Last week, I received a call from a good friend of mine. Usually, we don’t speak, since we are men, and our wives speak to each other quite often, so we don’t have to. On occasion, when one of us has had a…disagreement…with a spouse, we call the other to confirm that we were right and not the spouse. This time, it was different. As I picked up the phone he said, “I just had the BEST conversation with my wife!”
Every summer, he brings his family of eight (or is it nine?) kids up north and stays with us for a few days. And it just happens that it always ends up being on their anniversary. This year, when they were discussing which week to come up, his wife mentions that this year it’s their 19th anniversary, which means, that it will be both the Hebrew and English on the same day, so perhaps they should do something special. He responds, “That’s great! Maybe I’ll ask Michael to download some old Wrestlemanias, and we can snuggle on the couch and watch it together!”
She said, rather sarcastically, “Oh…well…something special like that, maybe we should save for the big twentieth!” He turned to her and replied, “I wasn’t talking about YOU and I….”
So, he's looking for a place to stay for a while…
The Moshgiach of my yeshiva asked a question on one of the famous gemaras regarding Shavuos. The Gemara in Pesachim says that Rav Yosef would ask that a fancy meal should be made in honor of Shavuos, saying, “If it were not for this day, I would be one of many ‘Yosefs’ in the marketplace." The Moshgiach didn’t understand this so well. Every Jew received the Torah on Shavuos! What makes Rav Yosef better than every other “Yosef” in the marketplace? And if you want to say that he became greater and smarter because of the Torah, we know that there are plenty of secular Jews and non-Jews that became great and were very smart. So, what exactly is Rav Yosef trying to say?
We see a story (Kings II 5:7) of Naaman, a non-Jewish king, who was afflicted with a terrible skin condition. One of his servants gives him the idea to travel to Elisha, the Jewish prophet at the time. So, Naaman gathers his entourage and travels to Elisha for a cure. Not only did Elisha not come out and greet him, but he simply sent a messenger who tells him to bathe seven times in the Jordan river to become healthy again. Naaman, upset about this treatment, has a small temper tantrum saying, “Behold, I said to myself that he would surely come out to me, and stand and call the Name of Hashem, his G-d, and wave his hand over the diseased area…” In short, Naaman was upset that Elisha didn’t do some Indian Dance, wave his hands up and down, and yell, “Out Ye Demons!” seven times.
So, the Moshgiach asks: What type of idiot is this guy? Here you have a non-Jewish king, coming to a Jewish prophet asking for help. What does he know about Hashem? What does he know how Jewish prophets work? Why is he willing to ignore what Elisha says, just because of what he EXPECTED?
This is what Rav Yosef was saying about Shavuos, says the Moshgiach.
If it were not for the Torah that Rav Yosef learned, he would have been like Naaman, he would have THOUGHT that Hashem works like this or that, and would have been like any other Joe in the marketplace. But, because Rav Yosef learned so much, he realized how little he really knew.
I’ve seen this many times, unfortunately, when you have a person who learned in yeshiva up until high school. At that point, he goes off to work, learns a little here and there, and thinks, “I learned for many years, I know all that I need to know!” Or some guy who, instead of learning, wastes his time with the news (Jewish and non-Jewish) and blogs his brains out about what he “knows” that Hashem really wants from the Jewish world.
When a person makes the Torah his life, whether he’s working or learning, he realizes, “there are MANY things here that I am missing and I need to know." But when a person thinks he knows “enough” and minimizes his learning for other things, he walks around thinking, “I know enough to know what’s going on”…well, is he really any different from Naaman?
Rav Brevda, when he was a teenager, had teachers who came from Europe. Needless to say, there was some tension between the European teachers and the American students. Once, he was berated by one of his teachers: “Do you know the difference between you and me? When I was your age, when we learned Gemara, we learned ‘This is what Rabba says, and this is what Abaya says’ and we would bang our heads trying to figure it out. And do you know how you Americans learn? ‘This is what Rabba says, this is what Abaya says, and this is what I, Shloimie, says!’”
This is the difference between Rav Yosef and every other Yosef in the market place. The person who believes that he has learned “enough” and has a grasp on the Torah, that person is simply another Yosef. However, the person who truly understands that no matter how much he has learned already, he has a lot more to learn, and HE MAKES IT HIS MISSION IN LIFE TO FILL THAT VOID, THAT is Rav Yosef. That person truly understands the greatness of Shavuos and the greatness of personal Torah learning.
With that, I wish you a wonderful Shabbos and a meaningful Shavuos!