July 25, 2024
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Spending Time on Substance, Studying the Torah

By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

A friend of mine was in a post-high school yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael for boys needing inspiration to lead a Torah lifestyle. Frequently, the boys would hang out in the center of town until late. One night, ten boys burst into the dorm at 1:30 am, screaming at the top of their lungs. They were terrified. Minutes earlier, two terrorists with machine guns had started shooting…right near where they were partying! They all initially dropped to the ground, looked around, then got up and ran for their lives! Miraculously, the entire group was unharmed.

My friend was in this group of boys. Upon his return, he ran straight to the beis medrash and started to recite Tehillim (Psalms). He later called his parents to tell them what happened and how he was inspired to say Tehillim. His father asked him which Tehillim he recited. “I just opened the sefer and said the first one,” he replied. “You chose wisely,” the father said. “Tehillim opens with, ‘Fortunate is a person who doesn’t sit with the scoffers, but rather chooses to sit and learn Torah day and night.’ You ran away from a place where people were hanging out and partying and ran into a beis medrash—a place to study Torah.”

Attaching oneself to a scoffer is very dangerous, as we see in Parshas Korach. One might wonder how Korach was able to sway the people to follow him! Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch says it’s proof that a person with a charismatic personality and the “gift of gab” can appeal to the masses and incite them, even if their words lack merit.

What’s amazing here, however, is that Korach was able to rile everyone up against Moshe Rabbeinu! Moshe took Klal Yisrael out of Egypt, split the sea and brought the Torah down from Hashem to Klal Yisrael. How did Korach pull it off?

Rav Chaim Friedlander quotes his rebbi Rav Abba Grossbard who explains as follows: The Midrash says that the pasuk in Tehillim cautioning against sitting with scoffers is a reference to Korach. Rashi cites a midrash which tells us that Korach used the method of mockery—he made fun of Moshe and the Torah. The midrash explains that Korach asked Moshe, “Does a garment made entirely of techeiles (special blue thread) require tzitzis?” Moshe said yes! Korach began mocking: “The purpose of the blue string, which is a component of the tzitzis, is to especially remind the person wearing the tzitzis of Hashem. So why the need for tzitzis when the entire garment is made of the blue thread?”

The midrash describes how Korach also asked Moshe if a house full of seforim needs a mezuzah? Moshe said yes, and Korach again began mocking. “The purpose of a mezuzah on a doorpost is to remind a person of Hashem. Certainly a house full of seforim reminds a person of Hashem, so why the need for a mezuzah?” And when the Leviim, including Korach, were inaugurated, they shaved their entire heads bald. When Korach presented himself to the people, everyone was shocked to see Korach totally bald. “Moshe made us shave our heads and look crazy,” mocked Korach.

Korach was using leitzanus, mockery, to poke fun at the Torah that Moshe taught. We learn from here that even a great person, like Korach, could be swallowed up by the sin of mockery to attempt to gain attention and power. To protect ourselves from descending to mockery to gain attention, we need to fortify ourselves with positive behavior.

What’s the positive action that wards off mocking behavior? The pasuk in Tehillim makes it clear. Dovid HaMelech is teaching us that we need to avoid hanging out with scoffers, and instead hang out with people who study Torah.

Torah study is the opposite of mockery. Mockery devalues something that has value, and falsely gives value to something with no value. Torah study, on the other hand, defines what Hashem values. Torah is … the real thing!

My friend in the story ran from “the street” to the place of real productivity: the beis medrash.

We learn from Korach that we need to replace any areas in our lives that are lacking in substance with areas of value. When people accord value to things that have no value, that’s an unreal world. The real world is a world seen through the lens of Torah, via Torah study and Torah observance.

Picture someone watching Monday Night Football, as opposed to someone going to learn Torah at a Monday night seder. Watching Monday Night Football is an activity which has no intrinsic value except for entertainment. A little entertainment is okay, but in contrast, sitting and learning Torah is injecting our system of values with something that has absolute worth and a true purpose in molding our lives.

Watching the game might feel good for a short time, like eating a tasty snack. But an hour of Gemara feeds the soul … it’s a nutritious meal that lasts forever. Enjoy it!


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com

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