Wednesday, May 18, 2011

where your feet may take you

אמר דוד רבש"ע בכל יום ויום הייתי מחשב ואומר למקום פלוני ולבית דירה פלונית אני הולך והיו רגלי מביאות אותי לבתי כנסיות ולבתי מדרשות הה"ד ואשיבה רגלי אל עדותיך

The Midrash at the opening of our parsha tells us that David haMelech would awaken each morning and think about going various places, but his feet would always carry him to the Beis Medrash. It's hard to imagine David haMelech waking up, thinking that maybe it's a good day to go to the Mets game (OK, maybe the Yankees) but then finding that when he got off the #7 train his feet took him willy-nilly to the Beis Medrash. I hope we have a better impression of David haMelech than that!

I think Chazal here are addressing the biggest challenge, aside from parnasa, that faces those who dedicate their life to learning Torah. Most of us who are not learning spend our working day either providing a service or making something -- hopefully the service we provide is useful and what we make provides some benefit to others. At the end of the day a doctor can go home and can feel good about his job -- he spent the day helping the sick. A social worker can go home and feel good because he/she helped the poor or needy. A construction worker can look at a building or bridge and feel accomplished that he/she helped bring it about. A lawyer... OK, I'll quit while I'm ahead (lawyer joke). What can the guy who spends his day learning say for himself? He's 25 years old, he has two kids, he can barely make ends meet, and he comes home at the end of a long day and after 10 hours of struggling he can say that maybe he understands pshat in a Tosfos in Bava Kamma -- it just doesn't give you that warm and fuzzy feeling. I can guarantee you that if not his parents, then his friends, maybe a neighbor, maybe an acquaintance ,has at least once asked this guy, "Nu, so when are you going to do something productive?" meaning, do a job like the rest of us and contribute to society. And the truth is that if his parents, his friends, his neighbors, have never asked this question, the guy, assuming he is a thoughtful, reflective guy, has undoubtedly asked the question to himself on more than one occasion.

Right after birchas haTorah every morning we recite a list of mitzvos that provide reward in this world as well as the next -- gemilus chassadim, kibud av, hachnasas kallah, etc. The common denominator between these mitzvos is that they are all about service, about contributing to the public welfare, the common good. But there seems to be one exception to the rule, and the exception is actually the most important mitzvah on the list -- "v'talmud Torah k'neged kulam." How does that fit?

If you read yesterday's post you know the answer, but R' Elchanan spells it out -- learning Torah brings G-d's presence into the world, and there is no greater public good than that. Without talmud Torah the world literally could not exist.

David haMelech woke up every morning and thought about going to a "beis dirah" -- making the world into a dirah ba'tachtonim for Hashem's presence, making the world a makom for the Mekomo shel Olam, contributing to tikun ha'olam and society as a whole. How do you do that? Maybe join the Peace Corps, build a hospital, help in a homeless shelter? All good ideas, but David heMelech had an even better idea -- his feet took him to the Beis Medrash. The chiddush of the Midrash is not that David haMelech went to the Beis Medrash instead of some other place -- pshita, lai ka mashma lan, would we have thought otherwise? The chiddush is that David haMelech's Torah study -- Torah study in general -- has meaning in the context of our broader ambition and goal of making the world a better place.

The Midrash does not mean David's thoughts were a b'dieved that he overcame through his feet. Quite the contrary -- David haMelech's thoughts were intentional and deliberate. By focusing on the aspiration to do great things for others, to make the world a better makom and better dirah, his feet had the necessary motivation to carry him to Torah study.

The mitzvah of "V'halacha b'derachav" is all about helping those around us by imitating G-d. "Mah hu rachum...;" "Mah hu mevaker cholim..." etc. To that list of "vhalachta" behaviors we can add another -- "Im b'chukosai teileichu..." This "halicha b'derachav" brings bracha to the world as much as anything else.


  1. Anonymous11:44 AM

    a sympathetic posting, Rav Chaim,
    well-sustained, aspiring, but it
    leaves one quite conundrummed:
    if Torah lishmah by definition lacks utilitarian justification,
    while lesser study lacks that
    without which "the world
    literally could not exist", then
    who on earth is David haMelech?

    ...must be learning in order to do
    sustains the world,
    while lishmahniks hover elsewhere
    halfway to olam haba...

  2. Yasher Koach. A high vort. Ameilus batorah makes this a better world.