HaShem instructs Moshe Rabbeinu that the Aron HaKodesh, the Holy Ark, should be covered with gold on the inside as well as on the outside. The Aron represents Torah learning and lessons related to Torah can be derived from analysis various details of its construction.
In that vein, the Gemara explains that the gold coverings of the Aron on the inside and outside, teach us that the inner character of a Talmid Chacham should be consistent with his outer appearance – the Gemara calls this, ‘tocho k’boro, literally meaning that his inside is like his outside. A Talmid Chacham generally looks like a Tzaddik, someone who is pure in his motives to learn Torah and in his general behavior, but he must strive to actually live this way in his heart and private actions.
What clues can indicate whether a Talmid Chacham is tocho k’boro? A fascinating Gemara in Brachos can help us answer this question and derive a deeper understanding of the implications of ‘tocho k’boro’. The Gemara records that the Nasi, Rabban Gamliel, decreed that only a person who was tocho k’boro was permitted to enter the study hally, and if he was not tocho k’boro, then the guard at the door would not let him come in. After Rabban Gamliel was replaced as Nasi by Rebbi Elazar Ben Azariah, the new Nasi abolished this requirement and allowed anybody to come and study. On that very day, hundreds of benches had to be added to the study hall for all of the new students who came.
There are numerous questions on this Gemara, two of which will be addressed here. Firstly, the Gemara does not explain how the guard at the door could discern whether a prospective student was tocho k’boro – how indeed could he know this. Secondly, it is difficult to understand why the Gemara states that hundreds of benches were added to the study hall, instead of simply stating that hundreds of new students entered the hall.
The Mishmeres Ariel addresses both questions by explaining that a significant difference between one who is tocho k’boro and one who is not, is the degree of his desire to learn, to the extent that a Torah student who is tocho k’boro is willing to undergo difficulty and discomfort in order to be able to learn Torah.
One manifestation of this is that a Torah student who is tocho k’boro is willing to stand up while he is learning, and does not need to sit down. Indeed, Chazal state that up to a certain time, everyone would stand up learning, but with yeridas hadoros (the decline of later generations), people needed to sit in order to learn well.
Accordingly, the Mishmeres Ariel explains that there were no literal guards at the door, but the ‘guards’ were the uncomfortable conditions in the study hall, one of which was that there were no benches to sit on. Those who were not tocho k’boro were not sufficiently motivated to learn in such difficult conditions and stayed outside.
Accordingly, when Rebbe Elazar Ben Azariah allowed all students to come in, it was necessary to also bring in benches, because the new students did not have the level of desire to learn Torah standing up, hence the Gemara stresses, that because of the new type of students, it was now necessary to bring in benches.
This teaches us that one indication of the internal level of a Torah student is his willingness to undergo discomfort in order to learn Torah. One who looks like a tzaddik but refrains from learning due to difficult circumstances is not tocho k’boro.
Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l, placed great emphasis on the value of learning in difficult circumstances. He would say that many students would only learn if everything was ‘just right’ – they needed comfortable rooms, good air conditioning and so on, and if everything wasn’t right then they couldn’t learn. The outstanding students were the ones who would function in all circumstances. He explained that this fulfills the Mishna in Pirkei Avos; “Such is the way of Torah; bread in salt shall you eat, water in measure you shall drink, and on the earth you shall sleep.” This doesn’t mean that a person must live like this in order to learn, but that he must be able to learn even in such adverse circumstances.
Rav Scheinberg taught this idea through his own example in addition to his teachings. When his yeshiva, Torah Ore, was in Bensonhurst, there were times in the summer when it was scorching hot and the students would struggle to continue learning (there were no fans, let alone air conditioning!). Yet they would see him with his tefillin on his head, his many layers of tzitsis, and in his kapota, and yet he was learning with tremendous energy.
It is important to bear in mind, that the Gemara in Brachos reveals that the approach of Rebbe Elazar ben Azariah was the correct one, therefore even one who is not yet on the level of tocho k’boro should be encouraged to learn Torah.
The reason for this is the principle of ‘mitoch she loh lishma boh lishma’ – from learning Torah not for the right reasons, one will come to learn for the right reasons. Therefore, even a person who is not yet willing to be moser nefesh for learning, should strive to learn in the hope that he will develop this trait.