pirkei avot 3:8 - The Fight for Spirituality

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
Elisheva Maline

Rabbi Dostai, the son of Rabbi Yannai would say in the name of Rabbi Meir, "Anyone who forgets even a single thing from his learning, Scripture considers it as if he has forfeited his life for it says (Deuteronomy 4:9), 'Beware and guard yourself lest you forget the words that your eyes have seen.' One might think this mishnah comes to include one [who forgot because] his studies were too difficult for him. Therefore, the Talmud goes on to add, 'Lest the things you have learned will be removed from your heart, throughout the days of your life.' Hence, [we learn from here that] a person has not forfeited his life unless he willfully removes the Torah's teachings from his heart."

In the first paragraph of the shemah (Deuteronomy 6:6), Hashem (G-d) commands us to place all the things [the ten commandments] that He taught us at the Sinai event (when we accepted the Ten Commandments) upon our hearts. The verse says "on" our hearts as opposed to "in" as a nod to the willful ways of humanity. True, most of our hearts have been hardened by the daily grind as well as life's tribulations. The moment our friends and teachers come to instruct us in anything, we need time to absorb their lessons. Therefore, we pray every day for the words we heard at Sinai to eventually become absorbed inside us. 

When Rabbi Dostai comes to agree with Rabbi Meir's condemnation of people who willingly descend their spiritual ladders in the pursuit of stuff  [anything that remains wholly terrestrial] we can see why. In Judaism, and perhaps in connection with everything we do, our [spiritual] status is never stagnant. Life is like a river going downstream and if we are not fighting the current, we are getting swept away. Reviewing a piece of Torah (Oral Law) once or twice will never suffice; a scholar must go over the material many times if he is to retain it... "All day and all night, if need be, so that it is nigh impossible for his Torah learning to enter one ear and out the other leaving just a residue behind. G-d forbid, he should use that residue as a reference point and come to make erroneous judgments by saying that what is prohibited is permissible and vice versa" (Rabbeinu Yonah). After all, spiritual and emotional growth means cutting a swath through the thorns and thickets of confusion. If we stumble through the woods with our eyes closed who's to say that we won't trip over a root and break a leg, G-d forbid?

When we do finally step out from between the trees and blink in the sudden light, we sometimes wonder how it could have taken so long to meet with clarity. However, we must not allow that moment of personal satisfaction to lure us into a state of complacency. Keep fighting the good fight.

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