Monday, September 2, 2013

Ha'azinu 73 - Torah makes good people better and Bad people worse

Moses continues his last speech and in this week's portion, he uses poetic language in the song of Ha'azinu . He describes the history of the world, in particular that of  the people of Israel, the exile and the final redemption.

In Chapter 32:2, Moses teachings and utterances - the Torah is compared to water. "May my teachings drop like rain, my utterance flow like dew''.  The sages in the Sifri further explain the analogy.

Let my teaching fall like rain: Just as the rain is one thing, yet it falls on trees, enabling each to produce tasty fruit according to the kind of tree it is – the vine in its way, the olive tree in its way and the date palm in its way, so the Torah is one, yet its words yield Scripture, Mishnah, laws and lore. Like showers on new grass: just as showers falls upon plants and make them grow, some green, some red, some black, some white, so the words of Torah produce teachers, worthy individuals, sages, the righteous and the pious.

The sages of the Talmud   qualify the Sifri and say that if a sage is a worthy, refined , and of good character ,  then the words of the Torah are like dew , pleasant and good for him . If not , his learning of Torah will destroy him. The Torah is likewise compared to a drug or potion. If he studies with the right intentions and motives to sanctify the name of heaven , the Torah is a life giving potion and he will merit life  , but if he if he studies for self aggrandizement , or to belittle and disparage others, then the Torah is a poisonous potion and  he will merit  death.

So like water which makes fine plants grow into bigger and more beautiful plants, and thorns – into bigger and   nastier thorns, the Torah makes good people into better and greater people and bad people into more powerful and wicked people.

This is all very surprising -  that  the learning of Torah does  not have a positive effect on bad people. In fact   it makes bad people into more powerful and wicked people. !! Only if people are aware of their shortcomings and want to change and repent , the learning of Torah can be of a help.

The learning of Torah and especially the Talmud – the oral law makes people more intellectual and powerful. Rabbi Meier describes how he could find 150 reasons and arguments to '  le'taheir  et ha'sheretz '  , to purify a ' creepy crawly'  which is innately impure. This intellectual power and ability coupled with self interest and self righteousness can be easily used to make the ends justify the means.

The sages name great and learned men who did not merit the world to come because they were evil  -   Doeg , the Edomite was the head of the Sanhedrin court in the time of Saul the King, and  Achitophel who was King David's teacher. And there was Korach who led the rebellion against Moses.

In order to ensure that a person benefits and grows from his Torah learning, the Torah and  sages set certain preconditions and guidelines to people engaging in Torah study and encourage them to always have in their minds their goals and reasons for learning Torah.

Here are some of the preconditions, guidelines and goals .

Derech e'retz kadmah la'torah  - One should make sure that he is of good character before he starts learning.

Focus on doing what is straight and good in the eyes of God and man.-  v'asita et ha'yashar ve'hatov ........Serve God and be of service to man 

One's learning should be part of one's serving God – a'vodat Hashem  and one should try to find in one's learning a lesson that one can apply in one's daily life.

Be a student of Abraham – Those who have a good eye -  ayin tova, a positive outlook and are magnanimous both financially and emotionally, are modest and humble - ru'ach ne'mu'cha, and have an undemanding soul - nefesh she'fe'la ,satisfied with one's lot.

The fear of sin  is one's goal and it takes precedence over one's  learning – the beginning of wisdom is the fear of sin.- 

One's learning is for the sake of heaven and there is a lot of joy and intrinsic motivation in one's learning.

Torah gives people power and as Lord Acton said ' Power corrupts'. On Rosh Hashanah we pray to God to give us life. Life is also very empowering. As parents, teachers, business leaders, employers and colleagues we can impact and influence the lives of those around us.

If we use the guidelines which the sages have taught to protect and guide our learning , our Torah in return will  impact positively on our fear of heaven , good character, altruism and our joy of  life.

 We can connect to God and become better people by studying his Torah and in the process always being aware of the preconditions , guidelines and goals involved in studying Torah

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