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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bamidbar: Torah for everyone
Everyone must fix times for Torah study day and night. The Rambam suggests that the craftsman should spend three hours a day working and occupy himself with the study of Torah for nine hours. The Jewish people have been described as the nation of the book. Already at the time of the Second Temple, a public school system was established to educate and teach the youngsters the Talmudic laws. Zebulun is mentioned first, for the Torah study of Issachar was only possible through the efforts of Zebulun. The fact that Zebulun lived close to Moses in the wilderness still had an effect generations later, in the time of Devorah, in their level of Torah learning. Everyone is influenced by their surroundings and acquaintances. We must disassociate ourselves from the permissive society we live in and elevate ourselves to follow in the path of the Torah. Only when the Jewish people offered their children as security was G'd ready to give them the Torah.
Study day and night
In last week's Torah Attitude we discussed how G'd promised the Jewish people many blessings in reward for toiling in the study of Torah. The Rambam (Laws of Torah Study 1:8) writes: "Every Jewish male is obligated to study Torah, whether poor or affluent, healthy or suffering, both young and old." The Rambam (ibid) explains that the females are exempt from this obligation of studying Torah just to acquire the knowledge. Obviously, they should learn what they need to know to fulfill the commandments. The Rambam concludes that every male must fix times for Torah study day and night. As it says (Joshua 1:8), "And you shall occupy yourself with it day and night."
Study nine hours
A little later (ibid 12) the Rambam gives an example of someone who is working as a craftsman and is busy with his job. The Rambam suggests that the craftsman should spend three hours a day working, and occupy himself with the study of Torah for nine hours. For sure, not every person is in the position to spend so much time studying, but it is noteworthy to see what the Rambam views as the norm.
Nation of the book
Throughout the generations, it was not unusual that people spent part of their day making a livelihood, and occupied themselves with the study of Torah and toiled in the Talmud and its commentaries either to late at night or in the early hours of the morning. The Holocaust put a stop to this. However, in the last decades we are slowly but surely experiencing a revival of this trend. It is most justified that the Jewish people have been described as the nation of the book. No other nation in the world has ever had such a huge contingent of people studying the laws of the nation. In other societies, such a study is limited to lawyers and judges who need to know the laws for their profession. This has always been considered the reason d'?tre of every Jewish man. As it says (Pirkei Avos 2:9) "If you learn a lot of Torah, don't take credit for yourself because for this you were created."
Public school system
Already at the time of the Second Temple, a public school system was established to educate and teach the youngsters the Talmudic laws. The Talmud (Bava Basra 21a) relates how the Kohein Gadol (high priest) Yehoshua ben Gamla instituted that every town had their own teachers. This was found necessary due to the persecutions of the Jewish people that had taken place since the destruction of the First Temple. As many children were left as orphans without a father to teach them, their education became the responsibility of the public.
Zebulun and Issachar
Interestingly enough we find a special partnership between two of the twelve tribes, where one was the business partner and the other spent their time in the study halls. In Parashas Vezos Haberachah, when Moses blessed each tribe before he passed away, it says (Devarim 33:18-19) "And to Zebulun he said, 'Rejoice Zebulun when you go out and Issachar in your tents … for they will derive nourishment from the riches of the sea and by the treasures hidden in the sand." Rashi quotes from the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 72:5) that the Tribe of Zebulun lived by the sea and would travel by boat to do business. On top of their own needs, they would also provide for the needs of the Tribe of Issachar. This is why Zebulun is mentioned first, for the Torah study of Issachar was only possible through the efforts of Zebulun. Rashi further writes that since they enjoyed the riches of the sea and the sand, both Issachar and Zebulun had the time to study Torah. This shows that although Issachar was the business partner, he still spent much time in Torah study.
Special Torah sages
In this week's portion, we find that not only did the Tribe of Zebulun study Torah, they actually excelled in their Torah studies together with their partners Issachar and the Tribe of Yehuda. These three tribes camped together under the leadership of Yehuda, in the eastern part of the Jewish encampment (see Bamidbar 2:3-7). Every tribe had a specific space where to camp around the Tabernacle, three tribes in every direction. Since the Tribe of Joseph had been divided into the two tribes of Ephraim and Menashe, there were twelve tribes excluding the Tribe of Levy. The Levites were also divided into four groups, each group camping in a specific direction between the Tabernacle and the other tribes. The members of the Tribe of Levy who camped towards the eastern side of the Tabernacle were Moses, together with Aaron and his children (see Bamidbar 3:38). Rashi quotes from the Midrash (Tanchuma 12) that because the tribes of Yehuda, Issachar and Zebulun camped next to Moses, who constantly was occupied with Torah study, they also excelled in their Torah studies. The Midrash actually proves how we find that each of these tribes was described as special Torah sages. In regards to the Tribe of Zebulun, the proof of their greatness in Torah study is contained in the Song authored by Devorah the Judge upon her victory over the armies of Sisera (see Shoftim 5:14). In this Song, Devorah gives credit to the tribes who came to her aid in fighting the war. She says, "From Machir [son of Menashe] descended the law-givers and from Zebulun [came] those who draw the quill of the scribe." It is amazing to see how the fact that Zebulun lived close to Moses in the wilderness still had an effect generations later, in the time of Devorah, in their level of Torah learning.
Influenced by surroundings
This teaches us how we are all influenced by our surroundings and acquaintances. As the Rambam writes (The Law of Conduct 6:1) "It is the nature of a person to be influenced in his opinions and deeds by his friends and acquaintances and by the conduct of the people of his country. A person is therefore obligated to connect with righteous people and constantly dwell among sages so he will learn their deeds. He shall distance himself from evildoers … that he should not be influenced by their wrongdoings … And if he lives in a country where their ways are evil, and the people do not go on the straight path, he should move to a place where the people are righteous and conduct themselves in a good way. If all the countries that he knows conduct themselves in a improper way, as nowadays, or he has no place to go to due to the dangers of travelling, he should stay in solitude … And if the people are so bad that they do not let him stay unless he socializes with them and conducts himself in their ways, he must leave and live in caves to avoid following in the path of the sinners."
Disassociate ourselves by fixed Torah study
The Rambam here shares a most important insight that we must all internalize. In our daily life, we do not always realize the extent we are influenced by our contemporary society, and how it slowly but surely infiltrates our minds and lifestyle. The Rambam is very concise and clearly teaches us that we must disassociate ourselves from the permissive society we live in and elevate ourselves to follow in the path of the Torah. The only way we can accomplish this is by fixing regular times for Torah study, so that the words of the Torah will permeate our minds and guide us how to conduct ourselves in our daily affairs. This applies both to young and old. However, it is obvious that our children are especially at risk. Their impressionable young minds quickly swallow up any ideas promoted in society, in general, and in the media, in particular.
Jewish education is not cheap, but it is the best and most worthwhile investment that we can make. And we must always be mindful, that it is the only tool we have to ensure that our children we will be part of the Jewish people for future generations. As we approach the Holiday of Shavuous, the time when we renew our acceptance of the Torah, this lesson is most appropriate. The Midrash Rabbah (Shir HaShirim 1:4) relates that prior to the revelation at Mount Sinai G'd demanded a security from the Jewish people. G'd did not accept any of the securities they suggested. Only when the Jewish people offered their children as security was G'd ready to give them the Torah. When we accept the Torah on Shavuous we must remember to renew the security as well and undertake to ensure that every Jewish child in our society is given the opportunity to toil in the Torah, thus remaining a proud member of the Jewish people.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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