Friday, May 21, 2010

Naso 5636 Third Ma'amar

We learn this week in Avos, “שַׁמַּאי אוֹמֵר עֲשֵׂה תוֹרָתְךָ קֶבַע אֱמֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה .../Shammai says, ‘Make your Torah the main occupation; say little and do much …”  The second clause seems to contradict the first.  If Torah is our main occupation then we are saying a lot and doing little!

The Sfas Emes reconciles the seeming contradiction according to a later Mishna, “... כָּל שֶמַּעֲשָׂיו מְרֻבִּין מֵחָכְמָתוֹ חָכְמָתוֹ מִתְקַיֶּמֶת .../… Anyone whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure …”  By following the teaching of Shammai of saying little and doing much we are assured that our wisdom will endure. 

The Sfas Emes understands the first clause of Shammai according to this later Mishna, as well.  Shammai is teaching us that if we “do” our Torah, by translating our Torah into action, instead of just studying it, it will become established and endure.  Along these lines we find a similar Mishna in Avos, “... כָּל שֶּׁמַעֲשָׂיו מְרֻבִּין מֵחָכְמָתוֹ לְמַה הוּא דּוֹמֶה לְאִילָן שֶׁעֲנָפָיו מוּעָטִין וְשָׁרָשָׁיו מְרֻבִּין שֶׁאֲפִילוּ כָּל הָרוּחוֹת שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם בָּאוֹת וְנוֹשְׁבוֹת בּוֹ אֵין מְזִיזוֹת אוֹתוֹ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ .../Anyone whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, to what can he be compared?  To a tree with whose branches are few and whose roots are many; even if all the winds in the world come and blow against it, they do not budge it from its place …”

When a person translates Torah into action, it becomes “his” Torah.  This is why Shammai says, “Do your Torah, and it will be established.”  Turn the Torah that you learn into actions and it becomes yours.  Rashi, in fact, understands this as well in his commentary on the second pasuk in Tehillim, כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת ה' חֶפְצוֹ ובְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה/But his desire is in God’s Torah and in his Torah he meditates day and night.”  Rashi explains that at first it is called God’s Torah but after he works at it, it is called his Torah.

The nation as well said, “... כָּל אֲשֶר־דִבֵּר ה' נַעֲשֶׂה .../… All that God said, we will do …,” a clear reference to turning the word of God into action.

The word for action – מַעֲשֶׂה, also connotes subordination as in גֶט מְעוּשֶׂה/a coerced get.  When we subordinate our physical being to the laws of the Torah we are translating the Torah into מַעֲשֶׂה. 

Subordinating ourselves to the laws of the Torah is not simple.  It requires a lot of work.  But by doing so, we rectify this world and it is because of the difficulty that it is especially precious to God.

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