Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 24 April 2021 / 12 Iyar 5781

To Believe Is to Behave (Part 4)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

To Believe Is to Behave (Part 4)
(Lailah Gifty Akita)

“These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world, but whose principal remains intact in the World to Come. They are: honoring one’s parents; acts of kindness; early arrival at the study hall in the morning and the evening; hosting guests; visiting the sick; providing the wherewithal for a bride to marry; escorting the dead; praying with concentration; making peace between two people; and Torah study is the equivalent of them all.” (Tractate Shabbat 127a)

Next on the list is arriving early to the study hall in the morning and in the evening. According to many of the commentaries, this is not referring to coming to the synagogue for prayers. Rather, it refers to the early arrival to learn Torah in the study hall. Many years ago I heard an explanation as to why it is not referring to prayer. Our Sages are working under the assumption that a person had already woken up early and had finished their prayers. Accordingly, the only other reason for being in the study hall would be to learn Torah. This concept is so important that the Talmud (Tractate Berachot 64a) teaches that one who does so merits to have the Divine Presence be present as he learns G-d’s precious words.

According to the Chazon Ish, the true sweetness of Torah is something extraordinary that can be experienced only after ten hours of continuous study. Without that, it is impossible to even begin to describe what true spirituality really is. Continual interruptions while learning are the equivalent of placing a pot full of food on the fire and continuously removing it from the fire before it has time to cook. As the Chazon Ish describes it, after learning for six hours a person forgets about the physicality of this world. Then, after seven hours of learning, one feels a closeness to G-d that has not been felt until now. A closeness that causes the person to fill up with a true sense of inner joy. After eight hours, a person is so immersed in spirituality that their physical desires are negated and their whole being is now dedicated to G-d. After nine hours, they are ablaze with an inner sanctity. And, finally after ten hours of learning Torah without a break, it is impossible to even begin to describe in words the divine state the person is in — both physically and emotionally.

However, as was mentioned in the introduction to this section, all the mitzvahs mentioned here are actually focused on our interpersonal relations — even the mitzvahs that seem to be concentrating solely on G-d. How is that so? When a person sits in the study hall and learns Torah with verve and passion, they are actually serving as an example to others. Studying Torah in a way which elevates both the soul and the body is difficult to achieve. But when there are others doing just that, they become the role models for everyone else around them.

There is no greater kindness than to show someone else the sweetness of learning Torah and to motivate others to want to emulate you.

Rabbi Shmuel Birenbaum (1920-2008), the revered head of the Mir Yeshivah in New York, woke up in the hospital after suffering a massive heart attack. His son, Rabbi Asher, was sitting next to his bed. Almost the first thing that Rabbi Birenbaum did was to ask him to bring him a volume of the Talmud. His son explained to him that the doctors had left them with strict orders that the Rabbi should not learn because it would put too much strain on his already weakened heart. But Rabbi Birenbaum was insistent and his son went to look for one volume and came back with Tractate Gittin, which he started to read to Rabbi Birenbaum. After a few minutes, Rabbi Birenbaum signaled that he was too weak to continue, but he asked his son to place the Talmud on his heart. Rabbi Asher gently placed the volume on Rabbi Birenbaum’s chest. Rabbi Birenbaum then asked his son to place his (Rabbi Birenbaum’s) hand on the Talmud. As he lay there holding onto Tractate Gittin — so weak that he could hardly speak — he feebly whispered to his son, “Now sing with me.” And he started to sing the words that are found in the blessing prior to the Shema in the nighttime service, “Ki hem chayeinu — “For they (the Torah and the commandments) are our life.”

To be continued…

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