WHY LEARN IN ERETZ YISRAEL –
And as a matter of a fact, why learn at all?
Rabbi Yitzchak Caplan
Let us first address the second question. Throughout our years in Yeshiva we frequently heard how the main focus of our lives should be Torah. We should lig in learn’en: our minds should be occupied with the sugya, and Torah should be the epicenter around which our lives revolve. The simple question that one has to ask is, “Why?” What is so important about learning Torah that we should spend our days and nights plumbing its depths?
Moreover, aren’t there many good Jews out there who work from nine to five (or eight to ten) and then learn daf yomi? Are we better than all those balei batim who spend their days working to put food on the table and then make an effort to spend an hour in the Beis Medrash?
Let us fine hone our question. When Reb Aharon Kotler started Lakewood, there was a fellow who donated five thousand dollars a year to the Yeshiva (no paltry sum in those days). Reb Aharon would always thank him for the contribution and then comment that maybe he too should “join the Yeshiva” and spend some time learning. One year the fellow had enough of the badgering and he responded to the Rosh Yeshiva’s comment with a story.
“When I was a little boy” he said, “I lived in Radin. Every Shabbos my father would go to the Chofetz Chaim’s house during Shalosh Seudos to hear the Chofetz Chaim speak. I, on the other hand, would run around and play outside. One week, the Chofetz Chaim called me over and sat me down right next to him. That week he spoke about עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה ותומכיה מאושר – i.e. how fortunate those who support the Torah are. The Chofetz Chaim added that those who support the Torah receive the exact same reward as those who learned the Torah. “And that being the case” concluded the wealthy benefactor, “Please stop pestering me to learn, because in Olam Habbah I’m going to get the exact same שכר as you are going to get!” To which Reb Aharon responded, “You thought that I was referring to Olam Habbah – I was referring to enjoying a little Olam Hazeh!
Reb Aharon had a sharp response and it’s a cute story. However, the question remains to be answered: “Why should I learn when I can support the Torah and receive the exact same reward as if I learned. If the reason is so that I can enjoy Olam Hazeh; don’t worry about that because many people seem to be enjoying this world just fine without Reb Aharon’s pleasures!”
The question itself hints to the answer. Indeed, if you support Torah, you and the yungerman that you supported will both end up with the same שכר. However, there is much more to limud haTorah than the שכר that it garners.
First and foremost, The רמח”ל in ‘דרך ה writes that limud haTorah is the quintessential way to connect to the רבש”ע – our ultimate goal and the very tachlis of creation. Supporting Torah is a mitzvah and every mitzvah brings dveikus – but you simply cannot compare it to the dveikus acquired through limud haTorah.
Additionally, Chazal clearly delineate the path to spiritual ascension. אמר רבי פנחס בן יאיר תורה מביאה לידי זהירות זהירות מביאה לידי זריזות, זריזות מביאה לידי נקיות נקיות מביאה לידי פרישות, פרישות מביאה לידי טהרה, טהרה מביאה לידי חסידות, חסידות מביאה לידי ענוה, ענוה מביאה לידי יראת חטא, יראת חטא מביאה לידי קדושה, קודשה מביאה לידי רוח הקודש, רוח הקודש מביאה לידי תחיית המתים. The first rung on the ladder is Torah and if one hasn’t climbed it there is simply no way to ascend the rest of the rungs.
The last פרק in פרקי אבות begins הלמד תורה לשמה זוכה לדברים הרבה וכל העולם כדאי הוא לו נקרא רע, אהוב, אוהב את המקום אוהב את הבריות משמח את המקום, משמח את הבריות ולבשתו ענוה ויראה ומכשרתו להיות צדיק חסיד ישר ונאמן, ומרחקתו מן החטא ומקרבתו לידי זכות ונהנהין ממנו עצה ותושיה. Once again although supporting Torah is a tremendous זכות, it will not lead to any of these מעלות.
Moreover, Chazal caution us כל יום יצרו של אדם מתגבר עליו. So how is one expected to overcome the temptations that abound in the twenty-first century if day in and day out we have a יצר הרע enticing us to commit עבירות? There is a way: בראתי לו יצר הרע בראתי לו תורה תבלין. It’s a way and it’s the only way. The מסילת ישרים explains that if the Creator created one single cure for a specific illness, then no matter what a person does, if he does not take the correct medicine then he has in effect forfeited his life. This is yet another reason to engage in לימוד התורה besides for supporting Torah.
Finally, even without everything mentioned above, תורה shares the same שורש as the word הוראה which means instruction. The Torah is the guidebook to life, and without learning the הלכות there is no way that one can possibly perform the מצוות correctly. The Chofetz Chaim writes in the הקדמה to the משנה ברורה that if one does not make an effort to learn הלכות שבת then there is no chance for him to make it through Shabbos without being מחלל שבת. Supporting Torah brings immense שכר but it does not bring ידיעות התורה.
Besides clarifying the advantages of לימוד התורה in addition to החזקת התורה, the ideas mentioned above explain the חשיבות and necessity for לימוד התורה. It has nothing to do with the vocation that a person chooses. Even if you don’t plan on becoming a Rav or a Rebbi it is still incumbent upon you to learn as much as you possibly can.
With this in mind, we can proceed to the original question: We understand why it’s important to learn – but why דוקא in Eretz Yisrael?
The רבש”ע set up the world in a way that most people have to work to support their families. However, this reality hinders one’s ability to focus entirely on תורה ועבודה: As חז”ל wondered ריחיים בצוארו ויעסוק בתורה? Since a בחור is free from any financial and familial responsibilities, he is afforded an opportunity to be focus entirely on ‘עבודת ה in a way that he will most probably not have again during his lifetime. This is a טובה from the בורא עולם to enable a young man in his formative years to be influenced solely by the veracity of the Torah thereby enabling him to emerge victorious from any trials and tribulations that he might encounter over the course of his life.
This idea is true regardless of where one chooses to spend his years in Yeshiva. The Vilna Goan and the Chofetz Chaim became the Gedolei Hador despite the fact that they never set foot in Eretz Yisrael. The same can be said about most of the Achronim, Rishonim, Geonim and even many of the Amoraim.
However, it is well known that both the Vilna Goan and Chofetz Chaim made attempts to move to Eretz Yisrael. The same applies for many of Achronim and we know that the Rebbi Yehuda HaChassid, the Rambam, Ramban, Rabbeinu Yonah made their way toward Eretz Yisrael. Moreover, Chazal relate that there were Amoraim that went to great lengths to move to Eretz Yisrael – even if it meant resorting to less than conventional methods of entry (Kesubos 112a). Clearly, there is what to be gained by the time spent in Eretz Yisrael.
What makes the learning experience in Eretz Yisrael so exceptional? We will attempt to enumerate a few of the tremendous benefits that apply to each and every בחור who steps foot into Yeshiva in Artzeinu HaKedoshah.
Firstly, Chazal tell us (Bava Basra 158b) אוירא דארץ ישראל מחכים. Just as there are specific times which are מסוגל for עלייה רוחנית such as אלול and the ימי העומר, likewise, there are specific places which are מסוגל for עלייה רוחנית such as Eretz Yisrael. כידוע Yonah HaNavi ran away from Eretz Yisrael because נבואה can only be received in ארץ ישראל. The סגולה of these specific times and places is the added dose of סייעתא דשמיא that is given from the רבש”ע, and thus the ease with which one can succeed in his endeavors.
This explains what Chazal tell us that the רבש”ע is close to us during the ימי רצון. So how come when I wake up on the morning of ר”ח אלול I don’t feel anything different than I did on the previous day which was the last day of Tammuz? In what way is He closer during אלול then He is the rest of the year? The answer is that during the ימי הרצון Hashem gives us all a generous dose of סייעתא דשמיא thereby making it easier to do what you should be doing. It’s easier to be מחזק in learning, davening, שמירת העיניים and עבודת המידות. It’s tried and true. This coming year try it and see for yourself בעזהי”ת.
It is clear from the Gemara that the concept of אוירא דארץ ישראל מחכים holds true not only during the time that the בית המקדש stood, but also בזמן חרובנו. Rav Dessler told Rav Wolbe that what would take him months to accomplish when he was living in Chutz L’aretz he accomplishes in a week or two once he moved to Eretz Yisrael (שיעורי חומש בראשית פרק כח’, פסוק כ”א). If one is serious about shteiging, the easiest place to shteig avek is in ארץ ישראל.
Additionally, the uniqueness of תורת ארץ ישראל is also due in part to the tremendous amount of אברכים bli ayin hara who learn in the Yeshivos and Kollelim and who can be seen walking the streets and talking in learning. To observe the dedication of yungerleit, of whom many do not own not only a car but also a couch, is truly remarkable. The daily contact and the Shabbos seudos eaten with these people are a live demonstration of how a person lives a life focused on and guided by רוחניות. (This certainly does not undermine the dedication and commitment of yungerliet and balei batim living in חו”ל. It is just more pronounced and easily accessible and visible in Eretz Yisrael).
The truth is that the abundance of אברכים provides yet another opportunity that is generally unavailable in Yeshivos in Chutz La’aretz. It gives a בחור an easy way to have a שייכות with an אדם חשוב in a way that does not deter him from clarifying any questions that he has in areas of השקפה and ‘עבודת ה. Many times people are hesitant to ask certain questions or open up to a Rebbi lest he think of them unfavorably or due to their embarrassment – among a host of other reasons. In contrast, an אברך usually does not have any of these drawbacks, and his closeness in age gives an accurate feeling that he can relate to the בחור’s נסיונות in a way that someone from a past generation cannot. Innumerable amounts of בחורים have forged lifelong relationships with yungerleit whom they connected to when they were learning in Eretz Yisrael. The conversations have formed their השפקת החיים and ironed out many bumps in understanding what the רבש”ע desires from them.
In a similar vein, the proliferation of Yeshivos, shuls, shteiblach and kloizen found in every neighborhood in Eretz Yisrael, brings along with it many Roshei Yeshiva, אדמורי”ם and Rabbanim. The close proximity to these אנשים גדולים helps a בחור widen his vistas by observing the various different methods of ‘עבודת ה. It’s a chance to pick up a little התלהבות from here, ווערמקייט from there and גישמעק in tefillah from a third place.
Eretz Yisrael also affords an opportunity to dedicate oneself to learning in a way that simply unfeasible in Chutz L’aretz. Familial obligations, off-Shabbosim and simchos ב”ה are just some of the distractions that can be found when living in close proximity to family and friends. In Eretz Yisrael, far away from familiar territory, one can achieve levels of hasmadah that are simply off the radar in most other places. Also the distance from those with who a בחור is comfortable with gives one a chance to make a new start; something which is much more difficult to accomplish in חו”ל even after one changes Yeshivos.
Finally, most Yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael do not have the same amount of supervision as their counterparts in Chutz L’aretz. No one is going to wake a בחור up in the morning to go to Shachris. No one is going to push him to get to סדר on time, and in many instances, no one is going to raise an eyebrow if he misses a day or two entirely. Accordingly, a בחור’s behavior, and davening and learning schedule will be entirely determined by his maturity, conviction and השקפת החיים. There could be no greater preparation for life in general and marriage in particular, than the years spent in Eretz Yisrael. The choice to take the initiative and make the most out of these formative years arms a בחור with most of what he needs to deal with whatever life offers him.
If you are presently in a Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael it means that you have already started off on the right foot. Don’t give up the chance of a lifetime. B’ezras Hashem you will have many years ahead of you that you can occupy with other ventures (and adventures). Take these years and preoccupy them with a single goal – to shteig in תורה ועבודה. Make the decision and הקב”ה will help you get there as חז”ל assure us הבא לטהר מסייעין אותו!
If you are interested in having a שייכות to an אברך please contact Vaad Chizuk.