The Power to Withstand the Pressure

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

HaRav HaGaon Avrohom Kanarek, zt”l, of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim in Yerushalayim taught Torah for many years in a humble and unassuming way. He shied away from kavod. Once, on Simchas Torah, the bochurim tried to dance around him. He ran away so quickly, that no one would have guessed that he was already in his seventies. He made time for any young bochur who asked him for a private seder. For one stretch of time, my slot was Tuesdays during the dinner hour. The following year, we learned together on Friday mornings. He delivered his daily Gemara shiur but shied away from speaking to the entire Yeshiva. In the two years I studied in Yerushalayim, I only recall him speaking to the entire Yeshiva twice. Once was at a seudas hodah for someone that survived cancer. The only other occasion that I recall was on the yahrtzeit of his father. He spoke about a Gemara in Sotah (34b). The Gemara in Sotah expounds the pasuk in Parashas Shelach (14:24), “As for my servant Kalev, because he had ‘ruach acheres,’ I shall bring him to the land to which he came and his offspring shall inherit it.” The Gemara understands the words “to which he came” to mean that he went alone to Hebron to pray that Hashem should save him from the plot of the spies. That is why he was ultimately rewarded with Hebron as part of his inheritance. The simple understanding of “ruach acheres” means that he withstood the pressure of conforming to the other spies. He stood against the tide. For having the courage and wherewithal to stand apart from them, he was rewarded. Rav Kanarek explained how the above drashah had great significance to him. He was born in Leipzig, a bustling city with much commerce. In 1933, there were 11,564 Jews living there. Rav Kanarek’s father decided to send his boys off to learn in yeshiva. He faced derision from his neighbors. “Why would you want your boys to be hockers?” he was told. Yet their father ignored their scorn because he wanted his children to have a well-grounded Torah education. He stood strong in face of all the peer pressure. Looking back years later, Rav Kanarek credits the courage of his father for saving their lives. The decision to send them to yeshiva had an unintended consequence for the young boys. They were able to escape the terrors of the Holocaust by fleeing with the Mirrer Yeshiva to China and Japan. Perhaps it was the merit of the stubbornness of their father that assured their survival. If they had instead immediately went to work in the family business without learning in yeshiva first, they might have been deported – which was, sadly, the fate of the Jews who remained in Leipzig. Rashi on Chumash explains the words ruach acheres to mean that Kalev had two ruchos, one in his heart and one in his mouth. Kalev knew the spies’ evil plot and conceived a plan to foil it. He spoke with the spies all through their travels in a manner suggesting he was in on their conspiracy. Kalev did this so they would give him a chance to speak to B’nei Yisrael after they had relayed their evil report. In his heart, however, he always disagreed with them. For this ruach acheres, he merited to enter Eretz Yisrael and be able to give the land to his sons as an inheritance. He was thereby guaranteed by Hashem that he was going to live at least another 40 years. (He was 40 at the time that he spied.) Why did he merit this? According to Rashi, the pasuk doesn’t say he merited it simply because he did not join in with the plot of the spies. Rather, he merited it for performing his trick of saying one thing and believing another. Rav Avrohom Trop, zt”l (the son of R’ Naftali Trop), asks, what is so significant about this feat? People everywhere follow this practice daily! They say one thing and really believe something else. The opposite is actually a feat – to be brutally honest and not deceive deserves accolades. What is the significance of being an artist of deception? Rav Trop answered that Kalev’s greatness was that his heart remained pure and unaffected by his negative speech. It is extremely difficult to talk negatively and not have the words have some effect on one’s soul. Kalev performed a tremendous feat – he was able to temporarily speak against Eretz Yisrael while his love for the Promised Land remained intact. To accomplish this, presumably, he constantly had to give himself chizuk to remain unaffected. This is why he was deserving of reward. Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@

Share this article: