The noted Mashgiach Rabbi Don Segal told the following story involving Rabbi Chaim Brim, a mechutan of Maran HaRav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv ztz”l, at one of the many hespedim delivered during the latter’s shiva. In the early days of the State, Rabbi Brim and his chavrusah used to travel daily from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak to learn. Over time, many Yerushalmim began to send inquiries with the two young men to the Chazon Ish.
One day, Rabbi Brim apologized to the Chazon Ish for all the time they were taking from his Torah study by the various inquiries, many of which were not specifically halachic in nature. The Chazon Ish replied that answering those inquiries did not detract from his Torah learning, but rather increased it. Success in Torah learning, he explained, is not derived from the same input as in other chochmos (intellectual disciplines); it depends on the neshamah of the one learning. And when one helps his fellow Jew, he expands his neshamah, and is therefore able to absorb more Torah.
With this insight, I was finally able to understand a story about the Chazon Ish related by Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz in his book, In Their Shadows. I am greatly moved by this story and have told it over many times, but I never fully understood it.
The Chazon Ish’s personal doctor once told him about an elderly patient hospitalized in one of the Tel Aviv-area hospitals whom no one ever came to visit, and whose health was being adversely affected by his loneliness. The next day when the doctor made his rounds in the hospital he found the Chazon Ish sitting at the patient’s bed conversing with him.
What has always puzzled me was why the Chazon Ish — who was famed for learning until the last ounce of energy had been drained from him — did not just ask someone else to make the arduous trip by bus to comfort the elderly patient. Dozens could have easily been found who would have been eager for the mitzvah, as well as to do the Chazon Ish’s bidding, and time lost from study would have been felt far less intensely by many of them. Yet the Chazon Ish apparently viewed the opportunity to do chesed with a fellow Jew that had been presented to him as too valuable to pass up — because it wasn’t a contradiction to his Torah learning, but rather a boost to it.
The story related by Rav Segal contains at least two profound lessons. The first is how radically different the study of Torah is from any other body of knowledge. As Rabbi Chaim Volozhin stresses in Nefesh Chaim, “Through the study of Torah [alone] one cleaves to the Divine Will.” The Ramchal in Derech Hashem points out that the study of Torah is unique in its power to transform the student. Other forms of knowledge, even when they contain knowledge that is “accurate and valuable” have no potential “to incorporate any significant excellence into the soul of the [student] and absolutely no power to rectify Creation.”
The Chazon Ish adds that Torah study not only has the power to transform the neshamah, but that the neshamah is the vessel through which the Torah enters — the more capacious the neshamah, the more Torah can enter. That observation parallels the insight of Rav Cham Vital, which we quoted recently, that the middos shared by the talmidim of Avraham Avinu are not commanded by the Torah because they are a precondition for the acceptance of the Torah.
Anyone who has spent time in yeshivos has noticed the very imperfect correlation between superior intellect and growth in Torah learning. Even those blessed with a quick grasp and analytical clarity are far from guaranteed success. And many who were classified as of ordinary abilities transform themselves into scholars of great depth. I have always felt that the manner in which the Torah only reveals its secrets to those who thirst for them is one of the proofs of its Divine source.
But the Chazon Ish is also telling us something important about the nature of the soul: it is capable of expansion. And chesed towards others is a primary means of that expansion. As physical beings, we are delimited by our bodies. But as neshamos, we are capable of connecting to others, of overflowing our boundaries.
Everything referred to in Judaism as a simchah involves an aspect of joining together — at a bris, the infant male is joint to the covenant of Avraham Avinu; at bar or bas mitzvah, a Jew becomes a full-fledged member of Knesses Yisrael; and in marriage, two become one.
Every ma’aseh chesed connects our soul to another’s. By expanding the ambit of our concern, we expand our “I,” our neshamah. (Joyfulness in Lashon HaKodesh is expressed as overflow: When Chazal describe a heaping measure, for instance, they do so in terms of smiling — e.g., a tefach socheik.)
Hashem, Who is pure spirit, is referred to as HaGadol because every aspect of Creation, down to a single blade of grass, is in His purview. The more people we bring within our purview, the more neshamadik we become. And, as the Chazon Ish teaches us, the purer the vessel of our neshamah is for the receipt of Torah.
Chick-fil-A[YH1] and Us
Orthodox Jews should take note of the warnings recently issued by Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain would not be welcome to open new branches in their cities — take note and tremble. Chick-fil-A’s crime? Its president, Tom Cathy, told a Baptist paper in North Carolina, “We are very supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give G-d thanks for that.” Hardly sentiments that would stir much controversy in one’s local Orthodox shul.
Indeed, Cathy’s support for the biblical definition of the family unit is in line with the views of the majority, albeit a rapidly declining one, of Americans and — at least prior to President Obama’s recent evolution on the issue — of every American president. The Defense of Marriage Act enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton buttresses the traditional definition of the basic family unit. In every state in which the issue of the definition of marriage has been submitted to the voters in a referendum — over twenty so far — proponents of change from the traditional definition have been defeated.
Yet in recent years, political and media elites and many university speech codes have delegitimized the views of a large majority of Americans and treated them as beyond the realm of permissible discourse. Most alleged violations of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech are mislabeled because they involve no government action. But when mayors — i.e., the government — explicitly threaten to discriminate against private citizens on the basis of their views, whether religious or not, then the government’s abridgment of freedom of speech, thought, and religion is blatant. At least as of today, there is no political correctness exception to the First Amendment.
Fortunately, it does appear that the guardians of political correctness acknowledge a religious exemption to their strictures. Unfortunately, that exemption does not apply to Jews and Christians (unless they are black preachers). Only to Muslims. As Michael Graham pointed out in the Boston Herald, the same Mayor Menino who threatened to stymie Chick-fil-A at every turn proudly participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new mosque of the Islamic Society of Boston, one of whose trustees is Yusuf-al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi was also once feted by London’s far-left mayor Ken Livingstone, even though it appears that his views on the social groups said to be “dissed” by Cathy are not that enlightened. They are, however, nuanced: He has said that he is not sure whether they should be burned to death or tossed off of high buildings; he is tolerant of either opinion.
Careful Where You Eat
For five years, Yechiel Spira has been running a kashrus bulletin called Jerusalem Kosher News, the primary purpose of which is to alert the kosher consumer to various pitfalls for the unwary when purchasing foodstuffs or eating out in Jerusalem. He is a serious and knowledgeable observer of the kashrus scene engaged in an important educational endeavor l'sheim Shamayim.
The most recent report is of such moment that I feel it is important to share his findings with the many Mishpacha readers who will soon be eating out in Jerusalem. His conclusion: One should not rely on the kashrus certification of the Jerusalem Rabbinate (Jerusalem has been without a chief rabbi for over a decade), even if it specifies mehadrin. The report contains both a laundry list of instances of the lack of proper supervision and many examples of serious kashrus violations in establishments operating under the mehadrin hechsher of the Jerusalem Rabbinate.
After Spero issued his warning, the rabbis in charge of kashrus supervision on behalf of the Jerusalem Rabbinate sought a meeting. That meeting left Spero convinced of their good intentions, awareness of the problems, and determination to improve matters. But in the meantime, the warning remains in effect.
It must be emphasized that JKN does not claim that there are no kosher restaurants to be found in Jerusalem. Just that one should not rely exclusively on the certificate of the Jerusalem Rabbinate without further information.