The story is told about a Shul board meeting held to discuss whether their Rabbi was fit to continue in his position. It seems that the Rabbi was forever studying, and the members of the board concluded that his knowledge must be inadequate, and it was therefore beneath the shul’s dignity to employ a rabbi who was an ignoramus.
We hear this joke and laugh because we understand that there is nothing greater than a Rabbi who has the humility, and understands that as much as he has accomplished, there is still more to do (didn’t you, the reader, just finish learning all chamishei chumshei Torah last year, and you are doing it again? Hopefully this year you will learn it even better!) The appreciation that the Torah is without limit, and the understanding of one’s lack of a total grasp of the Torah, are the hallmark characteristics of a Talmid Chacham, which are personified in Yaakov Ish Tam Yosheiv Ohalim. Due to the immensity of the Torah, we understand that it is not just humility that is necessary to understand Torah, but one needs help from Above—siata d’shemaya. Those who use great amounts of effort during the day to understand the words of our sacred rabbis and then cry out to Hashem at night, are living in the image of Yaakov Avinu yosheiv ohalim – not moving from the tent.
There are also others who profess to have a profound understanding of Torah, and to display their power they look for gimmicks and brainteasing questions, expanding on the Torah’s ideas based on external sources. This is exemplified in Eisav who was busy asking Yitzchak questions about tithing salt and straw. Reb Isaac Sher explains that Eisav’s pretense of Torah knowledge is echoed in his name: He is Asui—a finished product—ready to do something novel and go further.
Many times, we find that there are people who have “new and better ideas” on how to serve Hashem. They are searching for inspiration of new ideas because (to them) the Torah has become fully attained, and is therefore limited. This is the way of Eisav. To find solutions to new problems, they will say “I must look elsewhere, for I didn’t see an answer in the Torah and I already learned it fully.”
However, what history has shown is that by adapting the old ideas—rather than replacing them—we continue to follow in the ways of Yaakov. This is true in all of the service of Hashem, even in how to build one’s home.
Chazal say that one who gladdens a bride and groom is as if he rebuilds a destroyed structure in Jerusalem. The question is asked: Why not build a new home? Why rebuild a previously existing home? The answer is that we do not make things that are totally new. Instead, we expand upon the old.
This idea helps us focus on the challenge in finding solutions to modern-day problems from within the Torah. As Chanukah approaches, we can truly celebrate that our limitless Torah has championed and will continue to champion all other cultures, ideas and solutions. The Torah is the blueprint of the world: it’s absolutes are eternal absolutes which may not be modified at all. Yet, when answers to new questions arise, we can be Yosheiv Ohalim and find the new solution in the old.