In the Torah portion this week, we read “This is the Torah: when a person dies in a tent…” [Numbers 19:14] The language is somewhat unusual, because although “Torah” simply means law or instruction, you would expect it to say “this is the law regarding a person” or something similar.
The Talmud tells us that there is an implied lesson here. “Reish Lakish says, how do we know that words of Torah are only established in someone who kills himself over it? Because it says ‘This is the Torah: because a person dies in a tent.'” [Brachos 43b — The word “Ki” can mean “when” or “because.”] Obviously his meaning is not literal, but similar to “working himself to death.”
The implication is that there needs to be total involvement. Not only that the Torah cannot be “established” within a person through casual study, but neither can it be academic, dispassionate. The goal is for the Torah to effect a transformation, making a more G-dly person. When someone told a great sage that he had been through the entire Talmud, the sage replied, “that’s wonderful! And how many times has the Talmud been through you?”
There is another implication here as well. When a person dies, the self is obviously removed. Reish Lakish tells us that sincere devotion to Torah requires that a person abandon selfish interests, the desire for self-glorification, and anything other than the desire to learn and share Torah for its own sake.
When we study, learn and grow — true, we may never learn with the intensity of someone who “kills himself over it,” and may never reach the exalted level of one “in whom the Torah is established.” But nonetheless, we will acquire much more when we push ourselves, involve ourselves far more than we do in academic subjects, and our goals are for the benefit of all, rather than just “what’s in it for me!”
Dear: Rabbi Yaakov Menken
I have read your article above… “Removing The Self” and found it to hold great words of wisdom, especially the latter sentence… “we will acquire much more when we push ourselves, involve ourselves far more than we do in academic subjects, and our goals are for the benefit of all, rather than just “what’s in it for me!”
This indeed Rabbi, is so true, and thankyou for sharing it.
I was stumped by one part of your article… When it mentioned that “Torah” simply means law or instruction. I know The law is found within Torah, and the instruction of how it is to be applied. Yet, I have never concidered Torah to “mean” law or instruction, but rather, that Torah “means” The Teaching. Isn’t it not the heart of Torah, to help us engage in a relationship with Hashem? Does not relationship go beyond law and instruction? If Torah’s purpose is to guide us back to Hashem, is it that we are only guided back for law and instruction? What of Adam then? What would be the purpose of Adam’s existance, If Hashem is only cocerned about law and instruction? More concerning yet… If Hashem was only concerned of law and instruction, then why would He institute FREE WILL? Does not Free Will go against the Primary Function of the “Concern” of Absolute Athoritative Instruction of Hashem? In other words… were we not created by Hashem, for a Relationship of Freindship?
Sincerely: Joseph (Yosseph) Daniel R-Hameren Palmateer
The Gemara Brachot (daf 17) says =everything should be be done l’shem Shamyim- this is the ikor—not everyone can spend the day learning, but everyone is capable of doing everything for the glory of G-D
Thank you for the teaching. I agree that the study of Torah should not be just academic or a shallow commitment. For those who truly study Torah, the result can only be transforming!
I have a question. Is it possible that the first words of Num 19:14 “This is the Torah” were supposed to be the ending words of the verse above it rather than the start of a new sentence? How is it presented in the Torah Scroll?
What if, “What’s in it for me” is for the benefit of everyone else? What do I mean by this? Well, what if when we grow, we learn that the best way to get along with others is to treat them the way we ourselves would like to be treated. We would, in essence, think twice before we spoke ill of anyone or treated them badly. We would never point out or make fun of other people’s weaknesses, because we would not want anyone doing it to us! If we have the fruits of the spirit of G-d, we will have a positive influence on others, and wear a smile whether we feel like it or not. I have found over the years that you can hide a lot more behind a smile than you can a frown. Guess what, you actually feel better. Being angry all the time eats away at you and causes you to have high blood pressure, and other health problems. Being close to our Heavenly Father can help us feel better and not worry so much or making a big deal about what others around us are saying or doing. He lightens the load for us. I am living proof, He can turn enemies into friends.