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Thought for the Day: Torah Needs To Be Yours, Not Just "In Your Hand"

Pirkei Avos is at the same time one of the most accessible tractate of mishnayos and at the same time most enigmatic.  That makes  a lot of sense, as it is all about hashkafa.  One of the most important milestones in my life was realizing how important it is to have a proper frame of reference.

Many of us have had the experience of sitting on a train at the station, watching the train on the adjacent tracks get more distant, and not being able to discern if you or the other train is the one moving.  Things get more complicated when you are not moving in a straight line.  For example, when riding a merry go round, one seems to feel an outward force (know as the centrifugal force), when in actuality the only force acting on you is the frictional force keeping you from continuing in a straight line.  The centrifugal force is an artifact (known in physics as pseudo force) that is due to you making your observations from an accelerating frame of reference.  (Oh.. wait!  This isn't a physics lecture, is it?  How embarrassing!)

The situation is all the more complex when trying to view reality from a Torah (ie, True) perspective while making our observations from a western (ie,crazy) frame of reference.  Pirkei Avos is therefore crucial to the newly observant.  On the other hand, it is also crucial for continuing development as are insights mature and deepen, our perspective also need fine tuning (and sometimes a complete overhaul).

One mishna that has bothered me for years (and probably decades) is 3:15:
Rabbi Elazar of Modiim said: One who is not careful with kodshim, belittles the importance chol ha'mo'ed, shames another Jew in public, treats the covenant of Abraham our father as nothing special, and teaches meanings in the Torah which are not in accord with halachah -- even though he has in his hand Torah and ma'asim tovim -- has no share in olam habah.
Two things bothered me.  First, even though he has Torah and ma'asim tovim, no share in olam habah?!  What happened to mi'toch sh'lo lishma ba lishma (doing things with an ulterior motive brings one to a level of doing things completely l'sheim shamayim)?  Second (after some maturity) I wondered even more, how is it possible that someone with Torah and ma'asim tovim can have those attitudes?

As I processed that depth of R' Shmuel Engel's p'shat in the angels claiming ownership of the Torah in shamayim because of the din of bar metzra, and Moshe Rabanu's response that Torah is for us human beings a matter of life and death, the answer to both questions became chillingly clear.  The Tanna is ever so precise with his words.  The one with this bad attitude and no portion in olam habah has Torah and ma'asim tovim in his hand!  He has not incorporated Torah into himself at all.  Since he is treating the Torah as simply a luxury (intellectually stimulating and all that), then the din of bar metzra returns; the Torah is not his at all, but remains in heaven.  Since he has not connected himself to the Torah, of course he has not portion in olam habah!  He is like an astronaut that is carrying his space suit in his hand; he can only exist in the spaceship, but can never venture into the vast reality that lays waiting for him.

HaShem!  Sein chelkeinu b'torasecha!  Please grant us our portion in your Torah!


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