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Joyous Accomplishments

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 14/1/2020

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Joyous Accomplishments

It has been said that one can’t do everything possible with Simcha, happiness, but one can do everything better with it. Lots more can be accomplished when a task is done with happiness. Chazal[1] sayשערי דמעות לא ננעלו, the gates of tears are not locked. It has been said that Simcha is greater in that it removes the gates even from its hinges.


R’ Chaim Volozhiner[2] (1749-1821) writes that in one hour of learning with Simcha one can learn lots more than in many hours with sadness. Additionally, says the Steipler,[3] the more Simcha one has from Torah, the more he will remember his learning. 


In this way the Rebbe of Lechovitch interpretedהזרעים בדמעה ברנה יקצרו הלוך ילך ובכה נשא משך הזרע בא יבוא ברנה נשא אלמתיו:[4] You can serve Hashem with sadness (בדמעה) or happiness (ברנה) and both ways will produce (יקצרו). However, there is a difference. One who serves Him with sadness (הלוך ילך ובכה) will yield as much as he planted (נשא משך הזרע). But one who serves Him with happiness (בא יבוא ברנה) will produce many times of what he invested (נשא אלמתיו).

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Baba Metzia 59a.

[2] Ruach Chaim 6:5. He was the son of a well-respected and wealthy man. R’ Chaim and his elder brother R’ Simcha studied under the Shaagas Aryeh, who was then rabbi of Volozhin. He later became the main student of the Vilna Gaon, and it was with the view of applying the methods of the Vilna Gaon that he founded the Volozhin Yeshiva in 1803—a Yeshiva that became the "mother of all Lithuanian-style Yeshivas”—which remained in operation for nearly 90 years until it was closed in 1892. He began with ten students, young residents of Volozhin, whom R’ Chaim maintained at his own expense. It is related that his wife sold her jewelry to contribute to their maintenance. Until then, the system of learning in Eastern Europe was that boys went to cheder from about the time they turned three until about Bar-Mitzva, some even stopping at 11. Most young Jewish men were working by the time they were Bar-Mitzva. The elite—those who showed promise in their Talmudic studies, or who came from the upper classes, or from rabbinic homes—continued their education into their adolescent years and beyond, usually by studying with the rabbi of the town in which they lived. If the young man showed particular promise, then he was sent out of town to the cities of noted rabbinical scholars, where he would learn with that rabbinic scholar for a period of time. Then, finally, when he attained sufficient knowledge he would be ordained, usually by a number of rabbis. That was until the Volozhiner Yeshiva, where devotion to learning knew no limits. The average day in Volozhin was 18 hours. There were those who learned 36 hours consecutively—which is where medical schools got the idea. Then they would sleep 8 or 10 hours followed by learning another 36 hours consecutively again. There was an institutional goal to be learning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year. They had special arrangements during those times of the year when obligations, such as the day before Pesach or Yom Kippur or immediately after the fast, might threaten to break the continuity of learning. These arrangements included a lottery as to which students would learn then. Other students would see to their needs, bring them food, etc. The curriculum in the Volozhiner Yeshiva consisted of the entire Talmud from beginning to end. R’ Chaim's son, R’ Yitzchak, took over the leadership of the Yeshiva upon his father's death in 1821. Among R’ Chaim's descendants is the Soloveitchik family. R’ Chaim is the author of the Nefesh Hachaim and Ruach Chaim. Many of R’ Chaim's responsa on Halachic subjects were lost by a fire in 1815.     

[3] Birchas Peretz, Lech Lecha.

[4] Tehilim 126:5,6. The simple meaning is, “Those who tearfully sow will reap in glad song. He who bears the measure of seeds walks along weeping, but will return in exultation, a bearer of his sheaves.”

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