Rav Moshe Twersky Hy”d On the Parsha

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By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

Va´eschanan – Shabbos of Simcha

In the zemer, Kol mekadeish shevii, we find the expression, “ha´mechakim l´vinyan ariel b´yom Shabbos kodesh sisu v´simchu k´mikablei matan nachliel, those that await the construction of the Beis Ha´Mikdash, on the holy day of Shabbos, rejoice and be happy as those who have received a gift of inheritance from the Almighty.“  An innovative way of understanding these words is that they are in specific reference to the Shabbos of parshas Va´eschanan. How is that? Va´eschanan is Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos that follows Tisha B´Av. Out of the entire year, Tisha B´Av is the time when we truly connect with our inner yearning for the geulah to come. For Mashiach to finally arrive and witness the rebuilding of the Beis Ha´Mikdash. This, then, is what the zemer is talking about when it says “those that await the construction of the Beis Ha´Mikdash“ – on Tisha B`Av when our national yearning for the geulah reaches its peak. And what immediately follows that? A Shabbos of rejoicing and happiness as result of receiving matan nachliel, the Torah. Va´eschanan, of course, contains the Aseres Ha`Dibros – Klal Yisrael´s collective experience of receiving the Torah. And Torah is the ultimate source of rejoicing and simcha. So the zemer is saying, when we reach the state of mechakim l´vinyan ariel – yearning for the geulah – we will experience immediately thereafter a Shabbos of special rejoicing and simcha – the Shabbos in which we receive the Torah which is the ultimate source of all simcha. (Related by Reb Avrohom Twersky)


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 what pasuk 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 I                                                                                                                                        dea from another.  One’s own share in the Torah implies, first of all, the understanding of divrei Torah that each and every individual has in his own unique way.

“For Hashem will give wisdom, from His mouth knowledge and understanding.”  The Medrash explains, “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 Chazal say 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 Hu provides, “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, to Ha’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, and Ha’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 Hu was 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)


Lift Up Your Eyes and See Who Created All These…

The final pasuk in the haftarah of Shabbos Nachamu enjoins us to cast our eyes heavenward to behold the grandeur of Hashem´s creations that He “takes out by number…and calls each one by specific name“. The pasuk ends with the words, “ish lo neh´ehdar“, not one goes unaccounted. Why, though, does the pasuk call the stars and constellations by the appellation ish? I heard an explanation of this based on the Rambam. But first a bit of background. The Gemara in Sanhedrin 91b recounts a conversation between Rabi Yehudah Ha´Nasi and Antoninus. The latter asked, “Why does the sun set in the west and not return to the east to set?“ To which Rabi Yehudah Ha´Nasi replied, “It sets in the west to give greetings to its Creator, as the pasuk says, ´the legions of Heaven worship You´.“ Rashi elaborates that the western direction is the dwelling place of the Shechinah, so when the sun gets to that area it sets in submissive worship to its Creator. The Rambam understands this Gemara according to its literal interpretation. In Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 3:9, the Rambam writes, “All of the stars and spherical Heavenly bodies are living beings that possess knowledge and intellect. They are alive and are consciously aware  of the Creator, each one according to its greatness and stature gives praise to the Creator, similar to the way that malachim have conscious awareness and praise the Creator…the knowledge of the stars and spherical Heavenly bodies is less than that of the malachim and greater than that of human beings.“  As far as malachim are concerned, the Rambam enumerates ten different levels of malachim, the highest level being the Chayos Ha´Kodesh and the lowest level being the Ishim, the latter being those malachim that speak with prophets and appear to them in prophetic visions.“

Now we understand why the pasuk says about the stars and constellations that not one goes unaccounted for with the appellation of “ish“ because the highest level of the stars is right under and closely similar to the Ishim level of the malachim, so the pasuk employs this form of expression as a way of indicating great significance vis a vis the grandeur of Hashem´s Heavenly creations. Even those that take issue with the Rambam and insist that the stars have absolutely no conscious awareness, it is not difficult to understand what the aforementioned Gemara means by saying that the sun sets in the west to offer submissive greetings to its Creator. Chazal tell us that we can learn about not stealing from ants, modesty from cats, and so on and so forth. This does not mean that these creatures consciously choose to act with these positive middos, rather that Hashem created them to express these middos. Likewise, according to those that argue on the Rambam, although the stars themselves do not possess conscious awareness, Hashem created them and causes them to function in such a way as to express proper respect to the Creator, so that we may see it in the creation and be inspired and learn from it. (Audio recording)



“The key to a successful bein ha´zmanim is to daven – every day – with an early minyan.”



Although Rav Twersky did acknowledge the need for having a bein ha´zmanim break in order to “recharge one´s batteries“, that was apparently restricted to his talmidim. As far as he himself was concerned, though, Rav Twersky apparently viewed this time as a priceless opportunity to further his own growth in learning Torah. This was evident by a comment he once made a few days before Rosh Chodesh Av – which would mark the official conclusion of the yeshiva´s summer zman. First, though, a short word about Rav Twersky´s devotion to his talmidim. It was, in one word, phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. He went way, way above and beyond the call of duty. And that was not only for his official talmidim who were assigned to his shiur. Any bachur that desired to benefit from his incredible wellsprings of Torah knowledge and yiras Shamayim was afforded the maximum and beyond-maximum courtesy and accommodation. Even if that bachur did not even learn in Yeshivas Toras Moshe, as one particular individual – who did not attend Yeshivas Toras Moshe – reported that he would regularly speak in learning with Rav Twersky after Toras Moshe´s night-seder concluded. And Rav Twersky´s devotion was not restricted to sharing his Torah knowledge. He truly cared for his talmidim as a father does for children and would thus do things like taking an ill talmid to the doctor or visiting him in the hospital. Ditto for making time to speak with his talmidim about life-matters in general and offering them much-needed advice, counsel, and guidance. With all that in mind, we can return to the anecdote which is relevant to the point we started with. A few days before Rosh Chodesh Av, Rav Twersky mentioned when the final shiur would be and his parting words for the end of the year. Some of his talmidim, though, wanted him to continue giving shiur until Tisha B´Av, and they expressed that desire to their rebbi. His response was this: “Why is it that you want me to continue giving shiur? Because you want to learn. Well, I also want to learn.“ This is reminiscent of something Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz once said to his talmidim in Kaminetz: “My dear children, please appreciate what it is that I do for you and work hard to learn well so that my efforts will not be for naught. For myself, I could have achieved much, much greater levels of Torah knowledge by learning many other masechtos, other than those traditionally studied as part of the yeshiva cycle. But I did not do that. I stuck to the curriculum that would be best for all of you. Please take my great sacrifice and investment and use it well.“ As much as a rebbi gains from his talmidim – and Chazal indeed tell us “mi´talmidai yoser mi´kulam“ – it is nonetheless a fact that to be a good rebbi demands, to a great extent, for the rebbi to sacrifice his own, personal growth (see the hakdamah of the Haflaah). Bein ha´zmanim, then, in Rav Twersky´s eyes was a crucial, priceless opportunity for a rebbi to greatly further his own, personal growth in Torah learning.




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