Rav Moshe Twersky zt”l On the Parsha


moshe-twerski1By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

ויקרא יעקב אל בניו…(מט:א

The Brisker Rav was exceedingly exacting in the way he said Krias Shema. It would take him a very long time. (Paranthetically, the Gemara says that the reward for reciting Shema carefully is that Gehinom will be cooled off for him. This is a tremendous schar. Nevertheless, apparently not all Gedolei Yisrael held of the extreme extent to which the Briskers take this inyan. One time, Rav Meir Soloveitchik was in the presence of the Chazon Ish when he (Rav Meir) was saying Shema. He said it in Brisker form, taking an extremely long time to say every word with the utmost of precision. Afterwards, the Chazon Ish told him, “Be careful you don’t catch a cold.”)

Baruch sheim, though, was not given the same attention to exactitude. Given his pace throughout the rest of Shema, the amount of time from when he finished the word echad until he began v’ahavtah was much quicker. When asked about this, the Rav answered as follows.

The halacha that one must be medakdeik in Krias Shema is not because of the act of kabalas ol malchus Shamayim, but a requirement as far as reading pesukim is concerned. The proof of this is the source of precision reading. It is derived from the word v’limadetem, which Chazal darshen to mean that your limud should be tahm, complete. The enunciation should be unadulterated. Where does the word v’limadetem appear in Krias Shema? In the second paragraph. Most Rishonim hold that the second paragraph is only required mi’d’Rabannan, so the derasha cannot be referring only to Krias Shema. Rather, it is a halacha that applies to mikrah, reading pesukim.

Rav Moshe Feinstein was once observed doing shnayim mikrah, and it was apparent that he was saying the words with the same degree of precision as when he would say Krias Shema. So we see that he too held that the halacha of precision reading is not a requirement unique to Shema, but that it is a requirement insofar as reading pesukim is concerned.

Baruch Sheim, despite being an integral part of kabalas ol malchus Shamayim, is not a pasuk, and therefore does not require the same level of precision.

This, of course, leads us to the question, seeing that Baruch Sheim is not a pasuk, where does it come from?

Of course, everyone knows the Medrash on this week’s parsha that when Yaakov Avinu wanted to reveal the end of days to his sons, the Shechina departed from him, and he was worried that maybe one of his sons was unworthy. Yishmael was an aberration that came out of Avraham Avinu, and Eisav was an aberration that came out of Yitzchak Avinu, and Yaakov was worried that perhaps something bad came out of him as well. The Shevatim all cried out, Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, thus confirming that they were all staunchly and fully committed to Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu alone. Upon hearing that, Yaakov Avinu responded Baruch Sheim Kevod Malchuso L’olam Va’ed.

This is the way that it is recounted in the Bavli (Pesachim 56a). The Gemara concludes that Yaakov Avinu said Baruch Sheim but Moshe Rabbeinu did not. Therefore we say it, but only silently. The Gemara gives a mashal to a princess who smelled the greasy, burned remainders at the bottom of a pot (tzikei kedeirah) and felt a strong desire to eat it. On the one hand, if she asks for it, it will be embarrassing, but if she doesn’t she will suffer. So her servants brought it to her secretly. This is a difficult mashal to understand, because it would seem to imply as if there is something missing with Baruch Sheim.

There is another Medrash that says a different version of the source for Baruch Sheim. It says that when Moshe Rabbeinu when up to On High, he heard the malachim saying Baruch Sheim and he brought it down to Klal Yisrael. Since it was a sort of confiscation from the malachim, we don’t behave so boldly as to say it out loud, except for on Yom Kippur when we ourselves are like malachim. The Medrash there makes it clear, though, that Moshe did not “steal” it. The mashal is like a man who was given permission by a king to go in to the palace and take whatever he wants. What did he take? The queen’s finest piece of jewelry! He is not a crook. He had permission to take whatever he desires. Still, no one thought he would take the queen’s crown jewel. Therefore, the man tells his wife, “Here is this piece of jewelry, but only wear it inside our home.”

Yet a third version is in the Medrash on parshas Va’eschanan. The Medrash asks, from where did we get the zechus to say Shema? From Matan Torah. What happened? Hashem said, Shema Yisrael Anochi Hashem Elokecha, Klal Yisrael responded Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, and Moshe Rabbeinu followed with Baruch Sheim Kevod Malchuso L’olam Va’ed.

Interestingly enough, in the Targum Yerushalmi on the pasuk, the conclusion is that when Yaakov Avinu heard his sons say Shema Yisrael he responded, Yehei Shemei Rabah Mevarach L’almei Almin. Essentially, they mean the same thing. Both are statements that the great Name of the Almighty should be blessed forever and ever. The word baruch, explains the Nefesh Ha’Chaim, means increase. When we are making a bracha to Hashem, we are saying that His Presence in the world should be increased. The revelation of Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu should become greater and greater. So, Baruch Sheim is a statement that Sheim Kevod Malchuso, the name of the glory of the kingship of Hashem, should become more and more revealed and present in the world forever and ever.

A question that could be asked is what is the basis for saying Baruch Sheim out loud at the close of Yom Kippur? This question is even sharper when it comes to Yom Kippur Katan, where at the end of the seider ha’teffilah, there is the same kabalas ol malchus Shamayim as at the close of Yom Kippur. Also, at large rallies in times of tzarah, this is sometimes recited. So what could be the basis for this?

The Maharsha says that the reason why we say Baruch Sheim quietly is so that it should not be an interruption between Shema and v’ahavtah. Really the two should be immediately juxtaposed, but we have to say Baruch Sheim. We minimize the separation, though, by saying it quietly.

According to this, it is not a problem in general to say Baruch Sheim out loud, only when said as part of Krias Shema. That could be the basis for saying Baruch Sheim out loud in all the above circumstances.

(Audio recording available here)

ארור אפם (מט:ז)

…One could be inclined to think that Rav Twersky was such an incredibly great person that such wondrous feats of willpower were practically automatic. However, the truth is that he clearly worked on himself very much to attain that level of self-control. Not that he told anyone that fact, but it was pretty obvious from the lessons that he would impart to his talmidim. He would tell them, for example, that to be able to handle challenging situations, one needs to engage the power of imagination to mentally prepare for such eventualities. From time to time, he would elaborate, one should imagine all different types of difficult scenarios. And in his mind’s eye, he should picture himself rising to the challenge with appropriate action.

Rav Twersky was once told about a bachur who was tragically killed by terrorists. In his final moments, the bachur screamed out Shema Yisrael. Rav Twersky emphasized, “That bachur must have often imagined being moser nefesh al kiddush Hashem — that is how one manages to actually do it in the moment.”

When discussing this concept of advance mental preparation, Rav Twersky wouldn’t just leave it as an abstract idea. He would talk about real-life, down-to-earth scenarios – such as the cholent getting burned on Shabbos and the resultant tendency to become aggravated by it – and how employing this tool of advance mental preparation goes a long way in being able to succeed. To grow….