Parashat Re'eh: True Passion for Torah
** This week’s Parasha dedicated L’iluy Nishmat Natan ben Shoshana **
In the Haftara for Parashat Re’eh – the third of the special Haftarot of comfort and consolation – the prophet Yeshayahu (54:17) promises Beneh Yisrael, "Every instrument that will be created to oppose you will not succeed, and every tongue that arises against you in court – you shall expose as evil." Although our enemies persistently lie and spread false accusations against us, we are promised that in the end, we will prevail over our adversaries, and their falsehoods will be exposed.
This verse is cited in a passage in the Midrash (Bereshit Rabba 32:10) which tells the fascinating story of Rabbi Yonatan, who was traveling to Jerusalem to pray. Along his journey, he met a Samaritan – a follower of a sect which regards Mount Gerizim in the Samaria region as a sacred site, instead of Jerusalem. The Samaritan asked Rabbi Yonatan where he was headed, and he replied that he was traveling to Jerusalem to pray. The Samaritan argued that Rabbi Yonatan should pray on Mount Gerizim, which, he claimed, was a more sacred site than the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. He proved his contention by stating that during the flood in the times of Noah, the floodwaters didn’t cover Mount Gerizim. Rabbi Yonatan had no response to this Samaritan’s argument.
Then Rabbi Yonatan’s donkey rider requested permission to speak and respond to the Samaritan. He pointed to the verse in Parashat Noah (Bereshit 7:19) which tells that "all the high mountains" were covered by the floodwaters – thus disproving the Samaritan’s claim.
Rabbi Yonatan promptly switched positions with the rider, and had him sit on the donkey as he walked in front, showing him respect. He then proceeded to cite a number of verses relevant to this episode, one of which is the aforementioned verse from Yeshayahu’s prophecy: "…and every tongue that arises against you in court – you shall expose as evil." The rider’s response to the Samaritan’s argument represented the fulfillment of this prophecy – that all arguments which will be brought to challenge our faith will ultimately be refuted and proven wrong. Even the simple, unlearned drivers will be able to refute these arguments.
This story should serve to bolster our faith and conviction, reminding us that although there are people who challenge and ridicule our beliefs and lifestyle, these challenges will never succeed, and authentic Torah Judaism will always prevail. But additionally, Rav Avraham Pam (1913-2001) noted that we have much to learn from Rabbi Yonatan’s reaction to his driver, which serves as a beautiful example of the Mishna’s famous teaching, "Who is wise? He who learns from all people" (Abot 4:1). Although he was an outstanding scholar, Rabbi Yonatan showed respect to a simple, ignorant donkey rider because of a single verse which he – Rabbi Yonatan – had forgotten and the rider recalled for him. True passion for Torah means relishing each and every piece of Torah knowledge, every insight and every thought, regardless of from whom it was heard. Rabbi Yonatan had such respect for this driver because he understood the great value of each and every word of Torah, such that the driver deserved respect for recalling a verse from the Torah.
Rav Pam observed that there have been many Torah scholars who did not have an exceptional memory, but they attained vast amounts of knowledge because of their thirst and desire for knowledge. They cherished each and every word of Torah, and so they remembered each and every word they learned. When we truly love something, we never forget it; and so if we truly love Torah, we will remember what we learn.
It is told that once, while Rav Mordechai Gifter (1915-2001) was delivering a class in his yeshiva – the Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland – he arrived at a new insight, a new way to explain a certain Halacha. He was so overjoyed that he had all the students stand up and dance with him in the Bet Midrash. Rav Gifter became the outstanding scholar that he became because of this love and passion for each and every word of Torah. When somebody erupts in joyous dancing over a new insight, he never forgets what he learns.
Let us appreciate the sanctity and inestimable value of each and every word of Torah, so that the passion for learning will fuel our lifelong quest to acquire Torah’s knowledge and a thorough understanding of its eternal teachings.