made no difference to him.  Whether his sons were learning in Kol Torah or Brisk in Yerushalayim, Ponovezh in Bnei Brak, or Nesivos Ha’Torah in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Rav Twersky would travel to wherever his sons were to learn with them.  Never once did he even so much as suggest that they should come to him .


Sometimes he would learn with them once a week; sometimes twice.  When they were younger and still living at home, he would often learn with them three times or more every week.  He would sometimes learn with them the topic they were learning in their yeshiva at the time, and other times they would learn other subjects.  However, Rav Twersky always made sure to show an interest in whatever it was they were learning in their yeshiva, and would discuss it with them at least from time to time to demonstrate that care and concern.


Reb Avrohom, the youngest son, said that while he was attending Yeshivas Ponovezh in Bnei Brak, his father would come to Bnei Brak once a week to learn with him, and another day to learn by Rav Yisrael Elya Weintraub.  “So I asked my father,” related Reb Avrohom, “to come an hour early on the days he came for Rav Weintraub, so I could learn with him during that hour.  I think he may have done it once, but ultimately he felt no choice but to turn down my request.  Why?  Because he would always bring along his friends, providing them a ride to Rav Weintraub’s shiur, and he did not want to stop doing that.”


Rav Twersky’s learning sessions with his sons were very meaningful to him.  That is obvious simply by dint of the fact that he invested so much time to do so, but there was another indication of that fact as well.  Reb Avrohom found amongst his father’s writings a line that reads, “This question arose when I was learning with my son…”


Even when his sons were older bachurim, Rav Twersky saw it as his responsibility to guide them.  At a certain point, he encouraged his youngest son Reb Avrohom to switch to Yeshivas Brisk.  There, he felt that his son would achieve a deeper grasp of analytical ability.  Reb Avrohom told his father that he is not sure that he wants to do that, and that he would discuss it with his oldest brother, Reb Meshulam, who had attended Yeshivas Brisk after learning in Yeshivas Kol Torah.  Rav Twersky told his son ok, and left it at that.  Reb Avrohom did wind up deciding to go to Brisk after discussing it with Reb Meshulam. However, there is a part of the story that he only discovered after his father was niftar, during the shiva.


It was then that Reb Meshulam revealed to his younger brother what had transpired after the latter concluded his discussion with their father.  “He immediately called me up on the phone and said to me, ‘Please make sure that you convince Avrumi to go to Brisk.”  Rav Twersky wanted to do everything possible to ensure what he felt would be the most beneficial for his son’s progress, but would not do so by forcing the issue directly.  If he could manage to arrange that his son should feel independently convinced, then wonderful.  But if not, not; and he would allow his son the independence of making his own decisions.


When Reb Avrohom did finally inform his father that he agreed to transfer to Brisk, he provided one, important stipulation.  “If I am going to be learning in Yerushalayim,” Reb Avrohom told his father, “then there is no reason why we should learn together only once a week.  So I will agree to go to Brisk, but only on the condition that you’ll learn with me twice a week!”  It was a done deal.


The younger Twersky daughter, Mrs. Nechama Charlop, recalls her later years of high school, when she was often the only child home.  During that time period, Rav Twersky would generally come home late, often around 12:00 am.  That is when he would eat his supper.  As many high school girls are wont to do, she would often be up at that time, and would take advantage of the opportunity to schmooze with her father.  On Thursday nights, Rav Twersky would usually go for long walks after eating his supper.  “I would often accompany him on these walks,” Mrs. Charlop reminisced, “even though I would usually not engage him in conversation during that time since I didn’t want to interrupt him from thinking in learning.


“One time, we were walking down Kanfei Nesharim Street around 1:00 am, and we passed by a fast-food store that was packed with boys –who, from the way they were dressed, looked like yeshiva bachurim – that were hanging out there.  When I saw that, I turned to my father and said, ‘Tatty, how did you manage that all three of your boys turned out so well?  How were you zocheh to such good kids?’  He was silent for a few moments, and then he said to me, ‘Of course, everything is ultimately siyata d’Shmaya…’ he paused again, and then he said, ‘but in terms of what I may have done…I think it is the personal involvement that I always made sure to have with my children.’


“I remember those words making a very deep impact on me, but it was only four or five years later that I fully realized how fundamentally meaningful it was to him.  The topic of what is important for success in child-rearing somehow came up in a family conversation, and my father said, ‘Yes, I once discussed this point with Nechami.’  ‘Tatty, you remember that conversation?’ I said in surprise.  ‘Of course I do;’ my father told me, ‘I am surprised that you remember it!’  It was then that I fully realized how deeply meaningful this point was to my father; this value of always maintaining personal involvement in his children’s lives.”

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