It’s a fascinating story. Prince Harry, a member of the English royal family, and his wife, Duchess of Sussex, have informed his grandmother the Queen, and the world at large, that they no longer wish to perform their royal duties.
As a student of Rabbi Berel Wein, the story immediately brought to mind an incident recorded in Sefer Yechezkel (chapter 20) that Rabbi Wein often recounts. The destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash brought shocking devastation to the Jewish people. It wasn’t only what occurred, it was the very fact that it had occurred. Many Jews felt that it was over. They had a “good run” as the Chosen People for a millennium, but at that point they felt their “chosenness” had expired. G-d had destroyed the Beis HaMikdash and exiled them, and now “the House of Israel is like all other nations.” The prophet conveys G-d’s strong and unequivocal response: “As for what enters your minds – it shall not be!... I will rule over you with a strong hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath...”
Essentially, G-d informed the nation that there was no escaping their distinction and greatness. Being a holy nation and a kingdom of priests was their mission and destiny.
Shortly before Rosh HaShanah this year, our Yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, celebrated a very special event. During the summer, over 30 students reviewed the masechta of Gemara that they learned in Yeshiva the previous year. The Yeshiva hosted a joint siyum for the entire Yeshiva, its parent body, and friends. The students who were being m’sayeim sat upon a dais in front of the room.
It was a memorable and special evening, which included a catered meal and singing and dancing. We were also graced with the presence of noted rabbinic personalities. One of those distinguished personalities was Rabbi Yerucham Olshin shlita, one of the Roshei Yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey.
When he addressed the assemblage, he began by lauding the worthy accomplishment of the m’saymim who had chosen to review their learning during their summer break. He quoted the words of the Rambam who says that one who wants to merit the keser Torah – the crown of Torah – must learn Torah every night. Most people relax at night and unwind from the pressures of the day. One who uses that time to engage in Torah study is worthy of the crown of Torah. Therefore, the students who had chosen to learn and review during summer break, a time of leisure and relaxation, had surely achieved keser Torah, as well.
Then Rabbi Olshin announced that he wished to say a few words to the rest of the students, those who were not making a siyum that night.
He related a story about Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the renowned 19th century Torah leader. Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s Talmudic questions are legendary in the hallowed halls of Gemara study. Rabbi Eiger ha incredible clarity, and his questions are sharp and brilliant. Scholars pride themselves on offering resolutions to his questions.
On one occasion, Rabbi Eiger was bothered by one such question. He pondered and struggled for three days until he excitedly discovered an answer to his question.
That same day, he was invited to visit a class of Talmudic students to “speak to them in learning.” When Rabbi Akiva Eiger arrived there, he decided to pose the question he had just discovered an answer for. He did not expect any of the students to have a resolution, but he reasoned that it would be a good way to initiate a discussion.
However, as soon as he mentioned the question, the hand of one student shot up. That student proceeded to rattle off the exact answer that Rabbi Eiger had labored three days to discover.
When he heard the answer, Rabbi Eiger was beaming with joy. But then, a moment later, the Rabbi’s countenance literally dropped, and he seemed pale and very upset. He quickly composed himself and continued the discussion.
When they were on their way home, those accompanying him asked Rabbi Eiger what had occurred. He replied that when that student had immediately offered that answer so effortlessly, he became very excited. There was no doubt that this student was a future Torah leader. But then, when Rabbi Eiger looked at that student’s face, he didn’t see a trace of emotion. The student, who had just answered the Talmudic question of the greatest rabbi of his time, did not have a trace of joy or excitement. Rabbi Akiva Eiger explained: “When I saw that he did not feel elevated or joyous about the Torah he had just shared, I realized that there was no way he would become a future Torah leader of the Jewish people. That’s why I looked so distressed. We are losing a Torah leader because he has no joy in his Torah study!”
Rabbi Olshin conveyed to the assemblage that every person must feel a sense of joy and happiness in whatever levels of Torah he has learned. Even if he is not yet ready to complete masechtos and make siyumim, he must be joyful over whatever he has accomplished.
It is not enough to learn Torah. One must also celebrate his personal connection and portion of Torah, whatever and however much that may be. That is the meaning of the words we recite each morning: “Praised are we, how good is our portion, how sweet is our lot, and how beautiful is our inheritance. Praised are we that we wake up early and remain into the nights, night and morning, and recite twice every day: Sh’ma Yisrael...”
Chazal (based on Gittin 62a) state: Who are the true kings? The rabbis! Those who engage in Torah study and live a Torah life are true royalty. But they can only celebrate that royalty if they recognize and appreciate it.
Being a member of the royal family has many responsibilities and expectations that non-royalty doesn’t have. Why would anyone want those extra restrictions and expectations? It is because they recognize the privilege, uniqueness, responsibility, and opportunity of being part of leadership and royalty. But if they are unable to recognize the privilege and uniqueness of their royalty, and only experience the annoyance of those expectations, then it’s not so hard to understand why they would want to escape that life to live like a commoner.
A few weeks ago, the Torah world celebrated the Siyum HaShas of Daf Yomi. But even those who did actually make a siyum must share the simchah based on their own personal connection and accomplishment to Torah. That feeling of pride is vital and they are entitled to it.
It is not easy being a Torah Jew. But there is no greater honor, fulfillment, and royalty than living such a life. Our arduous task is to help every one of our children, neighbors, and friends realize the extreme privilege they have to be part of this unique nation of ultimate royalty. They must understand that they are vital to our cause, and we are incomplete without them. The greatest danger is when one doesn’t recognize that he is special and needed.
They need not be Rabbi Akiva Eiger to celebrate their portion in Torah. Every pasuk, every mishnah, and every line of Gemara – every mitzvah, every chesed, and every word of t’filah – make us part of the royal family.
There is no greater “highness.”