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Lights XVIII: Amudei Ohr: The Light of Awe

The Eleventh of Kislev is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yechiel Heller, Rav of Sovalk [Suvalk]. Among his sefarim are Shailos U’Teshuvos Amudei Ohr, Ohr Yesharim on the Haggadah, Oteh Ohr on Shir HaShirim, and Kinah L’Dovid which was a hesped on Rav Dovid Luria. He was niftar at the age of 47. (1861; according to some, 1867)

“A candle for my feet, and light for my path.” (Psalms 119:105) [See Lights I] 

King David is describing Torah as a candle and as light. Our Sages taught: “For God will be “bekislecha,” – your security – and He will guard your foot from entrapment.” (Proverbs 3:26. The Sages are bothered by the strange word used to describe ‘your security.’ They play on the word ‘kislecha,’ which can also mean ‘your foolishness.’) Even matters about which you are a fool, not having heard them from your teacher, “He will guard your foot from entrapment,” you will merit to arrive at on your own, as a result of your toil in Torah, and will not be entrapped by your ignorance of them.

(Which entrapment?) Rabbi Dosa said, “He will guard you from an incorrect Halachic ruling. (Yerushalmi Peah 1:1 5a)

It is difficult to render Halachic rulings. One may be sure that his judgment is clear and that he is directing his inquiries in the proper direction, but it is easy to slip and fall.

The Sages also teach that the light of a candle is better than daylight to search out dark corners and crevices. (Pesachim 2a) The candle will help us see small things in tiny places that were not visible in daylight.

When King David said, “A candle for my feet,” he was referring to Torah’s ability to help us see the insignificant things that may cause us to have Chametz in our house on Pesach, the small details in our Halachic considerations that are necessary to render an accurate Halachic decision.

The Talmud (Sotah 21a) also speaks of the advantages of daylight: The following did R. Menachem son of R. Jose expound: For the commandment is a lamp and Torah is light — the verse identifies the commandment with a lamp and Torah with light; the commandment with a lamp to tell you. That, as a lamp only protects temporarily, so [the fulfillment of] a commandment only protects temporarily; and Torah, with light, to tell you that as light protects permanently, so Torah protects permanently; and it states: “When you walk, it shall lead you etc.” — ‘when you walk it shall lead you’, in this world; ‘when you sleep it shall watch over you,’ in death; and ‘when you awaken it shall talk with you,’ in the Hereafter. Parable of a man who is walking in the middle of the night and darkness, and is afraid of thorns, pits, thistles, wild beasts and robbers, and also does not know the road in which he is going. If a lighted torch is prepared for him, he is saved from thorns, pits and thistles; but he is still afraid of wild beasts and robbers, and does not know the road in which he is going. When, however, dawn breaks, he is saved from wild beasts and robbers, but still does not know the road in which he is going. When, however, he reaches the crossroads, he is saved from everything.
We need both the candle and the light. We must use Torah as a candle to examine things in great detail, and we must use the Torah as a beacon to guide us, and to shine its clarity on us.

This is why the Talmud (Shabbat 12b) tells the following story: Rabbi Yishmael said that although the Rabbis taught that one should not read by the light of a candle on Shabbat, lest he come to unconsciously adjust the wick (a violation of Shabbat), I said, “I will study and I will not adjust the wick.” I studied by the light of a candle and mistakenly adjusted the wick!

Rabbi Yishmael was using the candle approach – careful with small details, but he did not access the bright light of the Rabbi’s Torah, and he slipped and mistakenly violated the Shabbat.

We must always use both the candle and the light of Torah to guide us.

(Introduction to Amudei Or #1)

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