Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – part 3

… And above him is someone who can include in his “I” all of his household and family. Someone who walks according to the way of the Torah, his “I” includes the whole Jewish people, since in truth every Jewish person is only like a limb of the body of the nation of Israel
…ולמעלה מזה מי שמכניס לה״אני״ שלו בני ביתו ומשפחתו, והאיש ההולך על פי דרכי התורה, ה״אני״ שלו כולל את כל עם ישראל, שבאמת כל איש ישראל הוא רק כאבר מגוף האומה הישראלית.

We saw last time the first two gradations of soul:
Level 0: The person who thinks their “ani” is only their body.
Level 1: The person who thinks of themselves as body plus soul.

Going beyond this, we get to level 2, at which the gradations become a spectrum rather than discrete (and so I switched to floating-point numbering):

Level 2.0: The person who connects to another, and thus their “ani” extends beyond their individuality.

Typically this first person is through marriage: “עַל כֵּן יַעֲזָב אִישׁ אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ, וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד –Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother, cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Bereishis 2:25) The unity with a spouse.

Then one can find unity with his children (G-d willing they are granted any) or other family. It is easy to stand up to defend one’s children, to see the nuclear family as “me and mine”. The soul reaches progressively higher levels of refinement as he broadens that definition. Once a person reaches the level of connecting to another, it becomes a gradual process of including more and more.

This is the synthesis I promised a couple of installments back.

The first two sections that I divided the introduction into focused on how: G-d created us to have someone to whom to be Good, imitating Hashem means therefore being good to others and being in His Image means refining oneself to be more able to do so in the future, and that “qedushah” (holiness) is the extent to which one is committed to that goal. (With the side effect of requiring drawing away from other goals.)

From proving that this separation must be a side-effect of a person’s qedushah rather than qedushah itself (since it cannot characterize Hashem’s holiness), Rav Shimon moves on to a discusion of the need to have self-interest as part of one’s service of G-d.

With this notion of extending one’s “ani“, we see how a focus on providing Hashem’s Good to others and self-interest do not contradict “as two warring co-wives.” Rather, it is one’s vested interest in the extended self — the ever-widening circle of those you touch and who touch you — that becomes the very motivation for giving.

Notice where the soul is placed in this progression. Connecting to one’s spirituality is lower in ranking than aiding others. First is the person who connected to G-d. Then comes the person who uses that connection to bestow His Good upon them.

The Meshekh Chokhmah (pg 403, top of 2nd col) discusses the priority of Torah learning in relation to the other mitzvos in these terms. The Y-mi Berakhos says that one interrupts learning to build a sukkah or set up a lulav. Rashi (Mes’ Sukkah) says that someone who is going somewhere to teach is exempt from sukkah and lulav. Don’t these two conflict? Learning itself is outranked by the preparation for these two mitzvos, but merely preparation to teach Torah outranks the mitzvos themselves?!

The Meshekh Chokhmah gives what he calls a “taam mufla” (an amazing reason). Learning just to learn is something he could have done before being born. The value in learning is when someone learns al menas la’asos (in order to do).

This is the essence of Moshe’s answer to the angels at Har Sinai. The angels complained to G-d how He could give the Torah to mere flesh and blood rather than them. Moshe answers, “It says ‘kabeid es avikha‘ (honor your father [and mother]), do you have parents?”

The ability to do a mitzvah, even the preparation for a mitzvah, is the whole justification of being born and placing that intellect that can hold Torah into a body that can act.

However, that’s not true for teaching. Therefore, the preparation to teach Torah, traveling to the class outranks mitzvos even as the mere preparation steps for those very same mitzvos outrank learning.

The contrast to Nefesh haChaim (cheleq IV) and its formulation of the ideal of Torah lishmah (studying Torah for its own sake) appears to me to be drastic. There, R’ Chaim Volozhiner portrays the ideal as absorbing and internalizing Hashem’s Wisdom, and thus Torah study is the ultimate mitzvah. The Meshekh Chokhmah’s idea is more along the same lines as Shaarei Yosher — giving Hashem’s Good (including Torah) to others is the highest priority, and the purpose for which we learn and do mitzvos between man and the Omnipresent.

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  1. Larry Lennhoff says:

    Beautiful! I’ve gotten in discussions over the idea that it is better to learn about a mitzvah to perform it. The example I gave was two students walking along the road learning about the requirement of the Kohen Gadol to bury a dead body he found on the side of the road, even if it was Yom Kippur. As they study they each notice that there is a dead body at the side of the road. Each thinks to himself “If I pretend not to see it, I can continue with the higher mitzvah of Torah study and the other guy will have to settle for doing the actual mitzvah itself.” So they wander on, and the body is left unburied.

    The story is hyperbole, but until now it was the best moshol I knew to argue against those who thought learning was more important than doing. I’ll try to use this article going as another resource from now on.

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