Monday, December 28, 2015

One's Attitude Towards Learning (Achieving Elevation Part 2) [Rav Aryeh Leibowitz]

In addition to making Torah study regular and primary, one’s attitude towards his learning of Torah is also a significant contributor to man’s spiritual success.  To successfully live one’s Torah wisdom, the acquisition of Torah knowledge must not be a mere intellectual pursuit.  Torah study is not for fulfilling intellectual curiosity alone.  The pursuit of Torah knowledge is a pursuit of divine truth, and a rendezvous with transcendence.  As an engagement with the divine and with the eternal truths of reality, Torah must not speak only to one’s mind, but also speak to one’s heart. 

Approaching Torah study with this perspective greatly impacts a person’s ability to live the Torah he has learned.  The Torah envisions that every person – not just the elite Torah scholar – should have an intense, passionate, and personal relationship with Torah study that leads one to identify and unite with the wisdom he has learned.  The goal of Torah study is not only to know the Torah, but to internalize the Torah knowledge that has been learned.

When Torah study is studied with a conscious focus on internalizing, the Torah becomes a part of one’s own essence.  The studier unites with the Torah, and becomes a person of Torah.  This focus also naturally leads one to perform the mitzvos and live by the ideals of the Torah.  Perhaps this is the reason that Hashem commanded the Jewish people to literally carve the entire Torah into stones before they entered the land of Israel from their desert wanderings.  Unlike writing, carving into stones makes the text part of the stone itself.  The message to the Jewish nation was that the Torah must be a part of who they are and not something external to them.[1]

Chochmah and Daas
Chazal use two different terms when talking about wisdom: chochmah and daasChochmah is knowledge that a person has learned through study and experiences. It is, however, external to a person.  It is information that he originally did not know and now he knows.  However, da’as is knowledge that has been internalized and affects the way one lives.  It is internal knowledge that has become a part of one’s identity.

In general, there is a progression from chochmah to da’as.  Often something is learned as pure information — as chochmah — and over time it is internalized and enters the realm of da’as. Knowledge’s journey from chochmah to da’as heralds a deepening of existence, and reflects an existential transformation in one’s relation to truth. The goal of Torah study is to bring the information learned to the level of da’as.  Proper Torah study requires one to internalize wisdom, to make it part of one’s essence.  The amassing of intellectual knowledge is important, but the true elevation of man comes through da’as, not chochmah.[2]

The Midrash records (Vayikra Rabbah 1:15) a very disparaging comment about a Torah scholar who does not have da’as, comparing him to a carcass – the epitome of wasted potential.  One who studies Torah but allows it to remain external to who he is, one who amasses great amounts of knowledge but does not internalize that knowledge or live by that knowledge is wasting his potential. 

This is the Torah’s directive (Devarim 4:39), “וידעת היום והשבת אל לבבך,” “You shall know today, and bring it to your heart…”  Hashem states clearly here that it is not enough to know (וידעת).  Chochmah that is learned by the mind must also filter down to the heart, as R. Tzadok Ha-Kohen of Lublin teaches in his Pri Zadik (Rosh Hashanah #9), ““The level of da’as is achieved through a connection between the brain and the heart, and through this, [the intellect] is realized in the depths of the heart.”[3]

The Maharal even suggests that the Jewish nation’s failure to appreciate this point led to the destruction of the Temple.  The Gemara (Nedarim 81a) states that the Temple was destroyed because the Jewish people were not reciting a blessing on their Torah study.  Clearly, the Jews at that time were studying Torah, but their lack of making the appropriate blessing was symptomatic of an attitude towards Torah that reflected a pure intellectual interest.  They studied, but lacked the desire to infuse their religious identities with that which they had learned.

[1] In this light we might be able to better understand a Mishna in Pirkei Avos.  The Mishna writes that “The performance of Torah is primary, not the learning of Torah (לא המדרש העיקר אלא המעשה).  This does not mean that Torah study is less importance than the performance of the commandments.  In fact, Chazal teach that learning Torah is of supreme value (“תלמוד תורה כנגד כולם”). The reference by Chazal in this context to “performance (מעשה)” does not refer to the actual performance of the commandments, per say, but rather refers to a form of learning Torah with an intent to live the Torah and implement into life that which has been learned.  Indeed, how can Torah study be denigrated and considered less than the commandments, if Torah study is itself a mitzvah.  Rather, the Mishna means that Torah study that is only to know the “wisdom of Torah” but with no intent to live the life of Torah is the object of the Mishna’s denigration.    See Ruach Chaim, Avos 3:17 who suggests along these lines.

This is perhaps the meaning of the Yaavetz’s comment in his commentary on Avos (3:12), “Wisdom (חכמה) that doesn’t lead to actions isn’t wisdom.”  The learning itself must be directed inward and with the intent that it will change and elevate a person.  Only then is it true Torah study.  To be clear: We are not saying that the only value of Torah study is that it teaches one how to perform mitzvos.  Torah study for the sake of Torah study is encouraged, even idealized, and Torah study that never actually translates into a physical action is not lacking in any way.  Obviously when an opportunity presents itself to fulfill what one has learned, man must be stirred to do so.  However, such fulfillment is not the only goal of his study.

[2] The Torah itself also relates to the term da’as in a similar fashion. In the Torah the word da’as necessarily implies a connection. It is used to express the ultimate connection between husband and wife, physical intimacy: “And the man knew Eve his wife” (Genesis 4:1). Just as the connection realized through physical intimacy is da’as, so too the intense and personal connection between the person and the knowledge he has internalized is called da’as.

[3] This might also explain the Midrash that teaches that Avraham wore a jewel around his neck.  What is the message of this Midrash?  Do we need to know what jewelry Avraham wore?  Rather, a jewel represents something of value, and the Midrash is teaching us something about the value of Avraham’s neck.  Perhaps, we must look at the neck as the connection point between the head (mind) and chest (heart). Avraham’s neck is highlighted because he excelled in connecting his mind with his heart. Avraham recognized the value of not only studying Torah with his mind, but also the importance of uniting the wisdom he learned with the rest of his being.

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