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Thought for the Day: The Benefit of Fear

I am learning pirkei avos with my son l'zecher nishmas my father, Yaakov ben Yosef, alav hashalom (yes, my son is named for my father's father).  There is a special z'chus when a father learns with a son that they get siyata d'shmaya to arrive a true understanding.  The only downside of that is finding out I had wrong (well, at least not 100% accurate) p'shat all these years.  Oh well, not the first time, and I am confident (100% this time) that it won't be the last.

The incident that prompted this post as learning the mishna that is the basis for R' Noah Weinberg's "48 Ways to Wisdom" series.  The series is exceptional wherein R' Weinberg uses the topics of the mishna to explain how to live a healthy and productive life; it is not an explanation of the mishna.  That realization hit me as my son and I were learning the mishna.  The intent of the mishna, on the other hand, is to teach you the changes that are wrought in your very being by learning/acquiring Torah.  In one swell foop I now had to readjust how I understood the mishna.  Fortunately, the siyata d'shamaya hadn't run out, so I feel more of less confident sharing some of the new insights.

The mishna says that among the changes that come with Torah is "yira v'eima".  It seems more politically correct to say "reverence", but the words really mean "fear and terror".  The obvious questions is, "Why would I want more of that in my life?"  My first real job after graduate school, was working on the project that would produce the Loma Linda Proton Treatment Center.  I had a choice of a couple of jobs and Dr. Slater (the one for whom the treatment center is named) invited my wife and me out to meet the staff and encourage me to to join.  (I did; very smart move on his part inviting my wife.)   Dr. Slater and his wife (yes, he knew how to convince someone to take a job) met my wife and I for dinner.  Loma Linda had pioneered in utero heart surgery and I asked, "I know that the in utero heart surgery is very beneficial, but what makes it so different than other heart surgeries?"  Dr. Slater began, "Well, besides the fact that the patient is the size of a walnut..."  I stopped him there; rather the look on my face stopped him there.  I knew the heart of a fetus was small, but that visual gave me an entirely different appreciation of that difficulty and extraordinary risks of that surgery.  That's all the fear did for me.  For the surgeon, on the other hand, that kind of fear gives him both focus and energy.  Focus because he understands the consequences and the benefits; energy because no time or movements are wasted.

That's what "eisek b'torah" -- learning and living Torah -- does for our lives.  If gives us focus and energy to convert every passing moment into worlds of eternal life.


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