Mishnas Chayim – Vayakhel: Over-achievers

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Chevra Lomdei Mishna
25 Feb 2008

View pdf – Parashat Vayakhel 5768

Kindly take a moment to study MISHNAS CHAYIM in the merit of
שמחה בן יעקב ע”ה
a fellow Jew who passed away with no relatives to arrange Torah study on behalf of his Neshamah

One of the foremost talmidim of the Vilna Gaon was R’ Zalman Volozhiner (brother of R’ Chaim Volozhiner, originator of the Lithuanian yeshiva system). Many things have been said about R’ Zalman. He was a tremendous, holy tzaddik; his diligence in learning was unparalleled; he was as fluent in the entire Tanach, Shas, Medrash, and Poskim, as we are in the Ashrei prayer.

One area in which R’ Zalman most certainly did not excel was physical strength; he sat and learned Torah for hours on end, hardly eating or sleeping. Surely, R’ Zalman did not possess burly biceps.

Yet, consider the following testimonial regarding this noble soul (Toldos Adam, ch.15): One time, in the course of his learning, R’ Zalman needed to consult a certain rare volume. He knew that the sefer was located in a particular room, but there was one obstacle: a large dresser blocked the way. The prospect of moving the dresser was quite daunting; normally, it required three people to lift it. R’ Zalman, however, needed that particular sefer.

Contemplating his dilemma, R’ Zalman turned his thoughts to a possuk in Devarim. The possuk tells us, “It (the Torah) is not in Heaven” (30:12); Torah is attainable on earth, precluding the necessity to reach Heaven to find it. The Gemara (Eruvin 55a) infers from this verse, however, that had the Torah been in Heaven, we would have been obligated to go there to acquire it. Through this terminology, Chazal emphasize the degree to which a person must exert himself to attain proficiency in Torah.

R’ Zalman, thirsting for the clarity that he knew the volume would provide, began reciting this ma’amar Chazal over and over again, concentrating on its message with increasing intensity. Suddenly, he rushed over to the dresser and single-handedly lifted it into the air, clearing the way to his beloved sefer.

How could a Talmud scholar, most likely devoid of any muscular power of note, be capable of hoisting a piece of furniture which normally required the efforts of three men, simply because he wanted to?

The answer to this question may lie in this week’s parsha. When the donated materials for the mishkan were assembled, Moshe Rabbeinu called upon the builders to begin their work. The possuk (Shemos 36:2) states:

וַיִקְרָא מֹשֶה… אֶל כָל־אִ יש חֲכַם־לֵב אֲשֶר נָתַן יְהוָֹה חָכְמָה בְלִבוֹ כֹל אֲשֶר נְשָאוֹ לִבוֹ לְקָרְבָה אֶל־הַמְלָאכָה לַעֲשֹת אֹתָה:

“And Moshe called….to all the wise of heart, whose hearts had been imbued with wisdom by Hashem; anyone whose spirit had yearned to approach and participate in the task.”

The Chofetz Chaim (Toras Habayis, ch.7, footnote) calls our attention to a remarkable lesson within this verse. How did the builders know how to perform the intricate tasks required for fashioning the mishkan? They simply yearned to know, and their hearts automatically were filled with the pertinent knowledge. When a Yid has a real and burning desire to accomplish something in Torah study or service of Hashem, Hashem grants him the ability to attain higher levels. When a person aspires to levels which are beyond his innate capabilities, Hashem helps him to achieve his goals; even if that means granting him superhuman strength or special knowledge.

The Mishnah in Berachos 5:1 states:

אֵין עוֹמְדִין לְהִתְפַלֵל אֶלָא מִתוֹךְ כֹבֶד רֹאש. חֲסִידִים הָרִאשוֹנִים הָיו שוֹהִים שָעָה אַחַת ומִתְפַלְלִים, כְדֵי שֶיְכַוְנו אֶת לִבָם לַמָקוֹם.

“One may only begin to daven if he is in the proper, serious frame of mind. The pious men of yore would meditate for a full hour before beginning to pray, in order to properly direct their hearts to Hashem.”

The Gemara (ibid. 32b) depicts the full scope of the devotion of these pious men. They would meditate for one hour prior to prayer; they would pray for one hour; and then they would meditate for an hour following prayer. Since they followed this routine for shacharis, minchah, and ma’ariv, they would end up dedicating nine hours each day to prayer. If the overwhelming majority of these pious men’s waking hours were spent immersed in these devotional activities, when did they have time to become talmidei chachamim?

The Gemara answers that these men were granted special Siyata D’Shmaya, and were able to accomplish in a short time what another person would accomplish after many consecutive hours of intense toil. R’ Aharon Kotler (Mishnas R’ Aharon, vol. 1, p. 71) perceives another manifestation of our theme within this Gemara. The pious men possessed an overwhelming desire to know Hashem and become close to Him; therefore, Hashem blessed them with an uncanny ability to attain knowledge of His Word.

All too often, people become complacent with mediocrity. Goals such as completing Shas, improving a particular middah, or strengthening our observance of mitzvos seem unrealistic and unattainable. However, Chazal assure us that if we foster a true yearning to attain higher levels, and remain diligent and consistent in this endeavor, Hashem will afford us the ability to accomplish well beyond our wildest dreams.

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The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.