24 May TORAH STUDY IS NOT LIKE CALCULUS
As we make final preparations for Shavuos, including a fervent desire to come away from the yom Tov with a renewed commitment to the “learning” of Torah, we need to understand a unique aspect about Torah study. In the sixth perek of Pirkei Avos we are taught “HaTorah niknis b’mem ches devorim – The Torah is acquired through 48 qualities.” The Rachmastrivka Rebbe, Shlit”a, asks why the Mishna did not state more directily, Konin haTorah b’mem ches devorim – One should acquire the Torah with 48 tools. He answers with a comparison to a Gemora in Kedushin which says, Ha’isha niknas, a wife is acquired. There also, the Gemora poses the question why doesn’t it say, Konin es haisha, one should acquire a woman, and the Gemora answers that this language would imply that she can be acquired even against her will. So too, concludes the Rebbe, haTorah nikneis conveys that the Torah can only be acquired if It, the Torah itself, is agreeable to mesh with the person who is studying it, and the conditions to be compatible with the Torah are the 48 traits mentioned in the Mishna.
This is an anomaly for when it comes to acquiring Torah knowledge, one of the 48 traits is a lev tov, a kind heart. Now, one doesn’t need a kind heart to study calculus or learn a new language. But, if one wants to truly absorb the Torah, one needs to have a character makeup that the Torah agrees to join with. This is the meaning of the famous Talmudic adage, Derech eretz kodma l’Torah, developing a refined character has to precede a Torah career. Or, as the Mishna puts it in the third perek of Pirkei Avos, “Im ein derech eretz, ein Torah – Without proper behavior there can be no Torah success.” As the Rav explains on this Mishna, if one’s dealings with their fellow man are not pleasant, eventually they will forget their Torah knowledge. This explains why sometimes the very bright and promising boy in yeshiva, with an acute mind for Talmudic didactics and who asks the best questions in class, never amounts to anything. This is because the boy in question is not well behaved and the Torah shuns he who does not practice the ways of mentchlichkeit.
In a telling posuk in Devorim, it says, Lo meirubchem mikol ha’amim, I did not choose you, because you were the largest of all the nations – ki atem ha’m’at mikol ha’amim, because, to the contrary, you were the smallest of all the nations. The simple understanding of this verse is that selections many times are made based upon what most people do. The most popular car is a Camry, so let me buy one. That’s the restaurant that everyone goes to, so let’s go there. Hashem says, That is not why I chose you.
However, Rashi cites a different interpretation from a Gemora in Chulin. There the Gemora explains that I (Hashem) chose you because you do not aggrandize yourselves. Rather, you practice humility and minimalize yourselves. Thus, we see that we were chosen by Hashem because we have the noble character trait of being humble. This is also a prerequisite for successful Torah study for this is why, when Hashem gave the Torah, He shunned the majestic Mt. Carmel and the towering Mt. Tavor and gave the Torah instead on the lowly Mt. Sinai. So too, He gave the Torah through the agency of Moshe Rabbeinu, about whom the Torah testifies, “He was the most humble of all men.” It is therefore imperative that when we send our children for a Torah education, we make sure that their yeshiva has a solid curriculum of mussar study, that they will be well grounded in mentchlich behavior, for it is only then that they will have a hope of becoming true talmidei chachomim. Likewise, it goes without saying that if a husband is a brute at home to his wife, no matter how smart he is, his Torah ambitions are doomed to failure.
When we think this Shavuos about the revelation at Sinai, let’s remember that the Torah was given surprisingly in the midst of billowing smoke and blackness. This is strange since the Torah is the True Light of the world. But, the Tosfos HaRosh says that since the B’nei Yisroel would sin with the heinous crime of the golden calf, they weren’t able to enjoy the true radiance of the Torah. So, as we make new commitments to Torah study this Shavuos, let’s also make a renewed effort to refine our behavior and in that merit may we be blessed with great Torah success, good health, and everything wonderful.