Thursday, January 9, 2014

What does it mean that the Torah is the greatest mitzvah?

 Guest Post:

When I was becoming frum, I learned about mitzvos. They were the big challenge: shabbos, niddah, kashrus. Now all I hear about it Limud Torah, as if it's the only mitzvah. I hear often, Limud Torah is the greatest mitzvah. What's the source for this I ask people. They say, "Talmud Torah c'neged culam." This doesn't seem a good source. Cneged doesn't mean greater. It doesn't even mean equal as "shekul" should be a better word for that. R' Joseph Soloveitchik said  "Talmud Torah c'neged culam" doesn't mean Torah is greater than mitzvos but it teaches us about mitzvos, helping us to do them.  (The Rav Thinking Aloud, p. 69) This explanation goes better with the word cneged. Additionally, there are other statements of chazal such as "tzit tzit are equal to all the other mitzvos" and "yishuv ha'aretz is equal to all the other mitzvos." I asked a Rav recently who told me the source is a posuk somewhere that says "the purpose of the world is Torah study." But the Vilna Gaon, even shelaimh, 1, says the purpose is to fix middos.
So is there a source for this idea that Torah study is the greatest mitzvah?

I find the whole concept of Torah study as everything a tremendous turnoff considering I have to spend 65 hours a week earning a living and I start wondering why I'm working so hard to keep mitzvos when they are not important.

32 comments :

  1. Im lo brisisi yomam valayla chukot eretz veshamayim lo samtiJanuary 9, 2014 at 2:40 AM

    Torah is ubber Alles!
    Vedibarto bam beshivtecho, uvlechtecha baderech, beshochbecha, uvkimecha, vehogiso bah yomam valayla. If you don't know it, how can you va'asisem es kol mitzvotay, and keneged is the literature of Anshei kneset hagdolah, shokul keneged is the coin of the Mishnah. When you eat, sleep, work, and whatever you do is all so that you should be able to learn in your spare time, it is considered yomam valayla. And don't forget, lilmod ulelamed, 'kedei' lishmor velaasot ulekayem es kol divrei talmud torasecha. Shomer Torah UMITZVOT go hand in hand.

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    1. Do you hear the emotionalism in your words? That's how the Torah study cult has got our heads going. It's nearly impossible to get a rational, calm explanation of what is supposedly an intellectual activity. This is the Chasidisization of the Livtish world. All eating and working is for Torah study? Seriously? Ever heard of yiras Hashem? Avodah? Chesed?

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    2. Rebi lo shono R Chiya mino lanJanuary 13, 2014 at 1:22 PM

      Ever heard of Loi zu ela af zu? vechol kavanoso yihye leshem shamayim. Have you ever looked into mussar sefarim, it is all over the place. You completely missed the Guests question summed up in the last paragraph, " I find the whole concept of Torah study as everything a tremendous turnoff considering I have to spend 65 hours a week earning a living and I start wondering why I'm working so hard to keep mitzvos when they are not important."
      Ki heim chayenu veorech yamenu, where it teaches you All Taryag mitzvot. Rebi lo shono, Rabi chiya mino lan.

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  2. אלה דבר שאדם אוכל פירותיהם בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לעולם הבא כיבוד אב ואם וגמילות חסדים והבאת שלום כו' ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם.
    This does not mean that we ignore our obligations to support a family. It does not mean that we don't work. Indeed, the Zohar Chodosh says that one who does not work is like a pagan. So, there is a place for a teaching that Torah is equal to every mitsvah, and there is a place for going to work, "because all Torah without work results in sin". There is a time and a place for everything. Some can learn very little and some a lot. Both are holy and good people if they do what they can.

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    1. You seem to have ignored the questioners question. You have done what everyone does which is to robotically say, ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם.

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    2. I was expecting that given your association with R's Sterbach and Treibitz that you would be providing substantive answers to these questions. I have all ready done myself enough damage over the years by going to the average baal habayis or middle management rabbi who just spews cliches. If you are just going to make posts in order to solicit random answers from the public, I don't know how helpful that is. Could do more harm than good.

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  3. Check out the yerushlami on that mishna in Peiah:

    רבי ברכיה ורבי חייא דכפר תחומין: חד אמר: אפילו כל העולם כולו אינו שווה אפילו לדבר אחד מהתורה; וחד אמר: אפילו כל מצוותיה של תורה אינן שוות לדבר אחד מהתורה.

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    1. So doesn't this contradict cneged culam or torah is greater because it leads to doing or those in kiddushin who say doing is greater?

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  4. Check this out:

    http://www.jewswithquestions.com/index.php?/topic/592-the-greatness-of-torah-learning/

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    1. I checked it out. Really crazy stuff. No substance to it. Just the same old ranting about Torah study that has that modern bluster to it with a terrible disregard for avodas Hashem.

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    2. What is avodas hashemJanuary 13, 2014 at 1:31 PM

      See Rashi Im bechikosai telechu: Vyikra 26:3
      also Dvorim 5 Velimadtem osom ushmartem laasosom, that answered not only those questions you asked, but all those you will continue to ask. ved"al

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  5. Derech haShem says that God created the world so that we can get close to him; the mitzvot were designed so that we could utilise everything in order to achieve this goal. The torah (tanach/bichtav/bal peh) has two uses: firstly it is a means to an end; without torah study you wouldn't know how to do the mitzvot. Secondly, it is unique in that study itself also brings you closer to God depending on how much you understand (and if even if you don’t) and which parts of the torah you learn.
    However, he also stresses that there are two conditions for torah study. Firstly, it must be done with the correct respect and awe and secondly the person must also be rectifying his deeds and therefore be worthy of studying. (Teaching someone who doesn’t keep to these is akin to idol worship. )

    In short, torah study is only worth anything if you are living your life keeping the mitzvot to the best of your ability and treat the study itself with awe.
    Charedi society today has made torah study mundane, something that everyone must spend their life doing. People study because it is all they know and they have nothing else; not because they have a choice and out of respect and awe they choose to study. They position it above living their lives whilst carrying out mizvot even though the purpose of the world and the first purpose of the torah is exactly that.

    For some reason they have come up with a ranking system; they would perhaps say that an hours study is worth more than a week at a job , yet in the gemarah there is the tale of the person who got the same heaven as one of the gedolim because he honoured his parents. There is the other tale concerning the man who used to put challot in the aron at his shul in lieu of the lechem haponim and the rav who stopped him was punished. Whatever they claim, we have no way of ranking what is worth more and what brings you closer to God.
    Rav Cook said that if you look at the bracha we say every morning 'asher bachar banu' you'll notice that first we thank haShem for making us into a nation and only then for the Torah. People are wrong when they think judaism is all about torah study and not about being a nation; both are vital. The same goes with living your life according to halacha. As I understand Judaism and Derech haShem, we must live normal lives utilising everything in the world to do mitzvot and only then, we have an extra special task of learning torah that we have to set aside time for and give it the respect it deserves.

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    1. Good answer, especially when noting this new thing called the ranking system. I find it very crass.

      I'll tell you what I think is really going on. You have a whole lot of people who make a living via Torah study. This is the source of their passion for it. They need you to do the same so that you'll give them your money for Lord knows they don't make any on their own.

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  6. For a discussion about this go to:
    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/search?q=talmud+torah
    I don't vouch he's correct but he raises your questions.

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    1. Yes he's coming from a similar perspective and brings actual Torah references to make his point, which is not something have I heard anyone in the Torah study worship crowd do.

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  7. וכמו שאמרו, אם רואה אדם שיסורים באים עליו יפשפש במעשיו. פשפש ולא מצא יתלה בביטול תורה (ברכות ה). והדקדוש מפורסם באם יש בו ביטול תורה איך קאמר פשפש ולא מצא? אלא, יתלה בביטול תורה, הכוונה, שלא רצה לעסוק במצות ה׳, ובצרכי הציבור מפני שהתירא מביטול תורה, וזה עוון פלילי, כי כל התורה לא באה אלא ללמד לבני אדם להועיל ולהיטב לאחרים ולא להתיראות ולחוש לעצמו בלבד
    הרבי מקאצק-
    (ר' אברהם פרייס, אמרי אברהם, פרשת חיי שרה, דרשה ב, אות יא)

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  8. Thanks for sharing the p'sat of the ke'ne'GED
    Speaking from memory – there is a gemorah which asks – which is greater – the learning of Torah or ma'a'she = action. The gemorah does not bring the answer – Talmud torah ke'neged coolam. The gemorah gives a strange answer – it must be Torah because it leads to action. – Which would imply that action – the result we want and Torah being the means is greater? The answer I heard, also relevant to 15th Shevat, is that the Torah we learn, internalize and integrate is who we are, the action, our mitzvoth are the expressions of who we are. Like wise the mishnah in Avos says that our actions should be more than our wisdom. That we should engage in learning with a commitment to give expression to the learning.

    There is also a wider definition of Torah , any informal learning, learning from life itself wearing the lenses of Torah learning and values allows us to be in learning every moment of our lives.

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    1. Thank you Allan. Your answer shows that the whole thing is hard to understand, really something of a dichotomy, not so clear and all that good stuff.

      Yes, that's a gemara in kiddushin. And look not only at the conclusion but at one of the arguments in that gemara which is doing is greater. Those were amaaroim that held that. The haredi world today acts if there's no debate, no question, Torah is the great mitzvah. There was a speaker at siyum a shas who said, "torah is not just another mitzvah." What a shocking thing to say. Sounds Xtian to me, nearly antinomian.

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  9. Well it goes much further, doesn't it? After all it seems every week there's another criminal from the "Learn don't earn" community in the news for some sort of financial, personal or sexual crime. So if learning Torah all day doesn't lead to a pious, humble life where any thoughts of indecency are avoided then what good is learning?

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    1. You can argue this is in part of result of the 'learning' avodah zara. You teach a generation of people that only learning matters and the mitzvos are an afterthought, then you are going to get crooks. It's almost as if the satan wanted to take one final crack at the jewish people. He got 90% to go blatantly off the derech. How can he hurt the ones who didn't leave? By getting them to leave the mitvos without their knowing it. This whole learning as everything approach has caused an effective going off the derech by thousands of people who consider themselves observant. But they don't value mitzvos. They only value 'learning.' so are they really observant?

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    2. this idea of "learning avoda zara" is ridiculous and shows a lack of understanding of what Torah is, was and will be.

      Hal I don't know what you think you are accomplishing but you obviously have an ax to grind

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    3. i have never heard of a single criminal or molester who was in kollel. name one.

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    4. Anything can be made into an avodah zara. If you don't understand that, then you don't understand avodah zara.

      As for having an axe to grind, maybe I'm just asking a question or proposing an idea. You really don't need to get personal or insulting. I have noticed this throughout the frum world, when people don't have an answer to a question, or can't deal with a question or a thought, they make personal attacks on one's motives or character. If you are going to get like that don't make an offer to field questions.

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    5. You are over reacting. You can't have it both ways. You attack the yeshiva world as making an avoda zara of learning and then turn around and say you don't want to be attacked. Your comment below clearly displays a certainty of the evils of the system and how the focus on learning is the culprit.

      "You can argue this is in part of result of the 'learning' avodah zara. You teach a generation of people that only learning matters and the mitzvos are an afterthought, then you are going to get crooks. It's almost as if the satan wanted to take one final crack at the jewish people. He got 90% to go blatantly off the derech. How can he hurt the ones who didn't leave? By getting them to leave the mitvos without their knowing it. This whole learning as everything approach has caused an effective going off the derech by thousands of people who consider themselves observant. But they don't value mitzvos. They only value 'learning.' so are they really observant?"

      I have noticed this amongst people that attack chareidim that they are extremely sensitive

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    6. @DT "I have noticed this amongst people that attack chareidim that they are extremely sensitive"

      it could be that these people had at some point:

      a) been haredi; /

      b) been influenced by Hareidi rabbis and their various claims

      c) been deeply damaged by accepting hareidi dogma, whether by going to shiurim, getting involved with groups like Habad; Aish; Ohr sameach etc.

      d) Had been influenced by a Rav who turned out to be rotten, self-serving, dishonest and manipulative.

      e) heard or bought into the learning ideology where they berate the
      "goyim" who do not learn; do not dress correctly; own Tv/ iphone/internet etc.

      And this is all a relative issue - for example the "less" Hareidi Eida is sensitive to the stink bombs that the more haredi sikrikim let off.






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    7. Ketzapichus bidvoshJanuary 13, 2014 at 1:41 PM

      You remind me of the famous story of ketzapichus bidvosh. No matter what you are taught, you just go back at it again till you get to ADAM.

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  10. See Tanya ch. 37 for a very deep explanation of the relationship between Torah and Mitzvos.

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  11. Learn Nefesh Hachayim and you will see why Torah is greater than any other individual mitzva. However it does not mean that it supplants them all.

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  12. The שו"ע הרב פ"ד מהל' תלמוד תורה offers a clear explanation of the issues raised here. I think this is what he says:

    A. Someone who learns in order to know how to act according to Torah law – his Mitzvoh of learning is equal to ALL other mitzvohs COMBINED.

    B. Someone who learns about subjects that have NO practical application - his Mitzvoh of learning is GREATER than any other SINGLE Mitzvoh.

    C. Someone who learns about subjects that DO have practical applications, but he has no intention of fulfilling what he learns – is WORSE than an Am Haoretz. Still, some say he should keep on learning, because the “light” of Torah may convince him to accept the yoke of Mitzvohs.

    D. When one is faced with a Mitzvah that others can’t do as well as he can, he is OBLIGATED to stop learning & do the Mitzvah.

    Reasons:
    A. Learning Torah has TWO unique characteristics: 1) Learning Torah is of in itself a tremendous mitzvah. As dovid & Yehoishophot Oliver noted / alluded to earlier, learning Torah has a special ability of bringing a higher level of דביקות than any other Mitzvah (see also ב"ח או"ח ריש סימן מ"ח). 2) Additionally, learning Torah is a necessary prerequisite that only by learning is it possible to PROPERLY fulfill any Mitzvah, according to all the NECESSARY DETAILS involved in the Mitzvah (I think many people aren’t aware of #2). The two advantages TOGETHER make learning equal to ALL other mitzvahs COMBINED.

    B. When learning has NO practical application, only #1 mentioned in “A” above applies. I think the Nefesh Hachaim talks a lot about the advantages of this type of learning.

    C. The GOAL of learning MUST include action. Someone that knows & doesn’t do is worse than an עם הארץ who is an unintentional sinner, while he is considered an intentional sinner.

    D. One is OBLIGATED to stop learning & do a Mitzvah that others can’t do as well, because if one disregards ACTION he is showing that he belongs under category “C” above.

    NOBODY holds that working is Bittul Torah – some DO strongly encourage Kollel.

    NOBODY holds that it’s okay to learn & not do – except for the good ol’ Yetzer Horah…

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  13. Talmud Torah kneged kulom may be understood as follows: If I want you to do ten chores I can write up a list of what I want done.Alternatively if I could implant my intelligence etc. in your head you would think like me ,possibly emote like me and hence do what I want done. Both R Chaim Voloziner and the Baal Hatanya explain talmud Torah as our seichel connecting with Sichlo Yisborach. Hence Talmud Torah more than anything else catalyzes our development of the Tzelem Elokim in us.Mitzvos are doing His will Torah is becoming like Him

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  14. Dear Guest Poster: What you're talking about is really just a Yeshivish phenomenon. Look at Chabadniks, other chassidim, mussar people, the Centrist/Modern Orthodox -- they don't stress Torah study above all else. Chabad stresses the importance of each mitzvah, Breslov stresses the importance of personal prayer in one's own words, other chassidus stresses devekut and the refinement of character traits, etc. All of them stress Torah study too, but not exclusively.

    That said, it's easy to understand why Torah study is greater than everything because observance can't exist without study.

    But that doesn't mean that Torah study is the main part of each individual person's purpose in life (the idea that each person has a distinct purpose is widespread; even the non-mystical R' YB Soloveitchick said this).

    Everyone should spend at least some time studying Torah on a daily basis if possible, to ensure they can be observant and fulfill the mitzvah of Torah study. But beyond that any particular individual's purpose may well lie elsewhere -- to take care of children or others who need help, to do particular mitzvos, to achieve something important in the realm of music or medicine or science or engineering that will improve people's lives. The practice of having the vast majority of the healthy adult male population spend all their time studying Torah deprives the world of all the contributions they could have made through mitzvah observance and other concrete benefits to the world.

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  15. Pirkei Avot 1:17 - Shimon his son said: All my days have I grown up among the wise and I have not found anything better for a man than silence. Studying Torah is not the most important thing rather fulfilling it. Whoever multiplies words causes sin.

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