Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Va'Eschanan/ Shabbos Nachamu: Better the crown of Torah in the next world than the ice cream in this world
The next thing, that we need to acquire Torah, is to limit our interest in worldly pleasures. The different kinds of enjoyment available in this world can be compared to an ice cream cone. We do find true enjoyments in this world as well, but they all have a spiritual dimension to them. The higher the level of a person's Torah study, the more he will enjoy it. "Shabbos, the day of rest, is a semblance of the World to Come. All who enjoy it shall merit much gladness." Our present world is comparable to a school with classes of various levels of difficulties with tests and tribulations. The pursuit of worldly pleasures is a direct contradiction to spirituality and intellectual proficiency. No commandment measures up to the study of Torah. If we truly want to acquire Torah we must be ready to dedicate ourselves to its study and focus on the spiritual aspects of life.
Limit worldly pleasures
The next thing, the Mishnah enumerates that we need to acquire Torah, is to limit our interest in worldly pleasures. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (The Path of the Just, Chapter 1) explains that G'd's sole purpose for the creation of man is that we should enjoy ourselves. However, the place where G'd will provide us with this enjoyment is the World to Come. The significance of this world is that it is here that we are given the opportunities to prepare ourselves and earn the eternal enjoyment of the World to Come.
Ice cream cone enjoyment
No enjoyment in this world is enjoyable enough to compare to the real enjoyment of the next world. As the Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 4:21) says: "One moment of satisfaction in the World to Come is better than all of this world." The different kinds of enjoyment available in this world can be compared to an ice cream cone. It is enjoyable while it lasts, but once it is finished so is the enjoyment. And if one has too much of it, it may even cause suffering.
We do find true enjoyments in this world as well, but they all have a spiritual dimension to them. When one has enjoyment from receiving something, the enjoyment lasts only as long as the thing exists. On the other hand, when one gives something to another person, whether it is an item or service, the good feeling will last long after the service has ceased or the item has disappeared. For this enjoyment is not dependent on the physical act or the material form that one donated. Rather, it is a spiritual feeling of well-being that stems from having done what is right.
Acts of giving, Torah study, art
We find a similar feeling of well-being and enjoyment by Torah study. This is why Torah study is prohibited on Tisha B'Av. The great Chassidic leader, the Sochachover Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Borenstein, writes (Introduction to Eglei Tal) that the higher the level of a person's Torah study, the more he will enjoy it. In both of these instances, where one gives of oneself or studies Torah, one connects in a spiritual sense with the activity. We find a similar experience when an artist produces art, such as a piece of music or a painting, as this also creates a spiritual bond between the artist and his work.
We find another area of spiritual enjoyment in this world where we elevate the mundane to a spiritual level. The Prophet Isaiah (58:13) says: "And you shall call Shabbos pleasure." The day of Shabbos is a day of spirituality, to the extent that the Talmud (Berachos 57b) says it is a semblance to the World to Come. In many homes it is the custom to sing the song of Mah Yedidus at the Shabbos table on Friday night. In the last stanza it refers to the above-mentioned statement in the Talmud. As it says, "Shabbos, the day of rest, is a semblance of the World to Come. All who enjoy it shall merit much gladness." This spiritual dimension of Shabbos enables us to elevate the eating and drinking, as well as the sleeping on Shabbos, to a higher spiritual level. These are the true enjoyments that are available in this world. We must realize that all other pleasures and enjoyment of this world are Divine tests for us to overcome and distance ourselves from them to the best of our ability.
Analogy of school with various difficulties
We often have questions and find it difficult to understand how G'd runs the world and deals with individuals. We must try to internalize that our present world is comparable to a school with classes of various levels of difficulties where one has to go through many tests and tribulations. At the end of school, everyone gets recognition according to the level of difficulties they achieved. We often look for pleasure and enjoyment here in this world, and get frustrated when we do not find it. The problem is that we are looking in the wrong place. We are still in the middle of school and it is not yet time for recognition of achievement. That only happens in the World to Come when school is over. Sometimes G'd will let someone enjoy themselves here either because He sees that they need encouragement or because He knows that they are not going to pass sufficiently to get recognition at the end of school. As it says at the end of this week's Parasha (Devarim 7:9-11 with Rashi): "And you shall know that G'd … the faithful G'd … He pays those who hate Him [for their good deeds] in their lifetime." But for those who love Him, it says (ibid): "I command you today to perform them", to which Rashi quotes from the Talmud (Eruvin 22a): "And tomorrow in the World to Come you will get your reward."
Contradiction to spirituality and intellectual proficiency
The Maharal explains that the pursuit of worldly pleasures is a direct contradiction to spirituality and intellectual proficiency. In The Duties of the Hearts (Gate of Introspection, paragraph25) Rabbi Bachayei quotes one of our sages who said, "Just like one cannot contain both water and fire in one vessel, so can the heart of the believer not join the love of this world together with the love of the World to Come." He advises that we shall contemplate the final end of the two worlds. When we realize that this world is limited, whereas the World to Come is eternal, we will be able to remove our craving for the pleasures of this world and focus on how to merit the pleasures of the World to Come. The obvious question is, if this world is so insignificant, why does G'd not put us straight in the World to Come? Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto elaborates on this and explains that only in this world do we have the tools to acquire the eternal pleasure and enjoyment of the World to Come. Every one of the 613 commandments is another building block with which we build our personal place in that World. In this way we earn our eternal reward that will give us immeasurable pleasure.
Torah is equivalent to them all
The Jerusalem Talmud (Pei'ah 1:1) teaches that no other commandment measures up to the study of Torah. The Vilna Gaon elaborates on this and explains that with every word of Torah that we study we fulfill a commandment for which we receive a reward. And the reward for Torah study is as valuable as all the combined rewards for all other commandments. As we quote in our prayers every morning from the Talmud (Shabbos 127a), "And the study of Torah is equivalent to them all." One of the ways we have to pay to acquire this precious Torah is by minimizing our interest in the pleasures of this world, and focus on the eternal pleasures of the World to Come.
The Rambam (Laws of Torah Study 3:12) writes that in order to make a lasting acquisition of Torah, we must be ready to sacrifice ourselves in our daily lives. This applies to everyone who wants to acquire Torah. But, as we mentioned in last week's Torah Attitude, the Rambam, based on the words of our sages, sets a higher standard for the Torah scholar, who aspires to be crowned with the crown of Torah. Such a person, says the Rambam (ibid 6), must be totally focused on his studies, and must be aware that it is impossible to amass wealth and honour if he wants to acquire Torah in a major way.
Dedication to Torah studies
Just like a person cannot survive without sleep, one cannot manage without food and other worldly necessities. The message that our sages want to impress upon us is that we must be aware that if we truly want to acquire Torah we must be ready to dedicate ourselves to its study and focus on the spiritual aspects of life. The less interest we show in the materialistic values of this world, the higher levels we will be able to reach on the rungs of the spiritual ladder, and acquire a share in the eternal Torah and its reward.
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
P.S. If you have any questions or enjoyed reading this e-mail, we would appreciate hearing from you. If you know of others who may be interested in receiving e-mails similar to this please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Shema Yisrael Torah Network