There is a famous story – made even more famous by Rav Yehuda Amital – about the founder of Chabad Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, otherwise known as the Ba’al HaTanya, and his grandson Rabbi Menachem Mendel, otherwise known as the Tzemach Tzedek.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was studying Torah in the middle of the night. In the room next door his grandson the Tzemach Tzedek was also studying Torah, and in a further room was a baby – a grandson of the Ba’al HaTanya and a nephew of the Tzemach Tzedek – that was sleeping.
Then, in the still of the night, the baby started to cry, and its wails travelled through the house – through the room where the Tzemach Tezek was studying Torah, and through to the room where the Ba’al HaTanya was learning.
The Ba’al HaTanya presumed that his grandson might respond but the wailing continued. And so he got up, passed through the room where his grandson remained engrossed in his Torah study and seemingly unaware of the cries of the baby, and went to the next room to soothe the baby back to sleep.
Once the baby was settled the Ba’al HaTanya returned back through the room of his grandson who was still engrossed by his studies. The Ba’al HaTanya interrupted his grandson and asked him whether he had heard the baby cry, to which Tzemach Tzedek responded that he hadn’t. Hearing this the Ba’al HaTanya explained to him: “if someone is studying Torah and fails to hear a baby’s cry, there is something very wrong with his learning”.
There are clearly many messages that we can take from this story. Primarily, it is the need to hear the cry of the baby. However, as Rav Yehuda Amital points out in the attached exquisite video, ‘in every period there are different kinds of crying – sometimes a loud cry, sometimes a hidden cry, and sometimes the baby doesn’t even know that they are crying, and here is where we must struggle to reveal and also respond to the hidden cry’.
However, there is a second message that we can take from this story – as pointed out by Rabbi Yaakov Medan in the attached video – that there are times that ‘by stopping our learning, we are actually sustaining it’.
In today’s daf (Brachot 35b), we actually find a similar message where Rava told his students: “I beg of you, during the month of Nissan (when the grains are harvested), and Tishrei (when the grapes and olives are pressed), do not come to my shiurim to learn Torah from me. Instead, [at least during those months in the year], make sure to give your undivided attention to your crops, and in doing so you will be able to earn a living with dignity throughout the rest of the year. Moreover, by doing so this will also provide you with the opportunity to spend some of the time during the rest of the months studying Torah – while knowing that you and your family have a sustainable income”.
By stopping their learning Rava’s students were actually sustaining it by helping themselves, and by stopping his learning, the Ba’al HaTanya was sustaining it and helping others. Some Torah teachers encourage their students to learn Torah. But truly great Torah leaders are those who teach their students how to live according to Torah values while not losing sight of their own emotional, spiritual and financial needs, as well as the emotional, spiritual and financial needs of others.