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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bamidbar: Putting our hearts into it
The fourth and fifth things that are needed to acquire Torah are the heart's understanding and the heart's discernment. Why is Torah learning connected with the heart rather than the brain? When there is an inconsistency between a person's intellectual knowledge, and a person's emotional feelings, the emotions will always overpower the intellect. Since we lack the ability to use our physical senses to experience spirituality, we must look for a way how to appreciate and enjoy spiritual values. Evildoers are controlled by their heart whereas the righteous are in control of their heart. The evil inclination is well aware that it must take small steps if it wants to challenge a person to bring him down. "And Moses called upon Bezalel and Oholiav and upon every wise-hearted man that G'd had given wisdom into his heart, everyone whose heart had elevated him to approach the work to do it." In order to truly acquire the wisdom of the Torah, we must develop a desire in our heart to achieve this. Once we feel a loving relationship with G'd, we are able to internalize the words of the Torah and take them to heart when we study them.
Understanding and discernment of the heart
The fourth and fifth things, mentioned in the Mishnah, that are needed to acquire Torah, are the heart's understanding and the heart's discernment. This seems strange. In general, we associate understanding and discernment with the brain. So why does the Mishnah attribute these qualities to the heart?
A similar question arises in the blessing we say every morning prior to reciting Shema. In this blessing we say, "Our Father … have mercy upon us and instill in our hearts to understand and discern … and to learn and to teach … all the words of Your Torah's teachings with love." Here again we see Torah learning connected with the heart rather than the brain.
Intellectual vs. heart
We may be able to answer this with an insight from Rabbi Israel Salanter. Rabbi Israel Salanter explains that just like there is no connection between the understandings of two individuals, there is no real connection between a person's intellectual understanding and his actual way of conducting himself. Rabbi Eliahu Lopian elaborates on this and quotes what it says in Parashas Va'Eschanan (Devarim 4:39), "And you shall know today, and you shall internalize it into your heart, that HASHEM, He is G'd in Heaven above and on the earth below, there is no one else." Says Rabbi Lopian, this verse clearly teaches us that it is not sufficient to have intellectual knowledge. For even if one understands what he has learned with complete clarity, he will not be affected until he feels the truth of his knowledge in his heart. Intellectual knowledge by itself is no more effective than if it was somebody else who knew it. The Torah teaches that there are two stages to acquire Torah. First, one must know intellectually what one is studying. But in order to truly acquire it, one must internalize it into one's heart. Rabbi Lopian quotes the Rambam who teaches that when there is an inconsistency between a person's intellectual knowledge, and a person's emotional feelings, the emotions will always overpower the intellect.
Physical vs. spiritual
This is a constant battle that we all have to deal with, each of us on our own individual level. We are physical beings living in a physical world. Therefore, physical enjoyments seem very real and pleasurable to us. We experience them through our various senses, and we are naturally inclined to seek these kinds of pleasures. On the other hand, we can only experience spiritual values on an intellectual basis. Since we lack the ability to use our physical senses to experience spirituality, we must look for a way how to appreciate and enjoy spiritual values.
Evildoers controlled by heart
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 67:8) teaches an amazing insight to explain what makes a person righteous and what makes him an evildoer. The Midrash says that evildoers are controlled by their heart whereas the righteous are in control of their heart. The evildoer does what he feels like and follows his heart's desire. But the righteous analyzes and makes sure that he only does what is right. The basic question that we must ask ourselves is: why am I doing what I am about to do? Do I know that it is the right thing to do? Or is it just that this is what I feel like doing?
Small steps of evil inclination
In the second portion of Shema (Devarim 11:16), the Torah warns us and says, "Watch yourselves that your hearts will not entice you, and you turn away to serve idols." This seems very strange. Is it really so? Are all people, who are enticed by their hearts, going to serve idols? Obviously, that is not the case. However, the Torah here teaches us the tactics of our evil inclination. The evil inclination will not come to a believing Jew and suggest that he should go and serve idols. The evil inclination knows its business well. It is well aware that it must take small steps if it wants to challenge a person to bring him down. As the Talmud (Shabbos 105b) teaches: "This is the way of the evil inclination. Today it tells you, 'Do this'. Tomorrow, it will tell you, 'Do that'. Eventually, it will tell you, 'Go and serve idols.'" The initial approach of the evil inclination is not necessarily to entice a person to do something that goes against the laws of the Torah. Rather, it will encourage the person to do something that the person feels like doing. Once the evil inclination has brought the person to this path it is in control. This is exactly what the Midrash means when it says that the evildoers are controlled by their hearts.
Tabernacle and the "wise-hearted"
At the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness the Torah states (Shemos 36:2): "And Moses called upon Bezalel and Oholiav and upon every wise-hearted man that G'd had given wisdom into his heart, everyone whose heart had elevated him to approach the work to do it." Here again we find that the wisdom that was needed to participate in the building of the Tabernacle is associated with the heart rather than the brain. The Ramban explains that the Jewish people had been bricklayers and involved in other back-breaking labour back in Egypt. They were not experienced artisans and craftsmen suited for the delicate work needed to build the Tabernacle with its vessels and to make the special garments for the kohanim. So how were they able to undertake all these tasks? The Ramban answers that those who wanted and were inspired to participate received a Divine blessing that enabled them to do so. This is what the Torah means when it says that they were "wise-hearted". Their ability to do the various tasks only came about through their hearts' desire to do so.
G'd's Torah & the student's Torah
The same applies to Torah study. In order to truly acquire the wisdom of the Torah, we must develop a desire in our heart to achieve this. Someone who approaches Torah study merely as another source of wisdom or knowledge may end up knowing the facts but will never acquire the Torah and make it part of himself. We can learn this message from the very beginning of Tehillim where it says (1:1-2): "Praiseworthy is the man that did not walk by the advice of the evildoers … but his desire is in the Torah of G'd and he occupies himself in his Torah day and night." Rashi (see also Midrash Tehillim ibid) points out that in the beginning of the verse the Torah is referred to as the "Torah of G'd", but later it is called "his Torah" referring to the student himself. When someone starts to study Torah it is "G'd's Torah" he is studying. But when one has a true desire to understand what he is studying he acquires the Torah to the extent that it becomes "his" Torah meaning the student's Torah.
But how does one develop this desire? In order to get the heart involved one has to speak the language of the heart. In this way, one develops one's feelings and emotions and makes them a party to the study of Torah. Every morning and evening, prior to reciting Shema, we describe G'd's great love for the Jewish people. This is the first step how to engage the heart in our Torah study. As we remind ourselves how much G'd loves us and takes care of every one of our needs, we have the ability to develop our love for G'd and to express our appreciation for all that G'd does for us. This is what we say in the first portion of Shema (Devarim 6:5): "And you shall love HASHEM your G'd with all your heart… "This in turn is the proper preparation for the next verse where it says "And these things, that I command you today, shall be upon your heart, and you shall teach them to your children, and speak about them." Once we feel a loving relationship with G'd, we are able to internalize the words of the Torah and take them to heart when we study them. In this way, we will have no conflict between our intellectual knowledge and our feelings. On the contrary, our hearts will be in control and both our brains and hearts will work in unison to ensure that we acquire the Torah.
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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