When Plato, the Greek philosopher, visited
Yerushalayim after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, he met Yirmiyahu and found him weeping bitterly. Plato thought it was ridiculous and asked Yirmiyahu, Why are you weeping over wood and stones?
Yirmiyahu responded, You are a philosopher. Do you have any questions?
Plato answered, Yes, I do, but no one can answer them.
Yirmiyahu said, Ask, and I shall answer.
Plato asked his questions and Yirmiyahu answered all of them immediately. Plato was astonished. Like all other philosophers, he had had many unanswered questions for years and here Yirmiyahu rattled off the answers with no trouble at all. Shocked, Plato asked him for the source of his wisdom. Yirmiyahu answered, It is from these stones and wood (Rema,
Toras HaOlah, brought in Lev Eliyahu, vol. I, Shevivei
Lev Avos #155).
The wood and stones of the Beis
HaMikdash were sanctified. As the Rambam quotes: One should not
derive any benefit from the wood and stones of the Beis HaMikdash and if he does, he must bring an offering (Hilchos
Meilah 6:7). That is the simple meaning of saying that the Beis
HaMikdash is a place of sanctity. With his answer to Plato, Yirmiyahu was saying, It is from the holiness and unique sanctity of the Beis
HaMikdash that I have derived all my knowledge.
Of course, a philosopher cannot understand this idea, which is not
something that can be perceived by the human intellect. Plato, like the other philosophers, did not believe in hashgachah pratis, individual Divine Providence, but only in what he saw with his own eyes. Sanctity meant nothing to him, and he therefore could not understand the meaning of a holy nation. Yirmiyahus response to Plato told him, There is something in our nation that we call sanctity and it raises the individual to a level above human logic.
We see this concept of sanctity and specialness pointed out in a famous authors remarks about the Jewish people:
The Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star-dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way ... his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the worlds list of great names ... are
also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him ... The Egyptian, the Babylonian and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then ... passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was ... All other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
The writer could not understand the greatness of the Jew who, despite being only a small proportion of the worlds population, is always
outstanding in every field. And yet there is so much anti-Semitism because of jealousy against this small nation that excels. The secret of our greatness and success is simple, even though others will never understand it. It lies in the fact that we have a holy Torah, a living Torah that gives us everlasting life and binds us to Hashem. We are His children and are therefore like Him and remain forever.
Our Sages tell us that there was no other prophet like Moshe among
the Jews, but there was one among the nations of the world and that was Bilaam (Yalkut Shimoni, Devarim 967). Our Sages say that Bilaams stature was somewhat equal to the greatness of Moshe
Some of our commentators are surprised by this comparison and
think it slightly obscure. With a beautiful parable, Rav Chaim of Volozhin explains what is meant (Torah Temimah, Devarim 34,
footnote 26). He says that the two prophets are compared to the eagle and the bat. Both have a certain sense of when it is sunrise and sunset, but there is a vast difference between them. The eagle loves the sunrise but at night its vision is dulled. It only enjoys life when the sun is present. The bat, on the other hand, starts off in the darkness of night. It fears daylight and hides itself when day arrives. Consequently, the two differ greatly. The eagle senses when the sun is coming out and will rise to enjoy life. The bat also feels the sunrise, but to the bat daylight is the taste of death and thus it hides from it. When sunset arrives, the eagle knows that it is time to rest; the bat, however, dashes around freely in the darkness.
Both Moshe Rabbeinu and Bilaam knew Hashems thinking -- but from two totally divergent points of view. There
are two opposite times in the world: the time when Hashem uses the attribute of chesed and rachamim, mercy, and the time when the
strictness of din, judgment, is employed. We rely on chesed and
rachamim, for who can win in a time of din when ones deeds
are so closely examined?
Both Moshe Rabbeinu and Bilaam knew these two different times but,
as our Sages tell us, Moshe used his prophecy to improve Klal
Yisraels situation. When Moshe Rabbeinu appeared, it was a wonderful
time of joy and happiness, like the sunrise. He was always seeking chesed and rachamim for Klal Yisrael at times of judgment.
He never used his prophecy to seek punishment for Klal Yisrael.
Bilaam did the exact opposite. He leapt to the fore whenever he
saw the attribute of din. He rushed to complain and curse Klal
Yisrael, and when it was a time of rachamim and chesed, he
Both prophets, then, possessed the greatness to know daas
Elyon, Divine intent, but each used this ability for opposite ends. The
evil Bilaam was a vicious, cruel individual. The Midrash explains that Hashem chose Bilaam because he was the most highly respected leader of the nations of the world (Tanchuma, Balak 4). Hashem gave Bilaam prophecy so
that the nations would not be able to use their lack of having a Moshe Rabbeinu as an excuse for not becoming a great nation like the Jews. Hashem chose this leader of the nations of the world, yet we see what Bilaam accomplished in comparison to Moshe Rabbeinu. Bilaam brought only destruction to the world; he only wanted to use his knowledge to curse and punish the Jewish people.
We might ask, What caused such a vast difference between these two great leaders of these two peoples? What made Moshe Rabbeinu
the great individual he was and Bilaam, lehavdil, the mean and vicious
one? Both possessed so much greatness and knowledge!
It was their character that made the
difference. The good-natured Moshe Rabbeinu is likened to the eagle, which loves the sunrise and loves to do chesed. His nature is to rise and enjoy light. Bilaams nature, however, was vicious. The basic
difference is that without Torah, a person can be the greatest philosopher -- and yet the meanest creature in the world. Lions and tigers would not do as much damage as this evil Bilaam, for although he had intellect, it was worthless without Torah. Hitler, may his name be blotted out, used his knowledge to curse and bring destruction to the world. This difference is why Yirmiyahu wept and Plato could not understand why. Only that which possesses sanctity and holiness can refine and refashion a person to bring him to an elevated spiritual level of greatness.
When one possesses this purity and sanctity, such questions as Platos are non-existent. Our greatness does not lie in the fact that we
have knowledge but rather that we are a nation of holiness. We possess all the knowledge in the world because we are part of Hashem. The Ramban says in his preface to the Torah that the Torah includes all branches of science. Whenever you look in the Torah, you will find everything else as well. But that is not the greatness of the Torah. It is the holiness of the Torah that lets us use our knowledge in a way to benefit humanity. It is the holy Torah that elevates an individual to that sublimity of refinement, to a character filled with lovingkindness, graciousness, and goodness -- all of which exemplify Torah.
Yirmiyahu wept over the stones and wood because he knew that the
Jewish people, through the Torah, possessed this greatness. A non-Jew, of course, did not understand this. We are immortal because we have the soul, the eternal living Torah within us. All that is material eventually dies, but that which is spiritual never degenerates or disintegrates. The unique quality of spirituality is that it is everlasting. The Torah gives life to the soul and makes the Jewish people immortal. All the nations of the world will fade but we will be everlasting.
Yirmiyahu wept not only over what we had lost, but because the Jewish people had not understood the Torahs lesson. Every morning we say the blessing over the Torah, Who has chosen us. The Jewish people
of that time did not utter this blessing, as the Ran says in the name of Rabbeinu Yonah (Nedarim 81a), because the Torah held no special
significance for them. They regarded Torah as another branch of knowledge, not realizing its uniqueness in comparison with other branches of knowledge. True, Torah contains vast knowledge, but there is more to it.
It is remarkable that although the Jewish people studied the Torah
so diligently, no one understood the reason for the destruction of the Beis
HaMikdash. Finally, Hashem told them that it was due to this lack of understanding of Torahs importance, without which all the diligence means nothing. A student of mathematics, for instance, can study his field diligently and become an expert in it. Torah, too, is a magnificent piece of knowledge, but the real task for us is to understand its beautiful importance and uniqueness. Since the Jewish people lacked this understanding and appreciation of the Torahs holiness, it became for them no more than another branch of
knowledge, and this is why the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. Adding the virtue of sanctity to Torah puts it in a totally different category. Learning Torah then refashions the individuals character to make him holy, like
the Chofetz Chaim, and not just an ordinary human being. This is the very essence of Torah: to elevate human nature to the highest level of holiness and lovingkindness in its truest form.
I often think to myself: How can we, in our era, correct this lack of the realization of the Torahs importance? Today we find many students
studying Torah. There are even professors who lecture on the Talmud, and non-Jews who know Mishnayos and the Talmud as well. But what is lacking in all this is an understanding of the Torahs unique importance.
When a rav passes by, very few children stand up for him. This shows a lack of appreciation for Torah. Why shouldnt they stand up and show respect for one who is studying Torah?
The Gemara says that kavod HaTorah, honor for Torah,
stands higher than studying Torah (Megillah 3b), and yet there are so
many students who study the Torah but do not stand up for a Torah scholar. It hurts me to see Torah treated like ordinary knowledge, without any recognition of its greatness. This was the cause of the destruction of the Beis
HaMikdash, and as the Chofetz Chaim used to say, if it has not yet been
rebuilt, it is because the reasons for its destruction are still prevalent. If these causes were removed, the Beis HaMikdash would already have been
rebuilt (see Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1).
A child should be taught the importance of honoring his parents.
He should be told that when Papa or Mama come into the room, he should stand up and show respect. A child raised like that will listen to his parents in later years. Children who are not taught when they are young to respect their parents, will not do it when they get older. So, too, if you do not teach a child this respect for Torah, even if he studies Torah when he grows up, the kavod haTorah will still be lacking, and that is devastating.
Torah without kavod is destruction. Without Torahs
importance, knowledge only brings destruction, as we see with nuclear weapons, which are used only to bring devastation to the world.
The very basis of Torah is not only the study of it but the
respect for it. This is the message to all mothers. You must teach your children that the cause of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash was a lack of realization of what the Torah means to the Jewish people. When we realize that Torah is our life, our sanctity, that it refines a persons
character to fashion him into a whole and sanctified individual, we can be instrumental in rebuilding what was destroyed.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Q If a rav is getting on a bus, is
it considered modest for me to give him my seat? Should I give him my seat even if there are other empty seats behind me? Should I give up my time to let him go ahead of me in line?
A The answer is definitely yes. There is no question of
modesty here if you are young and he is an old man. On the contrary, you would be criticized for not getting up.
Likewise, you should get up even if there are other empty seats. You can move to another seat. You should let an elderly person go ahead of you in line. Your time is precious, but you are required to honor the elderly. Even if your husband is waiting for you so that he can go to learn Torah, you would be required to do the same thing, as would he. Wouldnt you do this for
your father and mother?
Q I have a 9-year-old daughter who, if she sits next to
me, will daven and follow krias
haTorah. Toward the middle of davening there
are not enough seats. Should she get up for a woman?
A Definitely. She is not obligated to hear krias
haTorah. She is also younger than the woman, so why cant she
stand? She should get up out of respect.
Q If one sees a Rosh
Yeshivah outside and is already standing, is it enough to stand
silently as he passes by or should a woman say hello? What about a man or boy who sees a Rosh Yeshivah walking to shul -- should
he say hello or should he remain quiet?
woman does not have to greet him. A man or boy should greet him properly. A man should address one whom he considers a dignitary.
Q If I am sitting on the bus and an elderly
talmid chacham is getting off the bus, is it right
to stand up for him?
A Definitely. One should always show respect for
chachamim and respect for age.
Q When should you get up if the
gadol is not within daled
amos, in the immediate vicinity?
A It is always better to get up, even if you have to go out
of your way.
Q How can we correct the lack of honor for Torah we see
A We are very much responsible for the lack of honor and
love for Torah today. We are responsible also for the lack of honoring parents, which, the Gemara says, is the most stringent of commandments. Parents should instill respect in their children. They should make their children stand up for them. A child should stand up for his parents. They brought him into this world and the child owes them a lot, so let him give his parents the proper respect.
Children should be taught to stand up for a
talmid chacham and they should see their parents standing up for
a talmid chacham. You stand up for a talmid chacham, not for a
professor. This is giving honor to Torah. In this way, respect for elders, respect for chachamim, is inculcated into the child. When the child sees
that the attitude to Torah is different from the attitude to all other forms of intellectual learning, he will have respect for Torah. Torah is not just merely another branch of learning. But these attitudes must be inculcated in the child in his early years, from the age of 5 when he becomes old enough to understand. When he sees a dignified Torah scholar he should be made to stand up. This makes an impression that will last for life.
Q Is it proper for men and women to stand up for a woman
over the age of 70?
A You dont have to -- only if shes an eishes
chaver, the wife of an esteemed Torah scholar. But on the bus, of course you have to give her your seat -- thats derech eretz!
Q What is the proper way to do
teshuvah after the passing of a
A We should try to fill the gap by learning more Torah and
supporting more Torah study.
Q If you take a chartered bus to a wedding and there are
not enough seats, what is the proper mode of derech
eretz? Should a young man get up for a man or a women or a single
girl? Should people get up midway and switch places with those standing? Should a strong, healthy girl get up for a tired young man?
A The best answer would be to get a bigger bus! These are
complicated questions. The Torah always comes first. For instance, one always gets up for an elderly woman. I personally would get up for a woman. She should defer in kavod haTorahfirst. For instance, one always gets up for an
elderly woman. I personally would get up for a woman. She should defer in kavod haTorah but it would be my duty to show her this kindness. It is
incumbent upon the individual not to be self-centered. This all depends on the circumstances, so it is hard to give a psak. I would probably just go
all the way to the back of the bus.
Q Should a young person get up for an elderly
A By all means! She should get up out of respect for the elderly woman. Todays youth have not been taught to ask their elders. They have their own opinions, their own mind, and act on their own. This is a tragedy -- and it all stems from the fact that we dont train our children
in their youthful years to respect their elders.
Q May I change diapers in front of
A Yes, but if possible, avoid it.
Q Are you allowed to carry a soiled diaper past a
A If it is covered, yes.
Q Can you say divrei Torah
in the street where sewage water runs? What if you do not smell an odor?
A If you do not smell or see it and you are also daled
amos away, then it is permissible.
Q Are you allowed to write, in Hebrew, names that have
the yud and hei that spell Hashems Name next to each other, like the name Yirmiyahu, for
A It is customary to write a dash before or after the
Q What should a person do with the baruch
Hashem and the bsd that are on letters?
Are they sheimos?
A Some are strict about this and some are lenient. If you
can, rip off the letters, put them all in a sheimos bag, and give them to your local shul, which probably has some arrangement for burying them. Do the same with verses on wedding invitations. I dont write it on my
mail, I just write (in Hebrew) beis ayin. Many people take mail into the bathroom so its best not to use anything that signifies Hashems
Name like the Hebrew letter hei. But some are lenient.