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Thought for the Day: Greatness By Emulation

Most anyone who has ever taken a math, science (real science like physics and chemistry, that is; yes, I'm a physics snob and only include chemistry to be polite), or engineering class has said, "I understand the material, I just can't do the problems."  Every single person who has ever taught one of those classes hears that statement on at least a weekly basis.  My response to that question, by the way, has always been, "Then you don't understand the material."

My response was true in the absolute sense, but a bit insensitive.  (Are you shocked?)  What they meant was that they understood the basic concepts as building blocks, but did not understand how to make them work together.  Something like a person who has never used a computer, but understands that one types on a keyboard, moves and presses buttons (button if you are an Apple snob) on a mouse, and then wonderful things are supposed to happen.  But they don't.

There really is only one way to get from here to there, and that is to do the problems.  The only way to get started on that, however, is to have a mentor.  As important as that is for computers, engineering, math, and physics, it is critical when it comes to the perfection of one's soul.  Except that I haven't seen anyway say this explicitly, I would say that it is not humanly possible to perfect oneself without a mentor.

So Chazal gave us mentors.  The rishonim explain that when a mussar vort is said in someone's name, that someone made it his point live and teach that mussar vort; he became the embodiment of the statement.  This idea brings a new depth to the Chazal (Bava Kama 30a): Rav Yehuda says that a person who wants to the reach the pinnacle of perfection should fufill the teachings of n'zikin (damages), Rava says the the teachings of Pirkei Avos, other say he said the teaching of brachos.  Some have the text as "Ravina" instead of "Rava".  As explained before, the Maharsha does not see this as a machlokes, but as a three pronged approach to perfection.  Work on nizikin to perfect your "bein adam l'chaveiro", brachos to perfect "bein adam la'makom", and Avos to perfect "bein adam l'atzmo".  According to this, we have a fine role model in Rav Yehuda for "bein adam l'chaveiro", but when it comes to a person's self image and his relationship with HaShem, there is less clarity.  Maybe Rava, maybe Ravina; maybe first on self image, maybe first on relationship with HaShem.

Perhaps the message is that working both on one's own self image and his relationship with HaShem is intensely personal.  Moreover, since a person is created "b'tzelem Elokim", working on either self image or relationship with HaShem will bring a person to the same perfection.  It would come out a chiddush, then, that one cannot have a healthy self-image without a healthy relationship to the Creator and Author of Reality Himself.

HaShem, His Torah, and His nation Yisrael are inextricably bound.


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