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Thought for the Day: Learning Trumps Action

Chazal say (Kiddushin 40B): "talmud gadol o ma'aseh gadol? ... talmud gadol sh'talmud meivi lidei ma'aseh"; usually translated as "Is learning or action more important?  Learning, because it brings one to action."  The problem with that translation is how can learning be more important than action if it is action that gives importance to learning?

I am probably going to regret this, but the most vivid resolution I know to this conundrum is found in the movie "The Karate Kid" (Don't throw anything at me please!)  Basically, a downtrodden kid goes to a supposed great karate master who looks pretty pathetic.  Things get more pathetic when the "master" tells the kid to wax all his old cars (there's lots and lots of them).  To make matters worse, the old coot insists that the cars be waxed a certain way, "Wax on!  Wax off!"  After that and several more tedious and exhausting lessons, the kid gets fed up and rebels.  At that point the master demonstrates that "Wax on!  Wax off!" was simply a way to teach an important karate technique.  Had the kid just practiced the hand movements, there is no way he would have gotten the same level of skill as he got by actually waxing all those dozens of cars.

So now let us translate the above Chazal as: "Is learning or action more important?  Learning; but it must be the kind of learning that comes from action, or at least done in order to come to action."

Why bring this up now?  A friend (you know the kind, seems to have potential, but is kind of a nebbich) came over this morning and lamented that he had said "v'sein tal u'matar" in ma'ariv last night.  I asked why he didn't look at the vasikin calendar he keeps in his wallet, "Umm.... too lazy; besides, I looked at the instructions in the ArtScroll!"  So I asked him to read the instructions to me.  "Start on Dec 4, or Dec 5 in a leap year."  I asked him to read it again, this time with all the words, "Start on Dec 4, or Dec 5 when the coming year is a leap year." (In Hebrew the difference between those to statements is one little two letter word at  the end.  Darn it!)  I had just reviewed the relevant halachos, so I reviewed them again to figure out what to do.  It was a whole new learning this time, because I had to tell someone what to actually do; this was no longer theoretical.  It was complicated because of tachanun, k'rias haTorah, its only one day before the official start, etc.  Anyway, the decision was to daven a t'filas nedava (donation/extra shmone esrei) at the end of davening.

So that's what I did... wait, I mean that's what my friend did...  I mean... oh gosh, I was so close.  Anyway, I did really learn those halachos much better and I hope this is the last time I need to make up for a mistake.  Yeah, right.


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