Counting the Omer with Steve Birch
Day 9 — Serving the Sages
Shimush Chachamim • שמוש חכמים
By Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, Ph.D., Denver, Colorado
“The Torah is acquired in 48 ways,” one of which is making oneself available to help out Talmudic sages, even in the most mundane areas of life. Giving them a ride. Making them a sandwich. Bringing them a book from the shelf. Taking a message for them.
What’s the point?
The point is quantity time — not “quality” time. One never knows when a meaningful moment will occur. Therefore, by spending a lot of time around a Torah sage, the chances of witnessing such a moment increases dramatically. It increases still more when one is actually helping out a sage, thus developing a relationship, through which an “aha!” moment is even more likely.
I mentioned above: bringing them a book from a shelf. Well, I did this once for Jerusalem’s Rav Ben Zion Bruk, of blessed memory. He had mastered virtually all of midrash and of aggadah (the non-legal parts of the Talmud). They were at his fingertips. Rav Bruk started looking through the book I had brought him, a volume of Talmud. He looked this way and that, flipping the pages back and forth, and could not locate the specific aggadah he was looking for. I had never seen him at a loss before, and never saw it again, the 13 years I knew him (until he died).
Shortly before Rav Bruk had asked me to bring him this book, a very vexing circumstance, not of his making, had gotten him angry. This, too, I never saw another time in the 13 years I knew him. So he was flipping through the pages, in vain. Finally, he looked up at me — a novice, some 50 years younger than he, a person not on his level, not of his stature — and said, “Reb Hillel. This is just what it says in here . . . somewhere. ‘He who gets angry, forgets his learning.’”
An unbelievably beautiful moment of honesty, humility.
He didn’t have to answer to me. Who was I?
Yet, he felt he did have to answer to me because he had violated one of his own high Mussar standards. If this meant confessing before someone decades his junior in age and stature, so be it.
I never would have witnessed this had I not made myself available, for years, to do whatever it was that Rav Bruk asked me to do, or that I volunteered to do. At that moment, I “acquired the Torah” in a way that not a million books and not a million dollars could have taught me.
Indeed, the Torah is acquired through service of the sages.
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