Friday, January 28, 2011

MISHPATIM 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim

23 Shevat 5771/January 30, 2011

Someone once asked me why our Torah study halls are so loud. Walk into a yeshiva at almost any time during the day and you will be greeted by a cacophony of noise, a blend of shouts of debate, lively discussion, and melodious chants of ancient words in a blended mix of Hebrew, English, Yiddish, and Aramaic. A library has virtually the opposite atmosphere. There is a pervasive silence of concentration and intense focus, disturbed only by an occasional whisper or soft spoken question or comment. Why are houses of Torah study so diametrically opposite?

Until this week New York was immersed in a Jets-frenzy, hoping that the Jets would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and earn themselves a trip to the Super Bowl. The Empire State Building in New York City was lit up in green and white, the color of the Jets, to spur them on. Alas it was not to be and Jets fans have once again tasted the chalice of disappointment.

Last week during the countdown to the game, I heard an interview between a noted sportscaster and Santana Holmes, the Jets receiver. Holmes played on the Steelers and is friends with many of the players, especially Ike Taylor, the Steelers cornerback. Holmes was told that when Taylor was asked about going up against his friend in the big playoff showdown Taylor replied, “I love him… but I’m going to try to be as disrespectful as possible when we get between those white lines. Friendship doesn’t enter into it then. I’m not going to hesitate to lay him out. No question at all. You know why? Because he aint going to hesitate to crack on me if he gets the chance.”

Holmes replied that it was one hundred percent true. “Yeah, I’m gonna play within the white lines of football. And after the game get over we’re gonna become best friends again… In this game you gotta be physical; you gotta be the aggressor.”

Friendship is great but if you want to be successful in the game, any feelings and sensitivities have to be left behind.

The gemara (Kiddushin 30b) states “Even a father and his son, a rebbe and his disciple, who are engaged in the study of Torah in one gate, becomes enemies, one with the other. However, they do not emerge from there until they become lovers, one with the other.” Rashi explains that they become enemies because they question each other’s opinion and do not accept each other’s postulations.

When one goes to a library to read his motive is to take information that has already been recorded and intellectually ingest it. He can decide whether he agrees with what he reads, but the text itself is not up for discussion. Torah study however is vastly different. The words and opinions may have been recorded, but how to understand the words and opinions is subject to intense debate.

When one begins to study a volume of Talmud he is commencing a vivacious pursuit of truth – truth which can be understood from different perspectives. Part of the intensity of its study is that there can be more than one correct answer.

Proper Torah study wherein one is dedicated to true understanding of the profundity and depth of the ancient wisdom must preclude friendships, and personal biases. Before one can begin its study he must divest himself of personal sensitivities so that his perspective is not skewered by his own vapid sensitivities.

However, to be candidly honest, the aforementioned analogy is severely wanting. It may be true that one can battle it out on a football field and put aside all friendships, and then reclaim the friendship after the game. However, it is not the football game itself which develops the friendship. Not so in regard to Torah study. The Talmud notes that the study and intense intellectual – and often heartless - debate itself fosters the deepest camaraderie and friendship. There is no deeper bond that connects two souls than the bond of Torah. And that is why we shout passionately in the Bais Medrash.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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