Gleaned from the Sfas Emes

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Parshas Ha'azeenu

Water = Torah

The Song of Moshe...

"My teachings shall drop like rain. My words shall distill like dew, like winds of a rainstorm on grass and like pelting rain on vegetation." (32:2)

Torah is here compared to water. The Ibn Ezra notes the similarity of this verse to the words of Yeshayahu haNavi, "For as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there, but moisten the earth and make it bloom... so shall be My Word... It will not return to Me empty. But it will fulfill My desire..." (Yeshayahu, 55:10,11).

The various kinds of rain listed in these verses accommodate the varying needs of every kind of vegetation - some rains soften hard ground, dew is beneficial for delicate plants, winds of a rainstorm strengthen the vegetation and prune branches, pelting rain penetrates to the deepest roots. So, too, there are facets of Torah which soften stony hearts, other facets for the sensitive - there is a facet of Torah for everyone and for every stage of development. (Sfas Emes, Ha’azeenu 5655)

Also, just as the earth needs heavenly assistance (rain) in order to give forth its produce, so man needs heavenly assistance (Torah) in order to grow and to be spiritually productive. (Sfas Emes, Ha’azeenu 5641)

The verse speaks first of the falling rain, and then of the gentle dew. A person starts learning Torah, with difficulty; his heart is like hard, stony ground. Torah softens, like rain. Eventually, Torah will alight upon him with the ease and gentleness of dew. (Sfas Emes, Ha’azeenu 5648)

While many verses use water as a simile for Torah, it is from the words of the prophet Ho kol tzomei lchu lamayim "Ho, every thirsty person! Go to the water!" (Yeshayahu, 55:1) that the Talmud (Bava Kama, 17a) concludes that water means Torah only. How does this verse demonstrate that water must mean Torah?

All cravings lessen as they are satisfied. For example, our appetite diminishes after eating. If we over-indulge, appetite turns to revulsion. This is true for all cravings except one - the craving to learn Torah. With Torah learning, the opposite is true: the more we learn, the more our desire to learn increases.

The word tzomei, "thirsty person", in the verse "Ho, every thirsty person" is not intended here as an adjective - a thirsty person - but as a noun: a thirster, a person of thirst, a person whose essence is thirst. Even if he drinks and drinks, his thirst is never quenched. "Ho, every thirster, should go to water." Since the only desire that answers that description is the desire to learn Torah, the constant thirster in the verse must refer to a person who thirsts for Torah. Thus, "Go to the water!" must mean "Go to the Torah." Therefore, we can conclude that in this verse water means Torah, only. (Sfas Emes, Shvuos 5659)

The Imrei Emes, zt"l, once said everyone must have an answer ready for when he will be asked, in the Heavenly court, what he accomplished in this world. He said his answer would be: Agudas Yisroel, the Bais Yaakov schools for girls, and the Yesodei haTorah school network for boys. (All three organizations came under heavy criticism from many Torah scholars and Jewish leaders at their founding. They opposed the idea of centralization. In those days, each kehillah took care of its own affairs, including educational matters. Only in time of joint need, would the Rabbis of the various kehillos meet to plan a common strategy. Girls did not go to school, but learned about Judaism in their homes. Sometimes, a woman would be hired by interested parents to teach young girls to daven. It was largely due to the strenuous efforts of the Imrei Emes that these institutions - which today are so taken for granted - gained acceptance.)

Once, two prominent Chassidic Rebbes came to the Imrei Emes to voice their opposition to Agudas Yisroel. Passing by the window, they saw him deep in study with his brother-in-law. This sight left an impression on the two Rebbes.

After a lengthy, intense discussion, the Rebbes left, passing the window again. Though barely a second had elapsed, again they saw the Gerrer Rebbe and his brother-in-law exactly as before, deeply immersed in learning, as if there had been no interruption.

Like a mother who, busy as she may be, never really takes her mind off her child - the Gerrer Rebbe's thirst for Torah was so great that even as he discussed this vital and emotion-laden topic (in the merit of which, he felt, he would enter the Next World), his mind never really strayed from his studies, which he continued the instant the Rebbes had left.

"Gleaned From the Sfas Emes"- excerpts adapted from a soon to published book, G-d Willing, by Simcha Leib Grossbard.Rabbi Grossbard is author of "The Sfas Emes Haggadah"(Targum Press) and "Kasheleg Yalbinu", a two volume (Hebrew) work based on Sfas Emes.

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