Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Seriously -- One Should Learn Sh'lo Lishma For the Right Reasons

There is no advantage to living far from one's grandchildren.  That being said, and being in the unfortunate position of living far from my grandchildren, I attempt to console myself by making up benefits.  Here's one: when one sees his grandchildren only two or three times a year, you really get an acute realization of how much they are growing and changing.  When I visited at Pesach, my oldest granddaughter (all of barely 7) was then reading hebrew and I had the pleasure of doing her reading homework with her -- bah, boo, ki, shah, etc.  When I visited just last week, we could now learn chumash -- real content, not just reading skills -- with her.  Even better, I finally understood a Rashi with which I have struggled for years.

We learned pashas lech l'cha, and the end of verse 3 in chapter 12 says, "and all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you."  Asked my granddaughter, "Why is that a bracha for Avram?"  I answered simply because he is a tzadik and wants everyone to be blessed.  Seeing I didn't understand her question, she tried again, "Ok.  But why is that a bracha for Avram?"  I was beginning to understand her question.  It's that same Rashi that bothered me for years.  When Klal Yisrael were preparing to leave Mitzrayim, HaShem told Moshe to have them go borrow gold, silver, and fancy clothes from the Egytians.  Why?  So that Avraham Avinu would not have a complaint that HaShem had kept His promise that that Avraham's children would be enslaved, but didn't keep His promise that they would leave with great wealth.  The wealth, of course, was the Torah and eternal life... what value is gold and silver compared to that?  Yet, Avraham, who certainly understood the value of the Torah and eternal life -- to the point that he was willing to sacrifice his own son -- would have complaints?!

There is a three way machlokes regarding the intent required when learning Torah and doing mitzvos.  (See "marogla d'pumei d'rava"/a favorite and oft repeated statement of Rava quoted in Brachos 17a, and Rashi there, d.h. "ha'oseh sh'lo lishma no'ach lo sh'lo nivra".)  There is a level of "lishma"/simply because it's the right thing to do.  Then there are two levels of "lo lishma"/doing it for ulterior motives.  One lo lishma is because being a frum Jew comes with benefits and I like the benefits.  The other lo lishma is simply for the intellectual stimulation.  That last one is a disaster and the gemara concludes it would have been better for him to have never been created.  (See also, here.)

What's the value of that other lo lishma?  That lo lishma is where we all start and is the ladder to lishma -- the only ladder.  If a person who is just beginning says he is learning lishma, he is either lying or fooling himself.  It takes time and effort to develop into lishma -- effort that can only be sustained by the lo lishma of the enjoyment of the benefits.  Of course my granddaughter doesn't understand why Avraham Avinu feels blessed that others get a blessing because of him; I barely understand it myself, and even that is only on an intellectual level.  Of course Klal Yisrael in our national infancy didn't understand the incredible wealth they were receiving by attaching themselves to HaShem via His Torah, but the gold and silver and beautiful clothes would open them up to it.

The last night of our visit I experienced another first -- taking my grandson to Avos u'Banim/Father and Son learning.  There was learning... and a free throw basketball challenge and a raffle.  That's the kind of lo lishma that grows into lishma.


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: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…