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Judaism: Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz of Mir

This week's Dvar Torah is by Ehpraim Menashe Jacobson.
Published: Saturday, December 14, 2013 9:54 PM

Sometimes there is, in words, a certain meaning that only resonates due to the keenness of the listener. Parallel to this paradigm is another track in which words and messages can be effectively conveyed – namely, that if one sees that the person talking is himself the model of those words, then almost all that he has to say becomes impactful.

In short, sometimes messages resonate due to the 'koach hash’miah', power of the listener, while other times due to the greatness of the 'mashmia', the speaker, himself. This latter description was precisely the incredible technique employed by the renowned Mirrer Mashgiach R’ (Rabbi) Yeruchom Levovitz zt”l.

The 'ha’aratzah' (admiration) that the students of the yeshiva showed to their beloved Mashgiach was of unparalleled proportion. They saw the personification of the shmussen, talks on ethics, which he delivered in the flesh –  in his very actions on a day to day basis. These shmussen were not merely discussions of abstract notions which one might discard as not being achievable by human beings. Rather, they were achievable madreigos which were literally seen by the eyes of the students in R’ Yeruchom himself. One of the great demands of mussar is that you are what you preach, and this is precisely what R’ Yeruchom accomplished.

R’ Yeruchom comments on a fascinating verse in this week’s sedra. In Yaakov Avinu’ (Jacob)s blessing to Yissochor he proclaims, "וירא מנחה כי טוב ואת הארץ כי נעמה ויט שכמו לסבל ויהי למס עבד"– “And he saw that menucha (rest/tranquility) was good, and the land, that it was pleasant, and he bent his shoulder to bear (burdens) and he became an indentured servant.”

R’ Yeruchom picks up on what appears to be an inherent contradiction within the verse itself. It would seem that וירא מנחה כי טוב  is a contradiction to ויט שכמו לסבל . Why, when one realizes the goodness of menucha, would he subsequently orient himself to work and labor? One would expect that someone who comes to this realization regarding menucha might in fact do just the opposite, that is, find a relaxing area without any disturbances in which to place himself. We would not anticipate that one who sees the goodness of rest would begin to engage in actions of arduous labor.

The topic of concern for R’ Yeruchom is that of the true nature of menucha. He begins his comments with an astonishing comparison. He questions why Hashem chose to give the Torah in the midst of a desert. After all, the desert was an environment of struggle and transition (see Devarim 8:3). Why not give the Torah in a place of rest or relaxation such as when Klal Yisrael entered the land of Eretz Yisroel?

R’ Yeruchom understands that just as the Torah itself teaches us lessons, so too does the way and environment in which the Torah was given. He explains that a genuine kabolas haTorah, acceptance of Torah, does in fact require tranquility. However, there are those who mistakenly define menucha as menuchas haguf,physical tranquillity, that is to say a vacation of sorts. In response to this mistaken notion, R’ Yeruchom posits a remarkable idea: true menucha, rather than coming from a place of physical relaxation, in reality comes from stress and a lack of physical amenities!

Menucha in an environment where all of one’s needs are met is just the opposite of true tranquility and is in reality the foundation of confusion. The reason that a person feels rest when he goes on a vacation is because he is doing the opposite of what he normally does in the real world. However, one cannot remain in this state for the entirety of life. One cannot always manage to remain in a situation where all of his needs are constantly met and satisfied. If this is one’s perspective on what true menucha is, then the moment he is withdrawn from that situation, he will struggle with the true realities of life

R’ Yeruchom continues and provides a formula to achieve true menucha. He understands that we are all headed in many directions at the same time. We don’t have a singular goal with which to negotiate all of our actions. To solve this, one must internalize, "מה חובתו בעולמו" – what is one’s goal in life. Difficulties arise because we face demands and decisions from every which direction. If one lacks a singular goal, these decisions and the necessity to choose will lead to a lack of tranquility.

Tranquility is defined by overcoming obstacles and focusing on a singular goal that guides all of one’s decisions. If one has the sole goal of Torah and mitzvos constantly on his purview, then he will never be broken nor will he be dismayed. All demands placed on him, and all decisions he faces, will all be determined by that singular goal.

This is exactly the required tranquility that one needs for true kabolas HaTorah. If one can survive the transition and challenges of life by negotiating them and coming out in one piece, then he will be prepared for Torah. This in precisely why the Torah was given in a desert, a place of challenges. Hashem wished to convey this notion to Bnei Yisroel by putting them in a precarious situation and showing them the need to overcome it in order to be ready for kabolas HaTorah.

This notion is also what we find regarding the blessing for Yissochor.The tribe of Yissochor was one of the paradigmTorah scholars (see Divrei HaYomim 12:33 ומבני יששכר יודעי בינה לעתים) – he recognized that it is a menuchas hanefesh which is a requirement for a successful kabolas HaTorah, and he achieved this by training himself to always be in control of his situation. He encountered difficult laborious situations, ויט שכמו לסבל, yet negotiated them and overcame them. He pursued a singular goal which gave him a sense of tranquility and an ability to always overcome subsequent challenges and achieve a true Kabolas HaTorah.

The challenges of real life are by no means a guarantee of failure. One can surely manage to prevail by negotiating these difficult situations through the lens of the singular goal of Avodas Hashem, worshipping G-d,  rather than by seeking menucha externally. In this way, menuchas hanefesh, tranquillity of the soul, will allow an individual to truly achieve great heights in Torah.