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Monday, September 28, 2009

Why Learn Gemara - Part III: The Conversion of Will

In the next few posts on this topic we will discuss how learning Torah, and specially gemara, changes all aspects of a person. We begin with perhaps the most fundamental aspect of Man - his will.

A person is born with a yetzer hara, a drive for self-gratification seperate from the service of Hashem. It is our goal throughout life to identify more and more with the will of Hashem. The study of Torah, specifically Shas and Poskim, accomplishes just that; it removes a person from being focused on his own self-centered desires and teaches him to “make His will your will." The intense search for the will of Hashem, that is the halmark of any serious and genuine Torah study, naturally uplifts a person's will to the will of Hashem. This is why R. Yisrael Salanter taught that if one wants to be more careful or stringent about a particular mitzvah he should learn the associated halakhot (Ohr Yisrael, Letter seven).

According to this explanation the search for the will of Hashem is perhaps more important than actually finding it. Support for this is found in the Tanchuma (Parshat Noach # 3) which emphasizes the difficulty in learning Talmud and that only one who loves Hashem will exert themselves sufficiently. Thus, we see, that learning is an exercise in Ahavat Hashem. Love, though, is not about finding the will of the Beloved, but caring about it. A clumsy husband who cares is much better than a slick husband who doesn't care.

However, if learning is intended to uplift our will to His will, then the greatness of learning over doing is difficult to understand. One would think that doing His will demonstrates more love than meditating on it! One way to understand the principle, that knowing the will of Hashem trumps doing it, is as follows: Man is limited in the amount of experiences he may have in his lifetime. It is impossible for one person to experience all that life has to offer – the good and the bad. Therefore, it is impossible for a person to keep all of Halakha, which covers all of human existence. Through learning he sanctifies these imaginary experiences by infusing them with the will of Hashem. Thus the Shelah and others teach that one who learns the halakhot of the Beit ha’Mikdash is considered as if he fulfilled it.

"Through perfectly knowing the revealed Torah in all it's details a person knows how to fulfill all of the mitzvot. He also perfects his soul with the jewelry of Torah concepts...[Learning Torah] produces an image of true concepts on the soul, which is the perfection of the soul, for the laws of Hashem are true, and when they are imagined in the soul, she is crowned and filled with glory and holiness (Eyn Aya, Berachot, pg. 2)".


Sha'chain Tov said...

It seems that you are concluding that in truth, doing is superior then learning. It is only that we need learning to compensate for all the mitzvos we never have the oppurtunity to carry out. If that is the case, then should we be spending most of our time learning subjects that currently have to practical relevance, such as kodshim?

Yona said...

Most of Shas and Poskim has no practical relevance for most people. Most of the sukkas discussed in Sukka have never been made. Most people will never accomplish adverse possession which is discussed in Bava Basra (for you YU talmidim learning Chezkas ha'Batim).

So I don't see a reason to jump to Kodshim. Furthermore, learning mesachtas that have some relevance to our modern world at least raises our sensitivity to these issues, such as Nezikin, even if they won't become practically relevant for most people.