On my three trips to Poland, I had the privilege of visiting Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, the Talmudic Center of Learning, just steps from the Majdanek death camp. This is also the house of study where Daf Yomi, the custom of studying a daily page of Talmud, originated before the Holocaust.
As I stood at the lectern in the main lecture hall, I would teach the same piece of Torah to my students each year.
The Talmud tells us of the time when the Romans prohibited the Jews from Torah study. And yet, the Rabbis once again found a way for learning to continue.
The Rabbis tried desperately to teach Torah in creative ways so they would not be discovered. We know this is not the first nor the last time this has occurred.
To use the words of Achad Ha-am, “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Even more so, how true of Torah.
The Yeshiva in Lublin is no longer the vibrant place it used to be. You must use your imagination to hear the silent voices that were stopped in their tracks, and yet the custom of Torah learning has allowed us to not only survive, but thrive generations later.
Each time I think of those visits to Lublin, I am reminded of the well known verse in our parsha, Mah Tovu: “How good are your tents Jacob, your sanctuaries Israel.”
Rashi teaches that Jacob was a man who dwelled in the tents of Torah, spending his fine immersed in study.
The Talmud asks, “What did Balaam really want to tell the Jews? The blessings we read are the exact opposite of the originally intended curses for the Jews. He desired that the kingdom of Israel should fall, its leadership fade, and the people shall be expelled from the land and led into exile.”
Each of those curses have come to fruition over the centuries.
Yet, the blessing that has remained throughout time is that of “Mah Tovu.” The tents of Torah have stayed open.
Location and time have shifted. We have been persecuted in every place we have inhabited. And yet, no matter what, Jewish survival has depended on the tents of Torah: Schools, synagogues, houses of study, houses of prayer, and houses of gathering.
Go to any land devoid of Jews. What will you see? Synagogues and houses of study: Tents of Torah that have been passed to us to perpetuate the Divine spark of Torah.
We learn, “The Torah should be in your mouth day and night.” We live in a world where information is at the tip of our fingers. May we dip those fingers in the sweetness of Torah learning, tasting the essential blessing that Balaam left us with—simple tents turned into tabernacles.