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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.


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