Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Gemara, Halacha, Mussar

R' Dovid Siegel, shlita, once asked me if I really understood what the experience of olam haba is.  Not what it will feel like, just what it is.  (We always have light conversations like that.)  Having been learning for years by that point and feeling confident, I replied, "A person experiences himself, the being he built during his life in this world."  At that point R' Seigel started talking to himself, "I see where he got that idea, M'silas Y'sharim, Derech HaShem.  Maybe it's just the way he's expressing himself?  No; we are in beis medrash, that is certainly what he thinks."  I was wondering what mistake I had made and waiting for the rebbi to enlighten me.  He did.  "Not yourself; that would be intensely and profoundly lonely.  The experience of olam haba is feeling and enjoying the presence of HaKadosh Baruch Hu!"  I could have argued and said that's what I really meant, but what would be the point.  He was right; I had things quite wrong.  Baruch HaShem for the mid-course correction.

So how do you get there?  How do you turn yourself from an olam haze being into an olam haba being?  One answer: live the mitzvos.  Not do the mitzvos, live the mitzvos.   To do that you need halacha to know what to do and mussar to keep reminding yourself how important this all is and the dangers of shirking your obligations.  Then there's gemara.  Let's take a look.

Open up to the first page of the gemara, "From when can you say the evening sh'ma?".  Reasonable question.  The answer ought to be equally reasonable and straightforward; right?  What ensues, however, is something about the kohanim eating t'ruma (wait, who said anything about t'ruma?  And what is t'ruma, anyway?) and the watch of the angels.  Then we have a story about getting back late from a wedding. (Is Rabban Gamliel always up past midnight and ready to launch into a halacha/mussar shi'ur?)  Then we have burning of fats and guts, something about when you can eat korbanos,  What's going on here?  Fortunately, the gemara asks exactly that question, "Who said there is even an obligation to say k'ri'as sh'ma, let alone when to say it?"  Now we're getting somewhere.  "And, besides," says the gemara, "why start with the night time k'ri'as sh'ma?  Why didn't we start with the morning?"  Answer: when describing the creation of the world, HaShem put evening before morning, as in: "There was evening and there was morning; day one."  Wow... that certainly clears things up.

What's going on is that our minds are set solidly in olam haze mode.  Halacha and mussar can mold us, but only if we are malleable.  Gemara takes are stiff minds and shakes things up.  There is no way to learn through even a line or two of gemara without coming out dazed.  So the gemara loosens us up, the halacha brings us into line, and mussar keeps us going.  Go team!


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…