Pay Dirt

by Rabbi Nussbaum

May 1, 2020
Iyar 7, 5780
Candlelighting Time 7:36 PM

We are all unfortunately involved in a tragic situation with the virus still running rampant although somewhat more mitigated than initially. However, we shouldn’t think that such occurrences are happenstance. Rather, at this juncture in time between Pesach and Shavuos
thousands of students of the great Torah sage Rabbi Akiva died as well. We are referring to the creme-die-la-creme of Torah scholarship which fell to a whopping epidemic which killed them. Of course the question is why would such noble people have been stricken down? The Talmud explains that they did not treat each other appropriately. The respect that should have been displayed between young budding Torah scholars was absent. This seems to be a rather harsh sentence for something which although is important but is it so extraordinarily vital that those who ignore its value do not merit life?

Maharsha, a preeminent commentator on the Talmud from the 16th century explains that their lack of civility was not directed at the person but rather they somewhat denigrated the words of Torah that their colleagues were espousing. The Talmud states that the difference of opinion between the Torah scholars of Beis Shamai, the representatives of Shamai’s thoughts on certain Torah topics and the Torah scholars of Beis Hillel, the representatives of Hillel was very deep running and profound. And actually, the students of Shamai were sharper and were able to surpass the students of Hillel in their incisive dissertations on various discussions. However, we accept the stance of Hillel and his cadre of students as being the final word in the vast majority of their disputes. The Talmud explains that although academically Shamai’s disciples exceeded those of Hillel, however, the humility of Hillel and his charges was unsurpassed. Certainly this requires a degree of explanation. Would we side in a legal dispute between two sides because one of them happens to be a nice person although his arguments were weak in comparison to the other points offered? Of course not, so why was Hillel’s viewpoint accepted so thoroughly even though Shamai’s students were more academically advanced?

The response is quite intricate yet superficially simplistic. If we are to assess Torah studies exclusively on an intellectual level, then anyone familiar with the Talmud would immediately agree that the complexity of topics discussed in the Talmud far outweighs other types of academia. However, when we assess how one accesses Talmudic excellence, we will note that Moshe, the greatest of all Torah sages is not appraised in the Torah as possessing scholarly brilliance, rather he is known as the global example of humility. Would we have paired that characteristic of modesty with greatness in Torah knowledge? We probably would not have but Hashem coupled them to instruct us about how we can master Torah. Of course,
ultimately the goal is to comprehend the Torah in its entirety, however, its path is strewn with obstacles, such as arrogance and conceit. Rabbi Akiva the archetype of humility had to rebuild the entire landscape of Torah scholarship after he lost thousands of his valued disciples, which he did!

We have inherited a wealth of not just knowledge but a legacy of historic value. As we peruse the line up of Torah greats of all generations the common denominator is a vast display of humbleness unparalleled. It is our mission to imbibe that lesson and reach great heights in Torah wisdom based upon those golden traits that emulate the majestic nature of Hashem. This time of the year we attempt to grow and eventually reach that aristocratic height, Mt. Sinai and the revelation of Torah that will occur on Shavuos.


Shabbos is referred to as the bride and the nation of Israel as the groom. If the groom honors and cares for his bride appropriately, then the father of the bride, Hashem, will pay him with many gifts – the blessings of Shabbos. CHOFETZ CHAIM