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Home » Education, Yitro

Yitro: Time for Torah

Submitted by on January 19, 2019 – 9:02 pmNo Comment | 1,803 views

We all must make time for Torah, but how much time is a matter of perspective. When G-d gave us the Torah at Sinai, He gave the same Torah to all Jews. We are all bound by the same laws and we all share the same level of access to G-d, to the Torah and to its secrets. Nevertheless, some aspects of the Torah are highly personalized. G-d only demands of us in accordance with our capacity and since not all capacities are equal, all expectations are not equal.

The baseline Halacha is equally binding on all Jews. But beyond the letter of the law, are the additional scruples that we choose to adopt. These are not binding, they are voluntary. Yet, we are expected to adopt them in accordance with our capacity. Some can do more, others less, but so long as we each live up to our capacity, G-d is satisfied with our effort.

Two Passages

In this context, I draw your attention to two contradictory Talmudic passages. In the first passage, our sages ask. “Of whom is it written, “he has disgraced the word of G-d, [his soul] shall be utterly cut off”?[1] Says Rabbi Nehorai, “This refers to one who has the opportunity to study Torah but fails to do so.”[2] This passage teaches us that making time for Torah connects us with G-d and neglecting even a single moment of Torah study can cut us off from G-d. However, another passage teaches that if we study one chapter of Torah in the morning and another in the evening it is as if we had made time for Torah all day long.[3]

Jewish law produces the following compromise: If we can afford to study all day, then we must. And if we waste even a single moment, we sever our connection with G-d. But if we need to make a living and can’t afford to study all day, it is sufficient to study a little bit in the morning and a little bit at night.[4]


On the face of it, this compromise makes sense. If I can’t afford to study all day, it is unfair to demand it of me. But deeper reflection yields a different perspective. A moment of Torah study is an encounter with G-d. Such encounters are so precious that neglecting it without a proper excuse is disgraceful. This raises a question, what is a proper excuse? What is more important than an encounter with G-d?

Is going out with friends more important than a moment with G-d? I think most people would agree that it is not. Is helping my children with homework more important than a moment with G-d? How about taking my spouse out to dinner? Some might say that it is, but do they really mean to say that our children and spouses are more important to us than G-d?

Some would argue that G-d prefers that we set aside an encounter with Him to make time for our families. But that sidesteps the question. The question isn’t what G-d might say (something that is impossible for us to know), the question is which is more important to us? Once we frame the question this way, we can ask it of those who need to go to work. Is providing for ourselves and even for our families more important to us than a moment with G-d? Is it okay to go to work instead of making time for Torah?

Again, remember that the question is not what G-d might say, the question is which is more important to us. And if the answer is having food on our table, then we have placed our physical welfare ahead of our spiritual welfare, and is that not a disgrace? Yet, Jewish law states unequivocally that going to work trumps the need for Torah study. How do we explain it?

Eternal Moments

To answer this question we need to take a huge step back and take a broader view. If G-d were a human, each moment spent with Him would deepen our relationship. But G-d is infinite, and that means that to G-d, every moment is an eternity. A moment with G-d never ends. If you think about it, you will realize that you can’t add to eternity. Once you have a single eternal moment with G-d, there is no need for another moment. Two eternities are not longer than one eternity. If we walk away from our Torah studies to go to work, we have not left G-d behind. The moment of Torah study lasts forever!

But this only raises the question in reverse. If a single moment with G-d is eternal and we can never be cut off, why is it necessary to make time for Torah every morning and evening, let alone, every moment?

Refractive Lenses

The answer is that our finite eyes can’t behold infinity and, therefore, these eternal moments don’t seem eternal to us. To us they seem finite and when they end, we feel as if we are walking away. Even our souls are finite and can’t behold infinity. Furthermore, after a hundred-and-twenty years when our bodies pass on and our souls return to heaven, our finite souls will be unable to behold infinity.

What enables our souls to behold the infinite G-d? The answer is Torah study. Torah is a medium between infinity and finitude because its ideas come from an infinite G-d, but they address finite subjects. Therefore, the more we study the Torah, the easier it becomes for our souls to behold the infinite G-d. If we were to study Torah once in our lifetime, our souls would remain oblivious, they would feel cut off, as it were, from G-d. We, therefore, make time for Torah at least twice a day, and if possible, every moment.

However, not everyone needs the same amount of Torah study. Those with lofty souls can suffice with a chapter of Torah study in the morning and a chapter in the evening. But those with lower (weaker) souls need to make time for Torah each moment of each day. It is like wearing eyeglasses. Those with slight astigmatism, must wear glasses only for reading or for driving, etc. But those with serious failings, must wear glasses all the time. The Torah is our souls’ refractive lens.

Telling Circumstances

How can we tell what kind of souls we have? The answer can be found in the circumstances of our lives. G-d provides for us precisely in accordance with our material and spiritual needs. If G-d gave us the means to sit and study Torah all day, it indicates that we have a lower quality soul that requires a full diet of Torah study. If G-d didn’t provide us with the means and left us to provide for ourselves, it tells us that we possess a lofty soul that suffices with a chapter in the morning and a chapter in the evening.

This conclusion is as counterintuitive as it is astounding. Extraordinary sages who spend all day steeped in Torah study, possess ordinary souls. “Ordinary” people, who work for a living and don’t have the opportunity to excel in their Torah studies, possess extraordinary souls.

The message is that no matter your station in life, never despair. Your path in life was ordained by G-d for a very specific purpose. If you were meant to study Torah all day, G-d gave you the opportunity to do so. But if life circumstances force you to spend your day engaged in mundane materialistic pursuits, and you can only study Torah in the mornings and evenings, remember that there is much you can accomplish in your capacity. Your task is to make the world that you live in a holier and more G-dly place. And to reach this lofty and important goal, G-d gave you a lofty and holy soul. You, of all people, have the spiritual capacity to transform the world for holiness and to turn G-d’s world into a habitat for G-d.[5]


[1] Numbers 15:31.

[2] Talmud, Sanhedrin, 99a.

[3] Menachos, 99b.

[4] Hilchos Talmud Torah LeAdmur Hazaken, 3:4.

[5] This essay is based on Toras Menachem, 5712:1, p. 268.

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