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Home » Naso

Naso: Commitment Spawns Enthusiasm

Submitted by on May 16, 2010 – 3:38 amNo Comment | 1,388 views

Completely Invested

Reb Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the third Rebbe of Chabad, (1) once related that his grandfather, Reb Schneur Zalman, offered to bless him with the intellectual gift that would make Torah study come easily to him. Reb Menachem Mendel refused saying that he wanted to invest his energies and acquire his knowledge through strenuous effort. He later regretted his decision for he could have accepted his grandfather’s gift and then worked to acquire even more. (2)

This story speaks volumes about the importance of applying ourselves to Torah study even if it comes easily to us. The purpose of studying the Torah is not merely to acquire wisdom, but to link to the Divine. This bond cannot occur when our rituals and studies are obligations that we feel obliged to discharge. If we view our daily commitments as a checklist, to be marked off in order to get through the day, we will never become fully immersed in the experience. We will devote as little as attention as is necessary to get on and through with it and never invest our souls.

The approach that fosters a bond with G-d is the one that draws us into the experience and allows us to feel the sanctity of the moment. The Mitzvah experience can only lift us to a higher plane if we are fully invested, which is why it is important to apply ourselves completely.
 
I recall my sixth grade teacher, Rabbi Levi Shapiro of blessed memory, exhorting us to bend over our Talmudic Tomes. Whenever one of us slumped back in our seat and tilted the large volume toward us he would intone, we should bend to the Torah; not the Torah to us. This teaching has stayed with me. It is not a matter of posture, but of attitude because our posture bespeaks our attitude. If Torah study is sacred then it is not a passing affair; it is something that deserves complete attention, investment and effort. (3)

My Full Strength

When Moses took the census of our ancestors in the desert he was instructed to take a separate census of the tribe of Levi. The Israelites were counted from the age of twenty, which was the draft age into the army. The Levites were counted from the age of thirty, which was the age at which they began their service in the tabernacle. (4)

The Levites began their service at thirty because that is the age by which one’s strength is fully developed. (5) Yet it is interesting to note that the first of the three Levitic families to be counted was that of Kehat, the family tasked with transporting the Holy Ark across the desert. Our sages taught that the ark carried itself and transported its porters. Though the Levites held firmly to the ark’s rods, they hardly felt its weight; on the contrary they floated along behind the ark, feeling themselves nearly weightless. (6)

This raises the question, why was the Kehati family required to wait to the age of thirty to begin their service? If the ark practically lifted itself, the Kehatis did not require a full measure of strength to transport it. Why were the younger and weaker Kehatis not permitted to carry it?

That the Kehatis, the first to be counted, delayed their service till they could bring their full strength to bear illustrates the importance of applying ourselves completely even if it would otherwise come easily. Being naturally gifted is no excuse to slack off even if we easily acquit ourselves on the exam. The goal in Torah study is not reach a passing grade; it is to wrap one’s mind and heart in the works of the Divine. Similarly being able to hire an assistant to build one’s Sukkah or to prepare one’s Shabbat dinner is no reason not to invest in the Mitzvah preparation ourselves. The purpose of the Mitzvah is not just to get it done, but to invest oneself in it completely and thus bond with G-d. (7)

Shortly after his wedding, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Bardichev took the time to prepare a bedroom in the home of his in laws for a newly arrived guest. When he was later asked why he did it himself rather than allow the house help to do it he replied, shall I give away my mitzvah and then pay someone to take it from me?

This story speaks volumes about our love for the Mitzvah. It is only when we approach the Mitzvah with reverence, awe and love that it serves as a conduit to connect us to the Divine.

The Open Heart

This helps to explain the order in which the Levitic families were counted. Though Gerson was the oldest of Levi’s three sons, he was counted behind his younger brother Kehat. The Kehatis as we mentioned above served as porters for the Holy Ark. Gerson, in addition to their many duties, formed the Levitic choir in the Temple. (8)

The Levites sang hymns to G-d every day of the week; heart stirring renditions that moved the pilgrims to tears and joy.commitment spawns enthusiasm innerstream The power of their music lifted the worshippers to celestial heights and compelled them to confront the unerring truth of their relationship with G-d. The music opened their hearts and inspired their souls; it brought the worship to life.

Gerson’s role was to open Jewish hearts to G-d, but this could not have been accomplished without the lesson provided first by the Kehati family. Music can inspire us for the moment, but as the heart opens so can it close, when the music fades. What ensures that the pulsing rhythm of the orchestra’s crescendo continue to beat in our hearts and hum in our souls long after the musicians have put down their instruments and the conductor has laid aside the baton? The commitment evinced by the Kehati family.

A great educator once told me that when you anticipate the first day of school more than the last day, you know you are still cut out to be a teacher. Once the last day speaks more loudly to you than the first, you know your heart is no longer in it. The same is true of Torah. When we look forward to Torah with excitement and anticipation, when we are more excited by opening the book than by closing it, our passion is real and a connection with G-d is possible.

When our attitude is not half, but whole hearted and when our investment is not reluctant, but enthusiastic, our inspiration is genuine and lasting. (9)

Footnotes

  1. Also known as Tzemach tzedek, Third Rebbe of
    Lubavitch, 1789-1866.
  2. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus
    Chabad, 1745 – 1812
  3. The following citation is from Maimonides, Laws of
    Torah Study, chapter 3:12.
    The words of Torah will not be permanently acquired by a person who
    applies himself feebly [to obtain] them, and not by those who study amid
    pleasure and [an abundance] of food and drink. Rather, one must give up
    his life for them, constantly straining his body to the point of
    discomfort, without granting sleep to his eyes or slumber to his
    eyelids.
    The Sages alluded to this concept, [interpreting Numbers 19:14:] “This
    is the Torah, a man should he die in a tent…” [to mean that] the Torah
    cannot be permanently acquired except by a person who gives up his life
    in the tents of wisdom. . . Our Sages declared: A covenant has been
    established that anyone who wearies himself in Torah study in a house of
    study will not forget it quickly. Anyone who wearies himself in Torah
    study in private will become wise, as [Proverbs 11:2] states: “To the
    modest will come wisdom.” Whoever raises his voice during his studies
    will permanently acquire the subject matter. In contrast, one who reads
    silently will forget quickly.
  4. Numbers 1: 3 and 4: 3.
  5. See Rashi’s commentary on Numbers 4:3. See also
    Ethics of our Fathers 5:21.
  6. Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 35a.
  7. See commentary of Derash Moshe (by Rabbi Moshe
    Feinstein) on Numbers 4:22.
  8. See commentary of Haamek Davaar (by Reb Naftali Zvi
    Yehudah Berlin) on Numbers 4:23.
  9. On a deeper level the idea behind investing our
    minds and hearts is so that we might serve G-d with the physical
    faculties of our bodies and thus sublimate the physical. As explained in
    Tanya chapter 38, the [divine] soul does not need to perfect itself
    through mitzvot; rather, the goal of mitzvot is to draw down [G dly]
    light to perfect the vital soul and the body. This is accomplished by
    means of the letters of speech, which the soul utters by means of the
    five organs of verbal articulation, and through the mitzvot of action
    which the soul performs by means of the body’s other organs.
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