Cheirus – Tzu Ligen in Lernen

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rav_ahron_walkin_picture-smallA shmuess delivered by Rav Ahron Walkin, Rosh Yeshivas Ohel Simcha

Transcribed by Yitzy Diskin

Chag HaPesach, also called Zeman Cheiruseinu, is the Yom Tov when we celebrate our cheirus, literally translated as “freedom.” For under Paroh we were enslaved and when Hashem Yisborach took us out of Mitzrayim, we had cheirus. As we say in tefillas Maariv, “And He (Hashem) took out his nation Yisroel from amongst them (the Mitzriyim) “l’cheirus olam.” What is meant by cheirus olam? Why doesn’t it just say l’cheirus? Is there a difference between cheirus and cheirus olam?

The Brisker Rov zt”l points out this difference in lashon and explains that the yetziah from Mitzrayim was not only l’cheirus but actually l’cheirus olam. For as the Yidden left Mitzrayim, they became bnei chorim “b’cheftza, in essence, that they could no longer, ever again be slaves. This is what is meant by cheirus olam, eternal freedom, never to be enslaved again. (I understand the Brisker Rov to be saying that only a gentile could become a full-fledged slave, an eved kenaani, that gufo konuy, his body is obtained and owned by his master. A Jew can only become a partial slave, an eved ivri; he must serve his master, but his body is not owned by the master.)

In the Siddur HaGra (pirush Siach Yitzchok), the lashon of “cheirus olam” is explained differently. It is explained that the geulah of Mitzrayim was a geulas olam, a forever, continuous geulah, the root of all the geulos in the future, for all geulos of the golus throughout our history stem from the geulah from Mitzrayim. We must explain what the meaning of this is that all the geulos of the goluyos through the times is rooted and stems from geulas Mitzrayim and why indeed it is so.

I believe the answer and explanation lies in better understanding what geulah is and what cheirus is.

There are two different forms of the geulah and cheirus. There is a physical cheirus, that we left Mitzrayim to be free from working physically. There is also a spiritual cheirus. When we left Mitzrayim, we also became spiritually free, for as the Bais Halevi (Parshas Shemos) explains, the shibud Mitzrayim was both a physical affliction as well as a spiritual affliction. And so, cheirus olam could be translated and understood as not just the physical cheirus, but rather an everlasting and eternal freedom, a cheirus ruchni which is indeed eternal and everlasting (since it is ruchni, not physical). [See the Haggadah Shel Pesach of the Chidah Zeroah Yemin which explains “l’cheirus olam” as Chazal state that it was a cheirus haguf vehanefesh, both physical and spiritual.]

rav_ahron_walkin_pictureIn tefillas Shacharis (in Ezras Yisroel before Shemoneh Esrei), as well as in bentching (in Nodeh Lecha in a similar lashon), we praise Hakadosh Boruch Hu and say, “MiMitzrayim ge’altonu…umibais avodim pedisonu.” Is this not redundant? For at first glance, both phrases are saying the same thing – that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim. Why the repetition?

Rav Chaim Brisker points out this question and answers that we are indeed praising Hashem and saying two separate things – that MiMitzrayim ge’altonu – Hashem took us out physically from Mitzrayim, and also umibais avodim pedisonu – He redeemed us from being slaves as said above from the Brisker Rov, never to possibly be able to become slaves again.

Behachnaah ubeyiras hakavod, with great humility and reverence to Maran Rav Chaim and Maran HaGriz, I believe that another interpretation is possible. For as we explained, the yetziah from Mitzrayim was really two-fold. There was the physical geulah and there was the spiritual geulah. MiMitzrayim ge’altonu we could say refers to the physical yetziah and geulaj that we physically left and were freed. Umibais avodim pedisonu refers to the spiritual yetziah and geulah, for this geulah, the spiritual geulah, is actually more a “pediah,” as in pidyon nefesh, a redemption of the nefesh, soul, and, as we say in the Haggadah, “Venodeh lecha shir chodosh al geulaseinu ve’al pedus nafsheinu’.”

Pesach, matzoh and marror. The Nesivos in his pirush Ma’aseh Nisim on the Haggadah raises an interesting observation. Why do we eat the Pesach and the matzoh before the marror even though chronologically the bitter enslavement in Mitzrayim, which the marror represents, came before the geulah for which we eat the Pesach and the matzoh? Why don’t we follow the order of events and eat the marror first?

The Nesivos explains that to us, the main part and focal point of Yetzias Mitzrayim is not the freedom from the marror, the bitter work we endured, but rather the Pesach which symbolizes the “spiritual” redemption from Mitzrayim. For even if we were free in Mitzrayim, living there in comfort and luxury, we would still be considered enslaved and not free. Therefore, we eat the Pesach and matzoh first and then we eat the marror, which commemorates the “physical” part of the redemption, for it is only the secondary reason for the celebration.

It is now possible to understand how and why the geulah of Mitzrayim is the foundation and root of all geulos of Klal Yisroel. For the geulah from Mitzrayim was l’cheirus olam – that Klal Yisroel left Mitzrayim to evolve into a cheftza ruchni, a creation and an entity of ruchniyus, and this inherent trait and essence of ruchniyus that Klal Yisroel has obtained is truly the yesod and root of all the geulos of Klal Yisroel from all goluyos.

But one can ask, is a life of ruchniyus – keeping Torah and mitzvos – really cheirus?! Do we not refer to it as “avodas” Hashem? We say in B’rich Shmei, when we take out the Sefer Torah for Krias HaTorah, “Ana avda dekudsha brich hu,” I am “avda,” the slave or servant, of Hashem. Could an eved, a slave, really say that he actually is free? It is obvious that we need to properly define and understand what is meant by cheirus, for we are most definitely not free in the literal sense to do what we want. In fact, quite the opposite is true. We are forever meshubad under the yoke of Hashem and we are not at all free to do what we want, but rather only what Hashem wants.

To answer this question, we need to have a better understanding of the yesod of the Yom Tov of Pesach. Rabbeinu Bechaya in Kad Hakemach (Erech Atzeres, pg. 294) writes, “The days of Pesach from which we count seven weeks of Sefirah, and that the fiftieth day is Matan Torah, these seven weeks are like days of Chol Hamoed, intermediate days like the days between the first and eighth days of other Yomim Tovim. It is for this reason that Chazal call the Yom Tov of ShavuosAtzeres,” for just like Shemini Atzeres of Sukkos is the last day of the Yom Tov of Sukos, so too, Shavuos is the last day, the finale, of the Yom Tov of Pesach. What is the connection between Pesach and Shavuos? How and why does Shavuos become one Yom Tov with Pesach, Pesach being the first days of the Yom Tov and Shavuos being the finale (and that the seven weeks in between are like Chol Hamoed)?

The answer lies in understanding Yetzias Mitzrayim. Hashem Yisborach sends Moshe Rabbeinu on a mission of Yetzias Mitrayim when revealing Himself in the s’neh, the burning bush. “Behotziacha es ha’am miMitzrayim ta’avdun es ha’Elokim al hahar hazeh – When you take out the nation from Mitzrayim, you will worship Hashem on this mountain” (Shemos 3:12). This mountain refers to Har Sinai where the Yidden will eventually be mekabel the Torah. What is the connection between Yetzias Mitzrayim and Kabbolas HaTorah?

The Chinuch (mitzvah 306) explains, “For the main point and reason that Klal Yisroel was redeemed and taken out of Mitzrayim was so that they should accept the Torah at Sinai and keep its mitzvos.”

The Sefas Emes (Shavuos, year 1885) expounds on this point and explains that the culmination of Yetzias Mitzrayim was actually at Har Sinai, for only at that point was the cheirus complete. It was as if the Torah itself was the shtar shichrur, the document of the declaration of our freedom from slavery, for as Chazal state in Avos (6:2) “Ain lecha ben chorin elah mi she’osaik b’talmud Torah – There is no greater ‘free person’ than one who is involved in Torah study.”

This yesod could be found in the Ramban, in his hakdama to Sefer Shemos. The book of Shemos was designated to document the history of the first golus, golus Mitzrayim, and the redemption from it. Therefore, it begins with repeating the names and numbers of those who went down to Mitzrayim, for this was the “beginning” of the golus. The golus of Mitzrayim, though, did not end until the day they returned to their original state of spirituality and to the level of greatness of their forefathers, the Avos. Therefore, when they left Mitzrayim, even though (physically) they left and ended their slavery, they still were not considered redeemed and freed. But when they came to Har Sinai and built the Mishkan and Hashem returned to dwell his Shechinah amongst them, then, and only then, were they considered redeemed and free. Therefore, the book of Shemos ends with the commencement of the building of the Mishkan and that Hashem rested there.

It should be pointed out that the Mishnah does not merely say that there is no free person but one who is “osek b’Torah, involved in Torah, which may also include someone who isn’t necessarily immersed in Torah learning but is “involved” in the Torah and is maybe even keeping all its mitzvos. And so we could think that such a person is also included and deemed a free person, for he is living a life of Torah. Therefore, the Mishnah clearly emphasizes and refers to one who is involved in talmud Torah, the study of Torah, for he, and only he, is being referred to by the Mishnah when speaking about being a ben chorin.

Why is only one who learns Torah a free man? The baalei mussar explain that the Yeitzer Hara enslaves us, forcing us against our will to go against our true wants to the point that we are compelled to follow his persuasions. Unfortunately, we are all addicted to our weaknesses and Yeitzer Hara to the point that we can truly be deemed slaves – enslaved to our Yeitzer Hara and the taavos he instills in us. The only way we can free ourselves from the claws of the Yeitzer Hara and the dominance he has on us is through the learning of Torah, as Chazal ( ) state clearly, “I created the Yeitzer Hara, but I created the Torah as its antidote.”

I would like to introduce yet another explanation to how and why one who learns Torah is considered a free man. When I was a young bochur, I heard a story about the famed rosh yeshiva and maggid shiur, Rav Shmuel Rozovsky zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ponovezh, that influenced me greatly. Rav Rozovsky was extremely sick in his hospital room, suffering great pain from his illness. Maran Rav Elazar Shach zt”l came to visit him. Rav Shach entered the room and found Rav Shmuel deeply immersed in his learning. Rav Shach exclaimed, “Ah, Rav Shmuel. Look how you are immersed in Torah even through your difficult matzav!”

Rav Shmuel replied, “It’s not such a big thing, for I can only go through my matzav because I am learning…” 

This story left a great impression and influence on me, and through the years I came to realize more and more that those who learn Torah find salvation and solace in their Torah learning even through trying and difficult times. Through the most burdening and debilitating situations of life, one can find and escape free from all pain by ligen and horeven in lernen, to the point that we can truly say that only those who immerse themselves in Torah are truly free from the imprisonment of life’s trials and tribulations.

The payton, liturgist, of the Reshus L’Chosson Bereishis, the beautiful, heartwarming piyut that is said when calling up the oleh who will be Chosson Bereishis on Simchas Torah, elaborates on the virtues of unzer heilige Torah, and one of the points he makes is that the Torah is “mesameches lev v’etzev mesirah – it makes the heart happy and it removes all sad and troubling matters.” What the payton is saying is that not only does Torah delight, but it also has the koach to macht leicht; it makes heavy and burdensome matters light so that they became bearable. As Chazal in Avos D’Rav Nosson (20:1) state, “Whoever puts divrei Torah on his heart, Hashem takes away from him thoughts of fear and worry about danger of war and hunger etc.” Ligen in lernen soothes the heart during all difficult and worrisome matzavim.

It is no wonder why gedolim turned to their limud haTorah to save themselves from drowning in the yam suf of life.

My elter zaida, the Bais Ahron zt”l, was imprisoned by the Russians for openly preaching and protesting against Communism (he said that it was kefirah). During his jail stay amongst the worst criminals and gangsters, which lasted close to an entire year, the Bais Ahron turned to his limud haTorah to sustain him. As Dovid Hamelech wrote in Tehillim (119), “Lulei sorascha sha’ashuai az ovadeti b’onyi.” It was there in the dark dungeons of the Russian jails that he wrote his famous work, Bais Ahron on Bava Kama, a sefer which is acclaimed in the Olam HaTorah and is studied until today in yeshivos worldwide.  

This survival technique did not just keep my elter zaida afloat during his imprisonment in his early years, but also later, at the end of his life, during the Holocaust, he turned to the same means –  limud haTorah – for survival.

I once met a Pinsker Yid who retold me that he was together with the Bais Ahron until the very last day that the kehillah of Pinsk stood. He recounted that six months before the Nazis entered Pinsk, the rov, the Bais Ahron, went into hiding, knowing that as the head of the kehillah, he would be the first to be sought out and targeted by the Nazis. He recalled, “It was months since we saw the rov who was hiding in attics and basements throughout the city. When the Nazis finally did come, it was not long before they forbade the Yidden to go to shul to daven or learn. Upon hearing that the kol of Torah and tefillah was halted in the entire city of Pinsk, the Bais Ahron sprung into action and came out of hiding. He donned a polish cosket (cap) and tucked his white beard into his coat to disguise himself and look like a simple peasant. With a piece of paper in hand, the rov proceeded to the homes of families in the city that had yeshiva bochurim, convincing the bochurim to sign up and join him in one of the local houses where they would all gather to daven and learn b’mesiras nefesh, no matter what, even if it meant to give up their lives. The rov promised and guaranteed that he himself would also come and attend, give shiurim and daven for the amud as shliach tzibbur. (The Bais Ahron was a beautiful baal tefillah.) The rov eventually knocked on my door and I opened. I was surprised to see him, because I knew he had not been seen for months. The rov began explaining his mission and asked me to sign up and join the chaburah. However, my mother, who was standing there, did not permit me to join (believing erroneously that if we did what the Nazis wanted and didn’t provoke them, we would be spared). The rov began to cry while pleading with me to join. His tears dripped onto my arms. Until today I can still feel those warm tears falling on me. Immensely moved, I agreed and signed up to join, against the objections of my mother. And so it was that I joined the rov, who gave shiurim all day and davened all the tefillos for the amud as he promised, until the last day, together with a chaburah of yeshiva bochurim in one of the homes in Pinsk.”

After hearing this story, it became clear to me the background and circumstance behind the last letter that my elter zaida wrote to his son, my zaida, Rav Shmuel Dovid Walkin zt”l (printed in the hakdama to the sefer Bais Ahron): “The payton in the selichos laments the period after the churban Bais Hamikdosh, stating that after the Bais Hamikdosh, which sustained us, was destroyed (for the Bais Hamikdosh was the source of sustenance of Klal Yisroel), when the meals from the Father, Hakadosh Boruch Hu, are no more, it is sure that the children, Klal Yisroel, go hungry, empty in the stomach. But in our times that we are presently in, I fear for the opposite. That since the children are hungry with no sustenance, our Father in Heaven, Hakadosh Boruch Hu, is going hungry, kevayachol, not receiving his quota of Torah and tefillah from Klal Yisroel, especially during these days of the Yomim Noraim when I used to honor Hashem with my voice by giving drashos and leading tefillos. Yet, I must thank Hashem that I have actually not missed anything that I am accustomed to doing (in Torah and tefillah) in prior years, and therefore, my body has become weak and my strength has dwindled. Nevertheless, for Torah and tefillah I feel great strength. And you, my children, don’t be saddened or worried about me, for from my own flesh I see that when the gashmiyus, the physical, becomes lessened, the ruchniyus, the spiritual, becomes more and stronger, and it is then that the person can sustain himself from ruchniyus alone.

Thus, we can see and learn that even when drowning, imprisoned in the abyss and darkness of the Nazis and their ghettos and concentration camps of death and despair, one could find salvation, sustenance and life from his Torah study and avodah. That realization and state of meaningful happiness and freedom no one in the world can rob and no occurrence can ruin.

Unfortunately, we live in a world of confusion coupled with the fact that the golus and its darkness continuously blind us from seeing and understanding the realities of what is the basis of our existence, the meaning of our lives, and what really brings us true happiness. We are the am hanivchar and we live in an entirely different world than do the rest of people. We don’t live in Olam Hazeh. We live in the Olam haTorah veha’avodah. And so, the wants, the achievements and the enjoyable things of Olam Hazeh do not give meaning to our lives, nor does it bring us happiness in the least bit. Torah and only Torah gives purpose and meaning to a Yid’s life – for our life isn’t chayei sha’ah of Olam Hazeh, but rather vechayei olam notah besocheinu. Lernen. Ligen in lehrnen. Horeven in Torah. Nor dos iz chaim. Nor dos iz cheirus in leben!

It is now clear that Zeman Cheiruseinu takes on a whole new meaning. We do not just mean cheirus in the sense of being free to do as we please, but rather we are referring to a different type of cheirus, cheirus olam, an eternal, everlasting cheirus based upon limud haTorah which is eternal. As we say in Birchas HaTorah, “Vechayei olam nota besocheinu,” that the Torah and its learning are not just chaim, life, but chayei olam, eternal life. And so we must make sure to utilize the Yom Tov of Pesach for Torah study and not take it as a time to take a break from yeshiva or a vacation from work, for the chag without the cheirus – the Torah – is not really the Yom Tom of Pesach

With the above yesod, it is possible to understand and explain a perplexing Tosefta which says that the Tannaim in the Haggadah who stayed up the entire night of Pesach and were osek in Yetzias Mitzrayim until the talmidim came and told them that the time for Krias Shemah had arrived were not retelling the sippur, story, of Yetzias Mitzrayim, but were actually learning Torah in the inyan of hilchos Korban Pesach. The question is why did they spend the whole night of the seder speaking in learning? Isn’t the night of Pesach designated to relate the story of Yetzias Miztrayim? The Brisker Rov explains that from this Tosefta we can deduce that one, indeed, could be yotzeh the mitzvah of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim by learning the halachos of Korban Pesach. The question, though, still remains. Why is it sufficient to speak in learning about hilchos Korban Pesach on the night which is designated to commemorate our exodus from Mitzrayim?

The answer may be based on what we have explained until now, that the main idea and goal of Yetzias Mitzrayim was our acceptance of the Torah and its study. Therefore, these great Tannaim were oskim beYetzias Mitzrayim, not just retelling the “story,” but rather being involved in the actual Yetzias Mitzrayim which was not simply about getting our cheirus, physical freedom, but rather about cheirus olam, the learning of Torah in connection and celebration of Yetzias Mitzrayim.

We can further expound on this idea. The seforim explain that layla, night, is a metaphor for golus and its darkness, while yom, day, is a metaphor for the time of salvation and light (see Bais Halevi, drush 4). And so we can say that the Tannaim were learning Torah through the night – “kol oso halayla” – which metaphorically is referring to the darkness of the golus, until the talmidim informed them that as a result of their devoted Torah study, “higiah zeman Krias Shemah shel Shacharis,” that the light of day – metaphorically referring to times of happiness and salvation – have come. For only our limud haTorah  – ligen in lernen– will give us light in the darkness, survival through the night of golus, as well as strength and hope in the dark and trying times in each of our own personal lives.      

Before I conclude, I want to bring attention to the tremendous tragic and painful events of the abduction of unzerer Yiddishe bruder, Gilad Shalit in Gaza, and the imprisonment of the three Yiddishe bochurim in the jails of Japan. As we go and celebrate Pesach, Zeman Cheiruseinu, joyously, with family and friends, we must take out a moment or two, preferably during the seder, to contemplate the difficult plight of our Yiddishe brethren who are in captivity, not free to be with their family and friends, and to beseech Hakadosh Boruch Hu through sincere heartfelt tefillos to send them a geulah veyeshuah. In this zechus, we should merit the final geulah, when, together with these Yiddishe captives and all of Klal Yisroel, we will be redeemed through the bias goel tzedek.  And may it come to be what we say in the Haggadah: “Hashata hacha leshana haba’ah bnei chorin…eshana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim.”

(I would like to dedicate this shiur to a relative of mine, Rav Velvel Perl zt”l, a noted talmid chochom who personified all the things we spoke about in this shiur. Er hot geligt un gehorevet in lernen all the days of his life and was a big lamdan and marbitz Torah. He left behind his choshuve rebbetzin, an einekel of my elter zaida, Rav Moshe Londinski zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Radin, as well as son who is a talmid chochom in his own right, Rav Henoch, a choshuveh rov and marbitz Torah in Lakewood, and a daughter. Yehi zichro boruch.) 

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