Rabbi Naphtali Amsterdam
The sixth of Adar is the Hilloula of Rabbi Naphtali Amsterdam Zatzal. He was born in 5592 (1832) in Salant, and his father was Rabbi Shlomo Zatzal. During his youth, he was extremely diligent in study, to the point that everyone called him “Naphtali the matmid.” He was among the great students of our teacher Rabbi Israel Salanter Zatzal. He took on the role of Rabbi in the cities of Helsinki and Novogrod, where he did much to elevate the level of Torah observance and the fear of Heaven. Next, he returned to Kovno where he settled down to study. To sustain his family, his wife ran a bakery, and to better their income Rabbi Naphtali accepted the rabbinate of Yaswerin and Elkost. After a certain time, he gave up all public responsibility in order to devote himself uniquely to the study of Torah. In 5666 (1906), he went to live in Jerusalem, settling down in the Strauss district next to his friend Rav Yitzchak Blazer Zatzal. He left this world in 5716 (1916).
Rabbi Naphtali spent all his life spreading Torah and the fear of Heaven. When it was not in an official capacity, he gave Mussar courses in his home, in the Beit Hamussar of Kovno, and in the Slabodka Yeshiva. He attributed great importance to the power of speech, encouraging everyone to verbally express his thoughts and ideas on Torah and the fear of Heaven. One day he said, “The power of speech, made in the depths of the soul, is such that it has a greater impact than deeds.”
When he wanted to emphasize the prime importance of speech, Rabbi Naphtali relied on the opinions expressed by certain researchers concerning the fact that speech is lacking in babies. “It is not that they cannot speak, since nothing is lacking for this, but that they do not yet have the necessary intelligence to do so.”
This consists of the intelligence that man was endowed with, and which is at the root of speech. This is its very essence, the instrument that allows man to actualize his thoughts by means of words. When the source of speech is intelligence, everything can be found therein, given that it is used judiciously.
Rabbi Naphtali gave an example to explain the importance of actualizing what we have in mind. When we ask ourselves what is preferable, the bread that we eat or the gold we accumulate, everyone will agree that gold is worth more than bread, because it allows a person to purchase everything that he needs, including bread.
Yet when someone is lost in the desert, if he possesses a certain amount of gold but nothing to eat, he will die. However if he had bread he would survive. That which is more important is therefore not the potential, but that which is tangibly present. Therein lay the interest to capitalize on man’s intellectual strength. That is, furthermore, the role of man, said Rabbi Naphtali: “The entire goal of Creation was to make man descend into the world of action to perform concrete mitzvot, for example in taking the skin of an animal to make Tefillin, or taking linen and wool to make Tzitzit.”
The same idea applies to the words of Torah and the fear of Heaven. Rabbi Naphtali Amsterdam Zatzal ends by saying that even though we can also accomplish the study of Torah by simple reflection, “the one who wants the Torah’s fruit to be born in him, not to be forgotten or removed, should practice it verbally.”