By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center
We live in frightening times. The Torah community in Eretz Yisrael is facing unprecedented dangers from enemies without and within. The venerated rosh yeshiva Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shlita, has asked chareidi Jews the world over to increase doing mitzvos, for mitzvos generate great zechuyos for those who do them and for Klal Yisrael as a whole. For the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, the zechuyos generated are significantly greater. And Chazal teach us that, in particular, the learning of mishnayos can change the world we live in.
In many places throughout the Talmud and Midrash, Chazal comment on the significance of learning mishnayos; permit me to quote a select few:
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 7:3) teaches that kibutz galuyos—the gathering of the exiles in the days of Mashiach—will only happen through the merit of those who learn mishnayos.
The Yerushalmi (Shabbos 15:1) writes in the name of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai that “those who learn mishnayos will receive their Divine reward directly from Hashem himself; and therefore a person should always run to learn mishnayos even more than running to learn the Gemara.”
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (99a) asks, “To whom is the pasuk ‘he who has made light of Hashem’s words’ referring?” And the Gemara brings from Rebbe Nosson that this refers to someone who doesn’t pay proper attention to the study of mishnayos. Rashi there explains Rebbe Nosson’s statement as referring to those that do not deem the study of mishnayos important.
The Gemara in Kedushin (30a) posits a halachah that a person should divide his years into three parts: a third in mikra, a third in mishnah, and a third in talmud. Since a person doesn’t know how long his life will be (to divide his “years” into thirds), the Gemara says he should divide his days. According to Rashi, this means one should divide the days of the week. However, Tosefos and Rabbeinu Chananel explain it means dividing each day.
The great and holy Beis Yosef (author of the Shulchan Aruch) described that he merited to be visited daily by a malach who became his study partner. He referred to him as the “Maggid.” The Beis Yosef makes a startling admission that the z’chus that he had to be visited and taught Torah by the Maggid was only due to his learning of mishnayos. He writes as well that the Maggid (malach) instructed him to learn 15 chapters of mishnayos every morning and 15 chapters every evening.
In one of their last sessions, the Maggid wanted to leave his beloved study partner with a special blessing for the future, so he shared with him the following secret formula. He said, “By continuing to learn the six sedarim of mishnayos, you will merit to go up to Eretz Yisrael and learn Torah with your children and grandchildren, and you will also merit that the entire world will learn your sefarim every day.” As we all know, he continued to learn mishnayos, and all of the above came true.
The Chidah writes (in Sefer D’vash L’fi) that the z’chus that will bring the final redemption will be the learning of mishnayos. He then adds (in Sefer Mor Beetzbah) a fascinating quote from the Zohar—that Asher, one of the 12 sons of Yaakov Avinu, stands at the entrance of Gehinnom and saves all those who learned mishnayos in their lifetime from entering into Gehinnom. He explains that this comes from the pasuk referring to Shevet Asher by the berachos of Yaakov (Bereishis 49:20): “MeiAsher sh’meinah lachmo.” The letters of the word “sh’meinah” are the same as the letters in the word “mishnah.”
There is no bigger z’chus for a person’s neshamah than for others to learn mishnayos in his or her memory. The word “neshamah” (soul) has the same letters as the word “mishnah.” We’ve all seen when we have to unfortunately visit a shivah house that there’s usually a “mishnayos sheet” prominently displayed, so that friends and family can sign up and learn mishnayos in the z’chus of the person who has passed away.
There is a fascinating story about the great z’chus the learning of mishnayos has upon a person’s neshamah, even if that person was a great talmid chacham and tzaddik himself:
When the great Alter of Slabodka, HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt’l, passed away in Eretz Yisrael in 1927, his illustrious son, the rosh yeshiva of Mir, HaRav Lazer Yudel Finkel, zt’l, sat shivah for him in Europe, where he lived. Just after the sheloshim, his father, the Alter, appeared to him in a dream on motzaei Shabbos and said to him, “Shich mir pekalach”—“Send me packages.” When the dream repeated itself several times on consecutive motzaei Shabbosos, he was greatly disturbed. What was his father asking of him? How does one send pekalach to the Olam HaEmes? Not being able to understand the dream, he sent one of his closest talmidim to Radin to ask the elderly sage, the Chofetz Chaim, zt’l, for help in interpreting his disturbing dreams.
When the talmid entered the room where the Chofetz Chaim was sitting, he found him asleep in his chair. Not wanting to disturb him, he stood waiting for the Chofetz Chaim to wake up. Suddenly the Chofetz Chaim, without opening his eyes, began to talk. He quoted the Gemara that refers to mishnayos as “chavillos,” as bundles or packages, and then he stopped. The talmid then understood the dream; the Alter was asking his son to learn mishnayos in his z’chus— something that he then undertook to do each day for the rest of his life.
Why am I writing about the importance of learning mishnayos at this time? More than three years ago, as Shavuos was approaching, I thought of the famous Ran in Nedarim (as I do each year on Shavuos) that Shavuos is considered a “Yom HaDin,” a day of judgment for talmud Torah. Each year Shavuos comes and goes, but our commitment to Torah, in particular to limud haTorah, often remains the same. What kind of Yom HaDin can it be when our commitment to limud haTorah doesn’t change?
That year on Pesach I was inspired after meeting a prominent pediatric neurologist, who besides having a very distinguished and busy practice is renowned in his hometown of Baltimore as a ba’al chesed and community activist. He had been inspired several years earlier to begin the study of mishnayos. In just a few years, he has become an acknowledged baki, an expert, on four of the six sedarim of mishnah, and is well on his way to mastering the remaining two. He challenged me to test him on the four sedarim. I read a random line in a mishnah, and he would not only recognize where that mishnah is, but complete the mishnah by heart as well. As much as I tried to stump him, I could not.
That experience left me with a feeling of awe for his accomplishment, as well as a greater feeling of inadequacy. I had the opportunity to learn for many more years than my new good friend. Why shouldn’t I have at least as familiar a recognition of the six sedarim of mishnayos as he?
And so, in a heartfelt derashah on Shavuos three years ago at the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center, I challenged my good friends, and even more so myself, to accept upon ourselves on that Yom HaDin of talmud Torah to increase our daily regimen by learning just five mishnayos a day.
A group of us started the next day, with the first perek in Seder Nezikin, focusing upon five mishnayos a day. With the availability today of so many tools to help one along with understanding the mishnayos—Kehati, ArtScroll, etc.—the study of mishnayos is open to everyone, regardless of background.
In the three years since that Shavuos, we have completed, baruch Hashem, all of the Shishah Sidrei Mishnah twice. And now, as we are about to enter into the majestic and inspiring yom tov of Pesach, which is filled with mitzvos and great zechuyos for Klal Yisrael, so significant that Eliyahu haNavi himself comes to join with us to participate in our Seder, we have the unique opportunity to add another z’chus, perhaps the greatest one of all, to our list—the learning of mishnayos.
This coming Sunday, the day before erev Pesach, we are beginning our third machzor of Shishah Sidrei Mishnah with the learning of five mishnayos a day, beginning with Mesechta Berachos. Please join a growing list of Yidden who are committed to bring additional zechuyos to themselves and to Klal Yisrael by the daily learning of mishnayos.
It is well known that the great gaon Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, completes all of Torah every erev Pesach at the Siyum Bechorim. But what is equally significant is that the gaon also starts all over again on that day as well. It is an ending, but at the same time a beginning.
Two months ago, my family observed the first yahrzeit of our father, Rav Avrohom Yaakov ben Moshe haLeivi Ginzberg, zt’l; and amongst the myriad accomplishments in his productive life was his commitment to learn one perek of Mishnayos a day, for at least 60 years. The third machzor of Shishah Sidrei Mishnah that we are now beginning this coming Sunday will be l’zecher nishmaso, and it is our commitment to continue to send him “pekalach” for many years to come.
The chevrah that had previously joined in this exciting learning project has shown that though the learning of five mishnayos a day takes an average of 15 minutes, they have found that it does not have a negative impact on their daily schedules. It has, however, had a great positive impact on their lives. A newfound sense of accomplishment and purpose has had a profound effect on their lives and those of their wives and families.
This idea has caught on, and people in the Five Towns, Lakewood, Monsey, Passaic, and even as far away as Los Angeles have joined us. We are inviting others to do so as well. A member of our chaburah has taken upon himself the task of preparing a monthly calendar of the five mishnayos to be learned, available at www.ChofetzChaimTC.com.
I once read that if you take the first letter from the names of the six sedarim (Zeraim, Moed, Nashim, Nezikin, Kodshim, and Taharos) it spells “Zeman Nakat,” meaning, “hold onto the time,” don’t let the moments slip by without purpose or accomplishments. Joining in the learning of mishnayos can bring the Geulah and change the world we live in. And, perhaps most important of all, it sends pekalach to those who no longer have the opportunity to do so for themselves.
See you at the next siyum. v