The uniqueness of learning this most foundational of peirushim on Torah
Just a few days ago, a small group of us in my shul celebrated a real simchah shel Torah — notwithstanding the one Klal Yisrael experienced on the last day of Yom Tov — when we learned together the last Rashi on the last pasuk in Chumash. For our group, it was the culmination of seven years of study, during which we’ve gathered each Thursday night after the ten o’clock Maariv in the Agudath Israel of Bayswater to learn Rashi’s commentary on one aliyah in the weekly parshah.
This past year was devoted to learning the Rashis on each week’s aliyah of shevi’i — and finishing V’zos Habrachah meant we had completed our study of all of peirush Rashi on the Torah over the past seven years. It was my privilege to give the shiur over these past years, and although I almost never prepared enough, I don’t know that more preparation would have been adequate for this lively group of lomdim who constantly bubbled over with questions and answers and penetrating insights into the words of Rashi. My only regret is not having compiled some of their comments for publication in a lasting form.
Although what we accomplished took the form of a seven-year cycle, a siyum haShas it is not. Nevertheless, it’s a significant achievement, for several reasons. For one thing, anything worthwhile — and certainly Talmud Torah, a Jew’s greatest endeavor — that one pursues with unerring consistency over many years is something to be proud of, especially if you’re one of the many who struggle with maintaining consistency.
I recall giving the shiur telephonically, when travel unavoidably took me on the road and my son-in-law Reb Yisroel Kahn wasn’t available to take my place, in various cars and hotel rooms (and, on several occasions, on a bench on a Sanhedria sidewalk at 5:20 a.m. Jerusalem time, just after Maariv ended in Bayswater).
Then there’s the uniqueness of learning this most foundational of peirushim on Torah. In his book Reb Mendel and His Wisdom, author Yisroel Greenwald writes that Rav Mendel Kaplan, a great talmid of Mir in Europe and a legendary mechanech in the Philadelphia yeshivah, related in the name of Rav Yerucham Levovitz that “if someone feels a need to strengthen his faith, he should study Chumash with Rashi.”
In saying so, Reb Yerucham was passing on the advice he himself had received when, disturbed by questions of emunah, he went to Rav Naftali Amsterdam, one of Rav Yisroel Salanter’s three greatest talmidim, to ask him what to do. Rav Naftali urged him to learn Chumash with Rashi, telling him that if he did so regularly, “it will build up the foundations of your emunah and you won’t have any more questions. Not Chovos Halevavos, not Moreh Nevuchim, just Chumash with Rashi.” Reb Yerucham bought himself a set of Chumashim that lasted his whole life, to the point that the volumes became so worn that when he’d speak in the Mir from these Chumashim, he’d have to hold the pages together with both hands.
Speaking to the young men in his shiur in Philadelphia, Reb Mendel would say, “Through learning Chumash with Rashi, one develops into a great person. The fact that the yetzer hara doesn’t let us find time to learn Chumash with Rashi is the biggest proof of its greatness.” At the risk of speaking for others unbidden, I’m not sure we feel we’re greater people than when we embarked on this journey seven years ago. But if Reb Mendel said that it happens, I believe him. Not all change a person experiences is he necessarily conscious of, especially when it’s incremental and of a spiritual nature.
FOR ME PERSONALLY, completing this cycle of learning was a different sort of triumph as well. I’m sure no one in the shul recalls anymore how I’d once before tried to launch this very shiur. We got as far as the end of Sefer Bereishis, and then it fizzled. But the next year (or was it the year after that?), I gave it another try and this time, the plant took. Perseverance pays.
It didn’t hurt that at some point along the way, stalwart shiur-goer Reb Moshe Tusk began putting up a cholent in the shul kitchen to cook all day until it’s served at the shiur, with a flavor as zesty as this chef’s input during the shiur itself. So whether for your personal limud or as an official shiur, the one-aliyah-a-week format can be a wonderful way each week to bring Shabbos early into your life and your shul.
As for our crew, we are going to ask to take leave of our great master, Rabban Shel Yisrael, Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki, of whose exhilarating, life-giving waters we have drunk for so long now, and beginning with parshas Bereishis, go on to a new, exciting challenge: The study of one section of the monumental peirush of the Ramban on each week’s parshah.
So, if you’re in the neighborhood one Leil Shishi, call ahead. We’ll put aside a Ramban for you, and a bowl of cholent, too.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 831. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at email@example.com
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