June 22, 2024
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When Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, rosh yeshivas Mir and author of Sichos Mussar, was a young man he spent some time visiting with his uncle, Rav Avraham Yoffen, rosh yeshivah of Novardok. One evening in the beis midrash, young Chaim asked his uncle who the top student in the yeshivah was.

One after another, Rav Yoffen pointed out outstanding talmidim: “Well, I would say that the bachur over there by the window has the sharpest mind in the yeshivah… but that one on the other side has the quickest recall. Ah, and the student to his right is the top guy in iyun, in-depth learning, while the one on his left excels in bekius—yes, he for sure has the widest breadth of knowledge and has covered the most ground in learning…”

“So dear feter, please tell me,” pressed R’ Chaim, “which of these four talmidim is the best in the yeshivah? The rosh yeshivah smiled, “The best…? Why, none of them!”

R’ Chaim looked confused. His uncle had described all the mailehs, the strengths and virtues, of some top talmidim, yet none of them he considered to be the best. Sensing his nephew’s discomfort, Rav Yaffen directed the young man’s attention toward the back corner of the beis midrash, and pointed out yet another young man sitting and learning.

“Look over there. Do you see that bachur sitting in the back? He is the top student in the yeshivah! You see,” the rav whispered, his eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, “he is the greatest mevakeish, the talmid with the most desire and drive, the one who ‘wants’ Torah and growth more than anyone else here. He is on fire! He would stay there in his seat all night until morning if I would let him. If there’s a ‘best,’ he’s it. My dear Chaim, the biggest mevakeish is the most elevated talmid!”

~

צַו אֶת־אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת־בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר זֹאת תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה הִוא הָעֹלָה עַל מוֹקְדָה עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ כָּל־הַלַּיְלָה עַד־הַבֹּקֶר וְאֵשׁ הַמִּזְבֵּחַ תּוּקַד בּוֹ:

“Tzav, ‘command’ Aharon and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the olah burnt offering: it is the burnt offering that burns on the altar all night until morning, and the fire of the altar shall burn with it.’”

Toras haOlah, “The teaching of the burnt offering,” is the Torah of olah, “elevation,” the teaching of having a burning desire for growth.

Rebbe Shlomo of Karlin exemplified and taught the great value of constantly repeating one’s Torah lessons with fiery passion. His Divine service was a living image of the fire on the Mizbei’ach, which had to be kept burning at all times. Whether or not there is active service taking place, the fire on the Mizbei’ach was always lit. Whether or not we are sitting with a sefer, our learning can remain aflame within our mind and heart.

Regardless of how we hold a candle, the flickering flame reaches upward, yearning to ascend. The flame is drawn down and anchored by the wick, which does not let it disconnect and burn out. And yet, the combustion of gasses constantly pushes upward, straining to break through and be elevated beyond the denser wick. As the flame rises, creating heat and light, air is pulled into the base of the fire, feeding the fire with oxygen, enabling the light to grow even brighter.

On the first word of our pasuk, Rashi notes, אין צו אלא לשון זירוז מיד ולדורות, “Every mention of tzav in Torah implies zerizus, alacrity—immediate (performance of the command, and yet with an effect upon) future generations.” The expression צַו urges us to fulfill our obligations both with the alacrity of spiritual yearning, and yet anchored in a concern for detail. Thus, one of the important lessons we learn from korbanos is not just about what we do but how we do it. ולדורות implies a concern for the bigger picture: “…for future generations,” aiming for the long-term impact in the way we perform a mitzvah. Our flame needs to be full of energy, light and heat, and at the same time grounded in cool diligence, attentiveness and sustainability.

An insightful teaching from Sefer Birchas Peretz points out the difference between a mitzvah chiyuvis, a mitzvah done out of obligation and being commanded, and a mitzvah kiyumis, a mitzvah performed voluntarily:

The underlying purpose of a mitzvah kiyumis is to provide us the opportunity to demonstrate our love for the Ribbono Shel Olam and our passionate desire to fulfill His ratzon even beyond the letter of the law. These mitzvos have a basically undefined measurement in their performance. For example, the people’s donation of materials for the construction of the Mishkan flowed effusively from their “generosity of heart” (until Moshe Rabbeinu had to tell them to stop). Bringing certain korbanos, as well as accepting upon oneself the status of nazir, and eating matzah throughout Pesach beyond the obligatory amounts on Seder night—such voluntary precepts awaken our love and yearning to be mevakeish, to “seek” Hashem’s Face and be elevated…

By the way, the young, fiery mevakeish in Novardok, “the best talmid,” was none other than Reb Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, the Steipler Gaon, zt”l, the author of the above-mentioned sefer, Birchas Peretz, “The Blessing of Peretz,” or “The Blessing Drawn Down by the One Who Seeks to Break Through.” May we merit to follow in his ways!

May our Yidishkeit be filled with warmth and light and passion to grow and rise toward Hashem—and yet may we also remain anchored and steadied with an eye for the future so that our fire may burn until “morning,” until the coming of Mashiach.


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpia of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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