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Torah Attitude: Parashas Mattos Masei: One step at a time
The list of 48 things that one needs to acquire Torah may seem overwhelming. "Eishes chayil" refers to the Torah that is acquired through the 48 things mentioned in the Mishnah. "The heart of her husband relies on her" refers to the Torah scholar who can rely on the Torah to assist him to refine his character traits. When one studies Torah as part of a group, then each member of the group will fulfill some of the 48 things needed, and together they will accomplish to fulfill all of them. It is not a prerequisite to accomplish all 48 things before we can start to study Torah. "Be careful of ascending the mountain." The Torah is like a ladder upon which one ascends step after step. Rabbi Chaim Valozhiner compares this to an employee who has been instructed to ascend a ladder. When we start learning, we are not expected to study Torah only for the sake of Heaven without any ulterior motives. If a person has only accomplished a few of the things mentioned in the Mishnah, it should never stop him from studying Torah.
In the previous Torah Attitude we completed the list of 48 things, enumerated in the Mishnah, that one needs to acquire Torah. (The last of the 48 things, "Say something in the name of the one who originally said it", we discussed in Torah Attitude: Parashas Tzav-Purim: G'd's proxy always gives credit, March 17, 2011.) This list may seem overwhelming and bring a person to think "how can I possibly accomplish all this and when will I ever be able to acquire Torah?" With such an attitude he may not even start to try and accomplish any of the things needed to acquire Torah. But this would be a major misunderstanding of how these 48 things help us in our Torah study.
Woman of valour
In the last chapter of Mishlei, King Solomon sings the praise of the woman of valour. The simple meaning of this praise refers to the perfect wife who takes care of every need of her home. The Midrash Tanchuma (Chayei Sarah 4) explains that these verses were actually Abraham's eulogy over his wife Sarah. But as we have mentioned many times, there is always a deeper meaning to the words of the Torah. The commentaries offer various allegorical explanations of who King Solomon is praising. The Vilna Gaon writes that it refers to the Torah. The Hebrew words for "woman of valour" are "eishes chayil". The numerical value of the word "chayil" is 48. Thus "eishes chayil" refers to the Torah that is acquired through the 48 things mentioned in the Mishnah.
Heart of her husband
In the next verse, King Solomon continues and says, "The heart of her husband relies on her." Says the Vilna Gaon, this refers to the Torah scholar who can rely on the Torah to assist him to refine his character traits.
He continues to explain that the more of the 48 things a person fulfills, the better he will be able to acquire the wisdom of the Torah. Most people, says the Vilna Gaon, will not accomplish to fulfill all 48 things. But when one studies Torah as part of a group, then each member of the group will fulfill some of the 48 things needed, and together they will accomplish to fulfill all of them. We may add that this sheds a new light on the statement of the Talmud (Berachos 63b): "The Torah can only be acquired when one studies in a group." For in a group setting every member of the group will benefit from the accomplishments of the rest of the group. The Vilna Gaon continues to explain that this is being hinted to in the verse "Many daughters have accomplished valour ("chayil"), but you rose above all of them." The "many daughters" refers to the group of scholars who together accomplish to perfect themselves with all 48 things, each one adding something to the group. And the one who is above them all is the rare individual who himself has accomplished all 48 things.
Not a prerequisite
This clearly teaches us that it is not a prerequisite to accomplish all 48 things before we can start to study Torah. We are able to study and acquire Torah even with one of the things, but the more of the 48 things we accomplish, the better we are equipped to understand the Torah. With every added accomplishment we have the potential of gaining a clearer and deeper understanding of the Torah.
Ascend the mountain
At the revelation at Mount Sinai, G'd told Moses to instruct the Jewish people and say to them (Shemos 19:12): "Be careful of ascending the mountain." Besides the literal meaning of this command, it contains an additional message. In order for the Jewish people to be ready to accept the Torah they had to keep a low profile and be subservient to G'd's words. Therefore, they were prohibited to rise and ascend the mountain at that point. They understood the message, as it says (Shemos 19:17): "And they stood at the bottom of the mountain." However, even before they received the Torah they were informed that after the revelation was over things would change, as it says (Shemos 19:13): "When the shofar has been blown they may ascend the mountain." This is a hint to the Jewish people that from then on it is time for every individual member of the Jewish people to make an effort and ascend in his Torah study.
We find that in Jacob's dream he saw the image of a ladder, as it says (Bereishis 28:12): "And he dreamt, and behold there was a ladder set upon earth and its top reached the Heavens." The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 68:12) mentions several interpretations of this dream. In one interpretation the Midrash points out that the numerical value of the Hebrew word for ladder "sulam" (130) is identical to the numerical value of "Sinai". This indicates that the Torah is like a ladder upon which one ascends step after step. The way to ascend this ladder is through the 48 things needed to acquire Torah. With the accomplishment of each one, the student can take another step towards a better understanding of the Torah.
Employee ascends ladder
Rabbi Chaim Valozhiner, in his commentary on Pireki Avos (113) compares this to an employee who has been instructed to ascend a ladder. Obviously, the employee cannot reach the top in one leap but must take one step at a time to get there. It would therefore be ridiculous for the employer to complain when he sees the employee taking the first step. But if all the employee does is to step on the first rung and then down again, he is clearly not following instructions.
Says Rabbi Chaim Valozhiner, the same applies with our approach to Torah study. When we start learning, we are not expected to study Torah only for the sake of Heaven without any ulterior motives. It is therefore totally acceptable for a person to start studying for other reasons as well. This is based on the Talmud (Pesachim 50b) that states "A person may study Torah even for ulterior motives, for eventually he will reach a level of studying Torah for its own sake just to please G'd." But, says Rabbi Chaim Valozhiner, even at the time one is studying Torah on a lower level, one should always keep in mind and have the ambition to reach higher levels, otherwise one will never get there.
Climb the ladder
In the same way, if a person has only accomplished a few of the things mentioned in the Mishnah, it should never stop him from studying Torah. On the contrary, he should study to the best of his ability, and at the same time try to accomplish more of the 48 things so that he will constantly gain a better and deeper understanding of the Torah. In this way, he will be able to climb and ascend the ladder that stands on the ground. And eventually he will reach higher and higher, getting closer to the top of the ladder that reaches into Heaven. When we follow this formula we will be able to grow and develop our character traits as well as acquire more and more 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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