Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 31 December 2022 / 7 Cheshvan 5783

The Amidah (Part 31) The Final Paragraph: Personally Speaking

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“Prayer is not a miracle. It is a tool, man’s paintbrush in the art of life. Prayer is man’s weapon to defend himself in the struggle of life. It is a reality. A fact of life.” (Rabbi Avrahom Chaim Feuer)

“May Hashem, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. To those who curse me, let my soul be silent, and let my soul be like dust to everyone. Open my heart to Your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments. As for all those who design evil against me, speedily nullify their counsel and disrupt their design. Act for Your Name’s sake, act for Your right hand’s sake, act for Your sanctity’s sake, act for Your Torah’s sake. That Your beloved may be given rest, let Your right hand save and respond to me. May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, Hashem, my Rock and my Redeemer. He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel. And let us say: Amen.”

The final paragraph continues, “Open my heart to Your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments.” Our Sages teach that the Torah is not the private domain of any one person (Eruvin 54a and Nedarim 55a). Rather, it belongs to everyone. This is why the Torah was given in the empty and unclaimed desert, a place belonging to no one and is accessible to all. So, too, the Torah belongs to anyone who seeks it and is prepared to toil over it. However, the Rabbis teach that the first prerequisite to accessing the pure and holy Torah is to be able to overlook insults. Only after a person has proven a dedication to not reacting to personal insults is the person capable of truly acquiring Torah wisdom. In the eloquent and powerful words of Rabbi Shimon Schwab, “The wider a person’s heart is opened, the easier it is to absorb every detail of the Torah.”

However, the simple understanding of asking Hashem to open our hearts to His Torah is because learning Torah is hard. It can be so difficult to want to invest so much energy and time into spiritual pursuits when the more physical dimensions are beckoning to us and enticing us to partake of them.

An extremely respected and renowned Torah scholar related a story that happened to him as a child. He was an extremely lively child who didn’t have patience to study Torah. Finally, in desperation, the boy’s teacher brought him to the rabbi of the city, hoping that the rabbi could influence the boy to settle down and study Torah. The rabbi told the child, “I had an interesting case that came before me today and I want to hear your opinion. The two ‘litigants’ were a Sefer Torah and a pair of shoes. The shoes said, ‘We both came from the same source – the hide of a cow. We grew up in the same barn, ate the same fodder and drank from the same trough. Why is it that an expert scribe bought you, turned you into parchment and made you into a Sefer Torah, while a shoemaker bought me and turned me into a pair of shoes? Why is it fair that we ended up in such different circumstances? When the scribe finished writing you, a silver crown was placed on your head and you were danced all the way to the Shul with such joy. Whenever you are taken out of the holy ark, people stand up for you, and hug and kiss you. And when you are finally worn out, you will be buried in honor. But me? I’m just a pair of shoes. I get dragged through the mud. I don’t get treated with respect. I get scuffed and worn out, and, when the time comes, I will be thrown out without a second thought. Is it fair that we should share such vastly opposing fates?’”

The rabbi asked the boy for his opinion. The young boy thought long and hard, finally deciding that the shoes were right. It wasn’t fair. The rabbi then explained that the preparation and the writing of a Sefer Torah requires many, many hours of hard work. The scribe must write each letter perfectly until the entire Sefer Torah is complete — column after column of flawless words. Making shoes, on the other hand, doesn’t take too long. Compared to a Sefer Torah, no great toil is involved. The boy listened carefully to the rabbi and changed his mind. The boy agreed that the Sefer Torah deserves more respect because so much effort and hard work was invested in its creation.

The rabbi concluded, “My dear boy, you should know that if you truly desire to attain the crown of Torah, you must toil diligently. You must invest a lot of effort and time. If you don’t want to work hard, you will be a pair of shoes.”

The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (6:4) states, “This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation – but toil in Torah. If you do so, you will be happy and it will be good for you. You will be happy in this world, and it will be good for you in the World to Come.” Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the venerated head of the legendary Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Berak, explains that the Mishna is not hyperbole. Rather, it is stating a fact. If a person learns Torah, despite all of his hardships, he will be happy. One might think this means that when he learns Torah he forgets about his difficult life. But when he is not learning Torah – when he is eating his bread and water and sleeping on the floor – he is indeed suffering. However, this is not what the Mishna is saying. The Mishna actually means that even when he is eating bread, drinking water and sleeping on the floor, he will be happy. He will be filled with joy and satisfaction because he lives a life of Torah. He is satisfied with his learning and he is excited about the Torah he will learn in the future. And that knowledge fills him with tremendous joy.

To be continued…

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