Parashat BeMidbar begins with the words, “VaYedabeir Hashem El Moshe BeMidbar…” “Hashem spoke to Moshe in the desert” (BeMidbar 1:1). Of what significance is it to tell us that this conversation took place in the desert if we already know that Bnei Yisrael are in the desert? Chazal (Midrash Rabbah 1:7) teach us that only when a person takes upon himself desert-like qualities is he prepared to acquire Torah. A desert is Hefkeir, ownerless, and available for development without restriction. It is imperative that a person engages himself in the study of Torah with an open mind, focused on the Torah rather than his surroundings.
Rav Herschel Solnica was a beloved colleague, Rebbe and mathematics teacher at TABC for many years, as well as a Talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein. He related to me an event that occurred approximately fifty-five years ago when air conditioners were first becoming available to home owners. Rav Moshe Feinstein was opposed to installing air conditioners in the Yeshivah. “They will interfere with the learning” he said. “The moment the temperature rises above seventy-two degrees, the students will drop their Gemarot and race to the thermostat. They will become Kapdanim, fussers.”
Nevertheless, why would Rav Moshe allow his students to suffer in an uncomfortable Beit Midrash? Rav Yaacov Haber explains in his book, Reachings, how being a Kapdan can severely interfere with ones reception to Torah values and learning. There are people who cannot study unless their surrounding environment is perfect. They must be seated comfortably without any noise or heat to disrupt them.
Many people engage in the practice of studying Pirkei Avot during the weeks of Sefirah. The Mishnah advises (Avot 6:4), “eat bread with salt, drink measured amounts of water, and sleep on the ground…while you toil in Torah study.” I remember my Rebbe relating to us that if we know any Talmid behaving in such a manner, we should bring it to his immediate attention, as this is not normal or healthy behavior.
Rav Yisroel Simcha Schorr says, “Use the world; don’t abuse the world.” A person should make a healthy use of the conveniences the world has to offer. We must be grateful for our abundance of food, heating and air conditioning. If, however, such a person cannot deal with minor inconveniences, he has become stubborn and pampered. Such traits interfere with his absorption of Torah learning. We must fully appreciate the lesson of Chazal to learn without restriction and with complete focus to be able to gain as much as possible from our Torah learning