Our life’s Song

By Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro

Pesach, known as zman cheiruseinu, is the season and celebration of our freedom. Bnei Yisrael became a free nation after hundreds of years of shibud Mitzrayim, being enslaved in Egypt. As we reflect on our zman cheiruseinu, this epic of freedom, let us focus on another definition of cheirus.

The mishnah in Pirkei Avos (6:2) teaches us, “Ein lecha ben chorin, ela mi she’oseik b’talmud Torah, “No person can truly be considered free except the one who engages in the study of Torah.” Learning Torah, delving into the profundities of its wisdom, leading an exemplary Torah life, is true freedom!

In Parashas Vayeilech (31:19), the passuk states: “V’atah kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos, v’lamdah es Bnei Yisrael. And now, write this song [the Torah] for yourselves, and teach it to Bnei Yisrael.” Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, wondered why the passuk refers to the Torah as shirah, a song. Why isn’t the passuk more direct? Why doesn’t it simply say “kisvu es haTorah hazos”? Rav Aharon teaches us a critically important lesson. If the Torah is to remain in our families and be treasured by our children, if they will have the passion to teach it to their children, this can only be accomplished if Torah is a shirah, an absolute delight, the ultimate geshmak, truly our life’s song.

In sefer Yehoshua, ch. 5, we read about an incident that took place during the siege of Yericho. The passuk (5:13) tells us that Yehoshua raised his eyes and saw a man standing opposite him with a drawn sword. Yehoshua asked him “Halanu atah, im letzareinu? Are you with us or with our enemies?” The man answered, “No, I am an officer in the army of Hashem; atah vasi, I have come now.” The gemara in Megillah (3a) enlightens us as to the meaning of this very cryptic exchange. The gemara expounds that the angel was telling Yehoshua that this afternoon you neglected to offer the korban tamid and now you neglected the study of Torah. Yehoshua then asked the angel for which of the two misdeeds he had come. The angel responded, “atah vasi, I have come now,” that is, for the aveirah at present being transgressed — that of neglecting Torah study.

Tosafos teaches us how the gemara arrives at this interpretation. Tosafos states that the gemara’s conclusion is reflected in the actual words of the passuk. When Yehoshua asked the angel “halanu atah im letzareinu,” he was actually asking “halanu atah? Is it for the neglect of Torah study, about which the passuk says “Torah tziva lanu Moshe,” or “letzareinu — calamities,” a reference to being negligent in the bringing of a korban, which protects us from tzaros. The angel answered, “Lo, atah vasi”, referencing the passuk:v’atah kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos, I am here for the neglect of talmud Torah.”

There are two questions to explore. When Yehoshua asked the angel if the rebuke was for not bringing a korban or for neglect of Torah study, the angel responded “Lo, atah vasi.” In truth, he should have answered, “Yes,” for indeed, he had come to admonish him for bitul talmud Torah. Secondly, regarding talmud Torah, why did the angel reference the passuk:v’atah kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos” and not the passuk that Yehoshua referenced: “Torah tzivah lanu Moshe”?

The Ponevezer Rav, Harav Yosef Kahaneman, zt”l, answers: When Yehoshua asked if the rebuke was for being negligent in talmud Torah (about which the passuk says: “Torah tziva lanu…”), the angel correctly answered, “No.” For there are times that one is exempt from the actual mitzvah of limud Torah. The angel, however, was referring to a different dargah, an entirely new level in our relationship with the Torah — that of “v’atah kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos.”

The angel was admonishing Yehoshua that even in circumstances where there is an exemption from the actual mitzvah of limud Torah, if we internalize that Torah is our oxygen — our pulse, our heartbeat, our very lifeline — we would never cease learning despite the technical exemption. Simply stated, Torah is the eternal shirah that is our very existence.

During this time of zman cheiruseinu, let us merit becoming true bnei chorin. Let us each lead an exemplary life, in which we are zocheh to delve into the intricate study of Torah and thereby fulfill “Torah tzivah lanu Moshe.” Additionally, let our very persona and our actions exude the message that the song of Torah creates a majestic symphony that permeates our neshamos. We will then fulfill “v’atah kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos.

Have a beautiful zman cheiruseinu!