Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…