By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
When Klal Yisroel received the Torah from Har Sinai, Hashem warned them about a peculiar capital offense. He cautioned them to be extremely careful not to touch Har Sinai while the Torah was being given. He informed them that “Kol hanogei-a b’har mos yumos – Whoever touches the mountain will surely die.”
At first glance, it appears that the penalty seems to be way out of proportion to the crime. The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, zy”a, explains that the significance of this severe penalty is for extrapolation purposes. Hashem wanted us to consider that – for merely touching the mountain which, although it has no feeling, no mind of its own and no sensitivity, yet since the Torah was being given upon it – any miniscule invasion of its rights is punishable with death. One therefore should make an a fortiori, a Torah scholar who is a receptacle of Torah – and who certainly has feelings and sensitivity, if one insults him or causes him pain, it goes without saying, G-d forbid, how severe their penalty would be.
This should be no surprise to us. After all, the longest period of mourning of the Jewish calendar is not the Three Weeks when we mourn for the destruction of the two Temples and the deaths of millions of our brethren. Rather, it is the 33 days of sefira in the springtime when we mourn Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples who didn’t give honor to one another’s Torah.
When Reb Elyashiv, zt”l, zy”a, was asked about the proliferation of cancer, lo alenu, he commented that one of the causes can be connected to the Gemora that teaches, “Kol hamevazeh talmidei chachamim, ein refuah l’makoso – Whoever disgraces Torah Sages, there is no cure to his wound.” The Gemora tells us that the Second Temple was destroyed because of insults to Torah scholars, and we know that in every generation when the Temple is not rebuilt it is because we are still guilty of the reason why the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed.
In the mother of all yeshivas, Volozhin, when Rav Chaim Berlin was to take over as Rosh Yeshiva from his saintly father the Netziv, there were politics in the yeshiva. One of the choshuvah bochurim who was against Rav Berlin’s appointment did a foolish thing. When Rav Berlin was to give his inaugural shiur, this bochur took the Gemora from Rav Berlin’s shtender and replaced it with an Aluf Binah, a book used to teach children alef-beis. At the end of Rav Berlins’ life, after he passed away in Yerushalaim, his effects were inherited by Rav Issur Zalman Meltzer. When Rav Melzter looked through his letters, he found one written by this bochur who did the disrespectful prank. In the letter, he wrote that the was asking mechila for his foolhardy prank and that during his life he suffered much distress and travail and he always attributed it to the fact that he showed disrespect to the Rosh Yeshiva. This is just one example of how lethal it can be to be cavalier when dealing with Rabbonim and Roshei yeshiva.
Opening up a sefer while the Rav is giving a drasha, walking out on a speech, making disparaging comments about what he says, talking disrespectfully about certain Roshei yeshiva or disparagingly about a hardworking Rebbi are all practices that are very dangerous. The flip side is also true. Showing honor to Torah sages and giving kavod to them is even greater than learning Torah, as the Gemora expresses in Masechtas Megillia.
May it be the will of Hsahsm that we have the smarts to always give proper respect to Torah authority, which is also a great model for our children. In that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Rabbi Weiss is planning to be in London for a speaking tour from Feb. 24th to March 4th. If you would like him to speak in your Shul or school, please contact Yossi Tov at firstname.lastname@example.org. Spots are filling up so please get in touch with him.
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