I ask the readers’ indulgence and mechilah; the final installment in the “Just What Are Mehadrin Standards ?” Series will appear be’ezras Hashem in the next issue. I think it more essential just before Shavu’os to write something specifically addressing the great Revelation at Har Sinai, at which K’lal Yisrael was given the Holy Torah.
What is the greatest mitzvah of all? Talmud Torah.
What was “created” before creation? The Torah.
What is the “blueprint” of creation? The Torah.
What is every male Jew enjoined to do with his (spare) time? Learn Torah.
What are women enjoined to enable and aid in; and, in recent generations, themselves do considerably? Learning Torah.
What is said to be “one” with Hakadosh Baruch Hu Himself (kivayachol) ? Torah.
What can make a person ineligible to marry into K’lal Yisrael more chashuv than a Kohen Gadol? Torah Learning.
What is the reason for the creation and continued existence of the world? Torah knowledge.
Had enough? I could go on and on and on with various statements of Chazal, Rishonim, Acharonim, ba’alei mussar and hashkafah.
An entire segment of the frum population devotes itself to learning Torah, and the whole family is involved in the mesiras nefesh to make it happen. The respect we have for someone is (usually) based on their connection to learning Torah.
What is this Torah? Why is it the most important mitzvah I can do in this world? Why does it matter if I understand this Gemara, that Rashi, the Midrash, this commentary? Why is it something our lives should revolve around?
And to make things more incomprehensible, we are constantly told that the point is very much not only to learn what to do—a how- to manual, so-to-speak—but rather learning “lishmoh,” for the pure joy which comes as a result of the act of learning Torah , and of Torah knowledge . If it’s not of any practical use, Rabbi, indeed, what good is it?
The Maharal in his introduction to his sefer on Pirkei Avos, Derech HaChaim, explains the posuk in Mishlei, “Because a mitzvah is the equivalent of a candle; but the Torah is Light itself”. Mitzvos ,the Maharal elaborates, are connected to the physical aspects of a person, for he does mitzvos with his body. As such, its light, like a candle’s, is temporary; but the Torah Itself is light, is the source of light, is something understood by a person’s intellect , which is conceptual and transcendent, and thus detached from this world.
To explain further, and thus to appreciate this gift we were given:
The purpose of creation is described as being so that G-dliness exist in this world. Hashem willed that there be for Him a “dwelling place” here.
But how? The world is a world of physicality, chomer, gashmiyus. How can Hashem “be” here?
In the Upper Spheres, the worlds of the angels and other spiritual beings, Hashem is a spiritual force, creating, and sustaining, and empowering everything’s existence. That energy is known as Light (yehi or—let there be Light). Just as in our world, we now know that all of life stems from light; we know that light creates the electro-magnetic forces, radio waves, gamma rays, microwaves… we know that light is converted to different forms of energy: heat, electricity, all are forms of light-energy. Plants receive light and convert it to food, eaten by animals and other organisms. And that becomes the source of food and oxygen for humans. (The sun is our source of this physical light.) And the Law of Conservation of Energy says that no energy is ever lost.
So too, in the spiritual world, the Maharal is telling us, Hashem, as it were, “wrapped Himself in Light “ (Psalms 104), meaning that He relates to his creation through the Torah, through that spiritual Light-force. And just as the “physical” light converts to all of life as we know it (see above), so, too, the spiritual, pure, conceptual Light of Hashem (which is the Torah) “converts” to mitzvos in this physical world of ours. The mitzvos are a candle, because they hold the light. This is what pure energy becomes in its various physical forms; we call them the 613 mitzvos. But the source of the world’s energy, indeed, the universe’s, is pure G-dliness, the pure Light—Torah. And there is a Law of Conservation of Torah, also known as one of the principles of faith; namely, that this Torah shall not be changed or altered even one iota forever and ever.
We learn Torah not just to know what to do (to light the candle with the light), but to uncover and reveal the light, to bring it down to this world through our understanding of it; for it is the energy of this world. People learning Torah are the theoretical physicists of the spiritual Universe. The Light—Torah in its pristine form—is G-d’s emanations to energize and give spiritual life, G-d Himself, kivayachol, to the world. Learning Torah turns on that Light of G-dliness in this world, where it transfers into the objects of this world, namely mitzvos. And the more you learn, and the deeper you understand, the more Light you are revealing. And the revelation of that Light is the purpose of the universe .
It is not for naught that in davening we talk about the sun and its energy, and then go on to talk about the Torah and learning Torah (the first two brachos of kri’as Shema ,morning and night; and Psalm 19, that we say on Shabbos in p’sukei d’zimrah).
And bringing these spiritual forces down to this world through our learning and supporting and enabling Torah transforms us, our families, our surroundings, and our world.
And that is the quintessential significance of learning Torah—bringing Hashem, as Light, into the bri’ah.
Gut Shabbos,Gut Yom Tov