Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why We Learn Torah - Part 1: Trusting God

Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz

We established that for man to attain his elevated level as the pinnacle of creation he must use his mind and intellect to pursue wisdom.  Through the acquisition of wisdom man clarifies the truths of reality.  He is then empowered to make free willed decisions to live his life in line with the wisdom he has acquired and the truths he has clarified.

What is the best source of this wisdom?  What is man to pursue with his mind?  What body of knowledge will instruct man to live an elevated life?  What actions are reflective of true wisdom and truth?  Or in more existential terms: How does man actualize his potential and fully assume his humanity?  What best enables man to be “wise and good?”  What is the best way to engage one’s neshama, overcome the downward pull of his lower forces, and attain one’s higher tzurah?   

The answer to the above questions is very straightforward: Torah study and performance of the mitzvos.  In the realm of wisdom, Torah is the field of study that will most readily provide man with the truest and highest wisdom.  Torah can also inform man which decisions he should be making in life.  The performance of mitzvos are the pursuits that reflect the wisdom of the Torah, they develop man’s ethical and spiritual character, and lead man to an elevated existence.    

Hence, we find that Torah is compared to rain and dew, “May my teachings drop like the rain, may my utterances flow like the dew.” (Devarim 32:2) Just as rain and dew are vital components in the process of seed development and assist the ground in bringing out the potential from the seed, so too Torah (and the mitzvos found within) is a vital component is human development and assists a person in actualizing his potential and attaining his elevated level. 

Hashem's Diet

In the coming chapters we will explore why Torah study is so critical for a person’s development.  We will suggest in future chapters an approach to understanding the value of Torah study.  However, before we begin, it is worthy to address if we really need to answer this question. 

It is intuitive to us that man’s physical body was designed by Hashem that it requires many things for sustenance.  For example, man must consume vitamins, proteins, etc. in order to physically exist and have the strength and ability to accomplish the pursuits of the body.  Similarly, Hashem designed man’s meta-physical self that it too requires many things in order to exist and function.  Just as the physical body has things that sustain it, power it, and develop it, so too the elevated spiritual neshamah has similar needs.

What sustains the physical body?  Many things can provide the body with sustenance.  But if a person wants to maintain his health and achieve longevity, he knows that it behooves him to not only eat what tastes good, but that there are specific dietary parameters he ought to follow.   Whether its whole grains or dietary fibers a responsible person makes sure he consumes what his healthy for his body.  He makes sure he has covered the different food groups and is careful with portion control. 

Man’s meta-physical needs operate in a similar way.  If man wants to live a spiritually fulfilling lifestyle, maintain a healthy neshamah, and ultimately attain his elevated position in the hierarchy of creation, he must ensure that he is “consuming” a healthy diet.  Just as we saw with phsycial nutience, many things can feed a person’s spiritual appetite. But if a person wants to maintain spiritual health and longevity it behooves him to know what is truly healthy.  

Hashem created man in a way that Torah and mitzvos are the specific “foods” that will sustain his neshamah.  These are the “whole grains and dietary fibers” for the intellect and meta-physical soul.   

The world cannot exist without wisdom.  Just as a thirsty person starves for water, so too intelligent people starve for Torah and wisdom.  (Radak, Yeshaya 55:1)

To take the analogy one step further, we must note that there are many different “healthy foods” that are necessary for man’s spiritual health.  To cover all of his “food groups,” man must pursue the many different mitzvos and study the many areas of Torah that are available to him. 

Trusting the Engineer

One might ask: How do I know that these are the best “foods” for my neshamah and spiritual health?  Let’s answer this by returning to our example of the car.  If a person owns a car and wants to know what oils, what parts, what gasoline will best serve the car and ensure for maximum performance, where would he turn?  Would he not consult the car’s engineer?  The one who designed the car is likely the best source for this information.  But what if he is unable to reach the engineer, or does not know exactly how to contact him?  Would it not behoove the car owner to consult the manual written by the car’s engineer and place in the glove compartment for the car owner’s personal use?!  Even if one doesn’t know the difference between a strut or a shock, or cannot explain the purpose of a carburetor, he can still rest assured if he carefully follows the instructions of the car’s engineer.  Perhaps with time, the car owner will gain a deeper understanding of the car’s inner workings and appreciate why the specific instructions are correct. 

Hashem created our bodies and even provided us with a manual with specific instructions how to best operate our “self.”  Does it not behoove us to follow His instructions? If he informs us that Torah study and mitzvos are the best diet for maximizing our performance, would it not be foolish to ignore Him?[1]   Many of us do not know why spelt flour is better than white flour, or why exactly getting a good night sleep is healthy.  Yet we value these choices because of our faith in medical research and researchers.  Should we not give Hashem and Chazal the same vote of confidence? 

[1] It is quite shocking how much responsibility we take with our cars.  Before changing a part or servicing our vehicle, we do research, consider our options, etc.  We take such care because we don’t want to turn around seven years later and find that our car is falling apart because of a lack of proper maintenance.  But with our most precious possession – our lives – we often “go with the flow.”  We eat what we wish, we do what we want, and then we are surprised when years later we are physically unhealthy, and spiritually unhappy, unfulfilled, and uninspired.   

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