Weekly Story: No Longer A Sardine

by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon

A few weeks ago I published an additional story about Shmuel Munkis and referred to it as Shmuel Munkis number twenty-six. At that time I also requested that if anyone is aware of any additional stories of or about him, to please bring it to my attention.

It was brought to my attention that in toldos Shmuel Munkis published on Hebrew by Machon Oholai Shem pg. 23 they bring down the following saying of his:

There are certain fish that are eaten whole (nowadays the one that comes to mind is a sardine, however I think (based on what I was told) that sardines were not available then in Russia), so probably it was some other fish. But I am using a sardine as an example.

The Sardine in the can is complete, from its head to its tail. That means a Jew can be learning Torah, – he has a head – and its fins and scales are noticeable, which figuratively means, that not only is the individual fulfilling all of the mitzvos, but he is doing so meticulously. In addition the sardine has its spine – demonstrating that this person has a backbone and conviction to fulfill the Torah and mitzvos.

In essence he appears to be the perfect Jew.

Yet at the same time he is in a can, meaning lifeless.

One of the principles of Chassidus that the Baal Shem Tov instilled into chassidim is that whatever you do, it should be done with chayus – with vitality and zest. Be vibrant like a fish in the water, which is always on the move

That is one of the reasons the Torah is called Toras Chaim – The Living Torah.

Today is Shushan Purim which is immediately followed by a Shabbos, so we have three consecutive days of happiness and joy, let us be frailach. L’chaim.

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He is available to farbreng in your community and can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com


  • Rabbi K from BMG

    Learning Torah IS “chayus”. Eitz chaim hee! Ki heim chayeinu!

    • Rabbi Sholom Avtzon

      I am inclined in general not to respond to every comment, as then it is never ending. However, I feel compelled to respond to this comment as well as last weeks’, since as I noted it nay have a chilling affect. Not that I believe that this is the commentators intention, but it may be an unintentional consequence.

      Chassidus has a strong aversion to casting doubts and cooling off one inspiration. The Torah describes Amaleks battle against the Jewish people with the word korcha, whose root wed is kor which means to chill (see Rashi on the possuk there).

      I was asked by other as well as what the message of this weeks story was and I responded as follows:

      Some times I just put up a story that interests me and I believe or hope it may interest others as well. While other times the story is connected to a certain degree to the parsha or time of year.

      This past Shabbos was Ki sissa, which speaks about the machatzis hashekel . Ous Chazal inform us that Moshe rabeinu asked how does this work, that a coin can forgive a p-erson for such a dreadful sin as idol worship. Hashem replied by showing Moshe a coin of fire.

      The Rebbe explains that Hashem was informing Moshe that the passion that was used to create the golden calf, has to be channeled into the persons service to Hashem and that is what creates and and accomplishers the forgiveness, nit the mere giving of a coin. This concept is expounded in length in Chassidus to explain why Hashem instructs us to bring korbonos (sacrifices); after all does Hashem need an animal to be sacrificed to him. But rather the person should come to the realization that their koch (energy) which is represented by the blood that is sprinkled on the mizbayach and their desire and passion, which is represented by the 5 fats that are placed on the mizbayach are to be devoted exclusively to Hashem. And that is the reason why these two things are forbidden for us to eat and enjoy as they are to be used exclusively in His service.

      So too here I wanted to bring out it is not merely sufficient to learn, but ones learning should be with enthusiasm and passion. This in essence is what the Torah instructs us in Shema that everyday we should consider as if we just received the Torah for the very first time. Then the person would be excited and full of life.

      Yonah ben Amita received ruach hakodesh because of his participating and rejoicing in Simchas beis hashoeiva, and the Arizal informed his talmid, Rabbi ChaimVital that he merited that Eliyahu hanavi’s revelation because of his simcha shel mitzvah.

      The Alter Rebbe explains in chapter 15 of Tanya, that a person who learns his regular schedule of reviewing the Torah thought one hundred times is considered as if he didn’t serve Hashem properly. Only if the person goes beyond and above his nature, is it considered as if he served Hashem properly.

      In Chapter 41, he explains further that doing a mitzvah without the emotions of love and fear, is compared top a body without a neshomah.

      And that my friends, was and is the message of this little saying.
      Yes it is important to do mitzvos and study Torah, but it should not be without excitement as the gemorah describes it mitzvah anashim miloomudah but with life, enjoyment and chayus.

  • Thinking Chosid

    Has anyone ever witnessed ANY bais medrash (chasdidic, litvish, modern orthodox etc) filled with people learning WITHOUT chayus? Is it even possible to be immersed in learning, even as an “academic” exercise, without enthusiasim? Unless, “chayus” means more than mere diligence, enthusiasm, dedication…if so, please explain what “chayus” is?

    • Crownheightser

      To Rabbi K from BMG and the Thinking Chosid:

      One can study Torah academically with diligence, enthusiasm and dedication but still be like a canned fish without chayus because the learning is unconnected to the Nosayn HaTorah.

      See explanation that churban came because they did not make birkas haTorah…

      Sure they learned Torah but there was a disconnect with the Source of All Life – and that my friend is “chayus”:

      V’atem hadvaykim b’Hashen – chayim kulchem hayom!

    • abe

      you can learn chitas, or rambam or daf yomi ( even daven )without chayus just to be yosse