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Thought for the Day: Da'as Torah -- 100% Hishtadlus/100% Gift

I've spent my life learning that what I knew up until then was wrong.  My earliest recollection of learning that fact of life was when my grandfather (a brilliant professor of electrical engineering) told me that that -- contrary to people's belief -- Thomas Edison did not invent the electric light bulb.  There were lots of electric light bulbs out there.  What Thomas Edison did invent was the high voltage, low current electric light bulbs; all the others were low voltage high, high current.  That seemingly small detail made the difference between being able to distribute electricity on a power grid, thus lighting up whole cities, and light bulbs being an oddity demonstrated at carnival sideshows.  Knowing which details are important can change history.

I had the z'chus to learn Mishna Brura for a year or two with R' Chaim Tzvi Hollander, shlita; formerly of Chicago, now a rebbi in Beis Yisrael in Neve Yaakov.  Learning halacha and learning how to learn halacha from a talmid chacham is certainly important.  However, one of the most profound lessons I learned from R' Hollander was an attitude toward spirituality.  One of the other members of the chabura was extolling the power and virtues of a red thread that he had that had even been blessed by "the Rebbe".  R' Hollander was less than impressed.  "But we see that the t'filos (prayers) of tzadikim make a difference!", cried the red thread holder.  R' Hollander said -- gently be ever so firmly -- "T'fila?  Of course t'fila is effective!  That has nothing to do with your red thread."  I was quite unsettled.  If you had asked me (that was almost 20 years ago), I would have put red threads and prayers in the same category -- hocus pocus.  The demeanor and clarity that R' Hollander brought to bear on the issue was life changing for me.  There's hocus pocus, and there's t'fila; t'fila is a real -- no less real than electricity and gravity.

In parshas Sh'mos, HaShem tells Moshe Rabeinu to gather the elders of klal yisrael (3:16).  Rashi comments that these elders were actually the distinguished advisors of the community.  "If you would want to say it means to just gather just ordinary elderly people, how would it be possible to gather elders from among a population of 600,000?!"  Mind you, in the first few parashos of sefer Sh'mos/Exodus we have oodles and oodles of impossible things going on: turning all the water into blood, distributing ask over the entire country of Egypt by one man (Moshe) throwing two double handfuls of ash into the air, hail mixed with fire, and on and on...  How can Rashi say with confidence that these were the distinguished elders, because anything else is unreasonable?  Because Rashi knows every Chazal and he knows with certainty that no special miracle was needed here.

How did my grandfather know what was so significant about Edison's light bulb?  Because he was an electrical engineer -- an expert in the field -- who understood what's reasonable and what's not reasonable in power distribution.  How did R' Hollander know to dismiss red threads, but speak reverently about t'fila?  Because he is a talmid chacham -- and expert in the field -- and knows what is important and what is not important in halacha.  How did Rashi know the gathering of the elders was not miraculous, but the blood, boils, and hail were accomplished by miraculous means?  Because Rashi was a talmid chacham muflag -- and expert in the field -- who knew every Chazal.

Edison said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  Da'as Torah is 100% perspiration and 100% inspiration.

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