Sunday, 13 April 2014

Torah Learning in Action: Erev Pesach, Motzai Yom Kippur, Erev Shabbos

There are two main times when one is truly granted the opportunity to put all of one's Torah learning into action - Erev Pesach and Motzai Yom Kippur (the night following Yom Kippur). I guess Erev Shabbos can be added to the list as well - but I'm certain about the other two. It is at these times, that the fullness of one's Middot improvement can be accessed!

I'm fond of seeing the amount of learning that goes into Torah study during the year. I know my own responsibilities, but the "excitement" really builds up when it comes to two special times of the year - just before Pesach and just after Yom Kippur! Let me explain!

On an average day, many good Jews find themselves with a Gemara in front of them. Relaxed as they finally devote a part of their day to Torah learning, the learning becomes filled with life. Real world situations begin to come out from the scenarios brought in the Gemara and other holy books. I know myself how in-depth the conversation can become - but what counts, as the Mishnah teaches, is action. Action is the main thing! We open our books to learn about how we should behave when the time comes. Torah study not partnered with action is worthless. It becomes an intellectual exercise - one in which (often) two people debate a scenario proving how smart they are, only to find neither have understood anything regarding the practicality involved. One can go through the entire Talmud and find that one has learned nothing. One becomes a bag of books! He goes through ShaS (the six orders of the Mishnah) but Shas never goes through him! Many spend their entire day learning Torah - dress the part and walk around as if they have mastered life. Never forget however, that the learning is just the start. What counts is the action!

I've often wondered when would be the best time to keep track of one's progress. I've found it to be no better time than the days preceding Pesach and the night following Yom Kippur. It seems that with all the learning to one's credit, it so often happens that it's simply as if the Torah falls apart on these occasions. Indeed in the days preceding Pesach, children will become more rowdy as parents leave them to tend to their own games as they clean up the house themselves. On Shabbat HaGadol, kids will run up and down the steps as if at a carnival! As a result, neighbours suffer from the constant additional unnecessary noise. People suddenly feel the need to turn on their stereos at highest volume - as they clean up - all in the name of the holiness and preparation for Pesach. The noise continues until the early/late hours of the next morning - again disturbing so many. People feel that when shopping, keeping their position in line is no longer a necessity - as they are the only one's preparing for the holiday and as such, their "right" for first place must be respected at all times. Pushing and insulting is a part of the "holy" preparations.

I've thought about the moments after Yom Kippur - a day when forgiveness is sought (and given!) for all our interactions during the year - between man and his fellow and between man and G-d. Maariv is prayed faster than any prayer during the year - though it should probably be the longest! People who had just the day before driven in to the parking lot of the shul with much respect for each other begin to insult as they blow their horns in order to get out faster. So it goes on.

It seems that all of a sudden, all one's Torah learning goes out the window. 

Let us remember that the days leading to Pesach should bring out the very best of our Torah learning. The evening after Yom Kippur should bring out the very best of the people we have become. If you're looking to truly find out how someone (including yourself) is progressing in their Torah learning - just watch them during these times. The truth of what Torah is doing to them comes out in an amazing way!

Torah is here to improve us, to make us respect each other more, to share with each other and to love each other. Anything less than this - especially at these important times of the year, tells the world that the Torah that's being studied is galaxies away from what true G-dliness and even self-respect is really all about.

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