Thursday, November 21, 2019

Rav Moshe Shapiro’s approach to kiruv and the month of Shevat by Rav Chaim Malinowitz

The following is my summary of what Rav Chaim Malinowitz said Shabbos morning Rosh Chodesh Shevat. It has not been seen or approved by Rav Malinowitz and I take full responsibility for any errors in understanding or reporting what was said.

Today is Rosh Chodesh Shevat. The mazel of this month is known in English as Aquarius. In the secular world the Age of Aquarius is supposed be a Utopian time of love and peace – but that is a significant misunderstanding of the mazel. In Hebrew the astrological sign is referred to as the water bucket דלי. Torah is compared to water and thus it indicates the distribution of Torah. But the month has a number of other distinctions. It is also represented by Asher who was blessed by olive oil – both in Yaakov’s and Moshe’s beracha. Oil is representative of wisdom. It is important to note that oil and water don’t mix. So what does it mean to have a month which has  two components which are mutually exclusive and don’t mix?

The key to understanding this is a third factor of this month. Shevat is connected with the Giving of the Torah. We are told that Moshe started teaching Devarim or Mishneh Torah in Shevat. Devarim is different than the rest of the Torah in that it was initially said by Moshe from his own wisdom and then G-d incorporated it in the Torah [See Ohr HaChaim[1] Devarim 1:1].

In order to understand the meaning of these three factors and how they actual constitute an integrated entity, I would like to talk about Rav Moshe Shapiro who was recently niftar. There were thousands and thousands of people who had a personal kesher with him. My personal kesher with him was because of  his shiurim on seder Taharos b’eeyun which I attended. I have done a lot of reading about him and a large number of his shiurim are available on Kol HaLashon. It is well known that he was a great talmid chachom. It is also known that he was a very deep thinker who presented views that expressed kabbalistic ideas in plain language. He gave many shiurim all over Israel including a very popular Thursday night shiur at Ohr Someach.

What is less known is that he was an important Torah leader and authority for Ohr Someach and the world of kiruv. Aside from his teaching at Ohr Someach, he was involved in guiding a number of other institutions for baalei teshuva. He also was the guiding force behind the program Nefesh Yehudi that arranges Torah learning with college students. He was involved with kiruv around the world including Moscow and Paris.

However what is even less known is his understanding of kiruv. He personally did not like the term kiruv. He viewed what he was doing was simply fulfilling the mitzva of talmud Torah (Torah study). If you look at the Rambam’s description of Torah study[2] he notes that not only is it an obligation to learn – but also to teach Torah. Learning and teaching Torah are both aspects of the same mitzva. Thus Rav Shapiro’s view was that what is called kiruv is simply teaching Torah.

There are significant differences between the conventional understanding of kiruv as attracting people to be observant and Rav Shapiro's understanding of teaching Torah. But this is not the time to go into that.

It is obvious that if a Torah scholar teaches others, there are times that he needs to learn Torah himself. Often the activity of teaching and learning Torah are mutually exclusive. In fact it is like water and oil. Water – as represented by the water bucket of the mazel דלי is to distribute something to others i.e., teaching. On the other hand, learning for oneself is building up one’s own wisdom – which is represented by oil. The balance between teaching and learning is something that is unique for each individual and it is important the he/she find the correct balance in order to be successful. A teacher can not ignore learning nor can a scholar ignore teaching. This explains the significance of the mazel of Shevat (water) and the association of Shevat with Asher (oil) and how they relate to each other.

But what does the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu starting teaching Devarim in Shevat – have to do with water and oil? In addition what significance does water and oil have to do with the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu initiated what was said in Devarim and that it later became included in Torah?

We can explain how all these things are related by noting that Devarim was based on Moshe Rabeinu’s own chochma (oil). In addition the teaching of that chochma was in fact what is symbolized by water. Finally that G-d acknowledged that Moshe correctly understood the chochma of Torah and accurately conveyed it to the Jewish people by incorporating Devarim into the Torah. Thus Moshe’s chochma and teaching - and his correct balance of the two - became an aspect of the Giving of the Torah. This was Rav Moshe Shapiro’s paradigm for kiruv and is the essence of this month of Shevat.


[1] Ohr HaChaim(Devarim 1:1) These are the words, etc. The words אלה  is restrictive, especially in regard to what has been written previously. Seeing Moshe recorded in this Book only words which he had spoken on his own initiative, the Torah wishes to emphasize that only the  words of admonition recorded in the Book were spoken by Moshe on his own initiative. We are told in the gemora (Megila 31b) that Moshe personally composed the curses recorded in the Book and that even legislation which Moshe repeated in this Book he had not been commanded to repeat but did so of his own volition. The Torah was concerned that we might conclude that just as Moshe had felt free to say things of this own volition in this Book, he might have done so in the previous four books. That is why this Book commences with the words אלה הדברים  only these words Moshe spoke of his own volition, none other".

[2] רמב"ם (הלכות תלמוד תורה פרק א:א-ד):
הלכה א
נשים ועבדים וקטנים פטורים מתלמוד תורה, אבל קטן אביו חייב ללמדו תורה שנאמר ולמדתם אותם את בניכם לדבר בם, ואין האשה חייבת ללמד את בנה שכל החייב ללמוד חייב ללמד.
הלכה ב
כשם שחייב אדם ללמד את בנו כך הוא חייב ללמד את בן בנו שנאמר והודעתם לבניך ולבני בניך, ולא בנו ובן בנו בלבד אלא מצוה על כל חכם וחכם מישראל ללמד את כל התלמידים אף על פי שאינן בניו, שנאמר ושננתם לבניך מפי השמועה למדו בניך אלו תלמידיך שהתלמידים קרויין בנים שנאמר ויצאו בני הנביאים, אם כן למה נצטוה על בנו ועל בן בנו, להקדים בנו לבן בנו ובן בנו לבן חבירו.
הלכה ג
וחייב לשכור מלמד לבנו ללמדו, ואינו חייב ללמד בן חבירו אלא בחנם, מי שלא למדו אביו חייב ללמד את עצמו כשיכיר שנאמר ולמדתם אותם ושמרתם לעשותם, וכן אתה מוצא בכל מקום שהתלמוד קודם למעשה מפני שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה ואין המעשה מביא לידי תלמוד.
הלכה ד
היה הוא רוצה ללמוד תורה ויש לו בן ללמוד תורה הוא קודם לבנו, ואם היה בנו נבון ומשכיל להבין מה שילמוד יותר ממנו בנו קודם, ואף על פי שבנו קודם לא יבטל הוא, שכשם שמצוה עליו ללמד את בנו כך הוא מצווה ללמד עצמו.

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