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Torah Glasses

By: Rav Yonny Sack

This week's parasha, Behar – Bechukotai,  contains the promise of great blessing if the Jewish people follow the Torah:

Im Bechukotai Teileichu VeEtMitzvotai Tishmeru VaAsitem Otam . . . VeNatati Gishmechem Beitam . . .[1] - And if you will go in my decrees and keep my mitzvot and perform them . . . and I will give your rain in its season etc. " (Yayikra 26:3-).

Rashi asks what the verse is referring to when it says “my decrees”. It cannot be referring to the keeping of mitzvot of the Torah as this is already spoken of when it says “keep my mitzvot and perform them”, rather, Rashi points out, based on the Midrash, that it is referring to the overarching imperative to learn Torah with all one’s ability, what is known as being Ameilim BaTorah – laboring in Torah study. The “if you will go” denotes the progression to increasingly sophisticated and deeper levels of understanding of Torah [2].  When the Torah then describes the various curses that will befall the Jewish people should we stray, Rashi again says that the first crack that results in our downfall begins with not learning Torah with enough intensity.

This is most strange. Why would it be that the intensity in Torah learning should be the key to the blessings and, conversely, why would our downfall begin because of laxity in Torah learning?

To gain some insight into this teaching, we need to plough a little depth into one of the reasons given for the mitzvah and importance of Torah learning.

A fascinating field of study is that of perception. Although objectively, the world presents a uniform picture to all, what the beholder actually sees is always a result of his/her own subjective makeup and thus we see the same things quite differently. 

A principle influence on how we perceive things is our midot - our character traits [3]. Someone feeling insecure about how she is dressed, might notice two people talking and laughing and she will 'see' them talking about her. A person with an inflated ego driving a sports car may see people looking and admiring his sports car, even if they are in fact just looking in his direction at something else. The way we perceive the world is thus heavily influenced by the personal lens of our character traits and as a result we often judge people with gross inaccuracy because our view of the truth is obscured by the personalized subjective glasses through which we see the world. As Steven Covey taught, 'the main problem is how we see the problem'.

In addition to our skewed vision of reality, the world that is presented to us, even before we filter it through our own lenses, is really a masked reality. Chazal call this world 'Alma De shikra' - the world of falsehood. Truth lies behind facade after facade, veil after veil of untruths. Think of a pop 'star' who is idolized for their talent or looks and yet sometimes (not always) beyond the glitzy glamour lies a very ugly picture of alcohol or drug abuse, ego and insecurity. The Gemara [4] tells of a story of Rav Yosef who has a near death experience. He 'dies' and then returns and tells his father, Rabbi Yeshoshua ben Levi what he saw in the afterlife. Paraphrasing the Gemara:

"It was an upside-down world!" He exclaimed. "Those who are on the top here, there they are on the bottom, and those who are on the bottom here, over there they are the ones on top."

"You did not see an upside down world my son," said his father. "You saw a world of truth."  It is we in this world who are upside down.

Chazal teach us that the stamp of Hashem is truth (Shabbat 55b), but what type of stamp? If you imagine a hot lump of wax and a stamp with the word "Emet"( truth) slowly pressed within the wax it will produce a stamp of truth - but the truth will be embedded while the falsehood that surrounds will stand out at you [5]. This is the world we live in, the truth is only found after searching deep within, and the falsehood is very loud and the first thing that we see.

Rabbi Nachman said that the Yetzer Hara is like a prankster running around the shuk holding his hands closed and enticing everyone to come and see what he is holding. Everyone gathers around desiring to see what it could be that he is promising to show, and then he opens his hands and nothing is there.

How are we not to get caught up in the promise of fun, excitement and hedonistic pleasure that the Yetzer offers? How are we to have any hope of seeing with correct glasses if our own vision is skewed by our midot and the world shown to us is in fact hiding the true light? The answer is Torah. We say in the blessing after reading the Torah "Ve Natan Lanu Torat Emet" - and you gave us a Torah of Truth. Torah learning gives us Torah lenses, and because the Torah is really Hashem's view of reality Torah learning gives us a truthful vision to see beyond the veil.

But not just any Torah study. It cannot be superficial, lazy Torah learning; it has to be with intensity, one has to labor in it, seeking to reveal its depth otherwise one faces the danger of still being outside the wall, remaining in the superficial. Intense, deep learning will enable a person to penetrate the veneer and access the true light in this world.

With Yom Yerushalayim coming up, and Shavuot the festival of receiving the Torah, around the corner, may we feel the gratitude of 'Ki Mitzion Tetzei Torah Udvar Hashem MiYerushalaim', and all be blessed to renew our commitment to learning.

Have a beautiful Shabbos :)

[1]Vayikra 26:3

[2] Maharal in his commentary on Rashi, the Gur Aryeh ( as quoted in the ArtscrollRashi)

[3] See Alei Shur on Midot and the Rambam's use of the word 'deot'.

[4] Pesachim 50a

[5] Heard from Rav Doniel Katz


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