Infinite Potential (Part 1)
These are the precepts that have no proscribed measure to them: the corner of the field; the first fruit offerings; making a pilgrimage to the Holy Temple; acts of kindness; and Torah study (Tractate Peah 1:1)
Ostensibly, the reason why the first Mishna in Tractate Peah was chosen to represent the Oral Torah within the Torah blessings is because it contains a reference to Torah study. However, as with so many different facets in Judaism, under the surface is a profound message, one that touches on every aspect of our relationship with
At face value, our Mishna is somewhat perplexing. The legalistic aspect of Judaism is very exact and didactic, and the laws are normally defined absolutely. For example, without going into the details, the first Mishna in the first Tractate of the Talmud discusses the correct time to recite the Shema at night. The various options suggested there are meticulously precise — as are most of our religious obligations. And, yet, our Mishna lists five requirements that have no defined quantity according to Torah law. This means that according to the Torah, all obligations mentioned can be fulfilled in the most minimalistic way possible, or in their maximal way, according to the whim of the person performing them. And, apparently, the outcome is always the same: the obligation has been fulfilled equally in each manner. The entire structure of the Mishna seems to be counterintuitive. It is paradoxical that the Mishna is distinctive, not because of an abundance of guidelines and directives, but because there are no indicators as to what exactly our obligations are.
Maimonides explains that the Torah is teaching us a startlingly innovative concept. It is true that a person can fulfill their obligations by doing the barest minimum. But, the more they do, the more praiseworthy they are, and the greater is their spiritual reward. What an astonishing and thought-provoking idea: to push beyond what is “enough,” to want to aspire to more and more. We should not be satisfied with the “bare-bones” fulfillment of our obligations, but, rather, we should strive to overcome our feelings of having done “our bit.” We should embrace the concept of adding extra layers — with the additional time and effort that that entails — to bring us to a loftier and more sublime understanding of serving
To be continued ....