Friday, October 22, 2010

The Wealth in Torah

Adapted from a Sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shavuos 5718
Source:  "From the Rebbe's Treasure" written by the students of Seminary Bais Menachem, Montreal Canada

Our Rabbis taught: "When a poor, rich or wicked man will appear for Divine Judgment, he will be asked why didn't he study Torah?"

The poor man will be asked and if he will reply "I was so poor that I was always busy trying to earn a living", he will be told that he was no poorer than Hillel Hazaken who, despite his poverty, managed to study Torah and do mitzvos. Hillel's devotion to Torah despite poverty is demonstrated by the following story:

Every day Hillel would go to work and earn a tarpick (half a dinar.. Rashi Yoma 35b) of which he gave one half to the porter of the Beis Hamidrash (in order to enter and study, for not every one was admitted), and he used the other half to sustain his family. One day he didn't earn anything and the porter wouldn't admit him. He went up to the roof and swung himself over to an opening where he sat down to listen to the words of Hashem from the mouth of Shmaya and Avtalyon. It was an erev Shabbos in Teves and it began snowing and soon he was covered in snow.

The next morning, Shmaya said to Avtalyon "Why is it so dark? Is it such a cloudy day?"

They looked up and saw the figure of a man above the window. They rushed outside and swept the snow off Hillel, washed him, smeared him with oil and sat him down next to the fire. They then declared "Such a man deserves that the Shabbos be transgressed for his sake!"

The rich man will be asked why didn't he study Torah, and if he will reply "Because I was too preoccupied with my estates (and so had no time)", he will be told that he was no richer than Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum who managed to learn Torah. This is demonstrated by the following story:

Rabbi Elazar inherited one thousand villages and one thousand ships at sea. His servants managed his business affairs while he took a bag of food and travelled from place to place in order to learn Torah from other chachomim. One day his servants drafted him for a job, not knowing who he was (it was customary for landlords to have tenants performing civil duties for them - Rashi). He insisted that they let him go because he wanted to learn Torah. They replied "By Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum's life we will not let you go before you do your work." He gave them some money in order that they should release him so he could go and study, for he studied Torah by day and by night (and didn't concern himself with his business).

At the Divine Judgment, Hillel will bring about the conviction of the poor folk who did not study Torah during their lifetimes and Rabbi Elazar will bring about the conviction of the rich peole, even if these rich people had never heard about the deeds of Hillel and Rabbi Elazar, who proved to the world that it is possible to study Torah under any condition.

The message we can learn from this story is not limited to the way we perceive rich and poor. Chazal says [Nedarim 41a] "Ain ani ela bedaas ve'ain ashir ela bedaas" (Wealth and poverty apply to the mind). A rich man with a poor mind and limited knowledge is considered an ani (a poor man). Likewise, a poor person with high intelligence and broad knowledge is called an ashir (a rich man).

If an ignorant person argues that he cannot learn Torah because he does not understand it, we tell him, "you are not as poor as Hillel." No matter how ignorant (poor) one might be, he still has the obligation to apply himself and to learn, even if it requires the kind of mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) Hillel demonstrated in the story. Even if he merely reads without real understanding or studies extremely simple things, ultimately he will connect himself to Hashem.

As the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya [ch. 4 and 5], when a person learns Torah, the subject that he studies is assimilated into his intellect. Being that the Torah is Hashem's chochma and thus one with Hashem, in the process of learning any subject in Torah, a person unites himself with Hashem. In the physical realm, there is no unity comparable to it, i.e. of two things as far apart as the human intellect and Torah (Hashem's intellect), yet so utterly united from every possible perspective.

Hence, in spite of his "poverty" and inability to engage in intense studies, even the study of the simplest subject of Torah will unite him with the Almighty; with respect to Hashem's greatness, differences in levels are irrelevant.

Analogously, no matter how knowledgeable (rich) a person might be, he should never think that he has studied enough Torah, and now he can attach himself to Hashem through different means. Learning Torah involves the use of the intellect, thinking, reasoning, concentrating etc, and thus the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is confined to the limitations of the human brain. Although he will attach himself to Hashem, this will come through a limited channel and in a restricted manner. On the other hand, the avoda of mesirus nefesh, which involves devoting himself to Hashem even if it means risking his life for that purpose, transcends the level of understanding and reasoning inherent in the mitzvah of learning Torah.

A knowledgeable man might think that he already has ascended to the point of attachment to Hashem through Torah and that now it is time to stop learning and proceed to the avoda of mesirus nefesh. To him, too, the answer is "you are not as rich as Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum..." you must learn more, and this is the only way you will truly attach yourself to Hashem. This can be achieved only if he doesn't let his "wealth" distract him from his learning, following the example of Rabbi Elazar.

In practice, it is important to remember that we should always learn Torah, not just to minimally fulfill our Halachic obligation which is a perek echad arvis vepereh echad shacharis (one chapter in the evening and one in the morning). Whether we are very busy or simply ignorant, we must set aside time to learn with determination and enthusiasm.

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