Mishna: It's The Linchpin

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti


I am very grateful to Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah and Rabbi Haikins for inviting me to share with you on the very important subject of learning mishnayos, particularly l’iluy nishmas a departed one, for the sake of elevating the soul of a loved one. I’m going to start at the beginning. Hakaddosh Baruch Hu gave us the Torah at Har Sinai. There are trillions of unlimited layers of the Torah, but in its skeletal definition, the Torah contains a storyline and contains in the storyline – with no apparent order – taryag mitzvos, 613 instructions. The storyline begins with the creation of the world and the creation of Adam, man. Then we have ten generations from Adam until No’ach, the great Flood wipes out mankind, it begins again with No’ach. In Chapter 12, Avraham Avinu enters onto the map of the Torah, and from this moment onward, Hashem has no interest in any other part of mankind. If the Pelishtim or Mitzrim are mentioned, it’s only in the context of Avraham Avinu, Sarah Imeinu, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, and the Shevatim, the 12 Tribes. The Shevatim go down to Mitzrayim. They’re really looking for their brother Yosef, they’re reunited, the enslavement in Mitzrayim, ten plagues and then receiving the Torah. Then, forty years in the desert. End of Chumash, 2,488 years. Contained within this storyline are taryag mitzvos. Now, if you were a child in the desert learning Torah from your father or rebbi, when you would have the minimal skill set to understand the words – roots, prefixes and suffixes, etc. – so you can make sense of the text, will you be able to understand what’s going on here, or will you have questions? oh, you’re going to have questions. Why? Because the text was dictated by HaKaddosh Baruch Hu to Moshe Rabbeinu, so anyone who understands how to read and can make sense of the words will immediately realize the Torah is breaking its own rules. lashon zachar, words in the masculine form, are supposed to be nekeivah, in the feminine form, and vice versa; yachid, singular words, are supposed to be rabbim, plural, and vice versa. Why is it that way? In order to force the child to think. It took 1,300 years of transmitting the missing information contained in the pessukim, in the verses, until Rabbeinu Hakaddosh, Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi, the then-president of the Jewish people, committed the missing information, the Torah shebe’al peh, the oral law, to writing. That text, we all know, is the Mishnah. And that’s what we’re going to talk about. But let’s understand: what does it mean that now the oral law, the Torah shebe’al peh, is in writing? Let me share with you a very simple analogy, which Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch offers to understand the distinction between the written law, the Torah shebichtav, and the Torah shebe’al peh. Imagine that you go to a lecture, and you actually enjoy it, so you’re taking notes. At the end of the lecture you go to your husband, your wife, your friends, and you say, “That was a great lecture; let me share my notes with you.” Why will they not be successful in reconstructing the lecture from the notes that you give them? There are lots of reasons. okay, it might be they can’t read your handwriting, but let’s assume they can. Well, there’s an asterisk here and a color code over here. You have your criteria for what you think is important to include in your notes and what you don’t think is important, so it’s impossible for anybody to reconstruct the lecture based on your notes. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains: The Torah shebichtav, the written Torah, is the notes to the lecture. The lecture is the Torah shebe’al peh. The missing information that is extrapolated by forcing you to ask questions is hidden in the Torah shebichtav. And that was transmitted mipi haGevurah, from the mouth of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, so to speak, to Moshe Rabbeinu, to the zekeinim, to the Anshei Kenesses Hagedolah, all the way down to our generation. We’re going to discuss the meaning of the Mishnah. I want to share with you one last mashal, a very simple analogy that the Ba’al Shem Hakaddosh offers to understand the relationship between the Torah shebichtav and the Torah shebe’al peh — Chumash, Nach, Mishnayos, Gemara, Halachah, Medrash, Chassidus, Mussar, Hashkafah. Every portion of the Torah has to find its source somewhere, either in the storyline – that’s the non-legal side of the Torah – or if it’s the legal side of the Torah, in Mishnah, Gemara or Halachah. It must find its source somewhere in taryag mitzvos. So that means that Mishnah is actually a commentary to taryag mitzvos. Gemara is a peirush, an explanation, of the Mishnah, which itself is a peirush to taryag mitzvos. Halachah is the legal outcomes, the legal conclusions of the discussions in the Gemara, which is a peirush, an explanation, of the Mishnah, which itself is the first listing, if you like, of the details of taryag mitzvos. The Ba’al Shem Hakaddosh, explains the relationship between Torah shebichtav and Torah shebe’al peh with the following analogy: Imagine a king who has vast wealth, treasuries, palaces and many slaves and servants. He wants to bequeath all his treasures to his only son, the heir to the kingdom – everything. “But,” he says to himself, “what will make my son appreciate and value this inheritance? If I gift it to him or if he has to work for it?” So what does the king do? The king says to his son, “I have built a palace for you. This palace is perfect. It is designed without the slightest flaw. There isn’t any inconsistency. There are no mistakes. If you find a tile on the floor slightly mislaid, too high or too low, that’s not a mistake. This palace was created, built and designed with perfection. That means it’s a clue. If you dig behind that tile, you will find the hidden treasure. If you notice that the ceiling doesn’t meet in perfect right angles with the wall, that’s not a mistake. If you dig behind that mistaken angle, you will find treasure.” Says the Ba’al Shem Hakaddosh, the Torah shebichtav is a perfect palace. “Toras Hashem temimah,” the Torah is perfect. Tamim, Chazal always tell us, means without mum. There is not the slightest nick, no inconsistencies, no mistakes. Any apparent inconsistency is in order to tell us to dig a little deeper, ask questions and draw out the hidden information. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu deliberately hid the massive, vast treasures that are inside the Torah shebichtav in the Torah shebe’al peh, so that anybody outside of B’nei Yisrael has no access to the Torah. Automatically, B’nei Yisrael have a very special, unique relationship with HaKaddosh Baruch Hu because the heartbeat of the Torah is the Torah shebe’al peh. And the starting point of the Torah shebe’al peh is the mishnayos – the Mishnah of Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi. For 1,300 years, children learned with their father and their rebbi, as it says in Shema, “v’shinantam l’vanecha.” The word v’shinantam really means to role model with passion and excitement the Torah that you’re living, with your children. I’m not going into the details. We unfortunately translate it according to popular meaning, which is “teach your children.” Actually, v’shinantam doesn’t mean to teach, it really means shein, from tooth, and the tooth performs the function of chewing. When you chew it’s the only moment that your child knows you enjoy your food. “V’shinantam l’vanecha,” Chazal tell us, means shinun, sharpen the minds of your children. Shinun also means repeat, from the word shinayim, teeth, which repeatedly chew – sheini, twice. So in these multiple meanings, what Chazal is telling us is that the Mishnah is the repetition of the entire Torah shebe’al peh, for the first time in writing; by repeating the words again and again, learning the mishnayos with review – chazzarah is the ikkar limud, the foremost element of learning – you build up a vast treasure of information. Now your mind can compare similarities, this Mishnah to this Mishnah, this nafka mina (difference) between this halachah and this one, and contrast the differences. When your mind is able to draw upon a large amount of information from shinun, repetition, and you can sharpen your mind through repetition, comparing similarities and contrasting differences, you are building your ability to distinguish and discriminate and look at the world with an eye that says, “lo sasuru acharei l’vavechem v’acharei eineichem,” I’m not going to follow what my eyes and mind say. You know why? I’m going to follow da’as Torah, the directives of the Torah and Torah scholars. If I’m going to learn enough mishnayos, and eventually we get to the Gemara on the Mishnah, you know what will happen? My mind will be so saturated with “Hashem’s mind” that this is the mind I’ll be screening the world through. “lo sasuru acharei l’vavechem v’acharei eineichem” means don’t follow your thoughts and your eyes because what you and I see in this world is not real. What we don’t see is much more real. I’ll explain. We have a word, chayim. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with translations that are based on someone else’s religion, so we translate it as life, but actually there is no word in lashon hakoddesh, the Holy tongue in which the Torah is written, for life. The word chai is not the singular of chayim; it is actually an adjective. It means alive. The word chayim literally translates as lives. You see, lashon hakoddesh created reality. And because lashon hakoddesh created reality, that means you can’t have a word in lashon hakoddesh for something that doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as life. Chayim means lives; it’s plural because we don’t believe in one life. This world is not the real world. There’s another dimension. Chayim means lives. We don’t live for this world alone. As it says in the famous introduction to Mesilas Yesharim, we are preparing in this world for the Next World. What really counts is olam hanitz’chi, eternity. Olam Hazeh is not chayim; chayim is Olam Hazeh and Olam Haba. When we are learning mishnayos, what we’re really doing is chewing the information. The more you love it, the more you show you savor the taste of learning. We learn that Rebbi Meir says its mutar, permitted; Rebbi Yosi says its asur, forbidden; Rebbi Shimon says tamei, impure; Rebbi Yishmael says its tahor, pure. And you know what happens now? This invites the mind, this provokes questions, this engages our thoughts, and we delve a little bit deeper. When the mishnayos were written, the purpose was to remind us of the missing information that the Mishnah doesn’t give us – because the Chumash was written so you can’t understand it, and you’re forced to ask questions and start drawing out what’s missing, i.e., the Torah shebe’al peh. And then when the mishnayos was actually written, how did Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi write it? He wrote it with such a kitzur lashon; it’s so terse and cryptic. The language is so codified that when you read the words, do you have all the information you need to understand what it’s talking about? There is missing information. Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi wrote down a cryptic language, shorthand, so that you are forced to ask questions and think. Within 300 years, Chazal had to write down the missing information that the Mishnah represented – what was the reasoning of Rebbi Yishmael, who said it’s tahor; Rebbi Meir, who said it’s tamei; Rebbi Yosi, who said it’s mutar; Rebbi Shimon, who says its asur? What are the sevaros, the rationale, and what are their sources? This beraisa or this Mishnah or this passuk? Why learn from this passuk and not from this passuk? What ends up happening is that the mind of the child, the student, is being drawn into conversation. His mind is being engaged to think for itself and become part of the dialogue, which is Shas, Gemara, Mishnah. This way, when new situations and new applications come up, the mind will have to figure out and draw upon its knowledge of Mishnah, Gemara, and come out with the halachic conclusions, which teach me how to be a Yid, how HaKaddosh Baruch Hu wants me to be a frum Jew. And really, if you were to select one of these different systems of information – Chumash, Mishnah, Gemara, Halachah – and you had to identify the one that is the most pivotal, the one that links all the others together, it would be the Mishnah. Why? The word Mishnah is from the root of meshaneh, change; it changes us where we really need to change. What do I need to change? The shape of my body? My height? Not much I can do about that! Change my wardrobe? No, those are all externals. In lashon hakoddesh – the perfect language – begged means clothing, and bogeid means traitor. In English we have one word for traitor and one word for clothing; Ribbono Shel Olam, in Your unlimited imagination, why do You have two meanings coming out of one word? There are no mistakes in lashon hakoddesh. A bogeid, a traitor, is what my clothing is. My clothing betrays the real me. I’m not my clothing; I’m not even my body. So who am I? The real me is my mind. And what is it about my mind that’s the real me? The neshamah that was breathed into Adam Harishon. From the passuk in Iyov, we see that the neshamah is a cheilek elokah mima’al, a part of Hashem. The real me is not my body; that is just the vehicle that carries me from one place to another. The real me is not my clothing; the real me is not my home; it’s not my zip code; it’s not the car I drive; and it’s not how many children are in my family. The real me is what’s going on between my ears – my mind. And what feeds my mind? When HaKaddosh Baruch Hu removes the battery, the neshamah, from the mind, it’s dead. Along comes the Shelah Hakaddosh and tells us that the word Mishnah is the exact same osiyos as neshamah – nun, shin, mem and heih. Why? Because the neshamah of a Jew is the linchpin between HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, the cheilek elokah mima'al that He breathed into us, and the life that we live; it connects my body – the bottom of the scale – to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, Who is, so to speak, at the top. Mishnayos is the link between the Oraisa, the Chumash, which is HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s mindset, so to speak. Those are actually the words of Rabbi Avigdor Miller. The Torah, so to speak, is really HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s mindset in writing, for us to be able to understand Him. That’s why the word “os,” – letter – is made up of an alef, vav and taf. An alef is the highest point in ruchniyus, that which is spiritual; taf is the lowest point in gashmiyus, that which is physical; and vav is the letter that means connect. Vav means “and” because “and” connects, it hooks things together. And that is what a vav actually looks like – a hook. So an os hooks the epitome in gashmiyus to the epitome in ruchniyus. Because the osiyos, the letters of the Torah, are Hashem’s attempt, so to speak, to communicate to us His reality. Mishnah is all about being meshaneh, changing our minds from seeing a world that’s not real and connecting to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s reality. What is HaKaddosh Baruch Hu’s reality? He gave us taryag mitzvos, 613 instructions, which tell us how to live the most happy lives possible. So, for example, we know to take wool and turn it into tzitzis. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gave us mitzvos, so we take wool and turn it into clothing, and we avoid shatnez, where wool and linen are separated. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gave us the hide of the cow, and we turn it into tefillin. We take the physical world, and through taryag mitzvos we elevate it to become spiritual. And it’s all because of mishnayos, because the mishnayos is what’s opening up the meaning of taryag mitzvos. It is the first attempt to give us what the taryag mitzvos mean; there is not a single mitzvah in the entire Torah that makes any sense on its own in the Torah shebichtav. Not a single one! Take a seemingly simple mitzvah, “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha,” love your neighbor as yourself. Well, what happens if I hate myself; how much do I have to love you? What happens if I’m suicidal? I can kill you in the name of the Torah! And what about kibbud av va’eim? “Kabbeid es avicha v’es imecha.” What’s complicated about honor your father and mother? That’s pretty clear. No, no, no, the Torah is not clear. HaKaddosh Baruch Hu did not want the Torah to be clear so that the non-Jewish world has no access to it; anyone outside of the Torah shebe’al peh has no access to Torah shebichtav. So, in “kabbeid es avicha v’es imecha,” what does the vav mean? It means “and.” Very good, but what else does it mean? oh, it also means “or.” So how do you read the Torah? “Honor your father and your mother,” or “honor your father or your mother”? For most, it means honor your father and your mother. So you are going to assume that’s logical, fine. Look one perek later, in Parshas Mishpatim, perek 21, in Shemos; guess what you’re going to find? “M’kalel aviv v’imo mos yumas,” if you curse or hit your father or your mother then there is a death penalty. That’s a pretty serious one. Vav – “and” or “or”? Which one does it mean? Hit your father and your mother or hit your father or your mother? We can imagine that it means “and” because that’s what we said vav in “kabbeid es aveicha v’es imecha,” means. So if it means “and” over here, then it’s like, “Dad and mom, can you put your heads together so that I can hit you both?” How else would I be able to transgress this prohibition? The Torah deliberately doesn’t make sense to force you to ask questions. In fact, none of the taryag mitzvos make sense. “lo tirtzach” doesn’t mean don’t kill because the Torah shebe’al peh tells me “haba l’hargecha,” if someone comes to kill you, what should you do? Wait for them, and if they’re not successful, retaliate? No! We don’t believe in retaliation. “Hashkeim l’hargo,” get up early and kill him first. But wait a minute; it says “lo tirtzach,” don’t kill?! That is the principle; the application is not the principle. The application depends on the circumstances. So you need the mishnayos to elaborate on the full range of mutar and asur, permitted and prohibited, and tamei and tahor, pure and impure. What is the full range between the two extremes that we can apply to halachah in new situations? Rabbeinu Hakaddosh therefore gave us the Mishnah, but he also wrote it in such a way that we are still forced to go to a talmid chacham – which I will translate not according to the popular translation, but according to Chazal. A talmid chacham does not mean a Torah scholar, it means a student of a wise person. We are bringing attention to who we get this information from, since we depend on a mesorah, a transmission of live people. We learn much more from a live person than from a sefer. That’s why the Torah shebe’al peh was not meant to be written down, and it was hora’as sha’ah – as it says in the last Mishnah in Berachos, it was an emergency measure. Rabbeinu Hakaddosh said that if we don’t write the Torah shebe’al peh in the form of the Mishnah, we’re going to forget it completely. The Rambam in his introduction to mishnayos Zera’im gives us the history – if you want to call it that – of Torah shebe’al peh, and he explains why Rabbeinu Hakaddosh was called Hakaddosh in his lifetime – it’s a Gemara in Gittin: because he was extraordinary in his perishus, abstinence. He was arguably the wealthiest individual in the Jewish nation. He was the greatest talmid chacham, the gadol hador. He was the nasi, the president of the Jewish people. He rubbed shoulders, literally, with the Caesar of the Roman Empire. There is much more to be said on that, but what the Rambam brings out is really the following: Rabbeinu Hakaddosh was perfectly situated to be the right person at the right time to write the Mishnah. What does that mean? All the statements that all the chachamim had from their rebbeim, all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu, had remained Torah shebe’al peh but now had to be written down. So Rabbeinu Hakaddosh financed hundreds of the Tana’im to sit down and record all the statements that they had heard from their rebbi, who heard from their rebbi, all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu. This was the time when Rabbeinu Hakaddosh saw with ru’ach hakoddesh that we were about to enter the last of the four exiles, galus edom, and if we didn’t write down the Torah shebe’al peh, it would be forgotten. So the original intent in writing the mishnayos was to preserve the Torah shebe’al peh, but in such a way, similar to the Torah shebichtav, that when you read the mishnayos, you’re not going to understand what you need to understand from them. There is still missing information. You have to go to another talmid chacham to get the Gemara. Within 300 years, Chazal saw they had to write down the Gemara as well, the explanation, but when they did, they didn’t feed you. What’s the format of Gemara? Question, answer, problem, solution. It ensures that the transmission of Torah continues to be a dialogue. Dialogue means rebbi-talmid engaged in their minds, in the milchamtah shel Torah, literally the battle of Torah. It’s a battle of minds to break through the pessukim and understand the terse, cryptic, codified language of the Mishnah and pull out all the sevaros that are contained there, learn all the possible extremes, mutar-asur on the extremes, tamei-tahor on the extremes, and all the possible halachic rulings that will come out of the thirteen middos, the thirteen tools, that Chazal employed in order to be able to doreish. Doreish does not mean interpret; that is a very dangerous term because interpretation means my life experience interprets this information. It’s exactly the opposite. Derush comes from the two-letter word dash, which means to extrapolate. If you want to come up with your own explanation, if you got it from the thirteen middos shehaTorah nidreshes bahen, that’s great. And you come up with what you say is mutar and Rebbi Meir says is asur, Rebbi Yishmael says tamei, and Rebbi Yehudah says is tahor, both are correct. If you want to come up with your own explanation anywhere in the Torah, you know what you have to do? You have to show where in the words that explanation is. Because it is not the explanation of your mind on the Torah; rather, you are extrapolating the information that’s already in there. So to come up with a new meaning, you have to show you where it is within the words. The Gemara was written in such a way that it maintains the engagement of the mind. But the linchpin between the end of the whole Chumash, Mishnah, Gemara, and Halachah, which are the legal conclusions of how to apply the taryag mitzvos in my life, the linchpin between the Chumash and the halachah of how to be a Yid, how to serve HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, how to do His will, is Mishnah. Mishnah is the turning point that changes us from just getting the raw information of Chumash and mishnayos, to using our minds to ask questions. That changes our mind – shinui, Mishnah. Now, I want to share with you what the Shelah Hakaddosh says in Masechta Shavuos. Famously, he explains the words of Chazal, who tell us that the writers of the Mishnah were amongst those who destroyed the world. Destroyers of the world is a very strong statement. Says the Shelah Hakaddosh, that is only if you were to study mishnayos raw and not learn the halachic applications that come out of the Gemara, based on the Mishnah. That would be destruction because people would be making halachic decisions from the Mishnah, and that’s not why the Mishnah was written. The Mishnah was written to be the linchpin between the Torah shebichtav and the massive, unlimited layers of the Torah shebe’al peh that can be extrapolated from the Torah shebichtav. Then the Shelah Hakaddosh says that now that we have the Rambam’s commentary on the Mishnah, which gives you a summary of the meanings and halachic conclusions of the Gemara on the Mishnah, and we have the Rav Mibartenura, learning Mishnah is elevated. It’s a limud, a lesson, in and of itself. And the more we learn mishnayos and review it, the more our understanding of the Gemara is superior because the Gemara is the commentary to the Mishnah. If I don’t have the skeleton, how can I learn a commentary to something I am not clear on? Chazal tells us (Ta'anis 7). that is you find a talmid who finds learning very difficult, what might be one of the reasons? Chazal reveal to us that it’s because his mishnayos, the Mishnah, is not suddar alav, it’s not arranged and not organized. Rabbeinu Hakaddosh was the quintessential organizer because he took taryag mitzvos, which are located in no apparent sequence throughout the Torah, and he divided them under six sections, shishah sedarim, and then those sections he subdivided into sixty-three masechtos, sixty-three separate tractates. Every single masechta he then subdivided yet again into numbered chapters, perakim, and then every perek has numbered paragraphs called mishnayos. It’s incredible organization. If you follow the logic of that logic that claims yeish seider l’Mishnah, then when you pay attention to not only the information of each Mishnah, but start noticing the link, the connection, you will also be able to identify how within every Mishnah there is structure. In fact, when you learn Gemara, you will notice that the Gemara always goes sequentially through the Mishnah, tackling the first problem that it notices at the beginning of the Mishnah, and then once it’s finished that part of the topic, continuing with the next part of the Mishnah, in sequence. Yeish seider l’Mishnah. Learning mishnayos is a way to organize information. Learning mishnayos, says the Shelah Hakaddosh, is a whole new obligation today because we’ve got the peirushim, the commentaries. Today, we have mishnayos pictorial. We have mishnayos with Yad Avraham and mishnayos from ArtScroll. Today, one doesn’t have an excuse for not learning mishnayos; it’s been brought down to whichever level of beginner you want to identify. But the main thing is to learn systematically from beginning to end and to review. With that, especially if you learn the masechta of the entire mishnayos of the Gemara you’re going to learn first, you are putting yourself at a tremendous advantage. Truthfully – according to Chazal – every single Gemara is assuming you know all the mishnayos, and the obvious proof of that is that the Gemara is constantly cross-referencing from beraisos and mishnayos all over Shas. Really, we are supposed to have had that amazing, vast, critical mass of information that mishnayos provides for us before learning Gemara. But even if we are not following ben chameish shanim l’Mikrah, ben eser l’Mishnah, ben chameish-esreih l’Talmud (at five years of age a child should begin learning Chumash, at ten, Mishnah and at fifteen, Gemara), at least we should learn the mishnayos on the masechta of Gemara that we’re going to learn. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (99a) tells us, “Ki devar Hashem bizah.” It’s a passuk in Mishlei that a person could disdain, show degradation, for the word of Hashem. What is that referring to? Chazal answer that this is talking about “mi she’eino mashgiach al haMishnah,” someone who is not supervising learning Mishnah. Rashi spells it out even more: “she’oseik she’eino ikkar,” he makes learning mishnayos as though it’s not important. That’s not really the translation; ikkar means the root. Mishnayos is the root of the Torah shebe’al peh; mishnayos is the heartbeat of the Torah shebe’al peh. Your neshamah is the heartbeat, the spiritual battery that’s inside and gives you life force. The first time the letter alef appears in the Torah is in the word elokim, g-d: alef is HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. If you take the alef out of adam, man, you’re left with dam, blood, the life force of the human being. Dam also means inanimate, dead, gone. But the neshamah, where does that go? That continues forever. You can’t destroy the neshamah. When HaKaddosh Baruch Hu created man, “Vayitzer Hashem elokim Adam afar min ha’adamah, vayipach b’apav nishmas chayim.” Number one: Adam was created from the earth of the soil, in the wisdom of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. And then, number two, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu breathed into man a nishmas chayim, a soul of lives. It’s a soul that lives throughout every life, through this world and the next. It’s eternal. That’s why Mishnah is the one type of learning, more than any other, that we learn when someone is niftar. We don’t say learn Chumash – you can, and it would be a zechus. We don’t say, let’s learn Gemara – you can, and people do, but that’s not what you’ll see on a list during the shivah. You’ll see a list of mishnayos, masechtos of Mishnah. Mishnayos not only helps you to gain clarity on taryag mitzvos and prepares you for learning the masechta of Gemara you’re going to learn, you are also feeding your neshamah when you learn mishnayos. And if you’re learning it l’zecher nishmas another person, that’s a whole new story. Why? The neshamah of a human being is only elevated as much as they invested in this world. But there are people who are smart in business; they don’t just invest in a store, they invest in something that creates residual income. They put their money somewhere where their money makes more money. That’s smart. You have to be able to do that. You may have to have a little bit of extra money to be able to do that; don’t do it with your bread and butter money. If you have extra, invest your money in a way that it will create dividends, that it will work for you. Residual income is where you’re not working, but the money continues to do so. I’m using this as a very simple mashal because sefer Gesher Hachayim, one of the most popular sefarim on aveilus, tells us the most beautiful story. It’s told by, I think, Rabbi Yisrael Salant, about twin boys in a womb who are having a conversation. one is saying to the other, “Life is so good, the insulation, protection, nutrition comes straight through the umbilical cord; you just relax, and basically you’re sunbathing in this warm, perfect temperature. It’s just so good!” And then the other brother says, “Well, you do realize that this is not going to go on forever? Eventually we are going to leave this beautiful world, and when we do, we’re going to enter a world immeasurably greater than this one.” So the sophisticated brother says, “You’ve been watching too many videos; what are you talking about? This world is it! Can’t you see? Everything we need is here!” “No, no, no,” says the second brother. “one day, we are going to leave this world, and you know what’s going to happen to your legs? They’re going to unfold. Your legs are actually going to carry your body wherever you want. Your eyes will open, and you will see a whole new world immeasurably greater than the womb. In that world you’ll see in full color. Your mouth will open, and you will talk and receive food instead of getting it through your umbilical cord.” But the sophisticated brother says, “You know what, this is ridiculous; where are you getting these ideas from? You’re dreaming!” Suddenly, the womb begins shaking, and the second brother is sucked out. The sophisticated brother says, “No, no, my brother! Where has he gone? He’s dead! He’s gone forever!” And he’s crying and mourning the death of his brother, not realizing that the screams on the other side of “Mazel tov, it’s a boy!” are celebrating the birth of a child entering a world immeasurably greater than the womb. Shlomoh Hamelech, the wisest of all men, says “Tov sheim mishemen tov,” a good name is superior to good oil. You know what it takes to get a good name, a good reputation? It’s a lifetime career of working on one’s relationship between himself and Hashem and himself and his fellow man. Tov sheim, a good name is superior, mishemen tov, than good ointment or good oil. oil? That’s a really valuable commodity! oil gives light, warmth, fire, petroleum, gas. And as much as good oil and a good name are worlds apart, it’s not nearly as much as the yom hamaves miyom hivaldo – the day of death is different from the day of birth; the day of death is immeasurably greater than the day a person is born because when we leave this world, now begins the party. Olam Hazeh is just the prozdor, the reception room. Don’t ever think the smorgasbord is it! If you think this is the party, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! As soon as the doors open at the end of the reception hall and you enter, “oh my gosh, look at this party; this is the banquet!” Olam Hazeh domeh l’prozdor lifnei Olam Haba, This world is like a hallway leading into the World to Come; hatkein atzmecha, prepare yourself, fix yourself in the hallway, at the smorgasbord; kedei shetikaneis l’traklin, so that you can enter into the giant banquet hall, so that you are prepared for the real world. What does that mean? How am I preparing for the Next World? How am I investing, so to speak? When a parent leaves a child behind and that child continues doing mitzvos and Torah, that elevates the neshamah because the neshamah can only go as far as it has done in this world. But if he has invested in children who know how to learn and those children are learning mishnayos, he’ll continue to rise. Of all the shevatim, Chazal tell us that Asher learned the most Torah shebe’al peh from his father, even though sheivet levi were the transmitters of Torah later on. Chazal tell us that when someone chas v’Shalom goes to Gehinnom and screams out, “Can anyone pull me out?” Asher, of all the shevatim, comes and says, “Did you learn any mishnayos? You did? You’re mine!” And he’ll pull him out. As we said previously, we don’t believe in one life; we believe in chayim, Olam Hazeh and Olam Haba. And mishnayos is elevating the neshamah in the Next World because what I do down here affects the big picture, the real world, Olam Haba. Mishnah is the one limud over and above all the others that is selected because it’s the linchpin. Someone who has learned the most mishnayos is probably going to understand the Gemara the best. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein used to make one siyum a year for finishing Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, just for the mishnayos he learned during lechah Dodi. While lechah Dodi was continuing, he was finishing up his mishnayos. He had many other siyumim of mishnayos, more than once a month, but this was one just for that period of time. Amazing! It wasn’t the first time he was learning it; it was chazzarah, and the more review, the faster it gets. That is the preparation for really knowing Gemara well. Because what’s the Gemara? The Gemara is constantly cross-referencing the mishnayos and beraisos. Chazal tell us, “l’olam hevei ratz l’Mishnah.” l’olam is a very strong word; it means consistently or constantly. A person should constantly run to the Mishnah over and above other limudim. Not because it’s necessarily superior to Gemara, but it’s the linchpin that connects taryag mitzvos to the halachah, which the Mishnah and Gemara is between. And the Mishnah is the one that prepares us the most. Who has the greatest merit of learning Torah? I’m not the one who can say, but I would like to speculate that it would be the Beis Yosef, Rabbeinu Yosef Karo. Here’s the logic – a very powerful logic, a very simple logic. Rashi holds our hand for Chumash and Gemara. Who wouldn’t want the merit of Rashi? But what’s the purpose of learning Chumash, and what’s the purpose of learning mishnayos, and what’s the purpose of learning Gemara? It’s in order to come out with the halachic applications, how to be a Jew, how to do the will of Hashem, how to be joyful in performing the mitzvos of HaKaddosh Baruch Hu. So the real purpose of all the studying is al menas la’asos, in order to act upon it. It’s not lilmod al menas l’lameid, to learn in order to teach; that’s praiseworthy, but you know what the highest level is? lilmod al menas la’asos. That’s why the Maharsha explains the passuk in Iyov, “Adam l’amal yulad,” (man was born to work) as follows. The Gemara in Sanhedrin says, “Ashrei mi she’amalo baTorah,” praised is the one whose work is Torah. The Maharsha explains that “l’amal” stands for “lilmod al menas la’asos.” The purpose of all learning ultimately has to be, “Ribbono Shel Olam, what do you want me to do? How do I apply what I’ve learned in my marriage, with this child, in my health, in my finances? How do I be loyal as an employee, with money? How am I honest in the workplace? How do I get along with my co-workers?” The Torah gives us directives on every level. Comes along Rabbeinu Yosef Karo, who first wrote a commentary to the Rambam and then the Tur and finally wrote the Shulchan Aruch. And to what does he attribute that unbelievable merit? To the fact that he learned mishnayos by heart all the time. He would learn masechtos and masechtos, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah. He actually had learning sessions when he finished the whole mishnayos once a week. In his sefer, Maggid Meisharim, he recounts what he learned every night with a malach, an angel; this was the malach over the Mishnah. Reb Yosef Karo merited to be the author of the Shulchan Aruch, which until today is the starting point of almost all the legal applications of how to be a frum Jew. What a zechus! You could argue that the Rambam fed into that because a lot of halachic decisions are based on the Rambam. I’m not taking away from that, but what I am bringing out is that this zechus came about because of Reb Yosef Karo’s abundant learning of mishnayos: sequential review, sequential learning from the beginning of a masechta to the end, and then another masechta, and another mesechta, and constant review. That’s the secret to success in learning mishnayos. I conclude with a medrash Rabbah in Vayikra (3:7). It tells us that the kibbutz galiyos, the ingathering of the exiles, will be in the merit of mishnayos. It’s in the zechus of mishnayos that Mashiach will come. That’s not small; that’s gigantic. Those are the two major events that are going to happen before techiyas hameisim. How does that work? And why are they going to happen in the merit of mishnayos? There is a Chazal in Pesikta Rabbasi (5:1) that tells us that when HaKaddosh Baruch Hu brings everyone to the Final Day of Judgment, all the non-Jewish nations will say, “We are Your children.” And B’nei Yisrael will say, “No, we’re Your children.” So how will that get sorted out? Chazal tell us that HaKaddosh Baruch Hu is going to say, “When I gave the Torah at Har Sinai I gave it to B’nei Yisrael.” But the Christians and Muslims are going to say, “We also believe in the Torah shebichtav.” And they actually do, so they will say, “We’re also Your children, the descendants of Yishmael and eisav.” Then HaKaddosh Baruch Hu will say, “There’s one way to be sure who My children really are.” I’m going to now share with you a beautiful mashal. under the chuppah at Har Sinai, the King, HaKaddosh Baruch Hu, marries the queen, B’nei Yisrael. In this mashal, the King gives the queen a rock, a massive diamond, and places it on her finger. This diamond is an external demonstration of the king’s love for his beloved queen. But he also whispers in her ears only words that the queen can hear, nobody else. The queen asks, “Which is more precious to you? The diamond ring or those words of endearment that are completely unique and intimate between king and queen, husband and wife?” HaKaddosh Baruch Hu gave us the Torah shebichtav, a diamond that is His demonstration of His love of us to the world outside. But you know what else He did? He whispered in our ears the Torah shebe’al peh, which nobody has access to unless you are part of the Torah shebe’al peh, the Mishnah, Gemara, and Halachah. So when the nations will say, “But we’re your children too!” Hashem will say, “Yes? Who knows the mysteries of My Torah? Who knows the secrets? Who remembers the whispers?” And what you’re learning today, Mishnah, Gemara, Halachah, they are the echoes of the Torah shebe’al peh that started at Har Sinai. By now you know that mishnayos is the linchpin, the pivotal piece that links it all together. In the zechus, b’ezras Hashem, of taking mishnayos more seriously for the sake of our Gemara learning and the for the sake of clarifying all the taryag mitzvos, may we be zocheh to bring nachas ru’ach, eternal pleasure, to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, who are all elevated for having brought us into this world and ultimately bring nachas ru’ach to HaKaddosh Baruch Hu with the coming of Mashiach, bimheirah b'yameinu, amein!
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